Urban Studies

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The jobless recovery is a complicated thing, and not just a political one. So many jobs have become ghosts in the machine. Luddism doesn’t work, but the new normal can scare you to death. Are an automated society and a capitalist one compatible? From Katharine Rowland’s Guernica interview with George Packer about his recent book, The Unwinding:


There’s also a story that reads almost like a parable of the fall occurring between the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. What’s happened in that period with regard to the middle class? 

George Packer:

That’s part of the story. I had seen this in more political terms as sort of the end of the conservative era. The Reagan era began in 1980 and ended in 2008, that was my historical hypothesis. Now I’m remembering other false starts, like I spent months reading the literature of the neoconservatives of the 1970s to get into the mindset of the early Reagan years. But all of that fell by the wayside when I figured out I could do it through characters. It was these people who took me to the big theme of the social contract. It was in all their lives. It used to be that jobs were going to be there when you left high school in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Screw-up students went to textile factories, and better students went to the RJ Reynolds Warehouse, believe it or not, and the really good students went to community college. And that doesn’t happen anymore, those jobs aren’t there. The screw-up students are doing meth and hanging out at the pool hall and the bowling alley.

I didn’t look for it, it was there everywhere—the sense that not necessarily a wonderful life, but a decent life had been available to the majority, and it was gone. You could see its absence on these main streets. It was traumatic. It’s become normal to people who live there, but you get people talking about it and there are ghosts everywhere. As one man said to me, if it had been a plague it would have been a historic event, but it was economic dislocation, so it’s considered a natural process.


It was your sense that it had become normal for the people going through it?

George Packer:

I didn’t sense that they thought it was normal, but that they had stopped thinking about it all the time because they had to live in it.”

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I buy books just to read them, so I don’t want any author signatures inside. I paid for that book! Do not write in it! But readers who’ve made the switch to ebooks will likely soon have the option of having them autographed. From Carolyn Kellogg at the Los Angeles Times:

“Want to hand over your iPad so an author can sign your e-book? You might be able to soon.

Apple has registered for a patent that would allow an e-book owner with an iPad get his or her book signed by an author. Readers might even be able to pose for a photo with the author as authentication to go with it — a photo that would go right into the e-book on the traditional signature page.

As Publishers Lunch tweeted Friday, the patent-following website Patently Apple has posted a description of the patent application. ‘On September 26, 2013, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office published a patent application from Apple that reveals a new iBook autographing system and more specifically to techniques and systems for embedding autographs in electronic books,’ the report said.

To add a way for authors to sign e-books — and do something extra, like add a photo that would be embedded in the e-book — would be a boon for readers.”

Prediction: I will never live in an undersea colony nor a space one. Not unless the only other option is living in Bay Ridge. Then, sure. But if you care to not reside on solid ground, underwater habitats are already feasible. From Rachel Nuwer at the BBC:

“According to [Ian] Koblick, the technology already exists to create underwater colonies supporting up to 100 people – the few bunker-like habitats in operation today providing a blueprint. ‘There are no technological hurdles,’ Koblick says. ‘If you had the money and the need, you could do it today.’ Beyond that number, technological advances would be needed to deal with emergency evacuation systems, and environmental controls of air supply and humidity.

With safety being paramount, operators assure underwater habitats are running smoothly by monitoring life support systems – air composition, temperature and humidity – from the surface. Above the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Aquarius Reef Base, the third of the three existing facilities (which accommodates up to six aquanauts at a time), a bright yellow circular disc tethered to the undersea lab 60ft (18m) below collects data from a variety of sensors and sends it to shore via a special wireless internet connection. Future habitats could use satellites to communicate this important information. For now, energy independence is still a challenge. Sustainable future options might include harnessing wave action or placing solar panels on the surface.

Making larger habitats with multiple modules made of steel, glass and special cement used underwater would be simpler than trying to create one giant bubble. These smaller structures could be added or taken away to create living space for as many people as desired. Most likely, we wouldn’t want to build any deeper than 1,000ft (300m), because the pressures at such depths would require very thick walls and excessive periods of decompression for those returning to the surface. Koblick and his colleagues did not experience any ill effects from living below the surface for around 60 days, and he thinks stints up to six months would be feasible.”

