Urban Studies

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At Amazon, David Blum, the editor of Kindle Singles, has a very smart (and completely free) interview with President Obama about the state of the economy. The President touches on the sweeping changes that automation has brought to the job market, though he doesn’t go nearly far enough in acknowledging the seismic shifts that are occurring. Globalization may have been just as disruptive thus far, but it’s automation that will ultimately have a deeper and more-lasting impact. And I don’t know that community college courses will remedy that. An excerpt:

President Obama:

Where I think we have fallen is in staying focused on the benefits of an economy where growth is broad based and everybody has opportunity. We have increasingly resigned ourselves to a ‘winner-take-all’ economy–again, driven a lot by technology and globalization, where folks at the very top are doing very well and the broad middle class of people, people trying to get into the middle class, are having a tougher and tougher time. You will see that in every profession. You see that in journalism. It used to be that there were local newspapers everywhere. If you wanted to be a journalist, you could really make a good living working for your hometown paper. Now you have a few newspapers that make a profit because they’re national brands, and journalists are having to scramble to piece together a living, in some cases as freelancers and without the same benefits that they had in a regular job for a paper. What’s true in journalism is true in manufacturing and is true in retail. What we have to recognize is that those old times aren’t coming back. We’re not going to suddenly eliminate globalization. We’re not going to eliminate technology. If people are going to book their vacation over the Internet, they’re not going to go down to a local travel agent. If that’s the case, then where are the new opportunities? Where are the new industries? With just a few modest, but really important, changes to government policy, we could be doing an awful lot better than we’re doing right now. American living standards would still be higher than folks a generation ago. People might have different jobs, so instead of a guy who had just graduated from college walking over to the local plant, like his dad did, and getting a good middle class job doing blue collar manufacturing work, now he might have to go to a community college and get more specialized training because he’s working as a computer technician. The opportunities are available. We just haven’t done a good job of making sure they’re accessible to all people.”

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From the December 28, 1882 New York Times:

Wilkesbarre–This afternoon a woman named named Gannon, residing on Pringle Hill, came to Dr. Doyle’s office, bringing with her a child, which she said had swallowed a piece of slate-pencil. The child was half-suffocated and suffering with spasms. The physician, after examining the child, said that the only way to save the child was to cut open its throat and extract the pencil. The mother, however, refused to allow the operation to be performed before the arrival of her husband, who had been sent for. He did not arrive until two hours later, and within a few minutes after his arrival the child expired.”

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I know from being such a fan of baseball and the game’s statistics that numerical outliers sometimes occur without reason. The worst position player in the game can have the best month of hitting in the league. Fans wonder: Has this player who had no track record of success somehow bloomed late? Is he using performance-enhancing drugs? But often it’s just an unlikely outcome, an aberration that disappears as mysteriously as it arrives. The player returns to his former poor results, maybe he’s soon back in the minors or even out of the sport.

When it comes to something more important than baseball, matters of life and death, it’s difficult to dismiss odd results. Sometimes a cancer cluster is just that: a statistical oddity. Sometimes it’s not the water or the air but merely chance. But it’s hard to ever feel relieved about such a thing, to make the nagging go away. From an odd 1981 New York Times article about Perris, California (which doesn’t even merit a mention today in the town’s Wikipedia page), an account describing a statistical outlier or the result of negligence or even something far more sinister:

Perris, Calif., May 21— ”It’s a mystery, all right. But other than going slower past the cemetery when they were doing the exhumations, I haven’t noticed things are too much different, day to day,” said Penny Brechtel, executive secretary of the Perris Valley Chamber of Commerce.

She paused a moment, then had another thought: ‘Well, one thing’s for sure: Now Perris is on the map.’ This desert town south of Los Angeles has been on the map since 25 elderly men and women died mysteriously, most of them between 1 A.M. and 4 A.M., in the intensive care unit of the financially troubled Community Hospital of the Valleys. The number of deaths, all from March 8 to April 22, was more than six times greater than the hospital previously averaged for such a period.

‘Nobody likes this kind of notoriety,’ said Jim Adams, an insurance man who is on the City Council. ‘It makes us look like a bunch of ninnies, with nobody paying attention to what was going on at the hospital. Now, we just have to let it run its course, there’s nothing we can do.'”


The opening paragraph of an Economist piece which explains how Estonia became such an unlikely technology powerhouse: 

“WHEN Estonia regained its independence in 1991, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, less than half its population had a telephone line and its only independent link to the outside world was a Finnish mobile phone concealed in the foreign minister’s garden. Two decades later, it is a world leader in technology. Estonian geeks developed the code behind Skype, Hotmail and Kazaa (an early file-sharing network). In 2007 it became the first country to allow online voting in a general election. It has among the world’s zippiest broadband speeds and holds the record for start-ups per person. Its 1.3m citizens pay for parking spaces with their mobile phones and have their health records stored in the digital cloud. Filing an annual tax return online, as 95% of Estonians do, takes about five minutes. How did the smallest Baltic state develop such a strong tech culture?


