Urban Studies

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BEDBUGS FOR MALICE – $30 (Bedstuy Bushwick)

Hi! New York can be a pretty difficult place to live! As they say, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere!

I’ve lived here almost a full calendar year, and have found that it’s super difficult to keep positive. There are so many things trying to keep you down – the subway track work, craigslist roommate scams, reappearing enemies from college, ex girlfriends finding out your account info…That said, I recently moved into a room that happens to be infested with bedbugs. Luckily for me, I’m not allergic, and barely notice them. My girlfriend, however, is blaming me for HER infestation, even though it’s totally NOT. MY. FAULT. I really didn’t know we had them, and by the time we found it, it was too late. She broke up with me. Unfortunately she was also my boss, so I need to find a new job.

So, I’m trying to make my challenges and hardships work FOR me instead of AGAINST me. I need some extra ca$h, and if I can help-a-bruthah out while I’m doin it, the more the merrier!

I’m aware that it’s impossible to live in this city without fucking someone over. So, I am selling my bedbugs and bedbug eggs for people to use against people. You can let it roam in their bag, their home, etc etc. I am simply selling bedbugs, how you use them is your business.

I will package them up so that they both a) live and b) stay in their container.

Tesla has quickly built the kind of brand loyalty that even out-grades Apple at the height of Steve Jobs’ second go around as guru-in-chief. Why? An explanation of the emotional pull of Elon Musk’s EVs, from Tamara Rutter at USA Today:

“Another way that psychologists explain brand loyalty is through emotional connection. All of the most recognizable brands today have one thing in common: They make an emotional connection with consumers. One of the easiest ways for a brand to do this is by standing for something. In fact, a study by marketing research firm CEB found that rather than being loyal to a company per se, people are loyal to what that company represents.

Tesla wins major points in this regard because it is passionately dedicated to promoting mass adoption of electric vehicles in hopes of one day solving our planet’s energy problem. People feel good about driving a Tesla because they no longer need to buy gas, and as a bonus, they’re helping the planet in the process.

Many Tesla drivers have launched meet-ups or social gatherings for fellow owners and enthusiasts to connect with one another. There are also dozens of meet-up groups around the world for electric-car enthusiasts in general. The important takeaway here is that creating sustainable energy solutions is an increasingly important cause today, one to which millions of people are committed.”

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No matter how many more stories Margaret Atwood writes in her life, the one she is currently working on will be her last, in a sense. The last one read for the first time, anyhow. The author’s current work will be buried in a time capsule for 100 years as part of a deep-future project which runs counter to our insta-culture. From Alison Flood at the Guardian:

“Depending on perspective, it is an author’s dream – or nightmare:Margaret Atwood will never know what readers think of the piece of fictions he is currently working on, because the unpublished, unread manuscript from the Man Booker prize-winning novelist will be locked away for the next 100 years.

Atwood has just been named as the first contributor to an astonishing new public artwork. The Future Library project, conceived by the award-winning young Scottish artist Katie Paterson, began, quietly, this summer, with the planting of a forest of 1,000 trees in Nordmarka, just outside Oslo. It will slowly unfold over the next century. Every year until 2114, one writer will be invited to contribute a new text to the collection, and in 2114, the trees will be cut down to provide the paper for the texts to be printed – and, finally, read.

‘It is the kind of thing you either immediately say yes or no to. You don’t think about it for very long,’ said Atwood, speaking from Copenhagen. ‘I think it goes right back to that phase of our childhood when we used to bury little things in the backyard, hoping that someone would dig them up, long in the future, and say, ‘How interesting, this rusty old piece of tin, this little sack of marbles is. I wonder who put it there?'”

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From the July 26, 1910 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Canton, O. — Because they wanted to be ‘bad men’ and also needed to treat their sweethearts, John Warner and Ray Metcalf, each 11 years old, committed 600 burglaries. They were arrested here yesterday and after confessing to their misdeeds led the police to a disused coal cellar where they had cached the major part of their plunder.

A diamond ring was recovered which they had sold for 20 cents, and a gold watch had been disposed of for 15 cents.

Their operations extended from East Liverpool to Lorain, and according to their confessions, borne out by police reports, in one day they entered as many as seventy-five houses.”

