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unrepentant progress

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Name: Wouldn\'t you love to know?
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Home country: USA
Current location: The internet
Member since: Sun Mar 24, 2013, 02:10 PM
Number of posts: 611

Journal Archives

In 1949, He Imagined an Age of Robots

A lost essay from mathematician Norbert Wiener.

These new machines have a great capacity for upsetting the present basis of industry, and of reducing the economic value of the routine factory employee to a point at which he is not worth hiring at any price. If we combine our machine-potentials of a factory with the valuation of human beings on which our present factory system is based, we are in for an industrial revolution of unmitigated cruelty.

We must be willing to deal in facts rather than in fashionable ideologies if we wish to get through this period unharmed. Not even the brightest picture of an age in which man is the master, and in which we all have an excess of mechanical services will make up for the pains of transition, if we are not both humane and intelligent.

Finally the machines will do what we ask them to do and not what we ought to ask them to do. In the discussion of the relation between man and powerful agencies controlled by man, the gnomic wisdom of the folk tales has a value far beyond the books of our sociologists.


Moreover, if we move in the direction of making machines which learn and whose behavior is modified by experience, we must face the fact that every degree of independence we give the machine is a degree of possible defiance of our wishes. The genie in the bottle will not willingly go back in the bottle, nor have we any reason to expect them to be well disposed to us.

In short, it is only a humanity which is capable of awe, which will also be capable of controlling the new potentials which we are opening for ourselves. We can be humble and live a good life with the aid of the machines, or we can be arrogant and die.

Posted by unrepentant progress | Thu May 23, 2013, 08:55 PM (2 replies)

Whey Too Much: Greek Yogurt’s Dark Side

Twice a day, seven days a week, a tractor trailer carrying 8,000 gallons of watery, cloudy slop rolls past the bucolic countryside, finally arriving at Neil Rejman’s dairy farm in upstate New York. The trucks are coming from the Chobani plant two hours east of Rejman’s Sunnyside Farms, and they’re hauling a distinctive byproduct of the Greek yogurt making process—acid whey.

For every three or four ounces of milk, Chobani and other companies can produce only one ounce of creamy Greek yogurt. The rest becomes acid whey. It’s a thin, runny waste product that can’t simply be dumped. Not only would that be illegal, but whey decomposition is toxic to the natural environment, robbing oxygen from streams and rivers. That could turn a waterway into what one expert calls a “dead sea,” destroying aquatic life over potentially large areas. Spills of cheese whey, a cousin of Greek yogurt whey, have killed tens of thousands of fish around the country in recent years.

The scale of the problem—or opportunity, depending on who you ask—is daunting. The $2 billion Greek yogurt market has become one of the biggest success stories in food over the past few years and total yogurt production in New York nearly tripled between 2007 and 2013. New plants continue to open all over the country. The Northeast alone, led by New York, produced more than 150 million gallons of acid whey last year, according to one estimate.

And as the nation’s hunger grows for strained yogurt, which produces more byproduct than traditional varieties, the issue of its acid runoff becomes more pressing. Greek yogurt companies, food scientists, and state government officials are scrambling not just to figure out uses for whey, but how to make a profit off of it.

Posted by unrepentant progress | Wed May 22, 2013, 11:07 PM (19 replies)

Celebrating Inequality

THE Roaring ’20s was the decade when modern celebrity was invented in America. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Great Gatsby” is full of magazine spreads of tennis players and socialites, popular song lyrics, movie stars, paparazzi, gangsters and sports scandals — machine-made by technology, advertising and public relations. Gatsby, a mysterious bootlegger who makes a meteoric ascent from Midwestern obscurity to the palatial splendor of West Egg, exemplifies one part of the celebrity code: it’s inherently illicit. Fitzgerald intuited that, with the old restraining deities of the 19th century dead and his generation’s faith in man shaken by World War I, celebrities were the new household gods.

What are celebrities, after all? They dominate the landscape, like giant monuments to aspiration, fulfillment and overreach. They are as intimate as they are grand, and they offer themselves for worship by ordinary people searching for a suitable object of devotion. But in times of widespread opportunity, the distance between gods and mortals closes, the monuments shrink closer to human size and the centrality of celebrities in the culture recedes. They loom larger in times like now, when inequality is soaring and trust in institutions — governments, corporations, schools, the press — is falling.

