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Preview: Katherine Mangu-Ward: Reason Magazine articles.

Katherine Mangu-Ward: articles.

Updated: 2017-08-17T00:00:00-04:00


Cory Doctorow's 'Fully Automated Luxury Communist Civilization'


Cory Doctorow, of BoingBoing and Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) fame, has returned to adult fiction after a long stint in the young adult hinterlands (Little Brother, Homeland). His new novel, Walkaway (Tor), circles back to the theme of his first novel, 2003's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom: the question of what a post-scarcity world might look like. A fascinating cadre of John Galt–style opters-out form the core of the new novel, but the story is concept-driven, not character-driven. As usual, Doctorow's politics permeate his writing. And, as usual, they're just heterodox enough to provide moments of delightful confirmation bias and squirm-inducing challenge for readers of nearly every ideological stripe. Doctorow, a civil libertarian who identifies with the political left, has staked out a broad and eccentric territory for his fiction and nonfiction beats, covering topics from privacy to drones to Digital Rights Management (DRM) to open-source software creation. The Walkaway audiobook is a particular delight, featuring guest appearances from a ramshackle celebrity cast, including Amber Benson, Justine Eyre, Amanda Palmer, and Wil Wheaton. All versions of the novel are free from distribution-restricting DRM protections. The downside is that standard providers like Audible won't carry it. When Doctorow stopped by Reason's D.C. office in April, he handed out credit card–shaped USB drives loaded with the audiobook on his way out the door. Hardcover review copies also shipped with a similarly sized multitool. These little flourishes bring readers a few inches closer to Doctorow's subversive worldview, where it's always possible, even admirable, to thumb your nose at the rules imposed by governments, tech companies, and just about everyone else. Reason: Let's talk about the word dystopia. It's a word no one knew 10 years ago and now everyone says all the time about pretty much every novel ever. Is this a dystopia in Walkaway, or a utopia? Doctorow: I think that we mistake the furniture for the theme. We tend to think of books in which things are in crisis as being dystopian novels. But really it's a very hard job to write a dramatic novel—especially in the kind of pulpy science fiction tradition—in which things aren't going wrong. So for me, the thing that cleaves a utopia from a dystopia is what [essayist and critic] Rebecca Solnit says cleaves a disaster from a catastrophe: It's what we do when things go wrong. Do people pitch in and rise to the occasion? Or do they turn on their neighbors and eat them? That's the dystopian vision. The most dystopian thing you can imagine is that, but for the thin veneer of civilization, it would be a bloodbath. Is Walkaway a prequel to Down And Out in the Magic Kingdom? It seems like a similar universe. Has the political take-away that you would want people to get out of those two books shifted, either because your views have changed or because facts on the ground have changed? I think science fiction is not predictive in any meaningful way. It's certainly not great at it. We're Texas marksmen: We fire the shotgun into the side of the barn and draw the target around the place where the pellets hit. We just ignore all those stories that never came true. But I also think that prediction is way overrated. I like what Dante did to the fortune tellers. He put them in a pit of molten shit up to their nipples with their heads twisted around backwards, weeping into their own ass cracks for having pretended that the future was knowable. If the future is knowable then it's inevitable. And if it's inevitable, why are we even bothering? Why get out of bed if the future is going to happen no matter what we do? Except I guess you're foreordained to. I'm not a fatalist. The reason I'm an activist is because I think that the future, at least in part, is up for grabs. I think that there are great forces that produce some outcomes that are deterministic or semi-deterministic. And there are other elements that are up for grabs. What science fiction does is not predictive, but [...]

