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That handsome and agreeable robot Charlie Rose recently interviewed Warren Buffet and Bill Gates at Columbia University, and the billionaires made a point that is true in the long run, which is that technology replacing human toil and increasing productivity makes us richer. 

That’s correct, at least in the aggregate, though the distribution is tricky.

In the short- and medium-term, that can make for a bumpy ride, especially since the pace of the transitions are much faster now than in the time of steam-powered looms, a situation that’s only likely to accelerate as time passes. Smart policy is needed to fill the breach to help those left behind as Buffet and Gates state, but that’s not looking good presently, especially in America, with President Crazypants running the show.

The comments on automation:

Warren Buffett:

If we were here in 1800 and conducting this, somebody would point out that eventually tractors would come along and better fertilizer and that 80 percent of the people are now employed on the farm and in couple hundred years it is going to be 2 or 3 percent, and what are we going to do with all these people? Well, the answer is we release them. Keynes wrote something about in something called Essays in Persuasion, which he wrote in 1930 about what a more prosperous society would become like, and he actually postulated that in 100 years and we’re now 87 years along, there would be four to eight times as much output per capita—remarkable—but he didn’t quite get at how it would get distributed. But the idea of more output per capita—which is what the progress is made on productivity—that that should be harmful to society is crazy. Now the distribution may be a problem, but if one person could push a button and turn out everything we turn out now, is that good for the world or bad for the world? You’d have to figure out how to distribute it, but you’d free up all kinds of possibilities for everything else. Everything should be devoted initially to getting greater productivity, but people who fall through the wayside through no fault of their own, as the goose lays more golden eggs, should still get a chance to participate in that prosperity, and that’s where government comes in.

Charlie Rose (to Gates):

Do you have anything to add to that?

Bill Gates:

A problem of excess is a different problem than a problem of shortage. If all the tractor and computers stopped working, then we would have problems of shortage there, and we just wouldn’t have enough people to make the output. A problem of excess really forces us took at individuals effected and take those individual resources and make sure they’re directed to them in terms of reeducation and income policies. And the smaller class size in helping handicapped kids reaching out to the elderly…the demand for labor is not at zero. If you ever get to that point, sure, you can shorten the work week, you’ll be just fine with that. This idea of taking an individual during a generation who is effected by that, I think there’s a lot to be learned about that, a lot of thinking we have to do, but the macro picture that it enables is an opportunity.

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In 1960, Edward O. Thorp, mathematics professor with a wandering intellect, co-created with Claude Shannon what’s accepted as the first wearable computer, a stealth gambling aid that helped him level the odds at casinos. After cashing in his chips, he tried his hand at the financial industry to spectacular results. But Thorp, now 84, isn’t sanguine about Wall Street, which he believes is rigged for the already wealthy, and he’s apoplectic about our new President, a feeling which will only be exacerbated by today’s news that the Administration wants to undo the Dodd-Frank Act.

John Authors of the Financial Times interviewed Thorp, who just published his autobiography, A Man for All Markets.

An excerpt from FT:

So, why is he so negative about Wall Street? Without raising his voice, he launches an indictment. “Adam Smith’s market is a whole lot different from our markets. He imagined a market with lots of buyers and sellers of things, nobody had market dominance or could impose things on the market, and there was a lot of competition. The market we have now is nothing like that. The players are so big that they control the levers of financial policy.”

…I ask what he suggests we do about it? “The banks who are too big to fail should have been allowed to fail. Their shareholders should have had to pay the price. Big companies go through organised bankruptcies. Why is it that we couldn’t afford for the banks to go bankrupt? It’s that they are so influential. They can persuade the government not to let them go bankrupt.”

He also holds that banks’ speculative arms should be broken off — essentially a return to the Depression-era Glass-Steagall law that was controversially repealed by President Clinton in 1999. The newly elected President Trump — we are lunching on the first Monday of his presidency — was elected on a platform of bringing back Glass-Steagall, but now appears intent on deregulation. Thorp winces at the mention of Trump’s name, saying he is as negative about him as it is possible to be.•


Life magazine profiled the academic-gambler in 1964. The story’s hook was undeniable: a brilliant mathematician who utilized his beautiful mind at gaming tables to bring pit bosses to heel. He didn’t rely on the fictional “hot hand” but instead on cool computer calculations. What wasn’t known at the time–and what Thorp didn’t offer to reporter Paul O’Neil–is that the Ph.D. had a stealthy sidekick in the aforementioned wearable. 


The wearable device, which was contained in a shoe or a cigarette pack, could markedly improve a gambler’s chance at the roulette wheel, though the bugs were never completely worked out. From a 1998 conference:

The first wearable computer was conceived in 1955 by the author to predict roulette, culminating in a joint effort at M.I.T. with Claude Shannon in 1960-61. The final operating version was rested in Shannon’s basement home lab in June of 1961. The cigarette pack sized analog device yielded an expected gain of +44% when betting on the most favored “octant.” The Shannons and Thorps tested the computer in Las Vegas in the summer of 1961. The predictions there were consistent with the laboratory expected gain of 44% but a minor hardware problem deferred sustained serious betting. They kept the method and the existence of the computer secret until 1966.•


Thorp appeared on To Tell the Truth in 1964. He didn’t discuss wearables but his book about other methods to break the bank. Amusing that NYC radio host John Gambling played one of the impostors.

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Elon Musk has unilaterally decided that direct democracy will be the likely government on Mars once he creates a colony on our neighboring planet, but if a fledgling fascist takes over, he’ll probably still be open for business.

We’ve witnessed with his embrace of the Trump Administration that the Space X founder isn’t grounded enough to truly comprehend an epochal political moment, believing he can somehow manage a sociopathic President and his white nationalist Chief Strategist the way he does less-combustible things–like rockets, for instance. 

Some of Musk’s announcements about space settlements and other schemes have seemed increasingly kooky over the last few years, but you could cut him some slack. After all, Thomas Edison truly believed he could use early 1900s technology to create a “spirit phone” to speak to the dead. Visionaries sometimes head down a blind alley so distracted they are by the world they hold in their hands. But Musk’s reaction to this singular challenge to American democracy has revealed a deep moral blind spot within him. 

Prior to the ugly election cycle, Walter Isaacson said the “Benjamin Franklin of today is Musk,” but our kite-flying forefather understood one thing about tyranny that escapes his technological descendant: “We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

• • •

In “Whitey on Mars,” Andrew Russell’s excellent Aeon essay, the writer argues that “white men in expensive, gleaming white spaceships” take priority over more earthly concerns when wealth is deeply unequal, especially in this era when such costly exploration has become significantly privatized. I’m sure Musk would counter that he is trying to address climate change by spearheading a transition to electric and solar (a point Russell also addresses), but there’s definitely much truth in the argument.

The opening:

There are good reasons to worry about the future of humanity. Do we have a future, and if so, how much and what kind? For most people, it’s easier to feel these existential concerns for our species than it is to do something about them. But some are taking action. On 27 September 2016, the SpaceX founder Elon Musk made a bold, direct claim: that, in order to survive an inevitable extinction event, humans would need to ‘become a space-faring civilisation and a multi-planetary species’. Pulses raced and the media swooned. Headlines appeared in the business and technology press about Musk’s plan to save humanity. Experts and laypeople alike debated details of the rockets, spacecraft and fuel needed for Musk’s journey to Mars. The excitement was palpable, and it was evident at the press conference. During the Q&A that followed the announcement, Musk said that his goal was to inspire humanity. One audience member yelled: ‘[Musk] inspires the shit out of us!’ Another offered him a kiss.

Musk’s plan to colonise Mars is a sign of an older and recurring social problem. What happens when the rich and powerful isolate themselves from everyday concerns? Musk wants to innovate and leave Earth, rather than to take care of it, or fix it, and stay. Like so many of his peers in the innovating and disrupting classes, Musk prefers to dwell in fantasy and science fiction, safely removed from the world of here and now. Musk is a utopian, in the original Greek meaning: ‘no place’. Repulsed by the world we all share, he dreams of a place that does not exist.•

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For J. Robert Oppenheimer, science was a series of trials.

