You Can’t Make Lenin-ade Without …

Length estimate: Long (words > 1000)

’Tis almost the centenary of the Russian Revolution and hence, the perfect occasion to revisit that most momentous occasion of the modern era. Whatever you may believe about how history reproduces itself – that it merely rhymes, repeats or is repeated by those who fail to learn from it – there is little doubt that it creates brief space of opportunity – tiny, fleeting vacuums bereft of logic and continuity – where the wedge of human will can be driven in. This wedge can occasionally force the course of history onto a new, unforeseen path; it forecloses the possibility of continuity and leads inexorably towards an unfathomable future. The Russian Revolution of 1917 was just such a wedge and its relevance to the present era has never been greater.

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The State of Surveillance

The UK is about to wield unprecedented surveillance powers. So runs the headline of a Verge article detailing the new Investigatory Powers Bill that was recently passed in the British parliament and is awaiting royal assent. A short summary of the bill’s salient features:

The bill will legalize the UK’s global surveillance program, which scoops up communications data from around the world, but it will also introduce new domestic powers, including a government database that stores the web history of every citizen in the country. UK spies will be empowered to hack individuals, internet infrastructure, and even whole towns — if the government deems it necessary.

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Using Cheat Codes

Length Estimate: Long (words > 1000 )

Anyone who played video games in the era of the early Grand Theft Autos and Warcraft remembers the amazing power of cheat codes. Here was a way to transcend all the grinding and hard work through a simple keyboard or controller combination to progress further in the game. I recall punching in “allyourbasearebelongtous” to advance through nearly all of Warcraft III just to get through its incredibly compelling storyline. The problem with cheat codes, quite obviously, was that they didn’t make you better at the game at all; I realized that after I got comprehensively beaten in almost every Warcraft game I played online. Cheat codes unlinked the theoretical relationship between game completion and player competency that made video games a nominally productive exercise. On the other hand, being competent at Grand Theft Auto makes for rather low stakes.

The purpose of this labored meditation on cheat codes is to set up an analogy. Continue reading “Using Cheat Codes”


Length Estimate: Short (words < 500)

Uber Slammed for Surge Prices After New York City Bombing

So Uber users attempting to return home after the Chelsea bombing in New York were faced by surge pricing.

Surge pricing is how Uber incentivizes drivers to meet an excess of demand for rides. The stakes were even higher here, of course, since why would drivers head into a potentially dangerous area to pick up passengers? Altruism doesn’t pay. Perhaps there should have been an Uber for 9/11 first responders, so that people who they rescued could be charged for the cost of their future cancer treatment first. If that’s the way we incentivize altruism (if it is still altruism), then let’s apply it as much as possible.

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The Abyss Stares Back

Length Estimate: Medium (500 < words < 1000)

2016 has demonstrated that right-wing populism is no longer a reactionary force that rears its head precisely when people are at their most vulnerable – in the aftermath of political and economic crises.

In 2016, it has become a creative force. And a titanic one at that. Donald Trump and Brexit are two of its very real, and very potent, products. And that is just counting two of the obvious (and apparently only newsworthy) ones. Right-wing populism is no longer just a spike of vented racism and bigotry that emerges in the brief interval between a crisis and return to things-as-usual. It is now an organized and anticipatory force that can not be dismissed either as frustrated racism or opportunistic politicization of legitimate public concerns.

The rise and persistence of this phenomenon has confounded many observers; the traditional forces of centrist rationalism are scrambling to respond.

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