Gary Hart

There’s a fairly convincing counterfactual in which the Reagan Revolution was reversed in 1988 by President Gary Hart, a Democrat prescient about the effects technology and globalization was beginning to have on working-class America. His ascent would have prevented Middle American whites from becoming GOP stalwarts, making impossible three terms of Bushes. His monkey business with Donna Rice, it is said, dashed his dreams and ours.

But who knows?

In a smart Vanity Fair “Hive” interview conducted by Abigail Tracy, Hart bemoans that “the media has become more intrusive in people’s private lives and the loss of privacy on the part of candidates has caused an awful lot of people of quality to choose not to seek public office.” In this comment, I think Hart has had history pass him by. It was certainly true for awhile, certainly when Bill Clinton became caught in his zipper before the entire nation, but infidelities don’t seem a deal-breaker anymore, in much the same way that divorce or avoidance of military service are no longer disqualifying. It still not fair or pretty, but eyes prying into bedrooms seem beside the point.

Donald Trump (adulterer) didn’t ascend to the Republican Party nomination to oppose Hillary Clinton (married to one) because really gifted politicians were cowed by fears over past indiscretions. Fellow candidate Governor John Kasich is a gifted politician and true conservative who was rejected by GOP voters because he failed to pass a self-destructive purity test, refusing to spurn Obamacare in Ohio or engage in name-calling with the first African-American President. That’s a question of priorities, not prudishness. So is ignoring the amazing gains in household income made by non-rich citizens during the last eight years to support a party dead set on reversing policies that led to such an improvement. In our time, someone’s peccadillo may be an excuse to not vote for someone, but it’s certainly not a driving force.

One exchange from the Q&A:


How has the Democratic Party changed, in particular, since you were seeking the presidential nomination?

Gary Hart:

I was first elected to the Senate in 1974 and re-elected in 1980, and I began to realize that there were shifts, like tectonic plates under the surface, going on and it had to do with the beginning of globalization and the shift of the base of the economy from manufacturing to information. And with that shift, we began to see the Rust Belt, manufacturing states in the Midwest and the Northeast—Ohio, Pennsylvania, upstate New York, and other places—beginning to lose jobs, and communities beginning to decline. Whereas at the same time, you go to the West Coast and it was booming because of Silicon Valley.

This was all beginning in the 1970s. Foreign competition was beginning. Nations, which we had defeated in World War II, just 30 years before, were now exporting to us—cars and tech, and all kinds of consumer goods, which we had previously, in recent years, dominated world markets. So I began to talk about it and think about what the implications of this were. In 1984, I placed a great deal of emphasis on the long-term impacts of these shifts.

My principal competition in the Democratic primary, Vice President [Walter] Mondale, and I ended up dividing the country. I won 25 states and he won 25 states. No journalist to my knowledge ever tried to figure out if there was a pattern there, but there definitely was. I carried almost every state that was benefitting from world trade—the West Coast and other parts of the country—and he got the support of those areas in decline. So it was kind of an earthquake inside the Democratic Party as to who was winning and who was losing.•

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From the September 28, 1891 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:



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

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This week, Donald Trump was trounced at the first Presidential debate. He quickly blamed the microphone, and he was right.

Technicians set up the stage for the Sept. 26 presidential debate between Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.

Apparently the technician, a fatso with a sex tape, forgot to…

This week, Donald Trump bombed at the first debate despite working with one of the best

completely turn off his volume.


  • Edward Luce looks at the U.S. Presidential race, a sort of Reality TV show.
  • Freeman Dyson writes of Space Race 2.0 and a biotech version of Noah’s Ark.
  • Ryan Avent discusses the future of work in a highly automated world.
  • Zume Pizzeria is using robots rather than humans to prepare pies.
  • Many think the world is going to hell when data says the opposite is true. Why?
  • It’s possible the Digital Age will necessitate a new New Deal

Donald Trump with Chewbacca and Darth Vader in a Star Wars–themed episode of The Apprentice, 2005

Just after Y2K fears subsided, America was struck by another disaster that shook it to its core, the Fox TV show Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire? The program was a gross two-hour spectacle in which a woman was chosen by a supposedly rich man to become his insta-wife even though they barely knew one another. The broadcast provoked outrage for making a mockery of marriage, a traditional value (and financial arrangement) that had long been credited for holding together the fabric of our society. Despite a gigantic audience, the rerun was cancelled, apologies offered and an annulment hastily arranged.

In 2016, U.S. television is littered with thirsty aspiring brides and bachelors with no body hair nor brain cells. Nobody worries about such things anymore, the flood of programs washing away any resistance to a sideshow of emotionally destroyed people providing cheap content for endless channels. 

In some ways, the loosening of traditional mores is good. Back in 2000, when the Fox pseudo-nuptials took place, no state in the country was close to allowing gay people to marry, and now those unions are legal across the land. How amazing.

The flip side is that the constant shocks of our bread-and-Kardashians culture have numbed us to any sense of civility, even in a Presidential race. It seems acceptable to a surprising number of citizens that the country be in the hands of a Reality TV star who’s a vicious racist and xenophobe, an insomniac tweeter and a vulgar bumper sticker of a man who knows nothing more than simple catchphrases and how to reflexively point fingers. 

That’s our strange, new dichotomy. It’s unreal.