The father of the atomic bomb, the theoretical physicist was never to be sainted like Albert Einstein. It’s possible (likely, even) the weapon actually saved lives during World War II, abbreviating the fighting by forcing Japan to surrender, but the unholy power released brought to mind the content of the first piece of Morse code ever sent: “What hath God wrought.”

Publishing a post about Richard Feynman the other day reminded me about his mentor’s literal trial during the McCarthy era, when Oppenheimer was accused of being a Communist sympathizer willing to secret nuclear knowledge to the Soviets. The scientist had been under surveillance by J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI since the 1940s, with his phones tapped and office bugged, and in the following decade his security clearance was surprisingly revoked.

Oppenheimer certainly worked with and knew members of the Communist Party (his wife was one), but that wasn’t unusual in those days. The governmental action seems to have had less to do with fears of espionage than with witch-hunt hysteria and a power struggle among politicians and competing scientists, particularly his erstwhile friend Edward Teller. Oppenheimer fought his loss of credentials to no avail in a four-week trial, emerging with a reputation permanently reduced.

Two articles about the matter from the April 13, 1954 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, the first about the suspension of clearance and the second a piece in which Einstein voiced support for Oppenheimer.


Edward R. Murrow interviews an understandably shaky Oppenheimer in the year after his trial. Under his direction, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton wasn’t only home to some of the finest young physicists in the world but also served as a salon of sorts to broaden the students’ thinking. T.S. Eliot, George Kennan and Jean Piaget were among the visitors who stayed for a spell. The university considered removing Oppenheimer from his post after the Communist controversy, but he ultimately retained his position until his death by cancer in 1967.

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According to legend, writer William Peter Blatty pretended to be a Saudi prince in the 1950s to get booked on the game show You Bet Your Life. He didn’t fool Groucho but did win $10,000, which helped him jump-start his career.

Blatty, who just died, enjoyed a long, successful run, but during the 1970 to 1973 period, when The Exorcist was a hugely controversial blockbuster as both novel and film, he was on the receiving end of a torrent of congratulations and curses seldom experienced by an American writer. If it wasn’t clear in those times that Blatty was correct and his critics (a mix of Catholic Church leaders and high-toned film critics) were not, it seems fairly obvious now.

In the inaugural 1974 edition of People, Blatty responded to the firestorm over the screen adaptation of The Exorcist. An excerpt in which he hit back at the critical elite, that quaint thing that used to exist before the fans fans stormed the gates. An excerpt:

Question:

How do you feel about some of the most negative reviewers of your film?

William Peter Blatty:

I would like to introduce Pauline Kael of The New Yorker to Father Woods and Father Cortes. They hate the movie because they say it is doing the church no good. Pauline Kael hates the movie because she says it is “the biggest recruiting poster the Catholic Church has had since the sunnier days of Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary’s.” I would like to put these people in a room together.

Vincent Canby of the New York Times said the film was not made without intelligence or talent. He said this only further infuriated him—that we should have wasted the intelligence, talent, money and budget of a lavish production on what he called elegant claptrap.

Question:

Why are they so negative?

William Peter Blatty:

They belong to a very small, elitist set of reviewers who have been trapped so long in the squirrel cage of their egos that the world of reality outside their cage is a blur. They neither reap nor sow nor perform any useful social function. They are malignant Miles of the field.•


Blatty and Exorcist collaborators Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow and Jason Miller, reconvened in 1984 for Good Morning America.

The French doctor-cum-novelist Louis-Ferdinand Céline was always among the most troubling of artists, a brilliant writer and ardent anti-Semite. During the second half of the twentieth century, after the Nazis had been ground into dust, it was less a problem to embrace his brilliance. “Celine was my Proust!” exclaimed Philip Roth. William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Kurt Vonnegut and Henry Miller agreed.

The author’s thorns have sadly again grown as pointy as daggers in this neo-Nazi 2.0 moment, with his old interviews being re-run on viciously bigoted websites with Hitler-appropriate names. His greatness shouldn’t be denied, but his awfulness shouldn’t be forgotten.

In the 1934 Brooklyn Daily Eagle review of Journey to the End of the Night, his bruising, misanthropic war novel, George Currie writes of the rare level of fascination and controversy the book provoked in France.


A spectral, dissipated Céline cries during a 1957 TV interview. The following year, desperate for money as he always seemed to be, the author reluctantly allowed a re-issue of Journey, penning a preface in which he suggested the book’s graphic nature was the sole reason for the enmity he encountered, not at all acknowledging the role his numerous anti-Semitic tracts played.

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“Anything felt possible,” writes Garry Kasparov in the WSJ of the ebullient time a quarter century ago when it became apparent Soviet autocracy had failed and democracy seemed, at long last, to have triumphed. The walls came down, history supposedly ended, and it was only a matter of time until all nations succumbed to the new reality.

In 2016, with liberal governance in retreat, anything again feels possible, but in a different and chilling way.  

In a reversal of fortunes, in an unforced error, America would appear to have retroactively lost the Cold War, perhaps even World War II. The blissfully unaware, the political opportunists and the truly evil have conspired to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Hope has never needed to be more audacious because this is no joke, it is not a test, we’re really on fire. 

From Kasparov on how the failure to address history left the demons breathing, if barely, waiting to revitalize and pounce once more:

It is difficult to describe what life in the U.S.S.R. was like to people in the free world today. This is not because repressive dictatorships are an anachronism people can’t imagine, like trying to tell your incredulous children that there was once a world without cellphones and the internet. The U.S.S.R. ceased to exist in 1991, but there are plenty of repressive, authoritarian regimes thriving in 2016. The difference, and I am sad to say it, is that the citizens of the free world don’t much care about dictatorships anymore, or about the 2.7 billion people who still live in them.

The words of John F. Kennedy in 1963 Berlin sound naive to most Americans today: “Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free,” he said. That for decades the U.S. government based effective foreign policy on such lofty ideals seems as distant as a world without iPhones.

Ronald Reagan’s warning that “freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction” was never meant to be put to the test, but it is being tested now. If anything, Reagan’s time frame of a generation was far too generous. The dramatic expansion of freedom that occurred 25 years ago may be coming undone in 25 months.

The fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the U.S.S.R. was the end of watch for the anti-Communist coalition formed by Harry Truman after World War II. A year later, baby boomer Bill Clinton was making jokes with Russia’s President Boris Yeltsin and it was time to party, not press the advantage. The U.S. had unrivaled global power and influence, more than at any other time in history. Yet instead of using it to shape a new global framework to protect and project the values of democracy and human rights—as Truman had done immediately to put Stalin in check—the free world acted as though the fight had been won once and for all.

Even worse, we made the same mistake in Russia and in many other newly independent states. We were so eager to embrace the bright future that we failed to address our dark past.•


A remote match via telephone versus David Letterman in 1989.

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In 2011, I quoted something from Hunter S. Thompson’s Hell’s Angels:

The Angels don’t like to be called losers, but they have learned to live with it. “Yeah, I guess I am,” said one. “But you’re looking at one loser who’s going to make a hell of a scene on the way out.”

It’s an odd outcome because the Angels emerged from America’s great triumph in World War II, as it and other motorcycle gangs were formed from the wanderlust of our war vets. But the love of the road turned into hatred for the self, and then, the other.

Five years ago when I published that excerpt, I was more concerned about militias and a scary strain of right-wing backlash that seemed awakened by the election of our first African-American President and gains made by women and other minorities. I never expected those on the fringes to make such gains on the center–to win it. And I’m not exactly someone who spends my idle time at Berkeley cocktail parties.

The ones who wanted to make America white again formed a faction with those who felt adrift in the modern economy, with its wealth inequality and bruising technological shift. The latter group had always looked on others as the “losers” and didn’t want to join them, even if the scoreboard said they already had. Together the haters and the backsliders made a hell of a scene in 2016.