“In the formation of his brain, Rulloff was a ferocious animal.”

Even if he hadn’t had a brain the size of a medicine ball, Edward H. Rulloff’s death by execution would have been notable. A brilliant philologist and author who committed a slew of violent crimes during his life, Rulloff was the last prisoner to die by public hanging in New York State. For a long while, he managed to stay a step ahead of the law, even when he was suspected for the beating deaths of his wife and daughter and lethally poisoning a couple of other relatives. But when the vicious linguist was finally convicted to die for the murder of an Upstate New York shop clerk, some voiced support for sparing his life, in order to allow him to keep sharing his genius about language. Mark Twain coolly mocked them, suggesting, in Swiftian fashion, that someone else be hung in Rulloff’s place. The doomed man just wanted the show to get on the road. “Hurry it up!’ he hollered on the day he was to wear a noose, “I want to be in hell in time for dinner.”

Colorful enough, sure, but when his severed head was examined after the death sentence was carried out, Rulloff proved to have one of the largest brains ever recorded. From the May 24, 1871 New York Times article about the measure of a wonderful, terrible man:

“The work of dissecting Rulloff’s head was so far completed this morning as to enable those having it in charge to ascertain the weight of his brain. The brain weighed fifty-nine ounces, being nine and a half or ten ounces heavier than the average weight. The heaviest brain ever weighed was that of Cuvier, the French naturalist, which is given by some authorities at sixty-five ounces. The brain of Daniel Webster (partly estimated on account of a portion being destroyed by disease) weighed sixty-four ounces. The brain of Dr. Abercrombie, of Scotland, weighed sixty-three ounces.

The average weight of men’s brain is about 50 ounces; the maximum weight 65 ounces (Cuvier’s), and the minimum weight (idiots) 20 ounces. As an average, the lower portion of the brain (cerebellum) is to the upper portion (cerebrum) as 1 is to 8 8-10. The lower, brute portion, of Rulloff’s brain and the mechanical powers were unusually large. The upper portion of the brain, which directs the higher moral and religious sentiments, was very deficient in Rulloff. In the formation of his brain, Rulloff was a ferocious animal, and so far as disposition could relieve him from responsibility, he was not strictly responsible for his acts. There is no doubt he thought himself not a very bad man, on the morning he was lead out of prison, cursing from the cell to the gallows.

“He was not strictly responsible for his acts.”

With the protection of a skull half an inch thick, and a scalp of the thickness and toughness of a rhinoceros rind, the man of seven murders was provided with a natural helmet that would have defied the force of any pistol bullet. If he had been in Mirick’s place the bullet would have made only a slight wound; and had he been provided with a cutis vera equal to his scalp, his defensive armor against bullets would have been as complete as a coat of mail.

The cords in Rulloff’s neck were as heavy and strong as those of an ox, and from his formation, one would almost suppose that he was protected against death from the gallows as well as by injury to his head.

Rulloff’s body was [said to be] larger than it was supposed to be by casual observers. The Sheriff ascertained when he took measure of the prisoner for a coffin to bury him in, that he was five feet and ten inches in height, and measured nineteen inches across the shoulders. When in good condition his weight was about 175 pounds.

It is very well-known that Rulloff’s grave was opened three times last Friday night by different parties who wanted to obtain his head. One of those parties was from Albany, and twice the body was disinterred by persons living in Binghamton. One company would no sooner cover up the body, which all found headless, and leave it, then another company would come and go through with the same operations. It is now known that the head was never buried with the body, but was legally obtained before the burial by the surgeons who have possession of it.

The hair and beard were shaved off close, and an excellent impression in plaster was taken of the whole head. The brain is now undergoing a hardening process, and when that is completed an impression will be taken of it entire, and then it will be parted, the different parts weighed, and impressions made of the several sections.”

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“I’ve been ripping shit up lately.”

Changing my evil ways

I’ve been ripping shit up lately. Four or five hookers a week, $700 – $1200 per week on party favors, at least one swinger party a week, not taking my work seriously and now I’m left feeling spent. I’m about to do a complete turn around. No one event made me sit down and say, “That’s enough! Time to act like an adult, find a girlfriend and follow the well traveled path,” but that’s kinda where I’m heading.

I’d like to hear from people who have made the transition. Was it tough? How did you deal with the routine of a less exciting existence? How did you deal with the actual intimacy? I’ve been functioning at a pretty high level (no pun intended) for a while. Maybe it’s tolerance or maybe somewhere deep inside, I knew that I was going to end this behavior. Being single with no children and making six figures is a trap sometimes.