Giant Ziplock Baggies Full of Lambs Are Going to Change Everything


In April, researchers announced they had managed to keep several extremely premature lambs alive and growing in artificial wombs. After spending up to four weeks in a clear plastic "extra-uterine device" at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, each sheep transformed from a decidedly undercooked fetal specimen to a much more robust critter with long limbs and a fluffy wool coat, the sort of animal you wouldn't be terribly alarmed to see plop to the ground in a field on a spring afternoon. The setup strongly resembles a sous vide cooking apparatus: a tiny, tender lamb floats in a large plastic ziplock, hooked up to tubes and monitors. But a video clip posted by the researchers has the emotional heft of feeling a fetus kick when you put a hand on a pregnant woman's belly. Visible through the clear plastic, the lamb's hooves twitch gently as it snuffles its nose and wiggles its ears. The lambs in the experiment were selected for their developmental similarity to human babies born right on the edge of viability, or about four months premature. Babies born that early are equal parts horrifying and marvelous. Tiny creatures with organs visible through their translucent skin, they're often called "miracle babies." But there's nothing particularly mysterious about those little beings curled up in nests of tubes and wires; they live because of the inspiration and hard work and risk-taking and study and pain of hundreds of people. There are actually more of these struggling newborns now than there were a decade ago, simply because we've gotten so much better at keeping extremely premature babies—born before 24 gestational weeks—alive. Yet in the U.S., one-third of all infant deaths and one-half of all cases of cerebral palsy are still attributed to prematurity. Of the babies born that early who survive, more than 90 percent have severe and lasting health consequences, especially with their lungs, eyes, and intestines. Previous efforts to improve those numbers have been stymied by difficulties duplicating the functions of the placenta, but the device attached to the "Biobag" looks deceptively simple: a pumpless blue plastic box hooked up to the umbilical cord that oxygenates the blood, removes carbon dioxide, and adds nutrients. In their paper, published in Nature Communications, the Philadelphia researchers are careful to say that human applications of their work are at least a decade away. Yet these little pink lambs are already taking sledgehammers to some of the most precarious coalitions in American politics. Because as petty as our politics can seem, many of our fiercest debates rest on questions of birth, death, and our obligations to the not-quite and just-barely born. The implications for the abortion debate are obvious. (I've probably already annoyed you with my use of baby or fetus in the passages above, no matter which side you're on.) Pro-life and pro-choice forces have reached tense legal stasis around the threshold of viability, but a true artificial womb tech could render the term meaningless. Gestation in a plastic bag makes the reality of prenatal humanity more immediate, but also removes the remaining aura of naturalness and inevitability from the process. There exists an uneasy coalition between certain feminists and certain conservatives who oppose gestational surrogacy—the closest current analogue to an artificial womb, in which a woman carries a fertilized egg to term. (The embryo is typically created through in vitro fertilization and is often not genetically related to the surrogate.) But when the borrowed womb is a baggie—not a poor woman at risk for exploitation—the moral and political calculus changes. Perhaps this innovation will bring some wandering feminists back over to the side of reproductive tech. Those worried about state coercion will fret about the possibility of artificial wombs becoming mandatory, with governments requiring artificial support of unwanted fetuses in lieu of abortion. Meanwhile, folks more concerned about Big Business than Big [...]

Empire Games


(image) In a genre consumed by propulsion explainers and grandiose quests, Charlie Stross has a talent for creating loopily appealing science fiction plots out of corporate and market interactions. His Merchant Princes series takes a highfalutin' genre conceit—a genetically blessed subset of the population that can skip between alternate timelines—and plays it out in a pleasingly mundane way.

Gangs of rivalrous universe-hopping cousins become smugglers, as well as serving as a kind of inter-dimensional FedEx, over the course of the original six-book sequence. The protagonist, Miriam Beckstein, vanishes enticingly at the end of the series, as does most of the cast in what Stross describes on his blog as a "brisk thermonuclear holocaust."

In Empire Games (Tor), the first of a new trilogy based on the same idea, Stross takes the concept in a more political direction. Now Beckstein's daughter, Rita Douglas, is entangled in the kind of Homeland Security apparatus that might spring up in the face of nuclear conflict in proximate timelines. In 2020, as a variety of clashes threaten to spill into the almost-but-not-quite-our-own-world home timeline of the story, Douglas, an out-of-work actress, struggles to figure out how to play her role as a double agent.

As always, Stross writes characters in authority who are overbearing, frequently misinformed, and largely well-intentioned. They would be more at home in The Office than the Death Star. Empire Games, as its title suggests, leaves commerce mostly behind in favor of a more standard government-conspiracy-within-conspiracy structure, but it remains readable and human.