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Chris Anderson, former EIC at Wired, has expanded on his contention that smartphones are responsible for the developing drone market. He further believes that they’re also enabling self-driving cars. Two quotes from him.

From Wired, June 2012:

“Why? The reason is the same as with every other digital technology: a Moore’s-law-style pace where performance regularly doubles while size and price plummet. In fact, the Moore’s law of drone technology is currently accelerating, thanks to the smartphone industry, which relies on the same components—sensors, optics, batteries, and embedded processors—all of them growing smaller and faster each year. Just as the 1970s saw the birth and rise of the personal computer, this decade will see the ascendance of the personal drone. We’re entering the Drone Age.”

From Silicon Beat, September 2013:

“Drone and robot technology is at what Anderson is calling ‘the Macintosh moment,’ the turning point at which PCs went mainstream. What’s making it possible? Why now? From their components to the innovations springing up around them, the answer is smartphones, Anderson says.”


“I will ship anywhere.”

Pregnant lady’s used panties! – $30 (Philadelphia/Anywhere) 

Have a panty fetish? Find pregnant women extremely sexy? Then you will love having a pair of my sexy panties! I’m 5 and 1/2 months along and I’d love to do whatever you want while wearing them before I send them to you!

I will SHIP anywhere, cost included in the price. NO MEETING. Pictures available too, for purchase, as dirty and explicit as you want ‘em! you won’t be disappointed!

Interested in breast-milk, lactating pictures, etc? Message me for that too, naughty boys!!

In 1999,  Michael Crichton played what he knew to be a fool’s game and predicted the future. He was not so successful. Things he got wrong: Printed matter will be unchanged, movies will soon be dead, communications will be consolidated into fewer hands. Well, he did foresee YouTube.

Crichton, who was fascinated by science and often accused of being anti-science, commenting in a 1997 Playboy interview on technology creating moral quandries we’re not prepared for: “I think we’re a long way from cloning people. But I am worried about scientific advances without consideration of their consequences. The history of medicine in my lifetime is one of technological advances that outstrip our ethical systems. We’ve never caught up. When I was in medical school—30-odd years ago—people were struggling to deal with mechanical-respiration systems. They were keeping alive people who a few years earlier would have died of natural causes. Suddenly people weren’t going to die of natural causes. They were either going to get on these machines and never get off or—or what? Were we going to turn the machines off? We had the machines well before we started the debate. Doctors were speaking quietly among themselves with a kind of resentment toward these machines. On the one hand, if somebody had a temporary disability, the machines could help get them over the hump. For accident victims—some of whom were very young—who could be saved if they pulled through the initial crisis, the technology saved lives. You could get them over the hump and then they would recover, and that was terrific.

But on the other hand, there was a category of people who were on their way out but could be kept alive. Before the machine, ‘pulling the plug’ actually meant opening the window too wide one night, and the patient would get pneumonia and die. That wasn’t going to happen now. We were being forced by technology to make decisions about the right to die—whether it’s a legal or religious issue—and many related matters. Some of them contradict longstanding ideas in an ethically protected world; we weren’t being forced to make hard decisions, because those decisions were being made for us—in this case, by the pneumococcus.

This is just one example of an ethical issue raised by technology. Cloning is another. If you’re knowledgeable about biotechnology, it’s possible to think of some terrifying scenarios. I don’t even like to discuss them. I know people doing biotechnology research who have decided not to pursue avenues of research because they think they’re too dangerous. But we go forward without sorting out the issues. I don’t believe that everything new is necessarily better. We go forward with the technology while the ethical issues are still up in the air, whether it’s the genetic variability of crop streams, which is a resource in times of plant plagues, to the assumption that we all have to be connected all the time. The technology is here so you must use it. Do you? Do you have to have your cell phone and your e-mail address and your Internet hookup? I was just on holiday in Scotland without e-mail. I had to notify people that I wouldn’t be checking my e-mail, because there’s an assumption that if I send you an e-mail, you’ll get it. Well, I won’t get it. I’m not plugged in, guys. Some people are horrified: ‘You’ve gone offline?’ People feel so enslaved by technology that they will stop having sex to answer the telephone. What could be so important? Who’s calling, and who cares?”