From “This Charming Man,” Sasha Frere-Jones’ obliteration of Jay Z ‘s American Dream (and President Obama’s performance) at the New Yorker blog, which I don’t necessarily agree with but enjoyed reading nonetheless:

“But just like the politician that he occasionally texts, Jay Z is exactly who should disappoint us, unless our admiration is mute conformity and our optimism was a party smile. His friend has disappointed us by allowing a squeegee of surveillance to be dragged across America and approving the killing of foreign civilians with robots. Those civilians, in another country, see America the way Trayvon Martin saw George Zimmerman—a force they couldn’t stop physically creating a story they couldn’t fight historically. So what should Jay Z be doing instead of currying favor with critics in an art gallery? Maybe something like what his friend Kanye West thought up in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when he blurted out, ‘George Bush doesn’t care about black people.’ Jay Z may be our most accomplished rapper but he rarely does anything to alienate anyone the way that West continually, and valuably, does. Which is probably why Carter represents athletes now, for profit and pleasure.

Hang on, hang on—no entertainer has to become a political figure because they are, well, de-facto political figures, right? (Jay Z prefers the word ‘influence,’ which he will admit to having.) Jay Z’s performance at the Pace Gallery, a transparent rewrite of Marina Abramović’s ‘The Artist Is Present,’ took place three days before the Zimmerman verdict, so what could he have done to leverage his influence? He could have ditched the idea of lip-synching to ‘Picasso Baby‘ (a weak retread of ’99 Problems’) and recreated the Zimmerman-Martin showdown with everyone in the room, following them around the perimeter of the gallery and scaring the shit out of them, eventually pulling a gun. And though that would have been the aggressive vision of a different artist, Jay Z is exactly the kind of figure who could weather the ensuing controversy, retaining all of his homes and maybe even his Samsung deal.”

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An excerpt from “Wildcatting: A Stripper’s Guide to the Modern American Boomtown,” Susan Elizabeth Shepard’s excellent Buzzfeed long-form article about the sex industry that has attended the mad dash of money-hungry men to oil-rich Williston, North Dakota:

“The psychological principle of intermittent rewards explains the addictive appeal of gambling and Twitter. You might get a treat and you might not, and you never know, so you keep trying to see what happens next. It is the most American behavioral phenomenon.

Mineral extraction economies activate this neural mechanism: wildcatting, prospecting for gold — gambles that may pay off. Today it’s no longer the individual who makes these scores, of course, it’s corporations, but the work and opportunity draws those with nothing to lose but the trying. California in 1849, Colorado in 1859, Montana in 1883, Texas and Oklahoma in 1912, Alaska in 1970, North Dakota in 2008 — every time there’s a mining boom, it plays out thusly: Someone finds a valuable resource. People hear about it and flock to the area. These people are mainly men. The newly populated area is lawless and lacks the civilizing influence of family life. Among the first women to show up are prostitutes. For a while, everyone makes money and has fun. Or some people do, some gambles pay off. Then the resource dries up or its price drops, and the gamble isn’t profitable anymore, and the town eventually dries up or turns into a tourist attraction — or San Francisco, if it’s lucky. Because our brains are wired to want to continue taking that chance, everyone keeps gambling, no one thinks the boom will bust. It will. It always will.

Williston is booming right now. I’ve worked there since 2007, and oil has changed the town both completely and not at all. Whispers’ transition from typically tiny, haphazard small-town strip club into one trying to balance down home and big city is not working out too well, and it’s an example of the boom–bust cycle writ small. Capitalism’s inherent gamble plays out on a small stage with a chrome pole while lessons in second chances and knowing when to cut your losses are there to take to heart or ignore. It’s more America than anywhere I’ve been. Some oil workers think improvements in drilling and fracking technology will sustain the economy for decades, but that’s not my area of expertise. What I do know about is what it’s like to revisit a place you hate again and again over the span of six years, watch it change, and realize you’re watching history repeating and that you’re just another camp follower along the frontier, profiting from mineral extraction booms, chasing opportunity and running from stagnation.”


Reza Aslan, the Muslim author of  Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazarethwas welcomed warmly by Lauren Green at Fox News over the weekend. I’ll go the cynical route and guess that he knew what he was walking into and that it would be priceless promotion for his book. If so, good on him. Well played, sir. Aslan just did an Ask Me Anything at Reddit. A few exchanged follow.



What do you think about the new direction the Pope is taking the Vatican in?

Reza Aslan:

I think this Pope is the best thing that has happened to Catholicism since Vatican II. Then again I’m biased as a proud product of a Jesuit education.



Why did some cultures embrace monotheism, while others looked to polytheism?

Reza Aslan:

Monotheism is actually a very recent phenomenon. In the hundred thousand year history of human religious experience, monotheism is perhaps three thousand years old. That’s because the idea of a single god being responsible for both good and bad, light and dark, is something that the ancient mind had a very difficult time accepting. And no wonder! The only way that monotheism finally “stuck” is thru the concept of angels and demons. In other words, it was only when all the other “gods” were demoted into spiritual beings responsible for different aspects of the human condition that people were able to accept the idea one GOD in charge of all the lower spiritual beings.



Serious question, if aliens visit earth, what happens to religion?

Reza Aslan:

We would simply absorb their reality into our religious traditions they we have done with every major scientific breakthrough (the earth revolves around the sun!).



