Urban Studies

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The Houston Astros organization has great data-even if it isn’t as proprietary as the team would like–and it aims to apply Moneyball-ish predictive analytics to the business end of baseball, hoping it will help drive ticket sales in addition to driving in runs. From Steve Zurier at BizTech:

“Data analytics has done some heavy hitting for major league baseball teams over the past decade, but many team officials say they are just scratching the surface of the technology’s potential. While there’s been much fanfare about the use of Sabermetrics and predictive analytics on baseball operations at the Oakland Athletics and Boston Red Sox, teams are also starting to use analytics on the business side.

Ray Ebert, senior director of information technology for the Houston Astros, says new owner Jim Crane wants analytics applied to just about every part of the business.

‘We are certainly using predictive analysis to evaluate players,’ says Ebert, who’s been with the Astros for two years. ‘But we’re also applying analytics to run what-if scenarios so we can convert single-game ticket buyers into season ticket holders and keep the season ticket holders we have.’

Ebert, who applied some of these principles when working previously with the San Diego Padres, has a positive outlook on the Astros’ future, despite the team’s recent losing record.

‘The best part of this approach is that it changes the dialogue between the business analysts and the IT staff,’ Ebert explains. ‘In the past, all people on the business side ever wanted from us was to keep the website up and running and email available. Now, we are getting into the nuts and bolts of the business.’

While Ebert admits that it’s too early to report results, he says just the mere fact that the IT staff and business analysts are having the conversation is a step in the right direction.”

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Petrotopias eventually run dry, so the key is to use the oil money to diversify the economy, and that’s what Dubai has succeeded in doing with global air travel, though there have been pretty terrible human costs. From “The New Jet Age,” Graham Boynton’s curiously amoral Vanity Fair article on the topic, which somehow elides all mention of the abuse of workers that’s fueled the building boom:

“The emergence of these carriers marks the fourth tectonic shift in international aviation since Pan Am’s founder, Juan Trippe, democratized the industry in the early 1950s. Prior to Trippe’s intervention, air travel was the domain of the ruling classes, and fares between the U.S. and Europe were fixed by the stodgy International Air Transport Association. However, in 1952, Trippe decided to introduce a tourist-class fare between New York and London and thus began a decades-long battle between free-market flying and cartel-led regulation that would see the rise and fall of carriers such as Sir Freddie Laker’s Skytrain in the 70s and People Express in the 80s, along with the breakout success of Virgin Atlantic.

The second shift came with the arrival of the jet age, in 1958, the introduction of the Boeing 747 a little over a decade later, and then the 1978 deregulation of the U.S. airline industry. In the early days of mass air travel, national airlines such as Pan Am and TWA and flag-carrying European airlines (British Airways, Air France, Lufthansa) ruled the world through government-protected colonial-route networks. But as the colonies evaporated and new business models challenged regulation, the legacy U.S. behemoths began to fall. First Eastern, then Pan Am, then TWA.

Southeast Asia then heralded the third tectonic shift. Introducing high-quality, service-led air travel, airlines such as Cathay Pacific, Singapore Airlines, Thai, and the rest all flourished as the international business-travel market grew, and as the old-world airlines struggled to survive. These fleets provided more comfortable seating, particularly at the front of the cabins, and a level of in-flight service that Western airlines had failed to offer with any conviction since the 50s.

Now we are in the fourth age. U.S. airlines are merging and morphing into giant entities with large domestic networks and relatively small international reach, offering only passable amenities on rather old equipment. Meanwhile, the Gulf airlines feature quality service at a competitive price. Peter Morris, chief economist at the aviation consultancy firm Ascend, says that these carriers have now ‘built enough critical mass to be a genuine threat to the traditional European airlines and in the near future to the Americans.’

‘They say that Dubai is Shanghai on steroids,’ notes [Emirates president Tim] Clark as he stares out of his office window in the terminal, admiring a row of gleaming Emirates A380s.”

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I’m not saying the Singularity won’t ever occur, but I really doubt it happens within the very aggressive timeline of the next 30 years or so. Physicist Louis Del Monte strongly disagrees. From Dylan Love at the Business Insider:

“The average estimate for when this will happen is 2040, though Del Monte says it might be as late as 2045. Either way, it’s a timeframe of within three decades.

‘It won’t be the Terminator scenario, not a war,’ said Del Monte. ‘In the early part of the post-singularity world, one scenario is that the machines will seek to turn humans into cyborgs. This is nearly happening now, replacing faulty limbs with artificial parts. We’ll see the machines as a useful tool. Productivity in business based on automation will be increased dramatically in various countries. In China it doubled, just based on GDP per employee due to use of machines.”

