November 21, 2017 in 3,681 words

The haves and have-nots: four cities in crisis

On the surface, Ulaanbaatar, San Francisco, Calais and Jerusalem could not be more different – but for the people squeezed out by political upheaval or prohibitive rents, the urban 21st century looks disturbingly uniform

More than half of the world’s population now lives in cities, but many people are residing in a state of limbo, leading a precarious existence on the margins, excluded from the promises of urban life. The world’s population is on the move more than ever before, driven by conflict and persecution, by the threat of environmental catastrophe and the lure of a better life, but cities simply aren’t prepared to receive their new arrivals.

Over the last two decades, Guardian photographer David Levene has documented the ways that people are living and working in cities around the world, how they make do with the bare minimum of resources to carve out space for themselves and their families in the most precarious of circumstances, and how cities are being polarised into places of haves and have-nots, with the right to the city relentlessly eroded.

On the publication of his new book of urban photographs, City, and an exhibition of his work at Foyles bookshop in London, we look at four very different cities that nonetheless share a common urban 21st experience of dislocation and resilience.

From the yurt encampments on the peripheries of Ulaanbaatar built by herders following the disastrous loss of livestock during extreme winters, to the self-built city of the Calais Jungle refugee camp, the growing homeless population of San Francisco forced on to the streets by the tech boom, and the dislocated town of Abu Dis, now cut off from Jerusalem by a huge concrete wall, Levene’s photographs reveal a shared experience: of human ingenuity against the odds.

The Climate Crisis? It’s Capitalism, Stupid

Even casual readers of the news know that the earth is probably going to look very different in 2100, and not in a good way.

A recent Times opinion piece included this quotation from the paleoclimatologist Lee Kump: “The rate at which we’re injecting CO2 into the atmosphere today, according to our best estimates, is 10 times faster than it was during the End-Permian.”

The End-Permian is a pre-dinosaurs era of mass extinction that killed 90 percent of the life in the ocean and 75 percent of it on land. It is also called the Great Dying. Although those who write about environmental change like to add notes of false personalization around this point — “My children will be x years old when catastrophe y happens” — there is really no good way of acclimating the mind to facts of this magnitude.

However, the cause of the disaster that, by all indications, we are already living through should be clearer. It is not the result of the failure of individuals to adopt the moralizing strictures of “green” consciousness, and it is a sign of just how far we have to go that some still believe reusable shopping bags and composting (perfectly fine in their own right) are ways out of this mess.

We Can’t Trust Facebook to Regulate Itself

Graphics of Facebook pages were displayed at a hearing on Capitol Hill about Russia’s interference in the election.

I led Facebook’s efforts to fix privacy problems on its developer platform in advance of its 2012 initial public offering. What I saw from the inside was a company that prioritized data collection from its users over protecting them from abuse. As the world contemplates what to do about Facebook in the wake of its role in Russia’s election meddling, it must consider this history. Lawmakers shouldn’t allow Facebook to regulate itself. Because it won’t.

Facebook knows what you look like, your location, who your friends are, your interests, if you’re in a relationship or not, and what other pages you look at on the web. This data allows advertisers to target the more than one billion Facebook visitors a day. It’s no wonder the company has ballooned in size to a $500 billion behemoth in the five years since its I.P.O.

The more data it has on offer, the more value it creates for advertisers. That means it has no incentive to police the collection or use of that data — except when negative press or regulators are involved. Facebook is free to do almost whatever it wants with your personal information, and has no reason to put safeguards in place.

For a few years, Facebook’s developer platform hosted a thriving ecosystem of popular social games. Remember the age of Farmville and Candy Crush? The premise was simple: Users agreed to give game developers access to their data in exchange for free use of addictive games.

No, you’re not being paranoid. Sites really are watching your every move

Sites log your keystrokes and mouse movements in real time, before you click submit.

If you have the uncomfortable sense someone is looking over your shoulder as you surf the Web, you’re not being paranoid. A new study finds hundreds of sites—including,, and—employ scripts that record visitors’ keystrokes, mouse movements, and scrolling behavior in real time, even before the input is submitted or is later deleted.

Session replay scripts are provided by third-party analytics services that are designed to help site operators better understand how visitors interact with their Web properties and identify specific pages that are confusing or broken. As their name implies, the scripts allow the operators to re-enact individual browsing sessions. Each click, input, and scroll can be recorded and later played back.

A study published last week reported that 482 of the 50,000 most trafficked websites employ such scripts, usually with no clear disclosure. It’s not always easy to detect sites that employ such scripts. The actual number is almost certainly much higher, particularly among sites outside the top 50,000 that were studied.

