Urban Studies

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From the August 19, 1874 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

“Yesterday afternoon, Officer Irwin was attracted by yells and drunken screams to the den No. 91 Degraw Street, occupied by Mrs. Duck. On entering the place, the officer found three women and a child in the place. The women were drunk, and tossing the child about ‘just like,’ said the officer, ‘as if it were a foot ball.’ The little child, who is scarcely three years old, presented a most pitiable sight. The officer, on ascertaining who the mother was, arrested her. The health authorities have been notified of the den which is described as the filthiest hole in Red Hook.”

Speaking of hydrogen and electric cars, here’s an excerpt from an Economist report about Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors, which has modest profits to date but about half the valuation of GM because it might, perhaps, be the future:

“The prospects for electric cars have taken a turn for the better. China, a market that Tesla is eyeing for a third of its sales, last month announced strict new fuel-efficiency standards that may make life hard, if not impossible, for importers of big petrol-engined cars. The European Union this week confirmed new curbs on tailpipe emissions, to be imposed from 2021.

Even so, becoming a mass-market ‘General Electric Motors’ will not be easy. In about three years Tesla will launch the Model E, a small saloon with a range of perhaps 400 miles, costing just $35,000 or so—if its new factory can make batteries that are good and cheap enough. It will have to, because its buyers will be using it as an everyday set of wheels, not an indulgence. And it will have rivals: BMW’s i3, launched last year, is aimed at the same market. Other carmakers will follow suit.

For buyers who just want the cheapest means of getting from A to B, regardless of the vehicle’s looks or performance, the lowest-cost petrol cars will be hard to beat for some time to come. Traditional carmakers talk of one day serving such customers with ‘mobility as a service’—fleets of self-driving taxis. Tesla, which is also investing in autonomous driving technology, could be a strong contender in such a new market: unlike its older rivals, it would have no legacy business, of factories churning out petrol models, to be disrupted.”


George Carlin was about to release his first comedy album in seven years in 1982 when he sat for a Playboy interview. He was wondering at that point if he would have a third act after being a straight comic in the ’60s and a countercultural force the following decade, and ultimately he found it in the role of philosopher and self-designated mourner for a sense of decency and honesty in American politics and media. Carlin has been criticized for this latter stage of his career, accused of being too angry to be funny, but I think it’s as valuable a phase as his 1970s brilliance. It elevated him to greatest American stand-up ever, and no one has quite reached that level since, though Louis C.K. and Chris Rock have their moments. The opening of the Playboy Q&A:


Back in the early Sixties, when you were still a disc jockey and just beginning to do comedy in small clubs, Lenny Bruce supposedly selected you as his heir—

George Carlin:

Apparently, Lenny told that to a lot of people. But he never said it to me and I didn’t hear it until years later. Which is probably fortunate. It’s difficult enough for a young person to put his soul on the line in front of a lot of drunken people without having that hanging over his head, too.


Because of what Bruce said about you, are you now overly sensitive about being compared to him?

George Carlin:

Yes, and those comparisons are unfair to both of us. Look, I was a fan of Lenny’s. He made me laugh, sure, but more often he made me say, ‘Fuckin’ A; why didn’t I think of that?’ He opened up channels in my head. His genius was the unique ability to investigate hypocrisy and expose social inequities in a street rap that was really a form of poetry. I believe myself to be a worthwhile and inventive performer in my own right. But I’m not in a league with Lenny, certainly not in terms of social commentary. So when people give me this bullshit, ‘Well, I guess you’re sort of…uh…imitating Lenny Bruce,’ I just say, ‘Oh, fuck. I don’t want to hear it.’ I want to be known for what I do best.


Nevertheless, throughout the early to mid-Seventies, with a five-year run of albums and packed auditoriums for an act that viciously ridiculed every nook and cranny of “the establishment,” you really did seem to be fulfilling Lenny’s prophecy. Then it stopped abruptly about five years ago. No more albums; no more college tours. Why?

George Carlin:

I’ve just now completed a five-year period that can perhaps best be called a breathing spell. A time of getting my health back and gathering my strength. That time also included incredible cocaine abuse, a heart attack and my wife’s recovery from both alcoholism and cocaine abuse.


It’s comforting to hear you talk about that breathing spell in the past tense.

