I’ve put up posts before about Immanuel Velikovsky, the Russian-born psychiatrist turned catastrophist crank who presented a radical alternative to accepted planetary history. He was friends with Albert Einstein and Freeman Dyson, and was always perturbed that they and others in the scientific community didn’t take his science fiction “Worlds in Collision” theory seriously. From “Visionary to the Fringe,” by Paula Findlen in the Nation:
“Early in the project, Velikovsky’s research took an unexpected turn. Seeking to confirm the historical reality of Exodus, he read the modern translation of the Ipuwer Papyrus and began to consider the potential correlation between ancient Egyptian catastrophes and biblical plagues: What had caused them, and were they indicative of a common pattern across cultures? After consulting Columbia anthropologist Franz Boas, he explored the records of ancient Mesoamerican civilizations. Velikovsky’s quest led him from the textual and archaeological challenges of deep history to the empirical findings and theoretical underpinnings of astrophysics, geology and paleontology. There, too, he found his greatest inspiration in historical sources, namely the scientific literature of the late seventeenth through early twentieth centuries, which lay neglected and largely forgotten in the stacks of the Columbia University library. Science’s past inspired his new vision of the present.
Velikovsky later observed that he rarely met professors in the library, lamenting the narrowly defined limits of their erudition in comparison with the breadth of his own. He read musty tomes that experts considered hopelessly out of date, attempting to absorb something from every possible domain of knowledge. In defense of his methodology, Velikovsky declared himself a historian and not a scientist, while nevertheless proclaiming the revolutionary importance of his findings for science. Historical data became his tool for rethinking science, though since Velikovsky failed to meet the empirical standards of either subject or to demonstrate his competence in basic research skills to expert satisfaction, neither discipline embraced him. However, scholarly disapproval has never been a serious impediment to public acclaim (consider the case of Trofim Lysenko or Malcolm Gladwell). Indeed, it became the cornerstone of his reputation as an anti-establishment figure, a latter-day Giordano Bruno or Galileo willing to be condemned as an intellectual heretic for defying authorities in pursuit of truth.“
Velikovsky appearing on a 1964 episode of Camera Three:
I find all the Star Wars films intolerable, but I will acknowledge some entertainment value in seeing Sir Alec Guinness speak about the original movie in a 1977 interview with Michael Parkinson. Neither one of them took George Lucas’ blockbuster too seriously.
Incredibly cool 1965 CBS Evening News report presented by Walter Cronkite about underground filmmaking in NYC. Features footage of “a musical group called the Velvet Underground” and interviews with Jonas Mekas, Stan Brakhage, Andy Warhol and Edie Sedgwick.
Alistair Cooke brought his Omnibus TV show into the New York Times newsroom in 1954 to see how men–and only men–published news in that era. Listen to those clunky typewriter keys tapping. The paper began to computerize two decades.later.
Skipper has lupus just like Flannery O’Connor. Thankfully, she enrolled in Obamacare before the deadline, or she’d likely have died because Dr. Barbie and Dr. Ken are too busy with their courtship. They’re beautiful and irresponsible, with a dubious commitment to medicine. Enjoy your cocktails, assholes. I hope you don’t pass, Skipper.
A clip from Walter Cronkite’s sit-down with Anwar Sadat in the shadows of the pyramids, in 1977, four years before the Egyptian president was assassinated. Sadat denies slave labor was used to build the incredible tombs.
Long before Louis C.K. thought it was amazing that people could complain about airplanes while they’re “sitting in a chair in the sky,” Brian Eno focused on the same in his 1978 sound installation, Ambient 1: Music for Airports.
Edward O. Thorp, a mathematics professor who lives to bring down the house-the house being a casino–has focused a sizable portion of his career on mathematical probability in betting games. He also created, in tandem with Bell Labs unicyclist Claude Shannon, what is arguably the first wearable computer. The 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 a1998 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.