“Collection of page content by third-party replay scripts may cause sensitive information, such as medical conditions, credit card details, and other personal information displayed on a page, to leak to the third-party as part of the recording,” Steven Englehardt, a PhD candidate at Princeton University, wrote. “This may expose users to identity theft, online scams, and other unwanted behavior. The same is true for the collection of user inputs during checkout and registration processes.”

Age-of-consent laws don’t reflect teenage psychology. Here’s how to fix them.

Attorney Gloria Allred (R) looks on as Beverly Young Nelson tears up during a press conference on November 13. Nelson alleges that Roy Moore sexually assaulted her when she was a minor.

Every year thousands of adults sexually exploit teenagers — though rarely do these predators receive the notoriety that Roy Moore has achieved. Given the prevalence of the problem, it’s important to recognize how and why teenagers are particularly vulnerable to adult sexual predation, by drawing on our current understanding of psychology.

We can also use that understanding to improve our laws protecting teenagers from sexual abuse. In particular, I think sexual consent laws would benefit from a concept used in contract law involving underage consumers and citizens. (Moore has denied the accusation that he had sex with a 14-year-old, decades ago, while in his 30s, but said he “didn’t dispute” possibly having dated 16-year-olds.)

Consent laws, I argue, should allow people within a certain age range (say, 16 to 21) to offer “assent” to sex with a significantly older person — but permit them to revoke that assent at any time. “Assent” is a weaker form of agreement, legally speaking, than “consent.”

Such a system would put an extra onus on adults to make sure that they are not taking advantage of a younger person, strengthening the disincentive to troll malls and sweet-talk people just above the current age of consent.

6 Hidden Biases In Everyday Words (You Never Noticed Before)

We really need to think before we speak. We don’t mean us personally, though of course our big fat mouths have gotten us fired from more jobs than most people knew existed. We mean that if you stop to think about it, there are all sorts of bizarre pitfalls hiding in our language. Like how …

6. Language Itself Contains A Positivity Bias

We’re constantly bombarded with enough depressing news to turn anyone into a raging cynic, but according to the words we use, we’re a much more positive bunch than you’d think. Doctors Peter Sheridan Dodds and Chris Danforth collected and analyzed 100,000 words from ten different languages in pretty much every available media source: books, movies, news articles, even your racist cousin’s tweets. They found that we use positive words more frequently, all across the board. There are even more overall positive words in every language than there are negative ones.

This makes a lot of sense if you think about it. People tend to slowly slide away from you when you start talking about your ugly divorce on the bus, and they’ll stop hanging out with you completely if it’s all you ever talk about.



In the flesh, in 1969.

As a serial killer, Charles Manson, who died Nov. 19 at the age of 83, wasn’t particularly accomplished. Arguably, he wasn’t actually a serial killer. “Manson Family” members, not Manson himself, carried out the seven murders the cult was responsible for and Manson’s two other murder convictions seem to have been more for business than pleasure.

Somehow though, Manson’s blend of infamy, sex, and death has come to define the way murder is portrayed in both pop culture and media. He has inspired books, documentaries, podcasts and television series. Manson tee-shirts, bearing his cartoonishly crazed stare with slogans such as “Charlie Don’t Surf” and “Never Trust a Hipster,” were in circulation even before Axl Rose donned one in the early 1990s. Quentin Tarantino has a biopic in the works. Not bad for a convicted murderer, cult leader, and vicious racist who carved a swastika into his own forehead.

Manson wanted to be a rock star and the Family shacked up with Beach Boys drummer Dennis Wilson for a time. In a sense, he became one, tapping into a deep well of fascination with grisly, ritualistic death that still pervades pop culture, despite the fact that the era of the serial killer has come and gone.

Right now we’re likely dreaming up more serial killers than actually exist. Must-watch television series over the past few years have included high-end American productions such as Hannibal, Mindhunter, Dexter, and True Detective, along with British shows including The Fall, Dark Angel, and In Plain Sight. Serial killers have also figured prominently in weekly procedurals such as CSI, Law & Order: SVU, and of course, Criminal Minds.

I’ll be honest—I’ve watched most of these shows. Based on them, you’d think serial killers and abductors are lurking around every corner. And indeed that exact—unfounded—fear has helped create a generation of children who are overprotected to the point of absurdity.

After Six Years, We Finally Found the Melted Uranium at Fukushima

It’s been more than six years since a nuclear disaster ravaged the Fukushima power plant. Now, a specialized robot has been able to capture images of melted uranium fuel from the site.


