BOOK REVIEW: In the future of “Unscaled”, AI will keep the rich different from you and me

“The rich are different from you and me.”

“Yes, they have more money.”

No exchange like that between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway ever took place, but it’s a lot more fun to imagine that it did. The initially curt put-down contains within it the germ of a much more intense concurrence the more you think about it.

Unscaled by Hemant Taneja, or “How AI and a New Generation of Upstarts Are Creating the Economy of the Future” manages to embody both readings of that exchange.

The multimillionaire venture capitalist’s book often reads like a literal vanity-press product, talking of its subjects as an excuse to brag about all of the occasions Taneja’s investments thus far have paid off. That includes investments you’ve heard of like the temporary-messages app Snapchat as well as those you probably haven’t, like the “consumer digital health company“, Livongo.

In that way, the experience of reading Unscaled is very much like anyone who’s ever been cornered at a house party by someone you’ve just met, quite sure everything they do will be as interesting for you to hear as it clearly is for them to recount.

But, the rich are different from you and me, and what interests Taneja versus what does not is almost like reading an alien species talk about the implications of technology for the future.

Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: In the future of “Unscaled”, AI will keep the rich different from you and me”

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We let things get worse instead of making sure they’d get better

‘Screw Attack’ by Allie Merritt (@alliearts)

In the original Metroid for NES in 1986, the instruction manual referred to Samus Aran with male pronouns and (charitably) Samus wore a bikini only to make it inarguably clear the character wasn’t a man considering the hardware’s limitations in pixel count.

In the NES game, Samus had green hairbrown hair, yes, blonde, but neon, too, and the Nintendo Power comic for Super Metroid made the hair purple, as well as famously establishing a body size of 6′3″, 198 pounds (190 cm, 98 kg).

Subsequent to that, Nintendo decided to have a more standardized portrayal of Samus outside of the suit, which is blonde and blue- or green-eyed, and they released Metroid Prime and Metroid Fusion simultaneously in 2002. That’s not necessarily bad, but it’s limiting compared to the other options that existed when Samus could be many different things.

After Metroid: Zero Mission in 2004, Samus started down a road of bimbo-ification, for lack of a better term. The games with more explicit plot and characterization tended to follow Japanese stock tropes of magical superheroine, while in the West, the focus on a skin-tight flight suit had predictable results. Heels and generous breasts, hair that became more ornate even in situations where it would seem unlikely that was suitable.

Between the Smash Bros games and Metroid: Other M, a character that had been different, flexible in interpretation, a sci-fi action star with agency and presence, and notable for all these things, turned into another sex object whose feminity was only highlighted in service of being desired or desiring babies. ‘Smash Bros’ tells you a lot about the intended gaze, and MOM the game is ‘doesn’t look like anything to me’ bad in the choices it made.

Maybe it’s just rose-colored glasses, but I swear Samus didn’t use to be the subject of quite so much tentacle-based sexual assault in the past.

So I don’t think the ‘Screw Attack’ portrayal is definitive or should be the only interpretation of the character that exists, but I deeply miss the time, especially between 1994 and 2002, when Samus was more likely to be seen doing something in their suit than out of it, and, while out of it, they could look like nearly anything and anyone’s idea of them could be valid. Somehow, this actually made the character less interchangeable instead of more.

The past 15 years or so for gaming culture have in many ways been a regression when, for some reason, I expected progress instead. But I guess that’s true of a lot of other things in the culture, generally.

The curious logic of Professor Adam Carroll

Last week, Indiana University School of Medicine professor Adam Carroll filed a piece for the New York Times with a provocative premise. Titled Preventive care saves money? Sorry, it’s too good to be true, it argued that investing in preventative care doesn’t actually yield savings. Here’s its opening and closing: Continue reading “The curious logic of Professor Adam Carroll”

Mark Jackson, “That Man”, and Hitler — how an 85-year-old meme got new life in the NBA

Summary: NBA commentator Mark Jackson’s signature phrase is an old American joke about children not recognizing their father that became so widely popular in the 1930s it crossed the Atlantic and was used derisively of Adolf Hitler prior to WWII.

Full explanation: Mark Jackson’s “Mama, there goes that man (again)” is most closely associated with Kobe Bryant highlights from a decade ago, but Jackson has subsequently used it in his post-coaching announcing career as an acknowledged catchphrase for LeBron James and Kevin Durant, among others, and it pops up occasionally now in other sports.

Ever since Jackson started doing it on nationally televised NBA games, people have been asking “What’s the deal with Mark Jackson saying that?”

A popular answer on the Internet is that Steve Harvey had been using the phrase in his standup in the early 2000s and Jackson took it from that. While that may be the most immediate provenance, I’m not familiar enough with his comedy to recall it, and other than references to Mark Jackson, I couldn’t find evidence of that claim online.

What’s more likely is that he picked it up from a grandparent or great-grandparent, and that’s because “That Man” was an incredibly popular, international meme in the 1930s and early ’40s that all-but-evaporated in the meantime.

This is illustrated by the title of a former BBC show that generated quite a few catchphrases of its own during its run: “It’s That Man Again”. The radio program supposedly got its name from a common practice of the Daily Express newspaper calling Adolf Hitler “that man” in its headlines in 1939. I haven’t been able to find any of those headlines directly, but it’s widely cited and the explanation the creators gave for their choice in title, intending for it to be topical.