‘By the end of this century,’ he continued, ‘most of the human race will have become cyborgs [part human, part tech or machine]. The allure will be immortality. Machines will make breakthroughs in medical technology, most of the human race will have more leisure time, and we’ll think we’ve never had it better. The concern I’m raising is that the machines will view us as an unpredictable and dangerous species.’

Del Monte believes machines will become self-conscious and have the capabilities to protect themselves.”

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On the road to the development of the modern bicycle and the great wheel craze of the 1890s–a mania so powerful that biking survived even the eventual rise of the automobile–there were some false starts. One such example was the Aeripedis, or Pedomotive Carriage, British inventor’s G.R. Gooch’s cumbersome 1842 “walking machine,” which supposedly made the act of ambulation markedly easier, reducing effort and stress. It was the Segway of its day, manual though it was, and even less successful. By 1850, Gooch himself had all but given up on his creation. From an article in the July 5, 1896 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:



"Has commenced peeing somewhere (????)."

“Cat has commenced peeing somewhere (????) in the bathroom.”

Piss couch $2 (cat included) – $2 (bushwick)

FOR SALE: one couch from urban outfitters, arms removeable (as shown in pic, no couch arms, threw them away in early morning rage), grey/beige, drenched in dried cat urine, pullout bed with storage underneath cushions, some staining with thin layer of oxiclean petfresh carpet deodorizer applied drunkenly every 2-3 days.

Previous owners left us this couch with some basic liquid stains. Covered it with a sheet, no problem, until cat felt comfortable enough to begin urination starting on left side and moving slowly to the right, always finding a new spot forcing us to 1) in the beginning sit only on right side and then 2) create a make shift couch on the floor using v chic leopard print blanket/bed pillows. Used v large amounts of natures miracle URINE DESTROYER until it became apparent that $30 every week was unsustainable $, then sort of allowed couch to become temporary litter box until got shit together. Inadvertently rewarded cat for frequent, inappropriate urination with small amounts of deli turkey (cat LOVES deli turkey) because of cat cute-ness, cat went insane. peed when no turkey was available when cat woke up from nap (7 nap a day). Couch worsened, commence treatment of arm and hammers stain remover. Owner of couch (me) went insane, threatened to urinate on couch as well, did NOT urinate on couch (no human urine on couch, seriously) instead withdrew steady supply of deli turkey to Banjo (the cat) as punishment, covered couch in fresh deodorizing powder. Cat will no longer walk on the couch because powder is not pleasing to his paws, has commenced peeing somewhere (????) in the bathroom, source currently unlocated, but strong smell of urine pervasive throughout, candles have been lit and v much wine has been poured, tears been shed. Looking to unload couch and cat on open-minded individual interested in owning disgusting, smelly couch and needy, cute, evil terror cat (loves to cuddle!!!).

Asking price is $2, but open to negotiation (accept bottles of wine, a shoulder to cry on) as couch and cat are probably unsavable.

"Loves to cuddle!!!"

“Loves to cuddle!!!”

From the March 9, 1910 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Washington–Eleven monkeys have been sent to the government hospital for the insane, though the little ‘forest men’ are sound mentally and healthy. Fresh from George Washington University, where their association was with professors and students of psychology, by whom their faculties for perception and sensation were pronounced to be more keen than those of the average man, the simians are now to be subjected to close scientific scrutiny in order that the savants may learn what effect may follow confinement among insane persons.”

Ken Silverstein, a Big Oil reporter who’s written a book about the industry’s shadowy middlemen and facilitators, recently sat for an Ask Me Anything at Gawker. Michael Busch of the Los Angeles Review of Books also just interviewed the journalist, and here’s the opening:


Unlike most books dealing with the oil industry, yours examines the internal machinery of the business, and the players who grease its wheels. Can you start by outlining the scope of your investigation into the world of oil, and the various actors it involves?

Ken Silverstein:

I’ve been writing about the oil industry for more than 15 years, and during that time, I’ve traveled multiple times to Africa and Central Asia, mostly, and Houston, of course. It’s hard to think of any commodity or good that is more important to international commerce than oil. Or more sensitive, for that matter. In this sense, it’s comparable to the global arms trade in its different hidden worlds, which is always interesting. For this project I was funded by Open Society to specifically look at middlemen and oil trading firms that have an enormous role in this trade, but whom are almost never written about. There’s all sorts of great reporting and writing about the oil industry, but rarely do we get a look at these players who are hugely significant but almost entirely hidden.


Fixers, for example.