George Carlin:

My wife, Brenda, and I are both clean and sober now. I’ve been doing a lot of writing. By the time this interview appears, my first album in seven years will be out. I’m also working on a series of Home Box Office specials, a book and a motion picture. It’s the American view that everything has to keep climbing: productivity, profits, even comedy. No time for reflection. No time to contract before another expansion. No time to grow up. No time to fuck up. No time to learn from your mistakes. But that notion goes against nature, which is cyclical. And I hope I’m now beginning a new cycle of energy and creativity. If so, it’ll really be my third career. The first was as a straight comic in the Sixties. The second was as a counterculture performer in the Seventies. The third will be…well, that’s for others to judge.”


“I’ve been uplinked and downloaded”:

“You have to be asleep to believe it”:

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Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are a great and noble idea, a potential palliative to the soaring coats of higher education, but that doesn’t mean they’re working, at least not yet. Is not only the human interaction necessary for sustained learning but also the architecture and furniture? From Michael Guerriero at the New Yorker blog:

“What if, as a novice teacher or professor, you began a course and the entire class decided to leave—either from apathy or boredom or the popular student conviction that whatever is not a part of the lesson is inherently more interesting than what is? That old educator’s nightmare is now a digital reality: massive open online courses, or MOOCs, born a few years ago of the seemingly well-paired utopianisms of Silicon Valley and the élite American university, are seeing that classroom management can be a difficult task without a classroom.

When the Times declared 2012 the ‘Year of the MOOC,’ it seemed, in the words of the paper, that ‘everyone wants in,’ with schools, students, and investors eager to participate. But, as can happen in academia, early ambition faded when the first few assessments were returned, and, since then the open-online model appears to have earned an incomplete, at best. An average of only four per cent of registered users finished their MOOCs in a recent University of Pennsylvania study, and half of those enrolled did not view even a single lecture. EdX, a MOOC collaboration between Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has shown results that are a little more encouraging, but not much. And a celebrated partnership between San Jose State and Udacity, the company co-founded by Sebastian Thrun, a Stanford professor turned MOOC magnate , also failed, when students in the online pilot courses consistently fared worse than their counterparts in the equivalent courses on campus.”


There will soon be thousands of hydrogen cars available for purchase (largely in California) from major automakers, but why? The refueling infrastructure is sorely lacking and these alternative vehicles don’t have momentum the way EVs currently do. From Basem Wasef at Popular Mechanics:

“The basic principle behind hydrogen fuel cells is fairly simple: Hydrogen atoms are stripped of their electrons to generate electricity and then combined with oxygen to form water as a by-product. Mainstream deployment of fuel-cell vehicles, though, has proved to be complex. Compared with liquid fuels, hydrogen is tough to transport and store. And without a meaningful number of vehicles on the road, there’s been no incentive to build hydrogen fuel infrastructure. Now new initiatives in California and across the U.S. are pushing for a long-awaited expansion of the refueling network. And with the debut of three promising hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicles from Honda, Hyundai, and Toyota, consumers will have new options beginning in 2014. Are we finally seeing the dawn of the hydrogen age? Not so fast.

Why Now?

The current hydrogen push has less to do with consumer demand than with government incentives that treat fuel-cell vehicles (FCV) as equal to or better than electric vehicles.”


Jack Nicholson betting on hydrogen in 1978:



Me and my wife are ready to have a bundle of joy but we need a donor please if anyone willing to help us out and donate some sperm that would be helpful please email with an updated photo…and no we will not make you do child support we got it on our own.

Johnny Clem was a mere ten-year-old orphan in 1861 when he managed to talk his way into what was ostensibly a non-combat role for the Twenty-second Michigan Infantry during the early fire of the Civil War. But it was hard to escape the brutality of the War Between the States once attached to a division, and the lad was soon in the heat of battle. To say that he served long is an understatement: Colonel John Clem wound up being the final Civil War soldier on active duty, forced into retirement by law at age 64 in 1915. (He was originally set to step away from military life three years earlier but hung on a little longer.) It’s important to remember that there were other children just like him, and thousands and thousands of men just removed from boyhood, whose limbs and torsos wound up in piles, their daring exploits to never be recorded. From an article about his farewell to uniformed life in the August 7, 1915 New York Times:

“Clem was just a little ‘shaver’ of 10 years when President Lincoln issued his first call for volunteers. The Third Ohio Infantry was recruited in the Newark (Ohio) district. In the regiment was an officer, Captain McDougal, a friend of Johnny Clem. The future Senior Master of the Quartermaster Corps was an orphan, and there was no near relative to stop him when he sought out his friend McDougal and begged permission to accompany the Third Ohio to the front.

Clem told McDougal that he could carry a gun provided it was not too heavy, and that he could beat the drum to ‘beat the band.’ Captain McDougal, however, could not see the proposition in the same light as did his enthusiastic young friend, and told him point blank he was entirely too little and too young for such dangerous business as that of as a soldier in wartime. All this happens in May, 1861.

