This week, the New York Times reported Donald Trump's Casinos were a "protracted failure."

This week, the New York Times reported Donald Trump’s casinos were a “protracted failure.” Undeterred, he vowed to being some of his “best” Atlantic City managers to D.C., including Mr. Pickles.

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Pickles be Secretary of State!

 

  • Charles Murray has a really bad Basic Income plan that would harm seniors.
  • The job losses in the newspaper biz over the last 25 years are beyond grim.
  • Surgery prior to the advent of general anesthesia was, of course, brutal.

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Sometimes mental illness wears the trappings of the era in which it’s experienced. Mike Jay has written beautifully in the last couple of years about such occurrences attending the burial of Napoleon Bonaparte and the current rise of surveillance and Reality TV. The latter is something of a Truman Show syndrome, in which sick people believe they’re being observed, that they’re being followed. To a degree, they’re right, we all are under much greater technological scrutiny now, though these folks have a paranoia which can drive such concerns into crippling obsessions.

Because we’re all connected now, the “besieged” have found one another online, banning together as “targeted individuals” who’ve been marked by the government (or some other group entity) for observation, harassment and mind control. In “United States of Paranoia: They See Gangs of Stalkers,” Mike McPhate of the New York Times has written one of the best and most troubling articles of the year. It clearly demonstrates that the dream of endless information offering lucidity has been dashed for a surprising amount of people, that the inundation of data has served to confuse rather than clarify. These shaky citizens resemble those with alien abduction stories, except they seem to have been “shanghaied” by the sweep of history. The opening:

Nobody believed him. His family told him to get help. But Timothy Trespas, an out-of-work recording engineer in his early 40s, was sure he was being stalked, and not by just one person, but dozens of them.

He would see the operatives, he said, disguised as ordinary people, lurking around his Midtown Manhattan neighborhood. Sometimes they bumped into him and whispered nonsense into his ear, he said.

“Now you see how it works,” they would say.

At first, Mr. Trespas wondered if it was all in his head. Then he encountered a large community of like-minded people on the internet who call themselves “targeted individuals,” or T.I.s, who described going through precisely the same thing.

The group was organized around the conviction that its members are victims of a sprawling conspiracy to harass thousands of everyday Americans with mind-control weapons and armies of so-called gang stalkers. The goal, as one gang-stalking website put it, is “to destroy every aspect of a targeted individual’s life.”

A growing tribe of troubled minds

Mental health professionals say the narrative has taken hold among a group of people experiencing psychotic symptoms that have troubled the human mind since time immemorial. Except now victims are connecting on the internet, organizing and defying medical explanations for what’s happening to them.•

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Earlier in the week, I published a post about science writer Fred Hapgood’s 2003 prediction that automated drilling would lead to the rapid development of underground cities and even a global subway system. It proved to be a dream deferred, at the very least.

A few decades earlier, when American cities were marked by blight and in desperate need of renewal, underground real estate was often theorized as an important piece of the puzzle, a haven for pedestrians in climate-controlled environments. Montreal took advantage of this underutilized resource thanks largely to the subterranean visions of urban planner Vincent Ponte, but most cities failed to capitalize.

In “What Happened to the Dream of Underground Cities?” Ernie Smith of Vice “Motherboard” wonders what went wrong. An excerpt:

A funny thing happened since Ponte had his time in the sun. To put it simply, the idea of the underground city has become more controversial. Now, urban leaders see them as an antiseptic way to draw in suburbanites, rather than a way to give people flavor of the actual city. They’re almost seen as a way to get around the city, rather than to dive in. That may have been a good idea when downtowns were seen as scary by tourists, but during an era when high-rise lofts are common and bars are hipper than ever? Not so much.

In fact, one of Ponte’s project cities, Dallas, has spent years pushing back against the urban planning work he put in 45 years ago. Onetime Dallas city mayor Laura Miller, speaking to the New York Times in a 2005 interview, didn’t mince words.

”If I could take a cement mixer and pour cement in and clog up the tunnels, I would do it today,” Miller told the Times, the very newspaper where Ponte made his argument for underground cities 38 years earlier. ”It was the worst urban planning decision that Dallas has ever made. They thought it was hip and groovy to create an underground community, but it was a death knell.”

The city has since de-emphasized the tunnels in its marketing, and in 2011, a report on the city’s future development referred to Ponte’s grand idea as “a sterile, unexciting environment that draws life from streets above.”

Unfortunate for Dallas, but for Montreal, the urban area under the surface remains lively—it has become one of the things Montreal is known for, a tourist must-see with four stars on TripAdvisor. Like most other big Canadian cities, Toronto has one as well, built up around the same time as Montreal’s, but it’s used by a third as many people as Montreal’s is on a daily basis.

Outside of Montreal, at least, urban renewal came not from the massive network of tunnels, but from a massive change in perception. We like our downtowns these days.

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People of the future will look at our methods of invasive surgery and marvel in how barbarous the whole thing must have been. For us, the corollary would be reflecting on pre-general-anesthesia surgery. How horrid that was and how wonderful the advance of pain-killing substances in the late 19th century. It made sugery acceptable if not agreeable. For the first time, illness and cure were not viewed with equal trepidation.

Via the always interesting Delancey Place, an excerpt about pre-anesthesia operations from Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz’s Dr. Mütter’s Marvels:

Surgical lectures at medical universities in the early nineteenth century were brutal, for the teacher, student and patient. Medical training was limited, tools were often not sterile (in some cases a wound oozing and puss filled would indicate a successful surgery), and anesthesia was limited to wine:

“In Philadelphia, there were two great medical colleges — the University of Pennsylvania and Jef­ferson Medical College — and it was customary for the rival schools to hold surgical demonstrations so that prospective students could choose between them, a glorified public relations exercise. … The lectures were often packed, as eager established and prospective doctors thrilled at the city’s best sur­geons attempting to outdo one another with their skill and showmanship. However, the combination of ambitious surgeries and unprepared young [doctors] sometimes proved disastrous. On one occasion, a Jefferson Medical College professor attempted a daring removal of a patient’s upper jaw, using marvelous speed to incise the face and rip out the bones with a huge for­ceps. But the surgery was perhaps too much for a public display. Doctors who were present would later recall the spectacle of it, how the partially conscious patient spat out blood, bones, and teeth, while unnerved students in the audience vomited and fainted in their seats.

