From the July 11, 1933 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

The relatively recent development of nation-states has become so entrenched in the human way of operating that it’s difficult to imagine life organized any other fashion. Would we be better off without them? Are they mostly war machines in waiting? Not easy to say. The human capacity to find create strife rivals our ability to for noble inventions, regardless of how we’re organized.

In the outstanding New Scientist piece “End of Nations: Is There an Alternative to Countries?” Debora MacKenzie traces the development of national identity, which was necessitated by the arrival of the Industrial Age, wondering if mass violence and ethnic divisions within states would be far tougher to provoke if borders were fuzzier and there were no nationalistic “imagined communities.”

It’s a debatable point since, as the writer reminds, human violence has declined to all-time lows under the nation-state arrangement, with large-scale warfare absent from the global stage for seven decades. Then again, I write this with the U.S. nuclear codes and massive non-nuke arsenal in the possession of a President who appears to be a sociopath with a hair-trigger temper and his white nationalist Chief Strategist. Their goal is to turn Americans on one another and against the world.

The problem is, without centrally controlled and competing collectives it would probably be awfully difficult to quickly scale up really useful things (e.g., disease control and eradication) or provide security. MacKenzie acknowledges this point, but she also warns that such arrangements may be untenable as we progress, unable to deal with certain vital issues like climate change, and collapse of these systems may be inevitable.

The opening:

Try, for a moment, to envisage a world without countries. Imagine a map not divided into neat, coloured patches, each with clear borders, governments, laws. Try to describe anything our society does – trade, travel, science, sport, maintaining peace and security – without mentioning countries. Try to describe yourself: you have a right to at least one nationality, and the right to change it, but not the right to have none.

Those coloured patches on the map may be democracies, dictatorships or too chaotic to be either, but virtually all claim to be one thing: a nation state, the sovereign territory of a “people” or nation who are entitled to self-determination within a self-governing state. So says the United Nations, which now numbers 193 of them.

And more and more peoples want their own state, from Scots voting for independence to jihadis declaring a new state in the Middle East. Many of the big news stories of the day, from conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine to rows over immigration and membership of the European Union, are linked to nation states in some way.

Even as our economies globalise, nation states remain the planet’s premier political institution. Large votes for nationalist parties in this year’s EU elections prove nationalism remains alive – even as the EU tries to transcend it.

Yet there is a growing feeling among economists, political scientists and even national governments that the nation state is not necessarily the best scale on which to run our affairs. We must manage vital matters like food supply and climate on a global scale, yet national agendas repeatedly trump the global good. At a smaller scale, city and regional administrations often seem to serve people better than national governments.

How, then, should we organise ourselves? Is the nation state a natural, inevitable institution? Or is it a dangerous anachronism in a globalised world?•

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“The next four years are the critical inflection point,” writes Robert Kagan in largely dire Brookings report, “The Twilight of the Liberal Order,” offering a contention that should scare the hell out of Americans and allies who depend on us, while cheering the Chinese and Russians. 

Since the piece was published just about a week ago, the new President, an unhinged person whose policy seems mostly the handiwork of his white-supremacist sidekick, issued a hastily written, racist ban on certain immigrants and has made it even more clear he doesn’t care about the plight of any country beyond our borders. (That his governance will also likely have devastating consequences domestically is a parallel concern.)

America’s raison d’être as a shelter for refugees, beacon for the world and defender of liberal democracy, has no place in nationalistic Trumplandia, which will lead to other countries filling the power gap. But you can’t build a wall to keep out the future, and Kagan believes that absent America’s guiding hand, a large-scale war becomes much more likely, something Steve Bannon wouldn’t mind, given his stated desire to take military action against China. The Chief Strategist’s bloody dreams combine the worst of the United States’ inclination for adventuring with a newly narrowed self-interest.

It seems as if the Administration believes it can run the world stage the way Gotti ran Queens, with endless bluster and shakedowns. Whether or not it ends in world war, it will not end well. 

An excerpt:

In recent years, however, the liberal order has begun to weaken and fracture at the core. As a result of many related factors—difficult economic conditions, the recrudescence of nationalism and tribalism, weak and uncertain political leadership and unresponsive mainstream political parties, a new era of communications that seems to strengthen rather than weaken tribalism—there has emerged a crisis of confidence in what might be called the liberal enlightenment project. That project tended to elevate universal principles of individual rights and common humanity over ethnic, racial, religious, national, or tribal differences. It looked to a growing economic interdependence to create common interests across boundaries and the establishment of international institutions to smooth differences and facilitate cooperation among nations. Instead, the past decade has seen the rise of tribalism and nationalism; an increasing focus on the “other” in all societies; and a loss of confidence in government, in the capitalist system, and in democracy. We have been witnessing something like the opposite of the “end of history” but have returned to history with a vengeance, rediscovering all the darker aspects of the human soul. That includes, for many, the perennial human yearning for a strong leader to provide firm guidance in a time of seeming breakdown and incoherence.

This crisis of the enlightenment project may have been inevitable. It may indeed have been cyclical, due to inherent flaws in both capitalism and democracy, which periodically have been exposed and have raised doubts about both—as happened, for instance, throughout the West in the 1930s. Now, as then, moreover, this crisis of confidence in liberalism coincides with a breakdown of the strategic order. In this case, however, the key variable has not been the United States as the outside power and its willingness, or not, to step in and save or remake an order lost by other powers. Rather it is the United States’ own willingness to continue upholding the order that it created and which depends entirely on American power.

That willingness has been in doubt for some time. Increasingly in the quarter-century after the end of the Cold War, Americans have been wondering why they bear such an unusual and outsized responsibility for preserving global order when their own interests are not always apparently served and when, indeed, the United States seems to be making sacrifices while others benefit. The reasons why the United States took on this abnormal role after the calamitous two world wars of the 20th century have been largely forgotten. As a consequence, the American public’s patience with the difficulties and costs inherent in playing such a role has worn thin. Thus, whereas previous unsuccessful wars, in Korea in 1950 and Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, and previous economic downturns, such as in the mid- to late 1970s, did not have the effect of turning Americans against global involvement, the unsuccessful wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the financial crisis of 2007–09 have had that effect. President Obama pursued an ambivalent approach to global involvement, but the main thrust of his approach was retrenchment. His actions and statements were a critique of previous American strategy and reinforced a national mood favoring a much less active role in the world and much narrower definition of American interests.

With the election of Donald Trump, a majority of Americans have signaled their unwillingness to continue upholding the world order. Trump was not the only candidate in 2016 to run on a platform suggesting a much narrower definition of American interests and a lessening of the burdens of American global leadership. “America First” is not just an empty phrase but a fairly coherent philosophy with a long lineage and many adherents in the American academy. It calls for viewing American interests through a narrow lens. It suggests no longer supporting an international alliance structure, no longer seeking to deny great powers their spheres of influence and regional hegemony, no longer attempting to uphold liberal norms in the international system, and no longer sacrificing short-term interests—in trade for instance—in the longer-term interest of preserving an open economic order.

