Urban Studies

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From October 17, 1899 New York Times:

Cincinnati–To-morrow morning there will be buried from St. Xavier’s Church, at solemn requiem high mass, the remains of Miss Mary Laughlin, aged eighteen, of 519 Torrence Road. Miss Laughlin died from blood poisoning and with terrible agony.

She was poisoned by the blue ink that is used on typewriter ribbons. A small, insignificant, and, almost imperceptible fever blister on her lip was the means by which the death-dealing substance was conveyed into her blood. The young lady, who was employed by the Amberg & Brill Ty Company, a little over a week ago noticed that a small fever blister had appeared on her lower lip.

She had been at work at her typewriter and her fingers were stained with the blue ink used on the ribbon. She had also been using a blue indelible pencil, and the stain from this was also on her fingers. In trying to break the blister Miss Laughlin placed the stained finger on it and in a short time she felt a sharp pain in her face. This was followed by a slight swelling.

Finally the pain became almost unbearable and her lip began to swell badly and turned black. Miss Laughlin sought medical aid, and everything that medical skill could do was done, but the poison permeated her system and her life was sapped away by the deadly stuff, her death seeming a merciful relief from the torture of the subtle poison. Her face was distorted and her skin almost as black as coal. The poisoned lip had swollen to gigantic proportions, and nothing could reduce it.”

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I prefer too much information to too little, so I’m strongly in favor of our decentralized, interconnected world, even though I think most of the tools misused, much of the text a bore. Our thumbs often fail us in the same ways our voices did. From “I Type, Therefore I Am,” Tom Chatfield’s new Aeon essay:

“As a medium, electronic screens possess infinite capacities and instant interconnections, turning words into a new kind of active agent in the world. The 21st century is a truly hypertextual arena (hyper from ancient Greek meaning ‘over, beyond, overmuch, above measure’). Digital words are interconnected by active links, as they never have and never could be on the physical page. They are, however, also above measure in their supply, their distribution, and in the stories that they tell.

Just look at the ways in which most of us, every day, use computers, mobile phones, websites, email and social networks. Vast volumes of mixed media surround us, from music to games and videos. Yet almost all of our online actions still begin and end with writing: text messages, status updates, typed search queries, comments and responses, screens packed with verbal exchanges and, underpinning it all, countless billions of words.

This sheer quantity is in itself something new. All future histories of modern language will be written from a position of explicit and overwhelming information — a story not of darkness and silence but of data, and of the verbal outpourings of billions of lives. Where once words were written by the literate few on behalf of the many, now every phone and computer user is an author of some kind. And — separated from human voices — the tasks to which typed language, or visual language, is being put are steadily multiplying.

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There are many things wrong with Major League Baseball’s amateur draft–limits on signing bonuses, the inability to trade picks, etc. Perhaps most galling is that the largely politically conservative owners, who espouse the power of free markets, cling to their anti-trust exemption and curbs on competition in their sport because it suits their wallets. I have a fantasy that a large group of college kids who are top picks will band together and sue the game the way Curt Flood did on the major-league level in 1970. Of course, there are too many incentives keeping young players from doing such a thing. 

The opening of Tim Marchman’s new Wall Street Journal piece, “Why Even Have Baseball’s Draft?“:

“All sports drafts are scams, more or less. No computer engineer right out of Carnegie Mellon has to go straight to a job at Comcast for a predetermined salary. Electronic Arts representatives aren’t lurking the halls of Northwestern with charts and craniometers. The concept is absurd on its face, and just as absurd when applied to young athletes.

What makes Major League Baseball’s draft, which takes place in two weeks, especially ridiculous is that in addition to being clearly unjust, it’s also inefficient. Drafting is no exact science in basketball or football, but at least in those sports the top amateur talents are both readily identified and actually available. Eight of the top 10 finishers in this year’s NBA Most Valuable Player voting were top-five draft picks overall, for example, and Marc Gasol and Tony Parker, who weren’t, were both special cases.

Of the 28 players who placed in the top 10 in last year’s baseball MVP voting or top five in Cy Young voting, though, a little more than half were first-round picks. Eight were originally signed as amateur free agents, meaning they weren’t subject to the draft at all. The draft isn’t a lottery, but it’s closer than it should be given that its nominal purpose is to distribute the best talent to the worst teams.