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10 search-engine keyphrases bringing traffic to Afflictor this week:

  1. thomas mann interview in the new york times 1955
  2. british taxi driver george king who went to mars
  3. joan didion writing about newt gingrich
  4. why did egypt become the cradle of civilization?
  5. p.w. singer on cyberwar
  6. steve jobs on computers in the classroom
  7. footage of earthworm robots
  8. tv appearances by gloria swanson in her later years
  9. helen gurley brown interview
  10. manfred clynes who coined the term cyborg

Even viruses leave digital trails in this wired world, so the Ebola outbreak is being tracked, in part, by the sorting and sifting of online data. It’s epidemiology via e-waste. From Simon Engler at Foreign Policy:

“Patrick Sawyer, Nigeria’s first Ebola patient, collapsed at the international airport in Lagos on July 20. This Wednesday, more than six weeks later, the World Health Organization (WHO) said that it was monitoring at least 200 Nigerians for infection related to Sawyer’s case. Sawyer, a Liberian-American who had traveled from Monrovia, had carried the often-fatal disease to Africa’s most populous country, hundreds of miles from its origin. It was as if he had slipped through a crowd.

Fortunately for the people of Nigeria, crowds leave traces, even when the individuals within them disappear. As Ebola spreads, some epidemiologists are beginning to analyze those traces to guess where outbreaks might occur. They’re not only gathering data from diseased neighborhoods and hospitals. They’re also using sources like flight data, Twitter mentions, and cellphone location services to track the disease from afar. Researchers, in short, are sifting through the detritus of mobile lives to map the spread of an unprecedented outbreak.

Some of the results have been surprising in their accuracy.”

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Here, you babies, here’s your blessed flying car that you don’t even need! Štefan Klein has created the much-buzzed-about Aeromobil 2.5, with the autopilot version promised for next year. Soon you won’t have to drive or fly, and you’ll have more time to download hacked photos of nude celebrities, because their nipples are superior. From Jeremy Kingsley at Wired UK:

“Flying cars haven’t taken off yet, but there’s a good reason, says Slovakian designer Štefan Klein: good cars would make bad planes, and vice versa. Cars need to be wide and heavy, planes narrow and light. Klein, who is the cofounder and chief designer at Aeromobil which makes a Slovakian flying car, claims his creation is as roadworthy as it is airworthy. ‘It’s its own category,’ he says.

Weighing just 450kg and powered by a 100hp, light-aircraft-standard Rotax 912 engine, the Aeromobil 2.5 (above) reaches 160kph on the ground. Press the ‘transform’ button and a rear-mounted propeller fires up, the wings fold out to span 8.2m, and in under 200m of grass runway, the plane takes off at 130kph. A single engine — one of the vehicle’s patented components — powers both driving and flying. Other patents include the lightweight wings and a steering wheel that’s the same for both modes. ‘We are trying to invent parts that don’t already exist,’ Klein says.

He started thinking about flying cars 25 years ago in his native Bratislava, in then Czechoslovakia before the Velvet Revolution — a flying car could escape to western Europe.”

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The excellent opening of Alan Feuer’s New York Times article about the twisty, seven-year investigation that brought down the eye-popping operation of the largest pot dealer in the history of New York City, Jimmy Cournoyer, the Tony Montana of marijuana:

“One day in January 2007, the disgruntled ex-girlfriend of a Queens pot dealer walked unprompted into the district office of the Drug Enforcement Administration on Long Island. Sitting down with an agent, she bitterly gave vent: Her former boyfriend, the father of her child, was selling weed.

As a rule, the drug agency isn’t in the business of settling romantic scores, but the woman, who had shown up with her child in tow, was adamant that her onetime lover was a major player in the city’s wholesale marijuana trade. A group of federal agents started looking into the man.

What began that day with a woman scorned unfolded over the next seven years into an investigation that went beyond the wildest imaginings of the agents assigned to it, an elaborate case that led to the discovery, and subsequent arrest, of a surprising quarry: an international criminal who is now described as the biggest marijuana dealer in New York City history.

That man, a French Canadian playboy named Jimmy Cournoyer, spent almost a decade selling high-grade marijuana in the city, trafficking the drug through a sprawling operation that moved from fields and factories in western Canada, through staging plants in suburban Montreal, across the United States border at an Indian reservation and finally south to a network of distributors in New York. Along the way, Mr. Cournoyer, a martial-arts enthusiast with a taste for fast cars, oversaw an unlikely ensemble of underlings, a company of criminals that came to include Native American smugglers, Hells Angels, Mexican money launderers, a clothier turned cocaine dealer in Southern California and a preppy, Polo-wearing Staten Island gangster.”