From Susan McWilliams’ Nation piece about Thompson forecasting the rise of Trumpism:

It has been 50 years since Hunter S. Thompson published the definitive book on motorcycle guys: Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. It grew out of a piece first published in The Nation one year earlier. My grandfather, Carey McWilliams, editor of the magazine from 1955 to 1975, commissioned the piece from Thompson—it was the gonzo journalist’s first big break, and the beginning of a friendship between the two men that would last until my grandfather died in 1980. Because of that family connection, I had long known that Hell’s Angels was a political book. Even so, I was surprised, when I finally picked it up a few years ago, by how prophetic Thompson is and how eerily he anticipates 21st-century American politics. This year, when people asked me what I thought of the election, I kept telling them to read Hell’s Angels.

Most people read Hell’s Angels for the lurid stories of sex and drugs. But that misses the point entirely. What’s truly shocking about reading the book today is how well Thompson foresaw the retaliatory, right-wing politics that now goes by the name of Trumpism. After following the motorcycle guys around for months, Thompson concluded that the most striking thing about them was not their hedonism but their “ethic of total retaliation” against a technologically advanced and economically changing America in which they felt they’d been counted out and left behind. Thompson saw the appeal of that retaliatory ethic. He claimed that a small part of every human being longs to burn it all down, especially when faced with great and impersonal powers that seem hostile to your very existence. In the United States, a place of ever greater and more impersonal powers, the ethic of total retaliation was likely to catch on.

What made that outcome almost certain, Thompson thought, was the obliviousness of Berkeley, California, types who, from the safety of their cocktail parties, imagined that they understood and represented the downtrodden. The Berkeley types, Thompson thought, were not going to realize how presumptuous they had been until the downtrodden broke into one of those cocktail parties and embarked on a campaign of rape, pillage, and slaughter.•


Sonny Barger terrorizes Thompson in 1967 on Canadian TV.

Ad for Hunter S. Thompson’s campaign for Sheriff of Aspen in 1970.

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Everyone knows Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are the next big things, but the when, what, where and how remain undefined. You can even fairly ask “why?” VR certainly appeals to those in all corners of the entertainment industry, promising to embellish everything from family blockbusters to hard-core pornography.

More sober applications also abound. Imagine people being able to step into a sort of time machine and experience what the Holocaust or slavery was truly like. Or perhaps a modern catastrophe, like the aching wound that is Aleppo, could be simulated. It would be akin to “walking through the news,” and it might sensitize the masses–or, perhaps, have the opposite effect. Maybe it will diminish the immensity of the moral horror to a fleeting experience that can be entered and exited, just another thing to do before binge-watching a sitcom. 

Deceased loved ones could be “kept alive” with the tool, allowing the living to continue a relationship of sorts with them (which chills me). Soldiers could “return” to the battlefield to work past PTSD. Older folks would have the option of visiting with their younger selves. None of these scenarios is beyond belief.

In an excellent Wall Street Journal article, Elizabeth Dwoskin, Michael Alison Chandler and Brian Fung explore VR’s possibilities as well as its potential ethical and emotional pitfalls. An excerpt:

Over the past two years, technology giants and Hollywood have poured millions of dollars into virtual reality in the hope that the medium will transform gaming and entertainment. But a growing crop of filmmakers, policymakers, researchers, human rights workers and even some law enforcement officials see a broader societal purpose in the emerging medium’s stunning ability to make people feel as if they have experienced an event firsthand.

These advocates cite research that shows virtual reality can push the boundaries of empathy and influence decision-making about issues ranging from policing to the environment. But they’re also facing new questions about the unintended consequences of an early-stage technology that may doing harm to users by putting them in situations that seem all too real.

This summer, a 15-person film crew flew to the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Majdanek to record the horrors of the Holocaust in virtual reality as part of an effort to preserve the memory of the atrocity for future generations. They filmed a scene in which viewers who don a VR headset can enter a gas chamber, escorted by a three-dimensional hologram of a living survivor.

“We don’t actually know whether it’s this empathy machine or whether, if you have an immersive experience, you traumatize your users,” said Stephen Smith, executive director of the Shoah Foundation at the University of Southern California, which is creating the Holocaust simulations in partnership with virtual reality start-ups. “There’s also a danger that when you have so many extreme experiences, that you become desensitized.”•


Whenever I read something about VR, I immediately wonder what Jacob L. Moreno, the student of Freud who invented the psychodrama (and hypnodrama) would have done with the tool. It’s definitely necessary to be wary of how living in the virtual could impact our behavior in the actual, because no matter how much we’ve gotten into traditional films, TV shows and paintings, VR is a further immersion and will affect our brains differently. But I assume some patients (e.g., soldiers with PTSD) could be aided by such technology. 

Below are two videos of Moreno in action at psychodrama theaters (the first in 1964, the second in 1948), places where individuals could act out scenarios from their lives within a group dynamic, hopefully gaining insight into their behavior, especially the self-destructive kind.

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In any fair world, Henry Kissinger would have spent the greater part of his adult life in leg irons or perhaps met with the business end of a meat hook, his thoughts and actions responsible for the needless death of so many. Alas, the universe does not dispense justice in a suitable manner. 

It’s a big complicated world,” Hillary Clinton said when attacked during the primary for her regard for the former Nixon and Ford Secretary of State, and that’s certainly true. The problems of three little people–or three million–don’t amount to a hill of beans when the wrong people are in power, and a wronger group than the incoming cabal of monsters could not be birthed in Victor Frankenstein’s laboratory.

Just prior to the election, Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic published excerpts from interviews with Kissinger about what might result from a Clinton or Trump triumph. It surprises me that at that late stage, the publication’s new Editor-in-Chief still believed Trump might govern as a “pragmatic liberal democrat.” By then, that hope had long vanished from my mind. Neither suggests what’s long seemed obvious about the President-Elect: He may be a dangerously mentally ill person whose words and actions defy rational analysis. The two men spoke again right after Trump’s alarming Electoral College victory.

An excerpt from the pre-election conversations:

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Since we last spoke, he’s said various things that must have made you go pale.

Henry Kissinger:

I disagree with several of Trump’s statements, but I do not historically participate in presidential campaigns. My view of my role is that together with like-minded men and women, I could help contribute to a bipartisan view of American engagement in the world for another period; I could do my part to overcome this really, in a way, awful period in which we are turning history into personal recriminations, depriving our political system of a serious debate. That’s what I think my best role is.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Donald Trump does not rise in your mind to the level of a person who is so clearly unqualified for the presidency that you should preemptively say, “this person cannot function in this job?” More and more Republicans are saying that, especially national security professionals.

Henry Kissinger:

I’ve decided I’m not going into the name-calling aspect of the campaign. I’m approaching 94; I will not play a role in the execution of day-to-day policy, but I can still aid our thinking about purposeful strategy compatible with our role in shaping the postwar world. Before the campaign, I said over the years friendly things about Hillary. They are on the record. I stand by them. In fact, my views have been on the record for decades, including a friendly attitude towards Hillary as a person.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Let me ask again: Is Donald Trump teachable?

Henry Kissinger:

Every first-term president has to learn something after he comes into office. Nobody can be completely ready for the inevitable crises. If Trump is elected, it is in the national interest to hope that he is teachable.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

You know, there’s a chance he would govern as a pragmatic liberal Democrat.

Henry Kissinger:

He has said things that sound like it. He has also said many much more contrary things. I simply do not want to get into this sort of speculation. I don’t know Trump well. I intend to make my contribution to the national debate on substance. There is no point in trying to get me into the personal aspects of the campaign.•


Like the first President he served, Kissinger became quite a baseball junkie, especially in his post-Washington career. At the 15:40 mark of this episode of The Baseball of World of Joe Garagiola, we see Kissinger, who could only seem competent when standing alongside that block of wood Bowie Kuhn, being honored at Fenway Park before the second game of the sensational 1975 World Series. During the raucous run by the raffish New York Mets in the second half of 1980s, both Nixon and Kissinger became fixtures at Shea Stadium. Nixon was known to send congratulatory personal notes to the players, including Darryl Strawberry. It was criminals rooting for criminals.

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Fidel Castro, who could not live without Florence Henderson, has died. During his final moments, a rerun of The Brady Bunch played quietly in the background. It was the one about Jan murdering another girl at summer camp. Controversial episode.