“But regardless of how brutal or simple the case, all surgical lectures were a challenge to watch. The anxious patient would be publicly examined and forced to listen to his surgery loudly outlined to an audience of strangers. Next, the patient would nervously drink some wine with the hope that it would dull the nerves and lessen the pain. (In Paris, the need for medicinal wine was so great, the hospital system maintained its very own wine vaults, spending more than 600,000 francs a year on an extensive collection of red and white wine housed exclusively for its patients.)

“The patient was then instructed to lie on the surgical table, where he would be held down by the surgeon’s assistants and told to stay as still as possible. Everyone — the patient, the doctor, even the students in their seats — knew how impossible this command would be to follow.

“The first incision usually brought the patient’s first scream — the first scream of many. Soon came the blood, the struggle, the shock.•

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When it comes to robotics, China is developing a yawning credibility gap. More than most nations, it desperately needs machines of varying levels of intelligence to deal with work that can’t be fulfilled by a rapidly graying population. “Robots will show up in China just in time,” predicts Daniel Kahneman. The nation certainly hopes so.

Hoping and executing are two different things, however. In 2011, Foxconn promised a million robots would be installed in its factories within three years. That did not transpire. More recently, the Apple-enabler was reported as saying it was on the verge of automating 60,000 jobs. According to an article by Adam Minter of Bloomberg, that appears to have been an empty promise as well. You could dismiss the hype as the irresponsibility of one giant company except the writer reports that bureaucrats were intimately involved with the deception.

From Minter:

The story first turned up in mid-May: Foxconn, Apple’s favorite manufacturer, was replacing 60,000 of its workers with robots. Everyone from the BBC to Apple fan sites soon reported the ground-shifting news. There was just one problem: It was mostly false.

Last weekend, a Foxconn spokesperson told Chinese media that the company hadn’t laid off anyone, much less replaced them with automation. That part of the story came from overly enthusiastic bureaucrats in Kunshan, a manufacturing town keen to promote itself as a hub for innovation.

The incident seemed like an apt metaphor. Across China, officials are hoping that robots are the future. Thirty-six cities claimed last year that robotics was critical to their development. More than 40 government-funded robot industrial parks have recently opened or are in the works. Shenzhen, the southern Chinese tech hub, is now home to more than 3,000 robotics companies — up from 200 just two years ago.

In theory, this should be great news for a country hoping to encourage innovation In reality, it’s a sign that China has subsidized yet another investment bubble with capital that would’ve been better invested elsewhere.•

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Donald Trump, the Dumpster fire of American politics, is sad despite all the Happy Meals. His immense psychological wounds and elephantine ego cause him to receive concerns about ISIS terrorism and needling about his defunct line of steaks with equal gravity. He’s incapable of staying on message, and since he will be besieged about his dicey business practices between now and November–just read the new USA Today article about all the working people he’s allegedly stiffed–his campaign will be scattershot in an unprecedented way. 

Michael D’Antonio, author of The Truth About Trump, has spent a good deal of time interviewing Bull Connor as a condo salesman as well as his family members, with Donald Jr.’s comments about his “genetic superiority” particularly telling. The journalist shared his findings in an Ask Me Anything at Reddit. A few exchanges follow.


Question:

Do you think Trump has a sense of morality?

Michael D’Antonio:

Good question. He understand right and wrong on a basic level, but he doesn’t have a lot of empathy for other people. He judges every situation on the basis of how it affects him.he also will take things to extremes…to places where others won’t go…in order to get what he wants. Related to this is an exchange I had with him about his criticism of a famous elderly actress. Kim Novak. He tweeted horrible stuff about her. I asked him about it and his reply was “I don’t think I got into a lot of trouble for that.” He didn’t understand that he hurt her and that was what I was asking about.


Question:

In your opinion, how much of the Trump persona that the average person sees is authentically him and how much of it is an act?

Michael D’Antonio:

It’s weird…much of what we see on the campaign trial is authentic. He is very opinionated and believes very strongly that he is one of the most intelligent and talented people in the world. Seriously, in the world. So all the bluster is real.


Question:

What about that casino? How did he fail to take money from suckers on that one?

Michael D’Antonio:

Strange isn’t it that he was in a business where the “house” always wins, and somehow he lost. The big problem there was that he got overextended with construction. He ran up huge debt he couldn’t service. Also, Trump is a good deal maker but a so-so operator of businesses. He gets bored with managing complex service industries and doesn’t do well.


Question:

What’s the secret to stopping him?

Michael D’Antonio:

I think the key to stopping him is gentle mockery. It would be a bad idea to get down in the gutter with him. Nicknames and wild accusations wouldn’t work. But if a candidate points out his deficiencies, and keeps reminding voters of his failures including Trump U and the bankruptcies, he will feel provoked and do self destructive things.


Question:

How was it meeting and interviewing all of his family members? Any big surprises there?

Michael D’Antonio: 

His kids are smart, and well spoken. I was pretty shocked, though, when Donald Jr. told me that the family believes that people are like “racehorses” and that breeding is what matters. he said he was the product of the breeding of a high quality mother and a high quality father so he was genetically destined to succeed at a high level. Very weird stuff to say on the record. His wife Ivana was interesting. She started to tell me she thought that Donald could be explained as a guy who was never loved and sought to make up for it by seeking attention from the world. Then she stopped and said, “You know, I don’t really understand him at all.” She’s known him for forty years and still doesn’t get him.


Question:

What is the truth about Trump in one sentence?

Michael D’Antonio:

The Truth About Trump is that he is a damaged man, with an enormous ego, who wants the prize of the Presidency because it’s the biggest thing he could possibly go for.•

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In 1921, before there were Talkies, Arthur Blanchard invented a machine to create plots for big-screen pictures. Thirty years later, B-movie Hollywood director Edward Ludwig believed the time was soon when computers would do the screenwriting. Is such a thing possible now? Not exactly, though there’s a new AI that probably could replace Michael Bay and his incoherent, big-budget Hal-Needham-in-space crap. Bay’s someone who needs to be technologically unemployed.