From Edward Luce in the Financial Times:

Every presidential election holds up a mirror to US society. In 2008 it was the hope promised by Barack Obama. This year it is unshockability. Donald Trump’s gaffes are too legion to list. From his reiteration this week that one of his former Miss Universes was too fat, to his criticism a year ago of John McCain’s record as a war prisoner, or his imitation of a disabled reporter, any one would have sunk an earlier candidate. Mr Trump’s immunity to his multitude of offences marks a shift in America’s sensibility. In an age of reality TV we have the reality politician.

Such shock fatigue is not limited to political incorrectness — though the rise of reality TV has inured people to humiliation as entertainment. It also extends to revelations about Mr Trump’s life. In the last month, the Washington Post has run investigative probes on the Trump Foundation, which have shocked political America, but caused barely a ripple beyond the Washington beltway. They allege Mr Trump’s charity, the Trump Foundation, paid off a plaintiff in a lawsuit against one of his businesses, bought portraits of Mr Trump and settled a public suit unrelated to his charity.

He also used it to make a $25,000 donation to Pam Bondi, Florida’s attorney-general, who was investigating whether to prosecute Trump University for fraud. The “university” — another of Mr Trump’s misleadingly titled ventures — faces class action lawsuits. Ms Bondi dropped the probe around the time she received the donation. Mr Trump was fined $2,500 for misusing charitable money. The Post has also detailed millions of dollars Mr Trump claims to have given to charities that were never made.

Again, such revelations would have destroyed a candidate in years past. There is no evidence Mr Trump has been scathed.•



The problem with the idea that humans and machines will work in tandem is that the latter will require the aid of too few of the former. The lucky ones who have those jobs may do quite well, but those who don’t adjust–or are just unlucky–will be left on the outside looking in. Average may be over in terms of demand but not supply. What becomes of those of us left behind?

Zume Pizza, which employs robots rather than chefs, may or not be a success but its methods will certainly succeed in the near future. Hot pies are even easier to make with machines than they are to deliver with drones. From CNBC:

The future has arrived in Mountain View, California. 

Zume Pizza is replacing human chefs with robots, slashing labor costs in half, and reinvesting those savings into higher-quality ingredients to carve out a portion of the $40 billion annual U.S. pizza business.

“What we are doing is leveraging the power of this evolution of automation, these intelligent robots, to put better food on people’s tables,” said Julia Collins, the company’s co-founder and co-CEO.

Zume, which is delivery-only, employs far fewer workers than the average pizza chain, but the employees it does hire — which include sous chefs and software engineers — get full benefits, education subsidies and shares in the business. The company — which made its first hire on Sept. 8, 2015 — has never had an employee quit, which is unusual in the restaurant business, said Collins.

“We’re a co-bot situation,” said Collins. “There are humans and robots collaborating to make better food, to make more fulfilling jobs and to make a more stable working environment for the folks that are working with us.”•



Elon Musk thinks we should stop worrying and learn to love Mars, but our inhospitable neighbor will make sure our ardor goes unrequited. Comparing space colonization to Manifest Destiny isn’t apt, because while we possess immensely better tools than pioneers of the past, the challenges aren’t remotely comparable. 

In a smart Bloomberg View column, Elaine Ou outlines the harsh conditions awaiting immigrants to the stratosphere. She writes of the expensive one-way tickets Musk hopes to make available: “Those who can afford a ticket to Mars are the least likely to want to move there.” True for the most part, though Christopher Columbus wasn’t among the poorest, and he sailed not to escape but to seek. He’ll probably have some modern analogues.

An excerpt:

Artistic renderings of space colonies depict plexiglass domes full of green plants and grow lights. But even if we develop the technology to build pressurized hamster balls, it needs to be recreated on Mars. The first settlers won’t have the luxury of towing a climate-controlled terrarium in the cargo hold of a SpaceX rocket. They’ll have to work the earth and figure out how to live off the fat of the Martian land.

Mars is not exactly prime real estate. The average temperature is negative 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Even during the warmest part of the year, temperatures reach a high of 68 near the equator and still fall to negative 100 at night. Without the dense atmosphere of Earth, temperatures can fluctuate dramatically, causing powerful dust storms that shroud the entire planet.

Also unlike Earth, Mars doesn’t have a global magnetic field. Combined with the thin atmosphere, there isn’t much to shield its inhabitants from the gigantic nuclear reactor that is our sun. Surface conditions on Mars are comparable to life near Chernobyl in the late ’80s, and no amount of Coppertone will protect humans from the deep-space radiation burn. For the most part, we should plan for life on Mars the same way we might plan for life after a nuclear apocalypse. That is, we can expect to live in underground burrows, like rabbits or prairie dogs. The first Martian settlers will be busy building fallout shelters.•

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How do we reconcile a highly automated economy with a free-market one? If jobs of all skill levels emerge that can’t be outsourced beyond our species, we’ll be fine. But if average truly ls over, as Tyler Cowen and others have predicted, we could be in for some turbulence. Everyone and his brother can’t be quickly upskilled, and even if they could, there will be a limit to the number of driverless-car engineers needed. Abundance is great if we can figure out a good distribution system, something America has never perfected. If the macro financial picture is good but the micro is harsh, political solutions may become necessary.

From an PC World interview with The Wealth of Humans author Ryan Avent:

If this abundance of labor is indeed what is sparking global unrest, things will probably get a lot more chaotic before stability returns, unless the world embraces an Amish-style rejection of technology. So how should civilization proceed moving forward? Proposals include universal basic income (UBI), which is quite fashionable in Silicon Valley circles, or shortening the work week to four days.

