“There is no such place anywhere.”

The infamous Wild West town of Deadwood was profiled in all its raffish, criminal, merciless glory in the the August 13, 1877 New York Times. An excerpt:

“Deadwood is as lively as ever. It is a queer place. The man who ventured the remark that a fool and his money are soon parted must have had in his mind’s eye some such place as this. It is the sharpers’ paradise. The ‘tenderfoot’ is here brought face to face with the ingenious bummer, the slick confidence man, the claim jumper, the land shark and the desperado, and he is a man of more than usual alertness who does not get ‘taken in’ somehow or other before he has been 24 hours in this sinful city. There is no such place anywhere. It shows up in its worst forms the ‘fast and flash’ American trait. A little over a year ago the site of this swarming camp was a part of the howling wilderness. To-day there are along the streets and up and down in the gulches, within a mile, over 10,000 people. Here is a city of 4,000 inhabitants, with a floating population of 2,000 more. About 1,500 houses and huts, and hundreds of tents up the hill-sides, an academy, church, two daily newspapers, four banks; 20 lawyers, physicians, dentists, artists; club-houses, theatres in full blast every night, the streets thronged with speculators, tramps, and bummers: gambling-hells open all day long, and ‘cappers’ on every corner watching for the next ‘victim’–such is a hasty glance at Deadwood. It is a place in which the few prey upon the many. You cannot buy anything for less than a quarter; your living costs you double what it would at Denver or Salt Lake City. You can’t step in any direction without facing some device for getting rid of your money. They have even got a ‘corner’ on postage stamps and you must pay from a dime to a quarter for a three-cent stamp. It is no wonder that the thousands who come here with a few dollars in their pockets soon find themselves ‘dead broke’ and dependent upon the charity of the better class of people. It cannot be urged too strongly that poor men or men of small competence should stay away from Black Hills. It may not be out of the way for capitalists to come and look around; but let the poor man stay away. One of the business men here, seeing the condition of the hundreds who lay idle and pennilesss about the street, has the honesty to write to the Deadwood Times, for the benefit of ‘pilgrims,’ in which he says that the truth ought to be told. and the ‘tenderfeet’ be advised to stay at home. I quote from his communication:

deadwodd890‘There are thousands of men in the Hills who would be glad to work for their bread, or enough money to pay their way back home; but there is no employment for them. The placer claims are all taken up by the first comers, and the quartz leads are not yet sufficiently developed to require many laborers. I never saw so many sick-looking men in my life as I have seen in Deadwood. They come here without a cent in their pockets, expecting to gobble up gold by the bucketful, and they soon go away without a ‘flea in the ear.’ Now these pilgrims are not only fools in this ‘vain delusive world.’ They come here full of greedy expectation, but in 24 hours their gorgeous air castles have blown away into bubbles.’”

All my condolences got to the family of photojournalist James Foley, who was executed by ISIS. What a brave and decent person he was, right down to the final harsh seconds of his life. If only all of us possessed such strength.

When you see such utter brutality of ISIS in Iraq, you’re reminded that such a group gained power only because we destabilized that region with a needless war, just one of the bad decisions we made in the wake of 9/11. Another was torture. We lowered ourselves to the level of our inhumane attackers. We never needed to carry out a holocaust to defeat Hitler, and we don’t have to turn ourselves into terrorists to overcome them. Let’s face it: The world has already overcome them, modernity rendering them merely a dangerous anachronism. We don’t need to head back to the 13th century ourselves to win this ever-shifting war.

One of the key figures in allowing waterboarding and renditions was CIA lawyer John Rizzo, who has written a book of his experiences, Company Man: Thirty Years of Controversy and Crisis in the CIA. He just sat for an interview with Spiegel’s Holger Stark. An excerpt:

Spiegel:

Just days after 9/11, you also wrote up a list of possible covert actions. What did you suggest?

John Rizzo:

I actually wrote the first list the day of 9/11, literally two hours after the attack. Like everyone else, I was in a state of shock and bewilderment, but I knew that we were going to undertake counteractions that were unprecedented in my career. I scribbled down on my yellow legal pad conceivable options, including lethal operations against al-Qaida — not just the al-Qaida elements who carried out the 9/11 attack, but also those who would be planning future attacks. The list included, for the first time in the history of the CIA, a program to detain and interrogate senior al-Qaida leaders.

Spiegel:

Would you describe yourself as the architect of the renditions program through which suspected al-Qaida members were secretly kidnapped and abused?

John Rizzo:

I was certainly an architect of the interrogation program, even if I didn’t originally come up with it. I was the legal architect of the proposed list of techniques and played the lead role in obtaining legal approval for their use.

Spiegel: 

Who came up with the original idea?

John Rizzo:

Our people from the Counter Terrorism Center. One day they came to my office and listed all the enhanced interrogation techniques for me. I had never heard of waterboarding. Some techniques, such as waterboarding and sleep deprivation …

Spiegel:

… which kept those suspected by the CIA of terrorism awake for more than seven days non-stop …

John Rizzo:

… seemed harsh, even brutal to me. On the original list of proposed techniques was one which was even more chilling than waterboarding. It was never used.

Spiegel:

What technique was it?

John Rizzo: 

I’m not allowed to specify it; it is still classified. I had no preparation when the counterterrorism people came to me, and so my first reaction was one of being rather stunned by what was being proposed.”

