A Guide of Best Privacy Practices for How Cities Share Data – CityLab

A Guide of Best Privacy Practices for How Cities Share Data – CityLab

For any city, open data is a double-edged sword; the most useful information can also be the most sensitive. To help officials balance the risks and benefits, researchers at Harvard University have created a playbook for open data, complete with best practices, examples of what has and hasn’t worked so far, and a thorough checklist of what to consider when embarking on a new data project.

In the absence of clear-cut regulations, cities have always been somewhat haphazard about how they release data, and how they protect it. It’s not uncommon for officials to face public backlash after releasing seemingly innocuous data—transit information, for example—and finding out, only afterwards, that combined with other datasets, there’s enough information to track individuals. Cyber security experts call this the mosaic effect, and it can undermine traditional data protection efforts like anonymizing data or removing certain identifiers.

Still, with advocates pushing for more open government at the local level, and with municipalities locked in a race to become truly smart cities, the trove of public data is only going to grow. Even the federal government isn’t immune to this challenge.

A 2000 study shows how anonymized health records could be combined with voting registration records to match the information with most U.S. individuals.

“In this new world of such rich data, often times it’s not [the threat] of someone getting data they shouldn’t have access to, but being able to mine what’s already out there for information that shouldn’t have been stored,” says Ben Green, the report’s lead author and a graduate student at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society.

The playbook makes four main recommendations for technology officers in the municipal government, and each is broken down into, as Green puts it, “here’s what you need to know, here’s what you need to do, and then here’s how you do it.”

Find the balance between risk and value: Zero risk is impossible, a point perhaps cities don’t acknowledge enough. But according to the researchers, the trick is to find a level of risk that officials and the public are willing to accept. That can be done by conducting thorough risk-benefit analysis before designing any data sharing program. That means sussing out the vulnerabilities, the potential threats and their likelihood of happening, the impact, and the limits of traditional risk mitigation efforts. In determining the value, the key question to ask is who will use the data, who benefits from it, and how.

Consider privacy at each stage of the data lifecycle: That lifecycle includes data collection, maintenance, release, and retirement—when unpublished data should be removed because it’s no longer relevant. It’s typical for cities to think about privacy only when data is about to be released, but Green says those concerns should be considered at the very first stage. That is to say, cities shouldn’t collect excessive data that isn’t relevant to the project and that could become a vulnerability in the future—for example, recording home addresses while surveying passersby.

Develop a structure for privacy management: ”The harder challenge is developing the internal and operational expertise, and valuing protecting privacy as an essential component of open data program,” Green says. Since there are few, often outdated, guidelines at the federal and state level, the rules of releasing data should at least be consistent at the city scale. The researchers call for cities to develop their own privacy standards and establish a formal process for releasing data.

Keep the public informed: Nearly 80 percent of Americans are concerned about government surveillance, according to Pew surveys cited in the report. So the researchers stress the need for cities to engage the public, to earn its support by showing how open data has benefited the city and gaining trust by being transparent about the entire process. When Chicago, for example, released data about the more than 100 million taxi trips, it also published a detailed post about how that data was prepared and altered to protect privacy—a step that the researchers write should be “common practice.”

Even with a hundred-plus pages of tips and guidelines, though, the playbook doesn’t answer the specifics. It won’t tell cities exactly which fields to remove from their published data, for example, or how large the geographic blocks should be when grouping data to protect people’s addresses. In part, it’s the result of the researchers’ own limitations, Green admits. The answers depend on the kind of data, and can require trial-and-error processes through complex computer modeling.

But also, “we don’t want to be prescriptive and define a value that a city government and public should have,” he says. “We’re happy leaving decision-making power in the city’s hand.”


Open Data Privacy



Judicial originalism as myth – Vox

Judicial originalism as myth – Vox

“It is simply anti-democratic to conceal something as fundamental as the nature of constitutional decision-making — especially if concealment is motivated by the fear that the citizenry wouldn’t stand for the practice if it knew the truth. If the Court can’t admit what it is doing, then it shouldn’t do it.” —Paul Brest, 1981

The doctrine of originalism, whereby judges purport to identify and then rely on the original meaning of the United States Constitution to resolve constitutional cases, is more ingrained in our national consciousness today than at any other time in our history. Six years ago, one of our most liberal justices, Elena Kagan, stated during her confirmation hearing that “we are all originalists.” Prominent professors are proudly proclaiming in our most elite law reviews that “Originalism is our Law.”

President Donald Trump promised to nominate an originalist justice to the Supreme Court, and then followed through on that promise with Judge Neil Gorsuch, who self-identifies as an originalist. At his confirmation hearing, the term “originalism” will no doubt be uttered by every GOP senator trying to win points with his constituency and establish the nominee’s bona fides as the heir apparent to the late Justice Scalia.

This genuflection toward the original meaning of the Constitution is, however, at best misleading and at worst a sham. What the words of the document meant to the people living at the time is just one of many different factors judges use to decide constitutional cases. So-called original meaning almost never drives the results in litigated cases but instead is used by judges to justify results they reached on other grounds. As Judge Richard Posner has written, “there has never been a time when the courts of the United States behaved consistently in accordance with the ideal” described by originalists.

There are strong reasons why judges have never consistently used originalism to decide hard cases. For one thing, if the original meaning of the framers of either the original Constitution or the Reconstruction amendments were taken seriously by today’s judges, we would live in a much different and much worse society. Segregated schools under the law and official governmental discrimination against women, gays, and lesbians would be permissible.

For example, Brown v. Board of Education, one of the most important cases of the 20th century, would have turned out the other way if the justices had accepted originalist principles. The lawmakers and people who ratified the 14th Amendment, the post-Civil War amendment that granted equal protection under the law to black citizens, did not universally embrace segregation, but they indisputably understood it to be constitutionally permitted.

Criticism of Brown today would make any federal court nominee toxic and unconfirmable, so originalists have had to come up with remarkably contorted arguments to escape this obvious conclusion. Some, like Stanford’s Michael McConnell, have made unpersuasive arguments that the people living in 1868, when the Fourteenth Amendment was passed, and shortly thereafter, would have thought segregated schools to be illegal. (McConnell, strangely, places special emphasis on the debates leading up to the Civil Rights Act of 1875, highlighting anti-segregationist arguments — and downplaying the widespread segregation of schools in 1868.)

Judge Robert Bork, a hero to originalists, made several arguments about Brown. In a 1971 law review article, he argued that the 14th Amendment “was intended to enforce a core idea of black equality against government discrimination.” In short, he created an abstract ideal, opening the door to arguing that what “equal” meant in 1868 is different from what it meant in 1954 (and today). But of course, once that move is made for “equal,” why not for “due process,” “establishment,” “cruel and unusual,” and other vague constitutional language that Bork thought liberal judges and scholars abused?

A true originalist (or textualist) might also have to conclude that the entire Bill of Rights, including its protections for free speech, freedom of religion, and criminal procedure would be inapplicable to the states. After all, the First Amendment only limits the power of “Congress.” The great Chief Justice John Marshall held that none of the Bill of Rights limited state power. Whether or not the 14th Amendment changed that analysis as an historical matter is hotly contested. While over time the justices have concluded that most of the protections in the Bill of Rights apply to the states through the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, others think that result is not justified by either the text or history of that provision.

As Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the law school at the University of California Irvine, has pointed out, a serious text-and-history approach (as opposed to a lip service one) would mean the end of judicial protection “for liberties such as the right to marry, the right to procreate, the right to custody of one’s children, the right to keep the family together, the right of parents to control the upbringing of their children, the right to purchase and use contraceptives, the right to abortion, the right to refuse medical care, [and] the right to engage in private consensual homosexual activity. No longer would women be protected from discrimination under equal protection.”