Ken Silverstein:

There are fixers, who act as middlemen between the oil industry and those governments from whom oil companies wish to obtain concessions. For a very long time now, oil was mostly pumped in the Third World and generally shipped to the First World, and it was First World companies who controlled the trade. As our illustrious former Vice President, Dick Cheney, put it, ‘The good Lord didn’t see fit to put oil and gas only where there are democratically elected regimes.’ He was saying this at a time when he was still with Halliburton, and using it as a justification for the fact that his company was doing business with some pretty shady regimes.

It’s a good point. Because so much of the oil we rely on is located in the Third World, getting access to it has frequently involved bribing governments. Sometimes those bribes have been legal, and sometimes they haven’t been legal, but payoffs to corrupt government officials have always been involved. In the old days, there were a lot of direct bribes made until the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act was passed in 1974. In Europe, bribes were legal until much more recently — you could deduct them in your taxes. But if you are a company executive, you would rather have other people dealing with these governments than having to do it yourself. It’s a very dicey area, and that’s what makes fixers useful. Companies like to have intermediaries who know a country well, or several countries. Of course, I don’t want to blame all of the corruption only on Third World governments. The companies obviously don’t like making payoffs, but they do it because they benefit; they want to win influence and government friends in the corrupt, undemocratic countries that control oil.

In Equatorial Guinea, for example — a country rich in oil but suffering under a terrible dictatorship — Exxon wanted access to the country’s deposits. The President, Teodoro Obiang [Ngeuma Mbasogo], had land, and the company bought it directly from him. President Obiang has been in power since 1979, so ‘president’ is a generous title. ‘Ruler’ is more accurate. In any event, Obiang sold Exxon some land, where they could build their own compound and develop the land for exploitation. It is safe to say they overpaid enormously for that land. It would be difficult to prove that this constitutes a ‘bribe,’ but these are the sorts of tradeoffs that are made in the name of access.

Ed Chow, a longtime Chevron executive, put it most succinctly. In places like Nigeria or Kazakhstan, he said, ‘You get the land, but you don’t provide a lot of jobs, you may be destroying the environment, and most of the profit goes to international capital. The companies don’t have a strong case to sell to local communities, so they come to not only accept highly centralized governments but to crave it. It’s a lot easier to win support from the top than to build it from the bottom. As long as we want cheap gas, democracy can’t exist.'”

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We definitely need GMOs since even if we were friendly to our environment, and we’re certainly not, eventually the climate that allows our agrarian culture would change, and then we would be staring at famine. Even with this scary reality, no one wants to trust Monsanto with the process, the company’s name having become a curse word. From “Inside Monsanto, America’s Third-Most-Hated Company,” Drake Bennett’s Bloomberg Businessweek piece:

“The 32-year-old farmer sits in the bouncing tractor cab, wearing a hooded sweatshirt, a baseball cap, jeans, a Bluetooth headset, and a look of fatigue. The steering wheel is folded up out of the way. When the tractor nears the end of a row, its autopilot beeps cheerfully, and he taps a square on one of the touchscreens to his right. The tractor executes a turn, and he goes back to surfing the Web, watching streaming videos, or checking the latest corn prices. ‘You see how boring this gets?’ [Dustin] Spears asks. ‘I’ll be listening to music for 12 hours. I’ll refresh my Twitter timeline, like, a hundred thousand times during the day.’

Spears is an early adopter who upgrades his equipment every 12 months (next year’s tractor will have a fridge in the cab, he says) and who just bought a drone to monitor his fields. He can afford to: Corn prices are high, and farmers like him can take home hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Still, he thinks such technologies—the smart planter software and sensor array, the iPad app offering planting and growing advice—are only going to get more common. So does the company that makes many of those tools, as well as the high-tech seeds Spears is planting: Monsanto, one of the most hated corporations in America.

In a Harris Poll this year measuring the ‘reputation quotient’ of major companies, Monsanto ranked third-lowest, above BP and Bank of America and just behind Halliburton. For much of its history it was a chemical company, producing compounds used in electrical equipment, adhesives, plastics, and paint. Some of those chemicals—DDT, Agent Orange, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)—have had long and controversial afterlifes. The company is best known, however, as the face of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. …

Technology has already dumbed down everything from flying an airliner to filing one’s taxes, and in so doing made those tasks safer and more efficient. But food feels different to many people. ‘You know, when this data-intensive system recommends you buy a certain seed, it’s going to be a Monsanto seed,’ says the author Michael Pollan, a prominent critic of industrial agriculture. ‘So I have a strong objection to letting any one company exert that much control over the food supply. It depends on the wisdom of one company, and in general I’d rather distribute that wisdom over a great many farmers.'”