Twenty years from now, will driverless, electric vehicles and lab-grown meat be the default mode? Both have the capacity to remake the world as a greener place and save countless lives, human and animal. Google has taken the lead in the former, scaring up all kinds of new competition, including Tesla. And the taste race is on in latter category. From a new Wired article by chef Alton Brown about Ethan Brown and his company, Beyond Meat, which is attempting to make a facsimile that’s as delicious as the original:

“So if you could consume a product that tasted and chewed like chicken in, say, half of your at-home or restaurant meals, would you? And what if that product delivered healthy protein with no antibiotics, cholesterol, trans fats, or saturated fat, yet required only a fraction of the resources to produce while creating little waste or environmental risks? Why wouldn’t you? Ethan Brown thinks you would, even if the price is a bit higher than skinless, boneless chicken breast.

Later, Brown, 42, insists that he isn’t really trying anything new. ‘You know, the harnessing of steam and then the development of the diesel engine removed the horse from the transportation equation while ultimately providing a better product for consumers,’ he says. By the same token, eating animals may someday seem like a quaint relic of a bygone era. I ask him if he’s really that close to a product that would make carnivores forget the succulence of critters. ‘We are obsessed with perfectly replacing the sensory experience of animal protein,’ Brown says. ‘We’re not 100 percent there yet. But we’re close.'”

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From Oliver Burkeman’s Guardian interview with Malcolm Gladwell, in anticipation of David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giantshis latest book of unconventional wisdom:

“The outcome of the original David-and-Goliath clash wasn’t a miracle, he argues: it’s just what happens when the weak refuse to play by rules laid down by the strong. (Sample sentence: ‘Eitan Hirsch, a ballistics expert with the Israeli Defence Force, recently did a series of calculations showing that a typical-sized stone hurled by an expert slinger at a distance of 35m would have hit Goliath’s head with a velocity of 34m per second – more than enough to penetrate his skull and render him dead or unconscious.’)

‘With each book that passes, I think my personal ideology becomes more explicit … and this one is a very Canadian sort of book,’ says Gladwell, who was born in Fareham, in Hampshire, but grew up in Ontario. ‘It’s Canadian in its suspicion of bigness and wealth and power. Someone told me – did you know that there’s never been a luxury brand to come from Canada? That’s never happened. That’s such a great fact to have about your home country.’

Difficulties and afflictions, the book shows, frequently foster creativity and resilience. Studies on ‘cognitive disfluency’ have shown that people do better at problem-solving tasks when they’re printed in a hard-to-read font: the extra challenge triggers more effortful engagement. We meet dyslexics whose reading problems forced them to find more efficient ways to master law and finance (one is now a celebrated trial lawyer, another the president of Goldman Sachs); we learn why losing a parent in childhood forges a resilience that frequently spurs achievement in later life, and why you shouldn’t necessarily attend the best university that will have you. (The answer is ‘relative deprivation': the further you are from being the best at your institution, the more demotivating it is; middling talents perform better at middling establishments.) Conversely, having power can backfire, not least because it tricks the powerful into thinking they don’t need the consent of those over whom they wield it. In a compelling account of the Troubles, Gladwell argues that the British were plagued by a simple error: the belief that their superior resources meant ‘it did not matter what the people of Northern Ireland thought of them.’ More isn’t always more.”

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I’m not an economist so I don’t know if a currency scheme cooked up by Douglas Coupland (also not an economist) would work or have unintended consequences, but here’s the gist of it from his Financial Times column:

“What if the government were to have, say, a ‘currency flush’? Basically, word could be broadcast that as of January 1 2016, the government will no longer honour any hundred-dollar bill printed before December 31 2013. People around the world with socks, suitcases and safety deposit boxes full of hundreds would have two years to redeem or spend their cash, and quick. What would happen?