“A revolution is not a bed of roses,” the bearded despot once said, and under his guidance the post-revolution was far worse, an unholy mix of autocracy, oppression, poverty and torture. The promised democracy never materialized and after playing a key role in the brinkmanship of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Castro and his country retreated inward, the island nation becoming frozen in time. Initially, he blamed “Yankee imperialism” for Cuba’s underdevelopment, but during his awful stewardship the economy stalled and tanked.

Castro managed to overthrow a racist regime, but what he replaced it with was also terrible. He thwarted America and its oft-awful foreign policy in toppling him from power, but he needed thwarting just as surely. Ultimately, he was miserable for his people. History will not remember the tyrant fondly nor should it.

What follows is the beginning of an introduction Castro penned to Che Guevara’s memoirs, which were published in a 1968 edition of Ramparts magazine, and a 1959 video of Ed Sullivan conducting a hopeful interview with the soon-to-be dictator after the successful revolution.


[A NECESSARY INTRODUCTION By FIDEL CASTRO]

IT WAS CHE’S HABIT during his days as a guerrilla to write down his daily observations in a personal diary. During the long marches over abrupt and difficult terrain, in the middle of the damp woods, when the lines of men, always hunched over from the weight of their mochilas, munitions and arms would stop for a moment to rest, or when the column would receive orders to halt and pitch camp at the end of a long day’s journey, one could see Che—as he was from the beginning affectionately nicknamed by the Cubans—take out his notebook and, with the small and almost illegible letters of a doctor, write his notes. What he was able to conserve from these notes he later used in writing his magnificent historical narrations of the revolutionary war in Cuba. They were of revolutionary content, pedagogic and human.

This time, thanks to his invariable habit of jotting down the principal occurrences of each day, we have at our disposal rigorously exact, priceless and detailed information concerning the heroic final months of his life in Bolivia.

These notations, not exactly written for publication, served him as a working guide in the constant evaluation of the occurrences, the situation and the men. They also served as an expressive outlet for his profoundly observant spirit, analytical but often laced with a fine sense of humor. They are soberly written and contain an uninterrupted coherence from the beginning to the end.

It should be kept in mind that they were written during those rare moments of rest in the middle of an heroic and superhuman physical endeavor—notwithstanding Che’s exhausting obligations as chief of a guerrilla detachment in the difficult first stages of a struggle of this nature—which unfolded under incredibly hard material conditions, revealing once more his particular way of working and his will of steel. In the diary, detailed analyses of the incidents of each day, the faults, criticisms and recriminations which are appropriate to and inevitable in the development of a revolutionary guerrilla are made evident.

In the heart of a guerrilla detachment, these criticisms must take place incessantly, especially when there is only a small nucleus of men, constantly confronted by extremely adverse material conditions and an enemy infinitely superior in number, when a little carelessness or the most insignificant mistake can be fatal and the chief has to be extremely demanding. He must use each occurrence or episode, no matter how insignificant, as a lesson to the combatants and future leaders of new guerrilla detachments.

The formation of a guerrilla is a constant call to the conscience and honor of every man. Che knew how to touch on the most sensitive fibers of the revolutionaries. When Marcos, repeatedly admonished by Che, was warned that he could be dishonorably discharged from the guerrillas, he said, “First I must be shot!” Later on he gave his life heroically. The behavior of all the men in whom Che put his confidence and whom he had to admonish for some reason or another during the course of the struggle was similar. He was a fraternal and human chief who also knew how to be exacting and occasionally even severe, but above all, and even more so than with the others, Che was severe with himself. He based the discipline of the guerrilla on their moral conscience and on the tremendous force of his own personal example.

The diary also contains numerous references to Regis Debray and makes evident the enormous preoccupation stirred up in Che by the arrest and imprisonment of the revolutionary writer whom he had made responsible for carrying out a mission in Europe, although in reality he would have preferred Debray to remain in the guerrilla. This is why he manifests a certain inconsistency and occasionally some doubts concerning his behavior.

For Che it was not possible to know of the odyssey lived by Debray and the firm and courageous attitude he took in front of his capturers and torturers while he was in the clutches of the repressive forces.

However, he did emphasize the enormous political importance of Debray’s trial, and on the 3rd of October, six days before his death, in the midst of tense and bitter happenings, Che stated; “An interview with Debray was heard, very valiant when faced with a student provocator,” this being his last reference to the writer.

Since in this diary the Cuban Revolution and its relation to the guerrilla movement are repeatedly pointed out, some might interpret the fact that its publication on our part constitutes an act of provocation supplying an argument to the enemies of the Revolution—the Yankee imperialists and their cohorts, the Latin American oligarchies—for redoubling their plans for blockade, isolation of and aggression toward Cuba.

For those who judge the facts in this way it is well to remember that Yankee imperialism has never needed pretexts to perpetrate its villainy in any part of the world and that its efforts to smash the Cuban Revolution began with the first revolutionary law made in our country; for the obvious and well-known fact is that imperialism is the gendarme of the world, systematic promoter of counterrevolution and protector of the most backward and inhuman social structures in the world.

Solidarity with the revolutionary movement might be used as a pretext but shall never be the cause of Yankee aggression. Denying solidarity in order to deny the pretext is ridiculous ostrich-like politics, which has nothing to do with the internationalist character of contemporary social revolutions. To cease solidarity with the revolutionary movement does not mean to deny a pretext but actually to show solidarity with Yankee imperialism and its policy of domination and enslavement of the world.

CUBA IS A SMALL economically underdeveloped country, like all those countries dominated and exploited by colonialism and imperialism. It is situated only 90 miles from the United States’ coast, having a Yankee naval base on its own territory, and confronts numerous obstacles in the carrying out of its economic and social development. Great dangers have threatened our country since the triumph of the Revolution but not because of this will imperialism succeed in making us yield, since the difficulties which a consequent revolutionary line entails are not important to-us.

From the revolutionary point of view, the publication of Che’s diary in Bolivia admits no alternative. Che’s diary fell into Barrientos’ possession who immediately sent copies to the CIA, the Pentagon and the United States government. Newspapermen connected with the CIA had access to the document in Bolivia and have made photostatic copies of it—but with the promise to abstain from publishing it for
the moment. Barrientos’ government and his highest military chiefs have abundant reasons for not publishing the diary since it confirms the tremendous incapacity of the Bolivian Army and the innumerable defeats which it suffered at the hands of a small fistful of determined guerrillas who captured almost 200 arms in combat in a few weeks.

Che also describes Barrientos and his regime in terms which they deserve and with words that cannot be erased from history.

On the other hand, imperialism had its reasons: Che and his extraordinary example gain increasing force in the world. His ideas, his image, his name, are the banners of the struggle against the injustices of the oppressed and exploited and stir up a passionate interest on the part of students and intellectuals all over the world.

Right in the United States, members of the Negro movement and the radical students, who are constantly increasing in number, have made Che’s figure their own. In the most combative manifestations of civil rights and against the aggression in Vietnam, his photographs are wielded as emblems of the struggle. Few times in history, or perhaps never, has a figure, a name, an example, been so universalized with such celerity and passionate force. This is because Che embodies in its purest and most disinterested form the internationalist spirit which characterizes the world today and which will do so even more tomorrow.

From a continent oppressed by colonial powers yesterday and exploited and kept down in the most iniquitous underdevelopment by Yankee imperialism today, there surges breath of the revolutionary struggle, even in the imperialist and colonial metropolises themselves.

The Yankee imperialists fear the force of this example and all that may contribute to reveal it. The intrinsic value of the diary, the living expression of an extraordinary personality, is as a guerrilla lesson written in the heat and tension of each day. It is inflammable gun powder. It is the real demonstration that Latin American man is not impotent in the face of those who would enslave the peoples with their mercenary armies and who prevented the publication of this diary until now.

It could also be that the pseudorevolutionaries, opportunists and charlatans of every kind who call themselves Marxists, communists, or give themselves any other titles, are interested in keeping the diary from being known. They have not vacillated in qualifying Che as wrong, as an adventurer, and when referring to him in the most benign form, they call him an idealist whose death is the Swan Song of the revolutionary armed struggle in Latin America.