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Utopian communes usually go wrong, wronger or wrongest, but The Farm, a hippie collective in Tennessee founded 43 years ago by ex-marine Stephen Gaskin, who just passed away, came to no horrible conclusion. The opening of his New York Times obituary by Douglas Martin:

“Stephen Gaskin, a Marine combat veteran and hippie guru who in 1971 led around 300 followers in a caravan of psychedelically painted school buses from San Francisco to Tennessee to start the Farm, a commune that has outlived most of its countercultural counterparts while spreading good works from Guatemala to the South Bronx, died on Tuesday at his home on the commune, in Summertown, Tenn. He was 79.

Leigh Kahan, a family spokesman, confirmed the death without giving a specific cause.

By Mr. Gaskin’s account, the Farm sprang in part from spiritual revelations he had experienced while using LSD, the details of which he described to thousands of disciples, who gathered in halls around San Francisco to hear his meditations on Buddhism, Jesus and whatever else entered his mind.

But to his followers, he ultimately offered more than spiritual guidance. In founding the Farm, they said, he gave concrete form to the human longing for togetherness coupled with individual expression that had energized the counterculture.”

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Apart from her perplexing connection to Barry Diller–yeesh!–Diane von Furstenberg is sort of flawless, and she’s always been aware that clothes done well are never just garb, that the smallest details have meaning–even sociological meaning–right down to the zippers. From a new interview with the designer by Jess Cartner-Morley of the Guardian, a passage about her most iconic creation:

“The wrap has stayed alive and relevant for four decades because what it stands for – a woman dressing for freedom and movement and self-determination – is as compelling now as it ever was. In the early days, Von Furstenberg airily extolled the joys of a zipless dress which you could slip on quietly when you wanted to make a swift exit without disturbing a sleeping man. That boldness still feels ahead of its time in 2014, when the “walk of shame” is the butt of many a joke. ‘That’s what my brand does,’ she says. ‘We sell confidence.’ Confidence comes from comfort, as much as from glamour. She notes that it is female designers – ‘Coco Chanel, Donna Karan, me’ – who dress women in jersey, ‘because we know it feels great and lets you get on with your day, and we care about that.’ She is a unique combination of being ultra-feminine with a distinct feline slink to her walk, but comfortable being in charge and entirely without coquetry. In the introduction to her book, she tells how, as a girl revising for exams, she would pretend she had students, and imagine herself teaching them. Passivity bores her; what’s more, she says, ‘idleness breeds insecurity. It’s so important for women to have children but it is equally important for women to have an identity outside the home. You have to be engaged, you have to be part of the world. … It doesn’t have to be a job. It can be that you bake [sic] the best jam in the world and everyone wants a piece of your jam. What matters is doing something.'”

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Journalism isn’t a science and while any individual organ might have its code of ethics, there is no overriding one. While that’s probably necessary, it’s alway left plenty of room for manipulators who have reduced the field, leaving it scarred and scorned with few believers. Yet the omnipresence of quasi-news like Rupert Murdoch’s outlets must have some effect, right? If you had said six years ago that President Obama would have reversed a good deal of our economic troubles, helped secure the recovery of the stock market, improved job numbers despite growing automation, kept us out of military quagmires in an exploding world, achieved something approaching universal healthcare (which seems to be good for the economy as well as good in general), heightened support for civil rights (e.g., gay marriage) and moved us in an environmentally sounder direction, and that he would do those things with an extremist opposition party controlling congress for the majority of the time, I think most Americans would have been very pleased. Yet poll after poll supposedly depicts him to be a remarkably unpopular President, with Fox News gleeful and Chuck Todd, a modified Van Dyke having a panic attack, declaring the sky is on the ground. It’s a little strange then that the two most important “polls”–the ones in November of 2008 and 2012 that involved actual polling places–were won rather convincingly by Obama. I think “winning” the media isn’t necessarily the same thing as winning, though not everyone agrees.

From Anders Herlitz’s Practical Ethics piece about the practice of news:

“Covering news and reporting events to a larger group of people is, from a historical perspective, very new. Newspapers with large readerships date back to the 19th century. Photojournalism became widespread in the 1930s. News in the common household’s TV starts becoming widespread in the 1950s. In the early days, to report news was to report facts, to publish an image was to give the audience the opportunity to with their own eyes see what happened in other places in the world. Journalists were witnesses to events in the world, and readers, viewers, listeners, were given the opportunity to through the journalist build their own opinions, to increase their knowledge about their countries, and about the world. Journalism and independent media outlets became a cornerstone of democracy. A well-informed people make better judgements, better choices, and this is enabled by the work of journalists. The culmination of this is the Vietnam War. Journalists were allowed to do their job, and to witness and report back to the American public what took place in Vietnam. Consequently, it became clear that news that in no way were false, untrue or fabricated could in fact generate a reaction in the public that, from the perspective of certain very powerful groups, was highly undesirable. How something is reported matter. Images matter. Details matter.

