“They destroyed Ambersons, and it destroyed me,” Orson Welles said, lamenting RKO’s decision to chop up his 1942 adaptation of the Booth Tarkington novel The Magnificent Ambersons. The studio cut significant footage from the movie and changed the ending, and though some hold out hope that an original print was secreted to South America and survives today, no film cans have ever surfaced.

In an April 12, 1942 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article published three months before the company released the mutilated version, Welles told a story about the lengths he’d gone to make a work as great as Citizen Kane. He claimed that in order to get a shot no one had been able to previously master, he hired a circus strongman named Badajoz as a freelance cameraman.

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Comparing delivery drones to mobile phones seems an odd choice–or at least only half the answer.

Drones may soon be ubiquitous as smartphones, as one analyst asserts in Lucy Ingham’s sanguine Factor-Tech piece, “Forget the Fear,” but they have the ability to be as destructive as guns, even more, actually. Is that a pizza or a book or a bomb that’s coming our way? Drones will likely be ever-present soon and will do a lot of good, but even if they’re closely regulated, it’ll be easy to rig up your own and deliver whatever you want to someone–even fear. 

The piece’s opening:

Drones are set for mass proliferation, despite commonly voiced concerns about privacy and use, according to a leading British aviation safety expert.

Speaking at a panel discussion during SkyTech, a UAV conference held today in London, Gerry Corbett, UAS programme lead for the UK Civil Aviation Authority’s Safety and Airspace Regulation Group, said that people would have to get used to the presence of drones in urban areas.

“Society has to accept that we’re going to see a lot more of these flying around towns and cities,” he said.

“We’ll have to get used to them, much like we did with mobile phones.”

However, in order for this to happen, regulation will need to improve in order to ensure that the drones are safe.•

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Recent law-school graduates are having a hell of a time securing jobs in their chosen profession. (According to the New York Times, only 40% of 2010 grads are currently employed in the field.) At Forbes, Reuven Gorsht wonders if things will soon get worse, whether middle-skill work, including law, will ultimately be largely automated. The opening:

Sarah is at the top of her game.  She’s been climbing the ladder at one of the top legal firms in the country.   If all goes according to plan, she will likely make partner in the next 5 years.   She worked hard to get to where she is today.   Working part-time jobs to put herself through law school and using her incredible work ethic and smarts to win the trust of clients and colleagues through clerking and as an associate.

“Won’t lawyers be replaced by computers in the next 10 years?” I say to her.   She rolls her eyes and brushes me off.   “I’m serious.” I said.   “There’s no way a machine can do what I’m doing! Sure robots can eventually replace low-end and repeatable job, but it can never match my education, work experience and relationships with my clients.” responds Sarah.

Is Sarah correct, or should highly skilled and educated professionals like Sarah be worried about their jobs being automated and done by robots and machines?•


In America, the main difference between rich people and poor people is that rich people have money.

It sounds obvious, but think about it: Many of the behaviors said to be responsible for the financially challenged being in the state they’re in aren’t limited to them. Poor people sometimes are raised in broken homes and such families have greater obstacles to success. But well-to-do people also divorce; they just have more money to divide. Some poorer folks drink and use drugs which keeps them trapped in a cycle of poverty. True, but wealthier Americans suffer from all sorts of addictions as well and spend the necessary funds to get the help they need. There are people of lesser means who don’t work hard enough to thrive in school, but the same can be said for some of their wealthier counterparts. The latter just have families with enough money to create an educational path they don’t warrant based on their performance.

Pretty much any lifestyle blamed for poverty is lived by rich and poor folk alike.

You could say that if you’re coming from a less-privileged background you should be sure to avoid these habits because you can’t afford them like people with money can, and I suppose that’s true. But even if you stay on the straight path, we shouldn’t pretend we live in a perfect meritocracy which automatically rewards such clear-headed decisions. We all fall, but some have a net to catch them. Sometimes it’s been earned through hard work and luck, and often it’s woven from inherited money and connections.


The director of Harvard admissions has said that being a ‘Harvard legacy’ – the child of a Harvard graduate – is just one of many ‘tips’ in the college’s admissions process, such as coming from an ‘under-represented state’ (Harvard likes to have students from all 50), or being on the ‘wish list’ of an athletic coach. For most applicants to Harvard, the acceptance rate is around 5 per cent; for applicants with a parent who attended Harvard, it’s around 30 per cent. (One survey found that 16 per cent of Harvard undergraduates have a parent who went to Harvard.) A Harvard study from a few years ago shows that after controlling for other factors that might influence admission (such as, say, grades), legacies are more than 45 per cent more likely to be admitted to the 30 most selective American colleges than non-legacies.