“If Che,” they exclaim, “the highest exponent of these ideas and an experimented guerrilla fighter, was killed in guerrilla warfare and his movement did not liberate Bolivia, this only demonstrates how wrong he was!” How many of these miserable characters have been happy about the death of Che and haven’t even blushed to think that their position and reasoning coincide completely with those of the most reactionary oligarchies and with imperialism!

In this way they justify themselves or justify treacherous leaders who at certain moments have not vacillated in playing a game of armed struggle with the real purpose of destroying the guerrilla detachments, as could be seen later, putting the brake on revolutionary action and asserting their shameful and ridiculous political deals because they were absolutely incapable of any other line; or they justify those who do not want to fight, who will never fight, for the peoples and their liberation and who have caricatured the revolutionary ideas turning them into a dogmatic opium without content or any message for the masses, converting the organizations of the people’s struggle into instruments of conciliation with external and internal exploiters and proponents of politics which have nothing to do with the real interest of exploited peoples on this continent Che contemplated his death as something natural and probable in the process and tried to emphasize, especially in
the last documents, that this eventuality would not impede the inevitable march of the revolution in Latin America.

In his message to the Tricontinental Congress, he reiterated this thought: “Our every action is a battle cry against imperialism. . . wherever death may surprise us, let it be welcome, provided that this, our battle cry, may have reached some receptive ear and another hand may be extended to wield our weapons.”

He considered himself a soldier of this revolution without ever worrying about surviving it. Those who see the end to his ideas in the outcome of his struggle in Bolivia could with the same simplicity negate the validity of the ideas and struggles of all the great precursors and revolutionary thinkers, including the founders of Marxism who were unable to culminate their work and see during their lifetimes the fruits of their noble efforts.•


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Robots seem to have been capable of offering rudimentary salutations to Madison Square Garden conventioneers more than eight decades ago, but a Broadway speech and Q&A in the Roaring Twenties by a robot named Eric may not have been entirely legit. The bucket of bolts could certainly gesture and nod, but his “voice” may have come from an offstage confederate via remote wireless, though no such possibility was entertained in a report about the unusual stage debut in the January 20, 1929 Brooklyn Daily Eagle. The story:

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Humans unfold in mysterious ways, as what we have inside of us meets the tools that are available to us. Even we’re surprised, at least initially. And it’s heartbreaking to think of the genius that lies dormant because of circumstance.

No one born of a Midwestern farm in 1918 could have known they’d someday use computers to try to map large-scale, dynamic systems, but that’s the thumbnail narrative of Jay Forrester, MIT computer engineer and a pioneer in global modeling, who just died. What follows is a piece of his New York Time obituary written by Katie Hafner and a video from 1951 of the systems scientist and his Whirlwind Computer.


From the NYT:

Professor Forrester, who grew up on a Nebraska cattle ranch, was working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 1950s when he developed the field of system dynamics modeling to help corporations understand the long-term impact of management policies.

System dynamics, he once wrote, “uses computer simulation to take the knowledge we already have about details in the world around us and to show why our social and physical systems behave the way they do.”

It is now included in many business school curriculums, and simulation modeling has been adopted by other disciplines.

“Simulations of dynamic systems are now indispensable throughout the physical and social sciences,” said John Sterman, the Jay W. Forrester professor of management at the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management. “Not just in management, but also, for example, in astrophysics, biology, chemistry and climate change.”

Professor Forrester expanded his approach in the late 1960s to consider social problems, including urban decay. In his 1971 book World Dynamics, he developed global modeling, which examines population growth and industrialization in a world with finite resources.

“Jay developed the first model that treated interactions of population, the economy, natural resources, food and pollution in the context of the world as a whole,” Professor Sterman said in an interview. “The work was counterintuitive and controversial, and it launched the field of global modeling.”•


“With considerable trepidation, we undertake to interview this machine.”

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Buckminster Fuller was right on some vital points even if most of his designs never made a leap from the drawing board. He knew, for instance, that the idea of race was a phony tribal concept steeped in ignorance, wealth inequality was a real threat to democracy and childbirth per family would decline as the infant mortality rate decreased.

The theorist, who certainly realized the delicate balance of our environment, may or may not have been right when he insisted pollution itself was a great resource gone unharvested, a recyclable more or less, but that’s an awfully dangerous assumption. Even if it’s so, our “creation” of these raw materials could extinct the species long before we establish a collection day. Technocracy has its merits, but I wouldn’t want to wager everything on it.

In a smart Aeon essay, Samanth Subramanian wonders about the renewed capital of Fuller’s teachings in this time of climate peril and technological prowess, when those domes Elon Musk dreams of printing on Mars may soon be as needed on Earth. The opening has a great, largely forgotten anecdote about a Vermont town deciding in 1979 to build a Fuller-ish dome around itself to deal with falling temperatures and rising gas prices, before quickly quashing the project. The writer also de-mythologizes much about the Futurist, whose self-promoting prowess was Jobsian long before Jobs was born.

An excerpt:

Fuller wasn’t the first person to dream of domed cities – they’d featured for decades in science fiction, usually as hothouses of dystopia – but as an engineering solution, they feel thoroughly Fullerian. Implicit in their concept is an acknowledgement that human nature is wasteful and unreliable, resistant to fixing itself. Instead, Fuller put his faith in technology as a means to tame the messiness of humankind. ‘I would never try to reform man – that’s much too difficult,’ Fuller told The New Yorker in 1966. Appealing to people to remedy their behaviour was a folly, because they’d simply never do it. Far wiser, Fuller thought, to build technology that circumvents the flaws in human behaviour – that is, ‘to modify the environment in such a way as to get man moving in preferred directions’. Instead of human-led design, he sought design-led humans.

Winooski’s grand dome never went into construction. By the end of 1980, after the election of Ronald Reagan as president and a summer of stormy criticism over the cost and visual impact of the project, the mood had shifted. But Fuller, who had first advanced the idea of a domed city in 1959, continued to champion it until his death in 1983. ‘The way consumption curves are going in many of our big cities, it is clear that we are running out of energy,’ he wrote. ‘It is important for our government to know if there are better ways of enclosing space in terms of material, time, and energy.’ The most ambitious of his urban lids was the dome he wanted to lower over midtown Manhattan, a mile high and two miles in diameter. As well as a perfect climate, Fuller said, the dome could protect New Yorkers against the worst effects of a nuclear bomb going off nearby.

In the great flux of postwar United States, Fuller was convinced that the world was marshalling its resources poorly and unsustainably, and that change was a burning imperative. The world finds itself again passing through a Fullerian moment – a phase of political, environmental and technological upheaval that is both unsettling and exhilarating. Within this frame, Fuller’s life and ideas – the sound ones but also those that were tedious or absurd – ring with a new resonance.•


Fuller introduces the Dymaxion House in 1929.

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Before the village became global, husband-and-wife explorers Carveth and Zetta Wells used new media and old-fashioned derring-do to make the world a little smaller.

The microphone- and camera-ready couple were lecturers and media personalities in between jaunts to exotic locales, with Zetta even hosting a weekly NBC show in 1946-47, in which she introduced 16mm home movies of their travels. It was an intoxicating time of visiting boat builders living inside volcanoes, watching fish climb trees and chaperoning Raffles the Mynah bird to an appearance on You Bet Your Life.

Below are two Brooklyn Daily Eagle articles about the peripatetic pair and the aforementioned 1957 video of Groucho Marx getting the business from a boid.


From July 18, 1929.

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From August 12, 1945,

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At the 6:50 mark.

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Charlie Rose, a handsome and agreeable robot built in a laboratory mostly from bourbon and cufflinks, interviewed a fellow robot for 60 Minutes. How lifelike they both seemed!

“Sophia” is the brainchild of roboticist David Hanson, who aims to blur the lines between carbon and silicon, believing the disappearance of distinction will make machines more acceptable to people. I’m not convinced such seamlessness is healthy for a society, but that’s essentially what’s happening right now with voice and sensors and the gathering elements of the Internet of Things. The humanoid component, however, is overstated for the foreseeable future, even if it’s perfectly visual and dramatic for a TV segment.

From Brit McCandless:

“I’ve been waiting for you,” Sophia tells 60 Minutes correspondent Charlie Rose. They’re mid-interview, and Rose reacts with surprise.