As you probably realize if you read this blog with any regularity, I’m fascinated by religious and secular cults, groups of people who give themselves over to an idea, a hoped-for utopia, outside the mainstream, often threatening the mainstream. These offshoots can bring about death or disappointment, and sometimes they’re driven by genuine madness, though occasionally the mistrust is misplaced. I suppose what makes me so interested in them is that I’m a really individualistic person who can’t even fathom trusting so wholly in a culture, let alone a subculture. I’d like to know how that process works. What’s the trigger?
In his just-published New Yorker piece about The Journey to Waco, a sect member’s memoir that revisits the FBI’s disastrous 1993 siege of the compound, Malcolm Gladwell points out that negotiating with the devoted is different than making deals with those devoted solely to profit. A passage that compares Branch Davidians with early Mormons:
“The Mormons were vilified in those years in large part because Joseph Smith believed in polygamy. But the Cornell historian R. Laurence Moore, in his classic book Religious Outsiders and the Making of Americans, points out that the moral hysteria over the Mormons was misplaced. The Mormons were quintessential Americans. ‘Like the Puritans before them, the Mormons linked disciplined labor with religious duty,’ Moore writes. ‘Mormon culture promoted all the virtues usually associated with the formation of middle-class consciousness—thrift, the denial of immediate gratification, and strict control over one’s passions.’ Polygamy, the practice that so excited popular passions, was of little importance to the Church: ‘First, the vast majority of nineteenth century Mormons did not practice polygamy, and many of them found it distasteful, at least as a way of conducting their own lives. Second, those who did practice plural marriage scarcely exhibited the lascivious behavior made familiar in anti-Mormon literature. Plural wives were commonly the widowed or unmarried sisters of the original wife.’
So why were nineteenth-century Americans so upset with the Mormons? Moore’s answer is that Americans thought the Mormons were different from them because the Mormons themselves ‘said they were different and because their claims, frequently advanced in the most obnoxious way possible, prompted others to agree and to treat them as such.’ In order to give his followers a sense of identity and resilience, Joseph Smith ‘required them to maintain certain fictions of cultural apartness.’ Moore describes this as a very American pattern. Countless religious innovators over the years have played the game of establishing an identity for themselves by accentuating their otherness. Koresh faced the same problem, and he, too, made his claims, at least in the eyes of the outside world, ‘in the most obnoxious way possible.’
The risks of such a strategy are obvious. Mainstream American society finds it easiest to be tolerant when the outsider chooses to minimize the differences that separate him from the majority. The country club opens its doors to Jews. The university welcomes African-Americans. Heterosexuals extend the privilege of marriage to the gay community. Whenever these liberal feats are accomplished, we congratulate ourselves. But it is not exactly a major moral accomplishment for Waspy golfers to accept Jews who have decided that they, too, wish to play golf. It is a much harder form of tolerance to accept an outsider group that chooses to maximize its differences from the broader culture.”
“William M. Gaines, who as publisher of Mad magazine conferred immortality on a goofy-faced, gaptoothed cover boy and the ‘What — me worry?’ motto, died yesterday at his home in Manhattan. He was 70 years old.
He died in his sleep, editors at Mad said.
The first issue of the magazine hit the newsstands in 1952, with sharp-eyed sendups of movies, advertising, celebrities and comic strips: Mickey Mouse became ‘Mickey Rodent’ and Superman ‘Superduperman.’ To the delight of its largely teen-age audience, it brought satire into the mainstream, along with up-to-the-moment New York humor sprinkled with Yiddish, nonsense and non sequiturs.”
Since baseball season has gotten underway (at least in Australia), here’s a rare video of Ty Cobb, one of the sport’s best players ever and one of the damndest sons of bitches to strap on the spikes, appearing in 1955 on I’ve Got a Secret. Seems like a sweet grandfather here, but he strangled to death at least eight or ten peanut vendors during his career. The first two players are Leon Cadore, who pitched an entire 26-inning game in 1920; and Johnny Vander Meer, who threw back-to-back no-hitters in 1938. Cobb shows up at roughly the 12:15 mark, just as Vander Meer walks off with his complimentary carton of cancer-causing Winston cigarettes.