Preferential admission for legacies ought to be an anachronism, not least because it overwhelmingly benefits rich white students. Harvard’s admissions director defends the practice by claiming that legacies ‘bring a special kind of loyalty and enthusiasm for life at the college that makes a real difference in the college climate… and makes Harvard a happier place.’ That ‘special kind of loyalty’ can express itself in material ways. Graduates with family ties – four generations of Harvard men! – are assumed to be particularly generous, and they cut colleges off when their children don’t get in.•


Can I interview you in the nude over the phone?


I am doing a project around the world. I would like to call you on the phone and in the nude.

I will ask you under 20 questions and hopefully you will answer them.

We will both sit in the nude but we will not see each other and neither of us will reveal our names.

The questions are of a non-sexual nature, just nice questions.

Please get in touch if you would like to take part.

Send your phone number and a day when you would like to receive the call.

Thank you,

Warm regards.

In “Dickheads,” an excellent Baffler essay, David Graeber measures the sociological and historical significance of the necktie, which he believes to be a phallus (how it’s shaped, where it points) full of cultural meaning about power. An excerpt:

So what does any of this have to do with neckties? Well, at first glance, the paradox has only deepened. If the message of the suit is that its wearer is a largely invisible, abstract, and generic creature to be defined by his ability to act, then the decorative necktie makes little sense.

But let’s examine other forms of decoration allowed in formal attire and see if a larger pattern of sartorial power begins to emerge. Decoration that’s specific to women (earrings, lipstick, eyeshadow, etc.) tends to highlight the receptive organs. Permissible men’s jewelry—rings, cuff links, fancy watches—tends to accentuate the hands. This is, of course, consistent: it is through the hands that one acts upon the world. There’s also the tie clip, but that’s not really a problem. The tie and the cuff links seem to fulfill their functions in parallel, each adding a little decoration to tighten a spot where human flesh sticks out, namely the neck and wrists. They also help seal off the exposed bits from the remainder of the body, which remains effaced, its contours largely invisible.

This observation, I think, points the way to the resolution of our paradox. After all, the male body in a suit does contain a third potentially obtrusive element that is most definitely not exposed, something that, in fact, is not indicated in any way, even though one does have to take it out, periodically, to pee. Suits have to be tailored to allow for urination, which also has to be done in such a way that nobody notices. The fly (which is invisible) is a bourgeois innovation, much unlike earlier aristocratic styles, such as the European codpiece, that often drew explicit attention to the genital region. This is the one part of the male body whose contours are entirelyeffaced. If hiding something is a way of declaring it a form of power, then hiding the male genitals is a way of declaring masculinity itself a form of power. It’s not just that the tie sits on precisely the spot that, in women’s formal wear, tends to be the most sexualized (the cleavage). A tie resembles a penis in shape, and points directly at it. Couldn’t we say that a tie is really a symbolic displacement of the penis, only an intellectualized penis, dangling not from one’s crotch but from one’s head, chosen from among an almost infinite variety of other ties by an act of mental will?

Hey, this would explain a lot…•


From the October 29, 1889 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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Putting ants to shame, Stanford University’s Biomimetics Dextrous Manipulation Laboratory has produced tiny robots, which operate similar to inchworms, that can haul 100 hundred times their weight. Huge long-term implications for construction and emergency rescues, like the one we’re currently witnessing in Nepal. From Aviva Rutkin at New Scientist:

Mighty things come in small packages. The little robots in this video can haul things that weigh over 100 times more than themselves.

The super-strong bots – built by mechanical engineers at Stanford University in California – will be presented next month at the International Conference on Robotics and Automation in Seattle, Washington.

The secret is in the adhesives on the robots’ feet. Their design is inspired by geckos, which have climbing skills that are legendary in the animal kingdom. The adhesives are covered in minute rubber spikes that grip firmly onto the wall as the robot climbs. When pressure is applied, the spikes bend, increasing their surface area and thus their stickiness. When the robot picks its foot back up, the spikes straighten out again and detach easily.

