The West Coast is a growing target of foreign espionage. And it’s not ready to fight back.
Jack Shafer writes: Russian intelligence has had an intensive interest in San Francisco stretching back to the beginning of the Cold War. In those days, the Russians were primarily gathering information on local military installations, said former officials, including the Presidio, the strategically located former military base set on a wind-swept northern tip of the San Francisco peninsula, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.
Since then, Russian operations have become bolder, with one notable exception: the immediate post-Cold War period. “The only time there was a collective sigh regarding Russia, like maybe things have changed, was under Gorbachev,” said LaRae Quy, who worked on Russian and Chinese counterintelligence in the Bay Area from 1985 to 2002. “We even put in a big ‘Going Out Of Business’ sign in the Palo Alto squad room.”
But this optimism quickly faded when Putin was elected in 2000, recalled Quy, who retired in 2006. “Russia has been steadily escalating since then.”
As the Bay Area transformed itself into a tech hub, Russia adapted its efforts accordingly, with Russian spies increasingly focused on obtaining information on valuable, sensitive or potentially dual-use technologies—those with both civilian and military applications—being developed or financed by companies or venture-capital firms based in the region. Russia’s espionage activities have traditionally been centered on its San Francisco Consulate, which was forcibly closed by the Trump administration in early September 2017.
But even with the consulate shuttered, there are alternative vehicles for Russian intelligence-gathering in Silicon Valley. One potential mechanism, said three former intelligence officials, is Rusnano USA, the sole U.S. subsidiary of Rusnano, a Russian government-owned venture capital firm primarily focused on nanotechnology. Rusnano USA, which was founded in 2011, is located in Menlo Park, near Stanford University. Read the rest of this entry »
‘I know, I know. But I’m begging you to read this till the end, and not take me out of context.’
Ashu Garg is a general partner at Foundation Capital, where he invests in B2B software across the stack. He currently serves on the boards of TubeMogul, Localytics, Conviva, ZeroStack and Yozio, among others. Reach him @ashugarg.
Ashu Garg writes: Well, it happened. I thought it was a joke when he started campaigning, and I was aghast when he was elected, but that’s all history at this point: Donald Trump is president. Rather than spend time on sour grapes, I think it’s more productive to make a clear-eyed appraisal of what his administration might mean for my industry. I know that what I say next risks being taken out of context, but from my vantage as a longtime tech entrepreneur and venture capitalist, I believe that there’s a real chance Trump will be — I’m begging you to read till the end and not take me out of context — good for startups.
“The most significant reason Trump might be good for early-stage companies is that he is very anti-regulation.”
First off, change in general is good for entrepreneurs, because it creates new circumstances for them to exploit or gaps for them to fill. Regulatory change, more specifically, is ripe with opportunity. Moreover, Trump has historically made a lot of pro-small-business noises, and has signaled that he will shake up the Small Business Administration.
Professional-wrestling magnate Linda McMahon is potentially taking over, and may be receptive to the type of changes that would allow emerging enterprises — in tech and outside it — to grow, including making it easier for first-time entrepreneurs to access startup grant funding.
“Trump has promised to make huge investments in infrastructure, largely to be funded by debt — for entrepreneurs, this will create enormous possibility.”
The most significant reason Trump might be good for early-stage companies is that he is very anti-regulation. The White House has already issued a freeze on new or pending regulations to all executive departments and agencies, for example. One can argue whether less regulation is good or bad for society. But it’s only good news for startups, which are always in a hurry to ship their ideas into the real world. Read the rest of this entry »
Even a prominent Trump adviser accepts the false premise that there has been no ‘ethical shadiness.’
Even Trump adviser Peter Thiel seems to agree. When the New York Times’s Maureen Dowd observed during an interview that Mr. Obama’s administration was “without any ethical shadiness,” Mr. Thiel accepted the premise, saying: “But there’s a point where no corruption can be a bad thing. It can mean that things are too boring.”
In reality, Mr. Obama has presided over some of the worst scandals of any president in recent decades. Here’s a partial list:
• State Department email. In an effort to evade federal open-records laws, Mr. Obama’s first secretary of state set up a private server, which she used exclusively to conduct official business, including communications with the president and the transmission of classified material. A federal criminal investigation produced no charges, but FBI Director James Comey reported that the secretary and her colleagues “were extremely careless” in handling national secrets.
• Operation Fast and Furious. The Obama Justice Department lost track of thousands of guns it had allowed to pass into the hands of suspected smugglers, in the hope of tracing them to Mexican drug cartels. One of the guns was used in the fatal 2010 shooting of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry. Congress held then-Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt when he refused to turn over documents about the operation.
• IRS abuses. Mr. Obama’s Internal Revenue Service did something Richard Nixononly dreamed of doing: It successfully targeted political opponents. The Justice Department then refused to enforce Congress’s contempt citation against the IRS’s Lois Lerner, who refused to answer questions about her agency’s misconduct. Read the rest of this entry »
The local district mayor wants to call one of several new streets around the vast Halle Freyssinet high-tech startup hub the ‘Rue Steve Jobs’ in honor of America’s best-known Capitalist.
PARIS (Reuters) – Geert De Clercq reports: A proposal to name a street after the late Apple Inc chief executive and co-founder Steve Jobs has divided the leftist city council of a Paris district.
“Steve Jobs was chosen because of his impact on the development of personal computing and because he was a real entrepreneur.”
— Spokeswoman for mayor Jerome Coumet
The local district mayor wants to call one of several new streets around the vast Halle Freyssinet high-tech startup hub the “Rue Steve Jobs” in honor of the U.S. inventor of the iPhone who died in 2011.