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Global box office explains why Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, which underperformed in the U.S., warranted a sequel, but why on earth would there be a Jarhead 2 nine years after the original, with none of the original principals attached? Matt Patches of Grantland breaks down the strategy and economics of such a move, which is not so different than reviving a ghost brand of cereal. An excerpt:

“There are blunt and nuanced answers to the inevitable ‘Why!?’ The obvious: money. Less obvious: A potential to serve audiences hungry for stories with budget-sensible vehicles. That’s Glenn Ross’s prerogative. As general manager and executive vice-president of Universal 1440 Entertainment, the production arm of Universal Studios Home Entertainment, Ross hunts for available brands to mine. It’s not unlike a typical movie studio, though Ross doesn’t have the time to work like the theatrical side. He works quickly and aggressively. He caters to fans and creates results. Judging from Universal Studios Home Entertainment’s history, he’s doing something right.

The officially sanctioned Jarhead sequel joins a swarm of thought-dead brands revived through cunning straight-to-DVD strategy. Universal Home Entertainment, which is releasing Jarhead 2: Field of Fire on Blu-ray, DVD, and VOD platforms, has ‘non-theatrical’ (‘direct-to-DVD’ being the archaic term) production down to a science. The company releases five to seven titles a year. The annual slates are eclectic: In the past four years, Universal has released The Scorpion King 3: Battle for Redemption,Saige Paints the SkyDeath Race 3: InfernoHoney 2,Blue Crush 2Curse of Chucky (the franchise’s sixth installment), and The Little Rascals Save the Day (a quasi-continuation of the studio’s 1994 remake). Competitive studios keep their own plates spinning, with Fox Home Entertainment (Marley & Me: The Puppy Years, Tooth Fairy 2, Flicka: Country Pride, Wrong Turn 5 & 6, and Joy Ride 3), Paramount Famous Productions (Mean Girls 2), and Warner Premiere (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective Jr.; House Party: Tonight’s the Night; and DC Comics’ animated output) producing new titles for streaming platforms and Redbox kiosks.

Ross looks at Jarhead 2 and sees an entirely new face to the non-theatrical business.”

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Whether it’s kidneys or kidney beans, 3D printers have as much potential as anything to transform our world. But how close is the reality? From Lisa Fleisher at the Wall Street Journal:

“A 3-D printed pizza isn’t coming to a home kitchen near you anytime soon. But a personalized wedding cake topper? That could be commercially viable a lot quicker, says Gartner analyst Pete Basiliere.

The vision of printing your own food, gifts or shoes at home is at least five to 10 years away, analyst firm Gartner said in a report on 3-D printing released Tuesday, part of its annual tradition of trying to gauge how much of the talk around various technologies is real vs. hype. 3-D printing refers to a way of manufacturing things on the spot, commonly by spurting out layer upon layer of material such as plastic to forge something based on a digital design.

The most common and easiest use for 3-D printing is to create product models, which is about two years away from its peak usage, the report said. Mainstream adoption of 3-D printing in medicine — a rapidly advancing area that includes everything from actual organs to prosthetic limbs — is about two to five years away. But the technology just isn’t practical enough for everyday use at home, at least not yet, Basiliere said.”

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Reddit pointed me to a post at economist Robin Hansen’s blog, in which he engages in some extreme speculation. Hansen looks at how the trends of longer lifespans and accelerated social change may lead to a multi-generational disconnect, which has encouraged some futurists to suggest governance by totalitarian computer, or Fascism by algorithm. They think it inevitable anyway, so they want to try to commandeer this brave new world to some extent. I don’t think we get that option should the computer apocalypse occur. An excerpt:

“In history we have seen change not only in technology and environments, but also in habits, cultures, attitudes, and preferences. New generations often act not just like the same people thrust into new situations, but like new kinds of people with new attitudes and preferences. This has often intensified intergenerational conflicts; generations have argued not only about who should consume and control what, but also about which generational values should dominate.

So far, this sort of intergenerational value conflict has been limited due to the relatively mild value changes that have so far appeared within individual lifetimes. But at least two robust trends suggest the future will have more value change, and thus more conflict:

  1. Longer lifespans – Holding other things constant, the longer people live the more generations will overlap at any one time, and the more different will be their values.
  2. Faster change – Holding other things constant, a faster rate of economic and social change will likely induce values to change faster as people adapt to these social changes.
  3. Value plasticity – It may become easier for our descendants to change their values, all else equal. This might be via stronger ads and schools, or direct brain rewiring. (This trend seems less robust.)

These trends robustly suggest that toward the end of their lives future folk will more often look with disapproval at the attitudes and behaviors of younger generations, even as these older generations have a smaller proportional influence on the world. There will be more ‘Get off my lawn! Damn kids got no respect.’

The futurists who most worry about this problem tend to assume a worst possible case. (Supporting quotes below.) That is, without a regulatory solution we face the prospect of quickly sharing the world with daemon spawn of titanic power who share almost none of our values. Not only might they not like our kind of music, they might not like music. They might not even be conscious. One standard example is that they might want only to fill the universe with paperclips, and rip us apart to make more paperclip materials. Futurists’ key argument: the space of possible values is vast, with most points far from us.