Of course, no constitutional theory should be judged by outcomes alone. But most of the rights mentioned by Chemerinsky are utterly uncontroversial today. Although some forms of modern originalism might not be inconsistent with all of these rights, and some originalists might say that stare decisis concerns — that is, the imperative to follow precedent — would lead them to approve some of them, it is still startling how many basic rights we take for granted would be endangered if a majority of the court employed originalism in good faith.

The belief that originalism does not and should not drive judicial decisions is not new. In 1939, Professor Jacobus tenBroek of the University of California at Berkeley demonstrated that what he called “original intent” (but today we call original meaning) constituted “one of the fundamental fallacies of the Supreme Court of the United States.”

The arguments he made in support of this conclusion, made in a remarkable five-part series in the California Law Review, are all but unanswerable as a description of how the Court decides constitutional cases. His work is as important today as it was then; all the reasons he gave for rejecting originalism as both a descriptive and normative theory apply with equal force to the modern Court. Long before the debate between the originalists and so-called living constitutionalists of the 1980s, tenBroek’s series showed with surprising clarity how misleading it is for judges and academics to suggest that original meaning either does or should play a significant role in constitutional interpretation.

In the first four parts of his series, tenBroek showed — through a detailed historical analysis of judicial decisions — that the Justices sometimes used historical sources to support their legal conclusions but often did not. In important 19th-century cases ranging from the validity of a national bank to the constitutionality of congressional efforts to limit slavery to the permissibility of Congress printing paper money, the justices selectively used historical sources including the Federalist Papers, the actions of early Congresses, and the opinions of the Founding Fathers. It was hard to conclude, tenBroek summarized, that the judges weren’t simply selecting evidence in order to justify the results they preferred.

A modern example of this selective originalist interpretation by judges is the landmark Second Amendment case District of Columbia v. Heller, of 2008, in which Justices Scalia and Stevens canvassed what each thought to be the relevant historical sources only to come to completely different conclusions as to whether the amendment protects an individual right to own guns. Serious historians have not treated either opinion kindly, and of course both men, like the justices discussed by tenBroek, reached the conclusions that you’d expect given their values writ large.

In the series’ fifth and most important article, tenBroek added to his detailed historical analysis two normative assumptions that he said the justices claimed to adhere to when resolving constitutional questions: 1) judges should “abandon” contemporary perspectives in deference to the “vantage point” of the people living when the Constitution was adopted; and 2) the original meaning of the Constitution does not change.

Most modern originalists, including the late Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas, would agree with tenBroek’s description of originalist assumptions. Scalia spent years touring the country telling audiences that the Constitution, far from being a living document, was “dead, dead, dead.” So-called “New Originalists” like Georgetown University’s Randy Barnett, who, unlike Scalia, concede that originalism often runs out in hard cases before “constitutional construction” begins, also believe that the meaning of the Constitution doesn’t change. In Barnett’s words, “an originalist simply could not accept that the Supreme Court could change the meaning of the text from what it meant as enacted and still remain an originalist.”

TenBroek demonstrated, however, that the original meaning of the Constitution in fact changes all the time in the hands of judges and justices (as it should, to keep up with modern conditions).

In the space of just a few years, tenBroek observed, minimum wage laws for women were first held to be unconstitutional as being beyond the police power of the state and then upheld as rationally related to legitimate economic concerns. Pointing to the reversal of numerous important cases by the post-New Deal Court, tenBroek observed that these “changes in the meaning of the Constitution did not result from altered judicial views as to the original intent; they came rather from a different prevailing attitude in the Court with respect to economic, social, and political policy.”

Modern originalists might respond that the justices who upheld significant economic regulation after the initial rejection of many New Deal programs misread and changed the scope of the commerce clause and other sources of federal power. Strikingly, however, doctrinal changes are often agreed to by so-called originalist justices who vote for non-originalist interpretations (without admitting it).

For example, for many years the Supreme Court gave little or no judicial protection to commercial speech rights of corporations or the desires of state governments to be immune from direct congressional regulation (commandeering). Recently, however, with Justices Scalia and Thomas agreeing, the Court has changed its mind on both issues with little regard to the original meaning of the relevant constitutional provisions.

In fact, as I have argued elsewhere, the list of non-originalist results advocated by these two justices is quite long and cuts through large swaths of constitutional law including affirmative action, takings, campaign finance reform, standing, and sovereign immunity. Many of these changes overturned prior Supreme Court cases. Judge Posner is right: No Supreme Court Justice, including Scalia and Thomas, has ever employed originalism on a consistent basis

Some modern-day “New Originalist” scholars argue that even though the meaning of the constitutional text does not change, that meaning will inevitably be applied by judges to new conditions, a process that will produce evolving constitutional decisions. As noted earlier, Randy Barnett calls this “constitutional construction.” If a case cannot be decided by way of the original meaning of the text, Barnett says, judge should look to the “spirit” of the text. He describes the search for this “spirit” as an empirical inquiry and contends (implausibly) that this search is less open-ended than theories of constitutional interpretation advanced by non-originalists.

But this is an originalist argument in name only. Professor Barnett’s “constitutional construction” is just another form of “living constitutionalism,” given that identifying the “spirit” of vague constitutional provisions with contested histories allows judges and scholars to advocate for just about any and all results.

In Barnett’s hands, for example, our Constitution’s “spirit” is overwhelmingly libertarian, and would bar much economic regulation that we now take for granted. That “spirit” also justifies a strong Second Amendment and even allows judges to use the historically ignored Ninth Amendment to find and enforce fundamental rights. It is no coincidence that all of these ideas are consistent with Barnett’s personal worldview, as I argued in a review of his latest book.

In recent years, numerous self-identifying new originalists have reached the remarkable conclusions that, based on originalism, same-sex marriage is required under the 14th Amendment while affirmative action is barred under the same provision even though there are no strong arguments that the people who ratified the 14th Amendment would have agreed with either conclusion. These scholars want to don the originalism mantle while at the same time avoid being locked into the specific results that the original ratifiers of our Constitution and its amendments would have expected. In other words, they want to argue they are using originalist arguments at the same time that they disavow the obvious consequences of originalism for many modern problems.

We all agree that specific constitutional requirements, such as there must be “two” senators from every state or the president must be “35,” must be enforced strictly and without regard to changing facts. But if words and phrases like “equal protection of the laws,” “due process of law,” and “freedom of speech” can lead to different judicial conclusions at different times because of different modern conditions (which Barnett and other new originalists have conceded), then there is no difference between originalists and non-originalists for any case likely to be litigated. This conclusion is consistent with tenBroeks’s study showing judges will reach the results they think best whether or not they are justified by the original meaning of the Constitution.

On March 20, when the confirmation hearings are scheduled to begin, Judge Gorsuch and the United States Senate are going to play an elaborate trick on the American people (just as Justice Scalia did for years). They will pretend that the original meaning of the Constitution is what judges both use and should use to resolve hard constitutional questions. Gorsuch has said, “Judges should … strive (if humanly and so imperfectly) to apply the law as it is, focusing backward, not forward, and looking to text, structure, and history to decide what a reasonable reader at the time of the events in question would have understood the law to be.”

But Gorsuch does not make decisions like that now, and he will not make decisions that way if he makes it to the Supreme Court. The confirmation process will have been a sham because, as tenBroek demonstrated almost 80 years ago, the justices don’t decide cases that way, and they shouldn’t decide cases that way.