“Eventually, we’re going to have to change the ways we do things so that people are working less and are also still able to buy the things they need—that would be where redistribution or basic income comes into the picture,” according to Avent. “There’s a couple of things to consider though. People don’t necessarily want to live in a world without work. Even though work is a drag, it creates structure for our day. It creates purpose and meaning. You can imagine that society would be kind of a messy place if nobody ever had to do anything. The other tricky thing is you need to find a way to pay for everything, which means that you have to tax somebody or create common ownership. Something that’s going to require a big political change.”

The big changes may be far in the future. Many of us may be able to wait out the big transformation, but where does that leave the next generation? Are they just completely screwed? As a parent of a young child, I am keenly interested in what skills—if any—will have any value in the decades to come.

“Those with a PhD in computer engineering will probably be okay. I don’t think that’s going to be something that goes away over the next few decades. The skills that will be applicable in a lot of parts of the economy will actually be the softer skills,” Avent says. “The ability to learn from others, to teach yourself new things, to get along in different cultural settings. Basically to be adaptive and be able to pick up new skills. That’s useful now, but in an environment where new sectors and new jobs are constantly be introduced will be critical to being successful.”•



If gambling on Elon Musk’s plan to quickly establish a colony on Mars, it would be wise to bet the under considering it would be the greatest and most challenging undertaking in human history. But the likelihood that it’s at all possible for one well-funded visionary to have a shot at accomplishing such a feat says as a lot not only about science but society as well. Some thoughts:

  • Wealth inequality has made us a weird and lopsided world. Sentences on automation like one recently in the WSJ,[Target Corp.] could take a risk on a new breed of robots from a reclusive billionaire,” no longer seem stunning. The Digital Age has made a few us so overwhelmingly wealthy that individuals can compete with the biggest governments on the grandest projects in for-profit sectors and philanthropy. But there’s a very dark side to such a widening gap, whether its Peter Thiel deciding to a publication into bankruptcy or Palmer Luckey using his Facebook windfall to fund alt-right trolls to game online surveys and plant dubious memes in an effort to enable a Fascist like Donald Trump into the White House. Persons as rich as nations has the potential for great good and bad.
  • Musk’s math in measuring the money needed to fund his first foray to Mars and provide the basic building blocks of a space society may wind up seeming as fanciful as a Paul Ryan budget, but regardless the price tag of such enterprises has fallen tantalizingly low thanks to the diminishing costs of the necessary tools, a culmination of decades of work bearing fruit in our times.
  • Putting humans in space doesn’t make much sense to me within Musk’s time frame. Becoming a multi-planetary species as a hedge against disaster, environmental or otherwise, is understandable, but racing Homo sapiens to Mars doesn’t seem the best plan. A century of robots being dispatched to plumb the planets and experiment with building enclosed habitats and growing food in space. seems the wiser course. But I’m not a Silicon Valley billionaire, so I don’t get a vote.

In the Ars Technica piece “Musk’s Mars Moments,” Eric Berger assesses the feasibility of the audacious plan and the person responsible for it. The writer unsurprisingly believes the Space X founder is underestimating costs but doesn’t dismiss the proposal as impossible, especially if it should develop into a private-public hybrid. The opening:

Elon Musk finally did it. Fourteen years after founding SpaceX, and nine months after promising to reveal details about his plans to colonize Mars, the tech mogul made good on that promise Tuesday afternoon in Guadalajara, Mexico. Over the course of a 90-minute speech Musk, always a dreamer, shared his biggest and most ambitious dream with the world—how to colonize Mars and make humanity a multiplanetary species.

And what mighty ambitions they are. The Interplanetary Transport System he unveiled could carry 100 people at a time to Mars. Contrast that to the Apollo program, which carried just two astronauts at a time to the surface of the nearby Moon, and only for brief sojourns. Moreover, Musk’s rocket that would lift all of those people and propellant into orbit would be nearly four times as powerful as the mighty Saturn V booster. Musk envisions a self-sustaining Mars colony with at least a million residents by the end of the century.

Beyond this, what really stood out about Musk’s speech on Tuesday was the naked baring of his soul. Considering his mannerisms, passion, and the utter seriousness of his convictions, it felt at times like the man’s entire life had led him to that particular stage. It took courage to make the speech, to propose the greatest space adventure of all time. His ideas, his architecture for getting it done—they’re all out there now for anyone to criticize, second guess, and doubt.

It is not everyday that one of the world’s notables, a true difference-maker, so completely eschews caution and reveals his deepest ambitions like Musk did with the Interplanetary Transport System. So let us look at those ambitions—the man laid bare, the space hardware he dreams of building—and then consider the feasibility of all this. Because what really matters is whether any of this fantastical stuff can actually happen.•



Raymond Orterg check presented to Lindbergh.

In 1919, New York City immigrant hotelier and restaurateur Raymond Orteig had an inspiring if dangerous idea to speed up the development of aviation. He established a $25,000 prize to go to the first pilot to complete a successful solo flight between New York and Paris. The businessman received a great return on his investment as numerous aviators individually poured time and resources into the endeavor. The first six attempts ended in failure and death, before Charles Lindbergh collected the check from Orteig, who had flown to Paris for the occasion.