But Clem did not lose hope. Early in June of that year the Third Ohio started for the mobilization camp at Covington, Ky. A little boy smuggled himself into one of the baggage cars, and the following day climbed out of the car very tired, very dirty, and very hungry, in Covington. The lad was ‘Johnny’ Clem.

Also at Covington as the Twenty-second Michigan Infantry. Clem decided that he would try and get a berth in that regiment, and so he boldly sought out the tent of the Colonel and walked right in. The ‘kid’ from Newark told the Colonel that he wanted to go to the front with the regiment. The Colonel laughed and patted the boy on the back.

‘You are a game little fellow, all right,’ said the Colonel, ‘but this is no place for children like you. If you were a foot taller and some years older maybe I’d take you along, but as you are neither of these things I am afraid you will have to say back here with the home folks.

But Clem refused to be left behind, and was so persistent that the Colonel finally agreed to let him go along as sort of combination regimental mascot and emergency drummer boy.

The soldiers rigged him out in a uniform, they provided him with a drum and also with a musket, the barrel of the gun being sawed off short so as to make it possible for the little fellow to carry it.

One of the first battles in which the regiment figured was that of Shiloh, where the Confederate General Albert Sidney Johnston was killed and where the fame of Ulysses S. Grant, as a soldier, may be said to have begun. In their battle Clem got into the very hottest of the fight. He came very near losing his life when a shrapnel shell exploded within a few feet of him. A fragment of the shell crashed through the drum and the shock of the explosion hurled him unconscious to the ground, where he was subsequently found and rescued by his bigger comrades.

After the battle the soldiers nicknamed Clem ‘Johnny Shiloh,’ and the name stuck to him until a greater fame came to him at the terrible battle of Chickamauga.

At Chickamauga the boy was again in the thickest of the fight. He fired right and left with his little sawed-off musket. General Thomas and General Rosecrans both heard of the heroism of the little Newark boy at Chickamauga and he was personally commended for his coolness and bravery by both of them. It was General Rosecrans who then and there made him a Sergeant, the youngest non-commissioned officer who ever served in the armies of this country.

Now comes the story of how Clem won the title of ‘drummer boy of Chickamauga.’ The brigade to which the Twenty-second Michigan was attached had been ordered to hold its position, which position happened to be a very dangerous one. The brigade fought for all it was worth but the job could not be done, and finally the order came for it to fall back to a safer position. As the brigade retreated ‘Johnny’ Clem managed to get lost. He got mixed up with a command that was almost surrounded by Confederates and the dead and dying were all about him.

The boy realized his predicament and made up his mind he would not be captured, and so he did what any healthy youngster of his years would do and started to run. He ran like a ‘scared rabbit,’ and when he stopped running he was in a little clump of woods all by himself.

Cautiously he came out of the woods and he ran full tilt into a Confederate Colonel. The Confederate officer looked at the boy with the little gun and despite the awfulness of the situation he had to laugh.

‘My, but you are a little fellow to be in this business,’ said the Confederate, ‘but war is war, and I think the best thing a mite of a chap like you can do is to drop that gun.’

Instead of dropping the gun Clem brought to to his shoulder, pointed it at the Colonel and fired. The Colonel fell badly wounded and Clem turned on his heels and ran for all he was worth. Finally he landed back with the Twenty-second Michigan and ever afterward  they called him ‘the drummer boy of Chickamauga.’

As for the Confederate Colonel he recovered after many weeks in the hospital, and after the war Colonel Clem learned about him and wrote and told him how glad he was that he had not killed him.

‘When I heard that I had not killed that Confederate officer it was the best news I ever got,’ Colonel Clem remarked years afterward.”

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From the April 2, 1856 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

“The camel experiment over the plains (for mail and other transport), for which Congress made appropriation two years ago, will soon be tried. The camels are now en route from Asia Minor. The whole number is 33, viz: 9 male and 15 female camels; 4 male and 5 female dromedaries. The vessel and this cargo is expected to arrive in Texas about that time. Several of the animals are presents from the Viceroy of Egypt.”