This increased intergenerational conflict is the new problem that tempts some futurists today to consider a new regulatory solution. And their preferred solution: a complete totalitarian takeover of the world, and maybe the universe, by a new super-intelligent computer.

You heard that right.”

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Father Yod had 14 wives, but it’s not polite to count.

Before he was an oddly named cult leader, Yod was James Edward Baker, a Marine and stuntman who in 1969 opened a Sunset Strip health-food restaurant, the Source, and founded a cult, the Source Family, a group of beautiful young people housed in a Los Angeles mansion. Oh, and he fronted an improvisational psychedelic band called YaHoWa 13. Yod was killed almost immediately after moving his improvised family to Hawaii, believing he could hang glide from a 1,000 foot peak even though he had no experience in the sport. 

I suppose it’s because the commune never blew up into any kind of Manson-ish mayhem that it’s looked back upon (from a distance) almost fondly. But insular societies are always just a couple of steps from madness. Of course, I guess you could say the same of nations, though it’s easier to find refuge in a larger world.

The opening of Steffie Nelson’s 2007 Los Angeles Times article about the guru and his group:

“Earlier this summer, almost 100 psychedelic music fans, subculture aficionados, students of the occult and local literati climbed the flower-petal-strewn steps of publisher couple Jodi Wille and Adam Parfrey’s Silver Lake home for a salon celebrating the upcoming publication of The Source: The Untold Story of Father Yod, YaHoWa 13 and the Source Family (Process), the definitive history of a mystical cult that thrived in Los Angeles between 1970 and 1974. The book’s author, Isis Aquarian (formerly Charlene Peters), had flown in from Hawaii, and Family members Omne, Magus, Electra and Orbit, all of whom are now in their 50s and 60s, had also come to share stories.

During a Q&A session, they good-naturedly addressed whether they’d been brainwashed (‘Absolutely!’ said Orbit, who now goes by David) and answered questions about Dionysm, the form of tantric sex they’d practiced.

‘I’m ready to join right now!’ announced one attendee, no doubt echoing the sentiments of many who wistfully longed for a time when Utopia was, if not entirely feasible, at least on the agenda.

Imagine your fantasy commune, the one you’d find only in the movies, where everyone is young and beautiful; the clothes are fabulous; the leader benign; and home is a mansion in the Hollywood Hills. Chances are it probably looks a lot like the Source Family, whose 140 members ‘dropped out’ right in the middle of Los Angeles. Led by a bearded, hunky, 6-foot-3 former war hero who called himself Father Yod and, later, YaHoWha, this vibrant group of men and women embarked on a wild social experiment, turning all their material possessions over to the group and supporting themselves serving gourmet vegetarian cuisine at their popular Sunset Strip restaurant, the Source. Living communally in a Los Feliz mansion owned by the Chandler family (former owners of this newspaper) and then in a house built by Catherine Deneuve, many of them formed polyamorous relationships; not surprisingly, the most extreme example was Father Yod, who took 14 ‘spiritual wives.’

Notwithstanding the group’s visible presence in Hollywood (brothers and sisters could often be seen strolling en masse down Sunset, Atlantean robes and hair a-flowing), extensive media coverage, and the catalog of music they recorded as YaHoWa 13 — legendary among connoisseurs of psychedelic rock — the Source story has remained untold for 30 years. This is partly because of a vow of secrecy taken by all members, but more likely it’s a reflection of their confusion and even shame about the communal experience, for which American society gave them only one place to file: in the freaky hippie bin.”

___________________________

The trailer for the 2013 documentary, The Source Family, available on Netflix:

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There’s an error on the Brooklyn Daily Eagle site keeping me from accessing files, so I’ll be re-running some previous Old Print Articles until it’s fixed.


From the February 28, 1867 New York Times:

Buffalo–Five dead bodies, two males, two females, and one newborn infant, were found by the Detective Police at the Grand Trunk Railroad depot this afternoon. They were shipped through the American Express Company for Ann Arbor, Mich. The bodies were packed  in flour barrels in a nude state, and had not been dead over a week. The bodies are now being cleansed of flour, and will be exposed for identification to-morrow morning. This city is wild with excitement to know whose relations have been thus desecrated by body snatchers.”

You can have a very low crime rate in a police state, provided you don’t count the crimes committed by the police.

******

I still remember when Rudolph Giuliani was mayor of New York, and he sent helicopters to break up a gathering of African-American youth in Harlem at the precise second the city said it had to end, because one of the adult speakers was a well-known bigot. What if one of the copters had malfunctioned and crashed into the children? Imagine that horror.

******

War is big business in America, and we seem to use every reason–War on Drugs, War on Terror, etc.–to arm ourselves to the teeth, often getting bitten ourselves in the end. Those drones and weapons developed during the travesty of the Iraq War have begun making their way to your local police departments. But the problem stretches back further than that. From the Economist:

“ON AUGUST 9th Darren Wilson, a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, shot and killed Michael Brown, an 18-year-old unarmed black man. Two days after the shooting, tactical officers—paramilitary police generally referred to as SWAT (for Special Weapons and Tactics)—were called in to help clear protestors from in front of Ferguson’s police department. They arrived dressed for war, in riot gear and gas masks, bearing long truncheons and automatic weapons—despite the fact that aside from some ugly looting incidents the day after the shooting, Ferguson’s protests have largely been peaceful. In the days that followed, tactical officers have tear-gassed a news crew, aimed automatic weapons and sniper rifles at unarmed protestors and patrolled the streets of a small town in Missouri in vehicles that would not look out of place in Baghdad or Aleppo. The days of the beat cop walking the street with nothing more than a trusty old revolver seem distant indeed. How did America’s police forces get so well-armed?