I was reminded of Orteig by a recent Vivek Wadhwa column in the Washington Post which compared him to Peter Diamandis, who 20 years ago established the $10,000,000 X Prize to similarly stimulate space travel. Below is a Brooklyn Daily Eagle feature published a few months after Lindbergh’s 1927 triumph, which told of Orteig’s unlikely rags-to-riches story and how he sparked one of history’s great moments.






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Really wonderful conversation between Sean Illing of Vox and the economist Tyler Cowen, whose thinking I always admire even when I disagree with him. The two discuss, among other topics, the Internet, biotech, politics, war, Kanye West and the “most dangerous idea in history.” An excerpt:


How do you view the internet and its impact on human life?

Tyler Cowen:

The internet is great for weirdos. The pre-internet era was not very good for weirdos. I think in some ways we’re still overrating the internet as a whole. It’s wonderful for manipulating information, which appeals to the weirdos. Now it’s going to start changing our physical reality in a way that will be another productivity boom. So I’m very pro-internet.


What do you think will be the next major technological breakthrough?

Tyler Cowen:

If you mean a single thing that you could put in a single headline, I would say self-driving vehicles. But I think a deeper and more important thing will be a subtle integration of software and hardware in way that will change everything and won’t have a single name.


Are you thinking here of the singularity or of something less radical?

Tyler Cowen:

No, nothing like the singularity. But software embedded in devices that will get better and smarter and more interactive and thoughtful, and we’ll be able to do things that we’ll eventually take for granted and we won’t even call them anything.


Do you think technology is outpacing our politics in dangerous, unpredictable ways?

Tyler Cowen:

Of course it is. And the last time technology outpaced politics, it ended in a very ugly manner, with two world wars. So I worry about that. You get new technologies. People try to use them for conquest and extortion. I’ve no predictions as to how that will play out, but I think there’s at least a good chance that we will look back on this era of relative technological stagnancy and say, “Wasn’t that wonderful?”•

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It surprises me that most of us usually think things are worse than they are in the big picture, because we’re awfully good at selective amnesia when it comes to our own lives. Homes in NYC that were demolished by Hurricane Sandy are mostly valued more highly now than right before that disaster, even though they’re located in the exact some lots near the ever-rising sea levels, in the belly of the beast. The buyers are no different than the rest of us who conveniently forget about investment bubbles that went bust and life choices that laid us low. When it comes to our own plans, we can wave away history as a fluke that wouldn’t dare interfere.

When we consider the direction of our nation, however, we often believe hell awaits our handbasket. Why? Maybe because down deep we’re suspicious about the collective, that anything so unwieldy can ever end up well, so we surrender to both recency and confirmations biases, which skew the way we view today and tomorrow. 

While I don’t believe the endless flow of information has made us more informed, it is true that by many measures we’re in better shape now than humans ever have been. On that topic, the Economist reviews Johan Norberg’s glass-half-full title, Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future. The opening:

HUMANS are a gloomy species. Some 71% of Britons think the world is getting worse; only 5% think it is improving. Asked whether global poverty had fallen by half, doubled or remained the same in the past 20 years, only 5% of Americans answered correctly that it had fallen by half. This is not simple ignorance, observes Johan Norberg, a Swedish economic historian and the author of a new book called “Progress”. By guessing randomly, a chimpanzee would pick the right answer (out of three choices) far more often.

People are predisposed to think that things are worse than they are, and they overestimate the likelihood of calamity. This is because they rely not on data, but on how easy it is to recall an example. And bad things are more memorable. The media amplify this distortion. Famines, earthquakes and beheadings all make gripping headlines; “40m Planes Landed Safely Last Year” does not. 

Pessimism has political consequences. Voters who think things were better in the past are more likely to demand that governments turn back the clock. A whopping 81% of Donald Trump’s supporters think life has grown worse in the past 50 years. Among Britons who voted to leave the European Union, 61% believe that most children will be worse off than their parents. Those who voted against Brexit tend to believe the opposite.

Mr Norberg unleashes a tornado of evidence that life is, in fact, getting better.



In last night’s Presidential debate, Donald Trump was slowed by a case of the sniffles and a case of being a complete fucking idiot. The sniffles may go away.

There might something to predictions made by artificial hive minds, though I wouldn’t bet the house on it, let alone the White House. But you do have to credit UNU for knowing before most of us that Trump was a legitimate contender. A few hours before yesterday’s debate, UNU conducted a Reddit AMA and made the predictions below. None of them really required a great leap of intelligence to answer, and only the hideous hotelier’s less-P.U.-than-usual behavior tripped up the AI.


Who wins the debate tonight? Does it matter for the election?


Clinton wins the debate tonight ‘by a lot’ and ‘i believe’ the debate matters for the election.


Will Trump come off as A. Presidential, or B. Impeachable?




Will Donald Trump use the phrase “Crooked Hillary” during the debate?


It’s likely.


Will Trump be aggressive, or on his best behavior?


Aggressive 99%.


Lester Holt is doing a good job of controlling the debate?


Totally disagree.


Will Trump blame the media if he does poorly?


It’s likely.


Roughly speaking, how much impact could this debate have on the overall election?


Roughly: A lot


Who would you rather have babysit your kid, the Donald or HRC?


Clinton by a lot•


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Even your average Silicon Valley billionaire would find it difficult to gain and maintain a footing on the Moon and Mars and more if playing by the established economics of Big Space. Fortunately, the increasing power and diminishing costs of components in the supercomputers in our pockets have enabled Little Space to compete, turning out satellites and such for a fraction of what it would cost NASA.