The Bay Area, home of Moneyball, seems to have created a market inefficiency waiting to be exploited: tech workers who’ve reached their thirtieth birthdays. A strong bias in favor of not just young employees but very young ones, a culture with values akin to Logan’s Run, has left talented people fearing their first wrinkle or gray hair. Where will these “olds” go? The opening of Noam Schieber’s New Republic article “The Brutal Ageism of Tech“:
“I have more botox in me than any ten people,’ Dr. Seth Matarasso told me in an exam room this February.
He is a reality-show producer’s idea of a cosmetic surgeon—his demeanor brash, his bone structure preposterous. Over the course of our hour-long conversation, he would periodically fire questions at me, apropos of nothing, in the manner of my young daughter. ‘What gym do you go to?’ ‘What’s your back look like?’ ‘Who did your nose?’ In lieu of bidding me goodbye, he called out, ‘Love me, mean it,’ as he walked away.
Twenty years ago, when Matarasso first opened shop in San Francisco, he found that he was mostly helping patients in late middle age: former homecoming queens, spouses who’d been cheated on, spouses looking to cheat. Today, his practice is far larger and more lucrative than he could have ever imagined. He sees clients across a range of ages. He says he’s the world’s second-biggest dispenser of Botox. But this growth has nothing to do with his endearingly nebbishy mien. It is, rather, the result of a cultural revolution that has taken place all around him in the Bay Area.
Silicon Valley has become one of the most ageist places in America. Tech luminaries who otherwise pride themselves on their dedication to meritocracy don’t think twice about deriding the not-actually-old. ‘Young people are just smarter,’ Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told an audience at Stanford back in 2007. As I write, the website of ServiceNow, a large Santa Clara–based I.T. services company, features the following advisory in large letters atop its ‘careers’ page: ‘We Want People Who Have Their Best Work Ahead of Them, Not Behind Them.’
A great hoax plays upon a real desire or anxiety, and no one’s been better at pushing those buttons than prankster Alan Abel. In a 1970s scam, the wiseacre posed as a tennis-loving sheik, playing off America’s fear and loathing of newly minted OPEC millionaires, at a time when our post-WWII lustre had faded. Abel, one of the cultural ancestors of Sacha Baron Cohen, created the character of Prince Emir Assad, who competed in a Pro-Am tourney.
Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver was many things, and not all of them were good. But no one could deny he was a fascinating fashion designer. After fleeing the United States when charged with the attempted murder of police officers in Oakland in 1968, the revolutionary spent seven years hiding in a variety of foreign countries. A mostly forgotten part of his walkabout was Cleaver surfacing as a fashion designer in Paris at the very end of his exile. As shown in the print advertisement above, his so-called “Penis Pants” had an external sock attached so that a guy could wear his manhood on the outside. Cucumber sales soared.
From an article Cleaver penned about the early part of his life at large for Ramparts in 1969, a look at the more serious side of expatriation:
“SO NOW IT IS OFFICIAL. I was starting to think that perhaps it never would be. For the past eight months, I’ve been scooting around the globe as a non-person, ducking into doorways at the sight of a camera, avoiding English-speaking people like the plague. I used so many names that my own was out of focus. I trained myself not to react if I heard the name Eldridge Cleaver called, and learned instead to respond naturally, spontaneously, to my cover names. Anyone who thinks this is easy to do should try it. For my part, I’m glad that it is over.
This morning we held a press conference, thus putting an end to all the hocus-pocus. Two days ago, the Algerian government announced that I had arrived here to participate in the historic First Pan-African Cultural Festival. After that, there was no longer any reason not to reach for the telephone and call home, so the first thing I did was to call my mother in Los Angeles. ‘Boy, where are you at?’ she asked. It sounded as though she expected me to answer, ‘Right around the corner, mom,’ or ‘Up here in San Francisco,’ so that when I said I was in Africa, in Algeria, it was clear that her mind was blown, for her response was, “Africa? You can’t make no phone call from Africa!” That’s my mom. She doesn’t relate to all this shit about phone calls across the ocean when there are no phone poles. She has both her feet on the ground, and it is clear that she intends to keep them there.