One sign of this randomness is the way expected returns flatten out through the draft. This year, the Mets, who were lousy last year, have the 11th overall pick, while the Yankees, who were very good, have the 26th. If the draft worked as it’s supposed to, you’d expect that the Mets’ pick would be substantially more valuable, based on historical data.

That isn’t even close to being true, though.”

 

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This is fascinating and creepy and fascinating and creepy: An artist collects discarded objects that have residue of DNA (cigarettes, chewing gum, etc.) and sequences the genetic code so that she can print out a 3D face based on it. From Twisted Sifter:

Heather Dewey-Hagborg is an information artist who is interested in exploring art as research and public inquiry. Traversing media ranging from algorithms to DNA, her work seeks to question fundamental assumptions underpinning perceptions of human nature, technology and the environment.

In her fascinating series entitled Stranger Visions, Heather collects DNA samples from discarded objects found on the street such as hair, nails, cigarette butts and chewing gum.

She then takes the samples to a DIY biology lab where she extracts the DNA and sequences the results. The sequence is then fed into a custom-built computer program that spits out a 3D model of a face which she then prints. The process and ideas behind such a provocative exploration are fascinating.”

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Fears can divide and threats can hold people in place. But what if those boogeymen are cast aside even for a little while? What if the curtain is drawn back and the worst fears are never realized?

The biggest worry that his enemies have had about President Obama from the very beginning isn’t that he would fail but that he would succeed, that he could present a plausible alternative to the harmful reality most Americans have been facing since the start of the Reagan revolution. And we’ve stayed there thanks to the use of wedge issues and demonizing. But the President wanted to transform that. Time, technology and demography are on his side.

What if health-care reform makes our lives better while costing us less money? What if gay marriage isn’t harmful to the moral fabric of society but actually improves it? What if women having control over their lives makes for a healthier, more secure country? What if all the things that we’ve been told are un-American actually make for a stronger America? Once we know the truth, how will lies ever work again?

A brief explanation from Paul Krugman, if you missed it on this Memorial Day holiday, of the potential of Obamacare in action:

“Still, here’s what it seems is about to happen: millions of Americans will suddenly gain health coverage, and millions more will feel much more secure knowing that such coverage is available if they lose their jobs or suffer other misfortunes. Only a relative handful of people will be hurt at all. And as contrasts emerge between the experience of states like California that are making the most of the new policy and that of states like Texas whose politicians are doing their best to undermine it, the sheer meanspiritedness of the Obamacare opponents will become ever more obvious.

So yes, it does look as if there’s an Obamacare shock coming: the shock of learning that a public program designed to help a lot of people can, strange to say, end up helping a lot of people — especially when government officials actually try to make it work.”

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I recently re-read the simple yet deeply moving Hans Christian Andersen allegory, “The Fir Tree” when I picked up a copy of Randall Jarrell’s Book of Stories. Here’s the opening of Danish writer’s August 5, 1975 New York Times obituary, which covers his early life up until his first fame:

“The death of Hans Christian Andersen, the Danish poet and novelist, at Copenhagen, yesterday, is announced by a cable dispatch.

Hans Christian Andersen was born at Odense, in the Island of Fünen (part of the Kingdom of Denmark) on the 2d of April, 1805. Born in a land peculiarly rich in old song, mythology, and folk lore, and the only child of a man who, though only a poor shoemaker, was a man of literary taste and ability and of a highly poetic temperament–a temperament which his child inherited to the full–Andersen was a striking example of Cervantes’ maxim, that ‘Every one is the son of his own works.’ Finding in his child a spirit akin to his own, the elder Andersen fostered and encouraged the fanciful, and poetical elements of his nature at every opportunity. Andersen often spoke of his father’s eloquence ‘in telling me fairy tales.’ Again he said, ‘on Sundays he made me panoramas, theatres, and transformation pictures, and he would read me pieces out of Holberg’s plays and stories from the Thousand and One Nights.’ And Andersen discloses his father to us in the following comment on those Sunday readings: ‘And those were the only moments in which I remember him as looking really cheerful, for in his position as an artisan he did not feel happy.’ While still a very young child Andersen was taken by his father to the theatre, and in his connection he shows the truth of Milton’s lines in Paradise Regained:

‘The childhood shows the man
As morning shows the day.’

