July 10, 2018 in 2,770 words

What if the Government Gave Everyone a Paycheck?


If climate change, nuclear standoffs, Russian trolls, terrorist threats and Donald Trump in the White House don’t cause you feelings of impending doom, you might think about artificial intelligence. I’m not just referring to big-brained robots taking over civilization from us smaller-brained humans, but the more imminent possibility they’ll take over our jobs.

It’s already happening. Robots and related forms of artificial intelligence are rapidly supplanting what remain of factory workers, call-center operators and clerical staff. Amazon and other online platforms are booting out retail workers. We’ll soon be saying goodbye to truck drivers, warehouse personnel and professionals who do whatever can be replicated, including pharmacists, accountants, attorneys, diagnosticians, translators and financial advisers. Machines may soon do a better job than doctors at scanning for cancer.

This doesn’t mean a future without jobs, as some doomsayers predict. But robots will almost certainly push down wages in all the remaining human-touch jobs (child care, elder care, home health care, personal coaches, sales and so on) that robots can’t do because they’re not, well, human. Even today, with technology having already displaced many workers, there’s no jobs crisis. The official rate of unemployment is at a remarkably low 3.8 percent. Instead, we have a good jobs crisis. The official rate hides millions of people working part time who would rather have full-time jobs, along with millions more who are too discouraged to look for work (many ending up on disability), college grads overqualified for their jobs and a growing army of contingent workers with zero job security. Blanketing all are stagnant or declining wages and vanishing job benefits. Today’s typical American worker earns around $44,500 a year, not much more than what the typical worker earned in 1979, adjusted for inflation. Nearly 80 percent of adult Americans say they live from paycheck to paycheck, many not knowing how big their next paycheck will be.


Trump is too deceitful to be trusted with a hotel liquor license, according to this complaint

CHEERS


DC residents say the commander-in-chief shouldn’t hold a local liquor license.

You have be a person of “good character” to sell booze in Washington, DC—and Donald Trump’s not up to snuff, according to a group of seven religious leaders and former judges. They are on a mission to revoke the liquor license of the DC Trump International Hotel because they believe the owner’s record of lying and deceit—both in office and before he was elected as US president—disqualifies him to sell spirits.

The group argues that Trump violates the license’s good character requirements, according to a June 20 complaint to DC’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. They write:


Good character is a threshold requirement for the granting of licenses in the District of Columbia for a variety of professions and business activities, including for a liquor license. Through his behavior both before and during his presidency, Donald J. Trump has demonstrated that he lacks good character. Good character involves an evaluation of an individual’s moral and ethical qualities, including such virtues as honesty, integrity, and how a person treats others, particularly those less fortunate and less powerful.

The complainants say that Trump’s history of deceit is too long to list, and so they point to a few egregious examples. Among the things they take issue with


AT&T’s Troubling Plan to Change HBO

The telecom giant, which just acquired Time Warner, is seeking to drastically change the premium-cable channel in order to compete with the likes of Netflix.

This past February, HBO added the most U.S. subscribers in its history, boosting its user base by 11 percent (the company has some 142 million global subscribers). The steady growth of the premium-cable and streaming service to $6.3 billion in revenue last year helped power its parent company, Time Warner, to $31.3 billion in revenue—a 7-percent overall jump despite dips in other divisions. Since the telecom giant AT&T began its bid in 2016 to acquire Time Warner, it came to be widely understood that HBO was one of the most prized parts of the deal, which became official in June after a lengthy legal battle.

The channel’s stature is what makes it baffling to learn of reports that the new Warner Media chief executive John Stankey recently lectured HBO employees on the hard times ahead. In the eyes of Stankey, an AT&T veteran, HBO is apparently too small, too nimble, and too boutique—ill-fitted for a media world that’s all about size. During a closed-door June 19 conversation with some 150 HBO staff, “Stankey never uttered the word ‘Netflix,’ but he did suggest that HBO would have to become more like a streaming giant to thrive in the new media landscape,” reported The New York Times. That means aggressive expansion, with a flood of new shows, to give HBO the kind of massive library Netflix is currently building.

Netflix is a production company of peerless scale when it comes to TV. It’s projected to spend $12 to $13 billion on original programming in 2018; meanwhile, HBO spent $2.5 billion on its shows in 2017. Netflix’s strategy is to overwhelm, pumping out fresh content at its subscribers and relying less and less on licensed material it doesn’t own. HBO has always had more of a “prestige” bent, taking a very long time to develop its shows and launching them with extreme fanfare, with an eye toward awards. But Stankey seems to view that deliberate pace as a result of laziness, and his desire to upend the network’s careful approach to putting out new shows (it only makes a handful per season) could mean the end of HBO as we know it.


