monica lewinsky and bill clinton circa 1995 AP

It sometimes seems that Monica Lewinsky was the last American with a sense of shame. It did not benefit her.

Celebutantes with sex tapes have since sold their boldface indiscretions for countless millions and covered Vogue. Most of them have a short shelf life, falling not soon after rising, but the Kardashians have taken Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame and broken the hands off the clock, becoming our other First Family. They are not ashamed. 

Lewinsky, shaped by the pre-Internet Era, was not proud of her acts with the leader of the free world. She has never fully escaped the dark shadow of infamy, having spent her formative years mocked for her morals and weight, for being the girl in the beret used like a White House humidor. Just imagine the dumbest thing you did when you were 22 put on blast for the entire world. It’s unthinkable for anyone not raised on selfies and social media to survive such a thing, to flourish. Before everyone lived in public, privacy was prized, reputations mattered. It’s better in the big picture that the next generations don’t have to be ruined anymore by trolls. They just own it, whatever “it” may be. Something, though, has been lost in translation.

In a smart Guardian piece, Jon Ronson profiles the former intern in middle age. The opening:

One night in London in 2005, a woman said a surprisingly eerie thing to Monica Lewinsky. Lewinsky had moved from New York a few days earlier to take a master’s in social psychology at the London School of Economics. On her first weekend, she went drinking with a woman she thought might become a friend. “But she suddenly said she knew really high-powered people,” Lewinsky says, “and I shouldn’t have come to London because I wasn’t wanted there.”

Lewinsky is telling me this story at a table in a quiet corner of a West Hollywood hotel. We had to pay extra for the table to be curtained off. It was my idea. If we hadn’t done it, passersby would probably have stared. Lewinsky would have noticed the stares and would have clammed up a little. “I’m hyper-aware of how other people may be perceiving me,” she says.

She’s tired and dressed in black. She just flew in from India and hasn’t had breakfast yet. We’ll talk for two hours, after which there’s only time for a quick teacake before she hurries to the airport to give a talk in Phoenix, Arizona, and spend the weekend with her father.

“Why did that woman in London say that to you?” I ask her.

“Oh, she’d had too much to drink,” Lewinsky replies. “It’s such a shame, because 99.9% of my experiences in England were positive, and she was an anomaly. I loved being in London, then and now. I was welcomed and accepted at LSE, by my professors and classmates. But when something hits a core trauma – I actually got really retriggered. After that I couldn’t go more than three days without thinking about the FBI sting that happened in ’98.”

Seven years earlier, on 16 January 1998, Lewinsky’s friend – an older work colleague called Linda Tripp – invited her for lunch at a mall in Washington DC. Lewinsky was 25. They’d been working together at the Pentagon for nearly two years, during which time Lewinsky had confided in her that she’d had an affair with President Bill Clinton. Unbeknown to Lewinsky, Tripp had been secretly recording their telephone conversations – more than 20 hours of them. The lunch was a trap.•

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10 search-engine keyphrases bringing traffic to Afflictor this week:

  1. charlie brooker satirist
  2. donald trump is a moron
  3. televangelist gene scott and his porn star wife barbie bridges 
  4. august engelhardt mad utopian
  5. bloomberg is scientology on speed
  6. the beginnings of scientology
  7. what goes on at larry flynt’s house?
  8. confederate capt. henry wirz
  9. mundaneum le corbusier
  10. 1940s los angeles religious cult
This week, it was revealed that Sen. Ted Cruz opposed masturbation and wanted to ban didldos. Not every other candidate agreed.

This week, it was revealed that Sen. Ted Cruz wanted to ban didldos. Other candidates had different plans.

Bernie Sanders held a rally to break up Big Dildo.

Bernie Sanders held a rally to break up Big Dildo.

10 inches is too big to fail.

10 inches is too big to fail.

Until the people are respected, we'll fist instead.

Until the voice of the people is heard, we’ll fist instead.

Oh good, I can fit both hands.

Oh good, I can fit both hands.


  • Alec Ross explains how not to fall behind in the new economy, but many will.

Homer Collyer, 1939.


Langley Collyer, 1946.

One person can lose his mind, but nothing is madder than a couple. 

Two souls can encourage each other to health and prosperity, but they can also nurture mutual insanity, creating a madhouse behind close doors, replacing bedroom mirrors with the funhouse kind. No living quarters in New York City history were likely crazier than the Fifth Avenue hoarder heaven that the reclusive brothers Homer and Langley Collyer called home sweet home. It contained, among many–many–other things, 240,000 pounds of garbage, 18,000 books, 17 grand pianos, eight live cats, three dressmaking dummies and two very damaged brothers. 

A March 22, 1947 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article about the demise of the Collyers was published after the police had found Homer’s lifeless body seated in a chair but 18 days before they realized that Langley was just ten feet away, dead and buried under some of his favorite things.



Male synchronized swimming has often been viewed as risible partly because it pushed against traditional gender roles and also because a person in a pool not swimming seems an affront. Oh, and the nose plugs don’t help, either.

The sport served as both backdrop and punchline for the best gag of early ’80s iteration of SNL, the video skit seemingly unlocking a string of genius mockumentaries by Christopher Guest. But anyone who stops laughing for a minute will have to admit that few can excel at the combination of mime, dancing, gymnastics and, yes, swimming. 

Bill May excelled. The American was long lauded as the best male synchronized swimmer ever, though his peak years were spent in frustration, sidelined and bone dry, as men were never allowed to compete in the World Championships or Olympics. Growing weary of the fight for inclusion, he plunged into a Cirque du Soleil pool in Vegas and tried to forget what might have been.

Than, unexpectedly, a mixed-gender event was added to the 2015 World Championships in Kazan, Russia, and May jumped back into the sport even though he had little time to perfect routines with his female partners, one of whom was seven months into a pregnancy.

In an 11,000-word ESPN The Magazine article, Taffy Brodesser-Akner traces May’s progress from public-pool practices to podium, making me care about a sport I have never once watched, with a big-hearted look at a person who kept paddling forward even when it made him look silly to others.

An excerpt:

They got to choreographing. They used community pools around Las Vegas to practice, renting them out for as many hours as their schedules allowed, subject to all the degradations of community pools: old women doing aqua aerobics on the other side of the rope; children cannonballing into your part of the rented pool before a lifeguard can get to them and tell them the space is yours; a kid taking a dump in the pool, sidelining them from practicing for a full hour while the water rechlorinated. Chris Carver had flown in from Santa Clara that day, and they didn’t like to waste time, and maybe saying the pool had rechlorinated by the time they got back in was generous. The only breaks they took were when they had to use the bathroom or when Kristina’s husband brought her newborn by for nursing. Bill put over $40,000 on his credit card for pool rentals. USA Synchro could pitch in only $12,000 total. The rest would come from the formidable Aquamaids, who operate a long-standing and very successful bingo facility in Santa Clara, run by volunteer Aquamaid parents in charge of getting funds to the swimmers for costumes and competitions.

