Never knew this until now: In the 1970s, AMF, the sporting-goods manufacturer, sold a computer system and printer that would tabulate rankings of bowling leagues with the push of a button–the DataMagic Bowling Data Computer. It seems a stunning waste of computing power and coincided with the company going into a decline, so I doubt it was a big seller. But as this commercial makes clear, it was a declaration of war on the pencil.
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With Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Alex Gibney made one of the most heartbreaking films ever about the American Dream. In the most essential ways, it’s reminiscent of the Coen brothers’ film, Fargo, which lamented that streak of American competitiveness that says that doing well isn’t good enough–you have to dominate. As if we can somehow grow enough ego to shroud our unhappiness and fear. There are parallels in Gibney’s new film about Lance Armstrong, the cyclist who just had to be the best. From a new Economist interview with Gibney:
The final film has a lot in common with Enron, in that it dispels a myth that people really wanted to believe in. Do you find it tough shaking people’s belief systems?
Yes, that’s why I originally wanted to do a redemption story. He comes back clean in 2009 and wins? How awesome would that be? The problem with both Enron and Lance was that the myth they created became too big. Both Jeff Skilling [Enron's CEO] and Lance were motivated by this strange purity of vision; Enron couldn’t just be a successful company, it had to be the future of capitalism. Lance wasn’t just a cyclist, he was campaigning for cancer survivors. It’s noble-cause corruption. It gave them both the sense of righteousness they needed to lie.
In your interviews with Lance after the Oprah show, he admits to doping and using blood transfusions up until 2005, but not during the 2009 tour, when you were filming. Was it disappointing not to get a further confession?
Yes, very disappointing but also revealing. I find his body language in that interview interesting. Slumped in a chair, he’s not a towering figure anymore.
You don’t think that’s theatre?
I think it was defeat mainly.•
Kurt Vonnegut, who was pained by the inequalities of life–both the natural and man-made varieties–raises the specter of mass extinction during a 2005 interview with Jon Stewart.
I don’t pay attention to a lot of celebrity news, but I believe a new book recently revealed that Johnny Carson used to do the Tonight Show monologue with a loaded gun stashed in his underpants. Good for him. In 1994, Johnny, now in retirement and a little heavier, made a wordless appearance with David Letterman (after a brief Larry “Bud” Melman fake-out). Carson would never turn up again on television, falling into a complete silence. Letterman still gave a crap at this point. I always try to pinpoint when he exactly stopped caring, and I think it was 1998 or thereabouts. Still a great interviewer, though.
We look back on pioneers with admiration–awe, even–their foolhardiness forgotten, their sense of adventure and sacrifice appreciated. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about wagon-train Westerners, early aviators or Apollo astronauts who trusted in missions too difficult to comprehend–these are the heroes, the ones who’ve expanded the horizons. We look differently at the new pioneers, those who are taking a dangerous journey within, testing the human limits of biology and chemistry with the aid of drugs and implants. Just like their predecessors, they’re risking everything for a chance at a better life for them and for us. There will be casualties–there always are in pioneering.
A new video of biohacker Tim Cannon.
Tags: Tim Cannon
From a Singularity Hub piece about a flying robot that absorbs crashes, allowing it to learn by trial and error the way some insects do: “GimBall’s cage makes it mostly collision-proof and even informs its flight pattern. The robot evokes an insect repeatedly flying into a window until it finds open space and freedom.”
There’s a Warholian triumph in Norway called “Slow TV,” which is sort of a long-form staring contest, except that viewers spend eight or so hours staring at real-time knitting contests and train trips. Rights have been purchased by American producers, though no one knows yet if this antidote to instant gratification will translate. From Nancy Tartaglione at Deadline.com:
“Knit one, purl … eight-plus hours of live stitching? That’s what’s happening tonight on Norwegian public broadcaster NRK2 as folks around the country gather in viewing parties. The show is part of a phenomenon known as Slow TV which has increasingly captivated Norway. The overall gist of the concept, to which LMNO Productions recently acquired U.S. rights, is a hybrid of unhurried documentary coupled with hours and hours of continuous coverage provided by fixed cameras trained on a subject or an event. Prior to tonight, those have included a 7.5-hour train journey, a 134-hour coastal cruise, a stack of firewood and salmon. Tonight, NRK2 will turn its lens on National Knitting Evening. Four hours of discussion on the popular pastime will kick off at 8 PM local, before a sheep gets trotted out at midnight to be sheared and its wool spun into yarn.”