The greatest thing about colonies on Mars? No taxes. It’s even better than the Cayman Islands. Mitt Romney could yet be President. Seriously, a lot of megarich people have their heads in the sky, seeing space living as both a sound investment and a bold adventure. As Elon Musk says: “I’d like to die on Mars, just not on impact.” The opening of John Sunyer’s well-written Financial Times article about private wealth reheating the Space Race:

“Here we are more than a decade into the 21st century and we’re still not there. To be a child of the 1960s and 1970s was to daydream not only about travelling in space but also about settling there, indefinitely. National space agencies planned inflatable lunar cities. Space was where we were all going to live and work – Moon bases and hotels, everything in Stanley Kubrick’s futuristic 2001: A Space Odyssey. This was the era of the space race and of humanity’s first orbiting residences.

To young people today this is old news: they know that the Americans went to the Moon, just as they know the Romans built straight roads. Manned space flight lost its glamour; Nasa lost its way, its ambition severely weakened by funding cuts; and we gave up on the idea that living in space was the next step in humankind’s evolution. As Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the Moon, tells me: ‘After the Apollo lunar missions, America lost its love of space – there was no concentrated follow-up and we didn’t have any clear objectives.’

Still, not all hope is lost for wide-eyed space cadets. Today the idea, if not quite the practice, of living in space is coming back into fashion. If the 20th century space race was about the might of the US government, the space race today is about something that could be even more powerful – private wealth.”


younger for older men – 29 (Suffolk)

We are a younger couple (age: 29). i need an old man to fuck my girl. U must be over the age of 45 and can host in Suffolk or pay for room.


“Benjamin Harrison appeared to be especially affected.”

Well, this is rather macabre. A decade prior to his Presidency, in 1878, Benjamin Harrison investigated a number of Ohio medical colleges in search of the stolen corpse of a deceased family friend, and came face to face with his own freshly fallen father. It’s likely the jaw-dropping tale is true as that state was known in those years for the brisk business conducted by so-called resurrectionists, who were often in cahoots with academics in need of cadavers. The full story from the March 13, 1910 New York Times:

“One of the strangest, and at the same time the most gruesome stories that ever reached a newspaper office was told by H.E. Krehbiel, the musical critic, the other night. Though it reached a newspaper office and has been known to a few persons in the twenty years succeeding, it was not printed when the incidents happened, because those concerned took the precaution of narrating them in confidence. Here it is, however, as Mr. Krehbiel tells it, long after those most intimately concerned are dead:

‘Many years ago I was at work one afternoon in the offices of a Cincinnati newspaper when Benjamin Harrison, afterward President of the United States, and his brother came into the office and began a long conversation with the city editor. They spoke in low tones, which did not reach beyond the desk where they were sitting.

‘After nearly half an hour had elapsed the city editor called me over to him and introduced me to the two gentlemen, both of whom seemed to be laboring under strong emotion. Benjamin Harrison appeared to be especially affected. This did not surprise me very much, as I was aware that they had only buried their father, to whom they were both devotedly attached, a few days before. The city editor instructed me to take down their story, giving me also explicitly to understand that, whereas, I was to listen to all they had to say, I was to write no more, and the paper was to print no more than they should decide.

‘Now,’ continued Mr. Krehbiel, ‘this is what Benjamin Harrison told me. A few days before the death of his father, the husband of a dear old German woman who lived near their farm also died and was duly buried. When he came from the East to attend his own father’s obsequies this old woman went to him in great distress and told him that the grave of her husband had been opened and his body stolen. Those were the days of body snatchers or ‘resurrectionists,’ before the State had made provision for subjects for medical colleges.

‘Mr Harrison went on to say that his old German friend’s distress was so intense that he and his brother had themselves undertaken a search for the body in Cincinnati. This search had occupied them two days and had just ended.

“‘We swore out a search warrant and took a constable with us,’ said Mr. Harrison. ‘One by one we have been to every medical school in the City of Cincinnati. It was a terrible ordeal for us, especially as our own grief was fresh and poignant. We kept up the search without inkling, clue or result, until we had visited every medical school in Cincinnati except one.

“‘The last one was the Ohio State Medical College. We went over there more as a formality than anything else. With search warrant and constable we were enabled there, as elsewhere, to have everything opened to us. We found nothing.

“‘Just as we were about to leave the college the constable noted a shaft such as is used in apartment houses. Down this shaft hung the ropes of a hoist. The constable went up to the ropes of a hoist and took hold of the taut rope. He turned to me sharply, saying that there was a weight on the hoist. I told him to pull it up. He did so.

“‘Attached to the rope by a hook was the body of my own father. They had known at the colleges whose the body was. They had taken this fiendishly ingenious method of moving it from floor to floor as we in our search had moved from one floor to another.’

‘This,’ said Mr. Krehbiel, ‘is the story in Benjamin Harrison’s own words just as he gave it to me.'”


