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Current Topic: Society

The Future Is Not What It Used To Be
Topic: Society 10:19 am EDT, May 25, 2009

Paul Krugman:

Hong Kong, with its incredible cluster of tall buildings stacked up the slope of a mountain, is the way the future was supposed to look. The future — the way I learned it from science-fiction movies — was supposed to be Manhattan squared: vertical, modernistic, art decoish.

What the future mainly ended up looking like instead was Atlanta — sprawl, sprawl, and even more sprawl, a landscape of boxy malls and McMansions. Bo-ring.

From the archive:

Welcome to the exhibition of rediscovered works by the mid 20th century illustrator A.C. Radebaugh.

From the archive:

One of the most densely populated metropolitan areas in the world, Hong Kong has an overall density of nearly 6,700 people per square kilometer. The majority of its citizens live in flats in high-rise buildings. In Architecture of Density, Michael Wolf investigates these vibrant city blocks, finding a mesmerizing abstraction in the buildings' facades.

Paul Graham:

It's cities that compete, not countries. Atlanta is just as hosed as Munich.


Paul Graham asks what living in your city tells you. Living in the north Perimeter area for 6 odd years now has told me that everybody makes way, way more money than I do. It's not inspiring so much as it makes you sympathize with class warfare.

The Future Is Not What It Used To Be

Lessons Learned from Previous Employment
Topic: Society 1:15 pm EDT, May 16, 2009

Adam Shand:

The flexibility to manage your own time is invaluable.

Sometimes managing your friends really sucks.

It's possible to get accustomed to anything. Make bloody sure you are aware of what you've become accustomed to.

Curiosity is worth looking for, especially in technical interviews.

Donald Rumsfeld:

Learn to say "I don't know." If used when appropriate, it will be often.

Martin Schwartz:

Science makes me feel stupid too. It's just that I've gotten used to it.

Robert McNamara:

Rationality will not save us.

Colin Powell:

Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.

Norm Augustine:

Ninety percent of the time things will turn out worse than you expect. The other 10 percent of the time you had no right to expect so much.

Richard Hamming:

If you do not work on an important problem, it's unlikely you'll do important work.

Lessons Learned from Previous Employment

The Age of the Unthinkable: Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us And What We Can Do About It
Topic: Society 7:51 am EDT, May 11, 2009

Publishers Weekly Starred Review:

Former foreign editor of Time, Joshua Cooper Ramo pushes the reader into uncomfortable yet exhilarating places with controversial ways of thinking about global challenges (e.g., studying why Hezbollah is the most efficiently run Islamic militant group).

His book, which lays bare the flaws in current thinking on everything from American political influence to the economy, is designed to change the physics of the way we think.

Analyzing the failure of the Bush administration's Democratic Peace Theory and the fruitless efforts at a Mideast peace process, Ramo suggests that people must change the role they imagine for themselves from architects of a system they can control to gardeners in a living ecosystem.

Ramo's message—that the most dynamic forces emerge from outside elite circles: geeks, iconoclasts and maligned populations—is persuasively argued. And while the author doesn't explicitly offer up solutions, he goads readers to approach problems in unexpected ways. His revelatory work argues that there must be some audacity in thinking before there can be any audacity of hope.

Alan Kay:

If the children are being instructed in the pink plane, can we teach them to think in the blue plane and live in a pink-plane society?

The Age of the Unthinkable: Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us And What We Can Do About It

American excess: A Wall Street trader tells all
Topic: Society 8:09 am EDT, May  7, 2009

Philipp Meyer:

In 2005 I began a third novel, American Rust, about the way that our circumstances, whether poor or wealthy, can so completely shape our morality and our way of looking at things. I was fascinated by the lost generation in America - the people whose towns and hopes have been wiped out by outsourcing - people for whom the American Dream has ceased to be relevant. As Steinbeck did in The Grapes of Wrath, I wanted to show the inner lives, for better and worse, of the new lost generation. I wanted readers to think about exactly what it means to be human. What is at the core of us? Where do our morals come from? What differentiates us from the other animals on earth? What measures do we use to define our friends and family and how far are we willing to go to protect them?

Of course these are questions for broader society, not just literature. Maybe it’s only in crises like this that we get shaken up enough to ask ourselves those larger questions - who are we, what is important to us, how should we define our humanity. The answers we choose will determine the sort of world we live in for the coming decades.

American excess: A Wall Street trader tells all

Making It
Topic: Society 7:02 am EDT, May  5, 2009

Sue Halpern:

We have certain expectations for the fabulously wealthy.

Warren Buffett's frugality is part of what marketers would call his brand identity. His apparent personal disregard for the money he so excessively accumulates reinforces his credibility: he's not greedy, he's just good at what he does.