The original meaning of the text, if there even is such a thing in hard cases, is but one small factor in a complex assessment of how an ancient document should govern modern times, and original meaning pales (and should pale) as a determinant of decisions, compared with the politics, morals, and values of a majority of the justices on the Supreme Court.


A Brief History of Butt-Kicking Machines – Motherboard

A Brief History of Butt-Kicking Machines – Motherboard

“I need people with a good strong butt.”

So said one “Mike Stamps” of San Clemente, California, in a 2007 Craigslist post looking for people to test out a new invention he’d built.

“Duties involve sustained blows to the rear by different brands of shoes attached to a rotating ferris wheel device.”

It was a butt-kicking machine.

I came across Stamps’ dazzling feat of fuckbrain ingenuity after spiraling down a rabbit hole kicked off by what is probably the greatest patent in all of US history. It’s for a butt-kicking machine. In fact, several butt-kicking machines have been patented over the past century-plus. It’s a rich tradition.

The patent that kicked off my journey is from 2004, for a “manually self-operated butt-kicking machine” and filed by one J. Reese Leavitt. Leavitt describes it as such:

“The user sits on the bench with his posterior centered over the hole. A seatbelt holds the user in place. There is a kicking mechanism located below the hole, which has a boot attached to it. When the user or operator pulls the hand-operated lever, the boot kicks the users’ [sic] posterior through the hole in the bench.”

At max power, the boot attached to the machine penetrates four inches above the seat cover, according to the patent.

But as I mentioned, Leavitt was hardly the first American inventor to come up with a machine that kicks ass.

The earliest example of a patented butt-kicking machine might be the “initiating device” patented in 1900 by brothers Edmund and Ulysses De Moulin. The De Moulin brothers made a living by inventing trick devices, like the “automatic water-cooler for initiating purposes” that shoots a stream of water in the unsuspecting victim’s face.

Their butt-kicker is a good deal more complicated than Leavitt’s invention, since it’s designed to look like weight-lifting equipment. The victim tries to do some deadlifts, but instead of doing a rep, they get slapped in the butt. Simpler times.

In 1908, Ulysses De Moulin patented a butt-kicking machine similar to the initiating device he and his brother designed, but with the caveat that it was a general purpose “combined lifting and spanking machine.” No longer was it purely for the amusement of the well-to-do in their clubs.

But the De Moulins were outdone in the same year by another inventor, Isaac Mamaux of Pittsburgh. Previously, Mamaux invented a staple-setter in 1893, and co-invented a sprinkler for holy water in 1896. But in the early 1900s he dedicated his efforts to improving the De Moulins’ initiation device.

Mamaux’s device also looked like a workout machine, but was far more deceptive. While the De Moulins’ device had a large and obvious paddle hanging off the back, Mamaux’s invention was self-contained and discreet. It also sprayed water in the victim’s face and hit them in the nuts as well as the butt. Like I said, simpler times.

Compared to the intricate creations of the De Moulin brothers and Mamaux, the butt-kicking robots of more recent times are… Well, crude. Leavitt’s invention isn’t for playing pranks so much as just standing there, kicking yourself in the butt, and hyucking it up.

As another example of this dumbing-down of butt-kicking machinery, we only need to look to one Joe W. Armstrong’s 2000 patent for a “user-operated amusement apparatus for kicking the user’s buttocks.” Armstrong’s machine utilizes a two-arm crank to drive a wheel of boots stationed behind the user, who is walloped on the behind.

I guess this machine assumes some kind of appetite for this sort of thing.

There are a few other butt-kicking and butt-kicking-adjacent inventions kicking around the US Patent Office, but that’s the past. Butt-kicking is about the future, and a quick YouTube search will show you that there’s no shortage of people out there eager to innovate in the buttocks impact industry.


It’s funny, you ass.


WHO | WHO publishes list of bacteria for which new antibiotics are urgently needed

WHO | WHO publishes list of bacteria for which new antibiotics are urgently needed

WHO today published its first ever list of antibiotic-resistant “priority pathogens” – a catalogue of 12 families of bacteria that pose the greatest threat to human health.

The list was drawn up in a bid to guide and promote research and development (R&D) of new antibiotics, as part of WHO’s efforts to address growing global resistance to antimicrobial medicines.

The list highlights in particular the threat of gram-negative bacteria that are resistant to multiple antibiotics. These bacteria have built-in abilities to find new ways to resist treatment and can pass along genetic material that allows other bacteria to become drug-resistant as well.

“This list is a new tool to ensure R&D responds to urgent public health needs,” says Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Innovation. “Antibiotic resistance is growing, and we are fast running out of treatment options. If we leave it to market forces alone, the new antibiotics we most urgently need are not going to be developed in time.”

The WHO list is divided into three categories according to the urgency of need for new antibiotics: critical, high and medium priority.

The most critical group of all includes multidrug resistant bacteria that pose a particular threat in hospitals, nursing homes, and among patients whose care requires devices such as ventilators and blood catheters. They include Acinetobacter, Pseudomonas and various Enterobacteriaceae (including Klebsiella, E. coli, Serratia, and Proteus). They can cause severe and often deadly infections such as bloodstream infections and pneumonia.

These bacteria have become resistant to a large number of antibiotics, including carbapenems and third generation cephalosporins – the best available antibiotics for treating multi-drug resistant bacteria.

The second and third tiers in the list – the high and medium priority categories – contain other increasingly drug-resistant bacteria that cause more common diseases such as gonorrhoea and food poisoning caused by salmonella.

G20 health experts will meet this week in Berlin. Mr Hermann Gröhe, Federal Minister of Health, Germany says “We need effective antibiotics for our health systems. We have to take joint action today for a healthier tomorrow. Therefore, we will discuss and bring the attention of the G20 to the fight against antimicrobial resistance. WHO’s first global priority pathogen list is an important new tool to secure and guide research and development related to new antibiotics.”

The list is intended to spur governments to put in place policies that incentivize basic science and advanced R&D by both publicly funded agencies and the private sector investing in new antibiotic discovery. It will provide guidance to new R&D initiatives such as the WHO/Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) Global Antibiotic R&D Partnership that is engaging in not-for-profit development of new antibiotics.

Tuberculosis – whose resistance to traditional treatment has been growing in recent years – was not included in the list because it is targeted by other, dedicated programmes. Other bacteria that were not included, such as streptococcus A and B and chlamydia, have low levels of resistance to existing treatments and do not currently pose a significant public health threat.

The list was developed in collaboration with the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Tübingen, Germany, using a multi-criteria decision analysis technique vetted by a group of international experts. The criteria for selecting pathogens on the list were: how deadly the infections they cause are; whether their treatment requires long hospital stays; how frequently they are resistant to existing antibiotics when people in communities catch them; how easily they spread between animals, from animals to humans, and from person to person; whether they can be prevented (e.g. through good hygiene and vaccination); how many treatment options remain; and whether new antibiotics to treat them are already in the R&D pipeline.

“New antibiotics targeting this priority list of pathogens will help to reduce deaths due to resistant infections around the world,” says Prof Evelina Tacconelli, Head of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Tübingen and a major contributor to the development of the list. “Waiting any longer will cause further public health problems and dramatically impact on patient care.”

While more R&D is vital, alone, it cannot solve the problem. To address resistance, there must also be better prevention of infections and appropriate use of existing antibiotics in humans and animals, as well as rational use of any new antibiotics that are developed in future.