Coming as it does at a time of growing great power competition, this new approach in American foreign policy is likely to hasten a return to the instability and clashes of previous eras.•

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Smartphone-enabled rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft are disruptors that provide greater convenience and information but also kill steady, secure jobs and place people deeper inside a surveillance machine. The thing is, nothing seems more prone to disruption than these businesses themselves. I’ve already mentioned how the emergence of driverless cars could make possible an ownerless and growing fleet of taxis. But why wait for autonomous, with its imprecise start date?

LibreTaxi is an app that removes the middleman, letting the fare and driver do cash (and, soon, Bitcoin) business directly. Roman Pushkin’s brainchild actually wasn’t designed to compete with the Kalanicks, instead aiming at rural and out-of-the-way locales that Uber and others do not service and likely never will. But it has begun creeping into urban areas, and some other similar apps to come will be aimed directly at the behemoths. 

Below is the opening of Pushkin’s recent Medium essay and a few exchanges from a Q&A he did with Bitcoinist.


From Medium:

Uber, a company evaluated at $60B, will unlikely go to remote Siberian region where I was born. About 1000 people still live there. It’s not far from Russian Silicon Valley — Academgorodok in Novosibirsk, only 80 miles. But there is no road to such villages: deepest forest, Taiga, and the river. It takes about 2 days to get there by boat.

Sometimes I think that nobody understands remote regions better than me. And I don’t mean Russia only. I lived in 10 countries before I settled down in San Francisco Bay Area. I found that problems in Russian remote regions are very similar to problems Indian/Nepali remote regions have. And I expect they are the same somewhere outside of big cities in South Africa, China, Latin America and Middle East.

I remember when I visited my relatives in Siberia ~10 years ago, and explained them how cellphone works. They never heard about that and now they are lucky to have their own cell tower. Now they have few computers, mobile phones, internet connection. They use motorbikes to get to the same villages around in summer, and use special light vehicles to do the same in winter time. But with all of the technology available they’re still struggling with problems western civilization solved already.

To my surprise, when I visited my native village 2 years ago, nobody knew what Uber is.•


From Bitcoinist:

Question:

What is LibreTaxi?

Roman Pushkin:

It’s free alternative for Uber, Lyft, etc. It doesn’t compete with these companies directly. I made it for a remote area where I was born and found that people around the world like it. Uber probably won’t go to remote and rural areas, so LibreTaxi is perfect for that.

Question:

What problem does LibreTaxi solve?

Roman Pushkin:

People need a ridesharing service in remote and rural areas where big companies will never go. At least I started with this idea in mind. Now I see how people are starting to use it in some cities as an Uber replacement. Also, you can never predict what type of taxi you want – boat, helicopter, rickshaw etc. LibreTaxi is open-sourced under MIT license. People can update it relatively easy or add vehicle types and run Uber-like services for their areas independently.

Question:

Are you targeting any specific markets, cities or demographics?

Roman Pushkin:

Our main market is rural areas, but it seems like it’s expanding into cities now. I have to think about improving and polishing functionality to make it even more easier to use.•

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Elon Musk has unilaterally decided that direct democracy will be the likely government on Mars once he creates a colony on our neighboring planet, but if a fledgling fascist takes over, he’ll probably still be open for business.

We’ve witnessed with his embrace of the Trump Administration that the Space X founder isn’t grounded enough to truly comprehend an epochal political moment, believing he can somehow manage a sociopathic President and his white nationalist Chief Strategist the way he does less-combustible things–like rockets, for instance. 

Some of Musk’s announcements about space settlements and other schemes have seemed increasingly kooky over the last few years, but you could cut him some slack. After all, Thomas Edison truly believed he could use early 1900s technology to create a “spirit phone” to speak to the dead. Visionaries sometimes head down a blind alley so distracted they are by the world they hold in their hands. But Musk’s reaction to this singular challenge to American democracy has revealed a deep moral blind spot within him. 

Prior to the ugly election cycle, Walter Isaacson said the “Benjamin Franklin of today is Musk,” but our kite-flying forefather understood one thing about tyranny that escapes his technological descendant: “We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

• • •

In “Whitey on Mars,” Andrew Russell’s excellent Aeon essay, the writer argues that “white men in expensive, gleaming white spaceships” take priority over more earthly concerns when wealth is deeply unequal, especially in this era when such costly exploration has become significantly privatized. I’m sure Musk would counter that he is trying to address climate change by spearheading a transition to electric and solar (a point Russell also addresses), but there’s definitely much truth in the argument.

The opening:

There are good reasons to worry about the future of humanity. Do we have a future, and if so, how much and what kind? For most people, it’s easier to feel these existential concerns for our species than it is to do something about them. But some are taking action. On 27 September 2016, the SpaceX founder Elon Musk made a bold, direct claim: that, in order to survive an inevitable extinction event, humans would need to ‘become a space-faring civilisation and a multi-planetary species’. Pulses raced and the media swooned. Headlines appeared in the business and technology press about Musk’s plan to save humanity. Experts and laypeople alike debated details of the rockets, spacecraft and fuel needed for Musk’s journey to Mars. The excitement was palpable, and it was evident at the press conference. During the Q&A that followed the announcement, Musk said that his goal was to inspire humanity. One audience member yelled: ‘[Musk] inspires the shit out of us!’ Another offered him a kiss.

Musk’s plan to colonise Mars is a sign of an older and recurring social problem. What happens when the rich and powerful isolate themselves from everyday concerns? Musk wants to innovate and leave Earth, rather than to take care of it, or fix it, and stay. Like so many of his peers in the innovating and disrupting classes, Musk prefers to dwell in fantasy and science fiction, safely removed from the world of here and now. Musk is a utopian, in the original Greek meaning: ‘no place’. Repulsed by the world we all share, he dreams of a place that does not exist.•

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Steve Bannon has been deemed by some “Trump’s Rasputin,” but it’s not nice to besmirch Rasputin that way.

The inscrutable Siberian spiritualist was so wrapped in the cloth of mysticism that it’s impossible to know exactly how much influence he wielded in the palace of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna during the last days of disco for the Russian Empire. His sway may have actually registered somewhere between Bannon’s puppet-master position and Joan Quigley’s Reagan Era stargazing.

Regardless, the “mad monk” of St. Petersburg society made the people uneasy and the perception of him as “Chief Strategist” became a liability to the throne, so much so that his 1916 assassination was thought necessary by some royals if the Tsardom was to be salvaged. No dice, as the messy murder did not come close to halting the sweep of history.