In an Ars Technica article, Annalee Newitz writes about “Sunspring,” a short sci-fi film about a futuristic love triangle that was wholly written by a neural network named Benjamin, the brainchild of NYU AI researcher Ross Goodwin. The resulting work is odd and spirited, an offbeat and stilted regurgitation of current sci-fi tropes but with something of an eccentric auteur’s touch and the Dada poet’s pen. In its own way, it’s compelling.

Newitz writes of her reporting on the film: “As I was talking to [director Oscar] Sharp and Goodwin, I noticed that all of us slipped between referring to Benjamin as ‘he’ and ‘it.'” (You can watch the movie if you go to the article.) An excerpt:

Knowing that an AI wrote Sunspring makes the movie more fun to watch, especially once you know how the cast and crew put it together. Director Oscar Sharp made the movie for Sci-Fi London, an annual film festival that includes the 48-Hour Film Challenge, where contestants are given a set of prompts (mostly props and lines) that have to appear in a movie they make over the next two days. Sharp’s longtime collaborator, Ross Goodwin, is an AI researcher at New York University, and he supplied the movie’s AI writer, initially called Jetson. As the cast gathered around a tiny printer, Benjamin spat out the screenplay, complete with almost impossible stage directions like “He is standing in the stars and sitting on the floor.” Then Sharp randomly assigned roles to the actors in the room. “As soon as we had a read-through, everyone around the table was laughing their heads off with delight,” Sharp told Ars. The actors interpreted the lines as they read, adding tone and body language, and the results are what you see in the movie. Somehow, a slightly garbled series of sentences became a tale of romance and murder, set in a dark future world. It even has its own musical interlude (performed by Andrew and Tiger), with a pop song Benjamin composed after learning from a corpus of 30,000 other pop songs.

Building Benjamin

When Sharp was in film school at NYU, he made a discovery that changed the course of his career. “I liked hanging out with technologists in NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program more than other filmmakers,” he confessed. That’s how he met Goodwin, a former ghost writer who just earned a master’s degree from NYU while studying natural language processing and neural networks. Speaking by phone from New York, the two recalled how they were both obsessed with figuring out how to make machines generate original pieces of writing. For years, Sharp wanted to create a movie out of random parts, even going so far as to write a play out of snippets of text chosen by dice rolls. Goodwin, who honed his machine-assisted authoring skills while ghost writing letters for corporate clients, had been using Markov chains to write poetry. As they got to know each other at NYU, Sharp told Goodwin about his dream of collaborating with an AI on a screenplay. Over a year and many algorithms later, Goodwin built an AI that could.•

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When I posted a passage from science writer Fred Hapgood’s overly ambitious 1990 Omni piece which had Venter-esque visions of micro-organisms doing our bidding, it reminded me of another of his articles. In 2003, he wrote in Wired that he believed automation coming to underground drilling technology would soon make entire subterranean cities, even a supersonic global subway, possible. 

Well, a lot of things are possible, but that doesn’t mean they’re politically attractive, financially feasible or even desired. But it’s still a fun read. An excerpt:

Among the first wave of tunneling projects under way are subway extensions, highway re-siting projects, and petrochemical repositories. These will pave the way to further standardization and automation needed for transnational, Chunnel-type digs. The East – which has never been shy about big engineering – will likely plow down first, linking Japan and Korea, China and Japan, and Taiwan and China. The West might follow by tunneling under the Gibraltar and Bering straits.

The last stop on this train is the ultimate TBM megaproject: a supersonic world subway. Maglev trains running through depressurized tunnels are the logical successor to airplanes, at least between large cities. Magnetic levitation would eliminate rolling resistance, and the vacuum does the same to air resistance. The trains could “fly” down the tracks at many times the speed of the Concorde – without creating a sonic boom. In a couple of decades, we may see a world where major international cities are within a few hours’ commute of each other.

By 2005, some under-urban highway projects will start to include parking lots. Where there is parking, malls will spring up. By 2008, developers might offer these retailers subterranean warehouse space, then offices, and, finally, full-fledged industrial parks. By 2013, we could see some hotels, probably marketed to international commuters and located just below the financial centers of Tokyo, London, and New York.•

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In 1969, computer-processing magnate Ross Perot had a McLuhan-ish dream: an electronic town hall in which interactive television and computer punch cards would allow the masses, rather than elected officials, to decide key American policies. In 1992, he held fast to this goal–one that was perhaps more democratic than any society could survive–when he bankrolled his own populist third-party Presidential campaign.

Today Elon Musk wants to blast this vision of direct democracy to Mars, writes Loren Grush of the Verge, asserting that representational government is too prone to corruption. Whether or not Musk realizes his dream of dying on Mars–but not on impact–his grand ambitions speak to the insanity of wealth inequality in the second Gilded Age. The SpaceX technologist seems one of the more well-intentioned thinkers among Silicon Valley’s freshly minted billionaires, but think how preposterous it is that any individual is declaring what type of government a planet we’ve never visited most likely will have. 

Walter Isaacson famously compared Musk to Benjamin Franklin, but the latter flew kites any child could purchase. Musk’s toys are far more expensive and in the hands of the few. That’s not really good for a democracy, direct or otherwise.

An excerpt:

Elon Musk has been pretty focused on setting up a colony on Mars, so naturally he has a few ideas as to the type of government the Red Planet should have. Speaking at ReCode’s Code Conference on Wednesday night, the SpaceX CEO said he envisions a direct democracy for Martian colonies, as a way to avoid corruption.

“Most likely the form of government on Mars would be a direct democracy, not representative,” said Musk. “So it would be people voting directly on issues. And I think that’s probably better, because the potential for corruption is substantially diminished in a direct versus a representative democracy.”

