In the late 1970s two psychologists, Margaret Matlin and David Stang, put forward a theory they called the Pollyanna principle, which holds that we subconsciously lean toward positive thinking and language, even when we’re consciously focusing on negative things. Basically, our brains want to be happy. It’s a nice idea, but, since happiness is abstract, Matlin and Stang never settled on any widely accepted way to prove it.

That’s where the UVM math nerds come in. Since 2009, they’ve been looking at ways to quantify happiness, and have decided that language is the most tangible way to do so. Chris Danforth, a mathematician with a background in chaos theory, who leads the team along with Peter Dodds, whose research focuses on sociotechnical problems, says that his team is trying to measure population-scale happiness as a baseline to improve quality of life. They think happiness is just as important as GDP, or other frequently tracked measurements of well-being. They’re essentially trying to solve a social problem with a math problem. “Happiness is a hard thing to quantify,” Danforth says. “It’s quite hard to improve something you can’t measure, so we’re trying to create an instrument capable of quantifying happiness on a large scale.”

To track happiness they had to figure out what signaled the feeling and then decide how best to measure that. That ability to track emotion, which is part of a broader field called sentiment analysis, is a nut that everyone from Facebook to the National Security Agency (NSA) is trying to crack, and Dodds and Danforth believe they have found a granular way to do it.


Changing China’s household registration rules was one of the main planks of reform promised by President Xi Jinping at a Communist Party meeting in November, and it was reiterated in plans for more vigorous urbanization issued this year. Now Mr. Xi’s test will be achieving that promise, city by city, despite qualms and resistance from local officials and many long-term urban residents.

“I think there’s more hope of substantive change this time,” said Lu Yilong, a professor at Renmin University in Beijing who studies household registration divisions and their effects. “This is more a coordinated, top-down reform, unlike in the past when local governments had more room to set their own rules. There have been changes already, and now we need a more systematic approach.”

The barriers in China’s system of household registration, or hukou, date to Mao’s era. In the late 1950s, the system was instituted to keep famished peasants from pouring into cities. The policies later calcified into caste-like barriers that still often tie citizens’ education, welfare and housing opportunities to their official residence, even if they have moved far away from that place to find a livelihood. The restrictions hinder permanent migration between many urban and rural areas, and among regions and cities, such as Shanghai and Beijing.

“The main problem now is not the rural population moving to a local city, that’s quite easy,” said Ren Xinghui, a researcher for the Transition Institute, a privately funded organization in Beijing, who campaigns against educational discrimination directed against children from the countryside. “The main problem is migration across provinces and cities, and the controls imposed by the big cities against cross-region migration. That’s the key to hukou reform.”


Israel knocked out Gaza’s only power plant, flattened the home of its Islamist Hamas political leader and pounded dozens of other high-profile targets in the enclave on Tuesday, with no end in sight to more than three weeks of conflict.

[…]

Thick black smoke rose from blazing fuel tanks at the power station that supplies up to two-thirds of Gaza’s energy needs. The local energy authority said initial damage assessments suggested the plant could be out of action for a year.

Electricity was cut to the city of Gaza and many other parts of the Hamas-dominated territory after what officials said was Israeli tank shelling of the tanks containing some 3 million cubic litres of diesel fuel.

"The power plant is finished," said its director, Mohammed al-Sharif. An Israeli military spokeswoman had no immediate comment and said she was checking the report.

Gaza City municipality said damage to the station could halt many of the area’s water pumps, and it urged residents to ration water consumption. Gazans who have had a few hours electricity a day since the conflict began now face months without power.


Well water has kept losses in California’s agricultural industry relatively modest considering the severity of the ongoing drought, the report said. The researchers estimated $1 billion in lost revenue and $500 million in additional pumping costs this year. That’s a fraction of the $40 billion the industry rings up annually.

Still, there’s little optimism the industry can weather another year relying on so much groundwater without significant consequences.

By the end of 2014 alone, groundwater is expected to replace three-quarters of the 6.6 million acre-feet of surface water lost to drought this year — raising groundwater’s share of the state’s agricultural water supply from 31% to 53%, the UC Davis report said.

"If there’s no surface water available, farmers really have no choice but to use the groundwater and use it in a very big way," said Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech and a professor of Earth system science at UC Irvine. "The question is how long can we keep doing this before we hit rock bottom? … We are on a current path that is nearly the definition of unsustainable."

