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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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I don’t blame anyone for being a capitalist in America, not a Carnegie or a Kardashian or any lower-case striver. But there’s always been something squeamish about those who mix aspirationalism with evangelism, and that belief system has never been more pronounced than right now, with the “prosperity gospel” movement having made a special guest appearance at last week’s Republican National Convention in the person of Rev. Mark Burns, who loves Jesus Christ, Donald Trump and Benjamin Franklin, in some order.

From Jack Jenkins at Think Progress:

A NEW KIND OF RELIGIOUS KINGMAKER

Burns is not your rank-and-file right-wing evangelical minister, but a preacher of the so-called “prosperity gospel,” a loose but growing Christian movement that teaches followers they can become wealthy and successful through faith — and by giving money to their church. Although “health and wealth” clerics head up churches that boast memberships in the tens of thousands, they have historically avoided divisive political conversations.

That was, at least, until the rise of Trump. In a twist that has perplexed and angered many leaders of the traditional Religious Right, the mogul has surrounded himselfwith a cadre of jet-setting prosperity gospel preachers throughout his campaign, snubbing the old-time religion of traditional conservative Christians in favor of the glitzy theology of ministers who share his adoration of the Almighty Dollar.

And now, with Burns speaking before the RNC, the prosperity gospel — long dismissed by progressive and conservative Christians alike as flawed or even heretical — is having its political moment.

“This is the culmination of several decades of building political capital within the prosperity gospel movement,” Kate Bowler, an expert on the prosperity gospel and author of Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel, told ThinkProgress. “This is a new political moment for the prosperity gospel — it’s a really remarkable moment.”•


“We are electing a person in Donald Trump who believes in the name of Jesus Christ.”

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The VCR, which helped the masses shift time and become programmers, is no more, with the last company that produced the technology, Japan’s Funai Corporation, bowing from the anachronistic business.

Excerpts follow from 1) Jonah Engel Bromwich’s New York Times article “The Long, Final Goodbye of the VCR,” and 2) Lillian Ross’ 1970 New Yorker piece (subscription required) about the Cartrivision system, which offered a proto-Netflix service.


From Bromwich:

In 1956, Ampex Electric and Manufacturing Company introduced whatits website calls “the first practical videotape recorder.” Fred Pfost, an Ampex engineer, described demonstrating the technology to CBS executives for the first time. Unbeknown to them, he had recorded a keynote speech delivered by a vice president at the network.
 
“After I rewound the tape and pushed the play button for this group of executives, they saw the instantaneous replay of the speech. There were about 10 seconds of total silence until they suddenly realized just what they were seeing on the 20 video monitors located around the room. Pandemonium broke out with wild clapping and cheering for five full minutes. This was the first time in history that a large group (outside of Ampex) had ever seen a high-quality, instantaneous replay of any event.”

Fred Pfost “First Public Video Tape Recorder Demonstrations” (Web 84) Video by Audio Engineering Society (AES)
 
At the time, the machines cost $50,000 apiece. But that did not stop orders from being placed for 100 of them in the week they debuted, according to Mr. Pfost. “This represented an amount almost as great as a year’s gross income for Ampex,” he wrote.
 
The first VCRs for homes were released in the 1960s, and they became widely available to consumers in the 1970s, when Sony’s Betamax and JVC’s VHS formats began to compete. VHS gained the upper hand the following decade; but Sony stopped producing Betamax cassette tapes only in 2016.•


From Ross’ conversation with Cartrivison executive Samuel Gelfman, who realized way back then what a disruptive technology he was working with:

“What is Cartrivision?” we asked.

“One of the greatest instruments of social change–the greatest, I would say, since the printing press,” Mr. Gelfman said. “Our set is a color-television set, but it’s also a cartridge-television. Whit this set, you can have your own cartridge library. You slip a cartridge in the slot, press the button, and watch up to two hours of your own choice of movie. A great football game. Anything you want. What’s more, we’ve built in an off-the-air recorder to pick up shows when you’re not at home. It doubles as a camera with a portable microphone. You can make your movies and have instant replay. We’ll sell you the set for between eight and nine hundred dollars. Our cartridges–blank ones–from nine-ninety-eight for a fifteen-minute tape to twenty-four ninety-eight for a two-hour tape. The movie cartridges we’ll rent. Three dollars for overnight. What’s important is for the first time we’re going to be able to provide what you want to see. You don’t have to worry about sponsors anymore.”•


Here’s a What’s My Line? episode in which the system is demonstrated by company spokesperson Art Rosenblatt in 1972, the year it came to the market and the one before it was pulled.

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If you don’t count money, J. Paul Getty wasn’t a very rich man.