Armless Droid Calls Cops After Being Assaulted by Drunken Man


It was 8:15 p.m. and Jason Sylvain was drunk. When the 41-year-old man encountered Knightscope's 300-pound K5 security droid doing laps in the company's Mountain View parking lot, things didn't go well—for either of them. The large, pyramidal robot can't have been easy to overturn. But Sylvain, whom a police spokesperson later described as "confused, [with] red, glassy eyes and a strong odor of alcohol emit[ting] from him," persevered. Upon finding itself topsy-turvy, the unarmed bot did what anyone would do: It called the cops and hollered for help. In response to the K5's siren, Knightscope's vice president of marketing, Stacy Stevens, rushed out of the company's HQ and nabbed the assailant. Stevens later told CNET that the sloshed Sylvain "claimed to be an engineer that wanted to 'test' the security robots." He added, "I guess he now has his answer." Knightscope rather insistently compares its weaponless 5-foot-tall robots to the loveable and heroic R2D2. But they really look more like Daleks, the heavily armored aliens best known by their Doctor Who catchphrase "Exterminate!" And there has been one reported incident in which a K5 arguably violated Isaac Asimov's First Law of Robotics by "injuring a human being or, through inaction, allowing a human being to come to harm." Last year in a Silicon Valley shopping center, a toddler had a run-in with a "K5 Autonomous Data Machine (Machine Identification Number 13)." The 18-month-old boy sustained a boo-boo after an encounter with Paul Bleep, mall cop. Details are unclear, but in hilariously dry technical language, Knightscope's official statement gently suggests that the victim, young Harwin Cheng, may have tripped over his own feet: "The machine's sensors registered no vibration alert and the machine motors did not fault as they would when encountering an obstacle." Is "the machine's sensors registered no vibration alert" the robot equivalent of "the suspect was resisting arrest"? Maybe. But while body cams on human security agents are not yet universal, the whole point of the K5 droids is that they record and broadcast everything they do, generating meticulous records. Regardless, the company pulled the bots to work on an update, which was undergoing testing when Sylvain stumbled onto the scene. Knightscope rents its robots for between $6.25 and $7 per hour—less than minimum wage, a price point that's not coincidental. The K5 is ready and willing to take a job that Americans just won't do, or at least a job that Americans won't do at the wages that the law mandates companies must pay them. In the headquarters of Microsoft, Uber, and other corporate clients, K5s do pretty much what a civilian security guard would: mosey around looking moderately menacing while listening and watching for anything out of the ordinary. The droid uses lasers, GPS, thermal imaging, and a super-fast license plate scanner where a human being would use his ears and eyes. Also similar to the human guard, the bot's primary weapon is its phone. But the K5 never loses its temper or calls in sick. And it's much, much cheaper. There's no doubt that higher minimum wages are encouraging automation. Just ask the members of the joke Facebook group "Robots for a $15 Minimum Wage." In February, the burger chain Wendy's announced plans to outfit 1,000 locations with automated ordering kiosks. "Last year was tough; 5 percent wage inflation," CEO Bob Wright told investors and analysts earlier this year. Then he noted that demand for kiosks was very high among the company's franchisees—small businesspeople who are struggling with increased labor costs. But daily stories chronicling the rise of automation in response to wage increases typically take a hysterical tone, as though automation itself were an evil to be avoided—root cause of social dysfunction rather than a rational response to increased labor costs with some positive side effects. Tax proposals even exist to impose duties on robots to pay for the dis[...]



(image) A Ukrainian company has unveiled a cheap autonomous mobile house with a 3D-printed frame. The PassivDom modul-One includes solar panels, batteries for power storage, and an inverter, as well as water storage, purification, and independent sewage. The frame is made of carbon fiber, fiberglass, and polyurethane. It claims to be the "warmest house in the world" thanks to new thermal tech, and the entire structure is recyclable.

The whole shebang sells for $65,000. So far, only one model seems to exist, but the company claims potential buyers will be able to test drive the unit soon.

If you're shopping for new digs with disaster in mind, the firm offers a "Zombie apocalypse" package, which includes armored glazing on the structure's extensive transparent walls, a perimeter alarm, extra storage for toilet paper, and a "gift-edition" Bible.

Another set of upgrades, the "not in my backyard" package, includes extensive insurance coverage, an alarm system, and the rather whimsical addition of "a replica of a Kalashnikov."

