In the News 04.30.18 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


In the News 04.30.18 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
In the News 04.30.18 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
In the News 04.30.18 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

A Wunderkind at 100

In 1980, at the age of 62, Leonard Bernstein undertook the composition of a formidable full-scale opera, commissioned jointly by La Scala, the Kennedy Center, and Houston Grand Opera. He called it A Quiet Place. It’s the story of an unquiet family, the same one that Bernstein had depicted in Trouble in Tahiti in 1952, when he was just 34. Trouble in Tahiti is a romp, deftly dispatched. But Bernstein had not composed an opera since, and A Quiet Place did not come easily—so much so that he decided to incorporate Trouble in Tahiti as a flashback. As he worked on the score, he confided to an associate that Trouble in Tahiti was “a better piece.” And so it is. The Bernstein trajectory of promises fulfilled and not is anything but simple.

This August will mark Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birthday. The centenary celebrations started last August and are worldwide. The Bernstein estate counts more than 2,000 events on six continents. And there is plenty to celebrate. But if Bernstein remains a figure of limitless fascination, it is also because his story is archetypal. He embodied a tangled nexus of American challenges, aspirations, and contradictions. And if he in some ways unraveled, so did the America he once courted and extolled.

Read the rest of this article at: The Weekly Standard

Communist Robot Dreams

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The police report would have baffled the most grizzled detective. A famous writer murdered in a South Dakota restaurant full of diners; the murder weapon – a simple hug. A murderer with no motive, and one who seemed genuinely distraught at what he had done. You will not find this strange murder case in the crime pages of a local US newspaper, however, but in a Bulgarian science-fiction story from the early 1980s. The explanation thus also becomes more logical: the killer was a robot.

The genre was flourishing in small Bulgaria in the last two decades of socialism, and the country became the biggest producer of robotic laws per capita, supplementing Isaac Asimov’s famous three with two more canon rules – and 96 satirical ones. Writers such as Nikola Kesarovski (who wrote the above murder mystery) and Lyuben Dilov grappled with questions of the boundaries between man and machine, brain and computer. The anxieties of their literature in this period reflected a society preoccupied with technology and cybernetics, an unlikely bastion of the information society that arose on both sides of the Iron Curtain from the 1970s onwards.

One thing that the computer revolution brought was a certainty that industrial society was changing, or even about to be finished. As the American sociologist Daniel Bell put it in 1973, the new society was one where ‘what counts is not raw muscle power, or energy, but information’, where the new professionals would be producing immaterial goods. Information put a premium on knowledge and brainpower, as well as on human creativity. The new order was not just one that would change the economies of the advanced countries, but the very core of what it was to be a worker within it – and thus more broadly, a human within a world of thinking machines. The British sociologist Frank Webster put his finger on the change when he stated in 2004 that the output of the new man is ‘a change in image, relationship or perception’. This implied a change also in the self-image of man – no longer a manual worker, and now in symbiosis with his own thinking tools and digital screens.

Read the rest of this article at: aeon

Tuscany Tote in Midnight

Shop the Tuscany Tote in Midnight
at Belgrave Crescent &

Looking in the Wrong Places

We should be very careful in thinking about whether we’re working on the right problems. If we don’t, that ties into the problem that we don’t have experimental evidence that could move us forward. We’re trying to develop theories that we use to find out which are good experiments to make, and these are the experiments that we build.

We build particle detectors and try to find dark matter; we build larger colliders in the hope of producing new particles; we shoot satellites into orbit and try to look back into the early universe, and we do that because we hope there’s something new to find there. We think there is because we have some idea from the theories that we’ve been working on that this would be something good to probe.

If we are working with the wrong theories, we are making the wrong extrapolations, we have the wrong expectations, we make the wrong experiments, and then we don’t get any new data. We have no guidance to develop these theories. So, it’s a chicken and egg problem. We have to break the cycle. I don’t have a miracle cure to these problems. These are hard problems. It’s not clear what a good theory is to develop. I’m not any wiser than all the other 20,000 people in the field.

Read the rest of this article at: Edge


The Spy Who Came Home

Shortly after an evening nap, Patrick Skinner drove to the police station in the Third Precinct in Savannah, Georgia, wearing ill-fitting body armor. It was late December, and bitterly cold, and he figured that the weather would bring fewer shootings than usual but more cases of domestic abuse. “Summertime is the murder time,” he said. He had come to work early to tape together his body camera, because the clasp was broken.