Musk also suggested that on Mars it should be harder to create laws than it is to get rid of ones that aren’t working well. “I think I would recommend some adjustment for the inertia of laws would be wise. It should probably be easier to remove a law than create one,” said Musk. “I think that’s probably good, because laws have infinite life unless they’re taken away.”•

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McDonald’s food is junk that will harm your health, but it’s the lesser of two evils for those dealing with low income, homelessness, poverty, lonely senior years and other tears in the fabric of American society. In an excellent Guardian article, Chris Arnade writes of struggling citizens drawn to these fast food places by the cheap coffee, free wi-fi and a generous policy that allows them to sit for hours. They find kindred souls, hold Bible studies, check headlines, etc. To many, McDonald’s arches represent an unsavory, low-rent remnant of the last century, but to these people left behind in a transitioning country, it looks like brick-and-mortar salvation in an increasingly virtual world. It’s not mentioned in the article, but public libraries have become the same kind of haven in our Digital Age, a place to gather for those who have nowhere else to go.

The opening:

In the morning of their wedding, Omar and Betty shared a breakfast of egg McMuffins at a small McDonald’s table, dressed in their finest clothes. Before driving to a Houston courthouse to be married, they walked into the attached child’s play area and joked about one day bringing their kids there.

Few understand celebrating at a McDonald’s, but for Omar and Betty it made sense. They don’t have a lot of money, and McDonald’s is part of their life. It is that way in many poor and middle-income neighborhoods, where McDonald’s have become de-facto community centers and reflections of the surrounding neighborhood.

When many lower-income Americans are feeling isolated by the deadening uniformity of things, by the emptiness of many jobs, by the media, they still yearn for physical social networks. They are not doing this by going to government-run community service centers. They are not always doing this by utilizing the endless array of well-intentioned not-for-profit outreach programs. They are doing this on their own, organically across the country, in McDonald’s.•

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Mussolini built his own Hollywood in the 1930s to spread his Fascist message. Today he would just tweet.

Artifice used to be more real in a sense when the movie industry was in the business of “nation-building,” when sets were an elaborate, eye-popping selling point and simulacra was not sacred but esteemed, since there was not yet the technical acumen to create any sort of profound special effects. “A cast of thousands” was the un-humble brag used to peddle Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 remake of his own epic, The Ten Commandments, and there was another “cast” of a similar size behind the scenes making the Nile run and bushes burn.

Then the collapse of the studio system hit in the 1960s, and moguls lost their religion, mostly downsizing scale and Labor. For a while, relatively cheap, personal productions by Hoppers and Fondas and Coppolas and Scorseses ruled the day. Eventually, the studios were ready dream big again, and in 1975, the robot-shark technology of Jaws captured the summer in its animatronic maw. Two years later, Star Wars relied heavily on Industrial Light & Magic to realize its vision. It was still a long way to the technology behind today’s tentpoles, but the rise of the machines and the diminishment of human craft began in Hollywood–as it did in a big-picture way all across America–decades ago. The Herculean returned, but Hercules was now a bit player.

From “True Fakes on Location,” Tom Carson’s excellent Baffler article about auteurs and architecture:

2016 marks Intolerance’s centenary, and that shouldn’t be a milestone only to high-minded fans of cinema’s artistic dawn. Because [D.W.] Griffith predicted everything in movies, it’s also a milestone for any garden-variety filmgoer who’s ever been wowed by coarse and costly Hollywood spectacle. I suspect only prigs are completely immune to the delights of whole foreign environments—whether antique, exotically international, familiar but exaggerated, or just plain fantastical—that have been erected, populated, and photographed for no better reason than to knock our socks off. For my money, Intolerance is where fake movie architecture began its complicated dance with the real thing, affecting how audiences perceive the past, reconfigure their present, and anticipate the future.

The ambition of Intolerance did have precursors. Griffith himself had built a biblical town in the San Fernando Valley for Judith of Bethulia two years earlier. The imported Italian period epicsQuo Vadis? (1913) and Cabiria (1914) had stimulated both his ambition and his envy. But in scale and pull-out-the-stops grandeur, nothing like Belshazzar’s Court had ever been seen before—except by, well, Belshazzar and some two hundred thousand other lucky but very dead Babylonians in the sixth century BCE. Even Griffith’s own 1915 epic The Birth of a Nation hadn’t required particularly extravagant exterior sets, however unprecedented in scope (and vicious in sentiment—Intolerance was conceived in part to rebut its critics) his love song to the Ku Klux Klan had otherwise been.

One reason Intolerance’s Babylon still looks stunning is that the age of computer-generated imagery has all but ruined our capacity to experience Hollywood’s imagineering as something nonetheless rooted in the material world.•

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From the June 20, 1942 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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There’s no easy answer if it’s different this time than during the Industrial Revolution and the tens of millions of jobs that are automated into oblivion aren’t replaced by equal or better positions. Most often the best possible solution offered is that we need an education system that enables adult Americans to transition into higher-skilled positions and instills children with greater critical thinking that will allow for a more flexible mindset as industries rapidly rise and fall. That would be wonderful, but I think it ignores reality to some extent. If the new normal is abnormal by the standards we’ve come to expect, then, regardless of schooling, some–perhaps many, too many–will be left behind. What becomes of them? What becomes of us? 

In a New York Times piece, Eduardo Porter, who doesn’t support Universal Basic Income, tries to think through this potentially scary scenario in which scarcity isn’t a problem but distribution is a big one. The opening:

They replaced horses, didn’t they? That’s how the late, great economist Wassily Leontief responded 35 years ago to those who argued technology would never really replace people’s work.

Horses hung around in the labor force for quite some time after they were first challenged by “modern” communications technologies like the telegraph and the railroad, hauling stuff and people around farms and cities. But when the internal combustion engine came along, horses — as a critical component of the world economy — were history.

Cutting horses’ oat rations might have delayed their replacement by tractors, but it wouldn’t have stopped it. All that was left to do, for those who cared for 20 million newly unemployed horses, was to put them out to pasture.

“Had horses had an opportunity to vote and join the Republican or Democratic Party,” Leontief wrote, they might have been able to get “the necessary appropriation from Congress.”

Most economists still reject Professor Leontief’s analogy, but the conventional economic consensus is starting to fray. The productivity figures may not reflect it yet but new technology does seem more fundamentally disruptive than technologies of the past. Robots are learning on their own. Self-driving cars seem just a few regulations away from our city streets.

As the idea sinks in that humans as workhorses might also be on the way out, what happens if the job market stops doing the job of providing a living wage for hundreds of millions of people? How will the economy spread money around, so people can afford to pay the rent?•

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People wearing hats used to sit in subway cars reading newspapers. First the hats disappeared, then the papers.