Colbert celebrates Slow TV:
Tags: Nancy Tartaglione
I thought Jon Stewart handled his recent interview with conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer better than most so-called real journalists would. He almost always outdoes them, of course. But there was one point he let slide that I wished he would have jumped on. Krauthammer’s disdain for what Obamacare will do to policy in the course of granting affordable insurance to tens of millions led him down a dead-end alley–and a familiar one at that.
First, he claimed that Republicans really do want health care for all Americans. That may be true for Krauthammer personally, but it certainly isn’t of members of his party with voting power in Washington. But it’s not likely that the talking head wants health care for all, either, since he followed up with his contention by using the Ryan budgets of an example of how more Americans could be insured. That’s just an outright lie. First an excerpt from Jonathan Cohn at the New Republic and then the Stewart-Krauthammer meeting.
“Start with the federal budgets crafted by Paul Ryan. You remember those, right? Those proposals passed through the House with unanimous Republican support and were, in 2012, a basis of the Republican presidential platform. Those budgets called for dramatic funding cuts to Medicaid. If Republicans had swept into power and enacted such changes, according to projections prepared by Urban Institute scholars and published by the Kaiser Family Foundation, between 14 and 20 million Medicaid recipients would lose their insurance. And that doesn’t even include the people who are starting to get Medicaid coverage through Obamacare’s expansions of the program. That’s another 10 to 17 million people.”
Tags: David Bowie
A very raw Rolling Stones performance of “Sympathy for the Devil” on a David Frost show in 1968. I’ve never read any books about the Stones so I always wondered if this song was inspired by Rasputin’s legend or if Mick Jagger had read Blaise Cendrars’ novel Moravagine, which has a similar storyline. But it actually sprang from Baudelaire and Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. I’m definitely in the minority, but I like Moravagine more than The Master and Margarita. The former cuts me to the core.
Years ago I was working in a place in Manhattan that was demonstrating a virtual-reality helmet. Lou Reed came in to try it and sat in the chair and had the Darth Vader-ish object placed over his head by the woman supervising the demo. He waited a beat and said, “Now what happens? Does someone pull my cock?” Rest in peace, Lou Reed.
Here’s my favorite Reed performance on tape, a 1974 version of “Sweet Jane” from Paris. Jane had a pretty exciting life for a clerk.
Tags: Lou Reed
I really enjoyed “Why Texas Is Our Future,” economist Tyler Cowen’s Time cover story about the Lone Star State becoming the template for America, but I have to wonder if Texas is even the future of Texas, let alone the rest of the country. I’m not saying demographic shifts will completely change its nature–some things are deeply ingrained–but I wonder if the state will always be so red. It may have been better for Time to do a split-cover issue asking if Texas or California will be America’s future. (Though Massachusetts may actually have them both beat.) A few more quick questions and comments about the piece:
- Growing Mexican-American voting power goes unmentioned. It likely won’t help Republicans in that state or nationally in the near future.
- The politicians who favor the type of policies Cowen thinks are the future (low taxes, little or no social safety net) are also usually the same ones with extreme views on social policies. You can’t uncouple the two and far-right stances on reproductive rights and immigration and race and education and child health care may cost them at the ballot box.
- You can’t assume that the influx of new citizens from disparate places to Texas won’t alter its political landscape. New arrivals may initially be attracted by no state income taxes, but they may grow weary of some of its less-appealing side effects.
- It’s hard to see how Texas’ seemingly endless cheap land could apply to most smaller American states. The supply just isn’t there. Zoning-law changes can help somewhat, but you can do just so much with so little.
- Citizens moving to Texas in large numbers is impressive, but many more people just voted against the Texas model in the last Presidential election. And, no, it was not just about the candidates’ personalities.
- On this passage: “The individuals moving up the economic ladder are the ones who’ve responded to this competition by upgrading their skills and efforts. The ones moving down are largely those who have failed or been unable to respond at all.” I know people like Cowen who have been successful for a long time believe stuff like this, but it just isn’t true. There’s a lot more randomness and luck than a statement like this acknowledges.
- It’s certainly not Cowen’s responsibility in predicting the future to skew his opinions to the more humanistic path, but I think he’s way too fatalistic about Americans accepting greater and greater income inequality. His view of the future is pretty chilling and only some of it has to be true. Sure, automation will become more prominent, but we do not have to politically allow our country to become an even more extreme version of haves and have-nots. I don’t think people will forever be satisfied by bread and Kardashians.