A report from the March 1, 1914 Brooklyn Daily Eagle about the unlikely rise to power of the “crude impostor.”

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In this time of potential totalitarianism, two very different journalists, former Dubya speechwriter David Frum and veteran Putin chronicler Masha Gessen, have done the most outstanding work, warning of the gathering threat to American liberal democracy. Each has a new piece on the topic. 

In “How to Build an Autocracy,” an Atlantic cover story, Frum writes speculatively about how the U.S., over the next four years, could be pulled from its foundations, despite a system that supposedly safeguards us from such affronts.

“Checks and balances is a metaphor, not a mechanism,” offers Frum, asserting that our system is only as good as those who serve it at any given moment. We depend on Americans of good faith to combat a Berlusconi angling to become a Mussolini, and while many such citizens exist in the country, they will be far from levers of power. The Administration will only appoint and tolerate conspirators. Anyone who defies will be dismissed.

The Senate and the Congress could prevent our fall from decency, but if Mitch McConnell was guided by the Constitution, Merrick Garland would have received a fair chance, and if Paul Ryan was committed to democracy, hearings about James Comey’s outrageous pre-election actions would be foremost on his mind. They will not save us. Only we can. That’s complicated, since millions of Americans seem to not notice the danger, maybe even wouldn’t mind a dictatorship if it supported their politics or proved financially profitable. 

Former Nixon lawyer John Dean says the Trump Presidency “will end in calamity.” I think, horribly enough, that’s true whether liberty wins or not.

In “The Styrofoam Presidency,” Gessen’s New York Review of Books essay, the writer explains how kakistocracy (government by the least qualified or most unprincipled) has taken hold in America. I’ve written previously that this election seemed to me propelled by, among other factors, a “large-scale revenge of mediocrity, of people wanting to establish an order where might, not merit, will rule.”

It’s hard to argue that is not what now will oversee us on a day when Jerry Falwell Jr. revealed he’s to lead a Federal Task Force on Higher Education policy. If Liberty University is to be the template for the American college, the “genius” Peter Thiel may have to wait quite awhile longer for his flying cars.


From Frum:

Trump-critical media do continue to find elite audiences. Their investigations still win Pulitzer Prizes; their reporters accept invitations to anxious conferences about corruption, digital-journalism standards, the end of Nato, and the rise of populist authoritarianism. Yet somehow all of this earnest effort feels less and less relevant to American politics. President Trump communicates with the people directly via his Twitter account, ushering his supporters toward favorable information at Fox News or Breitbart.

Despite the hand-wringing, the country has in many ways changed much less than some feared or hoped four years ago. Ambitious Republican plans notwithstanding, the American social-welfare system, as most people encounter it, has remained largely intact during Trump’s first term. The predicted wave of mass deportations of illegal immigrants never materialized. A large illegal workforce remains in the country, with the tacit understanding that so long as these immigrants avoid politics, keeping their heads down and their mouths shut, nobody will look very hard for them.

African Americans, young people, and the recently naturalized encounter increasing difficulties casting a vote in most states. But for all the talk of the rollback of rights, corporate America still seeks diversity in employment. Same-sex marriage remains the law of the land. Americans are no more and no less likely to say “Merry Christmas” than they were before Trump took office.

People crack jokes about Trump’s National Security Agency listening in on them. They cannot deeply mean it; after all, there’s no less sexting in America today than four years ago. Still, with all the hacks and leaks happening these days—particularly to the politically outspoken—it’s just common sense to be careful what you say in an email or on the phone. When has politics not been a dirty business? When have the rich and powerful not mostly gotten their way? The smart thing to do is tune out the political yammer, mind your own business, enjoy a relatively prosperous time, and leave the questions to the troublemakers.•


From Gessen:

The rule of the worst seemed to become a thing of the past in the 1990s, but under Putin mediocrity returned with a vengeance. Not only did the media come under the control of the Kremlin but it acquired an amateurish quality. Not only did the government start lying, but did so in dull, simple, and unimaginative language. Putin’s government is filled with people who plagiarized their dissertations—as did Putin himself. The ministers are subliterate. The minister of culture, who has a doctorate in history, regularly exposes his ignorance of history; indeed, Trump might be tempted to plagiarize the minister’s dissertation, which begins with the assertion that the criterion of truth in history is determined solely by the national interests of Russia—if it’s good for the country, it must be true (much of the rest of the dissertation is itself plagiarized). Other ministers provide the differently minded Russian blogosphere with endless hours of fun because they use words the meaning of which they clearly don’t know, or ones that don’t exist—as when a newly chosen education minister invented a word that seemed to mean that she had been appointed to the cabinet by God. They also make ignorant, repressive, inhumane policy. But their daily subversion of integrity and principle is indeed aesthetic in nature. And it serves a purpose: by degrading language and discrediting the spectacle of politics the Russian government is destroying the public sphere.

Sometimes vastly different processes yield surprisingly similar results. Trump is staging an assault on America’s senses that feels familiar to me—not because he admires Putin (though he does) or because he is Putin’s puppet, but because they seem to be genuinely kindred spirits. It might take a long time to understand why we have come to enter the age of a kakistocracy, but evidently we have.•

 

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What we dream we become” wrote Henry Miller, offering a curse as much as a promise, wary as he always was of science and technology and America.

Nobody in the U.S. has ever dreamed more than Hugo Gernsback, immigrant technological tinkerer and peddler of science fiction, and he was sure the most outré visions would come to pass: instant newspapers printed in the home, TV eyeglasses, teleportation, etc. Some of these amazing stories proved to be true and others…perhaps someday? In Gernsback’s view what separated fiction and fact was merely time.

From James Gleick’s wonderful New York Review of Books piece about The Perversity of Things: Hugo Gernsback on Media, Tinkering, and Scientifiction:

Born Hugo Gernsbacher, the son of a wine merchant in a Luxembourg suburb before electrification, he started tinkering as a child with electric bell-ringers. When he emigrated to New York City at the age of nineteen, in 1904, he carried in his baggage a design for a new kind of electrolytic battery. A year later, styling himself in Yankee fashion “Huck Gernsback,” he published his first article in Scientific American, a design for a new kind of electric interrupter. That same year he started his first business venture, the Electro Importing Company, selling parts and gadgets and a “Telimco” radio set by mail order to a nascent market of hobbyists and soon claiming to be “the largest makers of experimental Wireless material in the world.”

His mail-order catalogue of novelties and vacuum tubes soon morphed into a magazine, printed on the same cheap paper but now titled Modern Electrics. It included articles and editorials, like “The Wireless Joker” (it seems pranksters had fun with the new communications channel) and “Signaling to Mars.” It was hugely successful, and Gernsback was soon a man about town, wearing a silk hat, dining at Delmonico’s and perusing its wine list with a monocle.

