Urban Studies

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At some point in time, our descendants will look back in a shock at the sort of diet most Americans had during this era. GM foods probably shouldn’t be feared any more than what we’re eating now. From look at the future of genetically engineered foods at Kurzweil AI from Daniel Berleant, author of The Human Race to the Future:

Beans don’t taste as good as meat to many people. Yet there is no reason they can’t be engineered to taste like small chicken nuggets. Processed fungus protein called mycoprotein, sold in grocery stores, tastes like chicken already. But why stop there? Potatoes with small hamburgers in the middle sounds good — let’s call them ‘hamburgatoes.’

There is no reason hamburgatoes can’t be grown once genetic engineering gets further along. Carrots are crunchy, as are potato chips. So why not grow carrots that taste like potato chips, but retain the nutritional advantages of traditional carrots? Kids would want to eat more veggies.

Sunflower seeds come in packages at many supermarkets, but the ones with the seeds still in their shells seem less popular as snacks because they are harder to eat. You have to bite off the shells to get to the rather small seed inside.

Yet the sunflower seed market would almost certainly grow dramatically if the seeds were ten times larger or more. Imagine eating an enormous sunflower seed the size of a small egg … hefting its weight in the palm of your hand … cracking off its shell to reveal the rich, tasty meat within … and finally sinking your teeth in to savor its nutritious and distinctive flavor. A future sunflower could produce just a few seeds like that, instead of dozens and dozens of smaller seeds like the sunflowers they used to grow back around 2020.”

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Drought has always made people desperate, so rain-making was a profitable-if-inexact science in the 1800s. Those contracted to bring rain to an area fired cannons at clouds (the “concussion theory”) or used contraptions of all manner to try to make atmospheric conditions amenable to precipitation. And often they did nothing and hoped for a lucky shower so that they could collect their money. Three tales of rain-makers follow.

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“The Rain Maker Failed” (August 18, 1894): “Mexico, Mo.–George Matthews, self-styled rain maker from Kansas, has failed to fill his contract here. He agreed, for $400, within six days to give Audrain County a good shower of rain. His time was up last night and he failed to deliver any rain. He packed his machinery and returned to his home in Wichita. He claims that he succeeded in producing ice clouds daily, but that the moisture clouds could not be gathered on account of the unfavorable condition of the atmosphere.”

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“To the Credit of the Rain Maker” (July 28, 1894): “Lincoln, Neb.–Welcome rain fell here to-day. It will be of great benefit to corn, which was in great need of rain. Dr. Sunsher, a ‘rain-maker,’ will doubtless claim the credit for the showers. He signed a contract a few days ago to produce rain within four days. He was to have a price varying from $150 to $500 for an inch of rain. The chances are he will claim the $500 as probably an inch of rain has fallen.”

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“Rainmaker Melbourne Is Frank” (June 28, 1895): “Cleveland, O.–Frank Melbourne, the erstwhile Western rain king whose services were in urgent demand in the West two or three years ago, is located in this city. In speaking of his experiences as a rain maker, Melbourne admitted that the whole thing was humbug, and that he never possessed any more power in that respect than any other man. He says the American people like to be humbugged, and the greater the fake the easier it is to work it. Melbourne made a fortune in the business and spent it like a prince.”

In the big picture, tearing down a system where power to disseminate information was in the hands of the relative few is a good thing, but revolutions are rarely bloodless. The death of print was in the works for decades, but no one has yet figured out the new landscape. Two quotes:

From Stewart Brand in 1972:

“One popular new feature on the Net is AI’s Associated Press service. From anywhere on the Net you can log in and get the news that’s coming live over the wire or ask for all the items on a particular subject that have come in during the last 24 hours. Project that to household terminals, and so much for newspapers (in present form). Since huge quantities of information can be computer-digitalized and transmitted, music researchers could, for example, swap records over the Net with ‘essentially perfect fidelity.’ So much for record stores (in present form).”

From Michael Wolff in 2014:

“[Politico] did usurp The Washington Post, so they took what was essentially a 2 billion dollar business and replaced it with a business that does 25, 30 million dollars in revenue. So that’s kind of the paradigm. You take these businesses that were real businesses, incredibly valuable businesses, and you create that same function with businesses that are essentially trivial.”