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Predictive sentencing (likely unconstitutional) is already a reality in America, as is predictive policing. Right now the anti-crime efforts focus on algorithms crunching numbers, but in the longer run brain imaging and genetic testing could be used to identify the potentially hyperviolent or criminal, which, of course, sounds more troubling than lawlessness itself. From Henrick Karoliszyn at Aeon:

“These early predictive systems are only the start. In years to come, many legal experts speculate, brain scans and DNA analysis could help to identify potential criminals at the young age of three. Some evidence for the approach came in 2009 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences: researchers from the US and the UK tested 78 male subjects for different forms of the so-called ‘warrior gene’, which codes for the enzyme monoamine oxidase A (MAOA), a gene that breaks down crucial neurotransmitters in the brain. One version of MAOA works efficiently; but another version breaks down brain chemicals only sluggishly, and has long been linked to aggression in observational and survey-based studies. Some researchers held that, in war-prone societies, up to two-thirds of individuals had the low-activity gene – versus the more typical percentage of just one-third, found in the more peaceful nations of the world.

To see if this controversial hypothesis held up in the lab, researchers asked the same 78 subjects to take a second test. They were to hurt individuals they believed had stolen money from them by ordering varying amounts of painful hot sauce in their food. (In reality, the ‘thief’ was a computer, so no person was actually hurt.) The findings yielded the first empirical proof that those with the low-activity form of the gene – the warriors among us – did indeed dish out more pain.

These findings soon found their way into criminal court: in 2009, at a trial in Tennessee, the defendant Bradley Waldroup was accused of killing his wife’s friend – by shooting her eight times and slicing her head open – and then slicing his wife again and again with a machete. Yet despite the glaring evidence, he avoided a first-degree murder conviction based in part on the warrior gene defence. He had it.”

Jim Bakker’s prayers are answered less often now. A far cry from a world of theme parks and network-level TV production values, the minister, who never fully got up after falling from grace, today resides 30 miles from Branson, Missouri, hosting low-rent religious shows in a hotel theater, in which he hawks freeze-dried food and survival gear at trumped-up prices to Christians awaiting the apocalypse. At 74, he’s a preacher for preppers. The programs, as amateurish as they are disturbing, are recorded and shown on religious cable stations. They play like infomercials for the end of the world.

His son, Jay Bakker, who’s become a far more progressive holy man after surviving myriad addictions, is the latest guest on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. It’s a fascinating conversation about an American family like few others. Just one interesting tidbit: The elder Bakker was the original host of The 700 Club and was elbowed aside by station owner Pat Robertson, who had never been a minister but wanted the spotlight for himself. Listen here.

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Just because you’ve made a lot of money, that doesn’t mean you have all the answers. In fact, when buffeted by wealth, you’re unlikely to even identify the right questions. Case in point: libertarian technologist Peter Thiel, who thinks a lack of innovation will doom humankind. We’re certainly at risk from climate change and those melting icebergs, but I don’t think we’ll perish from want of ambition. Such big-idea projects may currently be too out of balance in favor of the private sector, but moonshots abound. From Roger Parloff at Fortune:

“When people look into the future, Thiel explains to me, the consensus is that globalization will take its course, with the developing world coming to look like the developed world. But people don’t focus on the dark, Malthusian reality of what that will mean, absent major technological breakthroughs not currently in any pipeline.

‘If everyone in China has a gas-guzzling car, we’ll have oil at $10 per gallon and enormous pollution,’ he observes.

But that’s just the start, because without growth there will also be increasing political instability. Instability will lead to global conflict, and that in turn may lead to what in a 2007 essay he referred to as ‘secular apocalypse’—total extinction of the human race through either thermonuclear war, biological contagion, unchecked climate change, or an array of competing Armageddon scenarios.

‘That’s why,’ he says, with characteristic understatement and aplomb, ‘I think the stakes in this are not just, ‘Are we going to have some new gadgets?’”

