July 6, 2018 in 2,911 words

Cory Doctorow: Zuck’s Empire of Oily Rags

Pictured above: Cory Doctorow

For 20 years, privacy advocates have been sounding the alarm about commercial online surveillance, the way that companies gather deep dossiers on us to help marketers target us with ads. This pitch fell flat: by and large, people were skeptical of the efficacy of targeted advertising; the ads we got were rarely very persuasive, and when they did work, it was usually because the advertisers had figured out what we wanted and offered to sell it to us: people who’d previously shopped for a sofa saw ads for sofas, and if they bought a sofa, the ads persisted for a while because the ad targeting systems weren’t smart enough to know that their services were no longer needed, but really, where was the harm in that? The worst case scenario was that advertisers would waste their money with ads that had no effect, and the best case scenario was that shopping would get somewhat more convenient as predictive algorithms made it easier for us to find the thing we were just about to look for.

Privacy advocates tried to explain that persuasion was just the tip of the iceberg. Commercial databases were juicy targets for spies and identity thieves, to say nothing of blackmail for people whose data-trails revealed socially risky sexual practices, religious beliefs, or political views.

Now we’re living through the techlash, and finally people are coming back to the privacy advocates, saying we were right all along; given enough surveillance, companies can sell us anything: Brexit, Trump, ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, and successful election bids for absolute bastards like Turkey’s Erdogan and Hungary’s Orban.

It’s great that the privacy-matters message is finally reaching a wider audience, and it’s exciting to think that we’re approaching a tipping point for indifference to privacy and surveillance.

But while the acknowledgment of the problem of Big Tech is most welcome, I am worried that the diagnosis is wrong.

Who Really Stands to Win from Universal Basic Income?

It has enthusiasts on both the left and the right. Maybe that’s the giveaway.

Thus far, U.B.I. lives entirely in people’s heads—untried at any major scale.

In 1795, a group of magistrates gathered in the English village of Speenhamland to try to solve a social crisis brought on by the rising price of grain. The challenge was an increase in poverty, even among the employed. The social system at the time, which came to be known as Elizabethan Poor Law, divided indigent adults into three groups: those who could work, those who could not, and those—the “idle poor”—who seemed not to want to. The able and disabled received work or aid through local parishes. The idle poor were forced into labor or rounded up and beaten for being bums. As grain prices increased, the parishes became overwhelmed with supplicants. Terrorizing idle people turned into a vast, unmanageable task.

The magistrates at Speenhamland devised a way of offering families measured help. Household incomes were topped up to cover the cost of living. A man got enough to buy three gallon loaves a week (about eight and a half pounds of bread), plus a loaf and a half for every other member of his household. This meant that a couple with three children could bring home the equivalent of more than twenty-five pounds a week—a lot of bread. The plan let men receive a living wage by working for small payments or by not working at all.

Economics is at heart a narrative art, a frame across which data points are woven into stories about how the world should work. As the Speenhamland system took hold and spread across England, it turned into a parable of caution. The population nearly doubled. Thomas Malthus posited that the poverty subsidies allowed couples to rear families before their actual earnings allowed it. His contemporary David Ricardo complained that the Speenhamland model was a prosperity drain, inviting “imprudence, by offering it a portion of the wages of prudence and industry.” Karl Marx attacked the system years later, in “Das Kapital,” suggesting that it had kept labor wages low, while Karl Polanyi, the economic historian, cast Speenhamland as the original sin of industrial capitalism, making lower classes irrelevant to the labor market just as new production mechanisms were being built. When the Speenhamland system ended, in 1834, people were plunged into a labor machine in which they had no role or say. The commission that repealed the system replaced it with Dickensian workhouses—a corrective, at the opposite extreme, for a program that everyone agreed had failed.

Forty five years ago a fire in New Orleans gay bar took 32 lives – and was met with apathy

Book chronicles 1973 arson at gay club that barely made it into the papers, or even into the consciousness of the community.

Inside the UpStairs Lounger after the club was set on fire in an act of arson that left 32 people dead on 24 June 1973.

In the early 1970s, on the edge of the historic French Quarter and the bustling downtown business district, New Orleans’ UpStairs Lounge was a destination left intentionally obscure. An oasis for the city’s sizeable but, for the most part, strictly closeted gay male population, a lack of visibility was in many ways its most valuable commodity.

But in 1973 when the club was set ablaze in an act of arson that cost a staggering 32 lives, that lack of attention endured, the news barely making it into the papers or, it seemed, even into the consciousness of the local community.

“An ordinary reaction in New Orleans society would have been effusive sympathies and a large outpouring,” said Robert Fieseler, whose new book Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the UpStairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation, chronicles the blaze and its aftermath. This is, after all, the city that invented the second line funeral, with dancing, parasol-twirling mourners and brass band musicians – perhaps the most ostentatious remembrance ritual America knows.