WHO priority pathogens list for R&D of new antibiotics

Priority 1: CRITICAL

  1. Acinetobacter baumannii, carbapenem-resistant
  2. Pseudomonas aeruginosa, carbapenem-resistant
  3. Enterobacteriaceae, carbapenem-resistant, ESBL-producing

Priority 2: HIGH

  1. Enterococcus faecium, vancomycin-resistant
  2. Staphylococcus aureus, methicillin-resistant, vancomycin-intermediate and resistant
  3. Helicobacter pylori, clarithromycin-resistant
  4. Campylobacter spp., fluoroquinolone-resistant
  5. Salmonellae, fluoroquinolone-resistant
  6. Neisseria gonorrhoeae, cephalosporin-resistant, fluoroquinolone-resistant

Priority 3: MEDIUM

  1. Streptococcus pneumoniae, penicillin-non-susceptible
  2. Haemophilus influenzae, ampicillin-resistant
  3. Shigella spp., fluoroquinolone-resistant


When High-Class Ladies Wore Masks That Made It Impossible to Speak | Atlas Obscura

When High-Class Ladies Wore Masks That Made It Impossible to Speak | Atlas Obscura

For refined, upper-class ladies in 16th-century Europe, getting a tan, especially on your face, was not a good look.

The implication of such coloring was that one must work outside, and thus, quite possibly be poor (cue gasps and swooning faints). So to make sure they didn’t get burned, some 16th-century ladies wore face masks called visards (or vizards) that covered their delicate visages. Unfortunately, the masks also made it so they couldn’t speak. And, look as if they belonged to an evil cult.

The visard was a very simple mask that nonetheless made quite an impression. Only a handful of surviving visards have ever been found. Luckily, the most intact specimen, the “Daventry Mask,” gives a clear picture of a visard’s construction. Found tucked away in the wall of a 16th-century stone building near the town of Daventry in Northamptonshire, the mask consists of an outer layer of black velvet, followed by layers of pressed paper, with a lining of silk on the inside. The oval face covering extends out to accommodate the nose, and there are small holes for eyeholes and an opening for the mouth.

Along with the mask, a small glass bead was discovered that would have been attached to a string behind the visard’s mouth hole. This bead (sometimes a button) was how the visard was kept on the face. As opposed to unseemly head straps, a lady sporting a visard would hold the bead between her teeth to keep the mask in place. If she wanted to talk, she’d have to remove the mask. This had the side effect of essentially silencing the wearer. In the Elizabethan era, when visards were at their pinnacle of popularity, this silence was generally viewed as adding mystery to a lady’s character.

One of the earliest references to such masks comes from a 1575 text called Description of England in Shakespeare’s Youth. The author describes the wearing of masks coming to England from a trend that started in France. For a time after the trend caught on, the visard was a high fashion item among the rich and socially active. In fact, one of the only other surviving examples of a visard is an accessory for a doll, rather than a full-size mask. The visard had apparently become so popular that even children’s toys were incorporating them. But the inherent creepiness of a blank, black face mask was apparently not lost on everyone.

In 1583, the Christian polemicist Phillip Stubbes released a pamphlet called The Anatomy of Abuses. Among various other screeds (one chapter is titled “On the evils and punishment of whoredom”), Stubbes describes what he sees as the horrors of the visard, writing:

When they use to ride abrod they have invisories, or visors made of velvet, wherwith they cover all their faces, having holes made in them against their eyes, whereout they look. So that if a man, that knew not their guise before, should chaunce to meet one of them, hee would think hee met a monster or a devil, for face hee can see none, but two brode holes against her eyes with glasses in them.

Despite their unsettling and silencing influence, visards are believed to have remained in vogue until at least the 17th century before fading into historical obscurity. Similar masks can be seen in paintings as late the 18th century. Today’s fashion trends will no doubt look strange or creepy in a few centuries, but even in that far future, visards will still be high on the list of history’s most terrifying fashion moments.


The Space Station Cups Even Cooler Than Tang – Core77

The Space Station Cups Even Cooler Than Tang – Core77

As much as we all dig Capri Sun (don’t lie), pouches aren’t a great way to enjoy your morning coffee. No heady aroma, not a lot of temperature control. Astronauts aboard low-gravity vessels have traditionally had to make do with the sub-par ergonomics of liquid sacks at tea time, but thanks to researchers at Portland State, space tea is now more relaxing while staying NASA-approved.

The Space Cup was designed by Mark Weislogel, Andrew Wollman, John Graf and Donald Pettit, based on a prototype first tinkered with by Pettit way back in 2008, while stationed as an astronaut on the International Space Station. In order to serve a beverage in the open air (and without risking runaway droplets) the cup uses a unique shape tailored to the properties of fluid dynamics in low-g, material interaction, capillary flow, and an understanding of molecular attraction in water.

The result is a bonkers little device that looks like a cross between an orchid and an alien sex toy, but the upshot is hardly comical. What started as a fun application of university math has made room for reconsideration of how fluids are used in microgravity environments, and might even shift future space travel design. Pretty exciting stuff, if you’re into that kind of thing. And if you really are, you can buy a Space Cup of your own and tell people your tea is out of this world.


Mystery Novels Inspired by a Co-Working Space – The New Yorker

Mystery Novels Inspired by a Co-Working Space – The New Yorker

“And Then There Were None—Dry-Erase Markers, That Is”

Ten strangers are lured to a co-working space under false pretenses (subway advertisements featuring racially diverse college graduates happily sharing whiteboards). Despite this promise of harmony, the most observant of the co-workers, a twenty-five-year-old novelist, senses that something malicious is afoot. Sure enough, the dry-erase markers start to disappear, one by one, until finally they’re all missing. Or stolen. Or dead. Who really knows?

“The Hound of the Guy Who Thinks It’s Cool to Bring His Mastiff to Work”

A country lass with an idea for an iOS app is ensnared by a co-working space’s devious six-month contract. Late one night, she falls victim to the unwanted affection of a hound belonging to a man working on a Web series. A novelist turned playwright valiantly protests this clear violation of the personal-space policy by sending several strongly worded e-mails to help@coworkingrules.com. When he doesn’t hear back, he takes matters into his own hands and kidnaps the beast. Only time will tell if he ends up liking the friendly canine way more than the young lady and her app, which is basically Snapchat.

“The Talented Mr. Rabinowitz”

A well-dressed umpire named Ari Rabinowitz and his shady, tank-top-wearing business partner, Rocco, begin using a co-working space to develop a sports-betting Web site. Our protagonist, a playwright turned poet, overhears them talking about their upcoming weekend trip to Miami. On Monday, Rocco returns alone, wearing a pin-striped suit. Is Ari dead? Probably not, but the poet has been meaning to check out Miami anyway—and free verse is really, really hard.

“ ‘A’ Is for ‘Alice Did It’ ”

Someone has been using a co-working space’s microwave to reheat what smells like tilefish casserole. Several co-workers are discussing hiring a private detective when Alice walks in, eating tilefish casserole. Will everyone respond by leaving passive-aggressive Post-its on her lunchbox? Or will a hero, perhaps even a poet turned screenwriter with a torrented copy of Final Draft, rise up and destroy the microwave on behalf of nostrils everywhere?

“The Girl with the Snowden Tattoo”

It seems that an attractive woman with what appears to be a tattoo of Edward Snowden has given a screenwriter turned freelance-investigative-journalist the opportunity of a lifetime when she joins his co-working space. He invites her to lunch, hoping to get material for a raw, gritty BuzzFeed: Culture profile of the infamous whistle-blower. When the woman reveals that her tattoo is actually of the “Twilight” star Robert Pattinson, will the freelancer have a loud panic attack in the bathroom of a Pret a Manger?