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While Facebook’s recent research on unwitting customers wasn’t as upsetting as, say, the Stanford Prison Experiment, it rightly brought about an avalanche of criticism. But what does this mean for social scientists who wish to conduct experiments from the Internet’s wealth of data rather than lab-based trials, studies which won’t produce profits but knowledge, which could bring to light hidden prejudices? From the Economist:

“When it emerged in June that Facebook had secretly manipulated the emotional tenor of what a small fraction of users saw, outrage ensued. Even though this kind of experimentation is within the bounds laid out by tick-box user agreements, many column inches were devoted to the ethical considerations of subjecting users to such fiddling.

Online, many people simply typed ‘derp.’ The word is used as a postscript to a stupid action or statement; it is probably a bastardisation, of the kind that the internet tends to produce, of ‘duh.’ A new academic initiative aims to reclaim the word, at the same time putting social-media research on a more ethical footing: DERP, the Digital Ecologies Research Partnership.

The effort brings together 18 academic fellows and five social-media partners: Imgur, an image and video repository; Reddit and Fark, two community-driven news and discussion sites; StackExchange, a collection of question-and-answer sites; and video-sharing service Twitch (recently acquired by Amazon for $970m).

Collaborations of this sort are not new; Facebook’s folly was just particularly publicised. Some of the most innovative digital research to date has studied the simple process of Reddit users asking for a gift of pizza. Research by Tim Althoff of Stanford University, in California, and colleagues analysed the sentiments involved in 22,000 posts on Reddit’s ‘Random Acts of Pizza’ (its tagline: ‘Restoring faith in humanity, one slice at a time’).

Their paper ‘How to ask for a Favor,’ shows that pizza-pie philanthropy was correlated to how early in the month the request was made, and how needy an asker appeared to be (rather than merely how desirous). As mundane as these results might seem, they represent the vanguard of social-network science. This analysis of thousands of real people interacting in a real situation—as opposed to a few dozen underpaid undergraduates in a trumped-up psychology-lab scenario—showed that, contrary to psychologists’ expectations, Reddit users rewarded neither requests that sounded upbeat nor those from people who seemed similar to themselves.”

I know Joan Rivers, who sadly passed away today, had plenty of detractors over the last, long leg of her career, when she often interrupted her comedy to sell plastic, buy plastic and seemingly turn herself into a piece of plastic, but she was a pantheon-level stand-up and performed at that altitude until the end. Here’s a repost of something I put up about her previously.

On November 15, 1972, Rivers did a Q&A with UCLA students, being brazenly honest on varied topics (feminism, Bill Cosby, talk shows, etc.) and asking rhetorically, “If I was normal, would I be doing comedy?” Audio only, but very funny stuff.

From the September 19, 1911 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

San Francisco–Destitute and hungry, William Murphy entered a local grocery store last night, hoping to purloin something to eat. The proprietor was called to wait on a customer and Murphy seized the opportunity to gobble two sandwiches he found on the counter. He was seized with convulsions a few minutes later and was taken to the emergency hospital, where it was found he was suffering from arsenic poisoning. The sandwiches he had eaten had been prepared to bait a rat trap. Murphy probably will recover.”


Odd Request (queens)

I know this may seem odd, however i am giving it a try. My coke dealer has gone MIA and I need a new one to purchase my supply.

Is there anyone out there?

P.S. I understand the need for discretion so please let me know if you can recommend anyone.


The sharing economy is a fascinating social development and great for consumers, but it’s not likely going to be very good for workers. I’m not even talking about those displaced by industries disrupted by Uber and Airbnb and the like, but by those trying to earn a buck offering their services and goods to those companies. They’re prone to rate slashes as competition drives down prices. It’s a marginalized existence and more and more of us are going to wind up on the margins. Just because something’s inevitable doesn’t mean it’s painless. From Sarah Gray at Salon:

“Uber drivers pay for their own gas and insurance, and the company takes 20 percent commission from each driver. At the beginning — when rates were $2.50 per mile — many drivers purchased cars, and made money, Uber driver John Dabbah explained.

‘Now they are dropping the price day after day without even asking the driver,’ Dabbah told CBS2.

Beyond rallying against rate drops, Uber drivers were protesting the lack of communication between Uber and its drivers.

‘I hope we’re heard,’ [driver Aya] Valilar said. ‘That is all we’re asking for is to be heard. No one wants to listen to us.’