The bots also move in a style that is borrowed from biology.•


When people defend CEO pay, they often argue that business leaders like Steve Jobs deserve every cent they get, without mentioning how these are the most extreme outliers. There are also CEOs like probable Presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, who did a really cruddy job running Hewlett-Packard, collected a monumental golden parachute when she was fired and was safely out the door when thousands of employees lost their jobs. Okay, maybe she’s an outlier also, but your average company leader isn’t an innovator (that word) but a steward. They’re very overpaid.

Automation has allowed many of these corporate titans to reduce staff over the past decade and the practice will likely continue apace, but that blade has two edges, and the received wisdom of the importance of the CEO will likely be threatened by technology as well. 

From Devin Fidler at Harvard Business Review:

For the last several years, we have been studying the forces now shaping the future of work, and wondering whether high-level management could be automated. This inspired us to create prototype software we informally dubbed “iCEO.” As the name suggests, iCEO is a virtual management system that automates complex work by dividing it into small individual tasks. iCEO then assigns these micro-tasks to workers using multiple software platforms, such as oDesk, Uber, and email/text messaging. Basically, the system allows a user to drag-and-drop “virtual assembly lines” into place, and run them from a dashboard.

But could iCEO manage actual work projects for our organization? After a few practice runs, we were ready to find out. For one task, we programmed iCEO to oversee the preparation of a 124-page research report for a prestigious client (a Fortune 50 company). We spent a few hours plugging in the parameters of the project, i.e. structuring the flow of tasks, then hit play. For instance, to create an in-depth assessment of how graphene is produced, iCEO asked workers on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to curate a list of articles on the topic. After duplicates were removed, the list of articles was passed on to a pool of technical analysts from oDesk, who extracted and arranged the articles’ key insights. A cohort of Elance writers then turned these into coherent text, which went to another pool of subject matter experts for review, passing them on to a sequence of oDesk editors, proofreaders, and fact checkers.

iCEO routed tasks across 23 people from around the world, including the creation of 60 images and graphs, followed by formatting and preparation. We stood back and watched iCEO execute this project. We rarely needed to intervene, even to check the quality of individual components of the report as they were submitted to iCEO, or spend time hiring staff, because QA and HR were also automated by iCEO. (The hiring of oDesk contractors for this project, for example, was itself an oDesk assignment.)

We were amazed by the quality of the end result — and the speed with which it was produced.•

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In “The World in 2025,” IKEA has a dozen predictions for how life will change a decade into the future. Perhaps by that year, IKEA will have hired copyeditors because the piece surprisingly has lots of typos (which I’ve removed below). You expect that kind of slapdash nonsense from Afflictor but not from Scandinavian perfectionists! A quartet of the preognostications:

Our homes will become physically smaller

As populations age and we have less children, there will be a trend toward less people per household. Increasing real estate and transport costs in cities will favour denser living. Spaces will have to work harder in order to accommodate multiple uses by multiple people.

How might we create multifunctional spaces?

Computers will be everywhere

Even simple devices will be equipped with sensors, CPUs and transmitting devices, allowing for communication with the user, but also with each other, creating self-regulating systems.

How might we ensure that a computerised kitchen doesn’t lose its humanity?

‘Shopping’ will mean ‘home delivery’

Shopping will be seamless and impulsive. The physical act of going into a shop will be more about learning and exploration than purchasing. Instead, we will be able to purchase items digitally and have them delivered by robots, wherever we are, within minutes.

How might we integrate outside services into our kitchen behaviours?

Food will be more expensive

As populations grow, and as developing countries’ diets incorporate more meat, supply constraints will push the cost of food higher, by 40% according to some estimates.

How might we ensure that we make the most of what we use?•

It’s probably a fair bet that most people believe computers are already more intelligent than us. But even computationally it’s possible our smartphones will be smarter than us in five to ten years. Even if it hasn’t happened by then, it will happen. Something that was impossible a few decades ago, that would have cost billions if it had been possible, will soon be available at a reasonable price, prepared to sit in your pocket or palm.

As Ted Greenwald of the WSJ recently reminded, smart machines don’t have to make us dumb. From automobiles to digital watches, we’ve always ceded certain chores to technology, but these new machines won’t be anything like the ones we know. They will be by far the greatest tools we’ve ever created. What will that mean, positive or negative? I’m wholeheartedly in favor of them, even think they’re necessary, but that doesn’t mean great gifts aren’t attended by great challenges.