The shift supervisor—a tall corporal with a slight paunch—stood at a lectern. “Good mornin’, mornin’, mornin’,” he said. It was 10:31 p.m. Speaking through a wad of tobacco, he delivered a briefing on criminal activities from earlier in the day, then listed vehicles that had been reported stolen. “Look out for a cooter-colored truck,” he said.

The walls of the briefing room were sparsely decorated. There was a map of each beat within the precinct—an area, more than half the size of Manhattan, that includes Savannah’s most violent neighborhoods—along with a display case of various drug samples and a whiteboard listing police cars that were out of commission. One had overheated, two had been wrecked in accidents, and two others had broken headlights. A sixth car was labelled “unsafe for road.”

“What does ‘unsafe for road’ mean?” a cop asked.

“That’s all our cars,” another said.

Most patrol officers drive old Ford Crown Victorias, several of which are approaching two hundred thousand miles on the odometer—“and those are cop miles, where we’re flooring it at least twice an hour,” Skinner told me. Officers complain about worn tires, dodgy brakes, and holes in the seats where guns and batons have rubbed impressions into the fabric. Many cars run twenty-four hours a day.

Skinner, who is forty-seven, is short and bald, with a trim beard, Arctic-blue eyes, and a magnetic social energy that has the effect of putting people around him at ease. He wears humor and extroversion as a kind of shield; most of his colleagues know almost nothing about his life leading up to the moment they met.

At around 3 a.m., a call came in: a “strange vehicle” was idling in someone’s driveway, in the Summerside neighborhood. The caller gave no address and no description of the car.

Though Skinner had completed his training just two months earlier, he already knew every road in the Third Precinct. On slow nights, he tried to memorize the locations of Savannah’s traffic lights and stop signs, so that he could visualize the quickest route to any call. Darren Bradley, who went through training with Skinner, said, “When they gave us the sheets with police signals and codes”—a list of nearly two hundred radio call signs—“he looked it over once and had it in his head.”

As Skinner approached Summerside, a white Camaro with tinted windows pulled out and came toward him. Cars registered in Georgia don’t have license plates on the front, but, as the Camaro zoomed past, Skinner glanced into his side mirror, memorized the rear-plate number from its backward reflection, and called it in.

Skinner sped north, picturing the Camaro’s likely escape route, and how to cut the driver off. “If he’s an idiot, he’ll turn right on Fifty-second Street and end up behind me at the next light,” Skinner said. Two minutes later, the Camaro rounded a bend and pulled up behind Skinner. He smiled.

In Savannah, several cars are stolen every day—often for use in other crimes. The Camaro driver made some evasive maneuvers, but, to Skinner, this behavior did not qualify as probable cause for a traffic stop. When the dispatcher ran a check on the license plate, it came back clean. Skinner continued on his patrol.

Georgia’s law-enforcement-training program does not teach recruits to memorize license plates backward in mirrors. Like many of Skinner’s abilities, that skill was honed in the C.I.A. He joined the agency during the early days of America’s war on terror, one of the darkest periods in its history, and spent almost a decade running assets in Afghanistan, Jordan, and Iraq. He shook hands with lawmakers, C.I.A. directors, the King of Jordan, the Emir of Qatar, the Prime Minister of Singapore, and Presidents of Afghanistan and the United States. “I became the Forrest Gump of counterterrorism and law enforcement,” he said, stumbling in and out of the margins of history. But over the years he came to believe that counterterrorism was creating more problems than it solved, fuelling illiberalism and hysteria, destroying communities overseas, and diverting attention and resources from essential problems in the United States.

Meanwhile, American police forces were adopting some of the militarized tactics that Skinner had seen give rise to insurgencies abroad. “We have to stop treating people like we’re in Fallujah,” he told me. “It doesn’t work. Just look what happened in Fallujah.” In time, he came to believe that the most meaningful application of his training and expertise—the only way to exemplify his beliefs about American security, at home and abroad—was to become a community police officer in Savannah, where he grew up.