Public awareness of science and technology was new and in flux. “Technology” was barely a word and still not far removed from magic. “But wireless was magical to Gernsback’s readers,” writes Wythoff, “not because they didn’t understand how the trick worked but because they did.” Gernsback asked his readers to cast their minds back “but 100 years” to the time of Napoleon and consider how far the world has “progressed” in that mere century. “Our entire mode of living has changed with the present progress,” he wrote in the first issue of Amazing Stories “and it is little wonder, therefore, that many fantastic situations—impossible 100 years ago—are brought about today.”

So for Gernsback it was completely natural to publish Science Wonder Stories alongside Electrical Experimenter. He returned again and again to the theme of fact versus fiction—a false dichotomy, as far as he was concerned. Leonardo da Vinci, Jules Verne, and H. G. Wells were inventors and prophets, their fantastic visions giving us our parachutes and submarines and spaceships.•

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As I’ve posted before, China stands poised to gain the most from America’s sharp turn toward anti-science and isolationism. Winning the race in renewables, supercomputers and robotics would make our strongest competitor preeminent financially. Furthermore, soft power follows cold, hard cash, so our withdrawal from globalism will oddly allow China, an autocratic state, to step into the breach and gain influence as the “civilized” leader of the free world. 

Along with reconfiguring the U.S. to teach civics and the Constitution, we should probably also stress basic economics.

From “Trump’s Trade War May Have Already Begun,” by Peter S. Goodman of the New York Times:

LONDON — America’s traditional allies are on the lookout for new friends.

They have heard the mantra “America First” from the new president, divining a Trump doctrine: global cooperation last. Europeans have taken note of Mr. Trump’s denigration of the European Union and his apparent esteem for the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin. In Asia and Latin America, leaders have absorbed the deepening possibility that Mr. Trump will deliver on threats to impose punitive tariffs on Mexican and Chinese imports, provoking a trade war that will damage economic growth and eliminate jobs around the world.

Some allies are shifting focus to other potential partners for new sources of trade and investment, relationships that could influence political, diplomatic and military ties. Many are looking to China, which has adroitly capitalized on a leadership vacuum in world affairs by offering itself — ironies notwithstanding — as a champion for global engagement.

“We’ve always said that America is our best friend,” Jeroen Dijsselbloem, president of the Eurogroup — comprising finance ministers from countries sharing the euro currency — said in an interview with The New York Times on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this month. “If that’s no longer the case, if that’s what we need to understand from Donald Trump, then of course Europe will look for new friends.”

“China is a very strong candidate for that,” he added.•

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Here’s a question: If the election was held again today, would Donald Trump still win the Electoral College?

Despite the hypothetical nature of the query, it’s actually an all-important one. While a huge number of Americans, likely the majority, refuse the un-American Executive Orders of the new Administration as well as his appointment of a white nationalist as White House Chief Strategist, a large minority approved of promises of such on Election Day? Do they still? 

In Pennsylvania–as well as Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin–harsh Rust Belt economics played a role in swinging just enough votes a clearly unqualified, unwell candidate, but it wasn’t just about the money, stupid. There as well as in more affluent parts of the country, Trump’s racism and xenophobia resonated. If these voters get the whiter America they hoped for, would they be okay with a dictator as President?

From Josh Paul’s Newsweek piece about approval for the immigrant ban among citizens in Northeastern PA:

“Our first priority should be the safety of Americans,” says Tino Altavilla, a freshman at King’s College in northeast Pennsylvania. Asked his opinion of the executive order Trump signed Friday afternoon, the physics major said he doesn’t believe every Muslim is a terrorist but that the vetting system needs to be improved before any more people from Middle Eastern countries are allowed into the U.S. “Imagine Syria. There are very few records on some of the people because it’s a war zone.”

Altavilla voted for Trump in November, just like almost 60 percent of voters in Luzerne County, which flipped from supporting Obama by 5 points in 2012 to a 20-point victory for Trump. A third-generation Italian-American, Altavilla tells Newsweek that he thinks Trump should have presented the executive order as a “hold” instead of a “ban,” but that he agrees with Trump’s order. “I’m not sure if his handling was correct, but what he did was correct.”

Most Trump voters from this mountainous county, a two-hour drive west of New York City, were quick to voice their support for the executive order that blocks citizens of seven mostly-Muslim countries from coming to the U.S. for at least three months, bans all refugees for four months and bars Syrian refugees indefinitely. They saw the ban as a smart way to protect the country from terrorist attacks, and they dismissed arguments that the order amounted to a religious ban or comparisons between the order and America’s rejection of Jews fleeing Nazi Germany.•

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Overwhelming the populous with provocations and crises is something that comes naturally to a committed controversialist like Donald Trump, who seems powered by emotional damage and, likely, mental illness, the way some are by caffeine, but it also is clearly a part of a plan of Steve Bannon and the other destroyers in the Oval Office mix.

Issue a bigoted and badly drawn ban on Muslim immigrants just as the white nationalist Chief Strategist is named to replace the Director of National Intelligence and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at National Security Council meetings. Divert attention from any one fire by starting many.

And if everything is an outrage, no individual offense seems so irregular. 

In addition to the many worrying, fascistic signs of the first week-plus of the new Administration, it’s gone almost unnoticed that the candidate who railed against Hillary Clinton using a private server as Secretary of State is now a President with an insecure Android phone. Sadly, this Congress is far too feckless and opportunistic to call him out on his behavior.

From “President Trump’s Insecure Android,” by Nicholas Weaver at Lawfare:

Lost amid the swirling insanity of the Trump administration’s first week, are the reports of the President’s continued insistence on using his Android phone (a Galaxy S3 or perhaps S4). This is, to put it bluntly, asking for a disaster. President Trump’s continued use of a dangerously insecure, out-of-date Android device should cause real panic. And in a normal White House, it would.

A Galaxy S3 does not meet the security requirements of the average teenager, let alone the purported leader of the free world. The best available Android OS on this phone (4.4) is a woefully out-of-date and unsupported. The S4, running 5.0.1, is only marginally better. Without exaggerating, hacking a Galaxy S3 or S4 is the type of project I would assign as homework for my advanced undergraduate classes. It’d be as simple as downloading a suitable exploit—depending on the version, Stagefright will do—and then entice Trump to clicking on a link. Alternatively, one could advertise malware on Breitbart and just wait for Trump to visit.
 