Buffett, it is safe to say, has a different relationship to money than you and me. For us it's a means to an end. For him, it's a vocation. He is called to it. If it's for anything, it's for getting more of. The man is a collector. He just happens to collect dollars.

It's as if success is a corollary of obscenity: you know it when you see it.

And "seeing" may be the most crucial variable of all.

Margaret Atwood:

What we owe and how we pay is a feature of all human societies, and profoundly shapes our shared values and our cultures.

From last year's best-of:'

In our unending search for panaceas, we believe that happiness and "success" -- which, loosely translated, means money -- are the things to strive for. People are constantly surprised that, even though they have acquired material things, discontent still gnaws.

Dan Soltzberg:

It is ironic: people don’t notice that noticing is important!

Making It

Will the coming age of news be better than the old?
Topic: Society 7:33 am EDT, Apr 30, 2009

Steven Johnson and Paul Starr debate the future of news.

Falling sales and profits augur badly for serious news. Two leading US experts ask if an online renaissance is possible.

Recently, Steven Johnson:

In the long run, we’re going to look back at many facets of old media and realize that we were living in a desert disguised as a rain forest.

Recently, Paul Starr:

If we take seriously the notion of newspapers as a fourth estate or a fourth branch of government, the end of the age of newspapers implies a change in our political system itself. If we are to avoid a new era of corruption, we are going to have to summon that power in other ways. Our new technologies do not retire our old responsibilities.

Douglas Rushkoff:

Citizen bloggers and YouTubers believe we have now embraced a new "personal" democracy. But writing is not the capability being offered us by these tools at all. The capability is programming -- which almost none of us really know how to do.


The Sunlight Foundation Labs has announced the winners for their transparency coding contest.

Matthias Felleisen:

Everyone should learn how to design programs.

Alan Perlis, via Peter Norvig:

Everyone can be taught to sculpt: Michelangelo would have had to be taught how not to. So it is with the great programmers.

Will the coming age of news be better than the old?

The Revenge of Geography
Topic: Society 7:00 am EDT, Apr 24, 2009

Robert D. Kaplan:

People and ideas influence events, but geography largely determines them, now more than ever. To understand the coming struggles, it’s time to dust off the Victorian thinkers who knew the physical world best. A journalist who has covered the ends of the Earth offers a guide to the relief map—and a primer on the next phase of conflict.

The Revenge of Geography

The Wail of the 1%
Topic: Society 8:15 pm EDT, Apr 20, 2009

Gabriel Sherman:

As the privileged class loses its privileges, a collective moan rises from the canyons of Wall Street.

From 2005, Tom Friedman:

Are Americans suffering from an undue sense of entitlement?

Somebody said to me the other day that the entitlement we need to get rid of is our sense of entitlement.

Peter Schiff:

I think things are going to get very bad.

A final thought from the bankers:

Revolutionize your heart out. We'll still have this country by the balls.

The Wail of the 1%

The Prime of Roubini
Topic: Society 7:29 am EDT, Apr 15, 2009

Helaine Olen:

A doorman on duty surveys the scene and rolls his eyes. “Another Roubini party,” he mutters.

More than a few economists are convinced that Roubini’s call was less a matter of his genius and more about the simple fact that if you forecast a recession often enough, sooner or later you’ll be vindicated.

Roubini doesn’t come with an off switch. It isn’t that he can’t sleep, he says. It’s just impossible for him to accomplish everything he wants to in a conventional workday of 8 or 10 or 12 hours.

Two from the archive:

Home Depot's first Manhattan store, which opens to the public Friday, will have a doorman.

Homer: Not a bear in sight. The "Bear Patrol" is working like a charm!

Peter Drucker:

Futurists always measure their batting average by counting how many things they have predicted that have come true. They never count how many important things come true that they did not predict.


Elizabeth Gilbert muses on the impossible things we expect from artists and geniuses -- and shares the radical idea that, instead of the rare person "being" a genius, all of us "have" a genius.

Jenny Diski:

The only actual experience of sleep is not-knowing. And not knowing thrills me – retrospectively or in anticipation, of course. That one has the capacity to be not here while being nowhere else. To be in the grip of unconsciousness, and consciously to lose consciousness to that grip.

The Prime of Roubini

Precision Hacking
Topic: Society 7:58 am EDT, Apr 14, 2009

File under General Memetics Feasibility:

Sure you could promote or demote an individual or issue, but fine tuned manipulation would just be too difficult. Well, I’ve been proved wrong.

From the archive, a white paper:

There will also be times when it is thought to be necessary, in the context of an integrated information campaign, to pass false or erroneous information through the media ... in support of military deception activities. ... In these cases, extra care must be taken to ensure plausible deniability and non-attribution, as well as employing a well-thought-out deception operation that minimizes the risks of exposure.


Precision Hacking

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