From Vivek Wadhwa at the Washington Post:

Ray Kurzweil made a startling prediction in 1999 that appears to be coming true: that by 2023 a $1,000 laptop would have the computing power and storage capacity of a human brain.  He also predicted that Moore’s Law, which postulates that the processing capability of a computer doubles every 18 months, would apply for 60 years — until 2025 — giving way then to new paradigms of technological change.

Kurzweil, a renowned futurist and the director of engineering at Google, now says that the hardware needed to emulate the human brain may be ready even sooner than he predicted — in around 2020 — using technologies such as graphics processing units (GPUs), which are ideal for brain-software algorithms. He predicts that the complete brain software will take a little longer: until about 2029.

The implications of all this are mind-boggling.  Within seven years — about when the iPhone 11 is likely to be released — the smartphones in our pockets will be as computationally intelligent as we are. It doesn’t stop there, though.  These devices will continue to advance, exponentially, until they exceed the combined intelligence of the human race. Already, our computers have a big advantage over us: they are connected via the Internet and share information with each other billions of times faster than we can. It is hard to even imagine what becomes possible with these advances and what the implications are.•

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

  1. father yod los angeles cult leader
  2. morganna the kissing bandit
  3. did abraham lincoln watch john wilkes booth act?
  4. it is morally permissible to sell one’s organs?
  5. william faulkner coverage of ice hockey
  6. attack on the pieta by laszlo toth
  7. what led to the invention of the ferris wheel?
  8. what wiil be considered our biggest sin by future peoples?
  9. terry southern visiting larry flynt
  10. huey p. newton visiting william f. buckley

This week Dr. Phil said Bruce Jenner was too “past his prime” to transition into a woman, which isn’t fair since Phil only recently realized his own dream of fellating a cow prostitute.


  • In 1978, Steven Levy was assigned to find Einstein’s brain. He did.
  • Neuroscientist Heather Berlin predicts the next 50 years of brain hacking.
  • Don Lemon is a star in Jeff Zucker’s clown car of infotainment.
  • Tesla may now be more a battery company than a car company.
  • Obamacare does good but doesn’t poll well. Why?
  • Robot-bartenders allegedly aren’t going to replace human ones. Really?
  • AI may be ready to enter the business world in earnest.
  • Los Angeles is trying to convince itself it’s a green city.

We mostly eat horribly, so if it made us healthier to quantify our calories burned with a smartphone fitness app and use a nutrition app to plan our dinner, that would be good, wouldn’t? I mean, even if we weren’t the ones exactly making the correct decision. In a Nautilus video, systems theorist David Krakauer speaks to the dark side of being governed by algorithms.


Some of Ian Frazier’s customary whip-smart, wondrous prose is on display in his NYRB piece about a raft of volumes by and about Daniil Kharms, a writer from that self-inflicted wound called Russia, who was diagnosed as schizophrenic, incarcerated for being an “anti-Soviet children’s writer” and ultimately starved to death at 36. He matured as an artist under Stalin, an era bathed needlessly in blood, his dark, absurd sensibilities perfect for the time and place or perhaps warped into midnight by them. Though Frazier wisely warns against accepting this narrative as a comprehensive explication of Kharms’ work. The opening:

Russia is the funniest country in the world. Some countries, like America and England, are funny mostly on purpose, while others, like Germany and France, can be funny only unintentionally. (But that counts! Being funny is tricky, so any way you do it counts.) Russia, however, is funny both intentionally (Gogol, Zoshchenko, Bulgakov) and unintentionally (Vladimir Putin singing, as he did at a televised event a few years ago, “I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill”). Given the disaster Russian history has been more or less continuously for the last five centuries, its humor is of the darkest, most extreme kind. Russian humor is to ordinary humor what backwoods fundamentalist poisonous snake handling is to a petting zoo. Russian humor is slapstick, only you actually die.

Surveys that measure such distinctions often rate Russians among the world’s least happy people. To judge from the Russians I know, this information would hold little interest one way or the other. To Russians, happiness is not the big deal it is to us; the Declaration of Independence they don’t have makes no statement about it. On the street or otherwise encountering strangers Russians don’t paste big grins on their faces, the way we tend to do. They look sternly upon reflex smilers. Their humor is powerful without a lot of jollity, and it’s hard to imagine Bulgakov, say, convulsed and weeping with laughter, as I have been when reading certain scenes in his novel Heart of a Dog.