Once compromised, the phone becomes a bug—even more catastrophic than Great Seal—able to record everything around it and transmit the information once it reattaches to the network. And to be clear even a brand new, fully updated Android or iPhone is insufficient: The President of the United States is worth a great many multiples of expensive zero-day exploits.•

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Like many who’ve read Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the novel during this terrible time of a demagogue reaching the White House. The writer imagined an alternative history in which the legendary aviator Charles Lindbergh, an actual spokesperson for the America First Committee and admitted white supremacist, was able to defeat Franklin Delano Roosevelt for the Presidency, changing the course of history for much the worse. It seems to have unfortunate parallels with our own bleak moment.

Roth doesn’t exactly see it that way, however. In an email exchange with Judith Thurman of the New Yorker, he explained the key difference:

“It is easier to comprehend the election of an imaginary President like Charles Lindbergh than an actual President like Donald Trump. Lindbergh, despite his Nazi sympathies and racist proclivities, was a great aviation hero who had displayed tremendous physical courage and aeronautical genius in crossing the Atlantic in 1927. He had character and he had substance and, along with Henry Ford, was, worldwide, the most famous American of his day. Trump is just a con artist.”

Yes, that’s true, Trump is merely a Simon Cowell-ish strongman, not a real-life superhero whose daring made the world smaller when foreign acres of the Earth still felt as distant as the dark side of the moon. But the book’s sense of foreboding, the feeling that we’ve drifted far and disastrously from our ideals, definitely resonates.

An article in the April 28, 1941 Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported on Lindbergh’s abrupt resignation from his Army post in response to Roosevelt’s criticism of the flier’s speeches, in which he urged American isolationism, a belief which was fortified by his appreciation for Aryan superiority and feelings of anti-Semitism.

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It seldom ends well for a tyrant, but how about the people?

Rare are there moments of such extreme clarity as the one we’re now experiencing in America. Either you stand against the bigoted madness of a bullying sociopath, or you push the nation into the abyss with it. Millions of citizens are fighting back, trying in their own way to keep us from descending into fascism, from becoming a racist state. Unfortunately–and perhaps unsurprisingly–many elected officials and business leaders have proven feckless and opportunistic. We know where they stand.

In Eliot A. Cohen’s scorching Atlantic essay about new Administration in the wake of a disastrous first week, he writes, “the biggest split will be between those who draw a line and the power-sick.” We’ve already witnessed both sides of the divide, with Washington lifers bolting the State Department en masse to loudly register protest, and with Sean Spicer willing to speak outrageous lies as ordered and Paul Ryan and Mike Pence now supporting a Muslim ban they previously deemed un-American.

Cohen’s certain those who stand by this unscrupulous monster will be forever tarnished by the association, and while I wish I could agree, even a genuine German Nazi like Wernher von Braun was able to reinvent himself as an American hero. Historical moments can present a clear line, but the long arc of history is a fuzzier thing.

An excerpt:

Precisely because the problem is one of temperament and character, it will not get better. It will get worse, as power intoxicates Trump and those around him. It will probably end in calamity—substantial domestic protest and violence, a breakdown of international economic relationships, the collapse of major alliances, or perhaps one or more new wars (even with China) on top of the ones we already have. It will not be surprising in the slightest if his term ends not in four or in eight years, but sooner, with impeachment or removal under the 25th Amendment. The sooner Americans get used to these likelihoods, the better.

The question is, what should Americans do about it? To friends still thinking of serving as political appointees in this administration, beware: When you sell your soul to the Devil, he prefers to collect his purchase on the installment plan. Trump’s disregard for either Secretary of Defense Mattis or Secretary-designate Tillerson in his disastrous policy salvos this week, in favor of his White House advisers, tells you all you need to know about who is really in charge. To be associated with these people is going to be, for all but the strongest characters, an exercise in moral self-destruction.

For the community of conservative thinkers and experts, and more importantly, conservative politicians, this is a testing time. Either you stand up for your principles and for what you know is decent behavior, or you go down, if not now, then years from now, as a coward or opportunist. Your reputation will never recover, nor should it.•

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#deleteuber exploded across Twitter last night when the ride-share company tried to exploit the flash taxi drivers’ strike at JFK against Trump’s anti-immigrant ban. It was alarming the company treated a Constitutional crisis as if it were business-as-usual but unsurprising considering Uber’s past dubious ethical behavior and Travis Kalanick’s recent defense of his relationship with the Administration: “We’ll partner with anyone in the world.” Really? Trips to internment camps, even?

There are other reasons to be wary of piecemeal employment, that Libertarian wet dream, and the main one is that it often undermines solid middle-class jobs and replaces them with uncertainty. And, no, despite what some might say, most Uber employees aren’t entrepreneurs just driving until venture-capital seed money comes in for their start-up; they’re actually trying to somehow subsist in this new normal. It isn’t easy.

The opening of Eric Newcomer and Olivia Zaleski Bloomberg piece:

In the 1970s, the Safeway grocery store in San Francisco’s gleaming Marina neighborhood, known as the Social Safeway, was a cornerstone of the pre-Tinder dating scene. Armistead Maupin made it famous in his 1978 book, Tales of the City, calling it “the hottest spot in town” to meet people. For years afterward, locals called it the “Singles Safeway” or the “Dateway.”

Forty years later, German Tugas, a 42-year-old Uber driver, got to know it for another reason: Its parking lot was a safe spot to sleep in his car. Tugas drives over 70 hours a week in San Francisco, where the work is steadier and fares are higher than in his hometown, Sacramento. So every Monday morning, Tugas leaves at 4 a.m., says goodbye to his wife and four daughters, drives 90 miles to the city, and lugs around passengers until he earns $300 or gets too tired to keep going. (Most days he nets $230 after expenses like gas.) Then, he and at least a half dozen other Uber drivers gathered in the Social Safeway parking lot to sleep in their cars before another long day of driving.  

“That’s the sacrifice,” he said in May, smoking a cigarette beside his Toyota Prius parked at the Safeway at 1 a.m., the boats in the bay bobbing gently in the background. “My goal is to get a house somewhere closer, so that I don’t have to do this every day.”

The vast majority of Uber’s full-time drivers return home to their beds at the end of a day’s work. But all over the country, there are many who don’t.•

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This week, President Trump banned certain immigrants from entering the U.S., arguing that some people not born here don’t share our values. He does have a point.

 

  • Anne Applebaum discusses the rise of right-wing nativism, NATO, etc.
  • Elon Musk is another educated person fooling himself about Trump.
  • Evan Osnos reports on Prepping 2.0, powered by Silicon Valley wealth.
  • The Trump Administration’s anti-science outlook will be a boon for China.
  • Bill McKibben thinks about the renewed interest in lo-fi joys in the Digital Age.