If you had to do it all over again, would you have used a pseudonym so that the focus would be more on the content of the book than on who is qualified to write it? Did you expect the media to react this way? Or did it take you by surprise?

Reza Aslan:

Yes. I would have written the book under the pseudonym: JK Rowling.

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From the September 22, 1907 New York Times:

Christiana–The young clairvoyant of Singsaa, known as “The boy with the sixth sense,” is again exerting his extraordinary powers, undertaking to unravel a mystery which has baffled the police.

A few months ago a little girl named Gudrun suddenly disappeared from Christiana. Search for her was made through Norway in vain, the only clue the police received being a statement by a playfellow that a party of gypsies carried off the missing child.

The clairvoyant was appealed to, and he says he can ‘feel’ where the gypsies with the little girl in their possession are staying, and mentions the environs of Norde Gueddalen as the place where they may be found.

Armed men, with the clairvoyant boy at their head, are now scouring the country, firmly convinced that they are on the gypsies’ tracks.”

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The opening of Seth Fletcher’s Scientific American article about Big Data entering the classroom, managing an overflow of students and replacing lecturers:

When Arnecia Hawkins enrolled at Arizona State University last fall, she did not realize she was volunteering as a test subject in an experimental reinvention of American higher education. Yet here she was, near the end of her spring semester, learning math from a machine. In a well-appointed computer lab in Tempe, on Arizona State’s desert resort of a campus, she and a sophomore named Jessica were practicing calculating annuities. Through a software dashboard, they could click and scroll among videos, text, quizzes and practice problems at their own pace. As they worked, their answers, along with reams of data on the ways in which they arrived at those answers, were beamed to distant servers. Predictive algorithms developed by a team of data scientists compared their stats with data gathered from tens of thousands of other students, looking for clues as to what Hawkins was learning, what she was struggling with, what she should learn next and how, exactly, she should learn it.

Having a computer for an instructor was a change for Hawkins. ‘I’m not gonna lie—at first I was really annoyed with it,’ she says. The arrangement was a switch for her professor, too. David Heckman, a mathematician, was accustomed to lecturing to the class, but he had to take on the role of a roving mentor, responding to raised hands and coaching students when they got stumped. Soon, though, both began to see some benefits. Hawkins liked the self-pacing, which allowed her to work ahead on her own time, either from her laptop or from the computer lab. For Heckman, the program allowed him to more easily track his students’ performance. He could open a dashboard that told him, in granular detail, how each student was doing—not only who was on track and who was not but who was working on any given concept. Heckman says he likes lecturing better, but he seems to be adjusting. One definite perk for instuctors: the software does most of the grading for them.

At the end of the term, Hawkins will have completed the last college math class she will probably ever have to take. She will think back on this data-driven course model—so new and controversial right now—as the ‘normal’ college experience. ‘Do we even have regular math classes here?’ she asks.”


Star stats guy Nate Silver has left the New York Times for ESPN and other properties under the Disney umbrella. He just did an Ask Me Anything at Deadspin. A few exchanges follow.



When will I die?

Nate Silver:

I’d guess that the median Deadspin commenter is a 34-year-old white male with middle-to-high income but also above-average alcohol consumption. So we’re taking about a remaining live expectancy of 47 years, give or take. My best guess is that you’ll die in 2060, perhaps just a few days before Sasha Obama wins her second term.



What size staff do you envision the new 538 having? Are you going to be looking more for specialists or generalists?

Nate Silver

I think the goal is perhaps to have a site where we’re publishing 3-4 articles per weekday, plus perhaps some blogs and other quick-hit type stuff. What I’m not quite sure about is exactly how many people we’ll need to hire to make that happen, and what the mix of freelancers versus full-time staffers will be.

We are looking for people with a diverse set of interests, within reason. We’ll have people who specialize in sports, I’m sure, as opposed to politics or economics or culture. But I’m not sure that we’ll have people who specialize only in (say) baseball or golf, as opposed to sports more broadly.

And yes — we are taking resumes. (There’s no formal process for this yet, but it’s not too hard to find my email.) We’ve already gotten interest from some great quant-friendly journalists. What’s a little bit tougher to find is people who are journalism-friendly quants, if that makes sense — people who might be employed in (say) tech or finance or consulting right now but who can express themselves pretty well and who might be interested in a change of careers.



Nate, what will you miss most about the political analysis you did for the Times and what will you miss the least?

Nate Silver:

To clarify, I’m not leaving political analysis. My guess is that it might still occupy 40-50% of my time personally, and that politics/elections might represent something like 30-40% of the content at the “new” 538. We’ll probably also hire at least one full-time politics writer/editor, along with some talented freelancers.