Who owns the space under cities? The attempt to map the earth beneath us

The space under cities is getting busier – from transport excavations to billionaire’s mega-basements. So how to keep track of what’s down there?


A tunnel under Los Angeles built by Elon Musk’s Boring Company

Just over a year ago I was sent a photograph of a tunnel-boring machine in a dirt lot in Los Angeles. The caption read: “Elon Musk is about to start digging.”

The message was from Wayne Chambliss, a geographer in southern California, who tends to be prescient in such matters – and indeed, Musk’s freshly minted Boring Company soon set its machine loose, ripping through the subsurface soil under the SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne to create a short tunnel.

This pet project – to test a private mass-transit system based on Hyperloop technology that would magnetically propel small pods and cars through LA’s underbelly – has now become a serious challenge to the famously traffic-snarled city’s failure to create viable public transit.

The company’s website suggests “roads must go 3D” and Musk has stated “in theory, you could have hundreds of levels of tunnel” as more thoroughfares are required. As so often with Musk’s projects, the company is treating subterranean space as a tabula rasa – or in this case, tubula rasa – to be played in for profit.


7 Animal Escapes Stories Straight Out Of A Disney Movie

It may sound bizarre, but some animals don’t want to be fenced in, turned into sandwiches, or forced to perform for preteens who’d rather be playing Minecraft. And so, when the right circumstances present themselves, they’ll take matters into their own hooves and escape the physical and metaphysical fences holding them in, charging off into the world and inspiring us all with their carefree spirit of “not wanting to die.” Here are seven times an animal wormed its way out of captivity and straight into our hearts (and possibly a hit all-ages movie in a few years).

7. A Flamingo Escaped From A Zoo In Kansas, Then Turned Up Eight Years Later In Texas With Another Escaped Flamingo


In 2005, an African flamingo escaped from a zoo in Wichita, Kansas after employees forgot to clip his wings and the big dork decided to use them. You’d think it would be hard to lose track of what’s essentially a brightly colored, horribly misshapen swan on stilts, but this flamingo managed a cross-country road trip, Kerouac-style. (No word on how his poetry turned out.) The flamingo was eventually found eight years later living in the Gulf of Mexico, with his leg band from the zoo still attached. On the way, he had been spotted by birdwatchers in Louisiana and Wisconsin before settling in an inlet off Port Lavaca, Texas, shacked up with another flamingo who had bolted from a colony in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

2025: “NASA spots flamingo couple upon landing on Mars.”

Why did the flamingo leave the friendly, affordable confines of Wichita? The zookeeper who lost him explained, “As soon as he had the chance, he flew out of here. His instincts are honed to do that.” The zookeeper then presumably added, “But zoos are definitely awesome and not cruel, and you should totally come to ours. Cough. Did I just say the word cough? Ignore that. Yay zoos.”


The most successful activists don’t fight backlash, they embrace it

GO WITH IT


Accepting backlash as inevitable can be a powerful way of conducting advocacy.

By many measures, America is slowly moving to a more equal and socially just climate. It may take hundreds of years, but advocacy and activism are inching us closer to an idealized version of society: child poverty rates are at record lows, high school graduation rates are up, and public support for same-sex marriage continues to rise, for example. Martin Luther King Jr. evoked this idea when he said “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

In the midst of this progressive change it is easy to get drunk with optimism and lose sight of the fact that while progress is inevitable, so too is backlash against that progress. Every step forward is a fight against the forces that would have us step back.

Over the past several decades, Americans have gone from legalizing abortion to threatening abortion; from committing to massive international climate agreements to nonchalantly pulling out; from opening borders to limiting them. This ping pong of change is in the bones of the US. And accepting it might be the key to real progress.

Immediately following the Civil Rights Movement, Americans saw the rise of a staunch flavor of conservatism that sought to undo the progress made in the 50s and 60s. “The war on drugs,” the privatization of prisons, and electoral redistricting are all examples of tactics that sought to unravel much of the momentum on equality coming into the 1970s.


Thailand’s Caves Are Dangerously Alluring

Suffused in mythology, caves like the one where 12 boys were trapped feature shrines to the Buddha, Hindu hermits, and spirit lords alike.


Family members pray before a shrine in Tham Luang cave area as operations were underway for the 12 boys and their coach.