It would be funny watching Theresa May and and the brokers of Brexit bowing before a U.S. President they clearly disdain, except that as an American I can hardly afford to laugh, not with the Constitution and nuclear codes in the breast pocket of a bigoted, unbalanced ignoramus.

The urge on both sides of the Atlantic to retreat to an earlier age, one before globalization, may be understandable but it’s also self-defeating. There’s no returning. The world is overrun with symbiotic relationships and to deny the Other is to starve yourself. The UK and U.S. will now both learn the hard way that in this age isolation is impossible and closed doors costly.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal brokered by President Obama was an imperfect one, as any pact among numerous nations would be, but it allowed the U.S. an abiding and significant soft power in the region of our fiercest competitor, China, which will now likely benefit from our withdrawal. The ban on refugees and immigrants from Muslim nations, probably illegal, is similarly shortsighted, sacrificing our greatest historical resource–diverse human capital–in a misguided attempt to prevent terrorism, a much smaller threat to Americans than guns or even cars.

Going forward, the United States and United Kingdom won’t be most challenged by connections to other countries but competition from them. Walls and exits will not preserve us.

From a smart Economist analysis written just prior to May’s D.C. visit:

So why is Mrs May hurrying to Washington? Because Brexit compels Britain’s leaders to show that the country has powerful allies. And “my Maggie” (as the president calls Mrs May) is desperate to line up a Britain-America trade deal that can be closed as soon as Brexit takes place, probably in 2019.

Whether this will end happily is uncertain. In trade negotiations, size matters. Larger economies can stipulate terms that suit them. Britain, an economy of 60m people, has much less leverage in trade talks than the EU, a market of 500m, or the United States, one of 300m. Mr Trump may promise an agreement “very quickly” and to show other countries that it is safe to leave the EU by giving Britain generous treatment. But more than anything else he is an America First deal-wrangler who knows he has the upper hand. A rushed agreement could see the National Health Service opened up to American firms and environmental and food standards diluted (think hormone-treated beef). Such concessions could upset British voters, who backed Brexit partly because Leavers said it would help the country’s health-care system. They would also frustrate a trade deal with the EU, a much more important export destination.

The curious thing is that Brexit was supposed to be about “taking back control”: immunising the country from foreign whim and interest, while asserting national dignity and independence. Increasingly that looks like a bad joke. The British elite feels it has no choice but to prostrate itself before an American president it clearly finds odious. To keep businesses from moving elsewhere, Britain may have to shadow EU regulations and pay into EU programmes without the chance to shape either. Its trade deals will be forged with a fraction of the negotiating force that has long promoted its interests. That means more concessions to the tariff and regulatory preferences of foreigners. Its application to become a full member of the World Trade Organisation is yet another opportunity for others to impose conditions and costs.•

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Already posted items about the potential wave of automated food shopping demonstrated by Amazon Go (1 + 2), a Swedish General Store 2.0 and a French market that uses Li-Fi to spy on the buying patterns of customers, which could give the store’s computers the ability to dynamically adjust prices.

Cashier, stock and cleaning jobs, among others, would be eliminated if these visions were widely realized. Have to assume the transition would mean the creation of some good positions to develop smart machines (even if their actual manufacturing is mostly automated), though this scenario still feels like it will wind up being the same tale of haves and have-nots.

From Omil Xia at Yahoo! Finance:

Here’s how the grocery store of the near-future would work: An automatic facial recognition system greets customers by name at the entrance, and virtual assistants can direct customers to different aisles. Artificial-intelligence sensors will also assist grocery store customers, continuously updating the prices and items in the customer’s shopping cart.

Customers can then finalize purchases through a cellphone order that gives them customized coupons. This process could, in theory, take a lot less time than checkout lines.

Behind the scenes, the automatic stock room will manage the store’s inventory and send signals for robots to restock vacant shelves. Similar to today’s online grocery shopping experience, advanced technology can also prepare custom orders and deliver the items via drones.

While this elaborate scenario is not yet available, automated grocery stores are not anything surprising. Self-checkout kiosks, robot cleaners, and automated storerooms already exist.•

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I’m not on Facebook and once I stop doing this blog, I’ll quit the Twitter account associated with it. My last message will be: “I’d rather be reading than tweeting.”

Social media seems to me an unhappiness machine, mostly keeping us in touch with what we sort of know or what we used to know, distracting us from what we could actually intimately know. It’s a way of connecting people, sure, but not the best or truest way. And that downside that doesn’t even consider trolls, neo-Nazis and fake news.

We can’t go back nor should we, really, though there must be some respite. I don’t see any way we avoid being lowered gradually into the Internet of Things, a Platonovian pit, which will take the machines out of our pockets and put us in theirs, but there can be islands of retreat if we continue to utilize more tactile, lo-fi tools.

In Bill McKibben’s New York Review of Books piece on David Sax’s The Revenge of Analog, the critic writes that “the virtues of digital turn out to be the vices as well,” and who could argue? McKibben focuses mostly on the renewed interest in vinyl and paper and Polaroids, which may prove a passing interest or something more lasting, but in one passage he thinks about education, which may be the most important consideration of all when it comes to digitalization. An excerpt:

Nothing has appealed to digital zealots as much as the idea of “transforming” our education systems with all manner of gadgetry. The “ed tech” market swells constantly, as more school systems hand out iPads or virtual-reality goggles; one of the earliest noble causes of the digerati was the One Laptop Per Child global initiative, led by MIT’s Nicholas Negroponte, a Garibaldi of the Internet age. The OLPC crew raised stupendous amounts of money and created machines that could run on solar power or could be cranked by hand, and they distributed them to poor children around the developing world, but alas, according to Sax, “academic studies demonstrated no gain in academic achievement.” Last year, in fact, the OECD reported that “students who use computers very frequently at school do a lot worse in most learning outcomes.”

At the other end of the educational spectrum from African villages, the most prestigious universities on earth have been busy putting courses on the Web and building MOOCs, “massive open online courses.” Sax misses the scattered successes of these ventures, often courses in computer programming or other technical subjects that aren’t otherwise available in much of the developing world. But he’s right that many of these classes have failed to engage the students who sign up, most of whom drop out.

Even those who stay the course “perform worse, and learn less, than [their] peers who are sitting in a school listening to a teacher talking in front of a blackboard.” Why this is so is relatively easy to figure out: technologists think of teaching as a delivery system for information, one that can and should be profitably streamlined. But actual teaching isn’t about information delivery—it’s a relationship. As one Stanford professor who watched the MOOCs expensively tank puts it, “A teacher has a relationship with a group of students. It is those independent relationships that is the basis of learning. Period.”•

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Along with biotechnology, alternative energy and supercomputers, robotics is another sector America needs to win in a race with our fellow global power China.