“The Postman Always Knocks Twice (And Then Your Package Disappears Completely)”

A freelance-investigative-journalist turned nature-writer uses his mom’s credit card to order eight hundred dollars’ worth of unlined Moleskine notebooks. When the package is late, our modern-day Ralph Waldo Emerson, suspecting foul play, looks up the tracking number and discovers that it was, in fact, delivered, and signed for by Laura, a talented fellow-wordsmith who somehow has a book deal, God damn it. Does the promising transcendentalist broach the subject of Laura’s obvious theft? Will he say nothing, hoping she mentions him to her agent? Or will the box mysteriously appear on his desk the next morning?

“Crime and No Punishment Whatsoever”

A nature-writer turned travel-blogger is super depressed and running out of money to pay for his co-working space. In an act of desperation, he steals fifty Brita filters from the cupboard next to the sink and sells them to a cunning Bed Bath & Beyond employee. Will the blogger continue this vicious circle of petty fraud, or will he finally give up on himself, the space, and his site’s fourteen monthly visitors?

“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, M.F.A. Applicant”

With nothing to show for his artistic efforts, a travel-blogger turned Yelp-reviewer decides to apply for a creative-writing M.F.A. program. He resolves to sabotage his co-working space, hoping that its monthly rate will go down, allowing him to complete his application in an environment more inspiring than his mother’s basement. Will his plan succeed, or will he be threatened with bodily harm when the custodial staff catches him replacing the hand sanitizer with warming lubricant?

“Gone Boy”

After receiving his seventh M.F.A. rejection, a newly hired waiter hatches a scheme to frame members of his former co-working space for his own pretend murder. Maybe in faux death his writing will finally be published—or maybe he will discover that he was meant to be an actor all along.


The High Cost of Cheap Labor – Modern Farmer

The High Cost of Cheap Labor – Modern Farmer

EVERY TIME ROSA GARCIA’S FAMILY* relocates—pursuing the latest harvest opportunity, from Florida’s winter citrus crops to the autumn vegetables of Michigan—she must negotiate a strange town and, often, a strange school. Now a tenth-grader, Rosa encounters the same cliquish cruelty all teenagers face, but magnified a hundredfold by virtue of her status as the new girl, the one with brown skin, the one who appeared midsemester and may soon vanish. “Lunch is the worst,” the 16-year-old says, “because you have no friends, nowhere to sit, no idea where you’re going next.”

Rosa’s parents, Hector and Angelina, crossed the muddy waters of the Rio Grande in 1995 with their two eldest children, and spent a few months building fences on Texas ranches before settling into the East Coast migrant-farmworker circuit. Today, all seven Garcias—including Rosa and two more U.S.-born kids—log hours picking produce, though compensation tends to be calculated at a piece rate instead of by the clock: A 32-pound bucket of tomatoes might bring $1. “Agriculture is very heavy work,” says Hector, 45, through a translator. “We toil from sunrise until our bodies can’t take any more.” A good day yields $60, just enough to keep food on the table and gas in the car.

And that’s assuming the ranchero, or farm owner, pays. After several weeks at one Georgia tomato operation, Hector still hadn’t received a cent from his employer, who no doubt banked on the improbability of an undocumented itinerant to stay put and push for past-due wages. “We had to move on and follow the harvest,” Hector explains. “We couldn’t keep waiting.” The family was also evicted, and wound up homeless with less than $50 to travel several hundred miles to Tennessee. “It was incredibly difficult,” he recalls. “We had to stop and and work along the way.”

While some rancheros provide housing, the benefit doesn’t feel beneficial when the cost of shockingly crude quarters comes out of your earnings, says Hector. “It might be two families together in a trailer, six or seven people in a room. It can be dismal, but we don’t complain, because we always have in the back of our minds that at any moment, we could face deportation.”

Rosa and two of her siblings, born on American soil, are U.S. citizens. The older Garcia children reside here legally under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), a 2012 executive order from President Barack Obama that allows undocumented immigrants who arrived prior to their 16th birthdays to seek renewable two-year work permits.

In 2014, Obama issued a related executive order creating DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents), intended to protect parents like Hector and Angelina from deportation. The policy didn’t survive judicial scrutiny, rendering an estimated 3.5 million undocumented mothers and fathers of U.S.-born children at risk of having their families ripped apart—especially in the current political climate.

And because DACA is an executive order, as opposed to a congressional act, our new president can overturn it with a single stroke of his pen. The brutal irony: Until this past November, many undocumented immigrants trusted our government enough to divulge fingerprints, addresses, and other personal data required for DACA enrollment. That trust has left them particularly vulnerable. “They’re afraid of Donald Trump canceling the program and having their information,” explains Bruce Goldstein, president of the advocacy organization Farmworker Justice. “These people work really hard at low-wage jobs to feed the country. To be vilified this way is causing them great harm.”

Americans who don’t empathize with the Garcias’ plight argue that Hector and his ilk should have secured H-2A visas, permitting them to work on U.S. farms temporarily. But that argument fails to grasp how the H-2A program actually operates. Domestic employers, not foreign workers, petition the Department of Labor for visas. The employers must then find the workers—a task typically outsourced to foreign private labor contractors. These middlemen entice workers by dangling access to the land of opportunity, charging thousands of dollars to handle paperwork and transport, and offering to finance the fees through high-interest loans. As a result, H-2A workers reach the States bound to a single employer here and often heavily indebted to a contractor in their home country.

The set-up practically predetermines abuse. Should employers renege on promised work and/or wages, H-2A recipients can’t shop their services around. Walking away from egregious conditions means voiding the contract and inviting arrest and deportation. Even if these so-called guest workers possess the resources to seek legal redress, the involvement of middlemen insulates employers, who can always point the finger at labor contractors.

A decade ago, Charles Rangel, the first African American to chair the House Ways and Means Committee, condemned the H-2A system as a form of indentured servitude, declaring: “This guest-worker program’s the closest thing I’ve ever seen to slavery.” The situation hasn’t improved, nor is it likely to. President Donald J. Trump’s various business holdings have secured at least 1,256 guest-worker visas—most for Mar-a-Lago—over the past 15 years. And Farmworker Justice’s Bruce Goldstein believes the president’s hard-line rhetoric will urge more agricultural employers to seek temporary visas rather than chance hiring undocumented help, thus increasing pressure on an already overtaxed “solution.”

The number of H-2A visas issued annually has risen steadily since Rangel’s damning 2007 statement, yet the permits have never covered more than 10 percent of available fieldwork jobs in any given year. The fact that at least half of American fieldworkers are undocumented immigrants reveals a massive gap between the nation’s need for low-wage workers and its sanctioned supply. And to be perfectly clear, in this context, “immigrant” refers to a specific group: 93 percent of all immigrant farmworkers in this country hail from Mexico.

The United States’ love-hate relationship with cheap labor sourced south of the border dates to the border’s establishment in 1848, at the end of the Mexican-American War. Prior to the 1930s, Mexicans flowed between the two countries pretty freely, but the Great Depression bred resentment among native-born Americans, and more than 500,000 people of Mexican heritage—some U.S. citizens— were “repatriated.” Of course, we dusted off the welcome mat the moment World War II labor shortages necessitated a thaw, via the Mexican Farm Labor Agreement, commonly known as the bracero (or “strong-armed one”) program. The government shut down the initiative in 1964, amid accusations of worker abuse as well as complaints that it robbed citizens of jobs.