Anyone who’s lived on both sides of peak-print news knows the industry has shrunk precipitously as the Internet enjoyed its meteoric rise. If it were as simple as trading one medium for another, that would be no problem. But in the last few decades of good health for newspapers, the industry was propped up on print ads and classifieds and such, the cover price no longer able to float the enterprise. Once those crutches were yanked away by new tools, the business wasn’t really a going concern anymore. Online journalism hasn’t come close to filling the void, so there’s more information than ever, but the day is largely ruled by free-floating headlines, “citizen journalists,” soundbites and 140 characters.

From Jessica Conditt at Engadget:

Anyone reading this, an article that exists only on the internet, is aware of the dramatic shift that’s taken place in the media world since the 1990s. As internet penetration has grown, newspaper sales have dipped dramatically, as have traditional newspaper jobs. New research from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics quantifies these losses — and they’re hefty.

Between 1990 and 2016, the newspaper publishing industry shrunk by nearly 60 percent, from roughly 458,000 jobs to 183,000 jobs, the bureau found. In this same time, the number of internet publishing and broadcasting jobs rose from 30,000 to 198,000. In just under three decades, the newspaper industry has transformed from a media juggernaut into a secondary form of communication, and there are no signs this trend will reverse any time soon.•

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Science writer Fred Hapgood dreamed big when Omni asked him, in 1990, to pen “No Assembly Required,” an article that predicted how insect-sized microorganisms would be serving our needs by 2029. None of his Venter-esque visions of designer bugs seem even remotely possible 13 years from now. They’re not theoretically impossible, but they’re likely to arrive tomorrow than tomorrow. Three excerpts follow, about futuristic dental care, housecleaning and home security.


Dental Microsnails That Brush Your Teeth for You While You Sleep

During the average lifetime a human spends a total of 40 days of his life brushing his teeth. (Sixty if he flosses.) Recent breakthroughs in microtractor technology, however, have now made it possible for us to offer our customers the dental microsnaii.

Just rub onto teeth before sleeping: During the night each microsnaii glued to a pair of traction balls, systematically explores the entire surface of the tooth on which it lands. As it moves, powered by the mouth’s own natural electrochemistry, it secretes minute quantities of bioengineered enzymes that detect and epoxy microcracks in enamel, remove plaque, and shred organic material caught between teeth. You awake to find your smile polished to a high gloss. Microsnails are small enough to be barely detectable by the tongue and harmless if swallowed. They vanish down the gut after they’ve finished their job.

For those interested in the latest in decorative dentistry, Microbots also makes an “artist microsnaii” that colors your incisors in the pattern of your choice, from a simple checkerboard to selected graphics based on works of Braque, Klee, Mondrian, and De Kooning. lmages fade after 24 hours.


Tiny Quicker Picker-Uppers

Let your fingers do the housecleaning. Order Micromaids from our catalog and put a thousand domestic servants in the palm of your hand.

Arrange “anthills” (small containers, each the size of a bagel) inconspicuously under chairs and behind furniture (autocamouflaging is standard with this year’s models). When the colony has detected no footfalls in that room for an hour, thousands of Micromaids, legged vehicles the size and shape of a clove, spread-out through the room. They locate loose grains of sand, grit, lint, skin, hair, and other debris, then carry the refuse back to the anthill. If the hill detects vibrations, it releases a high-pitched acoustic signal, summoning the Micromaids to return.

These home bases serve as tiny waste disposal plants. Each contains specialized microbots that process the trash. Some secrete enzymes and bacteria to break down and sanitize organic matter. Others use tiny pincers to crush and cut up larger items. The anthill then seals the garbage in a polymer bag, which it custom-produces to surround the excreted refuse. The Micromaids carry this package to a preprogrammed location, such as a chute leading to a trash compactor in the basement of your house.


RoboHornets: The Ultimate Weapon for Home Security

Let’s face it — as wonderful as the  twenty-first century can be, home security is a growing challenge for all of us. Here’s how Microbots can help you deal with it: Whenever the nest detects a possible intruder entering a zone you have designated as “private,” a mosquito-size probe takes off and lands quietly on the person’s clothing and locates a flake of skin caught in the garment. An onboard DNA sampler then radios the raw biological data back to the nest, where a DNA fingerprinting lab performs an analysis and checks the results against a list of those individuals cleared for access to the area. If the person is unauthorized, the mosquito probe triggers a loud and explicit warning message from a rooftop speaker while summoning a cloud of other RoboHornets, each carrying a vicious-looking one-inch-long crimson-colored stinger. Any intruder continuing to ignore the warning message will receive a lesson in the sanctity of private property, the memory of which will linger for several months.•

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Always great reading Michael Graziano as he wrestles with the nature and mechanics of consciousness. In an Atlantic piece, the Princeton psychologist traces the emergence of consciousness hundreds of millions of years to a process known as “selective signal enhancement,” a primitive system not even requiring a central brain, and then marches forward explaining its development from that point. 

Graziano asserts that the brain is more a prioritizing machine that edits out what’s unnecessary rather than one that needs to be in possession of all information at every moment. “The brain has no need to know those details,” he writes. “The attention schema is therefore strategically vague.”

The opening:

Ever since Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, evolution has been the grand unifying theory of biology. Yet one of our most important biological traits, consciousness, is rarely studied in the context of evolution. Theories of consciousness come from religion, from philosophy, from cognitive science, but not so much from evolutionary biology. Maybe that’s why so few theories have been able to tackle basic questions such as: What is the adaptive value of consciousness? When did it evolve and what animals have it?

The Attention Schema Theory (AST), developed over the past five years, may be able to answer those questions. The theory suggests that consciousness arises as a solution to one of the most fundamental problems facing any nervous system: Too much information constantly flows in to be fully processed. The brain evolved increasingly sophisticated mechanisms for deeply processing a few select signals at the expense of others, and in the AST, consciousness is the ultimate result of that evolutionary sequence. If the theory is right—and that has yet to be determined—then consciousness evolved gradually over the past half billion years and is present in a range of vertebrate species.