It’s this Space Race 2.0 at the heart of Freeman Dyson’s New York Review of Books piece in which he reviews a raft of recent titles on the topic. The scientist-writer frets about NASA and other government bodies for their excessive risk-aversion while acknowledging the cheap-enough-to-fail model may not be bold enough to enable us to fan out among the stars this century. He also analyzes the medium-size methods of deep-pocketed entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, who dream big while trying to trim costs like the little guys.

Ultimately, the reviewer is dissatisfied with all the books because they each focus on engineering to the exclusion of biotechnology, ignoring outré-but-not-impossible visions from the febrile mind of pioneering Russian rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, who prophesied there would be a time centuries in the future when we could alter and create species to enable them to assimilate in space. 

In one passage about more immediate matters, Dyson offers a common-sense retort to NASA’s fear of falling, arguing mistakes we’ve made on Earth with enclosed habitats like Biosphere 2 aren’t ones we’re destined to repeat. The excerpt::

Charles Wohlforth and Amanda Hendrix’s Beyond Earth describes the prospects for future manned space missions conducted within the Big Space culture. The prospects are generally dismal, for two reasons. The authors suppose that a main motivation for such missions is a desire of humans to escape from catastrophic climate change on Earth. They also suppose any serious risks to the life and health of astronauts to be unacceptable. Under these conditions, few missions are feasible, and most of them are unattractive. Their preferred mission is a human settlement on Titan, the moon of Saturn that most resembles Earth, with a dense atmosphere and a landscape of gentle hills, rivers, and lakes.

But the authors would not permit the humans to grow their own food on Titan. Farming is considered to be impossible because an enclosed habitat with the name Biosphere Two was a failure. It was built in Arizona and occupied in 1991 by eight human volunteers who were supposed to be ecologically self-sufficient, recycling air and water and food in a closed system. The experiment failed because of a number of mistakes in the design. The purpose of such an experiment should be to learn from the failure how to avoid such mistakes in the future. The notion that the failure of a single experiment should cause the abandonment of a whole way of life is an extreme example of the risk-averseness that has come to permeate the Big Space culture.

Farming is an art that achieved success after innumerable failures. So it was in the past and so it will be in the future. Any successful human settlement in space will begin as the Polynesian settlements in the Pacific islands began, with people bringing pigs and chickens and edible plants on their canoes, along with the skills to breed them. The authors of Beyond Earth imagine various possible futures for human settlement in various places, but none of their settlers resemble the Polynesians.



Extrapolating current economic trends into the future is a tricky business. Things change.

The American middle class, besieged for decades by tax codes, globalization, automation, Silicon Valley creative destruction, Washington gridlock and the Great Recession, seems more like a dinosaur each day. Men in the U.S. have particularly watched their opportunities crater, with millions more jobs poised to vanish as soon as driverless vehicles take the wheel in trucking, the taxi industry and delivery. (The last of those occupations will also be emptied out by air and ground drones.)

Nicholas Eberstadt’s Men Without Work suggests this story has been seriously under-reported, the subtitle being “America’s Invisible Crisis.” Like Charles Murray, whom I’m not fond of, the author believes misguided social safety nets have played a large role in creating this unintended consequence. I call bullshit on that theory, which seems more driven by ideology than reality.

In a Financial Times review of the book, Lawrence Summers also disagrees with Eberstadt on how we got into this mess, but  he sees a potentially even bleaker future for American males than the author does. Maybe that won’t come to pass, but this is exactly the type of possible outcome we should be discussing right now.

An excerpt:

Now comes Nicholas Eberstadt’s persuasive and important monograph Men Without Work, demonstrating that these issues are not just matters of futurology. Eberstadt, a political economist based at the American Enterprise Institute, marshals a vast amount of data to highlight trends that have been noticed but not adequately emphasised before in the work experience of men in the US. The share of the male population who are neither working, looking for work, in school or old enough to retire has more than doubled over the past 50 years, even though the population has become much healthier and more educated. Today, even with a low overall unemployment rate, roughly one in six men between the ages of 25 and 54 is out of work.

Eberstadt goes on to show that, as one might expect, non-work is a larger issue for those with less education, without spouses or dependent children, for African-Americans and for those who have been convicted of crimes. He finds little redeeming in what those without work are doing, noting that the primary contrast in time use between those in and out of work is in time spent watching TV.

Finally, he highlights that men in the US are doing considerably worse than men in the rest of the industrial world, where even countries with notoriously sclerotic labour markets and bloated welfare systems such as France, and even Greece, enjoy higher rates of prime age male labour force participation.

One can cavil with Eberstadt’s emphasis on labour force withdrawal as distinct from unemployment in looking at the data, particularly when it comes to international comparisons, but overall the evidence he marshals that non-work is currently a crisis is entirely persuasive. As he notes, the impact of non-work on economic growth is the least of it. A society where large numbers of adults in the prime of life are without vocation is unlikely to provide opportunity for all its children, to maintain strong communities or have happy, cohesive families. As we are seeing this fall, such a society is prone to embrace toxic populist politics.

Indeed, Eberstadt understates the significance of what he studies by not highlighting the fact that, if current trends continue, a quarter of men between 25 and 54 will be out of work by mid-century. I would expect Eberstadt’s sorry trends to accelerate as IT accelerates job destruction on the one hand, and developments such as virtual reality make non-work more attractive and addictive on the other, so I can imagine scenarios in which a third or more of men in this cohort are out of work in the US by 2050.