In response to the protests, Uber defended the rate cuts. Part of a statement to CBS2 stated: ‘Drivers are making more money now due to higher demand than they did before the price cut. We will continue to work with them individually to ensure their small businesses thrive.'”

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World War I, which started exactly a century ago, claimed 16 million lives, but there were many more casualties among the living. One of them was the brilliant baseball pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander. He emerged from battle having inhaled mustard gas and experiencing hearing loss, something akin to epilepsy and what we today would call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. A drinker before the war, he became a two-fisted one after the fighting ceased, sometimes taking the mound inebriated. So great was he, it took nearly a decade for alcohol to ground his career, but once his playing days were over, he found himself unemployable in the league he loved, no one wanting to trust a temperamental alcoholic as manager or coach.

A year after being inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1938, Alexander found himself an attraction in a raffish New York City dime museum, among the anomalies and curiosities, giving the same speech about his glory days a dozen times daily. The shell of his former self was all he had left to sell, and the press and public brought their cameras to capture a piece of what once was. From an article in the January 20, 1939 Brooklyn Daily Eagle about “Old Pete” in steep decline:

Cameramen swarmed about the great pitcher as he stood there against the green background, both hands holding a baseball above his head as if starting a windup.

“Hold it! Hold it!” they chirped as they focused their cameras.

But the pitching immortal couldn’t “hold it.” His arms came down and he almost dropped the ball. He tired that quickly. The great Grover Cleveland Alexander wasn’t weary from pitching a baseball game. He was starting a series of three weeks’ appearances at Hubert’s Dime Museum, on 42nd St., yesterday.

It’s a Different League

This series is in a world far different from the fresh air, sunshine and roaring crowds that the mighty right-hander knew in the old days. And the man is far different too. The posters outside the museum notify passers-by that the “Great Grover Cleveland Alexander” is on exhibition within. But that’s not true. They’re exhibiting only what’s left of the man that was.

The tall man with the dusty brown hair, bulgy waistline, splotched complexion and somewhat bleary eyes is older and more tired now than you would expect of his 51 years. He is weary and bitter. He believes that the game of baseball didn’t do right by him. He feels that the pastime somehow should have warded off the necessity that is sending the great Alexander of Cooperstown’s Baseball Hall of Fame into Hubert’s hall of freaks and flea circuses and dancing girls. 

A year ago this month the Baseball Writers of America elected Alexander to the Cooperstown shrine where his name joined those of 13 other immortals. But on this January day the tall man in the wrinkled brown suit stands on a tawdry little stage downstairs in the smoky light and tells how he won the seventh game of the 1926 World Series. How he fanned Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded and two out.

He gives this little talk twelve times a day, starting at noon and ending at midnight, to earn bread and shelter in this bleak twilight of his life. Between lectures he sits in a little wooden cubicle, below the stage–away from staring eyes. Into this little cubicle come reporters and former players to chat with ‘Ol’ Pete’ and to wonder.

It’s the same platform, cubicle and rigmarole that knew Jack Johnson, the Negro who was former heavyweight champion of the world. That was a year or so ago, when ‘Li’l Arthur’ was hard pressed.

First Time Here Since 1930

“When the museum telegraphed me the offer of a job, I thought somebody was kidding me,” Alexander said. “I hadn’t been in New York since 1930 and I thought a museum was a place where they keep skeletons and things. But, anyway, I took a chance, wired back and got the job.”

A reporter asked why it was that a man with his reputation never was offered a job in major league baseball after his pitching days were over.

“Booze! I used to take a drink now and then when I played. Almost every player drank a bit then, and I guess they still do. But I made the mistake of taking my drinks openly. The word got around that I was a drunkard, which I never was. I believe that’s the reason I never even got a coaching job.”

When Alexander asked managers or owners for work, they told him he hadn’t kept pace with the game and they couldn’t use him because he didn’t know the ‘inside stuff.’

Old Pete laughs bitterly at this when he recalls his 19 years of education in the big time.

“I was in the National League almost 20 years,” he explains, “from 1911 through part of 1930–with the Phillies, Cubs, Cardinals and finally the Phillies again. I know the game inside and out.”

After his retirement in ’30 he managed the House of David team for three seasons. Last year he was out with a semi-pro club in Nebraska, but the going was tough because the farmers had been through a drought.