The Depression that ended Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age yielded to a new order that might be called the Roosevelt Republic. In the quarter-century after World War II, the country established collective structures, not individual monuments, that channeled the aspirations of ordinary people: state universities, progressive taxation, interstate highways, collective bargaining, health insurance for the elderly, credible news organizations.

One virtue of those hated things called bureaucracies is that they oblige everyone to follow a common set of rules, regardless of station or background; they are inherently equalizing. Books like William H. Whyte’s “Organization Man” and C. Wright Mills’s “White Collar” warned of the loss of individual identity, but those middle-class anxieties were possible only because of the great leveling. The “stars” continued to fascinate, especially with the arrival of TV, but they were not essential. Henry Fonda, Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, Jimmy Stewart, Perry Como, Joe DiMaggio, Jack Paar, Doris Day and Dick Clark rose with Americans — not from them — and their successes and screw-ups were a sideshow, not the main event.

Posted by unrepentant progress | Wed May 22, 2013, 11:06 PM (0 replies)

Obama vs. LBJ

Via historian Corey Robin: http://coreyrobin.com/2013/05/20/obama-at-morehouse-lbj-at-howard

LBJ at Howard University:

"But freedom is not enough. You do not wipe away the scars of centuries by saying: Now you are free to go where you want, and do as you desire, and choose the leaders you please. You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say, “you are free to compete with all the others,” and still justly believe that you have been completely fair."

Obama at Morehouse College:

"Nobody cares how tough your upbringing was. Nobody cares if you suffered some discrimination. And moreover, you have to remember that whatever you’ve gone through, it pales in comparison to the hardships previous generations endured — and they overcame them. And if they overcame them, you can overcome them, too. ...if you stay hungry, if you keep hustling, if you keep on your grind and get other folks to do the same — nobody can stop you."
Posted by unrepentant progress | Tue May 21, 2013, 12:42 AM (16 replies)

Smoking Pot Offers Relief to the Lonely

Is there a rule that any study which finds cannabis beneficial has to conclude by telling people, "oh, but drugs are bad, m'kay?"

The four-part study included a total of 7,040 participants and three different methodologies. The researchers examined cross-sectional data from national surveys (including data from the National Comorbidity Survey Replication), they interviewed high school students, and they conducted their very own experiment involving a computer-based game called Cyberball, which, by consistently ignoring players, causes them to feel socially excluded and rejected.

After considering the data, Deckman and his colleagues concluded that "marijuana use consistently buffered people from the negative consequences associated with loneliness and social exclusion," and that "[t]hese findings offer novel evidence supporting common overlap between social and physical pain processes."

"After considering the data, Deckman and his colleagues concluded that "marijuana use consistently buffered people from the negative consequences associated with loneliness and social exclusion," and that "[t]hese findings offer novel evidence supporting common overlap between social and physical pain processes." That said, the researchers said smoking pot is a "poor way of coping with social pain.""

Posted by unrepentant progress | Fri May 17, 2013, 12:14 PM (10 replies)

True, Keynes cared little about the long run. But that wasn’t because he was gay.


Keynes’s focus on the short run was grounded in the philosophical principle of “insufficient reason.” If individuals have no sufficient reason to believe that a good situation today will have adverse long-term consequences, it must always be rational for them to aim to maximize their short-term good. In an essay on the conservative philosopher Edmund Burke, Keynes translated this moral principle of individual behavior into the political principle of prudence:

“Burke ever held, and held rightly, that it can seldom be right . . . to sacrifice a present benefit for a doubtful advantage in the future. . . . It is therefore the happiness of our own contemporaries that is our main concern; we should be very chary of sacrificing large numbers of people for the sake of a contingent end, however advantageous that may appear. . . . We can never know enough to make the chance worth taking. . . . There is this further consideration . . . it is not sufficient that the state of affairs which we seek to promote should be better than the state of affairs which preceded it; it must be sufficiently better to make up for the evils of the transition.”