Cory Doctorow on Cyber Warfare, Lawbreaking, and His New Novel 'Walkaway'


Cory Doctorow, author of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, Little Brother, and Makers, is a three-time Prometheus Award winner, an honor bestowed on the best works of libertarian science fiction. In his most recent book, Walkaway, the super rich engineer their own immortality, while everyone else walks away from the post-scarcity utopia to rebuild the dead cities they left behind. Reason Editor in Chief Katherine Mangu-Ward spoke with Doctorow about cyber warfare, Uber-style reputation economics, and that most overused and poorly understood of sci-fi themes: dystopia. Edited by Todd Krainin. Cameras by Mark McDaniel and Krainin. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes. This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Katherine Mangu-Ward: Do you think that the underlying conditions of free speech as it is associated with dubious technologies, are they getting better or worse? Cory Doctorow: There is the—there is a pure free speech argument and there's a scientific argument that just says you know it's not science if it's not published. You have to let people who disagree with you—and who dislike you—read your work and find the dumb mistakes you've made and call you an idiot for having made them otherwise you just end up hitting yourself and then you know your h-bomb blows up in your face, right? And atomic knowledge was the first category of knowledge that scientists weren't allowed to freely talk about—as opposed to like trade secrets—but, like, scientific knowledge. That knowing it was a crime. And so it's the kind of original sin of science. But there's a difference between an atomic secret and a framework for keeping that a secret and a secret about a vulnerability in a computer system. And they're often lumped together. I was on a family holiday. We were on like a scuba resort in the Caribbean, in a little island called Roatan in Honduras. And there was this family of D.C.-area spooks. Like multigenerational. And Grandpa what had been like with USAID when the tanks rolled on Hungary and in Budapest. And all of the kids worked for undisclosed three-letter agencies. And so we're like sitting in in the pool one day and talking about cyberweapons and cyberwar. Katherine Mangu-Ward: Like you do. On vacation. Cory Doctorow: On vacation. That's what I do. That's my idea of a good time. So the guy said like, "Well what about cyber weapons? Like why shouldn't we develop cyberweapons? Why shouldn't we a cyberwar?" And I said, "There's a difference between a secret bomb and a secret vulnerability in a computer operating system." Because if I invent the h-bomb, it may be unwise. But keeping the physics of the h-bomb a secret does not make Americans more vulnerable to atomic attack than disclosing it. Maybe it would help them at the margins build slightly better bomb shelters. But it's really—it's not the same thing as me discovering a vulnerability in Windows and saying, "It would be great if I could attack former Soviet bloc countries or countries in Middle East or jihadis or drug runners by keeping this vulnerability a secret and assuming that nobody else discovers that vulnerability and uses it to attack the people I'm charged to protect." That mistake calls into question the whole scientific enterprise. Because we really only know one way to make computers secure and that is to publish what we think we know about why they're secure now and see what dumb mistakes our enemies and friends can locate and help us remediate. And so you end up in this place where these vulnerabilities—that you are blithely assuming won't be independently rediscovered by your adversaries and exploited against you and yours—end up getting exploited against you and yours. And not just by state actors but by petty criminals, too. And this is one thing we're learning after the Vault 7 leak[...]