Bill still swam the two Cirque shows and put an hour’s worth of makeup on each night. He still taught an abdominal workout to the other O cast members three times a week, twisting and lifting and pushing impossibly to get every single angle of their trunks to resist and grow stronger, to get them looking more like Bill. And he still swam his regular workout, an hour back and forth and back and forth in the pool each morning, and at night, when he was showered and his Weimaraners lay at the foot of his bed and he ceased movement for just the few hours he slept, he dreamed of Kazan.•

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Working with Artificial Intelligence isn’t for everyone, but it’s for far more people now than ever before. In a Bloomberg Technology piece about a small crew of programmers who created an application to read Japanese handwriting even though they themselves can’t, Pavel Alpeye points out that AI being “sold like a utility” has democratized such work, though I would add that it still helps to be really, really smart.

The opening:

Real-world artificial-intelligence applications are popping up in unexpected places—and much sooner than you might think.

While winning a game of Go might be impressive, machine intelligence is also evolving to the point where it can be used by more people to do more things. That’s how four engineers with almost zero knowledge of Japanese were able to create software, in just a few months, that can decipher handwriting in the language.

The programmers at Reactive Inc. came up with an application that recognizes scrawled-out Japanese with 98.66 percent accuracy. The 18-month-old startup in Tokyo is part of a growing global community of coders and investors who are harnessing the power of neural networks to put AI to far more practical purposes than answering trivia or winning board games. 

“Just a few years ago, you had to be a genius to do this,” said David Malkin, who has a Ph.D. in machine learning but can barely string two Japanese sentences together. “Now you can be a reasonably smart guy and make useful stuff. Going forward, it will be more about using imagination to apply this to real business situations.”



Earlier today, I posted a piece about Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner, who’s bankrolling an attempt at an unpeopled reconnaissance mission to Alpha Centauri. A techno-optimist the way most high flyers in Silicon Valley are, Milner believes our increasing connectedness, including the Internet of Things, will bring about a more prosperous world–even a “global brain,” which will unite us all and serve as a “global central nervous system.” That new wealth may be distributed very unevenly, but the wholesale connectivity will likely arrive sooner than later. It will be both boon and bane.

From a Reuters report Chrystia Freeland filed in 2001, just twelve days after the 9/11 attacks:

Milner almost perfectly represents a global technology elite whose frame of reference is planet Earth. He mostly lives in Moscow, but has recently purchased a palatial home in Silicon Valley. He addressed the Ukrainian conference by video link from Singapore.

From that vantage point, the most pressing issue in the world today isn’t recession and political paralysis in the West, or even the rapid development and political transformation in emerging markets, it is the technology revolution, which, in Mr. Milner’s view, is only getting started. Here are the changes he thinks are most significant:

• The Internet revolution is the fastest economic change humans have experienced, and it is accelerating. Mr. Milner said two billion people are online today. Over the next decade, he predicts that that number will more than double.

• The Internet is not just about connecting people, it is also about connecting machines, a phenomenon Mr. Milner dubbed “the Internet of things.” Mr. Milner said that five billion devices are connected today. By 2020, he thinks more than 20 billion will be.

• More information is being created than ever before. Mr. Milner asserted that as much information was created every 48 hours in 2010 as was created between the dawn of time and 2003. By 2020, that same volume of information will be generated every 60 minutes.

• People are sharing information ever more frequently. The pieces of content shared on Facebook have increased from 140 million in 2009 to 4 billion in 2011. We are even sending more e-mails: 50 billion were sent in 2006, versus 300 billion in 2010.

• The result, according to Mr. Milner, is the dominance of Internet platforms relative to traditional media. “The largest newspaper in the United States is only reaching 1 percent of the population.” he said. “That compares to Internet media, which is used by 25 percent of the population daily and growing.”

• Internet businesses are much more efficient than brick-and-mortar companies. This was one of Mr. Milner’s most striking observations, and a clue to the paradox of how we find ourselves simultaneously living in a time of what Mr. Milner views as unprecedented technological innovation but also high unemployment in the developed West. As Mr. Milner said, “Big Internet companies on average are capable of generating revenue of $1 million per employee, and that compares to 10 to 20 percent of that which is normally generated by traditional offline businesses of comparable size.” As an illustration, Mr. Milner cited Facebook, where, he said, each single engineer supports one million users.

• Artificial intelligence is part of our daily lives, and its power is growing. Mr. Milner cited everyday examples like’s recommendation of books based on ones we have already read and Google’s constantly improving search algorithm.

• Finally — and Mr. Milner admitted this was “a bit of a futuristic picture” — he predicted “the emergence of the global brain, which consists of all the humans connected to each other and to the machine and interacting in a very unique and profound way, creating an intelligence that does not belong to any single human being or computer.”

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Online anarchy did not begin with the World Wide Web. More than a decade before Sir Timothy Berners-Lee’s cat-meme-and-fetish-porn-enabling gift, the Internet got its first real taste of widespread hacking. That was in 1983.

We reflect with respect on the phone phreaks who preceded these Reagan Era interlopers. John Draper (aka “Captain Crunch”), the teenaged Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak and other blue-box builders are credited with giving birth to a personal-computing culture that’s transformed the world. Their Internet progeny were not held in the same esteem, despite operating in an era before hacking laws existed.

In the early 1980s, the 414s and the Inner Circle, American teen hackers, were the subject of mass arrests for breaching government and corporate accounts. They mostly did so just to prove they could, not apparently with any malicious intent, but that hardly mattered when their garages and bedrooms were stormed by Feds.

The immediate aftermath in court was covered by the New York Times:

MILWAUKEE, March 16— Two young men who broke into large computers in the United States and Canada last June, simply to prove they could do it, have pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges, according to documents filed today in Federal District Court.

Eric Klumb, an Assistant United States Attorney, said it was the first such computer crime case in which the motive was not financial gain.

Gerald Wondra of West Allis, Wis., and Timothy D. Winslow of Milwaukee, both 21 years old, agreed to plead guilty to two counts each of making harassing telephone calls. Both are members of a loosely knit group of computer enthusiasts called the ”414’s,” after Milwaukee’s telephone area code. 

By charging the two, Mr. Klumb said he thought other computer enthusiasts might be deterred from similar intrusions.•

In an excellent Paleofuture post, Matt Novak recalls the watershed event and analyzes its fallout. An excerpt about one of the arrestees, Bill Landreth, the son of hippies whose dad was a financially struggling grow-lamp inventor:

When I met Bill Landreth at a Starbucks in Santa Monica, he was sitting quietly at a table drinking coffee with two bags on the the seat across from him, and a bag of blankets in the corner. A pipe made out of an apple and filled with what I assumed was medical marijuana sat at the table next to his coffee and Samsung tablet. A passing cop glanced at the spread but didn’t raise an eyebrow.

Arranging our meeting was tricky, because Bill isn’t sure where he’ll be sleeping from night to night. Now 52, with a slight goatee and a tussle of wavy hair that nearly reaches his shoulders, Bill has been living on the streets for 30 years. But if it weren’t for his receding hairline and a certain grayness to his gaze, he’d probably pass for a decade younger. There’s something assertive yet firmly guarded about the way he speaks. It’s as though Bill’s a man who’s not afraid to say what he thinks, but still worries about saying something out of line in front of me.