In this as with so much else in American governance, it starts with federal cash. Every year Congress passes the National Defence Authorisation Act, which sets out the Defence Department’s budget and expenditures. The version passed in 1990, in the wake of a sharp rise in drug-related violence, allowed the Defence Department to transfer military gear and weapons to local police departments if they were deemed ‘suitable for use in counter-drug activities.’ Between 2002 and 2011 the Department of Homeland Security, established after the attacks of September 11th 2001, disbursed more than $35 billion in grants to state and local police forces. In addition the ’1033 programme’ allows the Defence Department to distribute surplus equipment to local police departments for use in counter-terrorism and counter-drug activities. The American Civil Liberties Union found that the value of military equipment used by American police departments has risen from $1m in 1990 to nearly $450m in 2013.”

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Marvin Minsky, visionary of robotic arms, thinking computers and major motion pictures, is interviewed by Ray Kurzweil. The topic, unsurprisingly: “Is the Singularity Near?”

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Paul Ingrassia of Reuters went on a test drive of the current iteration of the Google driverless car. The main technical point to still be worked out, obviously, is the challenge of making the robocars react to the unexpected (e.g., highway patrol waving them past an accident scene). That last 5% or so of such obstacles might be more difficult than the other 95%. The cars are programmed to travel up to 10 mph over the limit if cars around it are speeding (to avoid accidents). Google claims it currently has no business plan for the technology and is just focused on trying to perfect it. An excerpt:

“This test drive, in contrast, took place on the placid streets of Mountain View, the Silicon Valley town that houses Google’s headquarters.

The engineers on hand weren’t high-powered ‘car guys’ but soft-spoken Alpha Geeks of the sort that have emerged as the Valley’s dominant species. And there wasn’t any speeding even though, ironically, Google’s engineers have determined that speeding actually is safer than going the speed limit in some circumstances.

‘Thousands and thousands of people are killed in car accidents every year,’ said Dmitri Dolgov, the project’s boyish Russian-born lead software engineer, who now is a U.S. citizen, describing his sense of mission. ‘This could change that.’

Dolgov, who’s 36 years old, confesses that he drives a Subaru instead of a high-horsepower beast. Not once during an hour-long conversation did he utter the words ‘performance,’ ‘horsepower,’ or ‘zero-to-60,’ which are mantras at every other new-car test drive. Instead Dolgov repeatedly invoked ‘autonomy,’ the techie term for cars capable of driving themselves.

Google publicly disclosed its driverless car program in 2010, though it began the previous year. It’s part of the company’s ‘Google X’ division, overseen directly by co-founder

Sergey Brin and devoted to ‘moon shot’ projects by the Internet company, as Dolgov puts it, that might take years, if ever, to bear fruit.

So if there’s a business plan for the driverless car, Google isn’t disclosing it. Dolgov, who recently ‘drove’ one of his autonomous creations the 450 miles (725 km) or so from Silicon Valley to Tahoe and back for a short holiday, simply says his mission is to perfect the technology, after which the business model will fall into place.”

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I remember Web 1.0 home-delivery operations from 15 years ago like Urbanfetch, which looked like good ideas on paper, provided you weren’t wearing your reading glasses. In the age of smartphones and improved algorithms, such concerns are trying to get going again. Still seems dubious. From Claire Cain Miller at the New York Times Magazine:

“In the tech crash of the early 2000s, on-demand delivery services like Kozmo and Webvan weren’t just among the most colossal failures. They also became a sort of grim joke, symbolizing the excess that portended the bust. Afterward, conventional wisdom hardened: Web-enabled delivery was not a good business because it simply cost too much to build warehouses, manage an inventory and pay drivers. There was too little opportunity to recoup expenditures in delivery fees; people will pay only so much for toilet paper to be delivered before they decide to fetch it themselves.

But something is in the air of late, making hindsight blurry. Despite the early demise of Rewinery and the shrunken ambitions of others, such as eBay Now, similar start-ups with names like Caviar, SpoonRocket and DoorDash have raised half a billion dollars in investment in the last year, according to CB Insights, which tracks venture capital. Even Louis Borders, the founder of Webvan (as well as the Borders bookstore chain, another Internet casualty), is at work on a grocery delivery start-up. Uber is using the $1.4 billion it just raised to expand beyond delivering people to delivering things. Meanwhile, venture capitalists joke that every other entrepreneur they meet pitches an ‘Uber for X,’ bringing goods and services on demand: laundry (Washio), ice cream (Ice Cream Life), marijuana (Eaze) and so on. Investors are stuck wondering whether this is 2000 all over again, or whether this new breed of delivery start-ups can succeed where the last crop so famously failed.