Well, such a currency flush wouldn’t necessarily affect everyday people too much. People who work in bakeries, teach high school or drive taxis tend not to have suitcases full of hundreds in their universe – nor have much sympathy for those who do. But for those who do have stashes, there would be a two-year window to convert this cash into services and goods. The problem is that it looks very suspicious to walk into a Mercedes-Benz dealership and buy an S-Class with $87,000 in cash. Or to buy a Montauk summer house for millions. Or a boat. Or jewels. Or anything, really. Divesting oneself of soon-to-be valueless hundreds would require great skill in not drawing attention to oneself. At the very least, suitcase owners would be eating at expensive restaurants, buying expensive plane tickets and living it up for two brief years. What a boon to the economy for zero effort! And near the end of the flush, there might be a huge bump in the number of thousand-dollar lap dances and bar tips – but then that revenue would have to be recorded and taxed. More money in the coffers!

The Great Currency Flush would give the US economy a defibrillation of unparalleled voltage but, of course, there would have to be a few rules. For example, you couldn’t just take a hundred-dollar bill to the bank and say, ‘Give me five twenties.’ Once set in motion, the Flush would demand that hundreds could only be used in one go. You could buy a pack of gum with a hundred but you wouldn’t get back any change – so why not instead buy a hundred bucks of gum? The people selling the gum, in the meantime, would have to document where the hundreds all came from – not that hard to do. It’s also not hard to imagine many, many books in many, many places being very, very cooked.”


Racing yachts is fine, if that’s all you can afford. I won’t laugh at you–not aloud anyhow. But it’s submersibles–lavish submarines–that are really all the rage these days among the non-99%. From Tara Patel at Bloomberg:

“Graham Hawkes, inventor of the ‘underwater plane,’ made his debut at the Monaco Yacht Show this week in a bid to entice billionaire boat owners to take the plunge.

‘This is literally like flying underwater,’ Hawkes, a U.K.-born ocean engineer who has spent decades designing cutting-edge diving suits and submarines, said in an interview. ‘Once you’ve done that, you don’t want to do anything else.’

Hawkes is one of four submarine vendors who for the first time are all at the Monaco show — one of the world’s top yacht gatherings — to display multimillion-dollar high-tech wizardry they say makes perfect accessories for the wealthy.

U-Boat WorxTriton Submarines LLC and Seamagine Hydrospace Corporation, along with Hawkes Ocean Technologies are betting the superrich will want to go beyond cruising on luxury boats worth tens of millions of dollars. They see annual sales of private, small luxury submarines going double-digit over the coming decade from a few now.

As the yacht size has stretched — this year saw the launch of a record-holding 590-footer called the Azzam — so has the list of distractions onboard. Soaking in a jacuzzi, shooting hoops on a floating court or playing a baby grand Steinway piano no longer cut it.

‘There is a change in attitude of super-yacht owners,’ said Bert Houtman, founder and chairman of the Netherlands-based U-Boat Worx, surveying two of his submarine models on display quai-side in Monaco. ‘They’re fed up with drinking white wine and riding jet skis so they’re looking for another thrill.'”

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There are modern problems: precious time wasted tweeting, people unduly worried about the casting of Batman, disgusting fast-food meals for children, a lack of privacy, etc. But, as hard as it might be to believe, we’ve never been safer or smarter. From Jesse Washington at AP:

“Global terrorism deaths as defined by the consortium reached almost 11,000 in 1984, then dipped before approaching 11,000 again in 1997. Deaths fell once more before rising in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001. There were 3,144 killings in 2003, then 12,761 in 2007. In 2012, after the consortium made its data collection more comprehensive, it counted 15,514 deaths from terrorism — mostly in about 10 countries.

The Nairobi attack, by the fanatic Somali Islamic group al-Shabab, stood out. It touched points across the globe, killing at least 60 civilians from countries including Britain, France, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, Peru, India, Ghana, South Africa and China. Five Americans were among the nearly 200 wounded.

Al-Shabab is ‘a threat to the continent of Africa and the world at large,’ Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said.

That attack came five days after a man who heard voices brought a shotgun through Navy Yard security and killed 12 people. It was the latest in a series of mass shootings, which are defined as killing four or more people: the December massacre of 26 in Newtown; 12 slain in a Colorado movie theater; other 2012 killings at a café, temple, sauna, colleges.