Even before the evolution of a central brain, nervous systems took advantage of a simple computing trick: competition. Neurons act like candidates in an election, each one shouting and trying to suppress its fellows. At any moment only a few neurons win that intense competition, their signals rising up above the noise and impacting the animal’s behavior. This process is called selective signal enhancement, and without it, a nervous system can do almost nothing.•

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trumpstage

If you want to know anything about American politics, a cable news TV personality may be the last person to ask.

Jake Tapper, who passes for a relatively serious passenger in Jeff Zucker’s clown car of infotainment known as CNN, sat for a Spiegel Q&A conducted by Gordon Repinski and Holger Stark. When Tapper acknowledges some in the U.S. media who’ve interviewed Donald Trump have let him get away with murder,” he could be speaking of anchors on his own network or Maureen Dowd or anyone with a microphone looking for low-cost content in a terrible advertising environment for media outlets.

It’s a very good, thoughtful interview, though I wish the Spiegel interlocutors had called out Tapper on his statement that “illegal immigration has a huge impact on the American economy.” The suggestion is that undocumented workers have somehow hurt U.S. citizens in the workforce, though most economists would disagree, believing this cheap labor force has actually boosted our economy.

An excerpt:

Spiegel:

What did the media and the political establishment miss over the last few years?

Jake Tapper:

A lot of substantive things that you have to give Trump his due for. On immigration, there is a degree of nativism involved in the demand to construct the wall, but I do think a lot of what’s driving Trump supporters on the issue of illegal immigration and building a wall is a basic duty of a government to keep the nation’s borders under control. Illegal immigration also has a huge impact on the American economy. And a lot of people think that the government has not taken this issue seriously.

Spiegel:

Which other topics are important?

Jake Tapper:

Terrorism and trade policy are clearly topics where Trump expresses the fears and concerns of many American people. There is a widespread feeling in this country that the government has been too willing to go into trade deals that sent American jobs to Mexico or to China. The affected communities feel left behind. This is what Trump’s supporters and Sanders’ supporters have in common. It is one of the reasons for Trump’s rise.

Spiegel:

It sounds as if people are finally putting their feet down.

Jake Tapper:

That’s part of it, though certainly there are parts of this campaign that have been ugly. I understand all that, and I’m not justifying any of the more offensive behavior this campaign season — I just want to make sure people also understand there are policy issues here as well, years of issues that have been ignored or at least not taken seriously enough by the Republican Party. The Republican Party was out of touch with a large plurality and ultimately a majority of their own voters.

Spiegel:

What kind of showdown between Clinton and Trump do you expect?

Jake Tapper:

Nasty, ugly, horrible.•

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americaninjawarrior

If someone had told you 20 years ago that TV was to soon be dominated by Real Housewives, Biggest Losers and Kardashians, that network sitcoms and police procedurals would become secondary not only to great cable programs but also cheap reality shows, you might have thought they were nuts. Who would trade Jennifer Aniston for Kris Jenner? But the center did not hold, the barbarians stormed the gates, and now the sideshow of Bachelors and Bachelorettes has moved to the front of the aisle. In a decentralized medium, the financials no longer made sense for expensive offerings, so cheap content became king.

In an excellent Wall Street Journal article, Jason Gay wonders if multibillion-dollar professional sports could be destabilized by American Ninja Warrior and the like. You know, junk sports that serve to post-millennials’ minds (and smartphones) thrilling pseudo-athletics in which spectacle is more important than winning and losing. I have no doubt that in the coming decades video games and virtual reality and gadgets will change not only the way we watch competitions but the competitions themselves, but could they be surprisingly deep alterations?

It all depends on technological shifts, something beyond the control of sports. Baseball has been richly rewarded in recent years with outsize regional cable contracts because Fox Sports wanted to challenge ESPN, and MLB could offer a huge slate of live, family friendly content. But MLB and the other major sports leagues are a couple of new tech tools they didn’t anticipate from being back on their heels. Money and history are on the side of MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL, but that’s been the case with many supposedly unsinkable entities. I would bet against some American Gladiators knockoff KO-ing big-time team sports, but I also though Star Search a silly afterthought just a short time before American Idol ruled the airwaves.

Gay’s opening:

Last summer, on a family vacation in a house with 10 very loud children, I attempted to watch a baseball game on the only available television set. It did not go well. My nieces and nephews acted like I was forcing them to watch a process hearing in the state legislature. They groaned and booed. They rolled their eyes. They dropped to the floor and pretended to sleep.

Frantic to please, I turned the channel, and happened upon a reality show I’d never seen before: a wacky obstacle-course event called “American Ninja Warrior.” Situated on an outdoor stage bathed in red, white and blue lights, it featured sinewy men and women of all ages, jumping and scurrying from platforms to ropes to monkey bars, plunging into water traps when they missed.

The room erupted. It was as if Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber had just shown up with free pizza and iPhones. It turned out my loud, young in-laws all loved “American Ninja Warrior.” They crammed around the TV, rapt.

The scene made me feel like an out-of-touch geezer—how had I missed this phenomenon?—and also made me think about sports, and their future.•

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Blackburn-Cult-Leaders

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May Otis Blackburn may not have been the first Los Angeles cult leader, but she did do her voodoo several decades before Krishna Venta, L. Ron Hubbard or Charles Manson. Unsurprisingly, it did not end well.

“The Divine Order of the Royal Arms of the Great Eleven” (aka “The Blackburn Cult”) was established in 1922, after the “Queen and High Priestess” claimed the angels Gabriel and Michael were communicating divine messages to her and her daughter, Ruth Wieland Rizzio. They were assigned to write a book dictated to them by the angels, the publication of which somehow leading to the apocalypse.

Before the decade was through, the group was linked to animal sacrifices, sex scandals, an attempted resurrection of a deceased teen girl, poisonings and a follower being baked to death in a brick oven. When Blackburn was found guilty of grand larceny in 1930, the cult lost its agency. An article in the October 11, 1929 Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported on the grisly undertakings.

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54321trump0
Imagine Michael Wolff was seated in a Beverly Hills mansion with another person and the media reporter was only the second most evil one in the room. Who could the other dickwad be? Mussolini? Coach Knight? Justin Bieber? A combination of all three, in a sense. It was Donald Trump, the GOP nominee, who answered Wolff’s questions while scarfing down a pint of Haagen-Dazs—vanilla, of course–desperate to add some bulk to his delicate frame.

