The CruX 12/04/18 — In The Dust Of Our Planet

This is The CruX for 12/04/18: Periodic link curation, the narratives, investigative reporting, arguments, and dot-connecting we need for refining and weaponizing our own sense-making networks.

Today’s theme: In The Dust Of Our Planet

+“The New Brothels: How Shady Landlords Play a Key Role in the Sex Trade” | The New York Times

““So mainly all of my real estate is put together from shelters,” [Mr. Schwartz] testified in 2016.

On numerous occasions, the city paid Mr. Schwartz to house the homeless in some of his buildings, court records show, including one at 880 Gates Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, where the authorities said a brothel operated.

But the brothel buildings comprised only a fraction of Mr. Schwartz’s larger portfolio. Through a network of shell companies, he owns at least 48 properties worth more than a combined $87 million, city records show. The companies all can be tied back to an entity called Pacific Management, which Mr. Schwartz still runs, with a partner, Mendy Lowy, from a cramped and cluttered office on Coney Island Avenue above a Pakistani bakery. (Ms. Lowy did not respond to several phone calls seeking comment.)”

->This story and others about sex workers transforming the nature of sex work has me wondering about the extent to which innovations in marginal or illegal fields are driven by new and novel ways to remove the friction of certain kinds of monetary exchange. (Bitcoin is a very interesting example here. Though anonymous it’s very difficult to use in transactions.) After personal safety, I’d guess ease of payment is a sex worker’s primary concern. What would the world look like if there were more frictionless payment schemes in spaces that also provide more personal security/safety?


+“Does the ‘foreskin facial’ mark the end of the world?” | The Guardian

Quick question: is this the end of the world? Not at all. It is perfectly normal to want to have the liquidised foreskins of multiple babies rubbed all over your face.

You’re sure? Because this sounds exactly like something that would happen before or in the aftermath of the collapse of civilisation. Don’t be daft. Kate Beckinsale had it done. She seems like a nice, normal person, right?

The same Kate Beckinsale who dresses up as a pantomime horse? That’s right.

I’ll hate myself for this, but can you explain the foreskin facial? Of course! Epidermal growth factor (EGF) serum is derived from the progenitor cells of the human fibroblast taken from the foreskins of newborn babies.

And what does it do? Glad you asked. It helps to generate collagen and elastin, which can help to boost the radiance of your face. Fun sidenote: it also smells exactly like sperm!

->If baby cell treatments work for Kate Beckinsale it’s fine by me, but only if I can get 1 or 2 more Underworld movies out of the deal.


+“Homeless man and couple ‘completely made up’ viral story that raised $400,000” | The Guardian

“Less than an hour after the couple set up the page to solicit donations, McClure sent a text message to a friend acknowledging the story was “completely made up”.

Prosecutors began investigating after Bobbitt claimed he wasn’t getting the money that had been raised on his behalf. He later sued the couple.

It’s not exactly clear what happened with the money, though Bobbitt’s attorney has said it’s all gone.”

->I’m wondering how this troika of non-savants ever thought they could keep their ruse going by continually talking to the press.


+“The Watchmen movie proves you can be faithful to a comic and still miss its whole damn point” | The AV Club

“The problem, of course, was that Alan Moore and Frank Miller could not possibly be more different from each other. Miller’s 300 was a nakedly fascistic work, a fetishy lionization of the arguable heroes who put a bloody end to the spread of Persian culture. Miller turns his heroes into tragic macho bloodletters, but he loves them. Moore, on the other hand, looks at the entire idea of heroism, super or otherwise, as an attempt at control. In the alternate reality of Moore’s Watchmen world, superheroes assassinate JFK, murder Woodward and Bernstein, and slaughter innocents in Vietnam, all before the insane Grand Guignol conclusion. One character attempts to pay tribute to superheroes by comparing them to the KKK—another group of masked avengers who, as this guy sees it, were just trying to protect their community. Thanks to the efforts of superheroes, Richard Nixon becomes president for life. Moore does not like these guys.”

->Much more interesting than this article’s critique of Watchmen (a film which has borne the burden of too much shoddy critique; it’s actually better than a lot of viewers think and holds up well over time, as Zack Snyder movies tend to) is his comparison of Alan Moore and Frank Miller. For any serious comics reader in the 80s and 90s they were the Hemingway (Miller) and Faulkner (Moore) of that era. We should be grateful they came along right when comics needed them.


+“‘We Only Killed the Bad People’: 2 Khmer Rouge Leaders, Forever Linked” | The New York Times

Eleven years after their arrest, and aftera long and expensive trial, they stand as the only surviving members of a tight-knit Communist leadership to be held responsible for the killing of at least 1.7 million of their countrymen from 1975 to 1979. On Friday, a tribunal found them guilty of genocide.

One of them, Khieu Samphan, 87, was once an admired, incorruptible schoolteacher and member of Cambodia’s Parliament, who fled arrest for his leftist views in the 1960s and joined the young insurgent movement in the countryside. Suave and multilingual, he later became the international face of the Khmer Rouge as its nominal head of state.

The other, Nuon Chea, 92, the movement’s ideologue, was perhaps the truest believer in its attempt to turn Cambodia into an agrarian utopia, killing off its educated people and reorganizing the country into what amounted to a nationwide labor camp. Known as “Brother No. 2” to the late Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot, Mr. Nuon Chea had command responsibility over a wave of murderous purges. He later assured an interviewer that “we only killed the bad people, not the good.”

->The Khmer Rouge is one of history’s awfully ultimate reminders that 1) no society can kill its way to utopia, though 2) it may also be true that utopia might not be possible without a lot of killing.