“The choice of Steve Jobs is misplaced in light of the heritage he has left behind.”
— Communist local councillors
But Green and Communist local councillors in Paris’s 13th district don’t like the idea because of Apple’s social and fiscal practices.
“Steve Jobs was chosen because of his impact on the development of personal computing and because he was a real entrepreneur,” said a spokeswoman for mayor Jerome Coumet, defending the proposal.
She said other streets would be named after British computer scientist and code-breaker Alan Turing, UK mathematician and computer pioneer Ada Lovelace, US naval officer and computer programming pioneer Grace Murray Hopper and French civil engineer Eugene Freyssinet, who invented pre-stressed concrete.
Leftist councillors are not impressed however by Jobs’ reputation and heritage. Read the rest of this entry »
WikiLeaks’ dump of messages to and from Clinton’s campaign chief offer an unprecedented view into the workings of the elite, and how it looks after itself.
Thomas Frank writes: The emails currently are part of some unknown digital collection amassed by the troublesome Anthony Weiner, but if your purpose is to understand the clique of people who dominate Washington today, the emails that really matter are the ones being from the hacked account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair John Podesta. They are last week’s scandal in a year running over with scandals, but in truth their significance goes far beyond mere scandal: they are a window into the soul of the Democratic party and into the dreams and thoughts of the class to whom the party answers.
“When you search ‘Vineyard’ on the WikiLeaks dump that you realize these people truly inhabit a different world from the rest of us. By ‘vineyard’, of course, they mean Martha’s Vineyard, the ritzy vacation resort island off the coast of Massachusetts where presidents Clinton and Obama spent most of their summer vacations. The Vineyard is a place for the very, very rich to unwind, yes, but as we learn from these emails, it is also a place of high idealism; a land of enlightened liberal commitment far beyond anything ordinary citizens can ever achieve.”
The class to which I refer is not rising in angry protest; they are by and large pretty satisfied, pretty contented. Nobody takes road trips to exotic West Virginia to see what the members of this class looks like or how they live; on the contrary, they are the ones for whom such stories are written. This bunch doesn’t have to make do with a comb-over TV mountebank for a leader; for this class, the choices are always pretty good, and this year they happen to be excellent.
“Everything blurs into everything else in this world. The state department, the banks, Silicon Valley, the nonprofits, the “Global CEO Advisory Firm” that appears to have solicited donations for the Clinton Foundation. Executives here go from foundation to government to thinktank to startup. There are honors. Venture capital. Foundation grants. Endowed chairs. Advanced degrees. For them the door revolves. The friends all succeed. They break every boundary.”
They are the comfortable and well-educated mainstay of our modern Democratic party. They are also the grandees of our national media; the architects of our software; the designers of our streets; the high officials of our banking system; the authors of just about every plan to fix social security or fine-tune the Middle East with precision droning. They are, they think, not a class at all but rather the enlightened ones, the people who must be answered to but who need never explain themselves.
Let us turn the magnifying glass on them for a change, by sorting through the hacked personal emails of John Podesta, who has been a Washington power broker for decades. I admit that I feel uncomfortable digging through this hoard; stealing someone’s email is a crime, after all, and it is outrageous that people’s personal information has been exposed, since WikiLeaks doesn’t seem to have redacted the emails in any way.
There is also the issue of authenticity to contend with: we don’t know absolutely and for sure that these emails were not tampered with by whoever stole them from John Podesta. The supposed authors of the messages are refusing to confirm or deny their authenticity, and though they seem to be real, there is a small possibility they aren’t.
“The dramatis personae of the liberal class are all present in this amazing body of work: financial innovators. High-achieving colleagues attempting to get jobs for their high-achieving children. Foundation executives doing fine and noble things. Prizes, of course, and high academic achievement.”
With all that taken into consideration, I think the WikiLeaks releases furnish us with an opportunity to observe the upper reaches of the American status hierarchy in all its righteousness and majesty.
The dramatis personae of the liberal class are all present in this amazing body of work: financial innovators. High-achieving colleagues attempting to get jobs for their high-achieving children. Foundation executives doing fine and noble things. Prizes, of course, and high academic achievement. Read the rest of this entry »
More and more people are signing up to be frozen for a chance at life after death. So the question is, would you?
Zack Guzman writes: In the desert climate of Scottsdale, Arizona, rest 147 brains and bodies, all frozen in liquid nitrogen with the goal of being revived one day.
It’s not science fiction — to some it might not even be science — yet thousands of people around the world have put their trust, lives and fortunes into the promise of cryonics, the practice of preserving a body with antifreeze shortly after death in hopes future medicine might be able to bring the deceased back.
“If you think back half a century or so, if somebody stopped breathing and their heart stopped beating we would’ve checked them and said they’re dead,” said Max More, CEO of the Scottsdale-based Alcor. “Our view is that when we call someone dead it’s a bit of an arbitrary line. In fact they are in need of a rescue.”
That “rescue” begins the moment a doctor declares a patient dead. Alcor’s team then prepares an ice bath and begins administering 16 medications and variations of antifreeze until the patient’s temperature drops to near freezing.
“The critical thing is how fast we get to someone and how quickly we start the cooling process,” More said. In order to ensure that can happen, Alcor stations equipped teams in the U.K., Canada and Germany and offers members a $10,000 incentive to legally die in Scottsdale, where the record for getting a patient cooled down and prepped for an operation is 35 minutes.
Next, a contracted surgeon removes a patient’s head if the member selected Alcor’s “Neuro” option, as it’s euphemistically called, in hopes that a new body can be grown with a member’s DNA once it comes time to be thawed out. It’s also the much cheaper route. At a price tag of $80,000, it’s less than half the cost of preserving your whole body. “That requires a minimum of $200,000, which isn’t as much as it sounds, because most people pay with life insurance,” More said.