Unable, of course, to go often to the theatre, the youngster made friends with the play-bill distributors, who gave him a programme every day. He would retire into some corner with his treasure and imagine the whole play according to its play, and the names and characters in it. Then he collected all his dolls, and, with some pieces of calico for curtain and wings, he would make them enact the pieces in puppet fashion, he repeating what he could remember of his father’s reading. He had, too, a remarkably sweet and clear voice, and would introduce songs into his mimic performances. In this way he whiled away the long hours of his mother’s absence from home; for after his father’s death, which occurred when the boy was only nine years old, she used to go out washing for other people. The death of his father changed the current of his dramatic tendencies, and Hamlet’s Ghost and Lear found their way on to his miniature stage. In these days he wrote his first piece–a tragedy, which he called ‘Abor and Elvira.’ It was founded on an old song of Pyramus and Thisbe, and all the characters in it either died, committed suicide, or were killed. At fourteen years of age Andersen persuaded his mother, who had married again, to let him leave home, and he started for Copenhagen, with a small bundle of clothes, thirteen bank dollars, and a letter of introduction to Mme. Schall, a dancer at the theatre, prepared to begin the battle of life. Andersen arrived in Copenhagen on the 5th of September, 1819. His first visit was to the theatre, round which he walked several times, and which, before he left it, he felt that he looked upon as a home. Ten years later, in that very theatre, he witnessed the production of his first dramatic effort, entitled ‘The Courtship of St. Nicholas’ Steeple; or, What Does the Pit Say?’ The letter of introduction to Mme. Schall proved of no avail. She thought the boy crazy, and got him out of her house as quickly as possible. Remembering that he had read in a newspaper at Odense that an Italian named Siboui was Director of the Musical Conservatory of Copenhagen, he inquired the way and betook himself to Siboui’s house, whom he told his story. It happened that Weyse, the celebrated composer, and Baggesen, the poet, and a large company were dining with Siboui. The lad recited some scenes from Holberg, and some poems, and ended by bursting into tears. Weyse was deeply moved, and immediately raised a subscription for the friendless lad among those present. The collection amounted to $70. In time Andersen became a member of the ballet and chorus at the theatre, and spent his leisure hours in a sort of desultory study under the auspices of Weyse, Baggesen, the poet Guldberg, Oersted, the philosopher, and others who were interested in him; but so far he had talent without education. At the end of the theatrical season of 1823 he received his dismissal from the theatre, and for some months he experienced real want, but suffered in silence. Oersted, however, interested Collin, the Director of the Theatre Royal, in his favor. Collin was struck with the merits as well as the fruits of a historical tragedy called ‘Alfsol,’ which Andersen gave him to read, and, using his influence with King Frederick VI, and the Directors of the public schools, he procured a pension for him for a few years and free instruction in the Latin school at Slagelse, telling him that in time he would be able to produce works worthy to be acted on the Danish stage. He studied at Slagelse, and afterward in the Latin school at Helsingür, and then returned to Copenhagen, where he was welcomed by the family of Admiral Wulff in the Amalienborg Palace.

During these days he wrote but little poetry, the principal pieces being ‘The Soul,’ ‘To My Mother,’ and ‘The Dying Child,’ the last of which was among the most widely circulated of all his attempts in verse. At the time it was written it was printed with an apology for having been the composition of one still at school. From grave to gay, Andersen wrote several humorous pieces, which Heiberg readily printed in the Flying Post. In September, 1828, he became a student in the Royal College at Copenhagen, entering upon his studies with the greatest enthusiasm. The following year was the turning point of his life. He varied his studies by writing a humorous book, his first work, entitled ‘A Foot Journey to Amak.’ No one would publish the book, so he took the risk  upon himself. To his great joy and astonishment it was out of print a few days after its appearance. Reitzel, the book-seller, purchased the second edition, and afterward published a third. The book was also reprinted in Sweden. Everybody in Copenhagen read it, and Andersen was famous.”