John A. Deighton, a Harvard Business School professor who wrote a case study on Webvan, likes to compare the delivery business to shining shoes. ‘You make as much profit on one shoe as you do on a thousand shoes,’ he said. ‘There’s just no scale.’ In years past, it was difficult for Deighton to even teach his students about Webvan, because its fatal flaws were so obvious. They didn’t understand how the euphoria of the dot-com boom could have obscured its shortcomings. But in the last year, he has been asked to teach it three times. ‘Something has changed,’ he said.

The biggest change is that the companies are trying to improve same-day delivery with software — and, at the same time, are distancing themselves as far as possible from the physical supply chain that killed their ancestors.”

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The Trolley Problem as applied to autonomous cars is currently one of the most popular legal and philosophical exercises. I think it may be somewhat overstated since the average human driver routinely tries to swerve from a crash, and that may be the default setting for robocars in what will hopefully be a world of far fewer potential crashes. But the issue of liability will still need to be worked out. From Patrick Lin’s Wired piece about the possibility of “adjustable ethics settings”:

“Do you remember that day when you lost your mind? You aimed your car at five random people down the road. By the time you realized what you were doing, it was too late to brake.

Thankfully, your autonomous car saved their lives by grabbing the wheel from you and swerving to the right. Too bad for the one unlucky person standing on that path, struck and killed by your car.

Did your robot car make the right decision? This scene, of course, is based on the infamous ‘trolley problem‘ that many folks are now talking about in AI ethics. It’s a plausible scene, since even cars today have crash-avoidance features: some can brake by themselves to avoid collisions, and others can change lanes too.

The thought-experiment is a moral dilemma, because there’s no clearly right way to go. It’s generally better to harm fewer people than more, to have one person die instead of five. But the car manufacturer creates liability for itself in following that rule, sensible as it may be. Swerving the car directly results in that one person’s death: this is an act of killing. Had it done nothing, the five people would have died, but you would have killed them, not the car manufacturer which in that case would merely have let them die.

Even if the car didn’t swerve, the car manufacturer could still be blamed for ignoring the plight of those five people, when it held the power to save them. In other words: damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.

So why not let the user select the car’s ‘ethics setting’? 

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“Then he began his career as an itinerant long-haired prophet.”

“Then he began his career as an itinerant long-haired prophet.”

Louis Hauesser was a wealthy German who saw his fortune sink during World War I, before reinventing himself as a “messiah” with a bevy of young followers, many of them attractive females. In that sense, he presaged Krishna VentaCharles Manson and Mel Lyman, among others. He was in constant conflict with authority figures, and spent a fair amount of time as a defendant. A court appearance for a trifling matter in the early ’20s was the basis of an article in the December 23, 1921 New York Times. The story:

Berlin–The Moabit Police Court witnessed a strange scene when an ‘Apostle of Charity,’ one Louis Hauesser, self-styled ‘Prophet of the Latter-Day Christ, World Benefactor, Initiator of the New Era and Proclaimer of the New Healing,’ was called to the bar on a charge of having failed to pay $6.29 to a Berlin paper for an advertisement, the insertion of which is said to have been obtained under false pretenses. Prophet Hauesser, six feet of splendid manhood, had bare legs, sandals, a hair shirt, prophet whiskers and the longest inflowing locks seen in court in many a moon. He was accompanied by a similarly garbed and locked flock of faithful, more than a score of freakish men and women.

For months the German Messiahs have been peripatetically and profitably prophesying all over Germany, making many converts, particularly among women. The South German police, taking cognizance of the prophet’s increasing bare-footed and hair-shirted female following, put him into the psychiatric ward of Tuebingen University for observation, whence he was released owing to lack of a charge, but the professor’s expert findings are of remarkable human interest.

Until the outbreak of the war the hairy prophet was a well-groomed, fashionably dressed spender and husband of a remarkably beautiful woman living in luxury. He owned a champagne factory and also derived a large income from betting bureaus in Switzerland. But he blew in all his own and his wife’s money and went broke early in the war.

Then he began his career as an itinerant long-haired prophet. ‘His conspicuous virility exercised influenced a strong influence over a large number, even intellectual persons, particularly women,’ according to the Tuebingen professor.

In the police court Hauesser stubbornly refused to sit on the accused bench but graciously gave the Judge permission to go ahead and sentence him, however he pleased. He got the usual installment of three days in jail for contempt of court.”

You may not want to be in the system, but there you are. We all are. From Charles Arthur at the Guardian:

“Google is buying Jetpac, a ‘city guides’ company with a twist which used image recognition and neural network technology to recommend places it deemed the happiest, most popular or with the best views and scenic hikes.

Jetpac offered special ‘City Guides’ for more than 6,000 destinations, using neural network technology developed by Pete Warden, the company’s co-founder and chief technology officer.

‘We can spot lipstick, blue sky views, hipster moustaches and more, through advanced image processing on billions of photos,’ Jetpac’s home page explains. The app worked by analysing public photos with location data shared on Flickr, Instagram and other photo networks for particular elements, and then extracting key elements about them. 

The purchase, for an undisclosed sum, points to Google’s growing interest in artificial intelligence applications as it seeks to grow offerings such as its Google Now personal assistant.”

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Speaking of deranged leaders who prey on the needs of others, emotional and otherwise, Foxcatcher, Bennett Miller’s film about John du Pont, a madmen who wrestled the amateur sports world into his madness, is to be released in a couple of months. Most reviews so far have been positive. Here’s a reprint of an earlier post I put up about du Pont.