In our conversation, he was calm, affable, and clearly intelligent, and almost immediately began rattling off computers and computing languages of which I have little to no background or understanding.

Bill got his first computer in 1980, he tells me. It was a TRS-80 from RadioShack. He was 14 or 15, and explains that he planned to get the version with 8K of memory using $500 he had saved. His dad offered to pitch in another $500, and he got the 16K version with a cassette tape drive for storage. He also picked up a 300 baud modem.

Bill was a quick learner, and developed a knack for the BASIC programming language. From there he’d learn other languages, and his desire to explore the world of computing became overpowering.

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At the beginning of 2015, the great fiction writer Ken Kalfus suggested we take a deep breath before attempting to colonize Mars and instead send a human-less probe to Alpha Centauri. It would be a gift to our descendants, and in the meanwhile we could take a more sober approach to relocating humans into space.

Well, the former hasn’t happened, but it appears the latter might, thanks to the largesse of Yuri Milner, one of those modern Russian entrepreneurs so awash in wealth and next-level technology that they can dream the biggest dreams when tiring of mansions and yachts, ones formerly only possible for states, like “global brains” and space exploration. 

In a New York Times article, the excellent Dennis Overbye writes of the proposed mission, in which Milner is partnering with Stephen Hawking, among others. The opening:

Can you fly an iPhone to the stars?

In an attempt to leapfrog the planets and vault into the interstellar age, a bevy of scientists and other luminaries from Silicon Valley and beyond, led by Yuri Milner, a Russian philanthropist and Internet entrepreneur, announced a plan on Tuesday to send a fleet of robot spacecraft no bigger than iPhones to Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system, 4.37 light-years away.

If it all worked out — a cosmically big “if” that would occur decades and perhaps $10 billion from now — a rocket would deliver a “mother ship” carrying a thousand or so small probes to space. Once in orbit, the probes would unfold thin sails and then, propelled by powerful laser beams from Earth, set off one by one like a flock of migrating butterflies across the universe.

Within two minutes, the probes would be more than 600,000 miles from home — as far as the lasers could maintain a tight beam — and moving at a fifth of the speed of light. But it would still take 20 years for them to get to Alpha Centauri. Those that survived would zip past the star system, making measurements and beaming pictures back to Earth.

Much of this plan is probably half a lifetime away.•

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Donald Trump, equal parts Slobodan Milosevic and Simon Cowell, has run his half-assed campaign on the slogan, “Make America Great Again.” You don’t have to read too far between the lines to realize this actually means “Make America White Again.” It’s about turning back the clock to a time when there was even more privilege for some in the country. Many other pronouncements haven’t been so subtle; they’ve been more dog bites than dog whistles.

The time-machine promises extend beyond our borders, with Trump claiming he can magically get the whole world to do America’s bidding, one area where he’s completely in sync with nation-building neocons, who dream of winning hearts and minds. That’s not happening. That reality has changed, as other countries have become richer and more competitive, and the U.S. isn’t the center of the world. That’s good for the most part, as tens of millions have been lifted from poverty in China and Brazil and other patches on the globe, which makes for a stabler planet, even if the news headlines don’t always reflect that. America has a prime seat at the table, but we don’t hold all the cards. Slogans and slurs won’t change that.

From a Quora Q&A with Rice Psychology Professor David Schneider, an exchange that reflects the new world order:


If Donald Trump won the election, could he destroy civilization?

David Schneider:

Not in the normal course of things. Depends on what you mean by civilization, but the best part of it would be destroyed in an all out nuclear war. Possible? It’s always possible, and it could happen in a number of ways. One possibility would be an attack on Israel by say any number of countries unless the new POTUS works very hard to keep such weapons limited to the present few states. If Israel is attacked then it would retaliate, and there are lots of scenarios that get the US, then Russia involved. India and Pakistan? At the end of the day most Western countries really don’t care enough to risk getting involved. China? Not likely given their emphasis on economic growth and their need for Western countries to buy their goods. North Korea? They are just crazy enough to launch a nuclear device but they would be obliterated and no one would really care (except their people of course).

The most likely is a war between Russia and the U.S (maybe backed by Europe). Putin and Trump are both bullies and having them go toe to toe would be bad, bad, bad. I don’t think that Trump has the discipline or the skill to do the kind of negotiations required. Business negotiations are not the same as international ones for a lot of reasons. Putin has made it clear that he regards most of the former Soviet Union as his possessions and that his chief aim is to restore Russia to its formal power. Bullies with inferiority complexes are dangerous opponents.  I’m quite sure that he’s smart enough to realize that an atomic war would mean that there is no Russian left to restore itself to former glory. Still when people get angry or feel they are backed into a corner, they sometimes become irrational. It’s highly unlikely that any country would set out to wage such a war, but people are not always rational and escalation remains a constant danger. Some people seem to think that we ought to stand up to Russia whatever that means. But we have very little leverage and Putin is exactly the kind of leader you don’t want to bully.

Likely? No. Easy to imagine a scenario? Yes. Trump is so hugely ignorant (well, about most things) but especially about global politics. The days are over when the US, by itself, could dictate what other countries do. Conservatives, especially the neo-cons need to get over it. There are lots of reasons to think Trump would be a disaster as President, but the most important is that  he doesn’t have the right temperament not knowledge to conduct a reasonable foreign policy.•

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When you’re a baseball team with a poorly situated airship hangar of a stadium and the game’s worst attendance, finances are limited, even with revenue sharing. That’s an apt description of the Tampa Bay Rays, a club that thrived during the Andrew Friedman years on victories in the margins–the extra 2%. The organization is still, post-Friedman, looking for incremental gains, with Virtual Reality batting practice part of the future-forward approach. A handful of other clubs are also testing the hardware, which is in an experimental phase now, though it holds promise.

From Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times:

To use the system, Rays players put on high-tech goggles and stand in or at or behind a plate as the specific pitcher they request is shown on a screen throwing his various pitches in true detailed form.

For example, [Steven] Souza — who prefers to stand in the catcher’s position for a straight-on view — said he can get a detailed read on the break on pitches, detect slight changes in release point and get a better sense of the pitcher’s timing.

“It’s as close as you’re going to get to standing in there,” he said.

“It’s pretty neat,” said catcher Curt Casali, another user. “It’s one of the more advanced scouting tools I’ve ever seen.”

Third baseman Evan Longoria has also tried it but is not as sold on the immediate benefits of the system, which is set up in the room with the batting cage near the Rays clubhouse.

“I think over the next year or two we’ll see a lot of fine-tuning to it,” he said. “I think it’s kind of crude right now, but I don’t dispel that there could be some benefits there.”•



From the July 30, 1922 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:



If I was Gay Talese, I would have called the police.