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Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who once tried to levitate Mia Farrow’s skirt, is interviewed by Howard Stern in 1985. Howard, who practices TM, was, sadly, very respectful, at least in this part of the interview.

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From a perspective in the Economist on far-flung copyright laws, in the wake of astronaut Chris Hadfield’s Bowie cover in space:

“In this particular case the matter is straightforward because Commander Hadfield had obtained permission to record and distribute the song, and production and distribution was entirely terrestrial. Commander Hadfield and his son Evan spent several months hammering out details with Mr Bowie’s representatives, and with NASA, Russia’s space agency ROSCOSMOS and the CSA. The copyright issue may seem trivial, but the emergence of privately funded rocket launches, space tourism and space exploration hold the potential for more substantive disputes. If an astronaut were to travel to the Moon, an asteroid or Mars on a privately funded spacecraft, the situation would become knottier still, because the United Nations Outer Space Treaty of 1967 applies to countries, not companies or private individuals. J.A.L. Sterling, a London-based expert on international copyright law, anticipated all this in a 2008 paper, ‘Space Copyright Law: the new dimension.‘ in which he lists dozens more potentially problematic scenarios that could arise, some seemingly risible at first. He asks what would have happened if, on a moon landing broadcast live by NASA across the world, two astronauts were overcome by emotion and burst into song—one covered by copyright. NASA might still be engaged in litigation 40 years later. More prosaically and immediately plausibly, Sterling considers space travellers who put copyrighted material from Earth on a server reachable from space, or engage in rights-violating ‘public performances’ for crewmates. If the first person to walk on Mars decides to launch into ‘A Whole New World.‘ the rights will need to have been cleared with Disney first.”

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Morganna Roberts was a bosomy 13-year-old girl in 1960 when she first stepped onto a stage at a strip club, in an era when America was tormented by desire and morality, wanting all manner of urges satisfied and needing to punish the one who provided the satisfaction. Not content to just be ogled and cursed as the star of the burlesque circuit, the teen dreamed of a bigger spotlight–and found it. In the years before women were encouraged to take the field and participate in pro sports, she and her Dolly Parton-ish figure stormed the gates. Morganna, dubbed “the Kissing Bandit,” gained notoriety beginning in 1969 for running onto the playing field at pro games and attempting to plant one on the biggest male athletes of the day, from Pete Rose to Fred Lynn to Nolan Ryan. She was a groupie who only kissed, a streaker even when she kept her clothes on, and someone who was not very popular with women in a time when Billie Jean King was battling the sexist pigs on the court. Only in retrospect can she be appreciated as a feminist icon. 

A short film by Adam Kurland about Morganna’s life as a public jiggler, “Always Leave Them Wanting More,” can be viewed here. (Thanks Hairpin.)

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From the January 23, 1890 New York Times:

Des Moines, Iowa–Judge Hoyt of the Clayton District Court has passed sentence upon probably the youngest life convict in this country. His name is John Wesley Elkins and the offense charged was that of murder of his father. He also murdered his mother at the same time. He was indicted for both offenses, but as he pleaded guilty to the first the other was not tried. The boy is only twelve years old.

On the night of July 17 he shot his father with a rifle while he was asleep, and seized a club and beat his mother’s head to jelly.

He confessed the crime, and gave as his motive that he had desired to leave home and shift for himself, but his parents had objected. He was given the full limit of the law.”

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I dreamt once of an Earth grown too hot, but is it just a dream? If the climate changes, then so does everything. From Thomas Jones in the London Review of Books:

“The facts, rehearsed so often, for so long and to so little effect, nonetheless bear repeating. The greenhouse effect was first hypothesised in 1824 by Joseph Fourier – though his analogy was the bell jar rather than the greenhouse – and proved experimentally by John Tyndall in 1859. In the 19th century it could be seen as unambiguously a good thing: if carbon dioxide and other trace gases didn’t trap heat in the atmosphere, the earth wouldn’t be warm enough to support life as we know it. But there is now far more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than there has been at any point in the last 800,000 years (we know this because researchers have analysed air bubbles trapped in the ice in Greenland and Antarctica: the deeper you go, the older the bubbles). The concentration has increased from nearly 320 parts per million (high, but not unprecedented) in 1960 to more than 390 ppm today, 30 per cent higher than any previous peak, largely as a result of human activity. Not even the most fervent climate change denier can argue with the fact that burning carbon produces carbon dioxide: before the Industrial Revolution, atmospheric carbon dioxide levels were 280 ppm. Since 1850, more than 360 billion tonnes of fossil fuels have gone up in smoke. Average global temperatures have risen accordingly, for the last quarter century pretty much in line with the predictions made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its first assessment report (1990). Almost every year since 1988, when the IPCC was established, has been the hottest ever recorded. The most optimistic projection, which governments are nominally committed to (that’s to say, the signatories of the Copenhagen Accord in 2009 agreed it would be nice), is that the average global temperature will rise no more than 2ºC by the end of the century. Sea level has risen 6 cm since 1990. The IPCC’s fourth assessment report (2007) projected that it would rise between 18 and 59 cm by 2100. According to a more recent study, it could be anything from 33 to 132 cm.

The question of how to prevent climate change – we’re way past that point now – has morphed into the question of how to slow it down. There’s no shortage of theoretical answers about the best way to pump fewer greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, or suck more of them out, or lower the temperature by other means. (Another week, another book about climate change: the mood optative, the structure evangelical; threats of doom followed by promises of salvation, punctuated by warnings against false prophets.) And yet carbon emissions, temperatures, sea level and the frequency of extreme weather events just keep on going up. Which leads to another, perhaps even more urgent question: if climate change is not only inevitable but already underway, how are we to live with it?”

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A couple of predictions about the urban future from Benjamin Plackett at the Connectivist:

Future cities will be downloadable

The Internet can be a democratizing force. Social media gave a voice to the Arab spring protesters and made accessing information a consumer’s market. Alastair Parvin, an architect from the U.K., says the Web will do the same for the construction world. Thanks to the increasing capabilities of broadband, ‘we’re moving into a future where the factory is everywhere, and that means the design team is everyone,’ he says. Parvin co-founded a company called WikiHouse, which offers free CAD files to anyone with a 3D printer looking to build a home on a tight budget. The 3-D printer produces the home’s structural components, which Parvin says the user can then assemble ‘without formal construction skills or power tools.’

Future cities will live underwater

This is perhaps one of the more radical predictions for the future of the urban environment: a sea-scraper. Its designer, Sarly Adre Bin Sarkum, a Malaysian architect, won a special mention from eVolvo Magazine for its entry into the magazine’s annual skyscrapers competition. The design iIt’s essentially a floating, self-sufficient tower building, its top just peeking out above the water’s surface. Wave power would supposedly power the underwater city, while the rooftop would provide a place to farm food. It’s pretty safe to say this is a far-out premise, and there are no plans to build anything like the sea-scraper anytime soon, but it’s certainly set tongues a-wagging.”

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Sears, the retailer originally paired with Roebuck, existed initially in its own sort of cloud: the mail-order one. But it became encumbered by physical real estate, running until it was crushed by brick and mortar, by the era itself. Now it returns to the cloud in another form: data centers. The opening of a brief post at the Atlantic by Alex Madrigal:

“Sears! Once the catalog king, then an eminent brick-and-mortar retailer, and now, perhaps, a real-estate holding company that leases out space for computers that power the cloud.

Data Center Knowledge reported today that Sears had created a new unit — Ubiquity Critical Environments — to look into repurposing its shuttered stores as datacenters, starting with this one in Chicago.

Yes, this is this week’s sign that the 21st century is upon us.”

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Fantasies tell us a lot about a person or a people, but there’s danger in taking them too literally. They’re fantasies not just because we can’t or aren’t allowed to live them, but often because we don’t actually want them realized. They do bear watching, however, since when the bad ones are put into action, horrors can occur.

The opening of a Foreign Policy article about a new wave of scary Chinese military fantasy novels:

“It is the year 2049. China’s economic development has so disturbed the world’s other major powers that the United States, Japan, and Russia form an alliance and invade China. Fierce battles break out on the plains of northeast China, where Japanese troops and U.S. fighter jets besiege Chinese infantry. Caught by surprise, China’s army nonetheless stages a glorious counterattack by deploying levitating tanks, and employing a strategy based on lessons learned from the Anti-Japanese War and the Resist America War (better known in the West as WWII and the Korean War, respectively). 

