Friday links! The future is yesterday edition

Just as we will inevitably build really good robots if we survive long enough, they will inevitably enslave us. That's how time works, right there.

Ever since I learned to write the date as mm/dd/yy in elementary school, I have looked forward to November 11th, 2011. The possibility of writing the date simply by making a series of vertical slashes—11/11/11, with what I envisioned as mounting frenzy—thrilled me, and I looked forward to that distant day as the fulfillment of my particular historical privilege. That I would probably not be completing and dating several worksheets each day at age 34 did not occur to me. I have finally arrived at 11/11/11 with no checks to write or spelling tests to date, and the future seems oddly disappointing. Tomorrow, I will have been alive on November 11th, 2011. My millennial privilege will be behind me, and I will have to confront the classic existential tragedy: what I always thought of as the future is now the past. It’s Friday, prelude to a future weekend, and the present is not as we expected. It’s still pretty weird and crazy, though, if you consider what we expected at age 10.

For example, scientists at UC Berkeley have invented a computer that can show on a screen what you are visualizing in your mind. Seriously. The images it produces by measuring blood flow to different parts of the brain are about as precise and figurative as a Rothko painting, but they still look recognizably like what the subject is seeing. The experimenters used Steve Martin’s remake of The Pink Panther, presumably so that feelings of empathy or enjoyment would not interfere with the machinery. The result is a sort of abstract-expressionist telepathy. Props for the link to James Erwin, who notes on Facebook his confidence that this technology will not be used for anything creepy or horrible.

Once we can read people’s minds with computers, we will no longer have to trouble ourselves with the question of whether they are cynical shitbags relentlessly maintaining a facade of truth-seeking in order to destroy the very concept of honesty. As with James O’Keefe III, we’ll just know. Props to Smick for the link. Until yesterday I was not aware of Mr. O’Keefe, who is perhaps best known for his secret video of low-level ACORN employees apparently advising clients to commit a crime, later revealed to be so heavily edited as to be misleading. O’Keefe’s current project is one in which he confronts journalists for their alleged bias—or just tries to discredit the profession generally, as he lamely attempts in the Gawker video. When you see a 27 year-old with a “III” after his name gleefully smearing muckraking journalists and charitable organizations for the poor, you have to laugh. Otherwise, you’d just hit him. I’m going to say this formally and with absolute sincerity: James O’Keefe, I offer to fight you in an enclosed space on video. You are the worst among us.

Of course, it’s possible O’Keefe is just a product of his time. Economic and social conditions change, and just as opportunity makes certain great endeavors possible, circumstances can thwart what we like best. Consider St. Mark’s Bookshop, where I bought the first book I ever read in New York City. They’ve just struck a deal with Cooper Union that will allow them to stay open by lowering their monthly rent from $20,000 to $17,500. At $20 a copy, now they only need to sell 29 copies of Madame Bovary every day to stay open, assuming they get them for free and don’t pay their employees. I think we can agree that we would like New York to be a place where people read books and do culture and stuff. If a shop on the corner of 9th Street and First Avenue rents for twenty grand a month, what kinds of businesses can survive there? This is how we turn New York into the world’s most impressive agglomeration of Starbucks and Banana Republics.

But redemption is possible. Back when I was pining for 11/11/11 and New York was a place where artists lived, a young heavyweight named Mike Tyson was taking the boxing world by storm. A few years later he was taking women by force, and in the intervening decades Tyson cemented his reputation as one of the worst human beings on the planet. Recently, he seems to have become aware of that. Now Tyson is in the redemption phase, and the question of whether it’s okay to like him is vexing. He’s certainly likable. If you don’t believe me, watch this:


Like Herman Cain, Tyson occasionally looks like a man imprisoned in a Mike Tyson machine. When he was a kid in Brownsville, could he have imagined that he would one day salvage his reputation by impersonating a black front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination? Surely he could not. Yet one can imagine him wondering about 11/11/11, and what it would be like to write the date on that day. Welcome home, little Mike.

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  1. I landed a new job and filled out the HR paperwork on 11/11/11, allowing me the opportunity to write the date repeatedly.

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