Daniil Kharms, a Russian writer who came of age in the worst of Soviet times, is categorized as an absurdist, partly (I think) because it’s hard to know what else to call him. To me he makes more sense as a religious writer.

He is really funny and completely not ingratiating, simultaneously.•

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An excellent New York Times short-form video report “Cheaper Robots, Fewer Workers” by Jonah M. Kessel and Taige Jensen delves into the automation of labor in China, which claims it suffers a shortage of workers in some provinces and districts despite its immense population in the aggregate. Chinese firms say employees displaced by faster, cheaper machines are offered better positions, but that appears, unsurprisingly, to not be the case.

You probably wouldn’t want to live in a country left behind by robotics, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t great societal challenges for those nations that thrive in this new age.


From the February 1, 1937 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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I’m in favor of genetically modified foods, even if I have concerns about Monsanto and its ilk. Even without human-made climate change, we eventually would face a temperature shift threatening to agriculture. Let’s get started now (carefully and intelligently) on these experiments, especially since there are going to be more mouths to feed. 

In 2010, David Honigmann of the Financial Times had lunch with Stewart Brand, a strong proponent of GMOs, which were meeting with resistance in Europe, particularly France. An excerpt:

Food, I say, is central to French culture. He scoffs. “Socialised agriculture is OK?” He takes some fig jam with his cheese. France, I say, is full of small farmers, not dominated by agrochemical combines. “That’s fair.” None the less, he insists that “it will all go better with genetically engineered plants. And animals. And farmers.

“We’ve had 12 or 13 years of genetically engineered food in this country and it’s been great. My prediction is that in a couple of years we’ll see a soyabean oil that has Omega 3 fatty acids to cut down heart disease. Who would refuse that, any more than people refuse to take medicine?”

In the long run, he insists, opposition will die out. “IVF is the big example. I remember when that was an abomination in the face of God’s will. As soon as people met a few of the children, they realised that they were just as good as the ‘regular’ ones. My hope is that, unlike nuclear, which involves almost a theological shift, getting gradually used to genetic foods will be a non-issue.”•

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In a Harvard Business Review piece, Brad Power looks at the timetable of AI entering the business place in earnest. In the “What’s Next” section, he handicaps the horizon, though I caution that he bases part of his ideas on a bold prediction by Ray Kurzweil, who is brilliant but sometimes wildly inaccurate. An excerpt:

As Moore’s Law marches on, we have more power in our smartphones than the most powerful supercomputers did 30 or 40 years ago. Ray Kurzweil has predicted that the computing power of a $4,000 computer will surpass that of a human brain in 2019 (20 quadrillion calculations per second). What does it all mean for the future of AI?

To get a sense, I talked to some venture capitalists, whose profession it is to keep their eyes and minds trained on the future. Mark Gorenberg, Managing Director at Zetta Venture Partners, which is focused on investing in analytics and data startups, told me, “AI historically was not ingrained in the technology structure. Now we’re able to build on top of ideas and infrastructure that didn’t exist before. We’ve gone through the change of Big Data. Now we’re adding machine learning. AI is not the be-all and end-all; it’s an embedded technology. It’s like taking an application and putting a brain into it, using machine learning. It’s the use of cognitive computing as part of an application.” Another veteran venture capitalist, Promod Haque, senior managing partner at Norwest Venture Partners, explained to me, “if you can have machines automate the correlations and build the models, you save labor and increase speed. With tools like Watson, lots of companies can do different kinds of analytics automatically.”

Manoj Saxena, former head of IBM’s Watson efforts and now a venture capitalist, believes that analytics is moving to the “cognitive cloud” where massive amounts of first- and third-party data will be fused to deliver real-time analysis and learning. Companies often find AI and analytics technology difficult to integrate, especially with the technology moving so fast; thus, he sees collaborations forming where companies will bring their people with domain knowledge, and emerging service providers will bring system and analytics people and technology. Cognitive Scale (a startup that Saxena has invested in) is one of the new service providers adding more intelligence into business processes and applications through a model they are calling “Cognitive Garages.” Using their “10-10-10 method” they deploy a cognitive cloud in 10 seconds, build a live app in 10 hours, and customize it using their client’s data in 10 days. Saxena told me that the company is growing extremely rapidly.•

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How soon will it be until robots walk among us, handling the drudgery and making us all unemployed hobos? It probably depends on how much time the geniuses at MIT waste conducting Ask Me Anythings at Reddit. Ross Finman, Patrick R. Barragán and Ariel Anders, three young roboticists at the school, just did such a Q&A. A few exchanges follow.