Despite his bitterness, Alexander seemed to get a thrill out of reliving the old days as he talked to the dime-a-toss listeners.

“I guess my biggest thrill was in the 1926 World Series,” he said. “I was with the Cardinals. We had won three games and the Yanks had won three. Jess Haines started the last game for us and along about the seventh inning he hurt his hand and they told me to go in. There were three on base and Lazzeri was up. I had pitched and won the sixth game the day before, but my arm felt fine. I only threw three times but I struck Tony out. He fouled my second pitch into the left-field stands. Then I threw him a hook and he missed it by about six inches. That proved to be the game and the series.

“Yes, I could strike ’em out in those days. But I kinda struck out myself after I stopped pitchin’.”•


The cumshot heard ’round the world, the celebrity nudes leak that rocked the Internet this past weekend is, sadly, just the beginning. It’s going to get much worse, and not just for the famous and shapely. Eventually, and not too long from now, the crudeness of an actual phone hack will seem laughable. Currently there are drones the size of large insects that the military can control remotely to take photos. As Moore’s Law continues to kick in, there’ll be cheap and readily available drones stateside the size of mosquitoes. Consider it a dubious war dividend. Buy them by the dozen, and get to know the neighbors. And it will be really difficult to legislate what can barely be seen. It’s the new abnormal.

Easily the best thing I’ve read about the hack-and-fap flap and its psychological underpinnings is Molly Lambert’s article at Grantland. An excerpt:

“The Lawrence nudes went viral because of the same impulse that spread with the ISIS beheading video: A morally reprehensible piece of media circulates, and curiosity overwhelms common sense. I looked, because I am an asshole, and I justified it to myself as research for writing this piece (but deep down I knew I was being an asshole). My takeaways were that everyone looked great, that Kate Upton and Justin Verlander are kind of the new Pamela and Tommy Lee for having their cute intimacy (and naked bodies) exposed to the world, and that the world is kind of a terrible place to be female. Women have always had to double-identify to view media, pornographic and otherwise, that is framed for a straight male POV. This was especially clear during this scandal, when it was possible to identify simultaneously with the women in the photos and the anonymous bros thirsting to look at them. At a certain point, a mob mentality kicks in: Everyone else looked at them, why shouldn’t I? They can’t arrest everyone, right? Nothing about the images themselves is degrading to their subjects, just that they were stolen and illegally distributed. And if the ripping-away of consent is a major part of the thrill, well, that I just can’t identify with, because it makes me feel sick.

Even though the web has progressed beyond its image as a haven for social outcasts and adult virgins, there is a very real way in which it remains a conduit for our ids. Human consciousness is compartmentalized by necessity, but the Internet does allow for the relegation of deviant impulses to a specific nonphysical zone, protected by anonymity. But there is no anonymity; it’s as imaginary as the false security you feel while driving in your car, a sense of detached invulnerability that can inspire road rage. Even as a nonbody floating through the web, we are indeed very much traceable to the physical location where the floating gets under way. But it’s the physical bodies that can turn Internet usage into the Milgram experiment. There is no researcher standing behind you intoning, ‘You have no other choice, you must go on,’ but the hive consciousness of the web takes their place. The ease with which morally questionable impulses can be instantly gratified overrides that inner voice that says maybe it’s wrong to do so. There is a feeling that nobody is watching, that all these bad impulses and feelings are plummeting into a garbage disposal or black hole from which they will never return, but that’s a lie we tell ourselves. The Internet is a record, and once information has appeared there, it never really goes away, whether you’re the hacker or the hacked.”


Libertarian overlord Grover Norquist, whose policies, if ever enacted fully, would lead to worse lifestyles and shorter lifespans for the majority of Americans, made his way to the government-less wonderland known as Burning Man, free finally from restrictions–and perhaps his pants. Norquist’s belief that the short-term settlement in the Nevada desert is representative of what the world could be every day is no less silly than considering Spring Break a template for successful marriage. He writes about his experiences in the Guardian. Maileresque, it is not. An excerpt:

“You hear that Burning Man is full of less-than-fully-clad folks and off-label pharmaceuticals. But that’s like saying Bohemian Grove is about peeing on trees or that Chicago is Al Capone territory. Burning Man is cleaner and greener than a rally for solar power. It has more camaraderie and sense of community than a church social. And for a week in the desert, I witnessed more individual expression, alternative lifestyles and imaginative fashion than …. anywhere.