Just wrote about the new Administration’s apparent obliviousness to the role robots currently play in manufacturing, a capacity which will only grow exponentially in the near future. While an obtuse policy of punitive tariffs might unintentionally jump-start domestic investment in robots, such a large-scale shift might work better if it was done via cohesive plan.

If U.S. investment in industrial robotics ends up producing more new jobs than expected, that’s great. If it leaves us without enough work for citizens, we really need to initiate a National Service program that would offer Americans living, stable wages in exchange for restoring and revitalizing our infrastructure and environment. As Holger Stark writes in Spiegel: “Today’s America is simultaneously the country of the iPhone and the country of potholes.” Fixing the latter would mean more could afford to enjoy the former.

In an excellent New York Times column, Farhad Manjoo advocates for the U.S. government to marshal a move toward developing automated machines, warning of the repercussions if we don’t. “Today, we buy a lot of stuff made in China by Chinese people,” he writes. “Tomorrow, we’ll buy stuff made in America — by Chinese robots.” The opening:

Factories play a central role in President Trump’s parade of American horrors. In his telling, globalization has left our factories “shuttered,” “rusted-out” and “scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation.”

Here’s what you might call an alternative fact: American factories still make a lot of stuff. In 2016, the United States hit a manufacturing record, producing more goods than ever. But you don’t hear much gloating about this because manufacturers made all this stuff without a lot of people. Thanks to automation, we now make 85 percent more goods than we did in 1987, but with only two-thirds the number of workers.

This suggests that while Mr. Trump can browbeat manufacturers into staying in America, he can’t force them to hire many people. Instead, companies will most likely invest in lots and lots of robots.

And there’s another wrinkle to this story: The robots won’t be made in America. They might be made in China. 

Industrial robots — which come in many shapes and perform a range of factory jobs, from huge, precisely controlled arms used to build cars to graceful machines that package delicate pastrieswere invented in the United States. But in the last few years the Chinese government has spent billions to turn China into the world’s robotic wonderland.

In 2013, China became the world’s largest market for industrial robots, according to the International Federation of Robotics, an industry trade group. Now China is working on another big goal: to become the largest producer of robots used for factories, agriculture and a range of other applications.

Robotics industry experts said that goal could be a decade away, but they see few impediments to China’s eventual dominance.

“If you look at the comparisons in investment between China and the U.S., we’re going to lose,” said Henrik Christensen, director of the Contextual Robotics Institute at the University of California, San Diego. “The investments in China are billions and billions. I’m not seeing that investment in the U.S. And without that investment, we are going to lose. No doubt.”•

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Someone as smart as Elon Musk has to realize he’s being used as a public-relations prize by the Trump Administration, that band of wall-builders, xenophobes and climate-change deniers. It would have been far more meaningful for an immigrant like himself to stand loudly in opposition to a campaign that was proudly demagogic and a forming Administration that’s as bonkers as it is bigoted.

Musk has said that “attacking Trump will achieve nothing,” but it actually might prevent some really bad things. Even if the President if close-minded, there are folks far more concerned about self-preservation in the Senate and Congress. Protest and rebuke can preclude the worst from happening. Lending his renown to Trump has helped normalize him and some terrible things he will do that may not hurt Musk or other Silicon Valley billionaires but will have a real effect on the lives of more vulnerable Americans.

The Tesla founder can have only two reasons for allowing himself to be used as he has, and they both probably played into his decision. One is that he’s taking a utilitarian approach to try to neutralize the worst impulses of a President who could absolutely wreck us in a short period of time. Musk would do better trying to manage far less combustible things–like rockets, for instance–than a sociopath. The other, and likely more pressing concern, is that his businesses, especially the burgeoning electric-car one, require at this delicate moment a non-adversarial relationship with the federal government.

Musk can promise to never build internment camps on Mars, but he’s already made odious, un-American things like Muslim registries and immigration bans more credible. That’s part of who he is now, even if he thinks he can compartmentalize such things.

A question about Musk’s support of Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State from a Q&A by Bryan Menegus at Gizmodo:

Question:

Many see the appointment of a tycoon as emblematic of crony capitalism. What makes you feel he’s competent? Tillerson also told Bloomberg last year that he’s not exactly sold on electric cars, which of course is the whole point of Tesla. Have you reached an accord on that matter? Are your opinions on Tillerson influenced at all by your position on Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum?

Elon Musk:

My tweets speak for themselves. Please read them exactly as they are written. Tillerson obviously did a competent job running Exxon, one of the largest companies in the world. In that role, he was obligated to advance the cause of Exxon and did. In the Sec of State role, he is obligated to advance the cause of the US and I suspect he probably will. Also, he has publicly acknowledged for years that a carbon tax could make sense. There is no better person to push for that to become a reality than Tillerson. This is what matters far more than pipelines or opening oil reserves. The unpriced externality must be priced.

Tillerson does indeed have a history of supporting a carbon tax as far back as 2007, signaling his preference for such a regulation over “cap-and-trade” initiatives that became popular among environmentalists and free market conservatives alike in the 1980s, but whose real-world efficacy has long been subject to debate. Many expertsagree that a national carbon tax is needed, but take it coming from Tillerson with a grain of salt.

Rather than pushing for policies to reduce carbon emissions, ExxonMobil, under the tutelage of Tillerson and his predecessors, gave over $3.6 million to the American Enterprise Institute from 1998 to 2012, an organization that has helped distort facts about climate change and undermine public confidence in the impact of carbon pollution. This is despite the fact that Exxon’s own scientists have known since 1977 that fossil fuels were leading to climate change.•

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When President Trump occasionally fields follow-up questions, it might be good if someone queries him about automation. It’s possible he’s familiar with the term.

The White House’s capo with nuclear capabilities has skated through the campaign and post-election periods being allowed to pretend we’re living in the 1950s. Presently and going forward, outsourcing will not largely mean jobs moving out of country but out of species. From what I know about the Carrier deal, there’s nothing impeding the company from automating the positions saved and still pocketing the tax incentives. The new Administration’s plans for tax breaks and tariffs, admittedly still vaguely drawn, would go large with that same gaping loophole. 

One unintended consequence, then, of the new abnormal may be large-scale investment in robotics, with a rapid installation of such machinery at every plant and factory possible. That could actually prompt jobs for Americans to disappear faster. If Trump somehow tries to artificially limit positions that can be automated, that will prevent companies in America from competing with their counterparts in China and other nations aiming to win the Digital Age. These are discussions that should have been had on the trail.

President Trump summoned the titans of American business to the White House on Monday for what was billed as a “listening session,” but it was the new president who delivered the loudest message: Bring back domestic manufacturing jobs, or face punishing tariffs and other penalties.