“Waiting for me?” he asks.

“Not really,” she responds. “But it makes a good pickup line.”

Sophia managed to get a laugh out of Charlie Rose. Not bad for a robot.

Rose interviewed the human-like machine for this week’s two-part 60 Minutes piece on artificial intelligence, or A.I. In their exchange, excerpted in the clip above, Rose seems to approach the conversation with the same seriousness and curiosity he would bring to any interview.

“You put your head where you want to test the possibility,” Rose tells 60 Minutes Overtime. “You’re not simply saying, ‘Why am I going through this exercise of talking to a machine?’ You’re saying, ‘I want to talk to this machine as if it was a human to see how it comprehends.’”

Sophia’s creator, David Hanson, believes that if A.I. technology looks and sounds human, people will be more willing to engage with it in meaningful ways.•

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Just under two weeks ago, the BBC’s economics editor, Kamal Ahmed, sat down for a fascinating 90-minute Intelligence Squared conversation with Sapiens historian Yuval Noah Harari, whose futuristic new book, Homo Deus, was just released in the U.K. and has an early 2017 publication date in the U.S.

The Israeli historian believes that during the Industrial Revolution, humans have intellectually, if not practically, figured out how to put under our control the triple threats of famine, plague and war. He says these things still bedevil us, if to a lesser degree, because of politics and incompetence, not due to ignorance. (I’ll also add madness, individual and the mass kind, to those causes.) That’s great should we continue to use knowledge to reduce counterproductive politics, incompetence, and, ultimately, to further mitigate suffering. 

For the first time in history, Harari asserts, wide abundance is now more of a threat to us than want, with obesity a greater threat than starvation. As he says, “McDonald’s and Coca-Cola pose a far greater threat to our lives than Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State.”

What will we do over the next century or two if we are able to shuffle off the old obstacles?

Harari says: “Try overcome sickness and death, find the keys to happiness and upgrade humans into gods…in the literal sense…to design life according to our wishes. The main products of the human economy will no longer be vehicles and textiles and food and weapons. The main products will be bodies and brains and minds. 

“The next phase will involve trying to gain mastery of what’s inside, of trying to decipher human biochemistry, our bodies, our brains, learning how to re-engineer them, learning how to manufacture them. This will require a lot of computing power. There’s no way the human brain has the capacity to decipher the secrets, to process the data that’s necessary to understand what’s happening inside. You need help from Artificial Intelligence and Big Data Systems, and this is what is happening already today. We see a merger of the biological sciences with computer sciences.”

Despite such promise, Harari doesn’t believe godliness is assuredly our ultimate destination. “The result may not be uploading humans into gods,” he says. “The result may be massive useless class…the end of humanity.”

The academic acknowledges he’s not an expert in AI and technology and when he makes predictions about the future, he takes for granted the accuracy of the experts in those fields. He argues that “you don’t really need to know how a nuclear bomb works” to understand its impact.

Also discussed: technological unemployment, a potentially new and radical type of wealth inequality, the poisonous American political season and how Native peoples selling Manhattan for colorful beads is recurring now with citizens surrendering private information for “free email and some cute cat videos.”•

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Bernard Pomerance’s brilliant play The Elephant Man received equally bright stagings in 1979 in New York, from Jack Hofsiss, then a 28-year-old wunderkind who adeptly wrestled 21 short scenes about the 19th-century sideshow act John Merrick, who suffered from severe physical deformities, into a thing of moving beauty.

Sadly, Hofsiss, just died. He was adept at all media, working also in TV and film, and his career continued even after he was paralyzed from the waist down in a diving accident six years after his Elephant Man triumph. Here’s a piece from Richard F. Shepard’s 1979 New York Times profile of Hofsiss as he was readying to move the drama from Off-Broadway to on:

Mr. Hofsiss is a man of his generation, that is, a man who can call the action with equal ease in stage, film or television. Yet there is something about Broadway that stirs the blood and seizes the imagination, even though one knows that Broadway is just another stage, maybe one with a bigger budget and higher prices.

“Each production you do has its realities and necessities,” Mr. Hofsiss said. “These are compounded on Broadway because of the commercial nature of the beast. There is a pressing professionalism on Broadway.”

“The Elephant Man” is the story of John Merrick, a Briton who lived in the late 1800’s and was a fleshy, prehensile monster of a man whose awful‐looking body encased a sharp and inquiring mind that developed quickly as opportunity allowed. The opportunity came from a doctor who interested himself in Merrick and brought him to the attention of upper‐crust curiosity seekers. As played by Philip Anglim, an actor with good and regular features, the monstrous nature of the deformity is not spelled out by specific makeup, but the sense of it is conveyed by the manner in which Mr. Anglim can contort his body, although even this is not a constant distraction during a performance.

All of this is by way of saying that this is a show that leaves much to a director’s imagination, backed by a good deal of self‐discipline. Mr. Hofsiss, who was born and reared in Brooklyn and received a classical, old‐style educadon from the Jesuits at Brooklyn Prep and a more freeform one at Georgetown University, where he majored in English and theater, felt equipped for the situation.

“This is an episodic play, 21 scenes that constantly shift the characters,” he said. “The script itself is purely words, containing no production instructions. In that way, it reads like Shakespeare: enter, blackout, and that’s all. Like Shakespeare, Bernard Pomerance wrote it for a theater he knew in England, where it opened in 1977. Everything is there in the script, but it’s as though you’re carving a sculpture out of a beautiful piece of stone, frightening but rewarding.”

Mr. Pomerance, an American who lives in England, came to New York only briefly before each opening, the one Off Broadway and the one on Broadway, and one might wonder whether author and director who are oceans apart in the flesh might not be in the same condition spiritually. But, “Bernard and I worked it out by telephone — he’s trusting of directors,” Mr. Hofsiss said.•


The third John Merrick during the original run was David Bowie. A 1980 episode of Friday Night…Saturday Morning featured Tim Rice interviewing the rock star about the play.

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You’d like on a personal level embrace your political adversaries, but Phyllis Schlafly, the anti-Steinem who died today, didn’t make it easy.

She clung to a time in America when pretty much everything was run by men–only white men, of course–and trafficked in ugly racial politics, encouraging the GOP to ignore Latino voters and instead rally around white America. If you want to credit the activist for something, it must be admitted she was amazingly consistent in her backwardness, from her early efforts to thwart the ERA to her last-act embrace of the Tea Party and Donald Trump. Oh, and in between she staunchly opposed civil unions and gay marriage (despite having a gay son) and urged banning foreign-born players from Major League Baseball. Schlafly’s face seemed to say it all: It was very pleasant, though the eyes were frequently narrowed, almost in a squint, like she wasn’t quite able to see the whole picture.

In 1973, William F. Buckley, Jr. invited Schlafly and Ann Scott to debate the Equal Rights Amendment. Scott died two years later from breast cancer.

 

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“What hath God wrought?” was the first piece of Morse code ever sent, a melodramatic message which suggested something akin to Mary Shelley’s monster awakening and, perhaps, technology putting old myths to sleep. In his movie, Lo and Behold: Reveries Of A Connected World, Werrner Herzog believes something even more profoundly epiphanic is happening in the Digital Age, and it’s difficult to disagree.

The director tells Ben Makuch of Vice that for him, technology is an entry point to learning about people (“I’m interested, of course, in the human beings”). Despite Herzog’s focus, the bigger story is events progressing in the opposite direction, from carbon to silicon.

In a later segment about space colonization, Herzog acknowledges having dreams of filming on our neighboring planet, saying, “I want to be the poet of Mars.” But, in the best sense, he’s already earned that title.

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Duck Soup and Young Frankenstein are, in some order, my number 1 and 1A favorite film comedies. That comes to mind, of course, because of the sad passing of Gene Wilder, an essentially perfect comic actor who displayed great range despite not seeming to ever move an inch. He was a central, grounding figure in works that could have–should have–fallen apart: Mel Brooks comedies, Willy Wonka, Richard Pryor buddy pictures and Ionesco plays. (He always refused to acknowledge he’d been in a filmed version of The Rhinoceros because he was scarred by what was reportedly abusive behavior by co-star Zero Mostel.)