Instead, Fieseler discovered mostly a studied apathy. “Homosexuality was not supposed to be talked about openly, and when it was thrust into the open it made a lot of people panic,” he told the Guardian in an interview.

At the time, New Orleans was a place of strange duality for LGBT people. On the one hand, the city’s long-standing social permissiveness and liberalism made it a haven in the conservative and traditional south.

Does the moon hold the key to the earth’s energy needs?

Tidal power is the only renewable source derived from the moon. Now an extraordinary array of devices promise to unlock this vital energy potential.

Flying with the tide: Minesto’s giant kites swoop in a figure of eight, driven by underwater currents, and powering a turbine.

Using giant kites, blades and paddles, and mimicking pogo sticks, blowholes and even the human heart, groups around the world are on the cusp of harnessing the colossal power of the oceans.

The challenge is huge – seas have been battering coasts and sweeping sailors to their doom for millennia – but so is the prize: huge amounts of clean, reliable and renewable electricity for an energy-hungry world.

Taking on the challenge of operating in this savage, corrosive environment is not for the faint-hearted, and the costs remain worryingly high, as demonstrated by the government’s rejection on Monday of a £1.3bn tidal project at Swansea. “There is no doubt – shit happens during marine renewable energy projects,” says François Renelier at Bessé, a French insurance broker.

But the ocean energy sector is frothing with ideas, with hundreds of companies developing an extraordinary array of devices and backed by billions of dollars of investment. Among the serious contenders tapping rapid tidal flows are 12 metre-wide underwater kites that soar and swoop.

“We fly with the tides,” says Martin Eklund, at Minesto, which is installing a £25m array off Anglesey, north Wales. “The main advantage is we can harvest energy from very low currents. This resource is abundant – it is everywhere.”

5 Stupid Ways The Alt-Right Is Destroying Itself From Within

Nazis, white supremacists, the “alt-right” — whatever dumb moniker you want to use (because the only people who care about the distinction are Nazis), they all have the miraculous ability to be both terrifying and ridiculous. Their ideas are scary, but the actual members seem like they could accidentally burn down their houses while trying to tie their shoes. To demonstrate, just take a look at some of the issues causing turmoil within their ranks.

5. Genetic Tests Have Ruined The White Power Fantasy For Many

There are a few companies out there that offer you the chance to spit in a cup and send it off so it can be genetically tested. Then you can find out all kinds of stuff about your ancestry, like if you really are a Cherokee princess (you’re probably not) or if your ancestors are as proud and white as you (also probably not). Many a white putz has raced to modern genetic testing in the hopes that it will prove their purity.

In one of the most famous cases, lily-assed Craig Cobb, a man who was trying to organize a whites-only town in North Dakota, found out on a daytime TV talk show that he’s 14 percent Sub-Saharan African. That may not sound like a lot, until you realize that this is someone who thinks North Dakota is too black.

A UCLA study delved into 153 posts on the Neo-Nazi site Stormfront from people who had done these genetic tests, and the thousands of responses in the threads. As you might expect, a number of them opened their results like excited kids on Christmas morning, only to discover that Aryan Santa Claus wasn’t real and they were not the glorious end result of infinite “whites only” bedrooms. Of course, each quickly concluded that their test was probably a filthy lie of Jewish origin, or that whatever percentage of their bigoted innards that wasn’t fully white must be a statistical anomaly. Someone should’ve told them that facts don’t care about their feelings.

Syrian seeds could save US wheat from climate menace

Ancient Syrian grass rescued from Aleppo is resistant to pests devastating American farms.

A Syrian man harvests wheat in a field.

Inside a Kansas greenhouse, a buzzing horde of flies set about laying waste to 20,000 seedlings. But as researchers watched, there was one species of growth that remained untouched – an ancient Syrian grass known as Aegilops tauschii.

Now those Syrian seeds, once stored in a vault outside of Aleppo, could end up saving US wheat from the menaces of climate change.

From 2000 to 2015, average temperatures in the US midwest rose from 1 to 2 degrees fahrenheit above the 20th-century average. Periods of time between rainfalls are lengthening, according to a 2016 assessment by the Environmental Protection Agency. In other words, conditions in some areas of the midwest are starting to resemble conditions in the Middle East.

Rising temperatures are already leading to drops in midwestern crop yields, and threaten further reductions of as much as 4% per year. In the heart of US cereal and grain country, new pests and diseases are following the hot and dry conditions northward – and frequently overwhelming the ability of agricultural chemicals to battle them off. In response, scientists are seeking sources of natural resistance – and finding them in Syria, in the heart of the Fertile Crescent, the birthplace of domesticated agriculture.


Aboard the Energy Observer, Victorien Erussand and Jérôme Delafosse are sailing around the planet without using any fossil fuel.