This is the bedrock of Keynesian economics. So Ferguson was quite right to say that Keynes discounted the future — but it was not because of homosexuality, it was because of uncertainty. Keynes would have rejected the claim of today’s austerity champions that short-term pain, in the form of budget cuts, is the price we need to pay for long-term economic growth. The pain is real, he would say, while the benefit is conjecture.

The principle of not sacrificing the present for the future can be seen in Keynes’s intolerance of persistent mass unemployment — sacrificing the current generation of workers to secure long-term improvements in the labor market. It emerges in his rejection of “debt bondage” — the imposition of crushing long-term obligations on borrowers, undermining their prosperity. “The absolutists of contract,” he wrote, “are the real parents of revolution.”
Posted by unrepentant progress | Fri May 17, 2013, 11:58 AM (3 replies)

Hard Hats, Hippies, and the Real Antiwar Movement

This looks like a fantastic book. It was highly recommended by Corey Robin, author of The Reactionary Mind.

The story we tell ourselves about social division over the war in Vietnam follows a particular, class-specific outline: The war "split the country" between "doves" and "hawks." The "doves," most often conflated with "the movement," were upper-middle-class in their composition and politics. The movement was the New Left, and a big part of what made the New Left "new" was its break from the working-class politics and roots of the Old Left. Think of Dr. Benjamin Spock, Tom Hayden, Jane Fonda, Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern, Students for a Democratic Society, Weathermen: students, intellectuals, professionals, celebrities; liberal or radical privileged elites.


Most accounts of the working class depict them as largely supportive of the war and hostile to the numerous movements for social change. We need look no further than the most enduring image of the working class from that period, a certain cranky worker from Queens, N.Y. The TV character Archie Bunker, who brought the working class to prime time as white, bigoted, sexist, homophobic, and yearning for the good old days before the welfare state, when everybody pulled his weight, when girls were girls and men were men.


Working-class opposition to the war in Vietnam was far more widespread than is remembered.

But this memory of the Vietnam era contains only half-truths, and overall it is a falsehood. The notion that liberal elites dominated the antiwar movement has served to obfuscate a more complex story. Working-class opposition to the war was significantly more widespread than is remembered, and parts of the movement found roots in working-class communities and politics.

In fact, by and large, the greatest support for the war came from the privileged elite, despite the visible dissension of a minority of its leaders and youth. The country was divided over the war, alongside many other pressing social issues—but the class dynamics of those divisions were complex, contradictory, and indeterminate.

Many books briefly discuss the discrepancy between our historical impression of class-based sentiment and its reality. Yet no account systematically explains why such a misperception exists, its extent, or its impact.


If the Chronicle link above doesn't work for you, Robin has excerpted a good chunk of the article at his site: http://coreyrobin.com/2013/05/16/everything-you-know-about-the-movement-against-the-vietnam-war-is-wrong
Posted by unrepentant progress | Thu May 16, 2013, 09:17 PM (3 replies)

What’s a Library?: Written by a [rich] man who's never been to a library and Googles everything

Michael Rosenblum, one of the founders of Current TV (tell me again how these people are liberals!), recently wrote an opinion piece for HuffPo where he argues that libraries are useless. Here's a smart post by an actual librarian which shows just how deep his bullshit is.

There are several things you can count on in this world: Every now and then, the New York Times will write a 10 years too late article about hipsters and Brooklyn; someone will start an essay about graphic novels with the phrase “Comics! They’re not just for kids anymore!”; and a rich white dude will pen a wishy washy article about the how libraries are dead. Seriously, the library has died so many times, I’d like a preferred customer punch card for attending its countless fake funerals. And yet, despite the library being all dead and stuff, I still go to work every morning, seeing patrons queueing up for computers and storytimes and ESOL classes and the next bestseller. According to the Center for an Urban Future, libraries “are become an increasingly critical part of the city’s human capital system,” “are more essential than ever”, and are “far from being obsolete.”

But, enough about facts and realities. The article in question, written by Michael Rosenblum, is an anecdotal testament to how he’s never been to the library that was near his house (“I never went inside. I never sat in its reading room. I never checked out a book. I never explored its stacks to go through old volumes of bound periodicals in some research project.”). He’s never used it, so he doesn’t understand the need for it (I don’t have a pacemaker, but that doesn’t stop me from realizing that some people need them). Rosenblum adores Google and Dictionary.com for all his information needs. I mean, they’re free, right? Says Rosenblum, “the web is…free (at least so far), and instant and much much easier to reference and find stuff than in the stacks (though less romantic, in a literary sense).”