Here’s an insane rarity: Wilder and Cloris Leachman on the set of YF in 1974, being interviewed really badly for Spanish TV. Along with Mary Shelley and Brooks, the actor received a writing credit for the movie.

patty-hearst-american-heiress-the-wild-saga-of-the-kidnapping-crimes-and-trial-of-patty-hearts-jeffrey-toobin-book-seventies-criThe transformation of heiress Patty Hearst from debutante to terrorist after her 1974 abduction by the Symbionese Liberation Army is endlessly interesting as a study in extreme psychological metamorphosis, though its fascination four decades ago lie mostly mostly in its more lurid aspects, the violent collision of rich and poor, of high society and anti-social impulses, the sacred taking up with the profane. It was worlds colliding, an impact that made the masses feel unsafe, that so fixated the nation. The Lindbergh baby was alive and conspiring with the kidnappers. Anything, it seemed, was possible, and how could that be good?

Jeffrey Toobin, the wonderful New Yorker writer and legal analyst, just published American Heiress, a book about the scion-gone-wild, though he’s fully cognizant that titles about the crimes of the rich and famous, “Tania” or O.J., for whatever they may tell us about America, aren’t nearly the most important stories to tell. One exchange from a recent New York Times interview with Toobin:

What’s the last great book you read?

Jill Leovy’s Ghettoside. Meticulously reported and gracefully written, this book captures the horror of urban violence in Los Angeles. At roughly the same time as Leovy was shadowing L.A.P.D. detectives in East L.A., I was across town, covering O. J. Her book made me think twice about what counts as a “big” story.

That’s the truth, though Hearst’s case speaks to the seismic shift young people (and some older ones) can make, whether we’re talking about her, Manson Family members, Jonestown joiners or ISIS acolytes. 

Three pieces follow: 1) An excerpt from Dana Spitotta’s NYT review of Toobin’s title, 2) A segment of a 1974 People interview with psychiatrist Dr. Frederick J. Hacker, who consulted with the family while Patty was underground, and 3) A 1974 video of the devastated Randolph Hearst discussing his daughter’s life on the lam. 


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From Spiotta:

Perhaps the captivity story that has fascinated us the most is the 1974 kidnapping of Patty Hearst, the subject of Jeffrey Toobin’s terrifically engrossing new book, “American Heiress.” The brief outline of the events will be familiar to many: Hearst was taken from her Berkeley apartment by the Symbionese Liberation Army, or S.L.A. (a tiny, slogan-drunk band of revolutionaries so obsessed with guns and publicity that they seem almost pre-­satirized). After being held in a closet and haphazardly coached in guerrilla warfare and revolutionary theory, Hearst declared — in a notorious message delivered in a mesmerizing combination of “breathy rich-girl diction” and “pidgin Marxist” jargon — that she was now “Tania,” that she had not been brainwashed and that her captors had offered to let her go, but “I have chosen to stay and fight.” She then helped to rob banks (in which one bystander died) and plant bombs until she was apprehended in 1975. In custody, she claimed that all of her crimes were committed under duress. Her lawyer, F. Lee Bailey, built his defense on the argument that she had acted out of “coercive persuasion” (Stockholm syndrome was not yet a common concept). She was found guilty and served nearly two years of her sentence before President Carter commuted it to time served. 

Was Patricia Hearst responsible for her crimes, or was she a victim who did what she needed to do to survive? Or is the truth somewhere in between? The story has been the subject of many books — some dozen are listed by Toobin. Also inspired by the case: two novels (“Trance,” by Christopher Sorrentino, and “American Woman,” by Susan Choi), a feature film, several documentaries, at least two porn movies and an episode of “Drunk History.” Hearst herself wrote a book. Yet the questions remain unresolved, which is one reason for Toobin to investigate. Another is that he sees the episode as “a kind of trailer for the modern world” in terms of celebrity culture, the media and criminal justice.•


As surprising as it is that so many middle-class youths are drawn today via social media to ISIS, Patty Hearst, practically American royalty, being kidnapped in 1974 by the SLA and then converted somehow to its terrorist cause, completely stunned the world. She didn’t go willingly, but she became a willing accomplice, brainwashed probably, though a lot of Americans were unforgiving. It seems like some of the same factors that work for ISIS may have helped the SLA remake the debutante as “Tania.” Whatever the situation, USC psychiatrist Dr. Frederick J. Hacker, whom the family hired while she was still on the lam to help them understand their daughter’s descent into terrorism, probably should not have discussed the case with Barbara Wilkins of People magazine while she was still at large, but he did. An excerpt:

Question:

Why did the Hearsts consult you?

Dr. Frederick J. Hacker:

I had published a book on terrorism in Germany in 1973—dealing with the Olympic tragedy in Munich and the Arab-Israeli situation. In September ’73, I became a negotiator in Vienna between the government and two Arab terrorists. After that, I was invited to speak at Harvard and the State Department and to testify before the House Committee on Internal Security. That was how the Hearsts heard about me and my work.

Question:

When did you get involved in the case of Patricia Hearst?

Dr. Frederick J. Hacker:

When a Mr. Gould of the Hearst newspapers called me up, on behalf of the family, about four weeks after the kidnapping. I went up to Hillsborough to visit the Hearsts. I told them to take the SLA at face value, to take the political message seriously. And I urged them to get a concession for every concession they made.

Question:

What have you discovered about Patty Hearst?

Dr. Frederick J. Hacker:

I had not known her before, of course. By now everyone has read what her life had been. She was an average, intelligent girl. She lived an unspectacular life with her former tutor. She was more liberal than her family but was still relatively conservative. She was totally without political interests. She was sheltered. She’d gone to Europe with some other girls and, prior to Steve [her fiance Steven Weed], she’d had three or four other boyfriends. She was never very close to any of her sisters. The oldest sister, a polio victim, had deep religious convictions. Patty had a bad relationship with her mother, but a fairly good one with her father. They could talk. When she was kidnapped, Patty was picking out her silverware pattern, because she had talked Steve into marrying her.

Question:

What is the lure of the SLA for a girl like Patty Hearst?

Dr. Frederick J. Hacker:

In spite of everything, the sense of close proximity among these people gives a feeling of family, of community and caring. There is shared danger and a sense of strong commitment that is very impressive to the uncommitted.

Question:

Was Patty’s conversion voluntary?

Dr. Frederick J. Hacker:

Everybody asks how voluntary her conversion was. I raise the question, “How intentional was the SLA’s conversion of Patricia?” Maybe they didn’t want to convert her at first. Let’s look at it this way. She’s kidnapped, and she’s frightened and inclined to believe these people are really monsters. Then they treat her very nicely. She begins to talk to them, to the girls. She finds they are very much the kind of people she is—upper-middle-class, intelligent, white kids. She finds a poetess, a sociologist. They tell her how they have found a new ideal and how lousy it was at home. Perhaps she started to think, “Well, at my home it wasn’t so hot either.” This may be what happened. There is a strong possibility, of course, that she was brainwashed. Maybe they did use drugs, although none was found in the bodies after the L.A. shoot-out. …

Question:

Was Patricia in on the kidnapping from the beginning?

Dr. Frederick J. Hacker:

She was undoubtedly a genuine victim. All the talk that she was in cahoots is nonsense. All the evidence, in fact, is against it, including the testimony of her boyfriend, who has no conceivable reason to lie. Why did she have her identification with her? A kidnap victim doesn’t—unless someone else grabs it and takes it along.

Question:

What makes a terrorist?

Dr. Frederick J. Hacker:

A number of different things. Usually the terrorist is imbued with the righteousness of his cause, and fanatacized by the idea of remediable injustice. For example, as long as you could tell women that it was God’s will that they were mistreated by men and that it was irremediable, there was no movement to change things. As soon as it becomes clear that an injustice is not fated, is not obligatory, and that there are alternatives, then the dominant group is in trouble.

Question:

Are there different kinds of terrorists?