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Quantification means that third parties are granted access behind company firewalls. Example: A vending machine business can tell remotely when more Sprite is required, but it’s also a security risk to hackers who want to walk in a backdoor. When things are “smart,” when they have information, they pose a threat. Just like people. From Nicole Perlroth at the New York Times:

“Companies have always needed to be diligent in keeping ahead of hackers — email and leaky employee devices are an old problem — but the situation has grown increasingly complex and urgent as countless third parties are granted remote access to corporate systems. This access comes through software controlling all kinds of services a company needs: heating, ventilation and air-conditioning; billing, expense and human-resources management systems; graphics and data analytics functions; health insurance providers; and even vending machines.

Break into one system, and you have a chance to break into them all.

‘We constantly run into situations where outside service providers connected remotely have the keys to the castle,’ said Vincent Berk, chief executive of FlowTraq, a network security firm.”

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In video-game parlance, members of the Heaven’s Gate cult who committed suicide 17 years ago, hoping in their collective delusion that their well-calibrated deaths would enable them to hitch a ride on Hale-Bopp’s tail, weren’t choosing “Game Over” but trying to get to the “Next Level.” The gaming lingo is particularly apt because those shrouded, Nike-wearing true believers earned a living (until their dying) in the nascent field of website design. From Claire Evans at Vice:

“On March 26th, 1997, 39 people in matching black sweatsuits and Nike sneakers were found dead in a rented mansion in a San Diego suburb. They were members of a religious group called Heaven’s Gate, and they had committed suicide, cleanly and methodically, by ingesting large doses of phenobarbital and vodka. In each of their pockets, authorities found a five-dollar bill and three quarters—interplanetary toll fare.

Their motive was to hitch a ride to the ‘Next Level’ on a heavenly spacecraft hidden behind the rapidly-approaching Hale-Bopp Comet. They didn’t believe they were committing suicide. Instead, they were abandoning fallible physical ‘vehicles’ in order to progress to the ‘Next Level’ above human, a commitment they’d honed while living in isolated compounds in Salt Lake City, Denver, and the Dallas Forth-Worth area, before moving to their final resting place in Southern California.

Beyond the spectacle of their exit from this world, what’s most interesting about Heaven’s Gate, looking back, is their complicated relationship to technology. While we remember the Nike sneakers, the purple shrouds, and the bunk-beds meticulously lined with bodies, what most people don’t know about these 38 devotees and their leader, Marshall Applewhite (known to them as ‘Bo’ or ‘Do’), is that they paid for their lifestyle by building websites.

Yes, Heaven’s Gate were web designers. The group ran a firm called Higher Source, and counted the San Diego Polo Club, a local topiary company, and a Christian music store among their clients. In the heady early days of the World Wide Web, this crew of androgynous roommates in matching close-cropped haircuts and baggy, modest clothes practiced what they called ‘Higher Source-computer programming’ in Java, Visual Basic, SQL, and C++.”

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“You’re only chance to evacuate is to leave with us”:

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WANTED – USED DIAPERS!

We are a green building company seeking baby diapers. Urine is ok. No poop.

We use them as a base in our green roofs.

The diapers hold huge amounts of water and the urine is good fertilizer.

Turn the world green! Keep those diapers out of the landfill and help make green roofs!

From the February 3, 1890 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

San Francisco, Cal.–The following is given by a correspondent in Santiago, Chile: ‘Bo Perez, accompanied by Enrique Bello, 7 years of age, left Valparaiso to travel on foot for Santiago. Upon their arrival at the railroad tunnel near San Pedro, Perez seized the boy and undertook to eat him alive. He ate the fingers off one hand and part of one foot and bit pieces out of his cheek. He then commenced sucking the lad’s blood and the latter fainted. The guard of the tunnel surprised Perez in the midst of his feast, but the cannibal fled up the mountain. The boy was taken care of and Perez was subsequently captured.”

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As David Letterman heads into the victory lap of his TV career, I think back on Brother Theodore, one of my favorite guests during the host’s early great years, when the brilliant tandem Steve O’Donnell and Merrill Markoe were working their magic behind the scenes. Theodore had previously guested on many other talk shows–Merv Griffin gave him the “Brother” moniker because of a collared shirt the performer wore–but it was with Letterman that the stand-up tragedian left his most indelible impression.

If the mad monologist Theodore Gottlieb’s biography was true, he a had enough drama for ten people: a prisoner of the Dachau concentration camp, a chess hustler in Switzerland, a friend of Albert Einstein (who reportedly was his mother’s lover) and a stage performer unlike all others in New York. He passed away at 94 in 2001.