Why is this happening?•

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From the November 7, 1886 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:



Many dark fictions about technology focus on machines going rogue and running amok, but couldn’t things progress as planned and still lead to trouble if we have poor priorities and make the wrong decisions?

On a 1979 Dick Cavett Show, Ira Levin was asked how he dreamed up the scenario for his chilling novel The Stepford Wives. He answered that after reading about the possibility of robotic domestic servants in Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, he wondered what would happen if we achieved that goal at a very high level. You know, if everything went according to plan.

Humanoid robots aren’t in our near future, but chatbots and digital assistants will be an increasing part of our lives in the short run. They may eventually get so good that we won’t know sometimes if we’re speaking to a human or not. Perhaps we will be aware, but that won’t stop us from speaking to them as if “they” were people. There will be a relationship. That’s the plan, anyhow.

Some excerpts on that topic from Alvin Toffler’s book:

Whether we grow specialized animals to serve us or develop household robots depends in part on the uneven race between the life sciences and the physical sciences. It may be cheaper to make machines for our purposes, than to raise and train animals. Yet the biological sciences are developing so rapidly that the balance may well tip within our lifetimes. Indeed, the day may even come when we begin to grow our machines. …

We are hurtling toward the time when we will be able to breed both super- and subraces. As Theodore J. Gordon put it in The Future, “Given the ability to tailor the race, I wonder if we would “create all men equal,’ or would we choose to manufacture apartheid? Might the races of the future be: a superior group, the DNA controllers; the humble servants; special athletes for the ‘games’; research scientists with 200 IQ and diminutive  bodies …” We shall have the power to produce races of morons or of mathematical savants. …

Technicians at Disneyland have created extremely life-like computer-controlled humanoids capable of moving their arms and legs, grimacing, smiling, glowering, simulating fear, joy and a wide range of other emotions. Built of clear plastic that, according to one reporter, “does everything but bleed,” the robots chase girls, play music, fire pistols, and so closely resemble human forms that visitors routinely shriek with fear, flinch and otherwise react as though they were dealing with real human beings. The purposes to which these robots are put may seem trivial, but the technology on which they are based is highly sophisticated. It depends heavily on knowledge acquired from the space program—and this knowledge is accumulating rapidly.

There appears to be no reason, in principle, why we cannot go forward from these present primitive and trivial robots to build humanoid machines capable of extremely varied behavior, capable even of “human” error and seemingly random choice—in short, to make them behaviorally indistinguishable from humans except by means of highly sophisticated or elaborate tests. At that point we shall face the novel sensation of trying to determine whether the smiling, assured humanoid behind the airline reservation counter is a pretty girl or a carefully wired robot.

The likelihood, of course, is that she will be both.

The thrust toward some form of man-machine symbiosis is furthered by our increasing ingenuity in communicating with machines. A great deal of much-publicized work is being done to facilitate the interaction of men and computers. But quite apart from this, Russian and American scientists have both been experimenting with the placement or implantation of detectors that pick up signals from the nerve ends at the stub of an amputated limb. These signals are then amplified and used to activate an artificial limb, thereby making a machine directly and sensitively responsive to the nervous system of a human being. The human need not “think out” his desires; even involuntary impulses are transmittable. The responsive behavior of the machine is as automatic as the behavior of one’s own hand, eye or leg.•



Unions have always represented workers, but perhaps the Digital Age will see the unionization of non-workers.

I don’t mean people who don’t want to toil but rather those who are simply squeezed from the system, with robotics and sensors thinning out the need for carbon-based employees. Since the Great Recession, American corporations have able to throw away any applicant with a gap on their résumé or any other blemish. If positions continue to diminish, we could be headed for a real-world Hunger Games.

In a Venturebeat essay by Flint Capital’s Artem Burachenok. the writer wonders if mass automation will bring about the return of a “feudalistic lack of social mobility.” If that comes to pass, he predicts potential reactions to this action. Like Baidu’s Andrew Ng, Burachenok believes a new New Deal may become necessary. Two of his entries:

2. The end of college. College loan debt has turned into one of the biggest budget black holes in the US today, with more and more students borrowing huge sums of money to finance degrees at all levels, in the hope of cracking an increasingly competitive job market. But in the near future, it won’t be their classmates that these grads will compete with – it will be the robots, and most will find themselves losing out. As a result, young people who aspire to more than a McJob will opt for trade schools where they can learn skills. Either way, they won’t need, or want, to go into hock financing a college education. The top-tier universities, of course, will be educating the children of the 1 percent; it’s the state and non-Ivy private colleges that will lose out.

4. A new New Deal? The last time there was a hollowing out of the middle class was during the Great Depression – and it took massive government intervention in the economy to set things right. The United States admittedly has a much more socialized economy now than it did in the 1930s, and special interests carry a great deal of weight in Washington nowadays – but as the full pain of AI is felt among the vast majority, there will be increasing pressure on politicians to do something.



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

  1. lincoln watching john wilkes booth act
  2. snl devo
  3. trump golf fathead
  4. jacqueline susann on what’s my line?
  5. henry miller big sur
  6. arnold schwarzenegger posing in museum
  7. milton berle and richard pryor fight on tv
  8. story about tarring and feathering
  9. gerard o’neill space travel predictions
  10. world’s oldest man charlie smith 130
This week, we learned that if you're a new SNL cast member who's made racist tweets, you're in trouble, but if you're a...