In an attempt to staunch the crisis, two bills have been proposed in the California Legislature to create the state’s first groundwater management system. There are currently no restrictions on how much water a landowner can pump from beneath his or her property.


Twenty years ago, before the alarm about Climate Change, the World Bank warned about upcoming wars — not over oil, but water. Now, the UN predicts that two thirds of the world will suffer shortages in the next ten years due to waste, pollution, and the growth of a global middle class. Some Fortune 500 companies are ahead of the game, conserving and cleaning up water to protect their profits, while the cost for the rest of us rises. There are technologies to create more fresh water, but they’re expensive. Is water a commercial product, or a basic human right?

The new study is the first to look at the role of groundwater in the parched region and has been carried out against a backdrop of a severe drought dating back to 2000.

A series of monthly measurements have shown that over nine years the Colorado River Basin lost nearly twice as much water as Lake Mead, Nevada - the country’s largest reservoir.

"We don’t know exactly how much groundwater we have left, so we don’t know when we’re going to run out," said Stephanie Castle, a water resources specialist at the University of California, Irvine.

"This is a lot of water to lose. We thought that the picture could be pretty bad, but this was shocking.”


When Wall Street firms began buying rental units in bulk in 2011, experts warned that they had no history of managing large numbers of rental properties spread over hundreds of square miles, and would skimp on costs at the expense of tenants. Now, according to the first survey on the practice, those fears are being realized. Tenants report that Blackstone’s rental management resembles that of a slumlord. They rent properties with significant maintenance problems, fail to keep contact with their customers, and violate state and local laws.

[…]

Invitation Homes’ harsh methods of collection were perfectly predictable, given Blackstone’s duty to pay back investors. Vacancy rates on the first set of Invitation Homes properties spiked in May, rising to double the national average (and given these reports about their property management, you can see why). That means Invitation Homes must get full value from the homes they still have rented to keep bondholders happy, whether by locking tenants into long-term leases or racking up fees.

A spokeswoman for Invitation Homes, Denise Dunckel, said that the report “grossly distorts the facts and ignores institutional investors’ contribution to the American housing recovery.” She maintained that Invitation Homes “complies with applicable California and Federal landlord/tenant and related housing laws,” and that residents have a 24-hour number for maintenance requests, which Invitation Homes responds to “within a few hours.”

However, with more single-family rental securities going on the market every day, Rep. Takano, a renter himself, has concerns about the end game. “They did not buy these properties to hold onto them forever,” he said. “If they want to turn these homes over when prices rise, or if there’s a bump in our recovery, it could lead to a mass sell-off. Mom and pop landlords have an investment in keeping renters in place. Corporations don’t.”


n Longfellow’s The Masque of Pandora, Prometheus laments, “Whom the Gods would destroy they first make mad.” Perhaps if Prometheus had been exposed to 24/7 cable news or mainstream newspapers, he would be comforted to know that he was not alone in evoking the wrath of Mount Olympus’s stern residents. Despite placing themselves on a moral and intellectual pedestal, a multitude of mainstream journalists forgo honest investigation and analysis for sensationalist political theater.

This unfortunate trend was most glaring during the revolutions in the Middle East that began in Tunisia. Critics of the media’s reporting of these events were not restricted to experts at think tanks or academics. As part of the millennial generation, I can confidently say the media’s coverage of the “Arab Spring” harmed its credibility in the eyes of many young Americans. Moreover, it will be the new generation who will have to pay the most for the mistakes influenced by media-driven misperceptions. This is especially so at a moment when East-West relations have reached a new state of volatility. As a welter of charges is flung back and forth about the tragic downing of the Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, which was flying over eastern Ukraine, the need for calm, impartial and penetrating reporting is more essential than ever.


Instead, let us travel backward in time, to the very cusp of the Information Revolution. Amid the first stirrings of dissent in Northern California, long before tech moguls were granted the dubious prestige of celebrity, a leaderless collective of disenchanted office workers put out a subversive periodical—a magazine called Processed World. First published in San Francisco in April 1981, the magazine now serves as an invaluable repository of all the mistaken, venal, and authoritarian guiding assumptions of the great digital reorganization of work. The brain trust behind Processed World was composed of people—many of them steeped in radical causes, environmental activism, and Situationist-type affairs—who began to identify the features of today’s high-productivity, low-content corporate workplace. Standing on the frontier of the new Information Economy, they took stock of their working lives and despaired at what they saw—and they made special, mordant note of the new technologies that didn’t make their work lives any easier or more meaningful.