+“The Destitution of Liberal Arts at Harvard” | The Crimson

“[C]ourses such as Computer Science 50: “Introduction to Computer Science I” have in recent years experienced drastic increases in enrollment. Reporting by The Crimson last year revealed that from 2008 to last year, Computer Science rose from 86 concentrators in 2008 to 363 last year, and Applied Mathematics more than doubled in its count.

Additionally, English and Comparative Literature concentrator numbers have decreased significantly in their counts. Undergraduates might today be hard-pressed to find peers concentrating in these heavily humanities-centric fields.

Therein lies the troubling issue: The foundation of study which has historically made Harvard what it is is dying. And that is an issue which needs to be addressed.”

->As an advocate of liberal arts education, particularly in times when it seems reason, argument, and critique are lost art forms, I also understand the need for LOTS of students to go into STEM programs. Scientific and technological progress over time doesn’t get easier. It gets harder once the low hanging fruit of earlier discoveries are picked (the theory of evolution, relativity, and the Standard Model of particle physics, for example) and further discovery requires more money, times, and brains. The odds that there will be another Darwin, Einstein, or Mendel are slim because the age of the lone revolutionary genius is over. We should bury it along with the delusion that major scientific breakthroughs in the future will occur without massive investments of money, time, and brainpower.


+“Sam’s Employee Stands His Ground, Refuses to Retake Photo After Customer Complains About His ‘Black Panther’ Shirt” | Atlanta Blackstack

“A Sam’s Club employee is outraged after he was asked to re-take his Employee of the Month photo after a customer’s repeated complaints about his “Black Panther” t-shirt.

T.C. Daniels has been an employee at the Lynchburg, Va., Sam’s for 10 years. His strong work ethic and positive attitude was finally rewarded with a spot on the “Employee of the Month” wall in August, station WJLA reported. His photo has remained up since then.

Daniels’ time to shine was soured, however, by a customer who took issue with what he was wearing in the photo and asked that it be taken down. He took to Facebook this week to detail the bogus complaint.

“Yesterday I’m at work and one of my managers calls me into the office,” he wrote. “They tell me a man has called several times to complain about my employee of the month photo. “He believes my shirt is offensive and told them that if it was someone with a KKK shirt on they wouldn’t be allowed to wear that.””

->This is a classic and tragic example of what I call “epistemic cruelty.” I’ve written about it in depth here.


+“Nihilist Dad Jokes” | McSweeney’s

“Why did the scarecrow win a prize? Because he stood alone in his field! He stood there for years, rotting, until he was forgotten.

I tell my kids, you’re allowed to watch the TV all you want… Just don’t turn it on! This way they will begin to understand the futility of all things.

How does a penguin build a house? Igloos it together. Like all animals, it is an automaton, driven by blind genetic imperative, marching slowly to oblivion.

Why don’t skeletons go trick or treating? They have no body to go with them! The skeletons are like us: alone, empty, dead already.”

->If I’m the only one who finds these nihilist jokes hilarious, then we are all doomed to the dust of our planet. No alien race will come looking for us because they’re no longer getting Three Stooges re-runs. When they get here they’ll find that we weren’t worth the trip.


+“Award-Winning Book on Theranos Notes Dangers in Silicon Valley Culture” | BioSpace

““By positioning Theranos as a tech company in the heart of the Valley, Holmes channeled its fake-it-until-you-make-it-culture,” he said in the book.

In the book, Carreyrou speculated that tech companies in Silicon Valley are in danger of repeating some of the errors of the dot-com bubble that erupted in 1999 and 2000, the Times reported. The companies are able to stay private and secretive, which was the hallmark of Theranos – a company that did not provide data for about its medtech for peer-review.

->By now we should all be suspect of any firm that calls itself a technology company when its true business is making widgets.


+“Evangelicals, Looking to 2020, Face the Limits of Their Base” | The New York Times

“Social conservatives are celebrating a slightly expanded Republican majority in the Senate, which advances their top priority, confirming conservative judges, as well as their anti-abortion rights agenda. But steep Republican losses in the House, particularly in suburban areas, have some strategists reflecting on how to proceed as they pivot their efforts to re-electing Mr. Trump in 2020.

“Social conservatives need to maximize turnout from the base and expand the map by stressing the softer side of the faith agenda: education reform, immigration and criminal justice reform, and anti-poverty measures,” said Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, which has extensive outreach to conservative evangelicals in battlegrounds across the country.

“This will help with suburban women, millennials and minorities,” he said.”


+“This Girl Thought We Lived ‘Inside’ Earth, And 2018 Is Now Canceled” | Buzzfeed

“She was today-years-old when she found out that we live on the earth!”  

Let’s suppose this isn’t a hoax. How could it happen? Here’s a guess: So much data, knowledge and information are available to so many people that there could be cases in which a small number of misinformed people passively form perverse belief maps from the ambient knowledge they absorb over time. Thus, such people can be self-radicalized epistemologically without ever realizing it. If true this is a tame if absurd example.


+“Five things to do when you have too many ideas and never finish anything” | QZ

“This is the paradox of choice. More choice often leads to less action. The more ideas and goals we pursue, the less likely we’ll follow through on any one of them. And vice versa.

There are other explanations for why we fail to finish what we start. Lack of time, fear of failure, overwhelm from multiple choices that drain energy and a decline of excitement after starting a new project, can lead to chronic procrastination.

When we get stuck in motion at rest, instead of motion in action, our time and energy are wasted on efforts that produce little results.”


Where are your hammers for these nails?

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IMAGE SOURCE: dust-cloud-593091_1920 (CC0 Creative Commons)

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