A Big Fat Freak-Out Over Donald Trump's 'Skinny' Budget


Presidential budgets have all the legal force of a letter to Santa—they're essentially the White House asking Congress for a pony. The "skinny" blueprint released by the Office of Management and Budget in March is the result of even less consultation and collaboration than usual with the legislators who hold actual budget-making power, which makes wish fulfillment even more unlikely. Nevertheless, when President Donald Trump announced $54 billion in cuts to several federal agencies, the press immediately got to work on its own form of slash fiction, fetishizing the appropriations status quo and moaning over any possibility of budgetary restraint. "Donald Trump Budget Slashes Funds for E.P.A. and State Department," declared The New York Times. Gizmodo: "Trump's Plan to Slash the NIH Budget Won't Just Hurt Scientists—It Will Hurt Everyone." Bloomberg: "Trump Would Slash Research in Cut to Health Budget." Daily Kos: "Trump would slash education budget…but pour $1.4 billion into privatization." Business Insider: "Trump's slash-and-burn budget could hit his own political base the hardest." The metaphor makers at The Washington Post preferred smashing to slashing: "Trump's budget takes a sledgehammer to the EPA." In fact, most of Trump's budget cuts take the targeted agencies back to federal funding levels of the mid-'00s—hardly a Hobbesian state of nature. And despite the apocalyptic rhetoric, they're largely sensible trims that Republicans have been jawing about for years without having the chutzpah to actually propose them. Cuts to Health and Human Services, for instance, clock in at a 17.9 percent decrease from the levels established so far in 2017 by continuing budget resolution. Some of those savings come from reduced appropriations to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Scientists "brace for a lost generation in American research," reports The Atlantic. Never mind that funding for the type of research NIH produces already comes predominantly from non-federal sources. In the mid-1960s, the federal government footed the bill for about 60 percent of R&D. That number has since flipped, with about two-thirds coming from private sources for the last decade. The cuts, described in the Atlantic article as having "deadly" consequences, will take the federal component of NIH funding down to levels not seen since…2003. You remember 2003, when pain treatment consisted of willow bark tea and natural philosophers were still trying to figure out the epicycles that would explain the movement of heavenly bodies around the earth. Some programs were actually zeroed out in Trump's budget. Meals on Wheels, the food aid program for the elderly and disabled, isn't one of them. The bulk of the program's funding comes through a line item in the Department of Health and Human Services budget that goes unmentioned in the blueprint (although the department is slated for a 17 percent cut overall). Some Meals on Wheels offices, which are locally run and employ a patchwork of funding, do receive relatively small amounts of federal cash through the community development block grant program, which is what Trump actually cut. The press panic over the future of the program was totally unwarranted. One program that really is on Trump's hit list: the United States Institute of Peace (IOP). Anyone who has ever driven by the IOP HQ in Washington, D.C., might be forgiven for wondering whether the $186 million spent on the structure was really the most efficient use of funds. Architectural Record once wrote that the building "evokes a geometric sketch of a single bird's outstretched wings"; The Washington Post preferred to call it "a duck amuck." This structure is located on one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in the capital, a huge plot right across the street from the State Department with a view of the Vietnam Memorial. Even if the federal spigot runs dry, th[...]

The Complacent Class


(image) Everybody's favorite libertarian economist and blogger, Tyler Cowen, is back with his signature mix of despair and optimism, following up on The Great Stagnation and Average Is Over. His latest book, The Complacent Class: The Self-Defeating Quest for the American Dream (St. Martin's Press), tells the story of various American subtypes of the rich ("the privileged"), poor ("those who are stuck"), and middle class ("those who dig in"). These classes, Cowen says, have historically contained larger shares of big-thinking go-getters, but they are increasingly reconciled to the status quo.

We don't lack in innovation, reports the Marginal Revolution founder, but our innovators are more likely to pursue comfort and convenience than to look for ways to revolutionize the world. Ironically, our politicians, entrepreneurs, and pundits are more prone than ever to use overheated rhetoric about Manhattan Projects and moonshots. Think of everything from apps that promise to "change the way you do business" to Joe Biden's hastily conceived mandate to cure cancer in the final year of Barack Obama's second term.

Cowen suggests the way out is some kind of large-scale, messy political or social upheaval. Maybe Trump's election is just what the doctor of economics ordered.

Good Neighbors Can Make Good Fences


Good fences make good neighbors, or so Robert Frost reminds us in his annoyingly overused and frequently misquoted high school literature class staple. The poem that made the adage famous actually offers a more ambiguous take on the utility of border barriers than its signature line would suggest, with the speaker musing: "Before I built a wall I'd ask to know / What I was walling in or walling out, / And to whom I was like to give offence." The question of what exactly is being walled in or walled out by Donald Trump's barrier—he issued commands for the "immediate construction of a physical wall on the southern border" in a January 25 executive order—is trickier to answer than it initially appears. The short answer, illegal immigrants, is an unsatisfactory one, in part because so many other goals tend to get lumped in once the policy rationalization process gets rolling, including drug interdiction, terrorism prevention, and tariff enforcement. The question of who will be offended is easier. From Trump's unflattering remarks about Mexican immigrants while announcing his candidacy in June 2015 to his ongoing insistence that Mexico will pay for the wall, much offense has been given, and much taken. During the campaign, Trump flew to visit Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto. Upon returning home, the candidate claimed that they had discussed the wall but not who would pay for it—an assertion his counterpart denied. Shortly after his inauguration, tensions built around a planned visit by the Mexican president to the north. "If Mexico is unwilling to pay for the badly needed wall," Trump tweeted, "then it would be better to cancel the upcoming meeting." When Peña Nieto did just that, Trump made it clear that he would consider garnishing some of the $26 billion in annual remittances from the U.S. to Mexico. The Associated Press also reported the following astonishing threat by Trump, gleaned from (disputed) transcripts of a phone conversation between the two men: "You have a bunch of bad hombres down there. You aren't doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn't, so I just might send them down to take care of it." Simultaneously on the table during that period: A 20 percent tax on goods at the Mexican border, though that idea was withdrawn almost as quickly as it was proposed. When Trump addressed a joint session of Congress on February 28, he reiterated his intention: "We will soon begin the construction of a great, great wall along our southern border," he told the assembled lawmakers. This time, notably, he didn't say that Mexico would pay for it, reportedly as part of a deal he struck with Peña Nieto. The following day, however, his vice president reiterated that this was still the plan. "He didn't say Mexico is going to pay for it," said George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America. "Well, they are," Mike Pence quickly replied. In Mexico City in late February, when I visited for a conference sponsored by Arizona State University, the chattering classes were waiting with bated breath to hear whether Trump's capricious treatment of their leader would be returned. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson were cooling their heels before a planned meeting with the Mexican president. Would they be turned away? In the end, the three men spoke briefly before the American officials returned to U.S. soil. While the intrigue was titillating, the general sense was that conversations with Cabinet members didn't much matter, because Donald Trump could and would do whatever he liked. "The only thing that is certain is uncertainty," said El Universal columnist and journalism professor Ricardo Raphael. "Trump talks about renegotiating [the North American Free Trade Agreement] and figuring out Mexico's 'debt' for the wall later, but [...]