Wealthy beyond imagination back when a billion dollars was a billion dollars, Getty was a strange and miserly sort with five marriages and a procession of troubled heirs. His thriftiness, if you would call it that, seemed to come not from wisdom but from a dark place. The opening of a People article from 40 years ago about the man who, by some measures, had it all:

In deepening solitude, like some melancholy Dickensian recluse, Jean Paul Getty offers the frailest of shoulders on which to rest the title of World’s Richest Man. At 81, he speaks in a low, croaking monotone, his face a sunken mask of old age. When his left hand trembles violently from Parkinson’s disease, his right must come quivering to restrain it. And his conversation, fitful and laborious, trails off into lingering silences. 

But the fertile brain that assembled one of the oil world’s great empires has lost neither its cunning nor its grasp. During the current energy crisis—in which the value of Getty’s oil leases spirals astronomically as great ships laden with his liquid treasure bear it to the oil-parched industrial nations—the gnome of Surrey paces his Tudor palace, monitoring the nerve centers of the financial world. 

The son of a prosperous Minneapolis lawyer who moved to Oklahoma and promptly struck oil, Getty was only 21 when he began buying and selling oil leases himself. He made $40,000 his first year, and his first million a few months after that. When the Depression hit he had enough to buy millions of shares of collapsed oil stocks, acquiring fortunes in oil reserves and fresh cash. In 1949, just before seizing control of the giant Tidewater Oil Co., he arranged a deal with Saudi Arabia’s King Saud, predecessor of the present King Faisal, obtaining half-interest for the next 60 years in a raw swath of land called the Neutral Zone. The area was considered bleakly unpromising, but, typically, Getty brought in the gushers. Moving to London to be nearer his Middle East operations, he has never returned to America. 

Today, with enormous personal holdings in stock in the parent Getty Oil Co. and a controlling interest in nearly 200 other concerns, the octogenarian billionaire has accumulated wealth beyond precise calculation. Yet until 1957, when Fortune named him the richest living American, he was virtually unknown to the public. 

One reason, perhaps, is that he has never been inclined to philanthropy. No foundation bears his name, and he has indicated that when he dies his fortune will be plowed back into his businesses. 

“Money is like manure,” Getty once said. “You have to spread it around or it smells.” Often, in his case, this has been a dictum observed in the breach. Though he paid a modest fortune for Sutton Place, his 72-room mansion outside London, he prudently outfitted it with a pay telephone. “The guests won’t mind paying for their calls,’ he said, ‘and as for the deadbeats, I couldn’t care less.” He never accepts mail with postage due and rarely carries more than $25 in pocket money. He has been known to wait five minutes in order to get into a dog show at half price, and to avoid a restaurant rather than pay a cover charge. “I pay the going rate,” he explained, “but I don’t see any reason for paying more than you have to.”

Getty’s legendary parsimony extends even to eminent friends of long standing. He and the Earl of Warwick have lunched together regularly for 35 years. Lest either pay a bill out of turn, the two share a little black book in which they keep track of all their meetings, the cost of each lunch and whose turn it is to pick up the check.•


In the 1970s, the industrialist spoke on behalf of E.F. Hutton.

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Alvin Toffler, the sociological salesman who anticipated and feared tomorrow, just died at 87.

Has there ever been a biography written about the man whose pants were forever being scared off? I’d love to know what it was about his life that positioned him, beginning in the 1960s, to look ahead at our future and be shocked. There was always a strong sci-fi strain to his work, though it’s undeniably important to think about how science and technology could go horribly wrong. By imagining the worst, perhaps we can avoid it. Like anyone else who toiled in speculative markets, Toffler was sometimes way off the mark, though he was also incredibly prescient on other occasions.

Below is an excerpt from his BBC obituary and a few Afflictor posts about Toffler from over the years.


From the BBC:

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Although many writers in the 1960s focused on social upheavals related to technological advancement, Toffler wrote in a page-turning style that made difficult concepts easy to understand.

Future Shock (1970) argued that economists who believed the rise in prosperity of the 1960s was just a trend were wrong – and that it would continue indefinitely.

The Third Wave, in 1980, was a hugely influential work that forecast the spread of emails, interactive media, online chat rooms and other digital advancements.

But among the pluses, he also foresaw increased social alienation, rising drug use and the decline of the nuclear family.

Space colonies

Not all of his futurist predictions have come to pass. He thought humanity’s frontier spirit would lead to the creation of “artificial cities beneath the waves” as well as colonies in space.

One of his most famous assertions was: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”•


“Who Is To Write The Evolutionary Code Of Tomorrow?”

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A passage about genetic engineering, a fraught field but one with tremendous promise, from a 1978 Omni interview with Toffler conducted by leathery beaver merchant Bob Guccione:

Omni:

What’s good about genetic engineering?

Alvin Toffler:

Genetic manipulation can yield cheap insulin. It can probably help us solve the cancer riddle. But, more important, over the very long run it could help us crack the world food problem.

You could radically reduce reliance on artificial fertilizers–which means saving energy and helping the poor nations substantially. You could produce new, fast-growing species. You could create species adapted to lands that are now marginal, infertile, arid, or saline. And if you really let your long-range imagination roam, you can foresee a possible convergence of genetic manipulation, weather modification, and computerized agriculture–all coming together with a wholly new energy system. Such developments would simply remake agriculture as we’ve known it for 10,000 years.