During the conversation for a Hollywood Reporter profile, Trump acknowledged he’s proud there are machine-gun-toting police surrounding his home and is ebullient about being told by his son-in-law that he might now be the world’s most famous person. That could be true because let’s face it, whether you love or hate Trump, you must admit his Q rating is approaching Hitler territory.

It’s brisk and well-written, as all Wolff pieces are, with Trump coming across particularly badly when unfamiliar with the term “Brexit,” but in all fairness, he was busy all afternoon measuring his penis. Of course, revealing the hideous hotelier as provincial, uninformed and poorly read is like exposing the Pope as male, Catholic and big-hatted.

Two excerpts follow.


I ask if he sees himself as having similarities with leaders of the growing anti-immigrant (some would say outright racist) European nativist movements, like Marine Le Pen in France and Matteo Salvini in Italy, whom The Wall Street Journal reported Trump had met with and endorsed in Philadelphia. (“Matteo, I wish you become the next Italian premier soon,” Trump was quoted as saying.) In fact, he insists he didn’t meet Salvini. “I didn’t want to meet him.” And, in sum, he doesn’t particularly see similarities — or at least isn’t interested in them — between those movements and the anti-immigrant nationalism he is promoting in this country.

“And Brexit? Your position?” I ask.

“Huh?”

“Brexit.”

“Hmm.”

“The Brits leaving the EU,” I prompt, realizing that his lack of familiarity with one of the most pressing issues in Europe is for him no concern nor liability at all.

“Oh yeah, I think they should leave.”

It is hard not to feel that Trump understands himself, and that we’re all in on this kind of spectacular joke.•


I ask that de rigeur presidential question, which does not seem yet to have been asked of him. “What books are you reading?”

He knows he’s caught (it’s a question that all politicians are prepped on, but who among his not-bookish coterie would have prepped him even with the standard GOP politician answer: the Bible?). But he goes for it.

“I’m reading the Ed Klein book on Hillary Clinton” — a particular hatchet job, which at the very least has certainly been digested for him. “And I’m reading the book on Richard Nixon that was, well, I’ll get you the exact information on it. I’m reading a book that I’ve read before, it’s one of my favorite books, All Quiet on the Western Front, which is one of the greatest books of all time.” And one I suspect he’s suddenly remembering from high school. But what the hell.•

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Despite the fears of really brilliant people like Stephen Hawking, superintelligent machines aren’t likely to enslave or eradicate humans anytime soon. It’s not impossible that eventually brains can be put into machines (and vice versa), but none of us will be alive to see that day. Hopefully our descendants will make good decisions.

The more pressing problem is that Weak AI has a good chance over the next few decades to eliminate millions of solid jobs, and then what do all the truckers, cabbies, delivery drivers, front-desk people, bellhops, fast-food workers and others do? It’s been said that we should retrain them for positions that are more analytical and cerebral, but that’s easier said than done. Some will be left behind by the sweep of history. How many?

In Brian Fung’s smart Washington Post piece “Everything You Think You Know About AI Is Wrong,” the writer tries to identify the challenges ahead and the course we can take to meet them. An excerpt:

So who is going to lose their job?

Partly because we’re better at designing these limited AI systems, some experts predict that high-skilled workers will adapt to the technology as a tool, while lower-skill jobs are the ones that will see the most disruption. When the Obama administration studied the issue, it found that as many as 80 percent of jobs currently paying less than $20 an hour might someday be replaced by AI.

“That’s over a long period of time, and it’s not like you’re going to lose 80 percent of jobs and not reemploy those people,” Jason Furman, a senior economic advisor to President Obama, said in an interview. “But [even] if you lose 80 percent of jobs and reemploy 90 percent or 95 percent of those people, it’s still a big jump up in the structural number not working. So I think it poses a real distributional challenge.”

Policymakers will need to come up with inventive ways to meet this looming jobs problem. But the same estimates also hint at a way out: Higher-earning jobs stand to be less negatively affected by automation. Compared to the low-wage jobs, roughly a third of those who earn between $20 and $40 an hour are expected to fall out of work due to robots, according to Furman. And only a sliver of high-paying jobs, about 5 percent, may be subject to robot replacement.

Those numbers might look very different if researchers were truly on the brink of creating sentient AI that can really do all the same things a human can. In this hypothetical scenario, even high-skilled workers might have more reason to fear. But the fact that so much of our AI research right now appears to favor narrow forms of artificial intelligence at least suggests we could be doing a lot worse.•

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girlgunflag

Charles Murray is an academic given to racist pseudoscience and an alleged meritocrat who embraces Sarah Palin, but politics make for strange bedfellows, so he’s currently aligned with liberal progressives and Silicon Valley libertarians in promoting Universal Basic Income.

Beyond the questions of if UBI is the right tack to take during the early stages of the Digital Age and whether it’s fiscally feasible, there’s the matter of how it would be executed if we were to do it. A hammer can be a tool or a weapon depending on how you swing it, and UBI could be a means to mitigate a struggling Americans or it could be a punitive measure. Even a grandmother-murdering machine like P90X bro Paul Ryan might get excited about Basic Income should he be able to use it to dismantle all other safety nets, Social Security included. Even for retired folks who never made great salaries, replacing Social Security with a UBI check would markedly reduce their incomes, which are pretty bare existences to begin with.

Not really surprised that Murray is in this camp as well, hoping to seem like a big-hearted person worried about technological unemployment while he’s really jonesing to do away with the so-called “welfare state.” In his WSJ “Saturday Essay” on the topic, he writes, “The UBI is to be financed by getting rid of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, housing subsidies, welfare for single women and every other kind of welfare and social-services program, as well as agricultural subsidies and corporate welfare.” Think of all the jobs this would create in the funeral-parlor sector!

The opening:

When people learn that I want to replace the welfare state with a universal basic income, or UBI, the response I almost always get goes something like this: “But people will just use it to live off the rest of us!” “People will waste their lives!” Or, as they would have put it in a bygone age, a guaranteed income will foster idleness and vice. I see it differently. I think that a UBI is our only hope to deal with a coming labor market unlike any in human history and that it represents our best hope to revitalize American civil society.