The World's Smallest Camera Drone


(image) It sounds like a deranged hummingbird, it has a comically small range, and its photo quality is abysmal, but there's something weirdly appealing about The World's Smallest Camera Drone ($26.99 from the BoingBoing online store; also available at Amazon).

The temptation to personify the wee unmanned aerial vehicle—with its cheerful red and blue led lights, drunken bumblebee flight patterns, fleeting battery life, and tendency toward rotor jams—is almost irresistible. From the first jerky takeoff, the bright orange mini-drone feels more like a recalcitrant pet than cutting-edge tech, even though it can capture a rather large volume of video footage and still photos on the 2GB of storage on the included micro SD card.

If you're looking to conduct stealth surveillance, take keepsake photographs, deliver tacos, or rain death on your enemies from the sky, this is not the drone for you. But for all its failings, The World's Smallest Camera Drone really is a remarkable piece of engineering: For less than the cost of a couple of pizzas, you can own a remote-operated quadcopter so small it can land in the palm of your hand. And while the current model is little more than a fluky novelty item, it's not hard to imagine how traveling with a personal drone videographer and archivist could easily become a staple of modern life.

Safe Sex, Dangerous State


The kids these days are incredibly lame. They barely do drugs. They hardly have sex. When they do finally get around to doing the deed, it's at much later ages than previous generations. They're responsible about birth control and disease prevention. They probably even make it home in time for curfew. Skeptical? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that the average age of self-reported virginity loss is now nearly 18 years old. The percentage of high school students who say they have had intercourse has been falling for two decades. Two-thirds of the students who are having sex say it's with a steady romantic partner. Eighty percent say they used contraception their first time, up from less than 50 percent in the '80s. They're also using more effective fertility-fighting methods than previous generations: IUDs, implants, and other forms of long-acting reversible birth control with lower failure rates have become much more popular, with use rising from 0.4 percent in 2005 to 7.1 percent by 2013. The rate of teen births fell 8 percent in 2015, capping off a 46 percent decrease since 2007. The rate of teenage abortion has also fallen sharply from its peak around 1990. It seems like the combined efforts of America's adults to scare the bejesus out of kids about the dangers of the horizontal mambo while subsidizing the wazoo out of birth control have, in fact, paid off in fewer teens knocking boots. But all of this responsible behavior has created a generation gap. The Boomer version of the birds and bees is on the verge of becoming worthless, and the GenX sex talk isn't far behind. Coaching preschoolers as they carefully roll condoms onto bananas simply doesn't make sense as the exclusive focus of sex ed anymore. Jimmy hats are still a good idea, of course. But even as the physical act of sex becomes safer—at least as practiced by today's older, wiser, romantically involved, pharmacologically reinforced, temporarily sterile teens—the legal risk of many common sexual choices is skyrocketing. Leaving aside the fact that Generation Alpha will probably be conceived in the back seats (or the front seats!) of autonomous vehicles as they speed untended down the highway, there's really nothing new under the sun, and that includes sexting. Teenagers have managed to communicate intemperately about their desire to get it on—often right underneath the noses of their guardians—since at least imperial Japan; court ladies anxiously awaited morning-after haikus in one of the world's first novels, Murasaki Shikibu's 11th century Tale of the Genji. The new danger doesn't spring from the fact that digital Romeos and Juliets are communicating about sex in a way that might generate a permanent record. In fact, by the time today's 15-year-olds run for office, youthful nudie pics will be a prerequisite for reassuring the American people that you're a normal human being, not a disqualification. Instead, the serious threat is from meddling cops, bureaucrats, school officials, and other avatars of officialdom. The state has always had an unhealthy interest in sex—think Comstock laws, Loving v. Virginia, Bowers v. Hardwick—but as we increasingly infantilize teens and young adults while disregarding privacy protections that once shielded intimate communications, more "kids" are being caught in a legal dragnet that is purportedly designed to protect them. Consider a case in Cañon City, Colorado. After following up on a call to a state bullying tipline in December, a public high school official uncovered widespread sexting. Rather than taking a moment to consider whether the common nature of the behavior suggested an appropriately proportionate remedy, the administrator decided to follow the letter of the law in Colorado (and many other states)[...]