 

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Ray Bradbury reportedly wrote Fahrenheit 451 on coin-operated typewriters in the early 1950s. As the San Francisco Chronicle points out, coin-operated computers became a thing three decades later in the Bay Area. No dystopian masterpieces seem to have emerged, but it was an interesting experiment nonetheless. The opening of the above article:

“Patrons of the San Francisco Civic Center library may now buy time on a coin-operated computer–a $1 token pays for 20 minutes–to help figure their household budget, manage a small business or learn to type.

The computer comes with an instruction book written on a third-grade level.

The library’s first Franklin Ace 1000 computer was wheeled into the main library by Kim Cohan, its 18-year-old marketing entrepreneur, who said he has ‘taken an expensive piece of equipment and brought it to a level where it’s affordable for a large number of people.’

Cohan has taken a $4500 computer and wired it to a coin box and a printer. Librarians will sell the $1 tokens–which are restamped slot machine tokens–and take reservations from the public for up to an hour on the computer.”

R. Crumb, who likes cans (and LSD), and Al Goldstein, the late admirer of beaver (and electronics), compare hairy palms in the latter half of the ’80s in Northern California. Prior to the interview, Goldstein kindly offers Sean Penn an ass-whooping.

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“He was obliged to shut the boy up or keep him chained, as he would eat all the eggs and chickens unless restrained.”

A growing boy with a healthy appetite was the focus of an article in the Detroit Tribune, which was republished in the September 1, 1871 Brooklyn Daily Eagle. An excerpt:

Johnson, Mich.–A great deal has been said in our local papers lately about the wonderful and unnatural appetite of the boy William Henry Forbes, now confined to the jail in this city, and to-day your reporter availed himself of the opportunity presented to witness an exhibition of the boy’s capacity. The feat, disgusting enough I assure you, was nothing less than the eating of a chicken raw.

Quite a crowd assembled in the jail barn to see the sight which was literally performed. A live chicken and a knife were placed in the boy’s hands when the revolting operation commenced. The chicken was laid on the floor and held down between the boy’s knees, while he sawed the head off with the knife. The boy then placed the bleeding neck in his mouth and deliberately sucked the warm blood from the body. He then began tearing the skin from the body, which proved quite a difficult task, at the same time, as a sort of pastime, chewing pieces of the skin which had been partly denuded of the feathers. Then beginning with one leg, the disgusting lunch began. I say lunch, for it was three o’clock in the afternoon, and the boy had already eaten three men’s rations for his dinner. After finishing both legs, he stopped long enough to remove the entrails, when he proceeded to finish the chicken. The fact of his eating the chicken in this way was no less surprising than his manner during the performance. He stood in the middle of the floor, apparently regardless of lookers on or their jokes, his whole attention seemingly engaged in what he was doing, and his inhuman meal was also eaten with evident relish. While eating the chicken, in reply to some questions he said he once swallowed a young duck alive, and no one doubted the statement after seeing him.

“He said he once swallowed a young duck alive.”

In conversation the boy seems quite intelligent. He is nearly 15 years old, but is not larger than a boy of 12, and has a hungry wolfish expression, which creates the impression that he has been starved at some period in his life. He was taken from the poorhouse about six years ago by Ira Gavitt, a farmer in the Township of Summit, and at that time ate no more than ordinary boys of his age. He was brought into notice by the arrest of Gavitt on complaint of his neighbor for abusing the boy. Gaviitt claims that he was obliged to shut the boy up or keep him chained, as he would eat all the eggs and chickens unless restrained. The boy will not say anything against Gavitt or his family.

The case is one well worthy of the attention of the medical fraternity. The boy was placed in jail on a charge of stealing, but really it was done to get him out of Gavitt’s hands. He really ought to be sent to the House of Corrections or the Reform School, where he can receive good medical attention, as there can be no doubt that his terrible appetite is a disease. He was asked if he could eat a baby, and he replied that he could if he should try. It is said that he attacked a boy on one occasion, telling him he must kill him to get his blood, for he must have blood.”

Whether we’re talking about American Graffiti or J.G. Ballard’s Crash, we’re discussing freedom and power. And when no person handles the wheel anymore, how will we replace that sensation of controlling time and space? Virtual reality? Something else?

Ballard, tooling around.

"I am single and without a lover at the moment."

“I am single and without a lover at the moment.”