It is clear to me now that there are forms of imprisonment other than the kind I left Babylon to avoid, for immediately upon splitting that scene I found myself incarcerated in an anonymity, the walls of which were every bit as thick as those of Folsom Prison. I discovered, to my surprise, that it is impossible to hold a decent conversation without making frequent references to one’s past. So I found myself creating personal histories spontaneously, off the top of my head, and I felt bad about that because I know that I left many people standing around scratching their heads. The shit that I had to run down to them just didn’t add up.
Now all that is over. So what? What has really changed? Alioto is still crazy and mayor, Ronald Reagan is still Mickey Mouse, Nixon is in the White House and the McClellan Committee is investigating the Black Panther Party. And Huey P. Newton is still in prison. I cannot make light of this shit because it is getting deeper. And here we are in Algeria. What is a cat from Arkansas, who calls San Francisco home, doing in Algeria? And listen to Kathleen behind me talking over the telephone in French. With a little loosening of the will, I could easily flip out right now!”
Cleaver was sadly not wearing his Penis Pants when he sat down in 1969 with William F. Buckley to discuss the Man and the Pigs and other handy generalizations. At the 3:28 mark.
I know it seems odd to not completely recall for sure, but I’m only fairly certain that in the aughts I interviewed the Professional Bowlers Association’s then-chairman Steve Miller, an erstwhile Nike executive who was charged with trying to rescue the formerly popular TV sport from the scrapheap. He encouraged his stars to scream for attention, to talk trash like pro wrestlers, to get into the gutter if need be. The games wouldn’t be fixed, but the sport would. But any gains have been marginal.
Anyone now a senior citizen can likely recall a time when top bowlers were envied for their earning prowess by NFL running backs, when Earl Anthony was as revered as Earl Campbell. Stunning, but true. The opening of “The Rise and Fall of Professional Bowling,” Zachary Crockett’s Priceonomics post:
“There was a time when professional bowlers reigned supreme.
In the ‘golden era’ of the 1960s and 70s, they made twice as much money as NFL stars, signed million dollar contracts, and were heralded as international celebrities. After each match, they’d be flanked by beautiful women who’d seen them bowl on television, or had read about them in Sports Illustrated.
Today, the glitz and glamour has faded. Pro bowlers supplement their careers with second jobs, like delivering sod, or working at a call center. They share Motel 6 rooms on tour to save on travel expenses, and thrive on the less-than-exciting dime of beef jerky sponsorships.
Once sexy, bowling is now synonymous with cheap beer and smelly feet. In an entertainment-saturated culture, has the once formidable sport been gutter-balled? What exactly is it like to be a professional bowler today?”
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.
Why is Japan unlike any other place on Earth, not just in the way that all nations are unique, but in a deeper and stranger way? What’s with the monkey waiters, the karaoke machines, the warm embrace of lifelike robots and the penchant for personal electronics and hardcore porn long before the rest of the world joined in? My guess would be that the chief ingredients are a homogenized populace, siding with Hitler during WWII and being on the receiving end of two atom bombs. In David Pilling’s Foreign Policy piece “Why Is Japan So…Different?” he examines the question in greater historical detail. An excerpt:
“Some foreign observers have been as enthusiastic about promoting Japan’s alleged uniqueness as the Japanese themselves. Of course, all nations are unique, but in Japan this truism became a fetish. The Japanese developed a form, which dates back to the Tokugawa era but which flourished in the post-World War II period, of quasi-philosophical writing called Nihonjinron, or ‘essays on the essence of Japaneseness.’ Written by both Japanese and foreigners, these tracts sought to explain what made the Japanese unique and how they differed from foreigners, who were, all too often, lumped into one homogeneous category. Such lines of inquiry often settled on a description of the Japanese as cooperative, sedentary rice farmers who use instinct and heart rather than cold, Western logic. Unlike Western hunter-gatherers, the Japanese were seen as having a unique sensitivity to nature, an ability to communicate without language through a sort of social telepathy, and a rarefied artistic awareness.