Commissary Kitchen


"The system tries to kill you in many ways," writes Prodigy, half of the hip-hop duo Mobb Deep, in the introduction to Commissary Kitchen: My Infamous Prison Cookbook (Infamous). The book, co-written with journalist Kathy Iandoli, chronicles what the rapper cooked and ate while serving three years in four different prisons for gun possession.

Built from staples available from the prison commissary, recipes include "Fake Ass Pad Thai" made from ramen noodles, peanut butter, and canned veggies and "P's Prison Potstickers," which involve the clever expedient of overcooking macaroni in order to make it into dumpling dough. And, of course, there's hooch.

He admits the recipes aren't Chez Panisse, or even Olive Garden. "You think I wouldn't have cooked with extra virgin olive oil and shit if I had the chance to?" he writes. "Nah. This is prison."

John Stossel: The Man. The Myth. The Moustache.


When John Stossel was diagnosed with lung cancer in April, he announced it in the most characteristic way possible: He dashed off a column from his hospital bed with a quickie economic analysis of why nurses don't care when your out-of-date heart monitor beeps all night long. (The explanation involved the word sclerotic and the phrase "hospitals are largely socialist bureaucracies.") Stossel, 69, is now cancer-free and ready to move on to the next thing. In recent years, the man with the moustache has developed an alarming habit of giving away the Emmys he won as a consumer reporter, saying he considers them ill-gotten gains; they all predate his conversion to libertarianism and the subsequent realignment of his career to preach the gospel of free markets and consumer choice. First as a reporter at ABC's 20/20, where he made his name with his signature "Give Me a Break" segments, and then as a commentator at Fox for the last seven years, the television newsman has served as the most recognizable face of libertarianism, appearing on America's TV screens week in and week out and invading the minds of America's youths with his Stossel in the Classroom educational videos. With a penchant for antics like piloting onto the set on a Medicare-subsidized mobility scooter or printing out the entire federal register, Stossel has always prioritized making arcane economics intelligible to the boob-tubing masses. The final episode of his eponymous show on the Fox Business Network aired in December. Starting in 2017, he'll be working with Reason TV to produce web videos and with the Charles G. Koch Institute to mentor young media professionals. He'll continue on as a commentator in a role that he describes as "libertarian senior statesman" at Fox. Editor in Chief Katherine Mangu-Ward spoke with Stossel over the phone in December about the past, present, and future of video. Reason: Is television getting dumber? Was there a golden age of news broadcasting, or was it always dumb? Stossel: TV has always been relatively shallow. You can read at seven times the speed you can listen. And when there were five channels, we had to try to appeal to everybody. If you watch programming from what people call the "golden age," there was not much nuance there. Also, our brains have changed. When I was on 20/20, we would do a 17-minute piece on gay marriage, say, or the transgender world. And when the executive producer would say, "You've got to take out two minutes," I would resist because I just didn't think you could take out those two minutes and have the story be nearly complete. All of it was so important! And yet now if I watch those stories, they are tediously long. And do you think that's because we've gotten better at the craft of storytelling with video or do you think it's because the attention span of the viewer has changed? The attention span of all of us has changed. We are just doing so many more things at a time. Is this worse? I don't presume to make a judgment. Before you called I was in my car listening to the Iliad, and there are parts that go on and on. Ugh, Homer. There's so much padding. Somebody should really edit that guy. Exactly. If you were beginning a media career right now, would you be looking at cable news or broadcast television? No. When I started to make video, you had to have a camera that cost $100,000, an edit bay that cost—I don't even remember what it cost! We would go out with a three-man band to cover things: a lighting guy with all the heavy lights, and the sound specialist, and the cameraman. You had to go work for a television station or a movie company. Now everybody has all this equipment in their smartphone and their laptop. So why go through those cumbersome steps? [...]