My 90 year old neighbor just called me a dish

My neighbor was widowed recently after 64 years of marriage and professed to being very lonely. I never knew his wife since I am considerably younger than his 90 years (58). We have been sharing a bottle of wine a couple of times a week and I have felt that his obvious infatuation was natural and healthy and healing. Thing is, I find him attractive too…but frail! Tonight, he tells me that I’m a “dish” and he’s horny. What should I do? I’m horny too. Should I demand a visit to his physician to make sure that he is physically able to have sex or should I just figure, “what the hell, he’ll die happy?” I am single and without a lover at the moment. I like sex. But, as a boomer, will my openness freak this guy out? He wants to drive me home! Did I mention that I live next door? OK, country properties, so it’s a 100 yard trek but I’m not used to such gallantry! I am interested in thoughtful comments and thank you all for considering the situation.

"I find him attractive too...but frail!"

Hell is other people, but if they own a pied–à–terre in Manhattan, you might upgrade them to purgatory.

The virtual advantages of the online world are being leveraged more and more offline, and not just in high-tech ways like with 3-D printers. Case in point: Airbnb, which has increased the inventory of lodgings without building a thing. It’s a knowledge share that becomes a physical one. It allows the non-professional to quantify the landscape and take advantage of otherwise hidden opportunities, though there may be some drawbacks. From Jeremy Rifkin’s Los Angeles Times op-ed about the company and the broader sharing economy:

“It’s not difficult to see why the service has soared in value. For a traditional hotel chain to add another room to its inventory, the room must be built or acquired, at a significant cost. Airbnb can add another room to its inventory at almost no cost, since its website is already up and running.

Private enterprises have every incentive to reduce their marginal costs. Doing so means they can increase profits, offer goods and services at a lower price, or both. But now the Internet and other innovations have reduced marginal costs to near zero for some commodities and services, which has left many traditional companies reeling.

The zero marginal cost phenomenon has sowed a path of destruction across the recording and information industries over the last decade, as millions of consumers began to produce and share music, video, news and knowledge with one another on the Internet at near zero marginal cost. This phenomenon has weakened revenues in the music industry, newspaper and publishing fields, and the book publishing industry.

Now, as we are seeing with Airbnb, the phenomenon is crossing over from soft goods in virtual space to physical goods in the brick-and-mortar world.”

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It’s not that we’re entering a post-jobs world but one where automation, along with other economic factors, may make for permanently higher unemployment levels. Many types of work will vanish and not everyone will be suited for the new normal. Not all clerks can become nurses. From Tyler Cowen in the New York Times:

“How afraid should workers be of these new technologies? There is reason to be skeptical of the assumption that machines will leave humanity without jobs. After all, history has seen many waves of innovation and automation, and yet as recently as 2000, the rate of unemployment was a mere 4 percent. There are unlimited human wants, so there is always more work to be done. The economic theory of comparative advantage suggests that even unskilled workers can gain from selling their services, thereby liberating the more skilled workers for more productive tasks.

Nonetheless, technologically related unemployment — or, even worse, the phenomenon of people falling out of the labor force altogether because of technology — may prove a tougher problem this time around.

Labor markets just aren’t as flexible these days for workers, especially for men at the bottom end of the skills distribution.”

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From the October 26, 1929 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

El Paso, Texas–Strapped to an operating table, James Clifford, 28-year-old self-styled scion of a wealthy Oakland, Cal., family, declared today he shot himself on order of a secret cult, whose heads gave him a pistol and demanded he commit suicide because he had fallen in love with the wife of another cult member. Police were forced to handcuff the injured man and he was strapped to the operating table while physicians worked, because of violent attempts to complete what he said was an attempt to kill himself. He was not wounded dangerously, one of two shots going wild and the other inflicting a surface abdominal wound.”

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From John Naughton’s Guardian article about Michael Lewis’ new book which reveals computerized Wall Street chicanery, a passage about how technology, that supposed equalizer, can in fact tip the balance of the digital scales:

“This is a good illustration of one of the central problems that society will have to address in the coming decades: the collision between analogue mindsets and digital realities.

Software is pure ‘thought-stuff.’ The only resource needed to produce it is human intelligence and expertise. This has two implications. The first is that attempting to regulate the things that it creates is like trying to catch quicksilver using a butterfly net.

The Edward Snowden disclosures about the US National Security Agency have revealed how difficult it is to bring this stuff under effective democratic control. Lewis’s account of how high-frequency trader geeks have run rings around the regulators suggests that much the same holds true in civilian life. This technology can easily run out of control.