For the past two weeks, a global audience has been transfixed by the drama of 12 boys and their coach trapped within Tham Luang Nang Non, a flooded cave deep underneath the mountains that form the Thai-Burmese border. The kids—a soccer team called the Wild Boars, which also dabbled in outdoor adventures—have at last all been rescued, just as the monsoon begins and the prospect of more flooding appears.

Their coach, Ekapol Chanthawong, has been rescued along with them. The Thai media made much of the fact that the 25-year-old had trained as a Buddhist monk for a decade, and he reportedly kept the boys calm during their ordeal by teaching them to meditate. In this sense, a spiritual tradition likely helped tamp down the anxiety that the kids felt once they realized they were trapped in the cave. Less widely known, however, is that spiritual traditions have long lured people to the cave to begin with.

I first visited Nang Non Cave in the rainy season of 2007 as part of my research. The name of the cave means literally “the cave of the reclining lady,” referring to a princess who, as the legend goes, committed suicide after she was forbidden to be with her commoner love. Her body became the mountains, and her genitals, the cave. She is now the ruler—the “jao mae”—of both.

The cave is enthralling. Its entrance is broad, like a cathedral door, and during the rainy season the humidity pours out of it like steam. It looks like the gateway to another world. In some senses, it is.


The staggering rise of India’s super-rich

India’s new billionaires have accumulated more money, more quickly, than plutocrats in almost any country in history.

On 3 May, at around 4.45pm, a short, trim Indian man walked quickly down London’s Old Compton Street, his head bowed as if trying not to be seen. From his seat by the window of a nearby noodle bar, Anuvab Pal recognised him instantly. “He is tiny, and his face had been all over every newspaper in India,” Pal recalled. “I knew it was him.”

Few in Britain would have given the passing figure a second look. And that, in a way, was the point. The man pacing through Soho on that Wednesday night was Nirav Modi: Indian jeweller, billionaire and international fugitive.

In February, Modi had fled his home country after an alleged $1.8bn fraud case in which the tycoon was accused of abusing a system that allowed his business to obtain cash advances illegally from one of India’s largest banks. Since then, his whereabouts had been a mystery. Indian newspapers speculated that he might be holed up in Hong Kong or New York. Indian courts issued warrants for his arrest, and the police tried, ineffectually, to track him down.

It was only by chance that Pal spotted him. A standup comic normally based in Mumbai, he happened to be in London for a run of gigs. “My ritual was to go to the same noodle bar, have a meal, and then head to the theatre,” Pal said. “I always sat by the window. And then suddenly Modi walks past. He was unshaven, and had those Apple earphones, the wireless ones. He looked like he was in a hurry.”

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Prepare to spend a while; it’s The Long Read.


Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

Self-inflicted scandals aside, Scott Pruitt earned praise from conservatives for his effectiveness at implementing a deregulatory agenda at the EPA. But there was another thing he was really good at: stopping the flow of information out of the agency.

In the early days of Trump’s presidency, agency employees were barred from posting on agency social-media accounts or agency blogs, and weren’t allowed to speak to the press. Later, under Pruitt, three EPA scientists were prevented from talking about their research at a conference.

THANKS to HBO and VICE News for making this program available on YouTube.


The way to get the president’s ear is by spending a couple years kissing his buttocks.


Unable to properly respond to Trump’s loopy Montana speech, Stephen introduces a new segment: The Late Show’s Counterpoint From a Man Who Just Got Hit on the Head with a Sack of Bricks.

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


10周年記念!10th anniversary!


Time will tell.


This was filmed while Max was still getting used to his buggy.


FINALLY . . .

An unusual medical training tool got its start as a childish prank

LIQUID ASS


As realistic as mannequins, they don’t quite recreate the smells of the human body.

Allen Wittman and Andrew Masters are two grown men who make a living selling bathroom humor.

In 2005, the two former engineers founded Liquid Ass Novelties, LLC, in North Carolina. At the time, their entire business was based on selling a spray that comes in a one-ounce plastic bottle bearing the company’s name. It’s exactly what you’d expect: A water-based stench capable of emptying rooms in a matter of minutes.

“It’s like if you stuck your nose up to an asscrack of a plumber who hasn’t showered in three days,” Wittman says.

Wittman invented the spray in his teenage bedroom when he was in high school and tested it out by pouring four ounces into a heat radiator in a foyer bathroom near the gym, where a basketball game was ongoing in the dead of winter. By halftime, the doors to the school were open in an attempt to rid the room of the smell, despite the snowfall.

Decades later, Wittman met Masters in the electrical department in a trucking company based in Illinois. They became friends who shared a love of practical jokes, and one day decided to use Wittman’s remaining stash at an office ice cream social, effectively ruining it.


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