The Carrot, the Stick, and the Buggy Whip


As 2016 came to a close, dictionary makers Merriam-Webster posted a pathetic little tweet—a cry for help, really—that quickly went viral: "'Fascism' is still our #1 lookup. # of lookups = how we choose our Word of the Year. There's still time to look something else up." Why the sudden interest? As Donald Trump wrapped up the Republican nomination and then the presidential election, political commentators and opinionated uncles at dinner parties started tossing around this vintage 20th century political terminology with abandon. Which caused a bunch of intrepid dictionary searchers to wonder: Here at the dawning of the Trump era, does fascism mean what we think it means? In a technical sense, the word is a pretty good descriptor for what we've seen of Trump's economic policy so far. That is to say, he seems to be embracing the notion, which blossomed in Benito Mussolini's Italy, that the business of government is best conducted where an authoritarian state dominated by a powerful strongman and the leaders of large corporations meet and decide the fate of a nation. But in its more common use, fascism is at once too generic—it's frequently deployed to describe any old bossy jerk, and is formally defined as "a tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control"—and way too specific and extreme, with its grace notes of Blackshirts, one-party rule, nationalization of industry, and violence. What's wanted is a way of describing the love-hate, push-pull, utterly dysfunctional, and horrifically co-dependent relationship between big government and big business that Trump was already expert in, just from the other side. The gentler term for this is crony capitalism, or cronyism for those of us who don't like to see one of our favorite words besmirched. Yet that phrase shows up most frequently in contexts where the corporations are in the driver's seat: They come to elected officials or bureaucrats to demand special favors. They are granted those favors in exchange for promised gains for the tax base or contributions to the campaign funds of the relevant politicians—classic rent seeking, in the jargon of economics. If they're really lucky, the corporations manage to cozy up to and capture some regulators to keep in their back pockets as well. But as far as we know, the heating and air company Carrier was minding its own business when Trump came a-knockin'. The firm was in the midst of executing a run-of-the-mill decision about the best place to locate a production facility when boom, it became the very first test case for the fledgling Trump administration in the none-too-judicious application of the carrot and the stick. The carrot was subsidies to keep jobs in the United States; the stick was almost certainly the threat of the revocation of valuable military contracts from Carrier's parent company. (For a deeper exploration of how this deal went down, check out David R. Henderson's cover story on page 18.) Carrier isn't alone on the receiving end of Trump's attentions. Boeing's stock price took a hit after he tweeted in December that "Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!" Trump also took credit for keeping an auto plant in the U.S.: "Just got a call from my friend Bill Ford, Chairman of Ford," Trump tweeted in November, "who advised me that he will be keeping the Lincoln plant in Kentucky - no Mexico." He followed up: "I worked hard with Bill Ford to keep the Lincoln plant in Kentucky. I owed it to the great State of Kentucky for their confidence in me!" Ford quickly clarified that it was only considering moving production of one mode[...]



The corporate motto of Soylent, the cheekily named meal-substitute company, is "maximum nutrition, minimum effort." The firm's disarmingly plain monochrome packaging and scientific sell are designed to appeal to geeks, especially Silicon Valley types keen on the efficiency offered by sustenance that costs $2, takes 30 seconds to consume, and entirely replaces the need for actual food.

But the hipster SlimFast competitor has had a tough autumn. The company had to pull two of its four product lines, including its signature drink powder, due to reports of nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea in a small segment of customers. A possible culprit, though the firm is playing coy for now, is powdered flour made with algae.

Soylent's model relies on constantly releasing updated iterations of the product; the recent trouble was caused by version 1.6. That software-style release model increases the likelihood of bugs getting to the customer level, but it also means that the company is agile enough to pull problematic products and replace them with suitable alternatives quickly—far faster than regulators can get into gear.