In fact, such a business model is pretty consistent in the nonprofit cryonics community. Michigan-based Cryonics Institute offers a similar payment structure, albeit at the more affordable cost of just $28,000 for whole-body preservation. Which begs the question: Why the price discrepancy?
“We’ve been very conservative in the way we plan the financing,” More said. “Of that $200,000, about $115,000 of it goes into the patient care trust fund,” which is meant to cover eventual costs and is controlled by a board of trustees (a certain number of which is required to have loved ones currently in cryopreservation). More says the trust currently boasts a total of over $10 million, which is supported by Alcor’s most recent nonprofit 990 filings.
Who is doing this?
When More came to the U.S. in 1986 from Britain to train at Alcor, it was run by volunteers and he signed up as Alcor’s 67th member. Since then, the company has hired a full-time staff of eight employees, boosted its membership to more than 1,000, and is looking into doubling the size of its patient care bay.
‘ It might sound like something you’d see in a science fiction movie, but my prediction is that in the next three to five years, implantable devices will become about as normal as wearing the latest watch.’
Bijan Khosravi writes: That is right, the implantable. In the past decade of tech innovation, connectivity has been the name of the game. Call your friend in the middle of the night in Antarctica. Facetime with your sister on vacation in India. Talk about the movie you saw with friends in London. Anything is possible with the push of a button and now with the Apple Watch, you can do it all with the twist of a dial. But this is just the beginning of what Silicon Valley has in store for us in the name of connectivity. We’re about to enter the next level of high tech innovation – connecting with yourself.
And the most efficient and accurate way to do that is with the next wave of sensor based smart devices – those you can implant into your body. It might sound like something you’d see in a science fiction movie, but my prediction is that in the next three to five years, implantable devices will become about as normal as wearing the latest watch.
The movement into an era of implantables is already in full swing with wearables and attachables like FitBit. These are just the first generation of gadgets that go beyond monitoring and measuring your body movements. Startups like Thync are pushing the envelope with their neurosignaling patch that uses low voltage electrical currents to alter a person’s mood and energy. Read the rest of this entry »
Reddit CEO Ellen Pao has resigned after a week of uproar over the company’s firing of long-time staffer Victoria Taylor. Pao, who was serving as Reddit’s interim CEO, is leaving the company and also resigning her seat on Reddit’s board…(read more)
Pao Out as Reddit CEO; Co-Founder Huffman Takes Over
Ellen Pao is stepping down as Reddit’s CEO, a move that comes amid mounting pressure after a series of management mishaps that has angered its very vocal online community. Steve Huffman, Reddit co-founder and its original CEO, is taking over immediately.
In an interview this afternoon, Pao said the departure was a “mutual decision” with the board, due in part to different views on growth potential. “They had a more aggressive view than I did,” she said.
When I asked her directly if she was fired, Pao laughed and said, “Thanks for getting right to the point,” but again underscored that she resigned. Reddit board member and Y Combinator head Sam Altman answered more definitively about whether she was ousted: “No.”
Perhaps it is a matter of semantics, as it seemed that Pao — who has been interim CEO at the company — was inevitably headed for the exit after the ire over the firing of a support staffer for the site’s many moderators morphed and mutated into loud and sometimes vile calls for her ouster….(read more)
Chart: The backlash against Reddit CEO Ellen Pao
For Quartz, Alice Truong reports: Ever since a popular moderator was fired July 2, users have been taking aim at Ellen Pao, the social message board’s interim CEO. They’ve shut down hundreds of forums in protest, abandoned the site for new competitors, and called for Pao’s resignation with a Change.org petition (211,000 signatures and counting)…
…The chart above created by Imgur user fantasia123, which was shared on Reddit, charts Pao’s comment karma. (A bit of background: On Reddit, accumulating karma is akin to collecting points in a video game. Users get karma when their posts or comments are upvoted by other community members, and they lose it when they are downvoted. Though karma can’t be redeemed for anything, it’s like a badge of honor and publicly displayed next to people’s usernames.) Read the rest of this entry »
Bryan Lufkin writes: Robots are entering the workforce. Some will work alongside you. Others, sadly, will put you out of work. The question is, which jobs are actually on the chopping block?
The answer to that has been bathed in media hype, but we talked to experts who gave us some realistic answers about which human careers might be endangered — and why.
Warehouse and factory workers
Robots are already working in distribution centres. This kind of setting is fertile ground for robot takeover, because bots are good at repetitive tasks that don’t require them to adapt to new situations on the fly. Adjusting to dynamic environments, improvising reactions, and nuancing your behaviour based on the changing situation are still very human things to do. Robot developers have a hard time perfecting those behaviours in robots, which is why we don’t see a Rosie the tidying, talking, wisecracking housemaid bot yet.
But in factories, robots can be programmed to do one thing, in one place, over and over again. It’s called “narrow AI.” A robot can be stationed in one spot on the distribution warehouse floor, lifting palettes that are all the same shape and size, and placing them on a conveyor belt whose location never changes. In fact, this is already happening in shipping centres like United Parcel Service in the US, where 7,000 packages are sorted every minute.
Chauffeurs, cab drivers, etc.
Add professional car drivers to the vulnerable list. We’re already in the midst of this transition. “I think cars, especially cars for hire, will probably be autonomous,” says Richard Alan Peters, an associate professor of electrical engineering at Vanderbilt University and CTO at Universal Robotics.