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The guest on a very good episode of Russ Roberts’ EconTalk this week was Cornell economist Robert Frank. One highlight late in the show was a debate about smoking bans. The host, a non-smoker, argued against them, while the guest, who began smoking as a teenager, spoke for them. I go along with smoking bans not because it makes me deeply sad whenever I see someone with a cigarette (though it does), but because employees in, say, bars shouldn’t be prone to secondhand smoke. And while they have the freedom to not work in such an environment, that right is limited by opportunity. I’ll pay more to supplement health insurance for smokers, but I don’t want my health or anyone else’s to be compromised by a smoker’s behavior. That’s why I’m not in favor of a ban on large sodas. While people who down gigantic sugary drinks are harming themselves and costing us more in healthcare, you’re going to catch diabetes from them. Education is the best way to reverse that problem.

The other highlight, though that’s admittedly an odd word choice given the dire subject, was Frank’s chillingly straightforward description of climate models in response to a question about a carbon tax. The whole planet is essentially a chain smoker. An excerpt:

“If you read the climate science literature, though, I think there’s less ambiguity here than many believe. The science is inexact; that’s the first thing that the climate scientists themselves will stress. They have no idea really where this is going exactly. What we know, though, is that every estimate that’s come in has been dramatically more pessimistic than the one from a year ago. And the best simulation model that we have, the MIT Global Climate Simulation Model, in a recent set of simulations estimated that by the end of this century, by 2095, not even quite the end of the century, there is a 1 in 10 chance that we are going to see an increase of average global temperature by more than 12 degrees Fahrenheit. And if that happened, 1 in 10, the model is uncertain, so it could be 1 in 5, it could be 1 in 3, it could be 1 in 20–we don’t know–but let’s take their estimate at face value, 1 in 10, then we get 12 degrees increase. All the permafrost melts; all the methane, the billions of tons of methane are released into the atmosphere, each ton 50 times more powerful than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. That’s essentially the end of life as we know it on the planet.”

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Elon Musk apparently grew a little flustered recently during a Tesla earnings call when he was asked almost to the exclusion of everything else about his plans to build Gigafactory, the world’s largest battery factory. But he’d better get used to it because the work’s implications go far beyond electric cars and could be repurposed into virtually every other industry. From Alan Ohnsman at Businessweek:

“Tesla has dubbed the project the ‘gigafactory,’ and it would make Musk a force in both U.S. manufacturing and electric power. The plant he envisions would have more capacity than any other to make lithium-ion batteries.

‘This has a huge impact beyond Tesla,’ said Harley Shaiken, a labor economist at the University of California, Berkeley. ‘It gives enormous legitimacy to battery production and the future of the electric car because that lies in the battery. It’s high stakes, high technology.’

Tesla plans an investment of $4 billion to $5 billion by 2020 and will fund about $2 billion of the total, the Palo Alto, California-based company said in a presentation on its website. The convertible bond offering could grow to $1.84 billion, according to a separate statement.”

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A good portion of the clothes charitable Americans place in drop boxes provided by the Salvation Army and other non-profits winds up being resold in sub-Saharan Africa. That provides impoverished people in that region with ultra-cheap clothes, but it also might be stymieing garment industries in those nations. An unintended consequence, sure, though perhaps taking away this market would have unforeseen consequences as well. We should give, but give as intelligently as possible. Give now to help with immediate needs, while working to incentivize future markets. From Shannon Whitehead at Medium:

“People will argue that the second-hand clothing industry in Africa is booming. And, on the surface, it is — over one-third of Sub-Saharan Africans wear second-hand. The reality, though, is that for as long as the second-hand clothing industry thrives, Africa’s economy is unlikely to improve.

According to Professor Garth Frazer from the University of Toronto, no country has ever achieved a sustainable per capita national income (at a level associated with a developing economy) without also achieving a clothing-manufacturing workforce that employs at least 1 percent of the population.

Over the years, certain African nations have attempted to ban or restrict the influx of Western clothing imports. In an effort to give existing industries a chance and to maintain traditional culture, countries such as South Africa, Uganda and Nigeria have tried to implement regulation. While it’s done some good for those countries, it hasn’t provided a solution.

Simply put, as long as we, the consumer, continue to buy and discard at our current rate, there will be a market for our wasted fashion.”

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Bacteria in your mouth has a direct path to your heart, but technology also wants a way to your beloved chest muscle. The opening of Samuel Gibbs’ new Guardian article about a bluetooth toothbrush:

“Oral B’s new app controlled Bluetooth 4.0 toothbrush makes sure you brush your teeth properly, lets your dentist peek at your brushing habits and personalises your brushing.