In the last couple of decades, powerful agents of the most various kind have learned to appreciate this insight to a larger and larger extent. Wars are no longer fought only on the battlefield, the success of political movements depend on what kind of media coverage they get, international relations issues depend on how the world perceives of the events, corporations know very well that they benefit from no media coverage at all of certain elements essential to their organizations (e.g. oil extraction in countries where there is no respect for human rights, assembly factories in poor countries, the origin of certain natural resources needed for the end-product), and even certain individuals are well-aware of the importance of their ‘personal brand’ and do their best to control how they are depicted in the media.”



“Stoudt predicted it would go 70 miles on the ground and 100 miles an hour in the air.”

A flying car in every garage is a technological dream deferred and probably for good reason: They’re not necessary, and there are no economic forces driving the creation of a commercially viable model. But that never stopped the dreamers among technologists, including transportation designer William B. Stoudt, from attempting to realize such modes of transport. An article from the August 5, 1943 Brooklyn Daily Eagle about the beginnings of what was officially known as Stoudt’s “Skycar” series, a succession of hybrid vehicles that never reached the market:

“Thee new modes of travel that would provide the average man with a plane that would land in his back yard and two types of craft to either fly or run on the ground are being developed in the laboratories of the Consolidated Vultee Aircraft Corporation, it was revealed today.

William B. Stout, a pioneer airplane designer, has designed for the company three vehicles for everyday use–the ‘helicab,’ a helicopter-type flying machine, the ‘aerocar’ and the ‘roadable airplane,’ both of which operate in the air and on the ground.

The ‘helicab’ has the feature of vertical ascent and the ability to land in a small space. The ‘roadable airplane’ has four wheels and folding wings which Stoudt believes would provide an ideal light delivery truck for a business man. It would be capable of going 35 miles an hour on the ground and 120 miles an hour in the air, with a flying range of 400 miles.

The ‘aerocar’ is designed along the lines of an automobile with detachable wings. Stoudt predicted it would go 70 miles on the ground and 100 miles an hour in the air.”



Do you spend some time (like I do) during each haircut or shave considering how simple it would be for that relative stranger with the sharp implement standing above you, who doesn’t always seem like the most balanced person, to do some seriously bodily harm? In certain contexts, we allow for roles which make us vulnerable but which perhaps also protect us, each of us responding (usually) to the expectations placed on us.

A film about social psychologist Stanley Milgram and his experiments in control.



Did anyone witness an bloody attack on a downtown local A train around 10:50pm -11:15pm on Friday night, June 20, 2014?

If so please email and share what happened.

In a time when high and low were defined and demarcated, designer Oleg Cassini created the White House look of Jacqueline Kennedy, and so many women wanted a copy, which made the First Lady want to divest herself of the style. It was good to be admired but not emulated. Cassini, cast aside, brought the look to the masses, giving the aspirational class of flight and desk attendants the touch of class it desired. From the Guardian:

“Cassini left Hollywood as the studios contracted in the early 1950s, and opened his own French and Italian inspired ready-to-wear business in New York. His brother had named the teenage Jacqueline Bouvier, Queen Deb of 1947. Cassini first met her in the El Morocco nightclub, five years before her marriage to Kennedy: he recalled her fit muscle tone, especially her upper arms in sleeveless gowns.

Joe Kennedy approached Cassini because he knew the designer would be discreet. As writer Pamela Clarke Keogh noted, Cassini not only dined chez Kennedy, he taught Jackie the twist, discussed the Kamasutra with Jack and once persuaded Jack to allow Jackie to wear a one-shouldered gown on a state occasion by comparing her with ancient Egyptian royalty. But Joe could never have guessed that the Cassini interpretation of Givenchy’s silhouette with exaggerated details – buttons and pockets in scale with the salons of diplomacy – would be the first American look to be popular worldwide. When the garments were displayed decades later, critics thought it an armoured style, for all its camera-catching colours. The clothes were there to protect her vulnerability.

Cassini’s greatest success was Jackie’s dress for the inauguration gala in 1961: she had ordered a complicated outfit from Bergdorf Goodman, and also a plain gown of heavy satin from Cassini. “Now I know how poor Jack feels when he has told three people they can’t be secretary of state,” she wrote to Cassini. She chose to wear his creation for the gala and kept a photograph of herself in it, leaving her old home in the snow, in her White House dressing-room. Jack told her to sit forward in her car seat, and his driver to switch on the lights, so people could see her in that dress: the young, hopeful bride of the nation.