But to be honest — there’s not very much I’ll miss about pulling back from politics some. 2012 was an amazing year for me in any objective sense, but I still get sort of bitter and angry when I think about how hard it was to get people to accept some very basic statistical conclusions, and how personal things became.•


The ability to create safe driverless cars is upon us, but I’m still not sure that everyone is going to want to give up the wheel–give up ownership, even. From a report by Navneet Alang at the Globe & Mail on some of the larger implications of autonomous vehicles:

“As easy as it is to conceive of a future much like the present, only with highways full of autonomous cars, the reality is quite different. If cars can drive themselves, the place of the automobile in our culture will start to change radically – and how it does so will have enormous ramifications for cities, for commuters and for our lives.

It’s tempting to think of the arrival of driverless cars like other switches from manual to automatic technologies: the benefits will all be about of convenience. You could have the privacy and effectiveness of a single car for your ride to work, but could read the newspaper and eat your breakfast on the way. It’s the best of your Honda and a subway rolled into one.

But if cars can move themselves around, why, for example, should they lie in a parking lot all day or night? Instead, as others have suggested, it might make far more sense to have a car simply drop you off at work, and either keep itself elsewhere or transport someone else, thereby saving the increasingly valuable real estate in cities for other things. The inefficiency of a vehicle that goes unused for most of the day may start to seem quite wasteful.

In fact, that sort of thinking leads quite logically into challenging the very idea of owning a car. Rather than storing a thirty- or forty-thousand dollar machine in your garage, it may make more sense to pull out your smartphone and hail one if and when needed. Cars could be shared, either through extending the services we have now like Zipcar or Car2Go, or through new forms of shared ownership we haven’t quite conceived of yet.”


Psychiatrist or Psychologist Needed (Pa and NJ)

Hello, we are a well known paranormal team looking for a psychiatrist or psychologist needed to help us with questions and possibly join us if you would like on certain investigations. Please email us for more details. If you would like you could also get a lot of exposure on radio shows and possibly tv shows in the future or kept confidential. Thank you!

For some reason, the editors of the New Yorker never ask me for advice. I don’t know what they’re thinking. I would tell them this if they did: Publish an e-book of the greatest technology journalism in the magazine’s history. Have one of your most tech-friendly writers compose an introduction and include Lillian Ross’ 1970 piece about the first home-video recorder, Malcolm Ross’ 1931 look inside Bell Labs, Anthony Hiss’ 1977 story about the personal computer, Hiss’ 1975 article about visiting Philip K. Dick in Los Angeles, and Jeremy Bernstein’s short 1965 piece and long 1966 one about Stanley Kubrick making 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Another inclusion could be A.I., Bernstein’s 1981 profile of the great artificial-intelligence pioneer Marvin Minsky. (It’s gated, so you need a subscription to read it.) The opening:

“In July of 1979, a computer program called BKG 9.8–the creation of Hans Berliner, a professor of computer science at Carnegie-Mellon University, in Pittsburgh–played the winner of the world backgammon championship in Monte Carlo. The program was run on a large computer at Carnegie-Mellon that was connected by satellite to a robot in Monte Carlo. The robot, named Gammonoid, had a visual-display backgammon board on its chest, which exhibited its moves and those of its opponent, Luigi Villa, of Italy, who by beating all his human challengers a short while before had won the right to play against the Gammonoid. The stakes were five thousand dollars, winner take all, and the computer won, seven games to one. It had been expected to lose. In a recent Scientific American article, Berliner wrote:

Not much was expected of the programmed robot…. Although the organizers had made Gammonoid the symbol of the tournament by putting a picture of it on their literature and little robot figures on the trophies, the players knew the existing microprocessors could not give them a good game. Why should the robot be any different?

This view was reinforced at the opening ceremonies in the Summer Sports Palace in Monaco. At one point the overhead lights dimmed, the orchestra began playing the theme of the film Star Wars, and a spotlight focused on an opening in the stage curtain through which Gammonoid was supposed to propel itself onto the stage. To my dismay the robot got entangled and its appearance was delayed for five minutes.

This was one of the few mistakes the robot made. Backgammon is now the first board or card game with, in effect, a machine world champion. Checkers, chess, go, and the rest will follow–and quite possibly soon. But what does that mean for us, for our sense of uniqueness and worth–especially as machines evolve whose output we can less distinguish from our own?”

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From “Inside the Immortality Business,” Josh Dean’s excellent Buzzfeed report about cryonics, a passage about the first-ever “cryonaut”:

“At one end of Alcor’s conference room is a picture window of the kind you see in police interrogation rooms. It’s typically covered with a metal screen, but Mike Perry, the company’s Patient Care Director, pushed a cartoonishly large red button and it raised to reveal the cold storage room, which if you’ve been on a brewery tour, basically looks like that. On the far wall is a row of towering silver canisters containing four patients each (claustrophobia is not a concern of the cryopreserved) — plus another eight or 10 frozen heads, which are stored in crock-pot-sized cans and stacked in the canister’s center channel. Each capsule, Perry explained, is cooled to 320 degrees below zero Fahrenheit using liquid nitrogen and requires no electricity. Canisters operate on the same basic principle as a thermos bottle; they are double-walled with a vacuum-sealed space between the two walls and are known as dewars, for the concept’s Scottish inventor, James Dewar. The chamber itself is filled with liquid nitrogen and is replenished weekly from a huge storage container, though in truth, Perry noted, that’s overkill. A test canister once went eight months before all of the nitrogen finally boiled off, so there’s little reason to worry about your frozen loved ones thawing should the nightwatchman fall asleep on the job.