‘What troubles us so deeply as we gather here today is how this senseless violence that took place here in the Navy Yard echoes other recent tragedies,’ President Barack Obama said at a memorial service.

That’s not to mention the narrowly averted disasters: a man arrested this week on a charge he planned to shoot up a Salt Lake City mall; a gunman last month who was talked into laying down his weapon after invading a Georgia school.

Yet chances of being killed in a mass killing are probably no greater than being struck by lightning, according to Grant Duwe, a criminologist with the Minnesota Department of Corrections who has written a history of mass killings in America.” 


From the October 13, 1897 New York Times:

“The manager of Shanley’s restaurant, at 1,476 Broadway, informed his patrons a 7 o’clock last night that the place was on fire, but that there was no danger. He then told the leader of the orchestra what was the matter, and instructed him to play the liveliest air in his repertory. After that the police were informed, and finally the Fire Department.

The arrival of the fireman was hailed with a syncopated arrangement from the orchestra of the appropriate melody, ‘There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.’ The guests accepted the situation and remained at their tables, while the men rushed in with hose and picks.

The fire was discovered over the boiler room, where it had been started by the crossing of electric wires. It was extinguished with a loss of about $1,500. Thomas J. Shanley remained in the restaurant while the smoke filled the place and assured the men and women at the tables that they could eat their dinners and depend on him to keep them posted as to the fire’s progress.”


Saturday Night Live begins its 39th season tonight, and if I had to consider every musical performance in the show’s history, I would vote for Devo’s cover of “Satisfaction” on the October 14, 1979 episode as the best of all. Performed just a week after the Rolling Stones was the program’s musical guest, this reimagination did for the head what Michael Jackson’s Motown 25 showstopper later did for the feet: It was moonwalking with the brain. They took the soul and put it into the machine.


Seymour Hersh doesn’t buy the official line about the raid that erased Osama bin Laden–or much else the media says these days. He tears into his industry in discussion with Lisa O’Carroll of the Guardian. The opening:

Seymour Hersh has got some extreme ideas on how to fix journalism – close down the news bureaus of NBC and ABC, sack 90% of editors in publishing and get back to the fundamental job of journalists which, he says, is to be an outsider. 

It doesn’t take much to fire up Hersh, the investigative journalist who has been the nemesis of US presidents since the 1960s and who was once described by the Republican party as ‘the closest thing American journalism has to a terrorist.’

He is angry about the timidity of journalists in America, their failure to challenge the White House and be an unpopular messenger of truth. 

Don’t even get him started on the New York Times which, he says, spends ‘so much more time carrying water for Obama than I ever thought they would’ – or the death of Osama bin Laden. ‘Nothing’s been done about that story, it’s one big lie, not one word of it is true,’ he says of the dramatic US Navy Seals raid in 2011. 

Hersh is writing a book about national security and has devoted a chapter to the bin Laden killing. He says a recent report put out by an ‘independent’ Pakistani commission about life in the Abottabad compound in which Bin Laden was holed up would not stand up to scrutiny. ‘The Pakistanis put out a report, don’t get me going on it. Let’s put it this way, it was done with considerable American input. It’s a bullshit report,’ he says hinting of revelations to come in his book.

The Obama administration lies systematically, he claims, yet none of the leviathans of American media, the TV networks or big print titles, challenge him.

 ‘It’s pathetic, they are more than obsequious, they are afraid to pick on this guy [Obama],’ he declares in an interview with the Guardian.”

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It seems impossible that a considerable number of Americans are willing and able to avoid the Internet, but it’s true. A breakdown of why they shun the dominant media of our time, from Greg Sterling of Marketing Land:

“In terms of the reasons for not going online, Pew found the following:

  • 34 percent believe the Internet isn’t relevant to their lives; they have no interest or need
  • 32 percent say it’s challenging or frustrating to go online; some of these people are also afraid of spam, spyware, and hackers’
  • 19 percent don’t want or can’t afford to pay for a computer and the associated access cost
  • 7 percent ‘cited a physical lack of availability or access to the Internet’

Some of these non-Internet users (44 percent) have asked family/friends to go online for them. Another group (23 percent) live in households where the Internet is available. And another contingent (14 percent) are ex-Internet users.