Around the same time, a burgeoning farmworkers’ rights movement was gaining steam under the leadership of Chicano activist Cesar Chavez, who grew up picking fruits and vegetables in the fields of California. After founding the National Farm Workers Association (precursor to the United Farm Workers union) with fellow advocate Dolores Huerta in 1962, Chavez organized a series of protests, most notably the Salad Bowl Strike of 1970. The largest farmworker strike in U.S. history, the walkout doubled national lettuce prices overnight and seeded significant reforms in California’s agricultural labor laws, among them the right to collective bargaining.

More recently, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW)—born of unrest in Florida’s notorious tomato industry during the early 1990s—has advanced the cause. By 2015, the primarily Latino coalition had convinced such food-industry behemoths as Walmart, Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods Market to purchase tomatoes solely from growers who enlist in CIW’s Fair Food Program, which guarantees decent wages and audits farms to ensure fair treatment.

Those of us who shop at farmers markets and eat at restaurants advertising the provenance of every ingredient prefer to think we’re innocent of supporting abusive labor practices. Unfortunately, fieldworker woes cut especially deep for organic producers and independent family farms, where humans perform tasks that chemicals and machines tackle at industrial outfits. “It’s very difficult for people to reconcile the truth that small local farms—so celebrated by the food movement—might not offer sustainable jobs,” says Margaret Gray, an associate professor of political science at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York.

Gray interviewed 160 workers on small farms in the state’s Hudson Valley for her 2014 book, Labor and the Locavore: The Making of a Comprehensive Food Ethic. They detailed incidences of wage theft and admitted hiding illnesses and injuries from their bosses for fear of being replaced by abler bodies. Though laws exist to prevent such injustices, Gray learned that immigrants, particularly undocumented ones, were loath to speak up. “The workers who come here are very much in sacrifice mode,” she explains, “which makes it easy for them to be exploited.”

It’s little wonder Americans opt out of this career path. And opt out they do, no matter what you’ve read on Facebook re: immigrants “stealing our jobs.” One exhaustive case study examined unemployed, job-seeking citizens in North Carolina over a 15-year period, from 1998 through 2012. Upon being advised about openings on area farms, less than 0.1 percent of these job seekers, on average, asked to be referred each year. Of the several hundred referred, 97 percent were hired. Of those, less than half reported to work on the first day. And in no year did more than 11 individuals finish out the season on a farm.

None of this would surprise Frank Colaruotolo, who grows vegetables on 120 acres in Valatie, New York, and considers Anglo Americans the labor pool of last resort. Two years ago, Colaruotolo, short on help, placed a classified ad in his community newspaper. The experience left the 35-year-old shaking his head: “The one kid couldn’t stop texting while he was on the plow. The other kid was just dense. How many times can you turn to someone and say, ‘You know, you missed fruit on that plant’? A bunch of stuff rotted in the field.” Colaruotolo prefers Latino employees because the skills of subsistence agriculture remain embedded in their culture, if not their very bones. Hector Garcia understands. Of the sole day, in decades, that he worked alongside Anglos, Hector recalls, “They lasted two hours.”

Employers may seem the obvious villains in our nation’s epic saga of fieldworker exploitation, but ultimately, the blame lies with American consumers, who have come to expect outrageously low food prices. We fork over less for food, as a percentage of household expenditures, than the citizens of 83 other nation tracked by the USDA: 6.4 percent in 2015, compared with more than 10 percent in most European Union countries and over 40 percent in Nigeria and Pakistan. Farm owners insist they can’t increase wages and benefits until we open our wallets at the grocery store—a quagmire that informs policy regulating farm labor. Agricultural workers are not entitled to the minimum wage (if the farm’s crew clocks fewer than 500 days, combined, per quarter), overtime pay (except in California), or a single day off per week. In most states, these workers do not have the right to form unions and negotiate collective bargaining agreements. Addressing the systemic problem wouldn’t require much, according to research by Philip Martin, a professor of agricultural and resource economics at the University of California, Davis. Martin concludes that raising farmworker wages 40 percent across the board would add a mere $21.15 to the annual budget of every American household.

Meanwhile, some farm owners refuse to use rock bottom profit margins as an excuse. Jordan Brown’s The Family Garden, a 20-acre organic vegetable farm in Gainesville, Florida, pays workers an average of $12 per hour, $1.21 above the living wage in that county. Brown provides workers’ comp and contributes to social security and unemployment insurance. Each member of his six-person crew (half immigrants) gets one paid sick day a month and three paid holidays a year. Almost a decade in,though, the 36-year-old struggles to stay in the black. “Farmers feel pushed by their customers to have both higher-quality products and lower prices,” Brown says. “That emotional push often gets translated down the line and onto the farmworkers, something I never want to do.”

In 2012, The Family Garden garnered a “Food Justice Certified” label from the Agricultural Justice Project. A handful of similar labels have popped up on super- market shelves in recent years, among them the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ “Fair Food” and the Equitable Food Initiative’s “Responsibly Grown. Farm- worker Assured.” designations. None approach the reach of programs such as USDA Organic, Fair Trade Certified, or Non-GMO Project Verified, but they do give consumers the opportunity to put their dollars where their values are.

At Swanton Berry Farm—also Food Justice Certified—Jim Cochran, 69, employs seven Anglo and 20 Mexican workers on 80 acres near Santa Cruz, California. Cochran has tried a variety of tactics to integrate the two groups, asking his Anglo sales staff to spend four hours a week in the fields and organizing English classes to equip the Latino fieldworkers for less laborious tasks. “It just doesn’t happen,” he admits. “There seems to be a thing in Mexican farmworker culture, where they’re all in it together and nobody’s better than anyone else, that may discourage people from learning English.”

Which is not to suggest the Mexicans earn less at Swanton Berry. In 1998, it became the first unionized organic farm in the nation. The same United Farm Workers contract covers all of Cochran’s employees, ensuring a single pay structure and benefits package. No matter the position, everyone starts out at $10.75 an hour accruing raises based on seniority. They also receive medical coverage and paid vacation time, as long as they put in 30 hours a week—automatic for fieldworkers, but not the sales staff. “The fieldworkers are better compensated than the sales folks. It’s justified because they have the more arduous job,” says Cochran.

Some 30 miles away, toward Salinas, another farm owner may have even more empathy for his workers. Javier Zamora immigrated to Los Angeles from south- western Mexico at the age of 20 in 1986 and gained legal status shortly thereafter with the passage of the Immigration Reform and Control Act. It took a couple decades, but Zamora eventually earned his high school diploma and an associate’s degree in organic horticulture from Cabrillo College in Aptos, California. There, he learned of ALBA, the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association, a California group that acts as an incubator for Latino immigrants who aspire to become organic farmers. Six years ago, Zamora secured two acres of land with an ALBA-subsidized lease, and has since bought 200 acres of his own.

The 51-year-old’s crew—as many as 26 people at peak season—make $12 to $16 an hour, depending on seniority.

Several net upwards of $40,000 per year. “If you pay your employees well and treat them the way they deserve to be treated, you empower them to take ownership, and they realize the success of the business is reliant on them,” says Zamora, now a member of ALBA’s board of directors.

Zamora has traveled to Washington, D.C., twice over the past year, seeking congressional support for minority farmers. “I wanted to encourage our representatives to think more about the impact of what they do. It’s my community that benefits or suffers because of their decisions,” he explains. Zamora knows he’s proof of what an undocumented immigrant can achieve if given the chance, as he was in 1986—when the Immigration Reform and Control Act granted legal status and opened a path to citizenship for 2.7 million people. The farmer also knows that the potential for such mass amnesty plummeted on November 8, 2016.