This week, we learned that if you’re a new Saturday Night Live cast member who’s made racist tweets, you’re in trouble, but if you’re a…

...racist Presidential candidate you get to host the show.

…far more racist Presidential candidate, you get to host the show.


  • Crowdsourcing driverless-car ethics may leave many dissatisfied
  • Richard Hollingham wonders if all extraterrestrials might be AI.


If there are aliens out there, Sir Martin Rees feels fairly certain they’re conscious machines, not oxygen-hoarding humans. It’s just too inhospitable for carbon beings to travel beyond our solar system. He allows that perhaps cyborgs, a form of semi-organic post-humans, could possibly make a go of it. But that’s as close a reflection of ourselves we may be able to see in space.

In the BBC Future piece “What If the Aliens We Are Looking For Are AI?” Richard Hollingham explores this theory, wondering if a lack of contact can be explained by the limits we put on our search by expecting a familiar face in the final frontier. The opening:

For more than a century we have been broadcasting our presence to the cosmos. This year, the faintest signals from the world’s first major televised event – the Nazi-hosted 1936 Olympics – will have passed several potentially habitable planets. The first season of Game of Thrones has already reached the nearest star beyond our Solar System.

So why hasn’t ET called us back?

There are plenty of obvious answers. Maybe there are no intelligent space aliens in our immediate cosmic vicinity. Perhaps they have never evolved beyond unthinking microbial slime or – based on our transmissions – aliens have concluded it is safer to stay away. There is, however, another explanation: ET is nothing like us.

“If we do find a signal, we shouldn’t expect it’s going to be some sort of soft squishy protoplasmic alien behind the microphone at the other end,” says Seth Shostak, senior astronomer for alien-hunting organisation Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (Seti).

Seti has been actively searching for signs of intelligent extraterrestrial life for more than half a century. Despite tantalising signals (such as this recent one), it has so far drawn a blank. But Shostak believes we should consider looking to our own future to imagine what aliens will be like.

“Perhaps the most significant thing we’re doing is to develop our own successors,” says Shostak. “If we can develop artificial intelligence within a couple of hundred years of inventing radio, any aliens we are likely to hear from have very likely gone past that point.”

“In other words,” he says, “most of the intelligence in the cosmos, I would venture, is synthetic intelligence and that may disappoint movie goers who expect little grey guys with big eyeballs, no clothes, no hair or sense of humour.”•

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I occasionally joke that the 12,000-plus posts I’ve published on Afflictor over the years would be a good morning for Andrew Sullivan, but I win because I didn’t support the invasion of Iraq. 

Sullivan was, until recent times, a scary prolific blogger who seemed to turn himself into a machine in the process of working with them, running a sprint against a stream of information that never rested, never stopped. Finally, he stopped.

The writer wasn’t Zen enough to gladly accept the Bob Marley credo that “the day you stop racing is the day you win the race,” but he knew he needed help for what had become an addiction to a “constant dopamine bath for the writerly ego,” one that had begun to damage his physical as well as mental health. In the insightful New York magazine article “I Used to Be a Human Being,” Sullivan recounts the experience of using meditation, nature walks and quietism to break from this pernicious cycle, a piece which contains great lines like this one: “If the churches came to understand that the greatest threat to faith today is not hedonism but distraction, perhaps they might begin to appeal anew to a frazzled digital generation.”

The thing is, he began noticing that though he was an early adopter of the antic existence of living-inside-the web, social media, smartphones, and apps had soon enough ushered a huge chunk of the globe inside. I wonder sometimes if being caught in an endless maelstrom of information caused Sullivan to lack distance and perspective to the disaster that the Iraq War was likely to become. Now I ponder the same about us all when we’re making vital decisions in this world of cold wars and hot takes. And once the Internet of Things is ubuiquitous, we’ll all be inside of a machine with no OFF switch.

The opening:

I was sitting in a large meditation hall in a converted novitiate in central Massachusetts when I reached into my pocket for my iPhone. A woman in the front of the room gamely held a basket in front of her, beaming beneficently, like a priest with a collection plate. I duly surrendered my little device, only to feel a sudden pang of panic on my way back to my seat. If it hadn’t been for everyone staring at me, I might have turned around immediately and asked for it back. But I didn’t. I knew why I’d come here.

A year before, like many addicts, I had sensed a personal crash coming. For a decade and a half, I’d been a web obsessive, publishing blog posts multiple times a day, seven days a week, and ultimately corralling a team that curated the web every 20 minutes during peak hours. Each morning began with a full immersion in the stream of internet consciousness and news, jumping from site to site, tweet to tweet, breaking news story to hottest take, scanning countless images and videos, catching up with multiple memes. Throughout the day, I’d cough up an insight or an argument or a joke about what had just occurred or what was happening right now. And at times, as events took over, I’d spend weeks manically grabbing every tiny scrap of a developing story in order to fuse them into a narrative in real time. I was in an unending dialogue with readers who were caviling, praising, booing, correcting. My brain had never been so occupied so insistently by so many different subjects and in so public a way for so long.