Two parts follow: A Cowen excerpt and then a video of comedian Bill Maher extolling the virtues of the California miracle.
Cowen on the Texas model:
“How did Texas do it?
Texas Monthly senior editor Erica Grieder credits the ‘Texas model’ in her recent book, Big, Hot, Cheap, and Right: What America Can Learn From the Strange Genius of Texas. ‘The Texas model basically calls for low taxes and low services,’ she says. ‘In a sense, it’s just a limited-government approach.’ Chief Executive magazine has named Texas the most growth-friendly state in the nation for nine years in a row. The ranking is based on survey results from its CEO readership, who grade the states on the basis of factors such as taxes and regulation, the quality of the workforce and the living environment. Cheap land, cheap labor and low taxes have all clearly contributed to this business-friendly climate. But that’s not the whole story.
‘Certainly since 2008, the beginning of the Great Recession, it’s been the energy boom,’ SMU’s [Bernard] Weinstein says, pointing to the resource boom’s ripple effect throughout the Texas economy. However, he says, the job growth predates the energy boom by a significant margin. ‘A decade ago, before the shale boom, economic growth in Texas was based on IT development,’ Weinstein says. ‘Today most of the job creation, in total numbers, is in business and personal services, from people working in hospitals to lawyers.
Of course, not everyone’s a fan of the Texas model. ‘We are not strong economically because we have low taxes and lax regulation. We are strong economically because of geography and geology,’ says Scott McCown, a former executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities who is now a law professor at the University of Texas. ‘We’ve built an economy favoring the wealthy … If that’s the ultimate end result of the Texas model in a democratic society, it will be rejected.’
So will the rest of the country follow Texas’ lead? People are already voting with their feet. The places in the U.S. seeing significant in-migration are largely in relatively inexpensive parts of the Sun Belt. These are, by and large, affordable states with decent records of job creation–often with subpar public services and low taxes. Texas is just the most striking example. But Oklahoma, Colorado, the Carolinas and other parts of the South are benefiting from the same trends–namely that California, New York and the other high-tax, high-cost states are no longer such good deals for much of the U.S.’s middle and lower-middle classes.
The Americans heading to Texas and other cheap-living states are a bit like the mythical cowboys of our past–self-reliant, for better or worse.”
Maher on the California model:
Richard Brautigan, who died in 1984 despite being all watched over by machines over loving grace, in interviewed a year before his passing on German TV.
Tags: Richard Brautigan
Photographer Edward Burtynsky, whose amazing work I’m familiar with from Jennifer Baichwal’s documentary Manufactured Landscapes, is interviewed by the Economist about his new book, Water, and the volume’s accompanying film, which he co-directed with Baichwal. Watch interview here.
UPDATE: This story seems to be based on a questionable reading of the data. See here.
Japan has a big fucking problem. No, I mean it has a big problem with fucking. A nation with an already graying population has many young people who’ve stopped having sex. No one knows exactly why. From Abigail Haworth in the Guardian:
“Ai Aoyama is a sex and relationship counsellor who works out of her narrow three-storey home on a Tokyo back street. Her first name means ‘love’ in Japanese, and is a keepsake from her earlier days as a professional dominatrix. Back then, about 15 years ago, she was Queen Ai, or Queen Love, and she did ‘all the usual things’ like tying people up and dripping hot wax on their nipples. Her work today, she says, is far more challenging. Aoyama, 52, is trying to cure what Japan‘s media calls sekkusu shinai shokogun, or ‘celibacy syndrome.’
Japan’s under-40s appear to be losing interest in conventional relationships. Millions aren’t even dating, and increasing numbers can’t be bothered with sex. For their government, ‘celibacy syndrome’ is part of a looming national catastrophe. Japan already has one of the world’s lowest birth rates. Its population of 126 million, which has been shrinking for the past decade, is projected to plunge a further one-third by 2060. Aoyama believes the country is experiencing ‘a flight from human intimacy’– and it’s partly the government’s fault.”
Reggie Watts decides if you’re fucking (very NSFW, unless your job involves a glory hole):
Watson is transitioning from Jeopardy champ to medical diagnostics and other tasks. IBM CEO Ginni Rometty is promising big things for the computer’s third iteration.