Cassini was not responsible for the pink suit she was wearing in Dallas, in 1963, when Jack Kennedy was assassinated: that was a Chanel copy. After the president’s funeral, Jackie dropped Cassini, understanding instinctively that his work had become demode. For the rest of the 20th century, the Jackie style was visible chiefly in the uniforms of air hostesses and hotel receptionists.”


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From an Economist report about higher education, an astounding triumph of modern humanity but one that must change to be sustainable and effective, a passage about the forces of disruption:

Higher education suffers from Baumol’s disease—the tendency of costs to soar in labour-intensive sectors with stagnant productivity. Whereas the prices of cars, computers and much else have fallen dramatically, universities, protected by public-sector funding and the premium employers place on degrees, have been able to charge ever more for the same service. For two decades the cost of going to college in America has risen by 1.6 percentage points more than inflation every year.

For most students university remains a great deal; by one count the boost to lifetime income from obtaining a college degree, in net-present-value terms, is as much as $590,000. But for an increasing number of students who have gone deep into debt—especially the 47% in America and 28% in Britain who do not complete their course—it is plainly not value for money. And the state’s willingness to pick up the slack is declining. In America government funding per student fell by 27% between 2007 and 2012, while average tuition fees, adjusted for inflation, rose by 20%. In Britain tuition fees, close to zero two decades ago, can reach £9,000 ($15,000 a year).

The second driver of change is the labour market. In the standard model of higher education, people go to university in their 20s: a degree is an entry ticket to the professional classes. But automation is beginning to have the same effect on white-collar jobs as it has on blue-collar ones. According to a study from Oxford University, 47% of occupations are at risk of being automated in the next few decades. As innovation wipes out some jobs and changes others, people will need to top up their human capital throughout their lives.

By themselves, these two forces would be pushing change. A third—technology—ensures it.•

In an excellent new Aeon essay, Linda Marsa asks a severely dystopian question: Will the parallels of widening income disparity and innovations in medicine lead to two very different lifespans for the haves and have-nots? The opening:

“The disparity between top earners and everyone else is staggering in nations such as the United States, where 10 per cent of people accounted for 80 per cent of income growth since 1975. The life you can pay for as one of the anointed looks nothing like the lot tossed to everyone else: living in a home you own on some upscale cul-de-sac with your hybrid car and organic, grass-fed food sure beats renting (and driving) wrecks and subsisting on processed junk from supermarket shelves. But there’s a related, looming inequity so brutal it could provoke violent class war: the growing gap between the longevity haves and have-nots.

The life expectancy gap between the affluent and the poor and working class in the US, for instance, now clocks in at 12.2 years. College-educated white men can expect to live to age 80, while counterparts without a high-school diploma die by age 67. White women with a college degree have a life expectancy of nearly 84, compared with uneducated women, who live to 73.

And these disparities are widening. The lives of white, female high-school dropouts are now five years shorter than those of previous generations of women without a high-school degree, while white men without a high-school diploma live three years fewer than their counterparts did 18 years ago, according to a 2012 study from Health Affairs.

This is just a harbinger of things to come. What will happen when new scientific discoveries extend potential human lifespan and intensify these inequities on a more massive scale? It looks like the ultimate war between the haves and have-nots won’t be fought over the issue of money, per se, but over living to age 60 versus living to 120 or more. Will anyone just accept that the haves get two lives while the have-nots barely get one?

We should discuss the issue now, because we are close to delivering a true fountain of youth that could potentially extend our productive lifespan into our hundreds – it’s no longer the stuff of science fiction.”



Facebook didn’t think it was wrong to use its customers as unwitting subjects in a 2012 psychological test. The company still doesn’t appear to get what all the fuss is about. COO Sheryl Sandberg, leaned in and lied about the cause of the uproar, while in India. Although is it a lie if you really believe it? From R. Jai Krishna at the WSJ:

“Facebook’s psychological experiment on nearly 700,000 unwitting users was communicated ‘poorly,’ Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s No. 2 executive, said Wednesday.

It was the first public comment on the study by a Facebook executive since the furor erupted in social-media circles over the weekend.

‘This was part of ongoing research companies do to test different products, and that was what it was; it was poorly communicated,’ Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, said while in New Delhi.  ‘And for that communication we apologize. We never meant to upset you.'”

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Paul Mazursky, the director of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, a 1969 film about a pre-Internet search for a social network at Big Sur and beyond, just passed away. He was a great teller of Hollywood tales, and a lot of institutional memory disappears with him. Here he talks about his greatest screen successes.