Perry, who is gaunt, wispy-haired, and hunchbacked (a condition he hopes will be fixed when he’s revived down the road), drew my attention to another unit, horizontal and obviously much older, on the floor just on the far side of the glass. This container once held Dr. James Bedford who, in 1967, became the world’s first-ever cryonaut, as the fervent press at the time dubbed him. Perry said that security reasons prevented him from identifying precisely which of the new capsules now contained Bedford, or for that matter the baseball legend Ted Williams, who is the most famous ex-person publicly known to be in Alcor’s care. (Walt Disney, contrary to urban legend, was never frozen. Neither was Timothy Leary, who was once an Alcor member, but later canceled.)

Cryonics as a concept has existed in science-fiction for more than a century, but it traces its real-world origins to the 1964 publication of The Prospect of Immortality. That book, written by a physics and math professor from Atlantic City named Robert Ettinger, opened with a bold proclamation: ‘Most of us now living have a chance for personal, physical immortality.’ Ettinger went on to lay out, in a very specific and carefully constructed scientific argument, why humans should immediately begin to consider this plausible alternative. He wrote: ‘The fact: At very low temperatures it is possible, right now, to preserve dead people with essentially no deterioration, indefinitely.’ Ettinger called this ‘suspended death’ and the overall movement he hoped would grow up to support it ‘the freezer program,’ an ominous phrase that didn’t stick for obvious reasons. (In a later book, he called it being ‘preserved indefinitely in not-very-dead condition,’ which is so hilariously stiff as to sound bureaucratic.)”

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I haven’t been to San Francisco in a few years, but most reports describe it as a burgeoning tech nightmare, with a gigantic income disparity and Google employees being separated from the general population by private buses and the like. From “The Dark Side of Startup City,” by Susie Cagle at the Grist:

“A Lyft car idling at every stoplight, a smartphone in every hand — and an eviction on every block.

Few cities have seen as much disruption as San Francisco has over the last 10 years. Once a hotbed of progressive political activism and engagement, the city is being remade in the image of the booming tech industry, headquartered in Silicon Valley to the south.

Rents in some of San Francisco’s most desirable neighborhoods have doubled in a year. Apartment construction has exploded in order to absorb the new residents. The city is developing so rapidly that Google’s streetview photos from 2011 are already well outdated.

The local government has embraced the disruption. Longtime residents, meanwhile, talk about fleeing or saving their city as though a hurricane is coming. But the hurricane has landed “


"I wouldn't live in Nee York if you gave it to me. It's hotter than --- in Yuma, but I like the sun."

“It’s hotter than — in Yuma, but I like the sun.”

The only female sheriff in Arizona, a gun-slinging miner and Prohibitionist, made her way to New York to raise funds for a sanitarium, according to a colorful article in the November 17, 1915 New York Times. The story:

“Underneath her big sombrero, Mrs. Lucretia Roberts, Constable and Deputy Sheriff on Santa Cruz County, Arizona, has invaded New York City with a Mexican hair lariat and a .45 Colt’s revolver.

However, there is nothing about the little woman, who wears cowhide boots and a tan riding suit, that should cause any uneasiness to the quiet citizens of this metropolis. Rather is she of the type that might suggest the Boston school teacher on an outing. Soft-spoken in her speech and gentle in her manner, the only woman holder of an elective office in Arizona has pitched her tent for several days at the Hotel McAlpin.

Yet underneath her quiet demeanor there is an apparent confidence of ability to handle affairs. Mrs. Roberts said last evening that she had come here to gather funds to build a sanitarium for consumptives in the State where sunshine and good fresh air are as plentiful as lights along our Great White Way. She said, too, that she was willing to sell some stock in a mine of her own.

She owns a homestead site of 160 acres in Canillo, Ariz., and has ten saddle horses and 250 head of good cattle. She said last evening that she lived ‘in the saddle’ and loved out-of-doors life. Asked her impression of the big city, she said:

‘I wouldn’t live in New York if you gave it to me. It’s hotter than — in Yuma, but I like the sun, and it shines there every day.’

The hotel management learned very soon that Mrs. Roberts’s rooms did not admit enough sunshine and light and air, and quickly removed her to another set of rooms, where the constable was more at home. Mrs. Roberts said in answer to a question:

‘New York is nice to visit, though. But there is too much slamming of doors, and then women’s skirts are too short in this city. Yet withal, I have enjoyed the few hours I have spent here.’