Such is the plot of The Last Counterattack, a serial novel published on Blood and Iron Reading, a Chinese military literature website. In one of the latest installments, published on May 2, U.S. government-sponsored hackers have infiltrated the Chinese military’s network and accidently launched a Chinese nuclear missile directed at the United States. The anonymous author’s online profile says he is a former colonel in the People’s Liberation Army and currently a staff officer in charge of operations and reconnaissance in the 12th Armored Division at China’s 21st Army Group. Going by the online pseudonym ‘the Old Staff Officer,’ he told FP in an interview conducted over the Chinese messaging service QQ that he ‘enjoys the feeling of letting [his] imagination fly.’ But Li, as I’ll call him, believes that what he’s writing may actually come to pass. In an April blog post, he explained his thinking for the book: [The world besieges China and attacks it from all sides. Is this possible? Yes!’

There are thousands of Chinese war fantasy novels on the Internet — too sensitive to be published in book form, they circulate on blogs, and websites like Blood and Iron Reading. Most languish, but the more popular ones get read millions of times. As a rising China struggles to define its military aspirations, and as the country’s vast propaganda apparatus encourages citizens to define their version of President Xi Jinping’s vague slogan ‘Chinese Dream,’ these military fantasy novels provide insight into what Chinese people’s war dreams look like.”

By the way: Merv Griffin, who was a meditator, was taught TM by his frequent tennis partner Clint Eastwood. So he told Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in 1975.

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“Would sell them for much less.”

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"Caucasian, blue eyes, brown hair."

“Caucasian, blue eyes, brown hair.”

So-called spiritual guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who was very good at keeping his legs crossed except when Mia Farrow was around, visits Merv Griffin for the first time in 1975. Merv is the one on your left.

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From James Fallows’ new Atlantic article about Gov. Jerry Brown 2.0, a passage about how California is America writ large, better and worse than ever:

As for the problems Brown and his state are wrestling with, they are America’s problems—but worse. Here we leave the governor for a moment to consider the environment he is working in, which is both emblematic of and surprisingly different from America as a whole.

You can go too far with the idea that California shows how all of America will look a few years from now. The state’s population is already more heavily Hispanic than the U.S. population might ever be: Hispanics, at nearly 40 percent, are about to overtake California’s ‘non-Hispanic white’ percentage to become the largest ethnic group in the state. (Nationwide, Hispanics are about 17 percent of the population.) Relative to the country as a whole, Asians also make up a larger share of California’s population—­roughly 15 percent of the state, versus about 8 percent of the country—while blacks and whites represent smaller shares. (California is about 40 percent white and 6 percent black, versus 63 percent and 12 percent, respectively, for the United States.) Largely because of these demographic shifts, the Republican Party, which a generation ago relied on California as the largest element of its Sunbelt base, now barely bothers to mount statewide races except those self-financed by political-novice millionaires like Meg Whitman, who lost badly to Brown in 2010, and Carly Fiorina, who lost badly to Barbara Boxer for the U.S. Senate that same year. In 2012, Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney by 3 million votes in California—and by only 2 million more in the other 49 states combined. In both houses of the state legislature the Democrats have, for now, a two-thirds ‘supermajority’ that allows them to prevail even against California’s version of the filibuster. ‘The Republicans appear to have no power,’ Jerry Brown told me. ‘Some of them are nice people, but they aren’t needed for any votes [in the legislature], and they don’t participate.’

In other ways tangible and subjective, California is an outlier. Its median income is much higher than America’s—but so is its unemployment rate. Its prison system is large and fantastically expensive. Two of its sizable cities (Stockton and San Bernardino) have filed for bankruptcy. And it has myriad other problems. Still, California is usefully representative of the country in one very important way. What is good, and bad, about America is better, and worse, in its most populous state.”

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From the June 3, 1898 New York Times:

Sioux City, Iowa–Loaded with wealth, but deserted and starving, John Rochel, once a well-known manufacturer in Sioux City, perished last April on the trail between Dawson City and Alaskan points. The news of his death reached here in a letter to his widow, written by Richard Hendrickson, from Seattle, under date of March 24.