From the August 5, 1910 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Washington–Four cents a hundred is the price which has been placed on the heads of flies in the District of Columbia. This is the stimulus which by Washington boys have been aroused by their mothers to a declaration of ‘war to the death’ on the typhoid-breeding housefly. The boys, it is reported, have started in on their work of slaughter with great glee.”

Someday Afflictor will be published by an army of robot monkeys–I mean an even bigger army of robot monkeys–but until then you can read robo-produced pieces from the Associated Press. From Francie Diep at PopSci:

“Finance and sports are the usual targets of robot reporting. Both are a bit robotic by nature. The most basic reports involve plugging numbers from a database into one of a few standard narratives. That said, automatically written stories don’t have to be too terrible to read. One small, recent study even found human readers can’t always tell the difference between people- and algorithm-written sports stories.

The biggest argument for robot journalism is that it frees human reporters to do the kind of deeper reporting only people can do. That is likely true, and pretty cool. Another is that auto-writers are able to accurately process an inhuman amount of data, then present it in a way that humans like to see: in words. ProPublica did this last year for one of its interactive stories about public schools.”

Salon’s raison d’être is to serve up red meat to blue states, to provide liberals with just enough news of conservative outrages, whether it’s the personal opinions of fat-necked fartbag Donald Trump or the judicial opinions of that cracker barrel Antonin Scalia, to keep those clicks coming. But that doesn’t mean what the site reports isn’t true or valuable. Case in point: Paul Rosenberg’s new article about the Christian Right’s separatist dreams. There are scary extremists out there seemingly beyond rational thought, some armed and others in office, who want the country to be what it used to be, even if it never really was what they think it was. History may not be on their side, but they’re sure God is. From Rosenberg:

“A Saturday ago at the annual conference of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal accused President Obama and other Democrats of waging a war against religious liberty and all but openly threatened a violent revolution, AP reported:

‘I can sense right now a rebellion brewing amongst these United States,’ Jindal said, ‘where people are ready for a hostile takeover of Washington, D.C., to preserve the American Dream for our children and grandchildren.’

Of course, Jindal’s speech didn’t come out of nowhere. Jindal is notorious as a weather vane, not a leader. So this is a clear sign of the need to take threats of right-wing violence seriously — and to look to its justifications as formulated on the Christian right.

As the latest wave of theocratic violence continues to play out in Iraq, it must feel exotic for most Americans, for whom theocratic violence is something that happens elsewhere. Yet, the idea of such violence coming to America — something Jindal is apparently eager for — is hardly far-fetched. Violence against abortion providers has been with us for decades, after all, and as Jindal’s pandering suggests, there could well be much worse to come, according to a new article from Political Research Associates, ‘Rumblings of Theocratic Violence,’ by Frederick Clarkson, author of Eternal Hostility: the Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, and co-founder of Talk2Actionorg. While violent rhetoric is nothing new on the Christian right, Clarkson observes, there are reasons to take such rhetoric more seriously than ever before. Above all, some of those most dedicated to the idea of America as a Christian nation are beginning to lose faith in their inevitable success.

‘[S]omething has changed in recent years,’ Clarkson notes, as ‘disturbing claims are appearing more frequently, more prominently, and in ways that suggest that they are expressions of deeply held beliefs more than provocative political hyperbole.’ He also cites ‘powerful indications in the writings of some Christian right leaders that elements of their movement have lost confidence in the bright political vision of the United States as the once and future Christian Nation — and that they are desperately seeking alternatives.”

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Baseball has enjoyed great financial success during the uninspired tenure of Commissioner Bud Selig, but that’s mostly because changes in technology smiled on the game, creating huge demand from regional cable corporations for a quantity of family-friendly entertainment. It’s long ball meets long tail, as in many cities there actually aren’t a lot of fans watching those telecasts, but the checks clear just the same–for now, anyhow. As Selig steps down, Charles P. Pierce of Grantland examines his legacy, which more than anything announced the end of an independent figure in the commissioner’s office. That’s both good and bad: Kenesaw “Mountain” Landis’ freedom allowed him to project his racism onto the game, yet a truly conscientious person in the position could be a voice of reason concerned with issues beyond short-term wealth. From Pierce:

“In The Hustler’s Handbook, Bill Veeck wrote prophetically that, ‘In these days of corporate ownership, the Commissioner has become of particular importance to the hustler. Corporate ownership brings company men, company policy, and company cards with little holes in them. Corporate ownership, in short, brings committee-think, and with ComThink comes the banishment, discouragement, and attrition of colorful characters. The hustler is dependent upon colorful characters, because color is what is salable. Corporations don’t want to be regulated. They don’t want a Commissioner with any powers … The hustler needs a Commissioner who will throw his weight against the stuffiness, the routine, the deadly boredom of the executive suite. He needs a Commissioner who will help baseball, in spite of itself.’