“We write these strategic white papers, saying things like ‘Get the local Sunni population on our side,’ ” Skinner said. “Cool. Got it. But, then, if I say, ‘Get the people who live at Thirty-eighth and Bulloch on our side,’ you realize, man, that’s fucking hard—and it’s just a city block. It sounds so stupid when you apply the rhetoric over here. Who’s the leader of the white community in Live Oak neighborhood? Or the poor community?” Skinner shook his head. “ ‘Leader of the Iraqi community.’ What the fuck does that mean?”

No military force can end terrorism, just as firefighters can’t end fire and cops can’t end crime. But there are ways to build a resilient society. “It can’t be on a government contract that says ‘In six months, show us these results,’ ” Skinner said. “It has to be ‘I live here. This is my job forever.’ ” He compared his situation to that of Voltaire’s Candide, who, after enduring a litany of absurd horrors in a society plagued by fanaticism and incompetence, concludes that the only truly worthwhile activity is tending his garden. “Except my garden is the Third Precinct,” Skinner said.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

‘We’ve Lost 10 Years of Innovation. This Decade Has Been Boring for the Web.’


I wanted to reach out to you because you work at MIT, but also because of your writing about having a hand in building the pop-up ad. So, to start, given that you’ve written so extensively about advertising as the internet’s original sin, I’m kind of curious about what role you think advertising has played in getting Silicon Valley to this particular moment.

Well, it’s really been the heart of the argument I’ve been making for a couple of years now. I think the main thing that most of us didn’t really consider is that once we got into a world where everybody could publish, the thing that becomes scarce is attention. And when you’re fighting each other for attention, suddenly, fighting advertisers for attention seems like a really bad idea. So, once content is incredibly plentiful, and attention is what becomes scarce, you’re locked into this really strange economy, where you’re trying to provide a service, you’re trying to get people to pay attention to it, and simultaneously, you’re also trying to get people to go away, and go pay attention to someone else.

It’s a very different tension than someone like Google has. So Google has the first model that really works on the internet, which is directed advertising. Where someone basically says, “Hey, I’d like someone to come fix the hole in my roof; I’m in this town, find me a roofer.” And Google doesn’t really want to hold on to you; Google wants to send you on to a roofer very quickly. The roofer wants you to show up as a qualified lead. Everybody’s happy; everybody benefits.

But when I go onto Facebook and I grouse about how much it sucks that it’s still snowing in western Massachusetts and my roof is leaking, I don’t really want someone to lure me away at that point. I particularly don’t want to hear about a vacation; I don’t want to hear about the new car that would make my life happy. What I really want is to grouse and get sympathy from friends, so Facebook at that point is in conflict with me.

And I think what we basically fail to realize is that, in the vast majority of these cases, we’ve sort of picked a revenue model in which we’re in conflict with one another, rather than working coherently in a way where we all end up feeling good about incentives being aligned. For me, the moment where it went wrong was when we failed to realize that there were two kinds of advertising, and that one of them might be healthy for the internet, and the other one probably wasn’t.

A thing that comes up a lot is the idea that the business model of these companies might be in direct conflict with the interests of its users — that growth, that getting as many eyeballs as possible, becomes the goal of business that cut against the users. Is scale a problem?
For me, the distinction is intention versus a graphic psychographic. So when someone’s saying, “Hey, I’m looking for this, would anyone like to help me?” and you help them, I feel like that, generally speaking, is a pretty ethically sound business model. It’s one that works reasonably well. It’s certainly worked very well for Google. When we’re at the point of “I don’t know why anyone would want this, but let me go out there because I think young men would like this, if they’re 18 to 25,” that’s where I think things get trickier. What happens is, suddenly, you’re looking not only for patrons and attention so you can sell the ad, but you’re looking for ways to tell you that they’re 18 through 25 and male.

As soon as you’re saying, “I need to put you under surveillance so that I can figure out what you want, so I can meet your needs better.” I think, at that point, you really have to ask yourself the question, Am I in the right business? Am I doing this the right way? It’s not even so much scale. I think it’s really that question: “I don’t need to know what you want. I don’t want to know what you tell me. I want to figure out who you are and what you might want.” And I realize that in saying that, I am condemning all brand-based advertising, all psychographic advertising. I think I’m actually kind of comfortable with that. I think what we got wrong is, we didn’t take advantage of the ways in which the internet makes it possible to state your intentions. That, to me, just feels like a much healthier way to do this than trying to intuit your intentions based on who we think you are.

Read the rest of this article at: New York Magazine

P.S. previous articles & more by P.F.M.

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