Most of these non-users are quite content to remain offline, with only 8 percent saying they would like to go online or use email. What that then suggests is that US Internet penetration has reached almost all of the ‘addressable market.'”


From “Why Are You Not Dead Yet?” Laura Helmuth’s recent Slate article examining how the American lifespan doubled in the last century and a half:

“How did we go from the miseries of the past to our current expectation of long and healthy lives? ‘Most people credit medical advances,’ says David Jones, a medical historian at Harvard—’but most historians would not.’ One problem is the timing. Most of the effective medical treatments we recognize as saving our lives today have been available only since World War II: antibiotics, chemotherapy, drugs to treat high blood pressure. But the steepest increase in life expectancy occurred from the late 1800s to the mid-1900s. Even some dramatically successful medical treatments such as insulin for diabetics have kept individual people alive—send in those #NotDeadYet stories!—but haven’t necessarily had a population-level impact on average lifespan. We’ll examine the second half of the 20th century in a later story, but for now let’s look at the bigger early drivers of the doubled lifespan.

The credit largely goes to a wide range of public health advances, broadly defined, some of which were explicitly aimed at preventing disease, others of which did so only incidentally. ‘There was a whole suite of things that occurred simultaneously,’ says S. Jay Olshansky, a longevity researcher at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Mathematically, the interventions that saved infants and children from dying of communicable disease had the greatest impact on lifespan. (During a particularly awful plague in Europe, James Riley points out in Rising Life Expectancy: A Global History, the average life expectancy could temporarily drop by five years.) And until the early 20th century, the most common age of death was in infancy.

Clean water may be the biggest lifesaver in history.”


A brief anecdote from Adrianne Jeffries at the Verge about how Social Security numbers, which were not actually intended to be national ID numbers, were misused and confused from the start:

“Social Security numbers were poorly understood from the beginning. In 1938, a leather factory in Lockport, New York attempted to capitalize on the excitement around the country’s newly-formed social insurance program by tucking duplicate Social Security cards into its wallets. Company vice president and treasurer Douglas Patterson thought it would be cute to use the actual Social Security number of his secretary, Hilda Schrader Whitcher.

Real Social Security cards had just begun circulating the year before, so many Americans were confused. Even though the display card was marked ‘specimen’ and sold at Woolworth’s, more than 40,000 people adopted Hilda’s number as their own. According to the Social Security Administration, no fewer than 12 people were still using their Woolworth’s-issued SSN in 1977.”

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You can legislate what can barely be seen, but enforcement is something else. From “Matchstick-Sized Sensor Can Record Your Private Chats,” a post by Jim Nash at New Scientist about what used to be between you and I:

“EVERYONE knows that to have a private chat in the NSA era, you go outdoors. Phones, the internet, email and your office can all be compromised with ease. But soon even that whispered conversation in the park may no longer be safe from prying ears.

Carrying out covert audio surveillance along a city street or a wooded path, say, currently requires parabolic microphones, which look like large, clear salad bowls and need a direct, unobstructed view of the subject. Hardly 007 territory.

Now, a Dutch acoustics firm, Microflown Technologies, has developed a matchstick-sized sensor that can pinpoint and record a target’s conversations from a distance.

Known as an acoustic vector sensor, Microflown’s sensor measures the movement of air, disturbed by sound waves, to almost instantly locate where a sound originated. It can then identify the noise and, if required, transmit it live to waiting ears.”



“The chest of the being is reported as having a circumference of seven feet.”

Some sort of excavated bones led to hope that the remains of an extinct race of giants could be unearthed in New Mexico, according to an article in the February 11, 1902 New York Times. The story:

Los Angeles, Cal.–Owing to the discovery of the remains of a race of giants in Guadalupe, N.M., antiquarians and archaeologists are preparing an expedition further to explore that region. This determination is based on the excitement that exists among the people of a scope of country near Mesa Rico, about 200 miles southeast of Las Vegas, where an old burial ground has been discovered that has yielded skeletons of enormous size.