Obviously, companies like Google have some crash-related kinks to iron out of their self-driving experiments. Plus a nightmarish morass of legislation awaits this industry of automatic magic cars that cruise busy streets without a human at the helm. But it’s happening: Look at Carnegie Mellon University, where Uber has a whole lab set up solely for self-driving cars.
“Especially [security guards] that are out observing the perimeter after hours. Checking doors and halls will be automated,” Peters says. Basically, any job that’s super repetitive could be a target for robot replacement. To compound that, any repetitive job that the robot can do better than a human is especiallyvulnerable.
Robo security guards already kind of exist. Microsoft announced last year that they have toyed with Dalek-shaped sentries roaming their Silicon Valley campus. These five-foot tall, lidar-equipped bots scan intruders, recognise licence plates, and comb social media activity for any hints of danger in the area. The makers of these robots say the intention is not to replace human security guards. We’ll see about that, though, as the tech continues to advance.
Here, we’re talking about facility cleaning that doesn’t require fine motor skills. So folks who might come to your office and power blast your cafeteria floor, for example, could be replaced by robots. Polishing, vacuuming, scrubbing… that’s what robots will be doing (and already are doing in many homes with Roombas). However, not all custodians need worry (yet).
“The history of robotics shows that most tasks — e.g., tidying a room — are much harder for robots than one might think,” says Seth Lloyd, a mechanical engineering professor at MIT. Tasks like cleaning an apparatus that’s a bit more complex — say a toilet or sink — will still require humans who have articulated manipulators and nimble fingers covered with sensor-packed skin.
Lloyd is “pretty sceptical” about robots taking over jobs. He quips that based on how some people talk so grandly about robots in the workforce, that although “robots still won’t be able to tidy a room,” we will have “robotic teenagers able to mess up rooms in new and creative ways.”
“A lot of research is going into cooperative assembly by robots,” Peters explains. He says that assembly of huge objects like ships and planes will be largely automated soon. Again, the main reason is a lot of manual labour is involved: pick up that piece of drywall, hold something in place, screw something in. Read the rest of this entry »
UPDATE: Alix Tichelman DEPORTED! Prostitute Who Gave Fatal Heroin Shot to Google Executive Gets Her Skanky Ass Deported Back to Canada
The family of the prostitute sentenced to six years in prison for her role in the death of a Google executive have continued to show their support both in person and on social media during her trial.
“Alix Tichelman, 27, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to involuntary manslaughter and administering drugs to married father-of-five Forrest Timothy Hayes who died of a heroin overdose aboard his yacht in November 2013.”
Tichelman’s parents Bart and Leslieann were present in a Santa Cruz County Superior Court offering support for their daughter’s Tuesday sentencing.
“Since leaving her parents’ home, her life appears to have been a complete rejection of her privileged upbringing.”
The couple – and their other daughter Monica who is three years Alix’s junior – haven’t spoken publicly since their daughter’s arrest. But, as well as supporting her in court, they’ve also used Facebook to show that in spite of her crimes and troubled, past they still stand by her.
“Alix has been a heroin addict and turned to high-class prostitution to support herself.”
Sister Monica, 24, posted a photo on Facebook on May 10 of the family to which her mom wrote, ‘missing my girls today’ and ‘love you more’.
[Read more here: How Alix Tichelman injected Google’s Forrest Timothy Hayes with heroin – Daily Mail]
Alix Tichelman grew up in a wealthy, upper-class family, first in Atlanta, Georgia, and then California.
Since leaving her parents’ home, her life appears to have been a complete rejection of her privileged upbringing. Alix has been a heroin addict and turned to high-class prostitution to support herself.
Yet despite her failings, the family has maintained a united front.
In court on Tuesday, Jerry Christensen, one of Tichelman’s public defenders, said that Alix didn’t want to stand trial because she did not want to put her family through it…(read more)
Interview: Martin Ford, Author Of ‘Rise Of The Robots’
From the self-checkout aisle of the grocery store to the sports section of the newspaper, robots and computer software are increasingly taking the place of humans in the workforce. Silicon Valley executive Martin Ford says that robots, once thought of as a threat to only manufacturing jobs, are poised to replace humans as teachers, journalists, lawyers and others in the service sector.
“As we look forward from this point, we need to keep in mind that this technology is going to continue to accelerate. So I think there’s every reason to believe it’s going to become the primary driver of inequality in the future, and things are likely to get even more extreme than they are now.”
“There’s already a hardware store [in California] that has a customer service robot that, for example, is capable of leading customers to the proper place on the shelves in order to find an item,” Ford tells Fresh Air’s Dave Davies.
In his new book, Rise of the Robots, Ford considers the social and economic disruption that is likely to result when educated workers can no longer find employment.
“As we look forward from this point, we need to keep in mind that this technology is going to continue to accelerate,” Ford says. “So I think there’s every reason to believe it’s going to become the primary driver of inequality in the future, and things are likely to get even more extreme than they are now.”
Any jobs that are truly repetitive or rote — doing the same thing again and again — in advanced economies like the United States or Germany, those jobs are long gone. They’ve already been replaced by robots years and years ago.
So what we’ve seen in manufacturing is that the jobs that are actually left for people to do tend to be the ones that require more flexibility or require visual perception and dexterity. Very often these jobs kind of fill in the gaps between machines.
For example, feeding parts into the next part of the production process or very often they’re at the end of the process — perhaps loading and unloading trucks and moving raw materials and finished products around, those types of things. Read the rest of this entry »
Mark Gurman writes: Tesla has taken its recruiting of Apple employees to the next level: the electric car and energy company has hired away Apple’s Senior Director of Corporate Recruiting, Cindy Nicola, to become Tesla’s new Vice President of Global Recruiting. Nicola has already noted her new role and start month of May on her LinkedIn profile.