The details of Rochel’s death are meagre, but from what can be gleaned it appears that he was returning from the mines, after disposing of a valuable claim. His party was short of provisions, and as Rochel, who was quite an old man, delayed the march, it was decided to abandon him. Rochel had been engaged here in the manufacture of brick, but was tempted from home by the stories of immense wealth in Alaska. From all accounts he was among the luckiest of the miners at Dawson City, but was unable to bring his winnings back to civilization. His body will be brought here for burial.”

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In the future, the expensive cars being abandoned will likely be driverless. Privacy concerns won’t slow down the software, because trying to control your information in this era is as futile as trying to control what comes out of a 3D printer. From Timothy B. Lee at the Washington Post:

“Self-driving cars will make it easier for the authorities to track you everywhere you go. But the benefits of self-driving cars are likely to be so enormous that American consumers will sign up in droves, regardless of the privacy implications.

We know this because American consumers have already enthusiastically adopted a technology that allows the government to track their every movement: the cellphone. To complete incoming calls, your cellphone company needs to know where you are at all times. A few brave souls have rejected the technology on privacy grounds, but most have signed up without giving it a second thought.

The story will be much the same for self-driving cars.”

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Via Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution, a report from the unfortunately named Messy Nessy Chic about an unusual sign of the economic meltdown in Dubai–expensive ghost vehicles:

“If you’ve ever been to Dubai or anywhere in the United Arab Emirates, you will have noticed they have a serious car culture out there, with a particular preference for the latest and greatest in high-end super cars. But like the rest of the world, Dubai has fallen on hard times. Once the hub of the oil economy and the centre of a booming property market, foreigners, mostly British, invested in the red hot market. Newly wealthy ex-pats bought the lastest Italian and German sports cars to compliment their millionaire lifestyles– and then the global economic crisis came along and burst everybody’s bubble.

Thousands of the finest automobiles ever made are now being abandoned every year since Dubai’s financial meltdown, left by expatriates and locals alike who flee in a hurry because they face crippling debts. With big loans to repay to the banks (unpaid debt or even bouncing a cheque is a criminal offence in Dubai), the panicked car owners make their way to the airport at top speeds and leave their vehicles in the car park, hopping on the next flight out of there, never to return.”

A small plane powered for a matter of feet by a person on a bicycle is utterly useless in a practical sense, yet achingly beautiful to admire, perhaps because of the near-futility of the effort. From a July 10, 1921 New York Times article about French wheelman Gabriel Poulain, who was a pioneer in this odd endeavor:

Paris–Gabriel Poulain, the French champion cyclist, succeeded this morning in the Bois de Boulogne in winning the Peugot prize of 10,000 francs for the flight of more than ten meters distance and one meter high in a man-driven airplane. In an ‘aviette,’ which is a bicycle with two wing planes, he four times flew the prescribed distance, his longest flight being more than twelve meters, or about the same number of yards.

Poulain for several years has been devoting himself to the solution of the problem of flight by the power of his own muscles and several times has come near winning a prize. This morning’s exhibition, however, was by far the most successful, a cyclist never before having been able to rise from the ground a sufficient height to enable him to cover more than six or seven meters.

For today’s attempt Poulain altered the angle of the small rear plane of his machine and it was this alteration, it seems, that solved the problem. 

Poulain made his attempt just after dawn on the smooth road at the entrance to the Longchamps race course. Several members of the Aero Club, donors of the prize and a large company of journalists and photographers were present. A square twenty meters each away was carefully measured off and chalked so as to mark the points at which the ‘aviette’ must rise one meter from the ground and that two flights must be made in opposite directions.

Rides Smoothly in Air

Poulain, who was confident that this time he was going to succeed, rode his machine at top speed toward the chalked square. As he entered it he released the clutch which throws the wing into proper position and at once the miniature biplane rose from the ground gracefully and steadily to a height of more than a meter. 

The flight was as steady as that of a motor-driven airplane and Poulain declared afterward that the motion was smoother than when traveling along the ground. When the judges measured the distance between the wheel marks on the chalk they found it lacked only two centimeters of being twelve meters.