Luiciana Quintana, on whose ranch the ancient burial plot is located, discovered two stones that bore curious inscriptions, and beneath these were found in shallow excavations the bones of a frame that could not have been less than 12 feet in length. The men who opened the grave say the forearm was four feet long and that in a well-preserved jaw the lower teeth ranged from the size of a hickory nut to that of the largest walnut in size.

The chest of the being is reported as having a circumference of seven feet.

Quintana, who has uncovered many other burial places, expresses the opinion that perhaps thousands of skeletons of a race of giants long extinct will be found. This supposition is based on the traditions handed down from the early Spanish invasion that have detailed knowledge of the existence of a race of giants that inhabited the plains of what now is Eastern New Mexico. Indian legends and carvings also in the same section indicate the existence of such a race.”


The opening of “Margaret Atwood: Our Most Important Prophet of Doom,” Judith Shulevitz’s New Republic meditation about bioengineering, which has the potential to be wonderful and terrible:

“Every generation takes for granted beliefs or practices that strike later generations as unconscionable. Just try explaining to your children public executions, chattel slavery, or eugenics. Your offspring will gape, stunned, until it dawns on them that the society you’re raising them to take part in has an astonishing capacity not to think things through. So, what’s not being thought through right now? The competition is stiff: the continued use of fossil fuels when catastrophic storms batter our shores, feeding our children off toxin-leaching plastic tableware, etc., etc.

You’d think that the professionals most likely to predict our regrets would be statisticians, trained as they are to rank the likelihood of negative outcomes. But prognostication of this sort is more gift than skill, since you need a finely tuned moral sensor as much as, if not more than, advanced numeracy. You can’t say what history will deem barbaric unless you feel a punch in the stomach every time you encounter it. This is why it was a novelist, not a statistician, who first sounded the alarm—for me—about a fast-tumbling cascade of changes I hadn’t thought hard about before.

The novelist is Margaret Atwood. What she made me think about is bioengineering.”

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"All my booze was gone!"

“All my booze was gone!”

Haven’t you any manners? (Brooklyn, NY)

Who does this? I am sharing my house with a middle age woman in her late 40’s and my job takes me away for months at a time. I just stocked up on booze before I left, buying all types of stuff I don’t drink. Ciroc, Hennesy, Jack Daniels (black & green labels). And something else I can’t remember what. Nevertheless I spent well over $100.00 for the booze. I came back home after being away for 5-6 months and all my booze was gone! Once I mentioned it to her she said she was planning on replacing it. When? She is moving and hasn’t mentioned replacing it. Should I take it out her security deposit? Or should I just leave it alone? I was taught never to mess with anyone’s stuff. Who does this???????? I am so pissed right now. My GF said leave it alone, at least I came back and she didn’t clean me completely out furniture and all!

It would be a good idea for us to not be close-minded about genetically modified and lab-grown foods, because we’re going to need them eventually. The climate that supports our agrarian culture won’t last forever. Sure, be vigilant with all food corporations regardless of what they’re producing, but don’t set your default mode to artificial = evil. There’s apparently a new fear-mongering documentary about the perils of GMOs that has the blessing of Oprah chucklehead, Dr. Oz. At the New Yorker blog, Michael Specter cuts through the bullshit. The opening of his post:

“I recently watched OMG GMO, Jeremy Seifert’s aggressively uninformed ‘documentary’ about the corporate duplicity and governmental callousness that he says drives the production of genetically engineered crops—which are, in his view, such barely concealed poisons that he actually dressed his children in full hazmat gear before letting them enter a field of genetically modified corn. Seifert explained his research process in an interview with Nathanael Johnson of Grist: ‘I didn’t really dig too deep into the scientific aspect.’

Fair enough. Normally, I would ignore anyone who would say that while publicizing his movie. But Seifert has been abetted by Dr. Mehmet Oz, the patron saint of internally inconsistent scientific assertions, and Seifert’s message of fear and illiteracy has now been placed before millions of television viewers.