On March 11, 2011, the tsunami caused by the Tōhoku earthquake prompted a nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Ōkuma, Fukushima. Now, for the first time, a crew has been able to capture images of melted uranium fuel present in its ruined Unit 3 reactor.

The accident caused three of the facility’s six nuclear reactors to melt down. When this occurred, their uranium fuel rods liquefied, melting through layers of steel and concrete. This made it difficult for those investigating the accident after the fact to determine where the uranium had ended up.

The rods were cooled when plant workers pumped water into the reactor buildings, but there was no way to know how far they had traveled. It took three days for four engineers to pilot a small drone known as the Mini-Manbo through the corridors of flooded buildings to find the uranium. Previous attempts to use robots for this purpose had not been successful, but the new model was built from materials that are resistant to radiation and equipped with a sensor that allowed it to avoid particularly perilous areas.

This breakthrough is being touted as a turning point for the Japanese government’s efforts to respond to the disaster. As the clean-up process begins in earnest, many are taking it as a sign that the crisis has finally come to an end.

Blind triplets ‘see’ through others’ eyes with the help of a smartphone

The brothers’ wear spectacles outfitted with a camera and receive real-time narration of the video feed they capture.

Triplet brothers Nick, Steven and Leo Cantos are all blind. On a recent fall morning, the brothers took a tour of George Mason University with the help of Aira’s technology.

As Nick Cantos slid on a sleek pair of glasses, a voice spoke out to him through his iPhone.

“I see the George Mason statue,” a woman’s voice said. “It looks like a bronze statue, standing tall, with a scroll in his left hand.”

Nearby, Nick’s brothers, Leo and Steven, were also busy putting on their glasses, making adjustments here and there.

The three of them, aged 18, are triplets from Arlington, Va., who are completely blind. And the glasses they have on are no ordinary spectacles. They are glasses from Aira, a San Diego-based company that has developed smart glasses to help the blind and visually impaired with everyday tasks. The glasses are equipped with a camera, which feeds a video stream to a remote agent who then narrates what they see in real time over the phone for the user.

Colonel Sanders wants to hug you and cut off your cell signal for $10,000

The Internet Escape Pod hasn’t sold out… yet.

KFC has launched lots of gadgets in the past, and we’ve routinely covered them. But this past week, the fried chicken company introduced a different kind of gadget: a massive Faraday cage. The Internet Escape Pod, as KFC calls it, features a drumstick-shaped door handle with a massive Colonel Sanders atop it. The dome is constructed out of steel and stainless steel mesh, a high-density foam, and enamel paint. It weighs eight pounds. Only one model exists, however, so if you want it, you have to pay $10,000.

How badly do you need to escape from the internet? Could you just put your phone in a box under your bed and walk away, or do you need a $10,000 KFC-branded tent with a chicken leg for a handle? I’m not going to judge you for maybe wanting this, but yeah, I think you can probably cut yourself off from the internet for free.

Browse the CIA’s photos of the 1963 Moscow Fair, including declassified cat pics

For 50 years, this adorable stray was considered a state secret.

A file recently unearthed in CREST shows that in 1963, the Central Intelligence Agency sent an undercover photographer to the Moscow Fair in the heart of the then Soviet Union.

he photographer also took copious notes …

Click to embiggen

and while it’s unclear if they were on assignment to document anything in particular, notably, a few of the photographs are still redacted, half a century later.

Among the photos the CIA’s 50 year mandatory declassification review team felt could be made public, however, was the photographer’s b-roll …

where it appears he got bored and started taking photos of a nearby (and adorable) stray.


What do millionaires do to show off their wealth? Some buy exotic pets, big houses, or fancy cars. But 300 years ago, a fad erupted among wealthy Brits to buy people—not to make them servants (they already had those), but to have them simply wander around the yard.


By the late 1700s, the Industrial Revolution was in full swing. A by-product of this new technology: the Romantic Era, in which English writers, painters, and the well-to-do railed against modernization. Poets like John Milton and William Wordsworth wrote about the virtues of solitude and anti-materialism. The “humble hermit living off the land” became a symbol of the Romantic ideal (though few were willing to try it themselves). At the same time, a trend was growing among the rich in England: They constructed “architectural follies” on their grounds—elaborate buildings that were primarily decorative, such as Roman temples and Egyptian pyramids, towers, grottos…and hermit houses, or hermitages.