Poulain’s flight in the opposite direction was not quite so successful, though he succeeded in covering eleven and a half meters. In landing he broke two spokes of the rear wheel.

M. Robert Peugeot declared the prize won, but Poulain wished to make further proof of the powers of his machine. After changing the wheel he started from positions chosen by the judges, and in each case he succeeded in covering the prize-winning distance. His longest flight was the last, of twelve meters thirty-two centimeters.

In order to cover so great a distance Poulain worked up to a speed of forty-five kilometers an hour on the ground. According to his own estimate, the muscular force required for flight is equal to three horse power. The total weight of the machine, with the wings, is seventeen kilogrammes, or about thirty-seven pounds, and the cyclist himself weighs seventy-four kilograms, or about 165  pounds.

After the flight Poulain declared that he intended to set at work at once on another plane, which, he believes, will enable him to fly 200 to 300 meters. On this machine he will make use of a propeller instead of depending, as he did today, simply on impetus.

Once in the air, Poulain says that not so much power is needed as for the take-off. He says the pedal-worked propeller will be strong enough to continue flight for a considerable distance without fatigue.”

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From a post and podcast about human enhancement at Practical Ethics, a comment by Australian bioethicist Chris Gyngell about the world to come:

“In the near future parents may be able to directly alter the genetic make-up of their children using genetic engineering technologies (GETs). A popular model that has been proposed for regulating access to GETs is the ‘genetic supermarket.’ In the genetic supermarket parents are free to make decisions about which genes to select for their children with little state interference. One possible consequence of the genetic supermarket is that ‘collective action problems’ will arise. The combined result of individuals using the market to pursue self-interested gains may have a negative effect on society as a whole, and on future generations. n this paper Gyngell asks whether GETs targeting height, innate immunity, and certain cognitive traits would lead to collective action problems if available in the genetic supermarket. he argues that that the widespread availability of GETs targeting height are unlikely to lead to genuine collective action problems, but that those targeting innate immunity and aspects of our cognition, could.”

I’ve probably mentioned before that I love Steven Johnson’s book about Victorian Era epidemiology The Ghost Map. At Medium, the author pushes back against some points George Packer makes in his just-published New Yorker article (gated here) about Silicon Valley’s reach into politics. An excerpt:

“The first assumption, cited half a dozen times in the piece, is that the default political framework of the Valley is libertarian. When I was writing Future Perfectwhich makes a cameo in Packer’s piece—I spent quite a few pages clarifying that while the new ‘peer progressive‘ worldview shared some superficial characteristics with Randian libertarianism, it was in actuality fundamentally different. Yes, people who work in the tech sector today (particularly around the web and social media) believe in the power of decentralized systems and less hierarchical forms of organization. But that does not mean they are greed-is-good market fundamentalists. For starters, almost all of them recognize that their industry itself arose out of government funding (see ARPANET), and some of the most celebrated achievements of the digital culture (open source software, Wikipedia) involve commons-based collaboration with no conventional definition of private property whatsoever. It’s precisely because we lack a new vocabulary to describe this worldview that we end up lumping the tech sector together in the libertarian camp.

You can see this confusion most clearly in a series of datapoints that go amazingly unmentioned in Packer’s piece: namely, the election returns from last fall’s presidential race. As Nate Silver observed in a detailed postmortem on Northern California votes, Obama won Santa Clara county by 42% — more than ten times his margin nationally, and more than twice his margin in the rest of liberal California. (While San Francisco and Oakland have long been hotbeds of progressivism, Reagan won Santa Clara by double digits in both of his successful campaigns.) You would think such a dramatic swing to the left would at least warrant a mention in Packer’s piece, but from reading it, an outsider might reasonably assume that the Valley was a Republican stronghold—a vast army of Koch brothers with hoodies.

The numbers are even more stark when you look at campaign finance. According to Silver’s analysis, Google employees gave more than 97% of their political donations to Obama, with comparable percentages at Apple and eBay as well. If libertarianism is so rampant in Silicon Valley, why are they voting for higher taxes and funding a big government liberal by such overwhelming numbers?” (Thanks Browser.)

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