Seifert asserts that the scientific verdict is still out on the safety of G.M. foods—which I guess it is, unless you consult actual scientists. He fails to do that. Instead, he claims that the World Health Organization is one of many groups that question the safety of genetically engineered products. However, the W.H.O. has been consistent in its position on G.M.O.s: ‘No effects on human health have been shown as a result of the consumption of G.M. foods by the general population in the countries where they have been approved.’ Britain’s Royal Society of Medicine was even more declarative: ‘Foods derived from G.M. crops have been consumed by hundreds of millions of people across the world for more than fifteen years with no reported ill effects (or legal cases related to human health) despite many of the consumers coming from that most litigious of countries the U.S.A.’ In addition to the W.H.O. and Royal Society, scientific organizations from around the world, including the European Commission and, in the United States, the National Academy of Sciences, have strongly endorsed the safety of G.M. foods. I could cite quotes from a dozen other countries. But let’s leave the overkill to Mr. Seifert.

What else can you call it when a man sends his children into a field of genetically modified corn wearing gas masks?”•



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You can’t fret too much about what Jeff Bezos aims to do with the Washington Post because the paper’s only plans before its sale were funeral plans. His experimentation with a last-legs property is the best-case for all involved–and we’re all involved. From an ABC News interview with him:

“While Bezos doesn’t plan to turn one of the nation’s leading newspapers into a shopping site, he certainly plans to get more out of the business and he says there are business pillars from Amazon.com that can apply to the newspaper industry

‘The big things that we focus on at Amazon, those serve the Amazon customers well and they would transfer to other kinds of businesses,’ Bezos said in a sit-down interview with ABC News earlier. ‘The first thing is put the customer first. If you have a party, are you holding the party for your guests or for yourself?

‘Sometimes people hold parties and they pretend it is for their guests, but they are holding it for themselves. The second is we like to invent. The third piece is we are willing to think long term.’

‘Customer centricity, willingness to invent and willingness to be patient,’ Bezos said, citing tenets that were applicable to a number of industries when asked directly how he could bring aspects of Amazon’s business to the newspaper and media business.

Ultimately, we don’t know much about what Bezos, whose net worth is said to be $27.2 billion, will do tactically at the Post, but it is clear that, above all, he is dedicated and focused on bringing the paper into the 21st century.”


Auto-correct, that imperfect thing, is both boon and bane. Steve Wozniak wants his spoken words corrected also. From the Apple co-founder’s interview with Nate Lanxon of Wired UK:

Since doing so in the 1970s with Steve Jobs, Wozniak has turned much of his attention, time and money to education and new businesses. Presently serving as chief scientist at flash storage company Fusion-io, he also readily invests in new technologies and applications. ‘The best things that capture your imagination are ones you hadn’t thought of before,’ says Wozniak, ‘and that aren’t talked about in the news all the time.’

High on the list of ideal candidates are apps that take a smarter approach to the use of human speech, ones ‘where you talk to it like a normal person,’ he says, ‘the way you would talk to a human being.’

‘I want to be able to speak with errors in my wording, errors in my grammar,’ he continues. ‘When you type things into Google search it corrects your words. With speech, I want it to be general enough, smart enough, to know ‘no, he couldn’t have meant these words that I think he said. He must have really meant something similar.’ That’s going to take a lot of software, a lot of artificial intelligence work over the next five to ten years.'”


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In a recent Reuters column that reminds that hard news was never commercially viable in America, Jack Shafer makes an excellent suggestion that will almost definitely be ignored: that ABC become a non-profit arm of ESPN, doing serious journalism as a public good. An excerpt:

“As philanthropists take the seat in the story room once held by politicians, we should be glad. But not too glad, because there will never be enough philanthropists to restore the status quo ante. Nor will the market create enough billionaires like Jeff Bezos who are willing to rescue drowning newspapers like the Washington Post. Wishful thinkers — I’m one — can hope for media giants like Bloomberg and ESPN, now the most valuable media property in the United States, to be persuaded to add noncommercial news to their bundles. (Perhaps ABC News, which is owned by one of ESPN’s co-owners, could be repositioned as the noncommercial face of ESPN.)”


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