John du Pont was the wealthy benefactor of amateur wrestling, a schizophrenic whose money kept treatment at a distance, who descended into utter madness in the 1990s, and ultimately murdered Olympic hero David Schultz. The heavily armed du Pont, who’d played host to underdog sports since the 1960s, was arrested only after a two-day stand-off with the police. The opening of “A Man Possessed,” Bill Hewitt’s 1996 People article about the tragedy:

“Lately he had started telling people that he was the Dalai Lama. If anyone refused to address him as such, he simply refused to talk to them. That was bizarre, but then John E. du Pont, 57, a multimillionaire scion of the fabled industrial family, had always been odd. For fun he drove an armored personnel carrier around his 800-acre estate, Foxcatcher. He complained about bugs under his skin and about ghosts in the walls of the house. By and large, friends and family shook their heads, fretted about his ravings—and waited for the inevitable breakdown. ‘John is mentally ill and has been mentally ill for some time,’ says sister-in-law Martha du Pont, who is married to John’s older brother Henry. ‘But this year he really went over the edge.’

No one realized how far over until Friday afternoon, Jan. 26. Around 3 p.m., Dave Schultz, 36, a gold medalist in freestyle wrestling at the 1984 Olympics, was out working on his car at Foxcatcher, in leafy Newtown Square, Pa., 15 miles west of Philadelphia, where du Pont had established a residential training facility for top-level athletes. Suddenly du Pont pulled into the driveway of the house where Schultz lived with his wife, Nancy, 36, and their two children, Alexander, 9, and Danielle, 6. From the living room, Nancy heard a shot. When she reached the front door she heard a second. Looking out in horror, she saw a screaming du Pont, sitting in his car, extend his arm from the driver’s side window, take aim at her husband, facedown on the ground, and pump one more bullet into his body. After pointing the gun at Nancy, du Pont drove down the road to his home, leaving her to cradle her dying husband. 

During the two-day standoff that ensued, some 75 police and SWAT team members surrounded the sprawling Greek-revival mansion that du Pont called home. Finally, on Sunday afternoon, du Pont emerged, unarmed, to check on the house’s heating unit, which the police had turned off, and was taken without a shot being fired. That evening, a gaunt, ashen-faced du Pont was arraigned in a Newtown Township courtroom on a charge of first-degree murder, which in Pennsylvania can carry the death penalty. As investigators tried to piece together a motive for the seemingly senseless killing, there emerged the sad, scary portrait of a man believed to be worth more than $50 million who was rich enough to indulge his madness and to put enough distance between himself and the world at large to ensure that no one really bothered him about it.”

As you might have noticed if you read this blog regularly, I’m fascinated by cults, communes, utopias and mass movements, when groups of people give themselves up to an idea that doesn’t necessarily mesh with reality. On that subject: I didn’t realize “The Man Who Saves You From Yourself,” Nathaniel Rich’s excellent 2013 Harper’s profile of cult infiltrator David Sullivan was ungated. (Sullivan died from cancer just after its publication.) Here’s the opening:

“Nobody ever joins a cult. One joins a nonprofit group that promotes green technology, animal rights, or transcendental meditation. One joins a yoga class or an entrepreneurial workshop. One begins practicing an Eastern religion that preaches peace and forbearance. The first rule of recruitment, writes Margaret Singer, the doyenne of cult scholarship, is that a recruit must never suspect he or she is being recruited. The second rule is that the cult must monopolize the recruit’s time. Therefore, in order to have any chance of rescuing a new acolyte, it is critical to act quickly. The problem is that family and friends, much like the new cult member, are often slow to admit the severity of the situation. ‘Clients usually don’t come to me until their daughter is already to-the-tits brainwashed,” says David Sullivan, a private investigator in San Francisco who specializes in cults. ‘By that point the success rate is very low.’

Sullivan became fascinated with cults in the late Sixties, while attending Fairview High School in Boulder, Colorado. It was a golden age for religious fringe groups, and Boulder was one of the nation’s most fertile recruiting centers, as it is today. (There are now, according to conservative estimates, 2 million adults involved in cults in America.) “You couldn’t walk five steps without being approached by someone asking whether you’d like to go to a Buddhist meeting,” says John Stark, a high school friend of Sullivan’s. Representatives from Jews for Jesus and the Moonies set up information booths in the student union at the University of Colorado, a few miles down the road from Fairview High. Sullivan engaged the hawkers, accepted the pamphlets, attended every meditation circle, prayer circle, shamanic circle. When the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi led a mass meditation session at the university, Sullivan was there, watching from the back of the lecture hall.

Sullivan was not religious. Though raised Catholic, by high school he considered himself a “hardcore atheist.” Before the family moved to Boulder, his father had managed a used-car dealership in Salina, Kansas. His mother worked in a pawnshop. On Thursday nights, during the late shift, Sullivan sat with her at the counter, where he met criminals, alcoholics, and grifters trying to stay one step ahead of bill collectors. He saw how people could be manipulated if you exploited their weaknesses. He learned about desperation and the lies people told to arouse sympathy. From his grandfather, a funeral-home director who, Sullivan suspects, forged death certificates for the local Catholic church, he learned how to keep a secret. The suicide of a gay priest was called a heart attack. The botched abortion of a pregnant nun was pneumonia.