  1. How far away are we from robo-assisted “personal care”?
  2. Given the chance, would either of you augment (with current and newly developed equipment) yourselves, and if so: to what extent?

Ross Finman:

1) Well… cop out answer, but it depends. Fully autonomous health care robots that would fully displace human health care professionals will be decades. The level of difficulty in that job (and difficulty for robots is deviation) is immense. Smaller aspects can be automated, but as a whole, a long time.

2) I would love to augment my brain with access to the internet. When hitting a problem and then taking the time to go and search online for the solution is so inefficient. If that could be done in thoughts, that would be awesome! Also, one of my friends is working on a wearable version of Facebook that could remind you when you know someone. Would avoid those awkward situations when you pretend to know someone.



What is currently the most challenging aspect of developing artificial intelligence? (i.e. What are the roadblocks to me getting a mechanical slave?)

Patrick R. Barragán:

This question is pretty general, and most people will have different answers on the topic. I think there are many big problems with developing AI. I think one is representation. It is hard in a general way to think about how to represent a problem or parts of a problem to even begin to think about how to solve it. For example, what are the real differences between a cup and bowl even if humans could easily distinguish them. There is a representation question there for one very specific type of problem. On the other end of the spectrum, how to deal with the huge amount of information that we humans get every moment of every day in the context a robot or computer is also unclear. What do you pay attention to? What do you ignore? How much to your process all the little things that happen? How do you reuse information that you learned later? How do you learn it in the first place?



I remember reading this article about robot sex becoming a mainstream thing in 2050, according to a few robotics experts:


Do you agree or disagree with this assertion?

Patrick R. Barragán:

I guess it’s possible, but if that is where we end up first on this train, I would be surprised. The article that you linked to suggests that people have built robots for all kind of things, and it suggests that those robots work, are deployed, and are now solutions to problems. Those suggestions, which pervade media stories about robotics, are not accurate. We have produced demonstrations of robots that can do certain things, but those sorts of robots that might sound like precursors before we get to “important” sex robots don’t exist in any general way yet.

Also, I don’t know anyone who is working on it or thinks they should be.



Do you think programming should be a required course in all American schools? Do you believe everyone can be benefited by knowing programming skills?

Ariel Anders:

Required? No. Beneficial? Definitely.



Will a computer be able to learn from it’s mistakes in the future?

Ross Finman:

Will humans be able to learn from their mistakes in the future?•

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The upside to the financial crisis of a medium, say like magazines with their economic model tossed into the crapper by technological progress, is that publications are forced to reinvent themselves, get innovative and try offbeat things. In that spirit, the resuscitated Newsweek assigned Wikileaks editor (not “self-styled editor”) Julian Assange to review Luke Harding’s The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man.

And what a gleefully obnoxious pan he delivers, making some salient points along the way, even if it’s not exactly unexpected that he would be bilious toward traditional media in favor of alterna-journalists like himself. Additionally: Assange proves he is a very funny writer. You know, just like Bill Cosby.

An excerpt:

In recent years, we have seen The Guardian consult itself into cinematic history—in the Jason Bourne films and others—as a hip, ultra-modern, intensely British newspaper with a progressive edge, a charmingly befuddled giant of investigative journalism with a cast-iron spine.

The Snowden Files positions The Guardian as central to the Edward Snowden affair, elbowing out more significant players like Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras for Guardian stablemates, often with remarkably bad grace.

“Disputatious gay” Glenn Greenwald’s distress at the U.K.’s detention of his husband, David Miranda, is described as “emotional” and “over-the-top.” My WikiLeaks colleague Sarah Harrison—who helped rescue Snowden from Hong Kongis dismissed as a “would-be journalist.”

I am referred to as the “self-styled editor of WikiLeaks.” In other words, the editor of WikiLeaks. This is about as subtle as Harding’s withering asides get. You could use this kind of thing on anyone.

Flatulent Tributes

The book is full of flatulent tributes to The Guardian and its would-be journalists. “[Guardian journalist Ewen] MacAskill had climbed the Matterhorn, Mont Blanc and the Jungfrau. His calmness now stood him in good stead.” Self-styled Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger is introduced and reintroduced in nearly every chapter, each time quoting the same hagiographic New Yorker profile as testimony to his “steely” composure and “radiant calm.”