The legendary journalist was contacted several decades ago by motel-owning Colorado voyeur Gerald Foos, who spied on his guests’ sexual behavior through vents of his own design carefully hidden atop the rooms. The peeping Tom rationalized his aberrant behavior by assuming the mantle of science, believing himself more Kinsey than kinky. It was self-deception–the cataloging of couplings, the sociological musings he attached to the private acts he’d witnessed, the whole thing. What’s worse is his actions unintentionally triggered a murder, which he watched from above, like a god not given to interfering in the lives of mere mortals. His story is an extreme psychological portrait, but one that doesn’t seem especially relatable even in this age of ubiquitous cameras. Most perverts still draw the line at consent. The ones who don’t, like those who downloaded naked photos of Erin Andrews or hacked selfies from the “Fappening,” can’t talk away their intrusions as Foos does (e.g., the spied upon will never learn they were victimized).

Talese was along for the ride, not only reading the lusty ledgers and allowing the invasions of privacy to continue apace, but also having a peep or two himself during a visit to Aurora. When he finds out about the killing, he still doesn’t turn in Foos, living up to their initial contract that commanded the writer would never speak of his subject’s conduct. Clearly, though, it wasn’t paper but curiosity and fear that guided the reporter’s suspect behavior. “Where was I in all this?” Talese asks near article’s end, but I don’t think he gets to answer that question.

An excerpt:

What he saw was a murder. It occurred in Room 10.

He described the occupants as a young couple who had rented a room for several weeks. The man, in his late twenties, was about a hundred and eighty pounds. The Voyeur deduced from his eavesdropping that he was a college dropout and a small-time drug dealer. The girl was blond, with a 34D bust. (Foos had gone into the room while the couple was out and checked her bra size, something he says he did often.) Foos devoted pages and pages to an approving account of the couple’s vigorous sex life. The journal also described people coming to the door of Room 10 to buy drugs. This upset Foos, but he did not notify the police. In the past, he had reported drug dealing in his motel when he saw it, but the police took no action, because he could not identify himself as an eyewitness to his complaints.

One afternoon, Foos saw the man in Room 10 sell drugs to a few young boys. This incensed him. He wrote in the journal, “After the male subject left the room that afternoon, the voyeur entered his room. . . . The voyeur, without any guilt, silently flushed all the remaining drugs and marijuana down the toilet.” He had flushed motel guests’ drugs several times before, with no repercussions.

This time, the man in Room 10 accused his girlfriend of stealing the drugs. The journal continues:

After fighting and arguing for about one hour, the scene below the voyeur turned to violence. The male subject grabbed the female subject by the neck and strangled her until she fell unconscious to the floor. The male subject, then in a panic, picked up all his things and fled the vicinity of the motel.

The voyeur . . . without doubt . . . could see the chest of the female subject moving, which indicated to the voyeur that she was still alive and therefore O.K. So, the voyeur was convinced in his own mind that the female subject had survived the strangulation assault and would be all right, and he swiftly departed the observation platform for the evening.

Foos reasoned that he couldn’t do anything anyway, “because at this moment in time he was only an observer and not a reporter, and really didn’t exist as far as the male and female subjects were concerned.”

The next morning, a maid ran into the motel office and said that a woman was dead in Room 10. Foos wrote that he immediately called the police. When officers arrived, he gave them the drug dealer’s name, his description, and his license-plate number. He did not say that he had witnessed the murder.

Foos wrote, “The voyeur had finally come to grips with his own morality and would have to forever suffer in silence, but he would never condemn his conduct or behavior in this situation.”

The next day, the police returned and told Foos that the drug dealer had been using a fake name and had been driving a stolen car.

I came upon this account in Foos’s typescript a few years after I’d visited him in Aurora—and nearly six years after the murder. I was shocked, and surprised that Foos had not mentioned the incident to me earlier. It almost seemed as if he regarded it as just another day in the attic. But, as I thought about it, his response—the observation that he “really didn’t exist as far as the male and female subjects were concerned”—was consistent with his sense of himself as a fractured individual. He was also desperately protective of his secret life in the attic. If the police had grilled him and decided that he knew more than he was telling, they might have obtained a search warrant, and the consequences could have been catastrophic.

I called Foos right away to ask about the situation. I wanted to find out whether he realized that, in addition to witnessing a murder, he might have, in some way, caused it.

He was reluctant to say more than he had written in his journal, and he reminded me that I had signed a confidentiality agreement. I spent a few sleepless nights, asking myself whether I ought to turn Foos in. But I reasoned that it was too late to save the drug dealer’s girlfriend. Also, since I had kept the Voyeur’s secret, I felt worrisomely like a co-conspirator.•

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Alec Ross, author of The Industries of the Future, was asked in a Knowledge@Wharton interview about the next wave of work and wealth, and he echoed the sentiment in Tyler Cowen’s Average Is Over, noting that only those committed to continued education and possessing a flexible spirit will get ahead. Well, that’s good to know, but one obvious thing that often goes unmentioned in these discussions is what happens to the very large number of people who won’t be able to adapt to rapid change and do get left behind. That’s likely and must somehow be addressed. 

An excerpt:


As robots and codification and all of these other industries that you identify in the book become more prominent, how do you feel that’s going to change the world balance of power? How does that change the global economy and who has power and who doesn’t?

Alec Ross:

That’s a tremendous question. First of all, I’d put it into a certain kind of binary. The first is within the architecture of the 196 sovereign nation states, and the second is within those nation states, what kinds of individuals do well and what kinds of individuals do poorly.

You can live in a country that is prospering, but you can be doing very well or you could be doing very poorly. Or you could be living in a country that’s floundering, and you might be able to be doing pretty well. The principle political and economic binary of the 20th century was right versus left. In the 21st century, I think it’s open versus closed, defining open as upward economic mobility not confined to elites; social and cultural and religious norms not set from a central authority and broadly rights respecting for women, minorities of all type and what have you.

I believe that the centers of innovation and the wealth creation and job creation that come from that will be in the more open societies for the industries of the future. People conglomerating around what will probably be ten to 15 major centers over the next fifteen years. We already see this in development now. The more open societies will be those that compete and succeed most effectively.

Looking at this on an individual level, it’s going to be a terrible time to be mediocre at your job if you’re in a high-cost labor market. It’s an absolutely brutal truth. When people in Baltimore are competing against people in Bangalore, not just based on cost of labor but also quality of labor, which is now increasingly going to be the case, being more middle class or working class in the United States or Western Europe isn’t going to mean you’re starting life on second base to the degree that it did in the past.

You’ve got to be a committed lifelong learner. You’ve got to be adaptable. Otherwise you’re going to be left behind even if your country is producing substantial growth.•


Two excerpts follow from 1960s Psychedelic Review articles about the drug culture of that era, penned by Timothy Leary and Stewart Brand.

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Before there was turnt, there was turned-on, the term for LSD experimentation taken from the Timothy Leary-Marshall McLuhan co-created mantra “Turn on, Tune in, Drop Out.” Thanks to some fakakta reasoning, Leary was allowed, during his Harvard professor days, to do acid tests on Massachusetts prison inmates, the belief being that the trip would help them arrive at rehabilitation. The subjects were wary of the good doctor, and for good reason, though by Leary’s telling everything went well overall. The guru recalled the experience in an article in the 1969 Psychedelic Review. An excerpt:

I’ll never forget that morning. After about half an hour, I could feel the effect coming up, the loosening of symbolic reality, the feeling of humming pressure and space voyage inside my head, the sharp, brilliant, brutal, intensification of all the senses. Every cell and every sense organ was humming with charged electricity. I felt terrible. What a place to be on a gray morning! In a dingy room, in a grim penitentiary, out of my mind. I looked over at the man next to me, a Polish embezzler from Worcester, Massachusetts. I could see him so clearly. I could see every pore in his face, every blemish, the hairs in his nose, the incredible green-yellow enamel of the decay in his teeth, the wet glistening of his frightened eyes. I could see every hair in his head, as though each was as big as an oak tree. What a confrontation! What am I doing here, out of my mind, with this strange mosaic-celled animal, prisoner, criminal?