Omni:

What is the downside?

Alvin Toffler:

Horrendous. Almost beyond our imagination, When you cut up genes and splice them together in new ways, you risk the accidental escape from the laboratory of new life forms and the swift spread of new diseases for which the human race no defenses.

As is the case with nuclear energy we have safety guidelines. But no system, in my view, can ever be totally fail-safe. All our safety calculations are based on certain assumptions. The assumptions are reasonable, even conservative. But none of the calculations tell what happens if one of the assumptions turns out to be wrong. Or what to do if a terrorist manages to get a hold of the crucial test tube.

A lot of good people are working to tighten controls in this field. NATO recently issued a report summarizing the steps taken by dozens of countries from the U.S.S.R. to Britain and the U.S. But what do we do about irresponsible corporations or nations who just want to crash ahead? And completely honest, socially responsible geneticists are found on both sides of an emotional debate as to how–or even whether–to proceed.

Farther down the road, you also get into very deep political, philosophical, and ecological issues. Who is to write the evolutionary code of tomorrow? Which species shall live and which shall die out? Environmentalists today worry about vanishing species and the effect of eliminating the leopard or the snail darter from the planet. These are real worries, because every species has a role to play in the overall ecology. But we have not yet begun to think about the possible emergence of new, predesigned species to take their place.•


“Shut Down The Public Education System”

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Toffler called for the dismantling of the U.S. public-education system in a 2007 interview at Edutopia. An excerpt:

Edutopia:

You’ve been writing about our educational system for decades. What’s the most pressing need in public education right now?

Alvin Toffler:

Shut down the public education system.

Edutopia:

That’s pretty radical.

Alvin Toffler:

I’m roughly quoting Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, who said, “We don’t need to reform the system; we need to replace the system.”

Edutopia:

Why not just readjust what we have in place now? Do we really need to start from the ground up?

Alvin Toffler:

We should be thinking from the ground up. That’s different from changing everything. However, we first have to understand how we got the education system that we now have. Teachers are wonderful, and there are hundreds of thousands of them who are creative and terrific, but they are operating in a system that is completely out of time. It is a system designed to produce industrial workers….

The public school system is designed to produce a workforce for an economy that will not be there. And therefore, with all the best intentions in the world, we’re stealing the kids’ future.

Do I have all the answers for how to replace it? No. But it seems to me that before we can get serious about creating an appropriate education system for the world that’s coming and that these kids will have to operate within, we have to ask some really fundamental questions.

And some of these questions are scary. For example: Should education be compulsory? And, if so, for who? Why does everybody have to start at age five? Maybe some kids should start at age eight and work fast. Or vice versa. Why is everything massified in the system, rather than individualized in the system? New technologies make possible customization in a way that the old system — everybody reading the same textbook at the same time — did not offer.•


“This Technology Is Exacting A Heavy Price”

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Orson Welles narrates this 1972 documentary that McGraw-Hill produced about sociologist Toffler‘s gargantuan 1970 bestseller, Future Shock. Toffler caused a sensation with his views about the human incapacity to adapt in the short term to remarkable change, in this case of the technological variety. The movie is odd and paranoid and overheated and fun.

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Recently, I published a post about Elon Musk’s Nick Bostrom bender, which has seen the Oxford philosopher influence Space X founder’s opinions on machine intelligence and reality as a video-game simulation. A little more on that topic via a Mark Robert Anderson piece at The Conversation, who debunks the Sims scenario while acknowledging the Martian hopeful may be right on certain points regarding Augmented Reality. An excerpt:

The idea that humans live in a reality controlled by external bodies, whether computers or otherwise, has been around for a while. This has been a question explored by philosophers and even physicists over the centuries. The philosopher Nick Bostrom drew thesame conclusion in 2003.

The similarities between the arguments put forward by Musk and Bostrom go further than proposing we are part of a larger computer simulation, though. Both consider the development of artificial intelligence (AI) to be a dangerous field of technology.According to Musk, the result of progress in AI research and development will be the end of civilisation.Bostrom takesa similar standpoint should appropriate risk assessment not be carried out on development projects.

Fact or fiction?

But is this just paranoia? The claims carry more than a passing resemblance to science fiction movies, such as The Matrix and 2001: A Space Odyssey, but are Musk and Bostrom voicing valid causes for concern?

The case that we are not living in a simulation is strongly supported by resource arguments. Consider the sheer computing power needed to run such a simulation. A simulation system would need to manage all the entities in the world and all their interactions. This would require a vast amount of processing. Further support can be found in arguments relating to quantum mechanics – to run a truly lifelike simulation of a city, with all its trillions of interactions, would require a city-sized computer. This makes the case for our existence in a simulation very unlikely.•


So strange and wonderful: In 1972, Rod Serling introduces I’ve Got a Secret host Steve Allen to the home version of the video game Pong. Begins at the 15:40 mark.

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