The demand for self-reliance at Burning Man toughens everyone up. There are few fools, and no malingerers. People give of themselves – small gifts like lip balm or tiny flashlights. I brought Cuban cigars. Edgy, but not as exciting as some ‘gifts’ that would have interested the federal authorities.

I’m hoping to bring the kids next year.

On my last day of my first Burning Man, at the Reno airport, a shoeless man (he had lost his shoes in the desert) was accosted by another dust-covered Burner carrying sneakers: ‘Take these,’ he said. ‘They are my Burning Man shoes.’ The shoeless man accepted the gift with dignity.”•


I think Krystal D’Costa of Scientific American has way too sanguine a view of what technology’s creative destruction will mean for Labor, especially in the next few decades, but she’s right that the definition of work is in flux and will only transition more as we move further from the 20th century. An excerpt:

“The jobs we hold now will not be the jobs we hold tomorrow. And with that will come a shift—as it has come before—of what ‘work’ is. This is already starting to happen. For example, one of the predictions holds that we’ll experience more leisure time. This is already possible thanks to technologies that allow us to conduct business remotely, however for it to be successful, we’re the ones who have to be ready to let go. Employers who never thought telecommuting would have a place in their workforce are now embracing it because it may save them in overhead in the long term. But the truth is that they can no longer hold to that old standard of what a worker is and does. Today’s workforce often negotiates some degree of flexibility, and all but the lowest-paying jobs tend to reap those benefits.

We’re still holding onto the industrial concept of a ‘job’: We go somewhere and perform a task in exchange for funds. We’re engaged in the commoditization of time and labor. Make no mistake, we’re likely still going to need to buy essentials, but we may be getting those funds from different places. Work may not mean a 40-hour week. Work may not mean assembly line production. And work may not mean up at the crack of dawn to attend to the livestock. The work tied to these types of trades is already changing, but we don’t have to be run over by the promise of technology. Could the spread of AI and robotics invite the return of artisanal crafts and barter-based trade? Nowhere is this clearer than in the DIY movement, which thrives on collaboration and leverages open-source technology to power small production endeavors.”


Attendant to the fall of the Soviet Union was the collapse of the country’s social safety nets. Gorbachev’s transitional government and Yeltsin’s reformist one couldn’t stem a great die-off and a low birth rate, as Russia depopulated by 5% between 1992 and 2009. The fall of Communism clearly was the cause, right? But the demographic disaster has deeper roots in earlier decades and high rates of cardiovascular disease and fatal accidents may have their origins in mental-health issues, argues Masha Gessen’s excellent New York Review of Books essay,The Dying Russians.” The opening:

“Sometime in 1993, after several trips to Russia, I noticed something bizarre and disturbing: people kept dying. I was used to losing friends to AIDS in the United States, but this was different. People in Russia were dying suddenly and violently, and their own friends and colleagues did not find these deaths shocking. Upon arriving in Moscow I called a friend with whom I had become close over the course of a year. ‘Vadim is no more,’ said his father, who picked up the phone. ‘He drowned.’ I showed up for a meeting with a newspaper reporter to have the receptionist say, ‘But he is dead, don’t you know?’ I didn’t. I’d seen the man a week earlier; he was thirty and apparently healthy. The receptionist seemed to think I was being dense. “A helicopter accident,” she finally said, in a tone that seemed to indicate I had no business being surprised.

The deaths kept piling up. People—men and women—were falling, or perhaps jumping, off trains and out of windows; asphyxiating in country houses with faulty wood stoves or in apartments with jammed front-door locks; getting hit by cars that sped through quiet courtyards or plowed down groups of people on a sidewalk; drowning as a result of diving drunk into a lake or ignoring sea-storm warnings or for no apparent reason; poisoning themselves with too much alcohol, counterfeit alcohol, alcohol substitutes, or drugs; and, finally, dropping dead at absurdly early ages from heart attacks and strokes.

Back in the United States after a trip to Russia, I cried on a friend’s shoulder. I was finding all this death not simply painful but impossible to process. ‘It’s not like there is a war on,’ I said.

‘But there is,’ said my friend, a somewhat older and much wiser reporter than I. ‘This is what civil war actually looks like. ‘It’s not when everybody starts running around with guns. It’s when everybody starts dying.’