I said to him, with a weak grin, How are you doing, John? He said, I feel fine. Then he paused for a minute, and asked, How are you doing, Doc? I was about to say in a reassuring psychological tone that I felt fine, but I couldn’t, so I said, I feel lousy. John drew back his purple pink lips, showed his green-yellow teeth in a sickly grin and said, What’s the matter, Doc? Why you feel lousy? I looked with my two microscopic retina lenses into his eyes. I could see every line, yellow spider webs, red network of veins gleaming out at me. I said, John, I’m afraid of you. His eyes got bigger, then he began to laugh. I could look inside his mouth, swollen red tissues, gums, tongue, throat. Well that’s funny Doc, ’cause I’m afraid of you. We were both smiling at this point, leaning forward. Doc, he said, why are you afraid of me? I said, I’m afraid of you, John, because you’re a criminal. I said, John, why are you afraid of me? He said, I’m afraid of you Doc because you’re a mad scientist. Then our retinas locked and I slid down into the tunnel of his eyes, and I could feel him walking around in my skull and we both began to laugh. And there it was, that dark moment of fear and distrust, which could have changed in a second to become hatred, terror. We’d made the love connection. The flicker in the dark. Suddenly, the sun came out in the room and I felt great and I knew he did too.

We had passed that moment of crisis, but as the minutes slowly ticked on, the grimness of our situation kept coming back in microscopic clarity. There were the four of us turned-on, every sense vibrating, pulsating with messages, two billion years of cellular wisdom, but what could we do trapped within the four walls of a gray hospital room, barred inside a maximum security prison? Then one of the great lessons in my psychedelic training took place. One of the four of us was a Negro from Texas, jazz saxophone player, heroin addict. He looked around with two huge balls of ocular white, shook his head, staggered over to the record player, put on a record. It was a Sonny Rollins record which he’d especially asked us to bring. Then he lay down on the cot and closed his eyes. The rest of us sat by the table while metal air from the yellow saxophone, spinning across copper electric wires, bounced off the wails of the room. There was a long silence. Then we heard Willy moaning softly, and moving restlessly on the couch. I turned and looked at him, and said, Willy, are you all right? There was apprehension in my voice. Everyone in the room swung their heads anxiously to look and listen for the answer. Willy lifted his head, gave a big grin, and said, Man, am I all right? I’m in heaven and I can’t believe it! Here I am in heaven man, and I’m stoned out of my mind, and I’m swinging like I’ve never before and it’s all happening in prison, and you ask me man, am I all right. What a laugh! And then he laughed, and we all laughed, and suddenly we were all high and happy and chuckling at what we had done, bringing music, and love, and beauty, and serenity, and fun, and the seed of life into that grim and dreary prison. …

As I rode along the highway, the tension and the drama of the day suddenly snapped off and I could look back and see what we had done. Nothing, you see, is secret in prison, and the eight of us who had assembled to take drugs together in a prison were under the gaze of every convict in the prison and every guard, and within hours the word would have fanned through the invisible network to every other prison in the state. Grim Walpole penitentiary. Grey, sullen-walled Norfolk.

Did you hear? Some Harvard professors gave a new drug to some guys at Concord. They had a ball. It was great. It’s a grand thing. It’s something new. Hope. Maybe. Hope. Perhaps. Something new. We sure need something new. Hope.•


Peyote has historically been central to the Native American church meeting. In a 1967 Psychedelic Review article, Stewart Brand, Prankster and prophet, wrote of one such congregation he attended. An excerpt:

The meeting is mandala-form, a circle with a doorway to the east. The roadman will sit opposite the door, the moon-crescent altar in front of him. To his left sits the cedarman, to his right the drummer. On the right side as you enter will be the fireman. The people sit around the circle. In the middle is the fire.

A while after dark they go in. This may be formal, filling in clockwise around the circle in order. The roadman may pray outside beforehand, asking that the place and the people and the occasion be blessed.

Beginning a meeting is as conscious and routine as a space launch countdown. At this time the fireman is busy starting the fire and seeing that things and people are in their places. The cedarman drops a little powder of cedar needles and little balls, goes down the quickest. In all cases, the white fluff should be removed. There is usually a pot of peyote tea, kept near the fire, which is passed occasionally during the night. Each person takes as much medicine as he wants and can ask for more at any time. Four buttons is a common start. Women usually take less than the men. Children have only a little, unless they are sick. 

Everything is happening briskly at this point. People swallow and pass the peyote with minimum fuss. The drummer and roadman go right into the starting song. The roadman, kneeling on one or both knees, begins it with the rattle in his right hand. The drummer picks up the quick beat, and the roadman gently begins the song. His left hand holds the staff, a feather fan, and some sage. He sings four times, ending each section with a steady quick rattle as a signal for the drummer to pause or re-wet the drumhead before resuming the beat. Using his thumb on the drumhead, the drummer adjusts the beat of his song. When the roadman finishes he passes the staff, gourd, fan and sage to the cedarman, who sings four times with the random drumming. So it goes, the drum following the staff to the left around the circle, so each man sings and drums many times during the night.•


I’ve always traced the War on Drugs in the U.S. to the Nixon Administration, but British journalist Johann Hari, author of the book Chasing the Scream, dates it to the end of Prohibition, particularly to bureaucrat Harry Anslinger, a stern-faced Fed who looked like Mussolini as played by George C. Scott, who later mentored Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Tent City infamy. Hari also reveals how intertwined crackdown was (and is) with racism. No shocker there.

The so-called War has been a huge failure tactically and financially and has criminalized citizens for no good reason. All the while, there’s been a tacit understanding that millions of Americans are hooked on Oxy and the like, dousing their pain with a perfectly legal script. These folks are far worse off than pot smokers, but it’s the latter who are still afoul of the law in most states. I’m personally completely opposed to recreational drug use, but I feel even more contempt for the War on Drugs. It’s done far more harm than good. Decriminalize drugs that can be used in moderation, send users of harder drugs to rehab and only imprison those selling drugs to minors. It’s not ideal, but I think it’s a far saner solution. Or try something else; just make it less destructive.

From a LARB Q&A David Breithaupt conducted with Hari, an excerpt about the groups that inspired Anslinger’s folly, a seemingly never-ending waterloo:

He built the war on drugs around the three groups he hated most. The first was African-Americans. This is a man who was so racist that he was regarded as crazily so during the 1920s. His own Senator said he should have to resign because he used the “N word” so much in official memos. He believed that drugs were deranging African-Americans and leading them to attack whites and impregnate white women.