(An aside: That Veeck was never commissioner, even for 15 minutes, is proof that, if there indeed is a God, He doesn’t have a healthy enough sense of the absurd, not even if you count the platypus.)

By all the standards that drove Veeck up the wall, Selig has been an enormous success. He leaves baseball an $8 billion industry, with the average franchise valued at nearly a billion dollars. There has not been a serious labor problem in 19 years. There have been 22 new ballparks built or utterly overhauled while he’s been commissioner, and the revenue-sharing money is well into nine figures a year. He has managed the drug hysteria. He will go down in the official history as a stern drug warrior who nonetheless was willing to compromise for a settlement. There seems little doubt that Selig is headed for a big afternoon in Cooperstown one day.

But the long view of history is going to say that, with Bud Selig, the office of the commissioner of baseball finally, completely, and probably perpetually became a management position. For a long time, at least theoretically, and in the dreams of people like Bill Veeck and Charlie Finley and others who would not be welcome in the world of Corporate Partners, the commissioner’s office also seemed to have a kind of ombudsman’s function. It was somehow supposed to sit in a place between management and labor, and between the game and the paying customers, in which place it was hoped the commissioner would arbitrate disputes, and that out of that arbitration would come solutions that would benefit everyone in the game, including those who devotedly followed it.”

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Google sure could use the help of traditional automakers in making the robocar market a reality, which creates the potential for a win-win situation if both sides can forge an alliance. The opening of Alexei Oreskovic and Ben Klayman’s Reuters report:

“In 2012, a small team of Google Inc engineers and business staffers met with several of the world’s largest car makers, to discuss partnerships to build self-driving cars.

In one meeting, both sides were enthusiastic about the futuristic technology, yet it soon became clear that they would not be working together. The Internet search company and the automaker disagreed on almost every point, from car capabilities and time needed to get it to market to extent of collaboration.

It was as if the two were ‘talking a different language,’ recalls one person who was present.

As Google expands beyond Web search and seeks a foothold in the automotive market, the company’s eagerness has begun to reek of arrogance to some in Detroit, who see danger as well as promise in Silicon Valley.

For now Google is moving forward on its own, building prototypes of fully autonomous vehicles that reject car makers’ plans to gradually enhance existing cars with self-driving features. But Google’s hopes of making autonomous cars a reality may eventually require working with Detroit, even the California company acknowledges. The alternative is to spend potentially billions of dollars to try to break into a century-old industry in which it has no experience.

‘The auto companies are watching Google closely and trying to understand what its intentions and ambitions are,’ said one person familiar with the auto industry, who asked to remain anonymous because of sensitive business relationships.

‘Automakers are not sure if Google is their friend or their enemy, but they have a sneaking suspicion that whatever Google’s going to do is going to cause upheaval in the industry.'”

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The photo finish is such an ingrained part of horse racing that it’s easy to forget that it didn’t exist for most of the sport’s history. The earliest mention of its use that I can find is an August 8, 1935 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article by W.C. Vreeland, a sportswriter and champion of the equine game, who urged for the installation of an “electronic eye” at every track. The story:

Saratoga–From the time the racing season opened, in the middle of April, I had advocated a ‘camera eye’ to judge the finishes of all race courses in this State. After considering the advantages of such an arrangement which positively and accurately tells which horse pokes its nose in line with the winning post in front of his opponents, the members of the State Racing Commission have decided on an ‘electric eye,’ which will be adopted on Oct. 1.

The electric eye is a motion picture machine which makes a photo of horses in action, and at the same time makes a picture of a split-second hand moving across the face of a dial. The two pictures are made on the same film so that there can never be a question of what race is being filmed.

The horses appear along the top of the film, and the moving clock hand along the bottom. The actual picture of the race is never recorded in full, only the last furlong or sixteenth pole because the finishes only of races are matters of dispute. 

The camera must be placed high above the race course on which it is to be operated. It is installed far behind the judges’ stand so that the horses will appear all one size in the eye of the camera. The camera itself is equipped with a developing mechanism which is set in motion at the same instant that the camera starts recording.

The film is automatically developed, washed, dried and printed in less than five minutes’ time after the race. The electric eye will cost each racetrack about $300 a day. The commission recommends that each racetrack in the State adopt it as part of the ‘placing’ of the horses as they finish past the winning post.”


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