Tags: Ginni Rometty
Two videos of that wonderful Harpo Marx, the first comedian I adored. The initial one is a 1958 Person to Person “interview” a studio-bound Edward R. Murrow conducted via long distance with the mute comic and his talkative family in their Palm Springs home. The second is a 1961 appearance on the Today show to promote the release of his now-classic biography, Harpo Speaks!
Tags: Harpo Marx
Orson Welles died in 1985, when the personal-computer revolution had begun in earnest but before the Internet had become accessible for all. I wonder what he would have thought of the Digital Age. Did he ever use a PC or a Mac? From a 1962 BBC interview about The Trial, in which he discusses marrying Kafka and computers–a seemingly perfect match–for a scene that never made the final cut:
There exists a scene of a computer scientist, played by Katina Paxinou, that is no longer in the film. She tells K his most likely fate is that he will commit suicide.
Yes, that was a long scene that lasted ten minutes, which I cut on the eve of the Paris premiere. Joseph K has his fortune told by a computer–that’s what the scene amounted to. It was my invention. The computer tells him his fate. I only saw the film as a whole once. We were still in the process of doing the mixing, and then the premiere fell on us. At the last moment I abridged the scene. It should have been the best in the film and it wasn’t. Something went wrong, I don’t know why, but it didn’t succeed. The subject of that scene was free will. It was tinged with black humor; that was my main weapon. As you know, it is always directed against the machine and in favor of freedom.”•
In 1978, Welles traded a piece of his name for a paycheck selling unimpressive-looking Vivitar cameras:
Some old-school clips of Germaine Greer, a ferociously brilliant person who has said some truly dumb things. Included in the first video of 1971 media appearances is some of her eviscerating righteousness from the Hegedus-Pennebaker film Town Bloody Hall. The second video contains a cut of her hanging out in 1972 with that group of feminists, Led Zeppelin.
Future Vice President Spiro Agnew, who smiled once and chipped a tooth, being interviewed by John Chancellor in 1968 about the Chicago riots and his running mate’s refusal to address the protests. Considering our current political climate, these were the good old days.
Fun thing: Natasha Lyonne, the very talented actress, guested this week on Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. She said her Jewish ancestors left Europe to escape Nazism, arrived without much money or prospects in America, and eventually bettered themselves through selling Spiro Agnew watches, which were apparently a popular novelty a little more than four decades ago.
When he wasn’t playing Pong or chain-smoking himself into an early grave, Rod Serling was crafting paranoid visions that were perfectly if improbably suited for American living rooms. Here he is in 1959 speaking about the outset of his TV opus with Mike Wallace, who was still a decade from reaching his own small-screen apex.
In 1997, the cloning in Scotland of a sheep named Dolly was received with hyperbole and denunciation, as some envisioned a near-term future in which human doppelgangers would walk among us. In the short film “The Clone Named Dolly,” Nicholas Wade of the New York Times takes a sober look at the sensation and its aftermath. Watch here.
Tags: Nicholas Wade
In the end matter of a New York Times profile of Johnny Knoxville’s bruised, aging balls, I read this:
“Dave Itzkoff is a reporter at The Times. His book, Mad as Hell, about the making of the movie Network, will be published in February.”
This news is exciting because of my feelings for that film, arguably America’s best film satire, and because Itzkoff is such a good reporter and graceful writer, one of the few journalists who can interest me in reading about popular culture. The following videos are two I’ve previously posted in which Paddy Chayefsky appears on talk shows in the 1970s to discuss Network and the coming global, technocratic, interconnected culture.
Paddy Chayefsky, that brilliant satirist, holding forth spectacularly on the Mike Douglas Show in 1969. It starts with polite chatter about the success of his script for Marty but quickly transitions into a much more serious and futuristic discussion. The writer is full of doom and gloom, of course, during the tumult of the Vietnam Era; his best-case scenario for humankind to live more peacefully is a computer-friendly “new society” that yields to globalization and technocracy, one in which citizens are merely producers and consumers, free of nationalism and disparate identity. Well, some of that came true. All the while, he wears a fun, red lei because one of his fellow guests is Hawaii Five-0 star Jack Lord. Gwen Verdon, Lionel Hampton and Cy Coleman share the panel.
Chayefsky joins the show at the 7:45 mark.
Paddy Chayefsky discussing Network with Dinah Shore in 1976.