What was a hermitage like? They were pretty small. The one at Hagley Hall in Worcestershire was a closet-sized stone cave covered with roots, moss, and foliage. A Milton poem was hung on the wall, just in case visitors didn’t understand the connection. Many hermitages also included macabre decor, such as floors made of knuckle bones. Marston House in Surrey was surrounded by a bone fence topped with real horse heads. And no hermitage was complete without a decorative human skull for contemplation.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

Twin comedians Kenny and Keith Lucas reflect on the power of laughter.

After a Virginia congresswoman reveals the rampant sexual misconduct in Washington, D.C., Michelle Wolf weighs in on how to not harass coworkers.

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah for making this program available on YouTube.

ove is love is love. Except for when it comes to crocodiles.

Senator of Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren has read the fine print and can explain why, like 52% of Americans who ‘strongly oppose’ Trump’s tax cuts, she’s against it.

Senator of Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren calls for more accountability not just in Washington, but everyone in America.

THANKS to CBS and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for making this program available on YouTube.

Seth takes a closer look at how Republicans are trying to sell their tax plan while the White House seems to have settled on a different message: vote for an accused sexual predator, and leave American citizens imprisoned in China.

THANKS to NBC and Late Night with Seth Meyers for making this program available on YouTube.

The gang gets together for a frank discussion of what happens after you die (in movies like Disney’s Hercules and Bedazzled), on a quest of spiritual discovery to uncover which movie has the best version of being in the bad place for eternity.

Dom and Adrian create a new fashion label in Portland, called “Nuclear Winter”.

Max playing till he turns into a grump and starts giving me heck.


How an L.A. Mariachi Band Helped Make One of Blondie’s Biggest Hits

Blondie were a tried-and-true New York City band. They were formed in New York, lived in New York and made music about New York. Denizens of the city’s fabled downtown punk and new wave scene throughout the 1970s, they ran with some of New York’s finest artists — Warhol and the Velvet Underground and the Ramones — and were children of some of New York’s finest clubs — CBGB and Max’s Kansas City.

But in 1980, the West Coast called, and they relocated to Los Angeles for two months to record their fifth album, Autoamerican. They were stationed at the iconic United Western Recorders on Sunset Boulevard, the hit-making headquarters of L.A.-produced classics by Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles, the place where The Beach Boys made Pet Sounds and The Mamas and the Papas cut “California Dreamin’.” In a memo he wrote for the band’s fan club newsletter during their City of Angels stay, Blondie guitarist and co-founder Chris Stein suggested that the new album wouldn’t just be recorded in L.A. but might somehow be of L.A., that the city’s history as a capital of sunshine and noir, good vibrations and bad vibrations, myth and anti-myth, might just rub off on the band’s sound. He wrote:

“Los Angeles, the city of lost angels, and angles. Dreamland. And, of course, Hollywood. L.A.’s not really a tough town. It has a strange feeling of fragility. Earthquakes on the brain may be part of the reason why the surface always seems about to crack with delicate tension. The fires burn the hills. The Strip still throbs dull reds and pinks, and the lights of the Valley still look beautiful in the hot, dusty nights. … Every day we get up, stagger into the blinding sun, drive past a huge Moon-mobile from some ancient sci-fi movie that lies rotting by the side of the road and into L.A. proper. The Strip. The sessions get under way.”

Among the songs produced during those early September sessions was “The Tide Is High,” originally written by Jamaican legend John Holt and recorded by his rock-steady trio The Paragons in 1966. Blondie’s version replicates the original’s classic Caribbean reggae strut — a sound that had vibrantly left its mark on the sound of new wave and punk scenes in New York and London — but then throws in a Latin American curve ball. They nudge it closer to nearby Mexico and Cuba: The melody is played by trumpets and violins in the style of modern Mexican mariachi and the percussion section surrounds a steel drum with congas and timbales typically found on rumbas and mambos. It wasn’t just the city’s sunshine mythology and seismic doom that had made their way into the new album. It was the city’s position as a key geographic and cultural hub within greater Latin America, the city’s history as a mecca of Mexican music and as a laboratory for experiments in Afro-Cuban dance music in East Los Angeles pasta restaurants, downtown ballrooms, Sunset Strip supper clubs and Hollywood soundstages. The city had indeed rubbed off.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Prepare to spend a while; it’s barely uninteresting longform.

I vividly remember the first time I heard this track. In 1977, a friend and I were driving through Wyoming in the middle of the night during a heavy snowstorm. Somehow, we were able to receive radio station KSL in Los Angeles.

Blondie’s new album had just been released. The Tide is High was tracked about every half hour.

Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?