The second implication is that what one might call the politics of expertise will become much more important. Mastery of these technologies confers enormous power on those who have it. Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes and all that. So in addition to wondering who will guard the guardians, we may have to start thinking about who is going to guard the geeks.”

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It’s possible that gasoline stations and fast-food restaurants are the Easter Island totems of the modern world. Of course, the difference is that the sculpture of that bygone civilization didn’t prompt its fall nor did it kill off other societies. And like Easter Island’s statuary, I think filling stations and burger-chain restaurants are often amazingly designed. How beautiful our doom.

Along with many great sights from NYC’s 1964 World’s Fair, this 1964 film from Sinclair oil company displays its glorious dinosaur-juice outlets.

From a really fun TED interview by Brooke Borel about the intersection of science and sports with former NFL punter Chris Kluwe, journalist David Epstein (The Sports Gene) and scientist Cynthia Bir, thoughts from the kicker about augmented and virtual reality:

Question:

With Google Glass, how do you see that technology changing the landscape of football—and other sports—in the future?

Chris Kluwe: 

I think it will initially shift the viewing perspective. People will now have another way to watch the game—from the athlete’s perspective. It’ll no longer be just the overhead cameras and the sweeping Skycam— you’ll actually be able to see what your favorite player did on the play from his or her perspective. That’s something that we’ve never really had up to this point.

From there, it leads to people becoming more comfortable with the idea of things like augmented reality and virtual reality, which leads into that being adopted more and more into everyday life. In the sporting world, that means augmented reality being adopted into the actual sports themselves. For football, you could have a projector that displays your next series of plays on your helmet as you’re running back to the huddle. Or something that highlights the receiver, or warns you if a guy is coming off your blind spot, for instance tackling against quarterback.

You see this a lot in the military—on displays in fighter jets, and I think they’re working on actual ground-based troop systems as well—there’s this filter of information between you and the world, an additional layer of information that you can use to enhance your own senses. I think we’re at that point right now where not a lot of people realize that, just like not a lot of people realized that the Internet was going to be something that spread and covered the entire world, or that cell phones would be as ubiquitous. No one even thinks of not having a cell phone, but there was a point when cell phones were big briefcase, clunky things that only executives on Wall Street had.”

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The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released this week was, wow, dreadful. The New Yorker blog posted an except from Elizabeth Kolbert’s 2013 reaction to an early version of the findings that were leaked. An excerpt about the death of diversity, which may include you and I or the next generations of us:

“As bad as things look for humans, the prognosis for non-humans is, in many ways, worse. Under all the scenarios that the I.P.C.C. panel considered, including an implausible one in which the world imposes drastic limits on carbon emissions right now, a ‘large fraction’ of terrestrial and freshwater species face elevated extinction risks. Under the most likely scenarios, many species ‘will not be able to move fast enough during the 21st century to track suitable climates’, and there is a chance that some ecosystems, including the Arctic tundra and the Amazon rainforest, will undergo ‘abrupt and irreversible change.’ Forests are already dying back in some parts of the world because of warming-related stress, and more forests are likely to follow suit as temperatures continue to rise. As Grist put it in a summary of the findings, ‘Animal Planet will get really boring.’

As it happens, the very same day the I.P.C.C. report was leaked, President Obama issued an executive order titled ‘Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change.’ Among other things, it established a new Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, to be co-chaired by the head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and—suggestively enough—the Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.

Promoting ‘preparedness’ is doubtless a good idea. As the executive order notes, climate impacts—which include, but are not limited to, heat waves, heavier downpours, and an increase in the number and intensity of wildfires—are ‘already affecting communities, natural resources, ecosystems, economies, and public health across the Nation.’ However, one of the dangers of this enterprise is that it tends to presuppose, in a Boy Scout-ish sort of way, that ‘preparedness’ is possible.’”

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From the October 30, 1903 New York Times:

Niagara Falls, N.Y.–Physicians of Niagara Falls are mystified by a remarkable discovery made during an autopsy on the body of Mrs. Mary E. Halliday, who died suddenly.

She was seized with a strange attack, and a doctor relieved her by administering stimulants. When the doctor had departed she grew worse and soon died.

Coroner Slocum directed that an autopsy be performed. Two pieces of corset steel were found in her heart, their total length being eight and three-quarter inches. Where they rubbed together the ends were worn to a razor edge by the movement of her body.