Speaking of her election, Arizona’s only woman Sheriff said:

‘It was sort of a joke vote in Santa Cruz County a year ago in November. I was elected over two cowpunchers, G. Bryley and John Yost, by three votes to one for them, it being the first time the woman voted in the State; but it hasn’t turned out to be a joke for many, for you will remember that we put the State on the dry side in the last election. We women don’t know much about the ballot, but we sided right on the main issues and put them through.’

"Most of our arrests are of bad Mexicans and bootleggers."

“Most of our arrests are of bad Mexicans and bootleggers.”

Hardly had the little woman of the West shaken the alkali of the deserts from her skirts or adjusted her sombrero before she set out to learn about the big city. She said last evening, although she admitted being tired, that she had enjoyed a talk with ‘Paddy’ McDonald, the giant traffic officer who guards citizens from the rush of autos at Times Square. She said that the big policeman had a lot of knowledge of horses and autos, and was gentle to silly people who asked absurd questions. She knew this, she said, because she stood by while he answered many ridiculous questions with good humor.

In the evening Mrs. Roberts visited a Broadway theatre and enjoyed a show, the name of which she refused to give.

A number of clippings from Arizona newspapers related some exploits of Mrs. Roberts, such as the capture of a Mexican horse thief whom she pursued across the desert for three days, and of her shooting a pack of wolves when they attacked a neighbor’s cattle near Canillo. Speaking of her work as a Constable and Sheriff, she said:

‘Most of our arrests are of bad Mexicans and bootleggers. Of course, I can swear in any man at any time as an assistant, and they jump at the chance.’

She told of a ride of sixty-five miles from Canillo to Bisbee between 7 o’clock in the morning and sundown recently, when she captured a Mexican who had stolen cattle from a neighbor. Cattle, this year, she said, were the best in Arizona’s history, but crops were poor because of an exceptionally dry season.

The little Sheriff is confident of building her hospital.”

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At the Los Angeles Review of Books, Andrew Gumbel has an excellent interview with film producer Lynda Obst, whose new book, Sleepless in Hollywood, examines the puzzling economics of the moment in Hollywood. An excerpt:

Andrew Gumbel:

As home viewing systems become more sophisticated, what about the movies will remain irreplaceable? Do you think people will still be going to the movies in large numbers in 30 or 50 years, or will it become a minority pursuit devoted to showings of the classics, a bit like opera now?

Lynn Obst:

There’s a lot of thinking about the future of the movie-going experience. One direction is the development of destination theaters, with reclining seats and really good food and alcoholic drinks with waiter service — more of a screening experience. Another is allowing people to watch first-run movies at home, at a price that still works for the distributors. But, one way or another, people are still going to go to the movies. Sure, people who prefer to do so will stay home. But teenagers just want to get away from their parents and be with one another, and the movies provide that opportunity. And the excitement of the communal experience will not diminish. It was so much fun to watch Bridesmaids on the opening weekend in a room full of people who were loving it. That’s true for comedies, and it’s true for a lot of powerful dramas. Movies that aren’t made for that communal experience will probably stop being shown in theaters altogether. But the movies have never been more of a mass experience than right now.

Andrew Gumbel: 

How can you say that when entertainment is increasingly being consumed by individuals sitting in front of their screens?

Lynn Obst:

Movies are one of the great escapes — and that includes escaping from this social media enclosure we’re in. There’s almost nowhere you can go without people being in their own private Idaho, tied to their iPhones. But, at the movies, they turn off their phones and scream at the screen and talk to each other on the way in and out. Movies are one thing we do that brings us together.”

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“For cooking.”


anyone know of a place where i could purchase insects for cooking? pet shops and graveyards are excluded.

From a pretty overheated Associated Press article about stem-cell research and the commingling of species:

“But the biological co-mingling of animal and human is now evolving into even more exotic and unsettling mixes of species, evoking the Greek myth of the monstrous chimera, which was part lion, part goat and part serpent.

In the past two years, scientists have created pigs with human blood, fused rabbit eggs with human DNA and injected human stem cells to make paralyzed mice walk.

Particularly worrisome to some scientists are the nightmare scenarios that could arise from the mixing of brain cells: What if a human mind somehow got trapped inside a sheep’s head?

The ‘idea that human neuronal cells might participate in ‘higher order’ brain functions in a nonhuman animal, however unlikely that may be, raises concerns that need to be considered,’ the academies report warned.”

From the December 12, 1885 New York Times:

Bellaire, Ohio–Frederick Glatzer and Frederick Summers are coal diggers and reside with their families up Indian Run, a few miles from this city. What has made them notorious is the fact that they are fond of dog meat, and on occasions when the average mortal buys a turkey to celebrate with, these people kill a dog and roast it. Glatzer’s wife has not been in the country very long, but during the time she has lived here the family has had several dog roasts, and have made them very enjoyable occasions, and on Christmas expect to have another, at which a number of relatives will be present.”

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I don’t understand why children can’t go into bars or buy cigarettes, but they can eat at fast-food restaurants. It ingrains in them at an impressionable age as unhealthy a lifestyle as can be. I have no problem with adults who choose to do these things, but I don’t get how we draw the line with kids to allow them to stuff huge amounts of salt and sugar into their hearts.