Notably, Apple actually hired away Tesla’s Lead Recruiter in 2014 for its own electric car project, as we noted in our extensive profile of Apple’s automotive related hires. Interestingly, that former Tesla recruiter Lauren Ciminera has already left Apple to work on a new “confidential” project, according to her own LinkedIn page and confirmation from a source… Read the rest of this entry »
The same high-end appliance Starbucks uses to fine-tune brews
Silicon Valley types know how to optimize their lives.
Molly Mulshine reports: They monitor workouts with high-tech armbands and step-counters and control their homes’ temperatures from the comfort of their iPhones. The hard-core have even removed the guesswork from their diets, ingesting nutrients in the form of a few fine-tuned daily protein shakes and vitamins from IV drips. Don’t you just hate them?
So it is not surprising that the tech world’s top brass put their heads together to create the perfect coffee machine, the Blossom Brewer. Made specifically for cafes and restaurants, of course, the tech elite have snaffled them up for their homes.
The Editors, National Review: We are halfway there: On Friday, the state assembly of Wisconsin voted to make the state the 25th to pass right-to-work legislation, and Governor Scott Walker is expected to sign the bill with some satisfaction. That’s 25 down, 25 to go. (Our optimism is not so unanchored as to consider the sorry case of the District of Columbia.)
Right-to-work laws end the practice of union bosses’ enriching their organizations through a legal variety of extortion under which all workers are required to pay the equivalent of union dues, whether they wish to be represented by a particular union or do not. The traditional position of Democrats, toward whose campaign coffers a great deal of that money is destined, is that this practice is necessary to ensure “fairness” — that workers enjoy the unions’ protection whether they want it or not. But the correct term for an arrangement like that isn’t “fairness” — it is “protection racket,” and Governor Walker’s signature will put an end to this particular brand of racketeering.
“The face of the American union member in 2015 is not a working man in a hardhat or Rosie the Riveter, but a bored DMV clerk twiddling his thumbs on a government-mandated break while a taxpayer waits six hours to renew a driver’s license.”
A great deal of attention is being paid, and will be paid, to what this means for the presidential aspirations of Wisconsin’s governor, who confronted and trounced entrenched public-sector interests and then trounced them again when they tried to recall him. Governor Walker is an impressive man offering a welcome infusion of ordinary good governance to the Republican presidential pageant, but the political concerns here are secondary. The most important consideration is the excision of a cancer from the American economy and the American body politic.
“Unions are not a mechanism by which the rights of ordinary workers are secured; they are a mechanism by which the enormous streams of taxpayers’ dollars shunted into inefficient and criminally wasteful bureaucracies are laundered into campaign donations and political muscle for Democrats.”
The prominent American labor unions mainly are in steep decline, but, because of certain legal privileges, they punch above their weight politically and economically; they are corrupt, sometimes in the formal legal sense and often the more general moral sense; they are an appendage of the Democratic party whose remarkably well-compensated bosses ransack their members’ paychecks in order to exchange political donations for political favors; and, perhaps most important, they are today a prominent presence mainly in the public sector… Read the rest of this entry »
Joel Kotkin writes: You are a political party, and you want to secure the electoral majority. But what happens, as is occurring to the Democrats, when the damned electorate that just won’t live the way—in dense cities and apartments—that you have deemed is best for them?
This gap between party ideology and demographic reality has led to a disconnect that not only devastated the Democrats this year, but could hurt them in the decades to come. University of Washington demographer Richard Morrill notes that the vast majority of the 153 million Americans who live in metropolitan areas with populations of more than 500,000 live in the lower-density suburban places Democrats think they should not. Only 60 million live in core cities.
Despite these realities, the Democratic Party under Barack Obama has increasingly allied itself with its relatively small core urban base. Simply put, the party cannot win—certainly not in off-year elections—if it doesn’t score well with suburbanites. Indeed, Democrats, as they retreat to their coastal redoubts, have become ever more aggressively anti-suburban, particularly in deep blue states such as California. “To minimize sprawl” has become a bedrock catchphrase of the core political ideology.
As will become even more obvious in the lame duck years, the political obsessions of the Obama Democrats largely mirror those of the cities: climate change, gay marriage, feminism, amnesty for the undocumented, and racial redress. These may sometimes be worthy causes, but they don’t address basic issues that effect suburbanites, such as stagnant middle class wages, poor roads, high housing prices, or underperforming schools. None of these concerns elicit much passion among the party’s true believers. Read the rest of this entry »
A man from Detroit has offered to sell his house for an iPhone 6
The unnamed individual originally listed his three-bedroom property for $5,000 (£3,100) in June, but has now slashed the price to either $3,000, or the latest version of Apple’s iconic smartphone. He would also accept a 32GB iPad, and is willing to negotiate, according to his estate agent, Larry Else.
“Detroit’s not a monster. It’s just ahead of the curve”
— Kevin D. Williamson
The 2,400-square foot house is in poor condition, with broken windows and peeling paint, in one of Detroit’s poorest districts. Even so, the trade has highlighted the contrast between America’s thriving technology industry in Silicon Valley and the economic blight still affecting other parts of the country. Read the rest of this entry »
For the New York Post, Kyle Smith writes: Ever get the sense that the middle class is downwardly mobile, being pressed to the floor and squeezed to the limit? It’s not happening by accident. Someone is doing the squeezing: a new class of entertainment and tech plutocrats, cheered on and abetted by a priesthood of media, government and academic elites.
“Almost every institution of power, from government and large corporations to banks and Wall Street, suffers the lowest public esteem ever recorded.”