The toothbrush connects to the free Oral B app for the iPhone and Android, and will track your every brush stroke, collect data and chart your progress while giving you real-time guidance on how to get the job done faster and better.

‘It provides the highest degree of user interaction to track your oral care habits to help improve your oral health, and we believe it will have significant impact on the future of personal oral care, providing data-based solutions for oral health, and making the relationship between dental professionals and patients a more collaborative one,’ said Wayne Randall, global vice president of Oral Care at Procter and Gamble.

The smart bathroom

Oral B sees the connected toothbrush, launched as part of Mobile World Congress’s Connected City exhibition, as the next evolution of the smart bathroom.”


From the November 9, 1904 New York Times:

“EVANSTON, Wyo.–Mrs. Leon Demars, shot in a duel with her neighbor, Mrs. Nancy Richards, is dead. Several times the women had come to blows, and each had warned the other that the next time would be with guns.

Mrs. Demars went to Mrs. Richards’s ranch, near Fort Bridger, and upon being ordered away, displayed a big revolver.

Mrs. Richards drew a pistol, and at the second shot Mrs. Demars fell with a bullet in her breast, but kept on firing, emptying the revolver. Mrs. Richards also fired six shots.

Both are wives of ranchers. They are thirty years old.”

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As a species, we’re a disaster for other living things on Earth, and, perhaps, ultimately, for ourselves as well.

Even those of us who are vegan are bad news for our non-human neighbors because you don’t need a gun or a slaughterhouse to do plenty of damage. Like the body, the planet is resilient, and species have always disappeared by the multitude, but how much is too much? The opening of “Killing Machines” an Economist review of New Yorker writer Elizabeth Kolbert’s book, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History:

“BLEAK headlines abound about species on the brink. Monarch butterflies in Mexico are struggling. So are starfish in America, vultures in South Asia and coral reefs everywhere.

This is depressing stuff. It’s also a glimpse of the future. As the climate warms, catastrophe looms. Yet it is oddly pleasurable to read Elizabeth Kolbert’s new book, which offers a ramble through mass extinctions, present and past. Five such episodes in the past 450m years have wiped out plant and animal life on huge scales. A sixth appears to be upon us.

Ms Kolbert, who writes for the New Yorker, uses case studies to document the crisis. Setting out for Panama to investigate a vanishing species of frog, she learns that amphibians are the world’s most imperilled class of animal. Close to her home in New England, a fast-spreading fungus has left bat corpses strewn through caves. On a tiny island off Australia’s coast, she laments the degradation of the Great Barrier Reef by ocean acidification, sometimes known as global warming’s ‘evil twin.’

A new geological epoch may have arrived. Some scientists have dubbed it the ‘Anthropocene’ after its human perpetrators.”


“The sixth extinction is being caused by an invasive species”:

"I would rather not compromise my dignity,"

“I would rather not compromise my dignity,”

Kidney 4 Sale (Manhattan)

Young, healthy, non-smoker, athletic (jogger, tennis), educated (Bachelor of Science in Marketing), blood type A woman is looking to share my kidney with an individual/family who really needs it. I am not willing to travel outside of the continental US to have surgery. The job market has been unsympathetic to me and at this point its either sell a kidney or compromise my dignity. I would rather not compromise my dignity. Besides, I would be helping to save someone’s life.

Like Michel Siffre, who embedded himself in caverns and glaciers decades ago to test the human limits in isolation in advance of Apollo missions, journalist Kate Greene spent four months training in the exquisite malaise of a simulated NASA Mars mission in Hawaii, lying in wait–for what?–near the silent mouth of a volcano. It was so much like sleep that dreams–or something like them–began. The opening of “Planet Boredom,” Greene’s Aeon article about her experience:

“What follows is an account of an instance where I, a person of relatively sound mind and body, could not believe the evidence before my own eyes. It might not have been a hallucination that I experienced, but it was surely a great jolt of consciousness. The scene: I’m in my closet-sized cabin, inside a white dome built to house a crew of six for four months as part of an isolation experiment. As a crew, we are working and living as ‘explorers’ stationed on the surface of ‘Mars’. Our colony is lifelike and NASA-funded, but it is situated in a place quite a bit closer to home, on a remote slope of a Hawai’ian volcano.