That this is Hollywood bait could not be more blatant.•

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In China, the leading cause of death is now cancer (and the mortality rate from the disease considerably higher than the world average), so you’d think the government would have its hands full with that issue. But they still have time to be concerned about “funeral strippers,” an admittedly strange lure to draw mourners to a service. There’s an official crackdown on the practice. From Te-Ping Chen and Josh Chin at WSJ:

In China, friends and family of the deceased may have to do without a special form of funereal entertainment: strippers.

According to a statement from the Ministry of Culture on Thursday, the government plans to work closely with the police to eliminate such performances, which are held with the goal of drawing more mourners.

Pictures of a funeral in the city of Handan in northern Hebei province last month showed a dancer removing her bra as assembled parents and children watched. They were widely circulated online, prompting much opprobrium. In its Thursday statement, the Ministry of Culture cited “obscene” performances in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu, as well as in Handan, and pledged to crack down on such lascivious last rites.

In the Handan incident earlier this year, the ministry said, six performers had arrived to offer an erotic dance at the funeral of an elderly resident. Investigators were dispatched and the performance was found to have violated public security regulations, with the person responsible for the performing troupe in question detained administratively for 15 days and fined 70,000 yuan (about $11,300), the statement said. The government condemned such performances for corrupting the social atmosphere.•

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Coney Island was chiefly an amusement and often a raffish one, but there was a serious side to some of the sights. For instance, Topsy the elephant was electrocuted in 1903 in what may have been a scheme to make Nikola Tesla’s AC system seem dangerous, giving Thomas Edison’s DC method positive publicity during the War of the Currents. The baby incubators were likewise a suspect attraction, though it would seem much good came of the spectator-sponsored medical innovation, which, if its proprietor, Dr. Martin A. Couney, is to be believed, successfully graduated 6,000 babies by 1928, the infants nursed on low-pressure oxygen, breast milk and a daily drop of whiskey. An article about the incubators from the August 4, 1928 Brooklyn Daily Eagle. 

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New Yorkers listen to special radio broadcast of 1922 World Series.

New Yorkers listen to special radio broadcast of 1922 World Series.

Major League Baseball team owners, supposedly great champions of the free market, have often been baffled by basic economics, working against their own interests. They enjoy an anti-trust exemption to stifle competition and receive tons of corporate welfare whenever they decide its time for a new ballpark, yet they vehemently opposed free agency, which made the game a 365-day-a-year sport, putting real fire in the Hot Stove League. They even engaged in collusion to artificially suppress player movement and salaries. That very movement they despised helped turn the owners from millionaires into billionaires, something which still seems lost on some in this exclusive club. 

So, it’s no surprise that they strongly considered banning radio broadcasts of games a century ago, fearing it would kill gate receipts. Thankfully William Wrigley intervened, realizing the promotional value. Today broadcast rights, even local ones, are worth billions, making them the most valuable aspect of team ownership.

From James Walker at the Conversation:

In the 1920s, teams that did broadcast games on the radio usually charged nothing for the rights, settling for free promotion of their on-field product. For Wrigley, who was accustomed to paying retail rates to advertise his chewing gum, the prospect of two hours of free advertising for his Chicago Cubs (over as many as five Chicago radio stations) was generous enough compensation. But the anti-radio owners, led by the three New York clubs (the Yankees, Giants and Dodgers), wanted to deny Wrigley his two-hour Cubs commercial.

Although he jealously guarded his control over World Series radio rights, MLB Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis believed local radio rights were a league matter and left the decision to broadcast regular season games to the owners. At several NL and AL owners meetings in the late 1920s and early 1930s, the anti-radio forces proposed a league-wide ban on local broadcasts of regular season games.

Pro-radio clubs, led by Cubs’ President Bill Veeck, Sr, were adamant that the choice to broadcast belonged to his club. It was no more of concern to other clubs, he argued, than the decision whether or not to sell peanuts to the fans in the stands.

But to teams like the St Louis Cardinals, it was a concern: because the Cubs’ radio waves reached the Cardinals’ fan base, they were convinced that the broadcasts negatively influenced their own attendance numbers. The decision of whether or not to broadcast games, they reasoned, was not the Cubs alone to make.•

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