Dr. Frederick J. Hacker:

I distinguish three categories—the criminal, the mentally deranged and the political. With the SLA, it is not easy to confine them to one category. They are criminally involved because some of their tactics are criminal. Some actions are loony and the details are ludicrous. When Cinque’s body was found, he was wearing heavy pants, army boots up to his calf and three pairs of woolen socks—in Southern California where the temperature was 80°. He had a compass and a canteen. That’s inappropriate. They stole from that sporting goods store, but they certainly did not need the money. Hundreds and hundreds of dollars were found on all the bodies. Only the outside of the folded money burned. There were nutty elements. What kind of an army is 20 people, or 10 people? They were also political, and that is what made it so hard.

Question:

These radical movements seem to attract middle-and upper-middle-class children rather than the lower-middle-class and poor. Why?

Dr. Frederick J. Hacker:

You are asking who becomes a revolutionary. The leaders of a revolution don’t come from the class they are trying to liberate. The to-be-liberated group doesn’t have the means to lead itself out of oppression.

Question:

What can be done about terrorism?

Dr. Frederick J. Hacker:

First, you must change the “remediable” conditions that produce the terrorist solution—for instance, somehow you get rid of the Palestinian refugee camps. Second, the mass media must effect restraint so that terrorist crime does not become fashionable. Finally, I believe we must establish task forces led by law enforcement executives who are advised by responsible behavioral scientists.•


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This 1970s video contains comments Randolph Hearst made to NBC News about his daughter Patty, who was at the time doing a walkabout through the Radical Left. “I think she’s staying underground just like a lot of kids stay underground,” her clearly shaken father remarked, accurately assessing the situation. Before the end of the decade, she was captured, convicted, imprisoned and, controversially, had her sentence commuted. In January 2001, Bill Clinton felt it necessary to grant her a full pardon.

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Despite the constantly updated headlines, the world is likely getting much better by most measures, the major asterisk being climate change. Conditions have never seemed worse, though, with beheadings, xenophobia and terrorism in our faces and on our minds. A connected and wired world presents many shocks to the system, the Global Village both boon and bane. But we only seem to foresee dystopias now. 

H.G. Wells, who wrote science fiction before it was so named, envisioned tomorrow’s downsides but held out hope. The author believed we should toss out the history books, which he felt poisoned us with nationalism, and start anew. His more optimistic side has been adopted by many Silicon Valley technologists, his pessimism by those crafting fiction. A strange dichotomy.

Excerpts from: 1) John Higgs’ Guardian article about the contemporary obsession with things falling apart, and 2) Jaron Lanier’s 2011 Edge article on Wells’ concerns about wealth inequality in the age of machines.

 


From Higgs:

For Wells, imagining a viable version of the future was an intellectual game. It was a chance to show off, and a seemingly respectable way to be deeply subversive. Writing to his friend Elizabeth Healy, he described Anticipations, his 1901 book of predictions, as “designed to undermine and destroy the monarch, monogamy, faith in God and respectability – and the British empire, all under the guise of a speculation about motor cars and electric heating”. Futurology, for Wells, was exhilarating. The idea that writers would give up even trying was so implausible that Wells never imagined it.

The sudden disappearance of worthwhile futures from our culture coincided with the rise in our understanding of climate change. Global warming indeed appears inevitable and apocalyptic, but is this reason enough to remove all hope from our visions of the future? Rising sea levels, the need to decarbonise the economy, and chaotic shifts in ecosystems are all difficult problems to engage with, but we are a species that lived through the Black Death, the Somme and the threat of global thermonuclear war. It seems odd that we would give up now.

I suspect the real problem is as much a rejection of originality as it is a reaction to climate change. In a hypermediated age where we are constantly engaged in filtering out the irrelevant, the last thing we want is to tackle the genuinely new.

But originality was Wells’s calling card.•


From Lanier:

This brings us back, literally thousands of years to an ancient discussion that continues to this day about exactly how people can make a living, or make their way when technology gets better. There is an Aristotle quote about how when the looms can operates themselves, all men will be free. That seems like a reasonable thing to say, a precocious thing for somebody to have said in ancient times. If we zoom forward to the 19th century, we had a tremendous amount of concern about this question of how people would make their way when the machines got good. In fact, much of our modern intellectual world started off as people’s rhetorical postures on this very question.

Marxism, the whole idea of the left, which still dominates the Bay Area where this interview is taking place, was exactly, precisely about this question. This is what Marx was thinking about, and in fact, you can read Marx and it sometimes weirdly reads likes a Silicon Valley rhetoric. It’s the strangest thing; all about “boundaries falling internationally,” and “labor and markets opening up,” and all these things. It’s the weirdest thing.

In fact, I had the strange experience years ago, listening to some rhetoric on the radio … it was KPFA, in fact, the lefty station … and I thought, ‘Oh, God, it’s one of these Silicon startups with their rhetoric about how they’re going to bring down market barriers,’ and it turned out to be an anniversary reading of Das Kapital. The language was similar enough that one could make the mistake.

The origin of science fiction was exactly in this same area of concern. H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine foresees a future in which there are the privileged few who benefit from the machines, and then there are the rest who don’t, and both of them become undignified, lesser creatures. Separate species.•


H.G. Wells meets Orson Welles in San Antonio (audio only):

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Paradise lost was the recurrent theme of Hunter S. Thompson, a great writer and a tiresome fuck with a gun, who saw decline and fall everywhere he wentcampaign trails, Big Sur, hippie communes, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, the Super Bowl, the Kentucky Derby, cyberspace–perhaps because it reminded him of himself. In his writing, America was always a has-been or never-was, something born wicked or gone crooked. Often, his assessment was right.

In 1978, the BBC program Omnibus had Nigel Finch train his cameras on the Gonzo journalist and his artist Ralph Steadman. The film begins with the latter smoking on a plane, headed to Aspen to meet his friend in god knows what condition, a jungle of a man awaiting a Kurtz. “We’re offering nickel beer and lemonade,” says the flight attendant over the loudspeaker, suitably, and we’re off to the races, eventually snaking from Colorado to Las Vegas to the commodifying Dream Factory of Hollywood. Donald Trump is so much worse than anyone he despised during his life, anyone.

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George Schuster, driver of the Thomas Flyer that won the New York-to-Paris “Great Race” of 1908, appears on I’ve Got a Secret five decades later. Prior to Schuster’s trek, no “automobilist” had driven across America during the winter. The opening of his 1972 New York Times obituary before the video:

SPRINGVILLE, N. Y., July 4 —George Schuster, who drove a 60‐horsepower Thomas Flyer to victory in the “longest auto race” from New York across America and Siberia to Paris in 1908, died today in a nursing home here. He was 99 years old. 

George Schuster, with his grimy, khaki‐clad associates, arrived triumphantly in Paris on a July evening 64 years ago after driving 13,341 miles in 169 days and was promptly flagged down by a gendarme. The offense: driving without lights in the Place de l’Opéra. 

But the intrepid round‐the world racers easily surmounted that civilized barrier. The earlier challenges were more ragged —the team had detoured onto the Union Pacific tracks to get across roadless Western Ameri ca, and once even had the San Francisco express bearing down on them; in Asia they had com mandeered 40 Russian soldiers to pull them through the Siberi an muck. 

So the impasse in Paris was quickly handled. A French cyclist who had a lantern on his bicycle volunteered to put bike and light into the front seat of the Thomas Flyer and the Americans continued their triumphant parade before enthusiastic crowds. 

There were six entries in the race, which started on Lincoln’s Birthday before a huge crowd in Times Square—three French cars and one each from the United States, Italy and Germany.

In a book entitled The Longest Auto Race,which Mr. Schuster wrote with Tom Mahoney in 1966, he recounted highlights of the unprecedented race. 

Mr. Schuster, who in the first phases of the race was the mechanic while others in the changing team drove, took over the driving chores after the four ‐ cylinder Flyer had been transported across the Pacific. 

In the snowy wastes of the Rocky Mountain region the Union Pacific not only allowed them to use the tracks but also scheduled the Thomas Flyer as if it were a regular train. The only trouble was that the flimsy tires kept blowing out as they bumped along the cross ties, and because of such delays Mr. Schuster and his crew had to set out flares to stop the onrushing San Francisco express.•

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