Joel Kotkin’s “The New Class Conflict” (Telos Press Publishing) paints a dire picture of the undeclared war on the middle class. What he calls the Oligarchy (Silicon Valley and Hollywood) and the Clerisy (the media, bureaucrats, universities and nonprofits) enrich themselves and gratify their own strange obsessions at the expense of the middle class.
This New Class, for instance, venerates the city and despises suburbia. They think you should feel the same way — and in innumerable magazine and newspaper pieces, they twist facts to make it sound as if America loves living in apartments and taking trains to work.
Though New York and a few other cities have seen population growth over the last 20 years, the real surges are out there, where the space is.
In 2012, nine of the 10 fastest growing metropolitan regions were in the Sun Belt, mainly in the Southwest. In 2013, lightly regulated Houston saw more housing starts than the entire state of California, writes Kotkin.
“With 12 percent of the nation’s population, California is home to about a third of its welfare recipients, while its 111 billionaires hold a collective $485 billion in wealth. The middle class is now an actual minority in the state.”
So, suburbanites are punished. In California, where the New Class reigns supreme, the middle class is being garroted by environmental and anti-sprawl strictures. Those who wish to live in houses are pushed farther and farther from their jobs, spending more and more on commuting and energy costs. Proposals being debated now would, for instance, allow only 3 percent more housing by 2035 in the exurban part of the Bay Area. Read the rest of this entry »
We’ve heard a lot of election-year class warfare talk, from makers vs. takers to the 1% vs. the 99%. But Joel Kotkin‘s important new book, The New Class Conflict, suggests that America’s real class problems are deeper, and more damaging, than election rhetoric. Traditionally, America has been thought of as a place of great mobility — one where anyone can conceivably grow up to be president, regardless of background.
“Clerisy” class does the bidding of tech oligarchs to detriment of the middle class.
This has never been entirely true, of course. Most of our presidents have come from reasonably well-off backgrounds, and even Barack Obama, a barrier-breaker in some ways, came from an affluent background and enjoyed an expensive private-school upbringing. But the problem Kotkin describes goes beyond shots at the White House.
In a nutshell, Kotkin sees California, once again, in its role as an indicator of where the nation is headed. And it’s not an attractive destination.
Once a state where the middle class reigned supreme, the apotheosis of the American Dream, California now has the wealth distribution — and, in some disturbing ways, the political underpinnings — of a Third World country. In Silicon Valley, a group of super-wealthy tech oligarchs live lives of almost unimaginable wealth, while only a few miles away, illegal immigrants live in squalor.
The oligarchs feel free, and even entitled, to choose the direction of society in the name of a greater good, but somehow their policies seem mostly to make the oligarchs richer and more powerful. Read the rest of this entry »
Police hunted down the prostitute accused of watching a Google exec overdose—and found a trail of dead and damaged men in her past
But the detectives could see no drugs and no syringe on the yacht where 51-year-old Forrest Timothy Hayes had been found dead from a heroin overdose. What the detectives did see was a pair of wine glasses on a table. They also noted that somebody appeared to have straightened up the cabin.
“We’re like, ‘Holy smoke, this isn’t her first rodeo.'”
The body had been discovered on the floor of the main cabin by the captain, who had been retained by Hayes after he purchased the 50-foot powerboat. Hayes had started out as an automotive executive in his native Michigan, which was in keeping with his decision to eschew eco-friendly sails such as were favored by other Silicon Valley types and buy a craft powered by big fuel guzzlers.
But he had come West to take increasingly senior positions with Sun Microsystems and then Apple and finally with Google X, the research and development division whose projects included the perfect one for a one-time car guy: the self-driving auto. Hayes had become enough of a techie that he had installed a wireless surveillance camera system on his yacht. Read the rest of this entry »
EUGENE VOLOKH writes:
The New York Times Bits blog reports:
Google on Wednesday released statistics on the makeup of its work force, providing numbers that offer a stark glance at how Silicon Valley remains a white man’s world.
But wait — just a few paragraphs down, the post notes that non-Hispanic whites are 61 percent of the Google work force, slightly below the national average. (That average, according to 2006-10 numbers, is 67 percent.) Google is thus less white than the typical American company. White men are probably slightly overrepresented; assuming that the 30 percent number it gives for women Google employees worldwide carries over to the U.S. (the article gives no separate number for U.S. women Google employees), white men are 42 percent of the Google work force, and 35 percent of the U.S. work force — not a vast disparity. Indeed, if the goal is “reflecting the demographics of the country” as to race –
Google’s disclosures come amid an escalating debate over the lack of diversity in the tech industry. Although tech is a key driver of the economy and makes products that many Americans use everyday, it does not come close to reflecting the demographics of the country — in terms of sex, age or race.
– Google can only accomplish that by firing well over three-quarters of its Asian employees, and replacing them with blacks and Hispanics (and a few whites, to bring white numbers up from 61 percent to 67 percent). Read the rest of this entry »
They’re a mighty tool—for enabling Groupthink
For National Review, Charles C. W. Cooke writes: About a decade or so ago, the perennially grumpy British comedian, Jack Dee, started to complain about the fawning language that was being used to describe the Internet. They call it “the Information superhighway,” Dee griped. “They call it ‘surfing’ the net. It’s not surfing. It’s typing in your bedroom.”
“…we are obsessed with how many people are talking about a particular topic, and where the swarm is trending. But we are less interested, it seems, in what they are saying.”