There is no information as to how or when the steel entered her body. None of Mrs. Halliday’s relatives ever heard her complain of an accident of that kind.

The doctors say it may have been swallowed and worked its way from the intestines to the heart, or might have penetrated the skin and worked around until found.

She was forty-two years old and the mother of six children. She suffered greatly and at times was confined to her bed, but rheumatism was her supposed ailment.”

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In an Aeon essay “Russia’s Sacred Land,” Peter Turchin, father of Cliodynamics, looks at psychology on a national scale, examining its irrational yet evolutionary underpinnings. In doing so, he downplays the role of Putin in the annexation of Crimea. An excerpt:

“States often behave in an opportunistic manner, grabbing real estate when they can and giving it up when the cost of holding it becomes too great. In 1732, Russia returned a large chunk of Persian territory that Peter the Great had conquered in the previous decade. In return, the Persians entered an alliance with the Russians against the Ottoman Empire. This kind of behaviour is well-described by realism. However, most states, historical and modern, also put some territory into a special category, one that is not subject to rational geopolitical calculation. Such land is ‘sacred’. It must be held at all costs.

Here we find an obvious manifestation of the bourgeois strategy in the hawk-dove game. States and populations that are willing to escalate conflict as far as necessary in defence of their sacred lands are more likely to persist in the international arena. Those that treat their core territory in a rational manner – forfeiting it in accordance with strategic imperatives, as, for example, several Germanic tribes did repeatedly during the Migration Period – get wiped out. As a result, we observe the coevolution of geopolitics and what the anthropologist Scott Atran has identified as ‘sacred values’. Geopolitical assets acquire an aura of sanctity.”

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"Pregnancy stomach, stretch marks always welcome."

“Pregnancy stomach, stretch marks always welcome.”

My perfect woman (disturbing content) – 36 (Midtown)

My perfect woman…

(This is gonna get kind of crazy–if that’s too much for you just stop reading now)

  • Long hair to her ass
  • Long, large nose
  • Short less than five five and fat (not chubby–fat). Big ass, thighs, arms.
  • Breasts that are long, low, wide and full.
  • Belly that is big, round and full. Pregnancy stomach, stretch marks always welcome.
  • Children are a plus but not necessary
  • Loves to eat big, and be treated like a good girl.
  • If married be willing to start a second relationship
  • If dating be willing to start a second relationship
  • If single be willing to become pregnant
  • Open mind, open heart

Bonus points for:

  • having shit or pissed yourself in the past
  • not shaving any or all parts of your body
  • facial hair
  • used to be a man and kept the penis
  • has ever described yourself as lazy
  • would never admit to anyone but secretly think that you are stupid

Double bonus points for:

  • having been in special education in high school
  • had sex with a family member and saw nothing wrong with it

When we’re truly wired, when the Internet of Things is the thing, when the revolution is not televised but quantified, and it’s all seamless so seamless, will we even know to smile? From a Foreign Affairs piece by Neil Gershenfeld and JP Vasseur:

“The Internet of Things is not just science fiction; it has already arrived. Some of the things currently networked together send data over the public Internet, and some communicate over secure private networks, but all share common protocols that allow them to interoperate to help solve profound problems.

Take energy inefficiency. Buildings account for three-quarters of all electricity use in the United States, and of that, about one-third is wasted. Lights stay on when there is natural light available, and air is cooled even when the weather outside is more comfortable or a room is unoccupied. Sometimes fans move air in the wrong direction or heating and cooling systems are operated simultaneously. This enormous amount of waste persists because the behavior of thermostats and light bulbs are set when buildings are constructed; the wiring is fixed and the controllers are inaccessible. Only when the infrastructure itself becomes intelligent, with networked sensors and actuators, can the efficiency of a building be improved over the course of its lifetime.

Health care is another area of huge promise. The mismanagement of medication, for example, costs the health-care system billions of dollars per year. Shelves and pill bottles connected to the Internet can alert a forgetful patient when to take a pill, a pharmacist to make a refill, and a doctor when a dose is missed. Floors can call for help if a senior citizen has fallen, helping the elderly live independently. Wearable sensors could monitor one’s activity throughout the day and serve as personal coaches, improving health and saving costs.