You might be fooled, then, into thinking the original meaning is referencing literal, historical Hitler. But to my knowledge, Jackson has never used it for a James Harden highlight, and the phrase was already ubiquitous when the Nazis came to power.

By 1934, it was popular enough that there was already a song called “That Man Is Here Again” by Cab Calloway, and a sort of common reference is made to it in the film “The Thin Man”, also released in 1934.

For a fuller explanation, skip to 16:45 of this episode of Lexicon Valley by John McWhorter as he goes into it and how it was a pervasive joke that made it into all movies and such around that era.

There was a joke and the joke was that a husband and father is away so much that when he comes home his child says, “Mommy, that man is here again.” For some reason that was considered hilarious.

A Dictionary of Catch Phrases” by Eric Partridge takes a more cynical view:

‘The joke-reference had to do with the basic situation of mummy’s boy friend being innocently identified by a child—”Mummy, it’s that man again”—as once more he comes calling while daddy is out’ (Wedgewood, 1977). But then Shipley writes, ‘My recollection [of “Mummy, it’s…, in the US] is that it began not as a story or a joke, but as a caption to a cartoon’—which he cautiously dates as belonging to the early 1930s.

Which also means Alex from Yahoo! answers actually had their shit together years ago, unlike apparently everyone else on the Internet. Well, except for one self-published racist hack, surprisingly.

So there you have it! When Mark Jackson is saying “Mama, there goes that man!” to punctuate a dunk, he’s ultimately referencing an, at a minimum, 85-year-old joke about absent fathers or cuckoldry. Either way, the player in question is a real motherfucker, which lines up pretty well with how the phrase is used today.

Sports facilities, mass transit, and desegregation

HUMAN 0
St. Louis will never have an NBA team again. We literally have no basketball culture here.

There are more parks with hoops in the middle of Missouri than there is in all of the parks in St. Louis.

HUMAN 1
By design. I had a hard time finding a basketball court whenever I lived there. They have tennis courts, golf, and baseball diamonds in forest park but not one basketball court which probably has the smallest footprint of any the mentioned sports… well maybe not tennis.

Our city is actually divided into St. Louis County and St. Louis City. Suburbs are totally normal, but I’ve never have been to a city that is literally divided into a County and a City.

So much so that we don’t have a proper metro system because people in the county don’t want crime in the city brought to their suburbs.

Media likes to portray St. Louis as a crime ridden city, but the real problem is this city just seems barren. I’ve been to a few major cities in the last year, and their downtowns are thriving on random Tuesday nights. We just don’t have that here.

There’s a parallel in mass transit to what happened with community swimming pools.

A lot of racist jokes exist about black Americans not knowing how to swim, but it has a basis in fact, and it’s not a coincidence. Children weren’t allowed to swim in segregated community pools then once the Supreme Court ruled segregation unconstitutional, cities and counties decided to shut them all down or make them private, or make it so that only people who were wealthy enough to have their own backyard pools could swim.

I don’t think you can underestimate how much racism plays in even to something like opposition to mass transit. All transportation is public transportation, but everyone can use mass transit to get around a city or region. Without it, there’s a barrier for travel put up so that only people who can afford cars, including registration, maintenance, gas, and parking, get the benefit of roads. Which means you have to be even more wealthy already if you want to live in the suburbs and work in the city. It’s an invisible wall for the gated communities out there.

Not every place is dense enough for mass transit to make sense, but I’d argue the largest reason American cities lack the sort of infrastructure cities in European and Asian countries have is that everyone gets to benefit from mass transit, and that’s exactly what people who benefit from racist inequality don’t want.

To take it back to sports directly, but in a less well-thought-out way, this is the major motivation behind moving stadiums and arenas out to less-accessible suburbs like the Atlanta Braves did. They were trying to solve the ‘problem’ the Hawks have of black people attending their games and wanted to go to a place where it was less accessible to MARTA, with both versions of the acronym being appropriate.

Likewise, I think Seattle as a predominantly white city is a major factor in mass transit and stadiums that are downtown and easy to get to via that mass transit.

Texas named its counties for a lot of horrible people. Mathew Ector is one of them

As memorials to slavers and other Confederate heroes have been removed from public and otherwise challenged in recent months, a common complaint is that, by doing this, we’re forgetting our history or erasing it.

In my home county, we still have the historical marker its namesake:

Created February 26, 1887 from Tom Green County organized January 15, 1891, named in honor of Matthew Duncan Ector 1822-1879. Member of the Texas legislature a confederate officer and outstanding jurist Odessa, The County Seat.

Indeed, Ector (his first name was actually spelled Mathew) was a Confederate brigadier general and later a Texas high court judge. As a jurist, he’s most notable for re-affirming racist marriage laws after Reconstruction.

In 1878’s Charles Frasher v. the State of Texas, presiding judge Ector wrote:

Continue reading “Texas named its counties for a lot of horrible people. Mathew Ector is one of them”

#WIREDBACKPAGE: Mysteries set in 2049 after the first six words

The other day, I came up with 10 six-word story beginnings for a contest/prompt by Wired Magazine. That got me thinking they might also work for slightly longer flash fiction, so I’m going to work them up a bit over the next few days.

They might not all be able to sustain more than the first sentence, but I’m going to give it a go anyhow, and we’ll see where they end up. Continue reading “#WIREDBACKPAGE: Mysteries set in 2049 after the first six words”