The second group was drug addicts. Anslinger believed that addicts were “contagious” and had to be “quarantined” — cut off from the rest of humanity. These first two groups came together, in his mind, in the form of the great jazz singer, Billie Holiday, who was his worst nightmare: a drug-addicted African-American woman challenging white supremacy. He was obsessed with her. In the book, I tell the story of how he stalked her, playing a key role in her death. The story of how Billie — and so many other Americans at the time — resisted Anslinger and the early drug war is one of the most inspiring I know.

The third group Anslinger hated was the Mafia. And here’s a complexity to the story: he was one of the first senior figures in federal government to realize the Mafia was real. It’s hard to believe now, but the Mafia was seen as an urban myth — like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. But Anslinger had met these wiseguys as a young man. He knew they were real, and he wanted to destroy them. The tragedy is that the policy he believed would destroy them — drug prohibition — was, in fact, the biggest gift they received in the 20th century. He transferred the enormous industry in drugs from the people who used to control it — doctors and pharmacists — into the hands of organized crime. That’s what prohibition does. Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, said: “Al Capone was the product of alcohol prohibition. The Crips and the Bloods [and, he might well have added, Pablo Escobar and El Chapo] are the product of drug prohibition.”•



I’ve mentioned before that the final 5% of perfecting driverless cars will be likely be more difficult than the first 95%. Those final digits make all the difference, of course, since, while aspects of automation can be useful, the technology is only transformational if it allows drivers to become passengers. When we can take our hands off the wheel and eyes off the road, the effects on the highway and the economy will be seismic. Consumers will probably have cheap rides a smartphone message away, and truckers, hacks and delivery people may be out of a job.

In a New Statesman article, Christian Wolmar argues that autonomous is a myth and that we will never own driverless cars. Well, someone will someday since nothing about the technology is theoretically impossible, even if the final strides of the marathon are arduous. His argument that driverless cars are as likely as jetpacks seems an exaggeration and his proof not entirely convincing. An excerpt:

The driverless car does not stand up to scrutiny. When pressed, Musk conceded that the “fully autonomous” car that he said would be ready by 2018 would not be completely automatic, nor would it go on general sale. There is a pattern. Whenever I ask people in the field what we can expect by a certain date, it never amounts to anything like a fully autonomous vehicle but rather a set of aids for drivers.

This is a crucial distinction. For this technology to be transformational, the cars have to be 100 per cent autonomous. It is worse than useless if the “driver” has to watch over the controls, ready to take over if an incident seems likely to occur. Such a future would be more dangerous than the present, as our driving skills will have diminished, leaving us less able to react. Google notes that it can take up to 17 seconds for a person to respond to alerts of a situation requiring him or her to assume control of the vehicle.

What is this technology for? The widespread assumption that driverless cars will be a shared resource, like the London Santander Cycles, is groundless. People like owning their personal vehicle because it is always available and can be customised to ensure that the child seat is properly in place and the radio tuned to Magic. Google may be right that a few parking lots will become redundant but it has no answer for the possibility that autonomy will encourage more vehicles on to the road.

The danger of all the hype is that politicians will assume that the driverless revolution obviates the need to search for solutions to more urgent problems, such as congestion and pollution. Why bother
to build infrastructure, such as new Tube lines or tram systems, or to push for road pricing, if we’ll all end up in autonomous pods? Google all but confesses that its autonomous cars are intended to be an alternative to public transport – the opposite of a rational solution to the problems that we face.•


lehman (2)

Capitalism will be just fine, though we’re fucked, very fucked.

In all seriousness, I think economic systems will look very different in the year 2100, when the vast majority of us are gone. 3D printing may have a huge impact on manufacturing, decentralizing it the way media has been. Scarcity-reducing automation will also be a great boon and bane simultaneously, taking much drudgery from our hands–but also paychecks. AI and robotics may not be destabilizing only for workers but for capital as well. Why, exactly, would anyone need to own a fleet of driverless cars or a lights-out factory? Couldn’t such outfits be self-owned and self-sustained?

But while markets will probably be very different, I think they’re stubborn things. I don’t believe they began as an accident but because of something deeply embedded in us–something evolutionary. They may be transformed, but I would guess they’ll persist.

Economic sociologist Wolfgang Streeck is far more dubious about the future of capitalism, believing we’re watching the system run aground. The title of his recent essay in the Socio-Economic Review doesn’t mince words: “On the Dismal Future of Capitalism.” The opening:

The writing is on the wall, and has been for some time; we must only learn to read it. The message is: capitalism is a historical social formation; it has not just a beginning but also an end.1 Three trends have run in parallel since the 1970s, throughout the family of rich capitalist democracies: declining growth, rising inequality of income and wealth and rising debt—public, private and total. Today the three seem to have become mutually reinforcing: low growth contributes to inequality by intensifying distributional conflict; inequality dampens growth by curbing effective demand; high levels of existing debt clog credit markets and increase the risk of financial crises; an overgrown financial sector both results from and adds to economic inequality etc. Already the last growth cycle before 2008 was more fake than real2 and post-2008 recovery remains anaemic at best, also because Keynesian stimulus, monetary or fiscal, fails to work in the face of unprecedented amounts of accumulated debt. Note that we are talking about long-term trends, not just a momentary unfortunate coincidence, and indeed about global trends, affecting the capitalist system as a whole and as such. Nothing is in sight that seems only nearly powerful enough to break the three trends, deeply ingrained and densely intertwined as they have become.

Moreover, looking back we see a sequence of political-economic crises that began with in- flation in the 1970s, followed by an explosion of public debt in the 1980s and by rapidly rising private debt in the subsequent decade, resulting in the collapse of financial markets in 2008. This sequence, again, was by and large the same for all major capitalist countries, whose economies have never really been in equilibrium since the end of postwar growth. All three crises began and ended in the same way: inflation, public debt and private debt initially served as expedient political solutions to distributional conflicts between capital and labour (and sometimes third parties such as raw material producers), until they became problems themselves: inflation in the early 1980s, public debt in a first consolidation phase in the 1990s, and private debt after 2008. Today’s political fix is called ‘quantitative easing’: essentially the printing of money by treasuries and central banks to keep interest rates down and accumulated debt sustainable, as well as prevent a stagnant economy from sliding into deflation, at the price of more inequality and of new bubbles in asset markets building and, eventually, collapsing.

The fundamental nature of the crisis is reflected in the extent to which the captains of capitalism have lost orientation and find themselves reduced to devising ever new provisional stopgaps until the next unpleasant surprise catches up with them. The wizards have become clueless. How long can quantitative easing go on? Is deflation the problem or inflation? How does one know a bubble before it blows up? Is growth restored through spending or through cutting back on spending? Is stricter financial regulation conducive or harmful to growth? Until the mid-1970s, growth was to result from redistribution from the top to the bottom; then, when Keynesianism was succeeded by Hayekianism, the opposite was true and markets were to be set free to redistribute from the bottom to the top. Now, seven years after the disaster of 2008, there is still no new growth formula and confusion rules the day. State-administered capitalism has failed—that is, was rejected by the owners of capital as too costly for them, to be replaced with free-market capitalism, which has also failed. For the time being, central banks act as regents waiting for a new ruler. But who would this be, and what would be his recipe for holding the capitalist enterprise together?