The great free-market economist Milton Friedman originated the idea of a guaranteed income just after World War II. An experiment using a bastardized version of his “negative income tax” was tried in the 1970s, with disappointing results. But as transfer payments continued to soar while the poverty rate remained stuck at more than 10% of the population, the appeal of a guaranteed income persisted: If you want to end poverty, just give people money. As of 2016, the UBI has become a live policy option. Finland is planning a pilot project for a UBI next year, and Switzerland is voting this weekend on a referendum to install a UBI.

The UBI has brought together odd bedfellows. Its advocates on the left see it as a move toward social justice; its libertarian supporters (like Friedman) see it as the least damaging way for the government to transfer wealth from some citizens to others. Either way, the UBI is an idea whose time has finally come, but it has to be done right.

First, my big caveat: A UBI will do the good things I claim only if it replaces all other transfer payments and the bureaucracies that oversee them. If the guaranteed income is an add-on to the existing system, it will be as destructive as its critics fear.

Second, the system has to be designed with certain key features. In my version, every American citizen age 21 and older would get a $13,000 annual grant deposited electronically into a bank account in monthly installments. Three thousand dollars must be used for health insurance (a complicated provision I won’t try to explain here), leaving every adult with $10,000 in disposable annual income for the rest of their lives.•

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One Thing

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Have had almost no Internet connection this weekend and can’t go anywhere else to work today with the impending storm in NYC. Will get back to business tomorrow.–Darren

The winners of the 1960 Olympic medals for light heavyweight boxing on the winners' podium at Rome: Cassius Clay (now Muhammad Ali) (C), gold; Zbigniew Pietrzykowski of Poland (R), silver; and Giulio Saraudi (Italy) and Anthony Madigan (Australia), joint bronze. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

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Blessed with peerless gifts for gab and jab, Muhammad Ali, a lightly educated son of Louisville, became the most significant athlete in American history and one of the nation’s key figures of the 20th century. He wasn’t always right but in the big picture, he was firmly on the right side of history.

Ali would have been a master showman in any age, a Barnum of boxing, as he’d patterned his speech on professional wrestling promos, hoping to encourage people to pay to see him lose. He didn’t enter the ring at any time, though, but during the age when the Civil Rights Movement was to have its biggest moment and the Vietnam War was to call his number. He quickly became politicized, converted to Muslim, joined the first fight and refused the second, surrendering his championship and financial security for his principles.

His titanic bouts with Joe Frazier and George Foreman, which would cement him as the greatest heavyweight ever, occurred after this period of exile ended, but it was during this time he became “the Greatest.” 

The opening of Robert Lipsyte’s excellent 1964 New York Times report on Ali’s first triumph over Sonny Liston is followed by links to some of the Afflictor Ali posts from over the years.

From Lipsyte:

MIAMI BEACH – Incredibly, the loud-mouthed, bragging, insulting youngster had been telling the truth all along. Cassius Clay won the heavyweight title tonight when a bleeding Sonny Liston, his left shoulder injured, was unable to answer the bell for the seventh round. Immediately after he had been announced as the new heavyweight champion of the world, Clay yelled to the newsmen covering the fight: “Eat your words.” Only 3 of 46 sports writers covering the fight had picked him to win.

A crowd of 8,297, on its feet through the early rounds at Convention Hall, sat stunned during the one-minute rest period between the sixth and seventh rounds. Only Clay seemed to know what had happened: he threw up his hands and danced a little jig in the center of the ring. The victory was scored as a technical knockout in the seventh round, one round less than Clay had predicted. Liston had seemingly injured the shoulder in the first round while swinging at and missing the elusive 22-year-old.

The fight was Clay’s from the start. The tall, swift youngster, his hands carelessly low, backed away from Liston’s jabs, circled around Liston’s dangerous left hook and opened a nasty gash under Liston’s left eye. From the beginning, it was hard to believe. All those interminable refrains of “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” had been more than foolish songs. The kid was floating. He leaned back from Liston’s jabs and hooks, backed into the ropes, then spun out and away. He moved clockwise around Liston, taunting that terrible left hook, his hands still low. Then he stung, late in the first round, sticking his left in Liston’s face and following with a quick barrage to Liston’s head. They continued for long seconds after the bell, unable to hear the inadequate ring above the roar of the crowd.•


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Don’t count James Baker among the Republicans in the #NeverTrump crowd, despite his decades-long Bushie status and the mockery the hideous hotelier made of the Jeb! campaign, almost immediately erasing the exclamation point.

In a Financial Times profile written by Lionel Barber, the former Secretary State doesn’t take the opportunity to chide Trump for his racism, xenophobia, mockery of the disabled and military veterans, megalomania and spoiled-brat behavior, focusing instead on questions of power and policy. Such pragmatism may not be surprising for a lifelong political operator, but it’s still disappointing.

An excerpt:

As a Bush loyalist, Baker is too discreet to talk about the abject failure of Jeb Bush’s campaign. Insiders say he was disappointed that the former Florida governor spent so much time talking about the past and the Bush dynasty rather than his own plans for the future. Trump’s “low energy” jibe struck a chord with voters, like his invective about immigration and blue-collar workers losing out in the age of globalisation. “That’s the thing about Trump. As much as we might disagree with his position, the voters don’t.” he says. “The question is whether a ‘faceless’ establishment decides where our party goes or do the voters.” …

The number one foreign policy challenge for the US is China, he says.

“We have to be smart enough to manage the differences,” he says.

And how might a President Trump manage those differences, I ask. Baker offers general advice only.

“Isolationism and protectionism won’t work. Don’t talk no trade deals; make a better deal. Don’t talk about making Japan and South Korea nuclear powers. Don’t talk about negotiating down the American debt.”

I try one last shot. Are America and its institutions strong enough to survive any shock, even one as seismic as Donald Trump in the White House?

“Yes,” declares Baker, emphatically.

“I won’t get my panties in a wedge because of what I am hearing from the political candidates. What they say in the campaign and what they do once they are in the White House are not the same thing.”•

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