During spring break in 1968, inspired by On the Road, Sullivan and Stark set off on a tour of the Southwest in Sullivan’s baby-blue Pontiac convertible. They visited Drop City in southern Colorado, eating brown rice and tofu under geodesic domes, and the New Buffalo Commune outside of Taos, New Mexico, washing dishes after the communal meal and hitting on the women. Stark remembers how excited Sullivan would become when he entered these communities. “He had a wanderlust, a powerful urge to immerse himself in these different cultures.” When they spent the following summer in Mexico City, Stark noticed that Sullivan had begun to speak with a Mexican accent.

‘There was a soul-searching element of it,’ says Sullivan. ‘But I was also curious to know what the gurus were getting out of it. And I wanted to figure out how they picked up all those girls.’

The spiritual groups, he soon realized, shared a simple tactic: they demanded that their followers suspend critical thought. ‘They’d say, ‘You have to break out of your Western mentality. You’re too judgmental. You have to abandon your whole psychological-intellectual framework. Your obsessive materialism is blocking you from seeing the truth.’

‘I became disturbed by how dramatically they transformed people, and in such a short period of time. They could take some regular American kid and all of a sudden he’s wearing saffron robes, walking around barefoot, all painted up, with a tiny ponytail and shaved head, dancing for hours, selling flowers and incense, living on the floor and eating disgusting food, repeating Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama.”

 

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Driverless cars, when they’re perfected enough to markedly reduce road fatalities, may force the issue with 3D-printed organs, since far fewer crashes would interrupt the steady delivery of hearts and livers. From Erin Griffith at Fortune:

“It’s a dark thought, and the sort of thing only a futurist would think of. Which is why I’m not surprised that Bre Pettis, founder and CEO of the 3D printing company Makerbot, brought it up. When I asked him about 3D-printed organs earlier this summer at the Northside Festival, a conference in Brooklyn, he told me that 3D-printed body parts won’t become a reality until autonomous vehicles arrive to market. It makes for a surprising connection between two futuristic technologies.

‘The self-driving car is coming, and right now, our best supply of organs comes from car accidents,’ he said. ‘So, if you need an organ you just wait for somebody to have an accident, and then you get their organ and you’re better.’ I suggested that was a dark way of looking at it.

His response: ‘We have this huge problem that we sort of don’t talk about, that people die all the time from car accidents. It’s kind of insane. But the most interesting thing is, if we can reduce accidents and deaths, then we actually have a whole other problem on our hands of, ‘Where do we get organs?’ I don’t think we’ll actually be printing organs until we solve the self-driving car issue. The next problem will be organ replacement.’”

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Need help – Indian marriage annulment (NYC)

Need help getting simple paper stating that Indian marriage was never valid. Can come from any official in Goa, India. Will compensate for assistance. Thank you.

From the March 17, 1904 New York Times:

“While in a cage with three lions this afternoon, Alfred J.F. Perrins, the animal trainer, suddenly became insane. Soon after he entered the cage Perrins struck one of the lions a vicious blow and cried, ‘Why don’t you bow to me, I am God’s agent.’

Perrins then left the cage, leaving the door open and saying, ‘They will come out, as God is looking after them.’ He then stood on a box and called on the spectators to come and be healed, saying he could restore sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, and heal any disease by a gift just received from God.

The lions started to leave the cage and the spectators fled. The cage door was slammed by a policeman, who arrested Perrins. Physicians announced Perrins hopelessly crazed on religion. He has been in show business thirty years , having been with Robinson, Barnum, and Sells.”

As labor is disrupted by technology, we’re all freelancers, we all have freedom–we’re all practically free. The sharing economy is great except if you’re providing the service, unless you’re the rabbit who’s been tasked, and that’s the side of the fence more of us will find ourselves on. You know those bargains you love? You’re the bargain now, or you may soon be. Nice doing business with you. From Natasha Singer at the New York Times:

“In the promising parlance of the sharing economy, whose sites and apps connect people seeking services with sellers of those services, Ms. [Jennifer] Guidry is a microentrepreneur. That is, an independent contractor who earns money by providing her skills, time or property to consumers in search of a lift, a room to sleep in, a dry-cleaning pickup, a chef, an organizer of closets.

For people seeking a sideline, these services can provide extra income. Beyond the ride services, there are businesses like Airbnb, the short-term-stay broker; task brokers like TaskRabbit and Fiverr; on-demand delivery services like Postmates and Favor; and grocery-shopping services like Instacart.

‘Someone on Sidecar doing the same commute they do on a daily basis and picking up a rider, it’s really free money for the driver and reduced cost for the rider,’ notes Nick Grossman, the general manager for policy and outreach at Union Square Ventures, which is an investor in Sidecar.

In a climate of continuing high unemployment, however, people like Ms. Guidry are less microentrepreneurs than microearners. They often work seven-day weeks, trying to assemble a living wage from a series of one-off gigs. They have little recourse when the services for which they are on call change their business models or pay rates. To reduce the risks, many workers toggle among multiple services.

‘Having a diverse portfolio is the best protection,’ says Sara Horowitz, the founder and executive director of Freelancers Union, an advocacy organization. ‘People are doing this in the midst of wage stagnation and income inequality, and they have to do these things to survive.’”