My friend’s framing stood me in good stead for years. I realized the magazine stories I was writing then were the stories of destruction, casualties, survival, restoration, and the longing for peace. But useful as that way of thinking might be for a journalist, it cannot be employed by social scientists, who are still struggling to answer the question, Why are Russians dying in numbers, and at ages, and of causes never seen in any other country that is not, by any standard definition, at war?”


From the November 30, 1910 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Upper Sandusky, O. — Mrs. Job Smith, holding her 6-month-old daughter on her lap, was watching a daughter start for school, yesterday, when her 2-year-old daughter with a pair of scissors cut off one of the baby’s fingers.”


Photographs help us retain memories and hang on to life in a sense, but they’re neither memories nor life. They’re only small pieces of the bigger puzzle–just shards, not fractals. From them we piece together a menagerie. The animals are crude, but they’re better than nothing, though not by nearly as much as we often believe. From Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle, Book Three:

It is the era we take photos of, not the people in it, they can’t be captured. Not even the people in my immediate circle can. Who was the woman posing in front of the stove in the flat in Thereses gate, wearing a light-blue dress, one knee resting against the other, calves apart, in this typical 1960s posture? The one with the bob? The blue eyes and the gentle smile that was so gentle that it barely even registered as a smile? The one holding the handle of the shiny coffee pot with the red lid? Yes, that was my mother, my very own mom, but who was she? What was she thinking? How did she see her life, the one she had lived so far and the one awaiting her? Only she knows, and the photo tells you nothing. An unknown woman in an unknown room, that is all. And the man who, ten years later, is sitting on a mountainside drinking coffee from the same red thermos top, as he forgot to pack any cups before leaving, who was he? The one with the well-groomed black beard and the thick black hair? The one with the sensitive lips and amused eyes? Yes, of course, that was my father, my very own dad. But who he was to himself at this moment, or at any other, nobody knows. And so it is with all these photos, even the ones of me. They are voids, the only meaning that can be derived from them is that which time has added.•


Uber has just hit a speed bump in Germany, facing its first nation-wide ban (which it’s defying). Instead of getting giddy in interviews over the potential destruction of jobs, company CEO Travis Kalanick would do himself a big favor if he would instead focus on the ways the old system was flawed. Take my city of New York for instance: It’s always been difficult to get a taxi to the outer boroughs from Manhattan, African-Americans have had a hell of a time getting a ride anywhere and unwitting tourists have often been ripped off by predatory drivers. Uber can be viewed as an equalizer of sorts (provided it doesn’t fail in the same manner). From Jeevan Vasagar at the Financial Times:

“Uber is facing its biggest legal challenge so far after its most popular service was banned throughout Germany, marking the first time the disruptive taxi app has been hit with a country-wide restriction.

The temporary injunction imposed by Frankfurt’s Regional Court prohibits the fast-growing company, valued in a recent funding round at $17bn, from operating its Uber Pop ‘ride-sharing’ service, known as Uber X in other markets.

Uber said it would continue to operate in defiance of the injunction, but it faces fines of up to €250,000 ($328,000) per trip if it is caught violating the ban, which does not affect its higher-priced ‘Black’ limousine service.

The San Francisco-based start-up is one of a number of Silicon Valley firms, including Google and Facebook, to face a regulatory backlash in Europe, where authorities have led the way in questioning the practices of California’s leading technology companies.”

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A highly automated society will have to create good jobs in yet-to-exist fields or….what? I don’t think everyone can survive by renting out their couch on airbnb (though I think airbnb is a great idea). From Jordan Pearson at Vice Motherboard:

“Once robots take over society’s productive forces, people will have more free time than ever before, which will ‘redound to the benefit of emancipated labour, and is the condition of its emancipation,’ Marx wrote. Humans, once freed from the bonds of soul-crushing capitalist labour, will develop new means of social thought and cooperation outside of the wage relation that frames most of our interactions under capitalism. In short, Marx claimed that automation would bring about the end of capitalism.

It’s a familiar sentiment that  thanks to robots being in vogue, but we only have to look to the recent past to know that things didn’t exactly work out that way. Capitalism is very much alive and well, despite automation’s steady march towards ascendancy over the centuries. The reason is this: automation doesn’t disrupt capitalism. It’s an integral part of the system.”

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