I suggest that after more than 200 years, capitalism has become unsustainable as a result of having become ungovernable.•



America is no doubt plagued by ridiculous wealth inequality, but China, an authoritarian capitalist state, is no slouch in this area. There are copious reason for multimillionaires and billionaires minted in that nation to want to move their loved ones abroad, and one is that many of the industries that have enabled their filthy lucre have also blighted their homeland. These captains of industry have used their windfalls to disappear their children from the world’s highest cancer rates and unbreathable air, stashing them in America or Canada, where their conspicuous spending has heretofore received fewer sideways glances than it would have in the motherland. 

The Chinese elite and their super-rich kids (the “Golden Generation“) have left a mark on the cost of living in Vancouver in much the same way that money from abroad has made New York City all but unlivable for much of the 99%. Dan Levin of the NYT has a smart article about the lush life of “fuerdai” inside British Columbia’s largest city. An excerpt:

Many of Vancouver’s young supercar owners are known as fuerdai, a Mandarin expression, akin to trust-fund kids, that means “rich second generation.” In China, where the superrich are widely criticized as being corrupt and materialistic, the term provokes a mix of scorn and envy.

The fuerdai have brought their passion for extravagance to Vancouver. White Lamborghinis are popular among young Chinese women; the men often turn in their leased supercars after a few months for a newer, cooler status symbol.

Hundreds of young Chinese immigrants, along with a handful of Canadian-born Chinese, have started supercar clubs whose members come together to drive, modify and photograph their flashy vehicles, providing alluring eye candy for their followers on social media.

The Vancouver Dynamic Auto Club has 440 members, 90 percent of whom are from China, said the group’s 27-year-old founder, David Dai. To join, a member must have a car that costs over 100,000 Canadian dollars, or about $77,000. “They don’t work,” Mr. Dai said of Vancouver’s fuerdai. “They just spend their parents’ money.”

Occasionally, the need for speed hits a roadblock. In 2011, the police impounded a squadron of 13 Lamborghinis, Maseratis and other luxury cars, worth $2 million, for racing on a metropolitan Vancouver highway at 125 miles per hour. The drivers were members of a Chinese supercar club, and none were older than 21, according to news reports at the time.

On a recent evening, an overwhelmingly Chinese crowd of young adults had gathered at an invitation-only Rolls-Royce event to see a new black-and-red Dawn convertible, base price $402,000. It is the only such car in North America.

Among the curious was Jin Qiao, 20, a baby-faced art student who moved to Vancouver from Beijing six years ago with his mother. During the week, Mr. Jin drives one of two Mercedes-Benz S.U.V.s, which he said were better suited for the rigors of daily life.

But his most prized possession is a $600,000 Lamborghini Aventador Roadster Galaxy, its exterior custom wrapped to resemble outer space.



Parallel to the dream of robotizing and automating warfare is one in which supersoldiers are created through PEDs, technological add-ons and implants, and genetic modification. Neither vision is anything new, of course. Case in point: Vietnam is considered the first drug-fueled American war, with what’s politely described as “pep pills” and other pharmaceuticals being popped like Pez. Of course, this crude, foolhardy experimentation may have dulled the pain at the moment, but it was really just delaying the inevitable.

The Atlantic has published a piece adapted from Lukasz Kamienski’s book, Shooting Up: A Short History of Drugs and War. The opening:

Some historians call Vietnam the “last modern war,” others the “first postmodern war.” Either way, it was irregular: Vietnam was not a conventional war with the frontlines, rears, enemy mobilizing its forces for an attack, or a territory to be conquered and occupied. Instead, it was a formless conflict in which former strategic and tactical principles did not apply. The Vietcong were fighting in an unexpected, surprising, and deceptive way to negate Americans’ strengths and exploit their weaknesses, making the Vietnam War perhaps the best example of asymmetrical warfare of the 20th century.

The conflict was distinct in another way, too—over time, it came to be known as the first “pharmacological war,” so called because the level of consumption of psychoactive substances by military personnel was unprecedented in American history. The British philosopher Nick Land aptly described the Vietnam War as “a decisive point of intersection between pharmacology and the technology of violence.”•




Merle Haggard had a rebellious streak.

The recently deceased musician’s son-of-an-Okie orneriness drove him to shuck off respectability piece by piece: family, school, law and even the Lord Himself. Those outlaw impulses also helped him birth the mutinous Bakersfield sound, which gave a lift to country’s dog-beat blues and later made him breathe fire when slick production forced too much sunlight into the genre. 

The Village Voice, which laid off Nat Hentoff in 2008 under previous ownership, has republished the music critic’s great 1980 profile of Haggard. The Voice can never be what it once was because, let’s face it, the paper was born of a literary culture that’s now much diminished, but with an ambitious, new owner and some good hires, it looks like it can still be a valuable thing.

The opening:

The story is that he has a spider web tattooed on his back. “He did it when he was young and felt trapped,” Bonnie Owens once told the Southern writer and good listener, Paul Hemphill.

Merle Haggard was the child of Okies who had been farmers near Checotah, Oklahoma, not far from the Muskogee. After a disastrous fire, there came a drought, and so Merle’s folks (he hadn’t come on the scene yet) went off to California where, as Jimmie Rodgers sang, “they sleep out every night.”

James Haggard had been a pretty fair fiddler and picker back in Oklahoma; but his wife, Flossie, once her soul took fire in the Church of Christ, banned him from playing the devil’s music. All the more so since another child, Merle, had been born to be reared in a straight line to the Saviour. The Haggards were living in a converted refrigerator car near Bakersfield, California, by then; and James, now a carpenter with the railroad, taught the boy fishing and hunting. But when Merle was nine, his father, as Merle later put it, abandoned him. The interviewer asked if he’d be a little more specific.

“He died,” said Merle.

“Mama Tried,” as Haggard later titled a song, but she failed. She could not control the boy. He ran away a lot; cut school (finally dropping out in the eighth grade); and became quite familiar to the Bakersfield police. When Merle was 14, Flossie put him in a juvenile home, and he escaped the next day. Merle’s police record grew like Pinocchio’s nose–bum checks, petty thievery, a stolen car, armed robbery. Reform schools couldn’t hold him. Seven times he slid out of them. But when he and some of the boys messed up the burglary of a Bakersfield bar (they got drunk waiting for the bar to close), he got sent to a place that could hold him. San Quentin.•

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Steve Case won’t be around to read his obituary, which is probably a good thing.

It would no doubt pain him that the lead will be the disastrous America Online-Time Warner merger, an attempt at synergy that wound up a lose-lose of historic proportions. Case, then the AOL CEO, bet on old media at a time when he needed to walk even more boldly into the future with the Internet. It was one step backwards, and he lost his leg.

AOL has long been done as a major player in any sector, but Case continues apace, with entrepreneurial endeavors and charitable work. Steven Levy just interviewed him about his book, The Third Wave: An Entrepreneur’s Vision of the Future, an attempt to predict what comes after Web 1.0 and 2.0. The journalist ventures into an apt topic in this insane political season: If technology has gifted us with more information than ever, why does the public seem less informed?