Countless futuristic ‘smart houses’ have yet to generate much interest in living in them. But the Internet of Things succeeds to the extent that it is invisible. A refrigerator could communicate with a grocery store to reorder food, with a bathroom scale to monitor a diet, with a power utility to lower electricity consumption during peak demand, and with its manufacturer when maintenance is needed. Switches and lights in a house could adapt to how spaces are used and to the time of day. Thermostats with access to calendars, beds, and cars could plan heating and cooling based on the location of the house’s occupants. Utilities today provide power and plumbing; these new services would provide safety, comfort, and convenience.

In cities, the Internet of Things will collect a wealth of new data. Understanding the flow of vehicles, utilities, and people is essential to maximizing the productivity of each, but traditionally, this has been measured poorly, if at all. If every street lamp, fire hydrant, bus, and crosswalk were connected to the Internet, then a city could generate real-time readouts of what’s working and what’s not. Rather than keeping this information internally, city hall could share open-source data sets with developers, as some cities are already doing.”

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Aaron Burr, statesman and murderer, spent his last days reclusively on Staten Island, New York. He was a decidedly a shadowy figure in the borough, and his funeral services were lightly attended. But there was one entrepreneur who kept a close check on the former Vice President during his waning moments. An excerpt from an article in the September 8, 1895 New York Times:

“It is not generally known that Aaron Burr spent the last days of his life and died on Staten Island. A few paces back from the Staten Island Ferry landing, at Port Richmond, stands the St. James Hotel, which is anything but a pretentious structure, and was originally a two-story boarding house in the year 1836, kept by a couple named Edgerton. It was during the early part of that year that Burr took a room there, and Mrs. Edgerton became his faithful servant and nurse. He sought seclusion and peace for his last days on earth, and, to an extent, found his desire within the great city of his choice, where he had realized the greatest triumphs of his life. The town was then composed of but a few scattered houses, and the Jersey shore was covered with a pine forest to the water’s edge, a clear view of which could be had from this old dwelling house. He rarely left his room, which was the front apartment on the second floor, now used as a parlor in the hotel. The furniture was antique and the room about eighteen feet square. The bed upon which Burr died was an old-fashioned, four-post, chintz-curtained one. Over the mantel now hangs a profile steel engraving of Burr, undoubtedly cut from some biography of the man, simply framed, to which, until recently, there was attached the inscription: ‘Aaron Burr died in this room Sept. 14, 1836.’

Upon rare occasions, and when he was confident that he would not be noticed, he wandered a short distance from his place of refuge, but the old man was too well known by the villagers to escape observation, and many eyes were upon him at every step, the villagers being proud of their visitor and observant of every action of so celebrated a man. He was an under-sized, sparsely built old man at this time, but he was also, to the end, erect and soldierly in bearing. His attire was always very fine, and he dressed with the utmost neatness, was quite the aristocratic gentleman of the old school, and the refinement and elegance of his manner were invariably conspicuous. He could be singularly winning and gentle even with the humblest. His complexion was pale and like parchment for years before his death, and at this time he was upward of eighty years of age. The dignity of his face was slightly marred by a thin, aquiline nose, which had a decided bend to one side, either through some accident or by nature’s malformation. Despite his advanced age, his eyes were keen and magnetic to a remarkable degree. He had learned or rather grown to dislike the curiosity seeker, and finding that he could not take his short walks abroad without being gazed at continually by the natives of Staten Island, he became more seclusive as the days went by, and finally refused to leave his room. In this room, rendered historic by his presence, this old decrepit, wornout, once great man passed his time with memories and sought consolation in the love letters of the women who had once loved him, among which were those of Mme. Jumel, filed with affectionate regard and regrets that a cruel fate had separated them. All those letters were scattered about his room, and when he died hundreds of such letters loose and in packages tied with ribbons were scattered upon his bed and upon the floor of the chamber. Among the evidences of his intriguing disposition, not at accusers, but as tokens of the loves of his victims, the old man breathed his last. …

The old man had no attendant. He lived alone, with his old joys and his new sorrows, waiting for death to claim him and take him he knew and seemed to care not whither. A mysterious stranger haunted the house for many days and nights before the death of Burr. He never was admitted to the recluse, but always made interested inquiries concerning his health, and he was supposed to be either a relative or interested friend of the statesman, although he was neither. This man was faithful to the determination, and almost immediately after Aaron Burr’s death put in an appearance, and, without saying, ‘By your leave,’ opened his satchel and proceeded, as if he had a right to do so, to take a plaster cast of the dead man.”

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