It’s only a couple weeks before we are to be released, and I’m sitting on my bed with my laptop, sorting data from a sleep study I’ve been conducting on myself and my crewmates for the past three months. My cabin door is open. From the corner of my eye, I see a stranger walk into the washroom a few meters away. It’s odd, I think, for a stranger to be here. Our doors are not locked during the day, but our habitat is positioned in an isolated area, at a high elevation, far away from paved roads and pedestrians. The sight of an unfamiliar person nonchalantly using our facilities is enough to jack up my senses to high alert.

I watch as the stranger goes into the washroom and splashes water on his face. Do I know him? Why can’t I tell? If he is an intruder, why is he here? And what will he do when he’s done freshening up and sees me staring at him? I have three male crewmates and the man washing his face looks like none of them. Our crew commander shaves his head while this man has thick brown hair, slicked back. Another crewmate almost always wears buttoned-up long-sleeved shirts. The stranger is in a baggy black T-shirt. My third male crewmate is larger than the unfamiliar man and has curly red hair and a beard. This man is clean-shaven.

Finally, the stranger steps out of the bathroom and confronts me. ‘What,’ he says, less a question, more a bark. His voice kicks me to reality. It’s Simon, our red-headed engineer who has evidently shorn his beard and lost more weight over the mission than I had previously noticed.

Still, my heart is racing and a surge of blood warms me from earlobe to fingertip. ‘I didn’t know who you were,’ I say. He nods and gives a slight smile. We both laugh uneasily at the absurd thought of an intruder. It’s almost too impossible for us to imagine.

And it was shortly thereafter, as the tail end of my terror entwined with the emergent joy of relief, that I notice I hadn’t felt anything so strongly in months. I had been living in a kind of torpor.”


Two new reports about drone development, which can aid in shipping goods–or things that aren’t so good.


From “Autonomous Drones Flock Like Birds,” by Ed Young at Nature:

A Hungarian team has created the first drones that can fly as a coordinated flock. The researchers watched as the ten autonomous robots took to the air in a field outside Budapest, zipping through the open sky, flying in formation or even following a leader, all without any central control.

Experiment with distant quasar light could solve free-will loophole in quantum theory

More humane method needed for euthanizing lab fish

Microbial genes become useful forensic tool

The aircraft, called quadcopters because they have four rotors, navigate using signals from Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers, communicate their positions to one another via radio and compute their own flight plans. They were created by a team of scientists led by Tamás Vicsek, a physicist at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest.

‘This is remarkable work,’ says Iain Couzin, who studies collective animal behaviour at Princeton University in New Jersey. ‘It is the first outdoor demonstration of how biologically inspired rules can be used to create resilient yet dynamic flocks. [It suggests] we will be able to achieve large, coordinated robot flocks much sooner than many would have anticipated.'”


From “Rolls-Royce Drone Ships Challenge $375 Billion Industry: Freight,” by Isaac Arnsdorf at Bloomberg:

“In an age of aerial drones and driver-less cars, Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc is designing unmanned cargo ships.

Rolls-Royce’s Blue Ocean development team has set up a virtual-reality prototype at its office in Alesund, Norway, that simulates 360-degree views from a vessel’s bridge. Eventually, the London-based manufacturer of engines and turbines says, captains on dry land will use similar control centers to command hundreds of crewless ships.

Drone ships would be safer, cheaper and less polluting for the $375 billion shipping industry that carries 90 percent of world trade, Rolls-Royce says.”

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"The nose, eyes and ears will be hermetically sealed with wax."

“The nose, eyes and ears will be hermetically sealed with wax.”

An Illinois mind reader planned in 1893 to have himself buried alive where he would remain while a crop grew above him. He would then emerge unscathed. There are easier ways to kill yourself. From an article in the August 7th edition in that year’s Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Hillsboro, Ill.–The mind reader, A.J. Seymour, is generally known in Illinois and his proposed attempt to be buried and remain in the ground while a crop of barley is grown on his grave creates interest in this state. Dr. E.C. Dunn of Rockford has been selected by Seymour as manager. Dr. Dunn says: ‘There is no question that this feat can be performed. I have seen it performed successfully three times in India, at Allahabad, Delhi and Benares. For several days Seymour will be fed upon a diet of fat and heat producing food. He will then throw himself into a cataleptic state. Their lungs will be filled with pure air to their fullest capacity and the tongue placed back and partially down the throat in such a manner as to completely close the aperture to the lungs. The nose, eyes and ears will be hermetically sealed with wax. After parafine has been spread over the entire body, to close the pores, it will be ready for burial. The body will be put in an extra large casket. This will be placed inside another and both  will be perforated, in order that if any poisonous gases exude from the body they may make their escape and be absorbed by the soil. The interment is to be made in a clay soil.’”