In 1946, U.S. anthropologist Ruth Benedict made it respectable to see the Japanese as a race apart with the publication of her classic study of Japanese culture, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword. She described a highly codified society operating with conventions all-but-incomprehensible to outsiders. Her work paved the way for shelf after shelf of Nihonjinrontexts by Japanese authors. These multiplied with Japan’s post-war economic success, which the Japanese and foreigners alike began to attribute to the country’s supposedly unique organizational and social structures. Gavan McCormack, an Australian academic, describes Benedict’s book as ‘one of the greatest propaganda coups of the century.’ In stoking Japan’s own sense of its own uniqueness, he argues, the book helped sever Japan’s psychological ties with its Asian neighbors. ‘What they believed to be ancient tradition,’ he writes, ‘was quintessentially modern ideology.’
Japan’s perception of itself as isolated and different persists to this day, often to its disadvantage. It has, for example, hampered the country’s electronics industry: Japanese manufacturers often produce goods perfectly adapted to Japanese customers but of little global reach. It yearns for what it sees as its rightful place in the hierarchy of nations — it has for years waged a campaign to obtain a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council. But whether defending whaling, or the rights of its leaders to worship at the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, which houses the ‘souls’ of more than 2 million dead Japanese soldiers, including 14 class-A war criminals from World War II, Japan often has a hard time explaining itself to the rest of the world.
Some in Japan, however, especially on the right, seem bent on preserving the mystique of a country that is somehow unintelligible to outsiders.”
Monkey waiter in Japanese restaurant wearing lady mask:
Bill Boggs interviewing legendary thriller writer Robert Ludlum, who hasn’t let his 2001 death slow “his” writing output. No year specified, but it was likely 1982. More than 30 years after these comments, the author would no doubt have been even more angered about what privacy has become during the Internet Age. Video quality less than stellar.
One of my favorite magazine articles of the aughts was a 2004 New York Times Magazine piece about BzzAgent, a stealth marketer that, among other things, embedded volunteers in spaces public and private (malls, movie theaters, barbecues, etc.) with instructions to talk up a specific brand of product, hoping the campaign would go “viral” via word of mouth. The practice has obviously only grown more insidious with the boom of social networks, though the actual human contact is no longer as vital. Even “workers” in this area have been encroached upon by algorithms.
Below is a repost of an item I put up about the article three years ago.
Thinking about The Truman Showreminded me of Rob Walker’s brilliant, frightening 2004 article,“The Hidden (in Plant Sight) Persuaders,” in the New York Times Magazine. Penned before social media really took off, the article examines how BzzAgent, a Boston-based marketing firm contracts citizens to engage in surreptitious whisper campaigns to promote products. That person in the mall conspicuously reading a just-published book or loudly mentioning a great new band–they may be BzzAgents. Most amazingly, apart from earning a few small rewards which they often don’t bother to collect, these people are unpaid volunteers just wanting to be a part of a stealth machinery, like airport cultists merely trying to plant the idea in your head that flowers are nice to buy. The article’s opening:
“Over the July 4 weekend last summer, at cookouts up and down the East Coast and into the Midwest, guests arrived with packages of Al Fresco chicken sausage for their hosts to throw on the grill. At a family gathering in Kingsley, Mich. At a small barbecue in Sag Harbor, N.Y. At a 60-guest picnic in Philadelphia.
We know that this happened, and we even know how various party guests reacted to their first exposure to Al Fresco, because the Great Sausage Fanout of 2004 did not happen by chance. The sausage-bearers were not official representatives of Al Fresco, showing up in uniforms to hand out samples. They were invited guests, friends or relatives of whoever organized the get-togethers, but they were also — unknown to most all the other attendees — ‘agents,’ and they filed reports. ‘People could not believe they weren’t pork!’ one agent related. ‘I told everyone that they were low in fat and so much better than pork sausages.’ Another wrote, ‘I handed out discount coupons to several people and made sure they knew which grocery stores carried them.’ Another noted that ‘my dad will most likely buy the garlic’ flavor, before closing, ‘I’ll keep you posted.’