Let’s talk about internet access (or the “web” as he calls it) being free. I’m on my computer right now. This computer set me back about 1000 bucks and on top of that, I pay for a wireless connection. 1000 plus dollars doesn’t quite ring as free to me, but this is an article written by a man who lives on top of the MoMA, so our idea of “free” might be vastly different. Now, on the other hand, if I wanted to bust this blog post out at the library, all I’d need is a library card. Which is free. I’d sign up for a computer (I could even access a nice Mac or a laptop at certain locations), which is free. WiFi? Also free. In the comments on his blog, Rosenblum laments that libraries are ”now a place where the poor can get online.”

First, I resent the insinuation that an institution that only serves the poor is somehow without value. Second, many people who don’t qualify as “poor” cannot afford the hundreds of dollars needed to buy a computer and maintain WiFi access. The library is for the poor, absolutely, but not just for the poor.

More: http://magpielibrarian.wordpress.com/2013/05/12/whats-a-library-written-by-a-man-rich-enough-to-live-on-w-53rd-st-whos-never-been-to-the-library-and-googles-everything/
Posted by unrepentant progress | Wed May 15, 2013, 06:00 PM (10 replies)

Home Ownership May Actually Cause Unemployment

When the Peterson Institute releases a study saying that home ownership is bad because it causes people to stay where they are (i.e. as stable members of their communities), I begin to think maybe home ownership really is a good idea.

At the simplest level, the authors of the study, released by the Peterson Institute of International Economics, point to the fact that the five states with the largest increase in homeownership from 1950 to 2010 — Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and West Virginia — had a 2010 unemployment rate that was 6.3 percentage points higher than in 1950. The unemployment rates in the five states where homeownership went up the least — California, North Dakota, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin — rose 3.5 percentage points during the period.

Such statistics are not persuasive by themselves, and the professors know it. Many factors obviously influence unemployment rates in any given state. North Dakota’s current boom stems from energy deposits, which would have been there no matter who owned the land.

But they say that the statistics show those patterns no matter how much they control for other variables and that the same picture emerges if they look at employment growth rather than unemployment rates. They say that the pattern existed before the crash of the housing market that began in 2007 and that the statistics are not dependent on including the more recent period.


If the correlation is real, what could be the cause? The professors say they believe that high homeownership in an area leads to people staying put and commuting farther and farther to jobs, creating cost and congestion for companies and other workers. They speculate that the role of zoning may be important, as communities dominated by homeowners resort to “not in my backyard” efforts that block new businesses that could create jobs. Perhaps the energy sector would be less freewheeling in North Dakota if there were more homeowners.

Posted by unrepentant progress | Sat May 11, 2013, 06:42 PM (28 replies)

History Detected

This sounds like a fantastic program that helps teachers to train kids to think critically and more actively engage with materials.

"Colglazier builds his thought-provoking classes using an online tool called Reading Like a Historian. Designed by the Stanford History Education Group under Professor Sam Wineburg, the website offers 87 flexible lesson plans featuring documents from the Library of Congress. Teachers can download the lessons and adapt them for their own purposes, free of charge. Students learn how to examine documents critically, just as historians would, in order to answer intriguing questions: Did Pocahontas really rescue John Smith? Was Abraham Lincoln a racist? Who blinked first in the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Russians or the Americans?


As Wineburg notes in the website's book counterpart, "the practices historians have developed can be used to make sense of the conflicting voices that confront us every time we turn on Fox News or MSNBC. Put simply, the skills cultivated by Reading Like a Historian provide essential tools for citizenship."


Wineburg realized that the art of historical thinking is not something that comes naturally to most people; it has to be cultivated. Students have to be taught to look at the source of a document before reading it, figure out the context in which it was written, and cross-check it with other sources before coming to a conclusion. The professor codified his thinking in an award-winning 2002 book, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past. Then he returned to Stanford, determined to spread his educational theories to an even wider audience.

Posted by unrepentant progress | Sat May 11, 2013, 04:49 PM (1 replies)
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