The contrast between Mr. Trump’s talk and the actual behavior of corporate America, however, underscored the tectonic forces he was fighting in trying to put his blue-collar base back to work in a sector that has been shedding jobs for decades.

Many of the chief executives Mr. Trump met with have slashed domestic employment in recent years. What is more, their companies have frequently shut factories in the United States even as they have opened new ones overseas.

Mr. Trump said he would use tax policy, among other means, to deter companies from shifting work abroad. “A company that wants to fire all of its people in the United States and build some factory someplace else, then thinks that product is going to just flow across the border into the United States,” he said, “that’s just not going to happen.” …

During the meeting on Monday, Mr. Trump also made the case that building in the United States would soon become a more cost-effective proposition because of his plans to cut the corporate tax rate to 15 or 20 percent and to reduce regulations.

He pointed to onerous environmental regulations as one area where changes could be on the way, and he insisted that, despite the more lax regulatory environment, protections would improve under his administration.

“There will be advantages to companies that do indeed make their products here,” Mr. Trump said.

Of course, financial considerations like taxes and regulations alone do not guide corporate decision making.•

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Are we hypochondriacs or are we really very sick?

Many among the Silicon Valley super-rich and deep-pocketed folks are increasingly convinced U.S. society may collapse and are working accordingly on plans to allow them to ride out the storm. Escaping an American nightmare isn’t just for Peter Thiel anymore, as some of his peers are purchasing wooded acreage, stocking up on gold coins and learning survival skills. Prepping 2.0 is for the money makers more than the Jim Bakkers.

What could be spooking them so? We now have more guns than people, traditional institutions are under siege, wealth inequality is spiraling out of control, political polarization has reached its zenith, climate change is worsening, a seeming sociopath is in the White House and tens of millions of citizens are looking for someone, anyone, to blame. Doesn’t sound like a menu for a Sunday picnic.

In an excellent New Yorker piece, Evan Osnos reports on the financial elite readying themselves for the big withdrawal. One retired financial-industry lobbyist tells him: “Anyone who’s in this community knows people who are worried that America is heading toward something like the Russian Revolution.”

An excerpt:

Last spring, as the Presidential campaign exposed increasingly toxic divisions in America, Antonio García Martínez, a forty-year-old former Facebook product manager living in San Francisco, bought five wooded acres on an island in the Pacific Northwest and brought in generators, solar panels, and thousands of rounds of ammunition. “When society loses a healthy founding myth, it descends into chaos,” he told me. The author of Chaos Monkeys, an acerbic Silicon Valley memoir, García Martínez wanted a refuge that would be far from cities but not entirely isolated. “All these dudes think that one guy alone could somehow withstand the roving mob,” he said. “No, you’re going to need to form a local militia. You just need so many things to actually ride out the apocalypse.” Once he started telling peers in the Bay Area about his “little island project,” they came “out of the woodwork” to describe their own preparations, he said. “I think people who are particularly attuned to the levers by which society actually works understand that we are skating on really thin cultural ice right now.”

In private Facebook groups, wealthy survivalists swap tips on gas masks, bunkers, and locations safe from the effects of climate change. One member, the head of an investment firm, told me, “I keep a helicopter gassed up all the time, and I have an underground bunker with an air-filtration system.” He said that his preparations probably put him at the “extreme” end among his peers. But he added, “A lot of my friends do the guns and the motorcycles and the gold coins. That’s not too rare anymore.”•

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Russia may benefit territorially in the short term from America’s ass-backwards embrace of authoritarianism, protectionism, nativism and superstition, but China stands to make real gains, and not only because of its likely place as the leader of globalization. The most anti-science Administration in memory, maybe ever, will not only prevent foreign students from entering the country but will also redirect dollars from smart technologies to dumb walls, which will give our chief competitor a huge edge in developing renewables and supercomputers. If China wins those wars, traditional military battles may be a moot point.

From Patrick Thibodeau at Computerworld:

China intends to develop a prototype of an exascale supercomputer by the end of 2017, tweaking an exascale delivery date that’s already well ahead of the U.S. The timing of the announcement, reported by an official government news service, raised the possibility it was a message to President-elect Donald Trump.

China’s announcement comes the same week Trump takes office. The Trump administration is bringing a lot of uncertainty to supercomputing research, which is heavily dependent on government funding.

“The exascale race is also a publicity and mindshare race,” said Steve Conway, a high-performance computing analyst at IDC. “The Chinese are putting a stake in the ground and saying we’re going to have a prototype computer soon, maybe a year or so sooner than people expected,” he said.

The Hill reported Thursday that the Trump administration is planning deep cuts at the U.S. Department of Energy, which funds the development of the America’s largest supercomputers.

This report, which didn’t name sources, said the Trump administration was considering cutting advanced scientific computing research to 2008 levels, a position advocated by conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation.•

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From the July 29, 1910 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

 

Peter Thiel can move to New Zealand if Donald Trump really trashes America, but you’ll have to stay here and die. 

The Silicon Valley billionaire, a poor man as well as a rich one, isn’t only insulated by his money if the sociopathic bully he enabled into the White House wrecks the place, he’s also secured citizenship in the island nation. Tad Friend’s excellent 2016 New Yorker portrait of Y Combinator’s Sam Altman reported on the subject’s desire to ditch civilization and flee to the land of Mount Victoria with his pal Thiel in case of natural disaster or societal collapse. Death sounds preferable.

Some natives are restless over the entrepreneur’s acceptance, noting he hasn’t satisfied requirements for officially becoming a Kiwi–you know, like actually living in the country for the required five years–but they also may be wary of welcoming a “genius” who was sure there were WMDS and Iraq and is certain that an unhinged ignoramus is the best choice to lead America.

From David Streitfeld and Jacqueline Williams of the New York Times:

SAN FRANCISCO — Peter Thiel is a billionaire, the biggest Donald J. Trump supporter in Trump-hating Silicon Valley and, above all, someone who prides himself on doing the opposite of what everyone else is doing.

So it makes perfect sense that right after President Trump proclaimed that “the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America,” Mr. Thiel was revealed to have become in 2011 a citizen of a small country on the other side of the world: New Zealand.

In these uncertain times, it may be smart to have a backup country. But the news that one of the richest citizens of New Zealand is a naturalized American who was born in Germany set off an immediate furor in the island nation, with questions being raised about whether being a billionaire gets you special treatment.

If you like New Zealand enough to want to become a citizen, the country’s Department of Internal Affairs noted on Wednesday, you are usually supposed to actually live there. Mr. Thiel does not appear to have done this.
 
The investor, who retains his American citizenship, was one of the biggest backers of Mr. Trump during the presidential campaign. Mr. Thiel reveled in his unusual position, giving a speech shortly before Election Day outlining the reasons for his support. He was vilified for it in tech circles.•

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