These reports went back to the company that Al Fresco’s owner, Kayem Foods, had hired to execute a ‘word of mouth’ marketing campaign. And while the Fourth of July weekend was busy, it was only a couple of days in an effort that went on for three months and involved not just a handful of agents but 2,000 of them. The agents were sent coupons for free sausage and a set of instructions for the best ways to talk the stuff up, but they did not confine themselves to those ideas, or to obvious events like barbecues. Consider a few scenes from the life of just one agent, named Gabriella.
At one grocery store, Gabriella asked a manager why there was no Al Fresco sausage available. At a second store, she dropped a card touting the product into the suggestion box. At a third, she talked a stranger into buying a package. She suggested that the organizers of a neighborhood picnic serve Al Fresco. She took some to a friend’s house for dinner and (she reported back) ‘explained to her how the sausage comes in six delicious flavors.’ Talking to another friend whom she had already converted into an Al Fresco customer, she noted that the product is ‘not just for barbecues’ and would be good at breakfast too. She even wrote to a local priest known for his interest in Italian food, suggesting a recipe for Tuscan white-bean soup that included Al Fresco sausage. The priest wrote back to say he’d give it a try. Gabriella asked me not to use her last name. The Al Fresco campaign is over — having notably boosted sales, by 100 percent in some stores — but she is still spreading word of mouth about a variety of other products, and revealing her identity, she said, would undermine her effectiveness as an agent.
The sausage campaign was organized by a small, three-year-old company in Boston called BzzAgent, but that firm is hardly the only entity to have concluded that the most powerful forum for consumer seduction is not TV ads or billboards but rather the conversations we have in our everyday lives. The thinking is that in a media universe that keeps fracturing into ever-finer segments, consumers are harder and harder to reach; some can use TiVo to block out ads or the TV’s remote control to click away from them, and the rest are simply too saturated with brand messages to absorb another pitch. So corporations frustrated at the apparent limits of ‘traditional’ marketing are increasingly open to word-of-mouth marketing. One result is a growing number of marketers organizing veritable armies of hired ‘trendsetters’ or ‘influencers’ or ‘street teams’ to execute ‘seeding programs,’ ‘viral marketing,’ ‘guerrilla marketing.’ What were once fringe tactics are now increasingly mainstream; there is even a Word of Mouth Marketing Association.”
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.
Were you good at Flappy Birds? Well, fuck you, because Magnus Carlsen, now 23, became the youngest chess player ever to be ranked number one when he was just 19. The king of pawns just did an Ask Me Anything at Reddit. Nobody asked him if he thought he could beat a nouveau version of Deep Blue, unfortunately, but a few exchanges follow.
Do you ever struggle playing yourself age 23 in the Play Magnus app? I personally pride myself in beating you at 8 years old.
I always struggle playing against Magnus 23. When playing younger “Magnuses” I’m occasionally successful.
Hi Magnus! Even though you were International Master and Grandmaster early on, did you ever feel like you have plateaued with your game, that you did not think you could get better, or did you always know that you could be the best player ever? And if you did think you could not get better, how did you get better?
Times when I was struggling, I always kept a very positive mindset. I thought that things would turnaround in the next game, or the next tournament. Eventually it did.
As for plateaued, I still feel that I have plenty to learn. It’s just about translating more knowledge into better play and better results.
If you could play any historic chess player in their prime, who would it be?
There are many options, but the first that comes to mind is Kasparov & Fischer, as well as Capablanca.
Do you ever log onto sites like Chess.com, as an anonymous player, and just crush people for fun?