Trump’s pledge to deport millions and build a wall at the Mexican border would no doubt wreak havoc on our nation’s food system. A 2014 study from the American Farm Bureau Federation analyzed various immigration scenarios and predicted that such an “enforcement only” policy would lead to a 30 to 40 percent loss of net vegetable and fruit revenue in the coming years, due to a combination of decreased productivity and higher labor costs. Last year, the Farm Bureau’s president, Zippy Duvall, warned of an impending labor crisis, alleging that crops were likely to rot in the fields as a result of labor shortages in at least 20 states.

Our president’s inexcusable depiction of Mexicans as “criminals” and “rapists” has already changed life for the Garcia family. Hector says his children are bullied at school. Rosa didn’t reveal that part, but her father opens up: “In the lunch- room, some of the other kids have yelled, ‘Build the wall’ or ‘Go back to your country.’ We haven’t dealt with this level of hatred and racial profiling in the past. I try not to think too much about the big problems that are on their way, but we fear that our family will be separated. We fear the racism that has been awoken, and the intolerance that we are facing.”

Like the majority of immigrant laborers, Hector is willing to toil long hours for low pay because it is an improvement over the life he left behind. “We didn’t come here to take anyone’s jobs away. We came to escape the poverty that we have in our country and to provide our children with a better future. We are doing work that most Americans are not willing to do.”


Mars Needs Lawyers | FiveThirtyEight

Mars Needs Lawyers | FiveThirtyEight

The Liberian flag is easy to mistake for the U.S. flag. There’s the red, white and blue. There’s the stripes. The only difference is that the Liberian flag features one star in the upper left corner, instead of 50 — a legacy of the coastal West African country’s origins as a U.S. colony.

Someday, maybe 10 years from now — or more likely hundreds — this could be the flag that flies above a geodesic dome, fluttering in the dusty red breeze of a Martian afternoon.

The treaties that govern space allow private individuals and corporations to travel the stars, but only with the licensure and legal backing of an earthbound government. It’s similar that way to the laws of the sea. And today, on Earth’s oceans, more than 11 percent of all the tons of freight shipped is carried on boats that fly the Liberian flag.1 In exchange for lower taxes and looser regulations, both the shipping companies of the present and the Martian explorers of tomorrow could pay to register their vessel with a small country they have no other connection to2 and carry its flag (and laws) with them, wherever they go.

We may slip the surly bonds of Earth, but we will not escape the knots tied by Earth law and politics.

Nobody knows what the geopolitics of Mars might someday be like. The experts I spoke with took pains to point out that SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s dream of humans on the Martian surface by the 2020s is a tiny bit of a stretch goal, so guessing about the laws they’ll live under is even more tenuous. But the governance of space has always been affected by the governance of Earth. The Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, for instance, was the political driver behind the race for the moon and set the stage for the 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies — which is still our primary legal document outlining the rules for space.

But recent history suggests that the future could upend a lot of our expectations. The history of space politics and space law was about superpowers and how they might interact in the heavens. The future of space politics, in contrast, could involve more global coalitions, more small countries wielding surprising levels of influence, and more of a presence for countries outside Europe and the U.S.

The path to this possible future began, as most things in space do, with the U.S. and Russia. “By far and away, the most important [moment in space geopolitics] has to do with what happened at the end of the Cold War, when the U.S. brought Russia aboard the space station,” said W. Henry Lambright, professor of public administration, international affairs and political science at Syracuse University and author of “Why Mars: NASA and the Politics of Space Exploration.”

That was an outgrowth of Reagan administration policy that regarded the International Space Station as a new way of flexing American muscle, said John Logsdon, founder of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute. Think of it like the transition from the grade-school playground sort of power to something more akin to the social cliques of high school. Instead of proving we were important by beating everybody else in a race, the ISS gave the United States the chance to prove it was important because it could create a club that other countries wanted to join.

That multinational tree fort, and the decision to invite the Russians inside, really changed the balance of power in space, Lambright told me — but not necessarily in Americans’ favor. The very creation of the ISS required multinational technology transfer negotiations that allowed the countries involved then-unprecedented access to and sharing of technology and research data. That was useful, and it brought the United States some benefits, Lambright said. But the ISS also created a new paradigm in which the U.S. needed to work with other countries in space, especially Russia, whom we now rely on to get to the ISS to begin with.

Today, other countries are beginning to take the lead in space science and crewed space projects; witness the rise of the European Space Agency. That organization was founded as the European Space Research Organization in 1964, but the frequency of its missions increased after 1990.

The benefit to this, from NASA’s perspective: If you’re not the one in charge of everything, then you don’t have to pay for it all. And human missions to Mars are likely to intensify that trend. Musk estimates that it will cost $10 billion to develop the rocketry needed to get to Mars. Life support, food and logistics are all extra. In 1989, NASA estimated that the cost of a human Mars mission could reach $400 billion — a number that effectively killed that plan. More recent reports suggest a wide range of possible costs, as low as $6 billion for Mars One’s one-way trip plan, or as high as $100 billion, according to a 2014 review by an expert panel. (That $100 billion is much cheaper than the 1989 proposal, which would have been equivalent to more than $700 billion in 2014 dollars.)

It is, Lambright said, “something so expensive that nobody really contemplates doing it by themselves. Including Musk.”

Instead, he said, getting there would require an international coalition of governments, private companies and foundations. Which means it’s unlikely that the first human habitation on Mars will be an American ship, carrying a crew of Americans to plant an American flag in the dust. Those days are over. And a lot of other countries — especially ones that weren’t rich enough to carry out an independent space program in the 20th century — realize this, said Frans von der Dunk, professor of space law at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Nigeria’s space program is involved in crafting international law, has launched several satellites and plans to put a human into space by 2030. India is launching satellites at a furious pace — 20 on a single rocket in June — and selling its launch services to other countries, including the United States. That country sent an orbiter to Mars in 2014 for 11 percent of what NASA spent to do roughly the same thing.

That has implications for the law. The 1967 treaty — known as the Outer Space Treaty, for short — was signed by 104 countries and was the document that helped humans create a space environment that’s more “Star Trek” than “Star Wars” — but it primarily addresses individual, independent governments bumping into one another as they go about their separate business, according to von der Dunk and Joanne Gabrynowicz, a retired professor of space law at the University of Mississippi and the editor-in-chief emerita of the Journal of Space Law. The countries with space programs have all signed it, but the document still leaves ambiguity and unanswered questions when it comes to issues such as corporate spaceflight and multinational coalitions.

For instance, under the Outer Space Treaty, you can’t just go around claiming Martian land for Spain. But a habitation pod built by Spain is Spanish territory, Gabrynowicz said. And in a place where humans have no choice but to live in a pod or die, planting your habitat on a patch of ground might be a way to claim that land in practical terms, even if you can’t do so legally. Meanwhile, crew members retain their Earth citizenships and remain subject to the laws of their home nations, von der Dunk said.

So what happens when you have an American, two Indians, a Russian and a Nigerian living in a pod that’s owned by a private corporation under the authorization of Liberia? By whose laws are they all governed? What happens if the rules set by one country conflict with another’s? Who benefits from the mineral rights? What if India decides it’s OK for its citizens on Mars to secede and form their own Martian government before Liberia decides that’s OK?

These issues are further complicated by the fact that they overlap with stated priorities of the current U.S. president in complex (and probably, at this point, unpredictable) ways. Space exploration is one of the science-related topics that came up most frequently during the president’s campaign speeches, when he spoke highly of NASA and promised not to cut space funding, and he has bemoaned what he sees as the loss of American leadership in space. It’s an easy extrapolation to imagine that sending NASA astronauts to Mars would be seen as making American spaceflight great again.