This was a thoroughly well deserved putdown — the “they” in Dee’s sentence referring to an industry that was becoming almost impossibly self-important, and that has only got worse since. I say this as a techie who hates techies and as a lover of computers and the Internet who is invariably appalled by what the promise of new services does to the brains of otherwise sensible human beings. Spend a few hours in San Francisco or Austin and you will meet a host of caricatures who appear to have had all everyday words surgically removed from their brains, a greasy marketing dictionary being installed in their place. These are the annoyingly earnest types who have taken the language of the operating system and applied it to their daily lives — the people who work not in industries but in “spaces.” You don’t chat with them, you “interface.” You don’t go out for lunch, you “aggregate,” and, if the lunch plans go “viral,” you hope that the restaurant is “scalable.” In discussions, you don’t agree with one another, but “express yourself together,” “find a common voice,” and “converge.” Each and every idea is the product of a “paradigm” or a “framework.” It’s tiring. Have a photograph you’d like to share with your parents? That’s an “exciting new possibility for customization.” Here, nothing is just okay; everything is revolutionary. A phrase you don’t hear too often in Silicon Valley: “Sure, that’s useful I guess.” Read the rest of this entry »
Death is inescapable, but so is a craving for immortality. And for carbohydrates. You’d better skip those if you want to see 120…
For The Weekly Standard, Charlotte Allen writes: Aubrey de Grey, 51, is the man who insists that within a few decades technology will enable us human beings to beat death and live forever. Actually, he’s not the only one to make these assertions—that death is a problem to be solved, not a fate to be endured—but he is the only one I know of togive eternal life an exciting, just-around-the-corner timeline. “Someone is alive right now who is going to live to be 1,000 years old,” he told me when I interviewed him last fall at the SENS (for “Strategically Engineered Negligible Senescence”) Research Foundation headquarters, a well-worn 3,000-square-foot cement building in the Silicon Valley flatlands where de Grey holds the title of chief science officer. He has made this prophecy to a number of reporters—and this is what makes de Grey the most famous of a growing number of people who have staked their lifestyles and futures on the prospect of never dying. He is constantly interviewed by the press, has written a 2007 book, Ending Aging, and has given at least two of the TED talks that are a genius-certification ritual for public intellectuals these days.
The British-born de Grey, with a doctorate in biology from Cambridge, is also the single most colorful figure in the living-forever movement, where colorful figures generously abound. “I look as though I’m in my 30s,” he informed me after we settled, first into a cluttered conference room dominated by an enormous scribbled-over whiteboard, and then into a low-ceilinged lounge whose mélange of hard-bounce chairs and sofas looks as though it was scrounged from sidewalk discards. And maybe he does look that young, but it’s hard to tell, because his waist-length, waterfall-style beard—a de Grey trademark—gives him the look of an extremely spry Methuselah, who, according to the Bible, made it only to 969 years. De Grey is actually of the phenotype Ageless British Eccentric: English Rose cheeks, piercing blue eyes, and someone-please-make-him-a-sandwich slenderness; his tomato-red shirt and gray slacks hang from angular shoulders and legs. Bony frames that verge on gauntness are a hallmark of the living-forever movement, most of whose members hew to severe dietary restrictions in order to prolong their lives while they wait for science to catch up with death. De Grey, by contrast, claims to eat whatever he likes and also to drink massive quantities of carb-loaded English ale, working it all off by punting on the River Cam in the four months a year he spends doing research back at Cambridge. (During the rest of the year he lives in Los Gatos, a picturesque Victorian town in the Santa Cruz Mountains 14 miles southeast of Mountain View.)
De Grey subscribes to the reigning theory of the live-forever movement: that aging, the process by which living things ultimately wear themselves out and die, isn’t an inevitable part of the human condition. Instead, aging is just another disease, not really different in kind from any of the other serious ailments, such as heart failure or cancer, that kill us. And as with other diseases, de Grey believes that aging has a cure or series of cures that scientists will eventually discover. “Aging is a side effect of being alive,” he said during our interview. “The human body is exactly the same as a car or an airplane. It’s a machine, and any machine, if you run it, will effect changes on itself that require repairs. Living systems have a great deal of capacity for self-repair, but over time some of those changes only accumulate very slowly, so we don’t notice them until we are very old.” Read the rest of this entry »
In Congress, the vulnerability of the power grid has emerged as among the most pressing domestic security concerns
For the LATimes, Evan Halper writes: Adam Crain assumed that tapping into the computer networks used by power companies to keep electricity zipping through transmission lines would be nearly impossible in these days of heightened vigilance over cybersecurity.
When he discovered how wrong he was, his work sent Homeland Security Department officials into a scramble.
Crain, the owner of a small tech firm in Raleigh, N.C., along with a research partner, found penetrating transmission systems used by dozens of utilities to be startlingly easy. After they shared their discovery with beleaguered utility security officials, the Homeland Security Department began sending alerts to power grid operators, advising them to upgrade their software.
The alerts haven’t stopped because Crain keeps finding new security holes he can exploit.
“There are a lot of people going through various stages of denial” about how easily terrorists could disrupt the power grid, he said. “If I could write a tool that does this, you can be sure a nation state or someone with more resources could.”
“Many of the grid’s important components sit out in the open, often in remote locations, protected by little more than cameras and chain-link fences.”
Those sorts of warnings, along with vivid demonstrations of the grid’s vulnerability, such as an incident a year ago in which unknown assailants fired on a power station near San Jose, nearly knocking out electricity to Silicon Valley, have grabbed official attention. In Congress, the vulnerability of the power grid has emerged as among the most pressing domestic security concerns.
It is also among the most vexing. Read the rest of this entry »
Christopher Mims writes: A pair of advocates—they do legitimate research too, but their ardor is so intense, it’s hard to call them scientists—believe that they will, within their lifetimes, make ours the first generation of humans to live forever.