Once in a while I’ve used some of my friends accounts and won a couple of games… or a lot…
Follow up question; when playing on Chess.com, do you ever run into a particularly tough opponent and run into a particularly tough opponent and think to yourself “I must have at least heard of him” because there are so few people that have even a chance to win against you?
You’ll be amazed at the people I’ve lost to while playing online…•
Carlsen and Liv Tyler for G-Star RAW denim and fashions:
Technology is an opportunity but not a panacea. While the Cold War was still on, it seemed to some that interconnectivity would warm relations, that we could 0 and 1 our way to utopia. As the current headlines remind us, disconnects can still occur among the connected.
The opening of “Slow Scan To Moscow,” Adam Hochschild’s 1986 Mother Jones article about the growing electronic link between peoples of the U.S. and the Soviet Union:
“Joel Schatz has wire-rimmed glasses and an Old Testament-sized beard. A big head of curly black hair flecked with gray adds a few extra inches to his sixfoot-two frame. ‘This trip we’re about to take,’ he says enthusiastically, ‘is so important that I’ve even gotten a haircut.’ Its effects are not noticeable.
Joel is sitting in the study of his San Francisco apartment, where most of the furniture consists of pillows on the floor. The largest thing in sight is an enormous reflector telescope, which can be pivoted around on its pedestal and aimed out a high window, Joel explains, ‘to remind me of my place in the cosmos. We’re all voyagers out there.
‘If I had millions of dollars I’d build neighborhood observatories all over the world. And at each one I’d have good conga drums, so people could drum together as well as observe.’
The object of Joel’s attention at this moment, however, as it is much of the time, is his four-pound, briefcase-size Radio Shack Tandy Model 100 portable computer. ‘I bought this machine for $399. For $1.82 a minute – $1.82! – I can send a telex message to Moscow. This technology is going to revolutionize human communications! Think what it will mean when you can get thousands of Americans and Soviets on the same computer network. Once scientists in both countries begin talking to each other on these machines they won’t be able to stop. And we’ll be taking a running leap over the governments on both sides.
‘I’m not a scientist,’ Joel adds. ‘I’ve only owned a computer for four months. I don’t understand how they work. I’ll leave that to other people. I’m just interested in how they can improve communication on this planet.’”
Radio Shack Tandy 102 portable computer, the final refresh of the 100 series:
Chuck Barris, game-show producer and occasional murderer, realized like P.T. Barnum before him (and reality shows after) that there was money to be made off the marginal and the freakish. But I doubt even Barris could have predicted that during his lifetime the sideshow tent would be relocated to the center ring. That’s the cost of new technologies decentralizing the media, a price that seems high but one we should be willing to pay.
Automation is, of course, most likely coming for your job. It doesn’t end with travel agents, video-store clerks and bookstore managers. Via Julie Bort at Business Insider, a quote about the future of employment (or, more accurately, unemployment) from Bill Gates during his appearance at the American Enterprise Institute (with full video embedded below):
“Speaking at Washington, D.C., economic think tank The American Enterprise Institute on Thursday, Gates said that within 20 years, a lot of jobs will go away, replaced by software automation (‘bots’ in tech slang, though Gates used the term ‘software substitution’).
This is what he said:
‘Software substitution, whether it’s for drivers or waiters or nurses … it’s progressing. … Technology over time will reduce demand for jobs, particularly at the lower end of skill set. … 20 years from now, labor demand for lots of skill sets will be substantially lower. I don’t think people have that in their mental model.’”
In my nightmares, ranked just below Ed McMahon’s direct participation in the Johnny Carson sex tape, is William F. Buckley discussing vivisection. That’s what he does in this 1990 Firing Line episode about animal rights that featured surgeon, Yale professor and author Dr. Sherwin Nuland (who passed away two weeks ago). The host and guest agree that animals should be used in medical experiments, though treated as “humanely” as possible. Nuland scoffs at the notion of speciesism and misnames the philosopher who popularized the concept in the 1970s, Peter Singer, as Peter “Berger.” All the while, Michael Kinsley darts around just offscreen, like an opossum with an impeccable résumé.