On the other hand, insiders have reported that the Trump administration has a deep interest in commercializing space, as well. And given that this president has already established a confusing and contentious perspective on other international collaborations, it’s not clear that the administration would feel the same way about a NASA mission to Mars as it would about an international mission to Mars that included NASA. The Trump administration did not respond to a request for comment.

There are legal analogies that show the geopolitical questions of space can be answered — cruise ships sailing in international waters, for instance. But the real problem is political, Gabrynowicz said. There isn’t yet broad international agreement on how ownership of something like extracted space resources should be allotted, so what answers we come up with will have less to do with lawyers, like her, and more to do with politicians, like Trump.

For instance, a limited number of satellites can orbit the Earth simultaneously. Put up too many, and you end up with an expensive game of celestial bumper cars. But some countries — Russia and the United States, in particular — had a big head start on gobbling up those slots. What do you do if you’re Nigeria? Today, Gabrynowicz said, the international community has settled on a regulatory system that attempts to balance the needs of nations that can put an object into geostationary orbit first with the needs of those that aren’t there yet but could be later. And even this compromise is still extremely controversial.

The same basic disagreement behind them will apply to Mars, too. And it’s at issue right now in the U.S., as lawmakers try to figure out how best to implement the U.S. Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act — a bill signed by President Obama in November 2015. That law states that U.S. companies can own and sell space resources — including minerals and water. But the details of what this means in practice haven’t been worked out yet, Gabrynowicz said. Legal experts say that those details will make the difference in terms of whether the law puts the U.S. in violation of the Outer Space Treaty.

This question of whether space should be an Old West-style gold rush or an equitably distributed public commons could have been settled decades ago, with the 1979 Moon Agreement (aka the Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies), which would have established space as part of the “common heritage of mankind.” What this would have meant in practice is not totally clear. But at the time, opponents saw it as having the potential to ban all private enterprise and effectively turn the heavens into a United Nations dictatorship. It ended up being signed by a handful of countries, most of which have no space program. But it is international law, and if humans go to Mars, though, we’ll likely end up debating this issue again.

“Here’s what I’ve told my students for years,” Gabrynowicz said. “Space is sexy. It’s glitzy. It’s about rocketry and satellites and all sorts of wonderful things. But the truth is, we must understand that leaving Earth will not solve human problems alone. Whatever our issues on Earth are, they’re going with us, and we still have to address them.”


AI and automation are about to implode blue collar jobs | The Outline

AI and automation are about to implode blue collar jobs | The Outline

It is difficult not to view Donald Trump’s administration, regardless of its politics, as combative towards at least some portion of the American public. Unlike previous presidents who ultimately relied on messages that conveyed some attempt — real or theatrical — at national unity, Trump’s team has decided to draw very clear lines between his supporters and everyone else. Whether it is the press, “radical Islam,” or the “politically correct,” Trump’s style of leadership appears to rely on scapegoats. This bitter political ideology will likely be ineffective in guiding the country through the next decade of developments in the economy.

As artificial intelligence, robotics, and new forms of automation continue to flourish, the forms of work that millions of Americans rely on are at risk. The political solutions to navigating these changes are going to require broad public initiatives that haven’t been accomplished in decades, and everyone is going to have to be on board.

Before leaving the White House, President Obama commissioned a report titled Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and The Economy, that provides an in-depth look at the changes that will occur as automation becomes more sophisticated. Far from the doom and gloom projections of a workplace without humans, the report charts the subtle ways that, at scale, AI will have a tremendous impact on how our economy, and labor force, functions. Citing the current wave of AI, which the report describes as having begun around 2010, the study describes how the the types of jobs available in the economy are rapidly changing, and these changes are primarily impacting low income and less educated Americans.

According to the MIT Technology Review, 83 percent of jobs that pay less than $20 an hour are under threat from automation. Simply put, as technology makes things like ordering a cheeseburger, buying groceries, and shipping goods, require fewer human beings involved, the number of jobs available for poor Americans will shrink dramatically.

Ford, a company whose name is synonymous with the dream of American manufacturing jobs, recently announced goals to provide fully autonomous ridesharing by 2021, and earlier this month, allocated $1 billion for the autonomous vehicle startup Argo. Trump’s former candidate for Labor Secretary, Andrew Puzder, wrote in the Wall Street Journal that, in areas like retail and foodservice, increases in minimum wage were to blame for the increase in automation. Of course, he also cites consumer preference as “The major reason.”

Lots of high-minded technological thinkers, particularly Elon Musk, have proposed a universal basic income, a form of wealth distribution that ensures every citizen receives a baseline income whether or not they are employed, as a likely solution to the problem of workforce automation. But the White House report takes a more somber approach, describing a basic income as “giving up on the possibility of workers’ remaining employed.” Instead, the report suggests a number of policy proposals (like Obama’s national free community college initiative, and expanded unemployment benefits) as ways of actively facilitating the transition into a more AI driven economy.

In an interview with the MIT Technology Review, Mark Muro, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution calls for what he calls a “universal basic adjustment benefit.” Unlike a universal basic income, it would involve targeted benefits for those left out of the workforce, providing tools like wage insurance, job counseling, relocation subsidies, and other financial and career help.

The White House report points out that the U.S. government spends roughly 0.1 percent of its GDP on programs to help people deal with changes in the workplace — much less than similar developed nations. This funding has also declined over the past three decades.

This is where Trump’s style of leadership appears, at worst, disastrously cynical, and at best, ignorantly short sighted. By invoking a bygone era of American manufacturing, Trump undoubtedly tapped into a significant form of anxiety present in a large portion of the country. But his solutions, a dramatic reduction in immigration and tax breaks for corporations who move sparse manufacturing jobs to the U.S., don’t even take into account changes in technology.

The people left behind by the advances in automation have faced the steady creep of obsolescence, in the form of a shrinking number of available jobs, for the past decade, and Trump promised to rewind time, to a period before artificial intelligence. A post-election analysis from FiveThirtyEight found that one of the best predictors of whether or not a county voted for Trump wasn’t unemployment or income, but its proportion of jobs that are considered “routine,” an economic term for jobs that are easily automated. Areas with a high percentage of routine jobs voted in significant numbers for Donald Trump’s vision of an America stopped in time.

Republicans in the House and Senate, similarly, have no discernible plan for how to address technology’s impact on the workforce. They’ve instead spent the past decade working single-mindedly on taking control of the government in order to enact an economic and moralistic vision frozen in the 1980s.

“I’m very worried that the next wave [of AI and automation] will hit and we won’t have the supports in place,” Lawrence Katz, an economist at Harvard told the MIT Technology Review. Katz’s research is focused on how public spending on education in the 1900s helped America make the economic shift from agriculture to manufacturing. There’s plenty of reason to believe that, as Wired’s Clive Thompson points out, the next blue collar job in America could be computer programming. An initiative to teach coding to the millions of Americans whose jobs will slowly phase out in the face of AI would take years to develop and enact, and it doesn’t even appear to be on anyone’s mind.

The report from the final days of Obama’s White House makes sure to point out that:

Historically and across countries, there has been a strong relationship between productivity and wages—and with more AI the most plausible outcome will be a combination of higher wages and more opportunities for leisure for a wide range of workers. But the degree that this materializes depends not just on the nature of technological change but importantly on the policy and institutional choices that are made about how to prepare workers for AI and to handle its impacts on the labor market.

The next few years will find our government squabbling over a health care law that for the most part works, and passing dramatic forms of austerity that have never proven effective in the long term. The cost of attending college, a critical tool for finding a job in the new economy, will likely continue to rise unabated. All the while technology will continue to alter the way millions of Americans work, for better and for worse.