I was, in other words, a very early adopter of what we might now call living-in-the-web. And as the years went by, I realized I was no longer alone. Facebook soon gave everyone the equivalent of their own blog and their own audience. More and more people got a smartphone — connecting them instantly to a deluge of febrile content, forcing them to cull and absorb and assimilate the online torrent as relentlessly as I had once. Twitter emerged as a form of instant blogging of microthoughts. Users were as addicted to the feedback as I had long been — and even more prolific. Then the apps descended, like the rain, to inundate what was left of our free time. It was ubiquitous now, this virtual living, this never-stopping, this always-updating. I remember when I decided to raise the ante on my blog in 2007 and update every half-hour or so, and my editor looked at me as if I were insane. But the insanity was now banality; the once-unimaginable pace of the professional blogger was now the default for everyone.•



Illustration of Marage’s talking machine from Scientific American.

The practical talking machine invented by Dr. R. Marage in fin de siècle Paris was a sensation for awhile, though it seems to have passed silently into the vortex of technological history.

A member of the French Academy of Medicine, Marage was attempting with his device (photo here) to outdo Thomas Edison and his phonograph, which reliably offered recorded sound, though it was the latter invention that ultimately found a market. It’s only in our time that chatbots and Siri have begun to scratch the surface of machine-conversation potential. While the science behind Marage’s apparatus was immaterial to those innovations, it does remind that the dream of non-human speech long predated Silicon Valley.

An article from the Scientific American touting his achievement was reprinted in the November 3, 1901 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.



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Among the litter of largely positive product reviews for AirPods is Michael Brandt’s deeper take on the product in Fast Co.Exist. The writer argues that the quality of the sound is a distant second in importance to the wireless tool being placed just inside the body, acting as a “gateway drug” to future technological implants. Apple is, of course, only one of the Silicon Valley behemoths that would like you to eventually have the implant. As Brandt asserts, “we’re seeing our prediction of humans as the next platform come true.”

The opening:

Apple’s newest headphones, the AirPods, are not actually headphones: they’re aural implants. Absent any wires, earpods are so unobtrusive that you may never take them out. Like the eyeglasses on your face, they’ll sit in your ears all day, and you’ll remove them only at night.

For Apple, this is more than just an incremental update to their headphone product. This is a paradigm shift, a Jedi move by Apple where the seam between human and computer is disappearing.


At first blush, AirPods seem the same as today’s headphones, except with the wires gone. Sure, we’ll use them just like the old ones, to make phone calls and listen to music. But the crux of what’s interesting here is what we’re doing when we’re not using them. Without the lanky wire getting caught on clothes, doorknobs, and backpacks, persistently begging to be wound up and put away, there’s no longer a compelling reason to take them out when you’re done using them. So we won’t.

AirPods are default in, as opposed to traditional wired headphones, which are default out. Much of the criticism lobbied at the design is that you’ll put them down and lose them — but what if you never put them down in the first place?•



Many within the driverless sector think the technology is only five years from remaking our roads and economies. Perhaps they know enough to be sure of such a bold ETA, or perhaps they’re parked in an echo chamber. Either way, it appears this new tool will enter our lives sooner than later.

Beyond perfecting technology that works in all traffic situations and weather conditions are knotty questions about ethics, legislation, Labor, etc. Excerpts follow from two articles on the topic. 

From Anjana Ahuja’s smart FT piece on the problem of crowdsourcing driverless ethics:

Anyone with a computer and a coffee break can contribute to MIT’s mass experiment, which imagines the brakes failing on a fully autonomous vehicle. The vehicle is packed with passengers, and heading towards pedestrians. The experiment depicts 13 variations of the “trolley problem” — a classic dilemma in ethics that involves deciding who will die under the wheels of a runaway tram.

In MIT’s reformulation, the runaway is a self-driving car that can keep to its path or swerve; both mean death and destruction. The choice can be between passengers and pedestrians, or two sets of pedestrians. Calculating who should perish involves pitting more lives against fewer, young against old, professionals against the homeless, pregnant women against athletes, humans against pets.

At heart, the trolley problem is about deciding who lives, who dies — the kind of judgment that truly autonomous vehicles may eventually make. My “preferences” are revealed afterwards: I mostly save children and sacrifice pets. Pedestrians who are not jaywalking are spared and passengers expended. It is obvious: by choosing to climb into a driverless car, they should shoulder the burden of risk. As for my aversion to swerving, should caution not dictate that driverless cars are generally programmed to follow the road?

It is illuminating — until you see how your preferences stack up against everyone else.•

From Keith Naughton’s Businessweek article on legislating the end of human drivers:

This week, technology industry veterans proposed a ban on human drivers on a 150-mile (241-kilometer) stretch of Interstate 5 from Seattle to Vancouver. Within five years, human driving could be outlawed in congested city centers like London, on college campuses and at airports, said Kristin Schondorf, executive director of automotive transportation at consultant EY.

The first driver-free zones will be well-defined and digitally mapped, giving autonomous cars long-range vision and a 360-degree view of their surroundings, Schondorf said. The I-5 proposal would start with self-driving vehicles using car-pool lanes and expand over a decade to robot rides taking over the road during peak driving times.

“In city centers, you don’t even want non-automated vehicles; they would just ruin the whole point of why you have a smart city,” said Schondorf, a former engineer at Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV. “It makes it a dumb city.”

John Krafcik, head of Google’s self-driving car project, said in an August interview with Bloomberg Businessweek that the tech giant is developing cars without steering wheels and gas or brake pedals because “we need to take the human out of the loop.” Ford Chief Executive Officer Mark Fields echoed that sentiment last month when he said the 113-year-old automaker would begin selling robot taxis with no steering wheel or pedals in 2021.•

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