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On a 1977 Mike Douglas Show episode, comic-book collector Phil Seuling showed off an original Superman, revealing that it was worth $1,500. The audience gasped. But that was before a globalized world needed simple dialogue and action-hero antics to sell blockbusters all over the world. Today an exceptionally clean copy of that inaugural issue, currently at auction on eBay, has seen early bids reach $1.75 million, heading toward the stratosphere faster than a speeding bullet. From Graeme McMillan at the Hollywood Reporter:

 “In a video released to promote the auction, Pristine Comics owner Darren Adams explained how the auction copy remained in such good edition. ‘There was a gentleman in 1938, buys a copy … off the newsstand. And he lived in a fairly high altitude area of West Virginia and kept the book in a cedar chest,’ Adams said. The quality of the issue — the pages of which, thanks to being kept in a dark, dry space for decades, haven’t yellowed with time — makes the copy ‘not just a copy of Action Comics No. 1 [but] the copy of Action Comics No. 1,’ according to the dealer.

Back in 2011, another edition of the issue raised $2.1 million in auction, becoming the most expensive comic ever sold in the process. With nine days remaining on the current Action Comics auction and bidding currently at $1.6 million, it’s very possible that record is about to be broken.”

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“The superheroes caught everybody’s fancy”:

 

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I know people who subscribe to high-fat, paleo diets and, boy, they don’t look healthy to me. It doesn’t mean my eyes are right, but I’m sticking to vegetarianism. There’s little doubt, however, that Americans had misplaced priorities when they largely focused on cutting fat while high-fructose corn syrup was simultaneously becoming a staple of our diets. That crap will kill you. From “The Way We Eat Now,” by Erica Wagner in the Financial Times:

[Nina] Teicholz describes a ‘perfect storm’ of forces in postwar America that altered the nutritional landscape. Charismatic leaders in nutrition science – such as Ancel Benjamin Keys, a biologist and pathologist at the University of Minnesota who began looking at the causes of heart disease in the 1950s – developed a hypothesis that fat was the great evil in the American diet: ‘money poured in to test it, and the nutrition community embraced the idea. Soon there was very little room for debate.’

Again and again, Teicholz points to studies that have served as the basis for the argument in favour of the demonisation of fat – such as the Framingham Heart Study, begun in 1948, or the Ni-Hon-San Study of Japanese men, begun in 1965 – and demonstrates why they don’t necessarily prove what they were stated to prove. As The Lancet put it in 1974: ‘So far, despite all the effort and money that has been spent, the evidence that eliminating risk factors will eliminate heart disease adds up to little more than zero.’ (It’s hard not to feel a little proud of this British scepticism of the low-fat fad: three cheers for the land of double cream.)

These are startling conclusions, though as Teicholz shows, the evidence has really been there all along. We should drink whole milk, she says, eat butter and stock up on cheeses, sausages, offal and even bacon. ‘None of these foods have been demonstrated to cause obesity, diabetes, or heart disease . . . Sugar, white flour, and other refined carbohydrates are almost certainly the main drivers of these diseases.’ But government health advice is still stuck in the low-fat rut: and, however well-meaning, it is there to be exploited by the companies that stand to gain from that advice. Boseley, writing about the diet industry, is unafraid to call a spade a spade: ‘With its gimmicks, motivational books and celebrity endorsements, [it] is one of the biggest frauds of our time.’”

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The only air conditioning related trivia I know: It was the late actor Tony Randall’s favorite technology. No, not exactly required knowledge.

While AC may not have been quite as revolutionary as the washing machine, it certainly changed life in industrialized societies dramatically. From Henry Grabar’s Salon article, “How Air Conditioning Remade Modern America“:

“The environment has changed too: Summer in the city isn’t as hot as it used to be, thanks to air conditioning. When Jane Jacobs described the ‘sidewalk ballet,’ fewer than 14 percent of households in urban America had air conditioning. Today, it’s over 87 percent.

It’s almost impossible to imagine, dashing from the house A/C to the car A/C to the office A/C to the restaurant A/C, how hot and different the American summer once was.

One evocative recollection of the un-air-conditioned American city is Arthur Miller’s vignette ‘Before Air-Conditioning,’ which describes New York in the summer of 1927. The street in those days was repurposed nightly as an outdoor dormitory; mattress-laden fire escapes lined the block like iron bunk beds.

Lacking that option, there was always Central Park, where Miller would ‘walk among the hundreds of people, singles and families, who slept on the grass, next to their big alarm clocks, which set up a mild cacophony of the seconds passing, one clock’s ticks syncopating with another’s. Babies cried in the darkness, men’s deep voices murmured, and a woman let out an occasional high laugh beside the lake.’

That was the year Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs; then came air conditioning and the reinvention of American life.

The National Academy of Engineering ranked air conditioning the tenth-most important achievement of the 20th century.”

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Knowing the present isn’t knowing the future. At best, we make educated guesses uncolored by personal beliefs or wants. Even then, we’re often wrong, unprepared for the black swans and their lovely necks. When William Masters and Virginia Johnson sat down for this Good Morning America interview, with the AIDS crisis at its height, it seemed monogamy, not Tinder, would be the future. How quickly things change.

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