After Hurricane Sandy devastated so many people in Queens and on Staten Island in 2012, the federal government gave New York City millions to help rebuild the houses of the newly homeless (and those remaining in barely livable, damaged homes). Mayor Bloomberg set up a program called Build It Back, staffed offices with workers, and for the next 15 months not a single home was rebuilt by the program as people in need, people still struggling along in shelters, were stonewalled. NOT A SINGLE HOME. The Rapid Repair project which restored electrical and boiler service was a good use of money, but Build It Back has been a fiasco.

You read about this colossal failure in the local newspapers sometimes, but not much. It’s been treated as a minor subplot. What I have noticed is that a lot of newsprint has been devoted to nitpicking newly inaugurated Bill de Blasio over small matters since he got into office. Perhaps that’s just locals being wary of what’s unfamiliar or maybe some moneyed interests are worried about tax increases. Perhaps it’s a little of both.

No one knows yet if de Blasio will be a good mayor or not, but he did make a solid (if obvious) call in replacing the failed official in charge of the Build It Back program. Perhaps some people can still get help. From “De Blasio and the Motorcade Sideshow,” a Sally Goldenberg article in Capital:

“When a CNN reporter asked him Monday whether he believes the press is treating him unfairly, de Blasio began by saying he can ‘take the heat,’ then criticized reporters for focusing on ‘sideshows,’ instead of announcements about Hurricane Sandy rebuilding, and his court fight to keep open Long Island College Hospital. (The LICH story was covered widely, despite the detail flap.)

‘These are issues that fundamentally affect peoples’ lives and I think that’s where the public debate should reside,’ he said. ‘And I think too much of the time debate veers away into, you know, sideshows.'”

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Sooner or later–and probably sooner–genetic engineering in humans is going to be a reality, despite fears of such things. Especially since a lot of those fears are dubious. Science and technology are imperfect, but so is nature. If we can avoid congenital disease or defect, we should. And, yes, there will be a temptation to abuse these advances as there always are, but you can’t hold back progress for that reason. For all the thousands of people who’ve been helped by science to become parents, isn’t it worth it to put up with the occasional Octomom? From a New York Times article by Sabrina Tavernise about the intersection of genetic therapy and human fertility:

“Such genetic methods have been controversial in the United States, where critics and some elected officials ask how far scientists plan to go in their efforts to engineer humans, and question whether such methods might create other problems later on.

‘Every time we get a little closer to genetic tinkering to promote health — that’s exciting and scary,’ said Dr. Alan Copperman, director of the division of reproductive endocrinology and infertility at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. ‘People are afraid it will turn into a dystopian brave new world.’

He added that the current meeting and discussion was an attempt at ‘putting together a framework for us to prepare for this genetic revolution.’

‘The most exciting part, scientifically,’ he said, ‘is to be able to prevent or fix an error in the genetic machinery.'”

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As difficult as it is to comprehend the horror that slavery ever existed at all, it really stuns that it still exists now. The opening of a Priceonomics blog post by Zachary Crockett about the Mauritanian slave trade:

“Abdel Nasser Ould Ethmane received his first slave when he was seven years old. It was the afternoon of his circumcision — his right of passage into early manhood — and he had the liberty to pick any gift imaginable. ‘It was as if I were picking out a toy,’ he recalls. ‘It was as if he were a thing — a thing that pleased me.’

With the point of a finger, Abdel selected a small boy with almond eyes and skin the color of coal to be his slave until death.

Abdel is a resident of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania in western North Africa, where this is commonplace. In fact, Mauritania has the highest proportional population of slaves in the world: as many as 680,000 of the country’s 3.4 million people — 20% of the population — are considered ‘property.'”


From the September 4, 1892 New York Times:

St. Paul, Minn.–Miss Josie Letson of Minneapolis has been lying at the point of death at the Northwestern Hospital for the last six weeks, but because of a remarkable surgical operation, will recover. She had been taking nothing but liquid food for over a year and had become so weak she could not raise her head.

As a last resort, physicians, by the use of a stethoscope, located an obstruction in the aesophagus about two inches below the clavicle, or collar bone. Miss Nelson was given no anesthetic and an incision was made on the left side of the neck about 4 1/2 inches in length.

The doctors dissected down to the aesophoaus, opened it, ad there found two teeth pointed downward, firmly inserted in the interior walls of the aesophagus. They almost entirely obstructed the passage.

Miss Nelson said six years ago, while in a fit of laughter, she swallowed the two teeth, which were then attached to a triangular piece of rubber in her gums.”


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