“Once we are really truly repairing things as fast as they go wrong, game over. We will have the ability to live indefinitely.”
— Aubrey de Grey
Their quest is elegantly laid out in The Immortalists, a new documentary making its way around the film festival circuit. The Immortalists follows the triumphs and tragedies of three years in the lives of William H. Andrews and Aubrey de Grey, two men who prove just as interesting as the work they’re doing. The Immortalists is really a film about death, not life, which is what makes it so fascinating.
Here’s the trailer:
The goal of Andrews and de Grey is not merely to extend life, but to actually reverse the aging process. “Once we are really truly repairing things as fast as they go wrong, game over,” de Grey says in the film. “We will have the ability to live indefinitely.”
For The Blaze, Oliver Darcy writes: A seemingly long-shot proposal to split California into six smaller U.S. states cleared a major hurdle this week, with the golden state’s secretary of state’s office saying that proponents “may begin collecting petition signatures.”
States would reportedly include Silicon Valley, South California, West California, Central California, North California and Jefferson, if the proposal is ultimately approved.
The initiative is sponsored by Silicon Valley venture capitalist Tim Draper, according to the AFP, and contends that ”political representation of California’s diverse population and economies has rendered the state nearly ungovernable.”
Sebastian Blanco writes: There’s no lack of connections between two of the most darling Silicon Valley companies, Apple and Tesla Motors. Most recently, the electric car manufacturerhired away Apple’s “Hacker Princess,” Kristin Paget, but it’s possible to look back as far as 2010 to see when Tesla hired the man who worked on the Apple Store experience, George Blankenship, to get the Tesla Stores in order (he left in late 2013). More recently, there’s been outside calls for the two to link arms, namely from banking analyst Adnaan Ahmad who said Apple should just up and buy Tesla (some have also predicted that General Motors could do just that in 2014) in late 2013. But nothing in this list ties the two companies together as strongly as a new report in the San Francisco Chronicle: Apple’s chief of mergers and acquisitions, Adrian Perica, secretly met with Tesla CEO Elon Musk last spring.
Chris O’Brien writes: This morning much of the tech world is celebrating the 30th anniversary of the original Macintosh computer.
It was Jan. 24, 1984, when a young Steve Jobs — sporting a goofy bow tie — stepped onto a stage in Cupertino, Calif., and unveiled the Macintosh. However deeply cynical we have grown about product launches, there is no doubt about how genuine the enthusiasm was in the auditorium that day.
Just watch the above video to the end and see the audience go completely bonkers. As a bonus, you get to see Jobs showing early signs of his stagecraft.
The event stands as one of Silicon Valley’s most mythic — a single moment that everyone can point to and say, “That was when everything changed.”
And that’s sort of true. But the reality, as always, is more complex.
A startup called Siluria thinks it’s solved a mystery that has stymied huge oil companies for decades.
For MIT Technology Review, Kevin Bullis writes: At a pilot plant in Menlo Park, California, a technician pours white pellets into a steel tube and then taps it with a wrench to make sure they settle together. He closes the tube, and oxygen and methane—the main ingredient of natural gas—flow in. Seconds later, water and ethylene, the world’s largest commodity chemical, flow out. Another simple step converts the ethylene into gasoline.
The white pellets are a catalyst developed by the Silicon Valley startup Siluria, which has raised $63.5 million in venture capital. If the catalysts work as well in a large, commercial scale plant as they do in tests, Siluria says, the company could produce gasoline from natural gas at about half the cost of making it from crude oil—at least at today’s cheap natural-gas prices.
If Siluria really can make cheap gasoline from natural gas it will have achieved something that has eluded the world’s top chemists and oil and gas companies for decades. Indeed, finding an inexpensive and direct way to upgrade natural gas into more valuable and useful chemicals and fuels could finally mean a cheap replacement for petroleum.
Joel Kotkin writes: Much has been written, often with considerable glee, about the worsening divide in the Republican Party between its corporate and Tea Party wings. Yet the Democrats may soon face their own schism as a result of the growing power in the party of high-tech business interests.
Gaining the support of tech moguls is a huge win for the Democrats — at least initially. They are not only a huge source of money, they also can provide critical expertise that the Republicans have been far slower to employ. There have always been affluent individuals who backed liberal or Democratic causes, either out of conviction or self-interest, but the tech moguls may be the first large capitalist constituency outside Hollywood to identify almost entirely with the progressives.
This alliance of high tech and Democrats is relatively new. In the 1970s and 1980s the politics of Silicon Valley’s leaders tended more to middle-of-the-road Republican. But the new generation oligarchs are very different from the traditional “propeller heads” who once populated the Valley. More media savvy and less dependent on manufacturing, the new leaders have less interest in the kind of infrastructure and business policies generally favored by more traditional businesses. They also tend to have progressive views on gay marriage and climate change that align with the gospel of the Obama Democratic Party.
William Bigelow writes: Now that Barack Obama has been reelected, the MSM feels free to criticize him, including the giant investment his administration made during its first term to green tech companies that failed then or are failing now.
In a report on 60 Minutes, Lesley Stahl finally woke up to that fact, pinning down Vinod Khosla, a billionaire from his Silicon Valley investments, “known as the father of the Cleantech revolution.” Khosla was the recipient of federal largess to help him in his bid for gasoline made from wood chips.
Stahl also spoke with former undersecretary to the Energy Department Steven Koonin, who signed off on dozens of government aids to emerging start-ups in the clean energy field; and Pin Ni, a Chinese man who owns the autoparts company Wanxiang and has bought numerous failed clean-tech companies that were subsidized by American tax dollars.