Victorien Erussard, an experienced ocean racer from the city of Saint-Malo in the north of France, was halfway through a dash across the Atlantic when he lost all power. Sails kept the boat moving, but Erussard relied on an engine and generator to keep the electronics running. He temporarily lost his autopilot and his navigation systems, jeopardizing his chances of winning the 2013 Transat Jaques Vabre race.

Never again, he thought. “I came up with the idea to create a ship that uses different sources of energy,” he says. The plan was bolstered by the pollution-happy cargo ships he saw while crossing the oceans. “These are a threat to humanity because they use heavy fuel oil.”

Five years on, that idea has taken physical form in the Energy Observer, a catamaran that runs on renewables. In a mission reminiscent of the Solar Impulse 2, the solar-powered plane that Bertrand Picard and André Borschberg flew around the world a few years back, Erussard and teammate Jérôme Delafosse are planning to sail around the planet, without using any fossil fuel. Instead, they’ll make the fuel they need from sea water, the wind, and the sun.

The Energy Observer started life as a racing boat but now would make a decent space battle cruiser prop in a movie. Almost every horizontal surface on the white catamaran is covered with solar panels (1,400 square feet of them in all), which curve gently to fit the aerodynamic contours. Some, on a suspended deck that extends to the sides of the vessel, are bi-facial panels, generating power from direct sunlight as well as light reflected off the water below. The rear is flanked by two vertical, egg whisk-style wind turbines, which add to the power production.

The Hidden Cost of Touchscreens

In 2012 I tried out a brand new luxury vehicle at a automotive conference. It was a minimalist European model, and nothing seemed out of place — until I tried to use the in-car entertainment system. The whole thing was a monolithic rectangle of reflective, flat glass. The touchscreen software was bizarre and clunky. It took me five steps to pair my phone to the car, and I had to devote all my attention to the display just to figure it out. There were no physical buttons for the basics – like changing the volume or turning on the radio. I couldn’t imagine what it might be like to drive with it at night.

I expressed my frustration to the man sitting next to me. “I can’t believe the company let this thing on the road with this horrible display! It’s as if this entire system was tested in a lab under ideal conditions, but never once on the road with a single confused driver!”

The man started laughing at my outburst. Then he apologized and gave me his card. As it turned out, he was the head of company.

“The quality of the touchscreen is my fault”, he admitted, “we never tested it on the road”. Apparently the management was so convinced that the entertainment system’s blue-tinted, rectangular touchscreen interface was “the future” that the company didn’t even bother using it on the road before releasing it. After all, Tesla had recently debuted (to much acclaim), its first model which boasted a similar touchscreen system. Now that this new company’s own car was in mass production, it would take many years to undo the damage.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

Raph and Katie tell Ally about how they wish they were gay! Well, just for the casual sex part. Not all the suffering, and harassment, and targeted violence, and there being parts of the country that it’s literally unsafe to go to. But hook-ups, yes.

CAUTION: Some language may not be appropriate for work or children.

Me commentary on a bunch fellas trying to borrow their mates excavator and chuck it on the back of the boat.

久しぶりの広い箱を満喫するまる。Maru enjoys the wide box. But…

Max digging out his old hat to play with.

Single-dose testosterone administration increases men’s preference for status goods


In modern human cultures where social hierarchies are ubiquitous, people typically signal their hierarchical position through consumption of positional goods—goods that convey one’s social position, such as luxury products. Building on animal research and early correlational human studies linking the sex steroid hormone testosterone with hierarchical social interactions, we investigate the influence of testosterone on men’s preferences for positional goods. Using a placebo-controlled experiment (N = 243) to measure individuals’ desire for status brands and products, we find that administering testosterone increases men’s preference for status brands, compared to brands of similar perceived quality but lower perceived status. Furthermore, testosterone increases positive attitudes toward positional goods when they are described as status-enhancing, but not when they are described as power-enhancing or high in quality. Our results provide novel causal evidence for the biological roots of men’s preferences for status, bridging decades of animal behavioral studies with contemporary consumer research.


From schools of fish to modern human communities, social hierarchies are ubiquitous across species. Hierarchies give rise to advantages at the group level, such as facilitating leader–follower coordination and reducing resource conflict. At the individual level, higher social rank improves mating opportunities, promotes access to resources, reduces stress, and increases social influence. Therefore, individuals exert considerable effort to enhance their social rank by gaining status (i.e., respect and admiration from others, sometimes also referred to as prestige) and power (i.e., control over valuable resources, sometimes also referred to as dominance).

How do people achieve higher status? In early human societies, displays of hunting skills and physical aggression were primary in promoting one’s standing in society. In contemporary settings, however, hunting and aggression have been replaced by different strategies, such as displays of culturally valued skills and behaviors (e.g., obtaining academic degrees). Another prevalent route to higher status rests on the display of wealth through positional consumption.

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