An excerpt:

Steven Levy:

In the book you include a very prescient statement you made after graduating college in the early 1980s about how technology would affect our lives. We have been transformed by all sorts of gadgets and networks that augment our powers. But judging from the current election process, it doesn’t seem to have made people smarter. You could even make a case for the opposite, saying people are dumber — anti-science, and more susceptible to mob thinking than they used to be.

Steve Case:

That’s fair. One of the things we felt passionate about 30 years ago was leveling the playing field so that everybody can have a voice. Back then when there were three television networks, unless you were rich and owned a printing press, you didn’t really have the opportunity to have your voice heard. Having millions of voices heard is awesome, but it gets noisy and some people are saying things that are inaccurate and not constructive and worse. There is absolutely this dynamic, of people living in a filtered bubble, hearing voices that reinforce their views and not really being exposed to the views of other people. That drives this hyper partisanship. I’m very concerned about it. We need to figure how to rebuild a center. Compromise should become a good word, not a bad word.

Steven Levy:

Has technology made it harder to find compromise?

Steve Case:

It has. In high school I wouldn’t have said this, but also sometimes to reach compromise you have to have a quiet discussion and cut a deal. When you have to have those negotiations, essentially in public, and talking points and sound bites on two-minute cable TV, things get noisier and it gets less constructive. With the current election, it is noisy and a little uncomfortable. The political process is getting disrupted.•

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From the August 17, 1926 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:




At this point, the best Donald Trump can hope for is that his campaign goes down ingloriously in flames. The fire may not be metaphorical, however.

Remarkably unprepared–unwilling, even–to lead, the troll can only dream of the appearance of the Republican nomination being “stolen” from him should he not secure a majority of delegates. His thuggish Presidential bid, a crude and racist joke that got out of hand, may yet ball itself into a big fist that’s unleashed at the GOP convention, the misdemeanors of the trail escalating into felonies.

Among the uniformly irresponsible members of the rogues’ gallery who serve as the hideous hotelier’s braintrust, the gutter-level political hack Roger Stone has already turned prepper for an End of Days scenario in Cleveland, unveiling the threats, only further reducing Trump to the appearance of John Gotti with a Southern strategy.

In a New Yorker piece by Evan Osnos, one of my favorite contemporary nonfiction writers, the journalist reminds that when it comes to this ugly campaign season, Trump didn’t build it alone. It took a village. But how was the mob activated? An excerpt:

It’s easy to mock Trump for his thin-skinned fixation on the size of his audiences, but that misses a deeper point: you can’t have a riot without a mob. Even before he was a candidate, Trump displayed a rare gift for cultivating the dark power of a crowd. In his role as the primary advocate of the “birther” fiction, he proved himself to be a maestro of the mob mentality, capable of conducting his fans through crescendos of rage and self-pity and suspicion. Speaking to the Times editorial board, in January, he said, “You know, if it gets a little boring, if I see people starting to sort of, maybe, thinking about leaving, I can sort of tell the audience, I just say, ‘We will build the wall!,’ and they go nuts.”

The symbiotic exchange between a leader and his mob can thrive on what social psychologists call “emotional contagion,” a hot-blooded feedback loop that the science writer Maggie Koerth-Baker describes as “our tendency to unconsciously mimic the outward expression of other people’s emotions (smiles, furrowed brows, leaning forward, etc.) until, inevitably, we begin to feel what they’re feeling.”

When we are exposed to the right energy, even those of us who are not inclined to cross the boundaries from politics to force will do things that we would ordinarily consider reprehensible. Stephen David Reicher, a sociologist and psychologist at the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland, who has studied soccer mobs and race riots, told Wired last month, “People don’t lose control, but they begin to act with collective values.” Recently, he has turned his attention to studying Trump’s crowds. “It’s not your individual fate that becomes important but the fate of the group.”

And therein lies the key to Trump’s ability to introduce menace into the convention: he does not need to call upon his supporters to do anything but protect their newfound sense of identity and purpose.•

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  • I’d probably have to surrender and watch TV if I noticed those binge-viewing shows becoming brilliant and noble, but I don’t. Do you?
  • People seem as stressed as entertained by the bonanza of TV and near-TV content the decentralized media has thrust upon us. It’s hard to keep up. Annoying, almost. Don’t tell me what happened on the last episode. I haven’t had time to watch it yet. There’s not enough time. Let’s not talk about it.
  • David Letterman used to say that he didn’t want television to be too good, to the point where you couldn’t ignore it. Maybe TV was better when it was worse.
  • Distancing yourself from the whole thing–no TV or Netflix or Amazon Prime–might as well make you from another planet today, and that’s the point. 
  • Unplugging in a larger sense from the Digital Age is really hard and will become pretty much impossible in the near future. We’re part of the way inside the machine and the Internet of Things will move us forever within. You will be counted. You’ll count.

In “Escaping the Superfuture,” Douglas Coupland’s recent Financial Times column, the writer-artist indulges in some 1990s nostalgia–hard to believe, right?–realizing there’s no eluding today, which feels an awful lot like tomorrow. “Human beings weren’t built for progress,” he offers. An excerpt:

Lately I’ve been experiencing a new temporal sensation that’s odd to articulate, but I do think is shared by most people. It’s this: until recently, the future was always something out there up ahead of us, something to anticipate or dread, but it was always away from the present.

But not any more. Somewhere in the past few years the present melted into the future. We’re now living inside the future 24/7 and this (weirdly electric and buzzy) sensation shows no sign of stopping — if anything, it grows ever more intense. Elsewhere I’ve labelled this experience “the extreme present” — or another label for this new realm might be “the superfuture”. In this superfuture I feel like I’m clamped into a temporal roller coaster and, at the crest of the first hill, I can see that my roller coaster actually runs off far into the horizon. Wait! How is this thing supposed to end?

Is it ever going to end? Help! I want a pill called 1995! I want a one-year holiday from change! But that’s not going to happen.

 . . . 

The future is always supposed to be a mess, isn’t it? I think it’s funny the way people have an almost impossible time envisioning a future that isn’t a dystopian waste-scape. Growing up in the 1970s, the year 2016 was to have been a wasteland populated by a rifle-toting Charlton Heston, zombies and the Statue of Liberty poking out of a beach. Both oil and fresh water would be non-existent. No politics; just anarchy. But by many measurable statistical standards, right now is the best time ever in our history . . . and yet mostly we bitch, complain and worry — it’s what we do as humans. I think the biggest surprise for a 1970s Rip Van Winkle awaking in 2016 might probably be oil: cheap and plentiful oil. Wait — how did that happen? And look at the variety and quality of produce in even the most dismal grocery store . . . and cars look smashing and don’t belch blue smoke and gays seem to be part of society at large. And . . . wait, this is 2016? Count me in!

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It’s hard to accept that our new superfuture mind state is permanent and that it’s not going away — how could it? Our devices that cause it aren’t going to go away. They’ll just get better and faster and we’re going to embed ourselves in the superfuture ever more deeply.•


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