That said, I’ll acknowledge that I’ve always been entranced by the branding and design of fast-food places: the consistency, the brightness, the modernism, the formerly industrial materials being wound into a homey decor in a way that Ray and Charles Eames could appreciate. It’s the perfect meeting of form and function. Don’t get me wrong: Even if I wasn’t a vegetarian, I would not eat this garbage, and the implications of its globalization also bother me. But I do love the architecture and design of such places, especially the earliest iterations.

From Jimmy Stamp’s Smithsonian blog post,Design Decoded: The Golden Arches of Modernism,” an excerpt about the initial McDonald’s structures, which were planned and executed during the apex of roadside culture:

In the early 1950s brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald hired architect Stanley Clark Meston to design a drive-in hamburger stand that carried on the traditions of roadside architecture established in the 1920s and 1930s. They had some experience with previous restaurants and a very clear idea of how they wanted their new venture to work – at least on the inside. Meston described the design as ‘logically dictated by clear program and commercial necessities’ and compared it to designing a factory. Though he didn’t necessarily consider himself a modernist, Meston’s pragmatic, functionalist approach reveals, at the very least, a sympathy with some of the tenets of Modernism. Function before form. But not, it would appear, at the expense of form.

And anyway, the exterior had its own function to fulfill. In an age before ubiquitous mass media advertisements, the building was the advertisement. To ensure the restaurant stood out from the crowd, Meston decided to make the entire building a sign specifically designed to attract customers from the road. Now, many architects have speculated that McDonald’s iconic Golden arches have their origin in Eero Saarinen’s 1948 design for the St. Louis Gateway Arch or Swiss architect Le Corbusier’s unbuilt 1931 design for the Palace of the Soviets. But they tend to read little too much into things. The answer is much simpler.

The building was a sign but it wasn’t really signifying anything – other than ‘hey! Look over here!’ According to Hess, the initial idea for the golden arches –and they were called ‘golden arches’ from the very beginning– came from ‘a sketch of two half circle arches drawn by Richard McDonald.’ It just seemed to him like a memorable form that could be easily identified form a passing car. The longer a driver could see it from behind a windshield, the more likely he or she would be to stop. Oddly enough, the idea to link the arches, thereby forming the letter ‘M’, didn’t come about until five years later. McDonald had no background in design or architecture, no knowledge of Eero Saarinen, Le Corbusier, or the triumphal arches of ancient Rome. He just thought it looked good. Weston turned that sketch into an icon.

Technology has long conditioned urban form and continues to do so today. But this was perhaps never quite so clear as it was with roadside attractions and restaurants like McDonalds.”

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In a New York Review of Books essay, Martin Scorsese sums up the new literacy:

“Now we take reading and writing for granted but the same kinds of questions are coming up around moving images: Are they harming us? Are they causing us to abandon written language?

We’re face to face with images all the time in a way that we never have been before. And that’s why I believe we need to stress visual literacy in our schools. Young people need to understand that not all images are there to be consumed like fast food and then forgotten—we need to educate them to understand the difference between moving images that engage their humanity and their intelligence, and moving images that are just selling them something.

As Steve Apkon, the film producer and founder of the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, New York, points out in his new book The Age of the Image, the distinction between verbal and visual literacy needs to be done away with, along with the tired old arguments about the word and the image and which is more important. They’re both important. They’re both fundamental. Both take us back to the core of who we are.

When you look at ancient writing, words and images are almost indistinguishable. In fact, words are images, they’re symbols. Written Chinese and Japanese still seem like pictographic languages. And at a certain point—exactly when is ‘unfathomable’—words and images diverged, like two rivers, or two different paths to understanding.

In the end, there really is only literacy.”


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The opening of a Guernica piece about the fall of Detroit and the rise of American income disparity, by that tiny communist Robert Reich:

“One way to view Detroit’s bankruptcy—the largest bankruptcy of any American city—is as a failure of political negotiations over how financial sacrifices should be divided among the city’s creditors, city workers, and municipal retirees—requiring a court to decide instead. It could also be seen as the inevitable culmination of decades of union agreements offering unaffordable pension and health benefits to city workers.

But there’s a more basic story here, and it’s being replicated across America: Americans are segregating by income more than ever before. Forty years ago, most cities (including Detroit) had a mixture of wealthy, middle-class, and poor residents. Now, each income group tends to lives separately, in its own city—with its own tax bases and philanthropies that support, at one extreme, excellent schools, resplendent parks, rapid-response security, efficient transportation, and other first-rate services; or, at the opposite extreme, terrible schools, dilapidated parks, high crime, and third-rate services.

The geo-political divide has become so palpable that being wealthy in America today means not having to come across anyone who isn’t.

Detroit is a devastatingly poor, mostly black, increasingly abandoned island in the midst of a sea of comparative affluence that’s mostly white. Its suburbs are among the richest in the nation.”


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