These would-be revolutionaries were eager to see the automated world’s long-promised bounty of self-determined leisure bear fruit at last. They had plenty of marketable skills, but what most of them really wanted was time—to write and paint and act and organize. Some of them didn’t want to work at all. Others preferred not to give themselves over to big corporations and bureaucracies that offered them little in return for their labor. Most of all, they wanted their lives to be their own. Still animated by the antiwar radicalism of the previous decade, they were also bruised by the failures of 1968. Consequently, the magazine, if not its contributors, adopted no official ideology. They knew what they were against: wage labor, authoritarianism, war, nationalism, and the state itself. But they weren’t always sure what they wanted in its place. Figuring that out would be a challenge; it would also be the great project of the next fourteen years, during which Processed World would publish thirty-two issues (give or take),[*] participate in numerous acts of protest, street theater, and sabotage, and launch a range of other initiatives, from Critical Mass, the cycling event now held in hundreds of cities worldwide, to the preservation of some of San Francisco’s history in what may have been the last era a poor person could move to the Bay Area and still manage to get by.

[…]

Processed World did much more than supply to depressed office proles a therapeutic outlet. The magazine also managed to diagnose some of the issues that still animate radicals today: housework, sex work, and other unacknowledged forms of labor; unionization and its limits; income inequality; the precarity of the typical worker; corporate power; the state of exception that comes with permanent warfare (embodied then by the Cold War and later by the first Gulf War); and the ways in which the computerization of society was changing work, often to the detriment of workers. In the writing—essays, poetry, reportage, fantastical short stories about rebellious paper-pushers taking over San Francisco’s financial district, only to be brutally put down by government soldiers—one can also find the beginnings of today’s revolt against Silicon Valley and its pernicious mix of libertarian economics, techno-utopianism, and the deracinated remains of the sixties counterculture.


his book is based on the premise that AI research will sooner or later produce a computer with a general intelligence (rather than a special capability such as playing chess) that matches the human brain. While the corporate old guard such as IBM has long been interested in the field, the new generation on the US West Coast is making strides. Among the leaders, Google offers PR-led glimpses into its work, from driverless cars to neural networks that learn to recognise faces as they search for images in millions of web pages.

Approaches to AI fall into two overlapping classes. One, based on neurobiology, aims to understand and emulate the workings of the human brain. The other, based on computer science, uses the inorganic architecture of electronics and appropriate software to produce intelligence, without worrying too much how people think. Bostrom makes no judgment about which is most likely to succeed.

We are still far from real AI despite last month’s widely publicised “Turing test” stunt, in which a computer mimicked a 13-year-old boy with some success in a brief text conversation. About half the world’s AI specialists expect human-level machine intelligence to be achieved by 2040, according to recent surveys, and 90 per cent say it will arrive by 2075. Bostrom takes a cautious view of the timing but believes that, once made, human-level AI is likely to lead to a far higher level of “superintelligence” faster than most experts expect – and that its impact is likely either to be very good or very bad for humanity.


Spurred by the anthrax attacks in the United States in 2001, an increase in “high-level containment” labs set up to work with risky microbes has raised the number to about 1,500 from a little more than 400 in 2004, according to the Government Accountability Office.

Yet there has never been a national plan for how many of them are needed, or how they should be built and operated. The more of these labs there are, the G.A.O. warned Congress last week, the greater the chances of dangerous blunders or sabotage, especially in a field where oversight is “fragmented and largely self-policing.”

As the labs have multiplied, so have mishaps. According to a 2012 article by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of reported accidents involving microbes that can cause severe illnesses grew rapidly — from just 16 in 2004 to 128 in 2008 and 269 in 2010, the last year reported. Many of the accidents involved leaks, spills or other releases of infectious material inside the laboratories, potentially infecting workers and often requiring extensive decontamination.


…We are something like apparitions today; juggling a multiplicity of selves through the noise; the “you” you are on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Tinder…wherever…at your day job, your night job, your hobby, your primary relationship, your friend-with-benefits, your incredibly astonishing range of extracurricular activities. But this hyperfragmentation of self gives rise to a kind of schizophrenia; conflicts, dissocations, tensions, dislocations, anxieties, paranoias, delusions. Our social wombs do not give birth to our true selves; the selves explosive with capability, possibility, wonder.

Tap tap tap. And yet. We are barely there, at all; in our own lives; in the moments which we will one day look back on and ask ourselves…what were we thinking wasting our lives on things that didn’t matter at all?

The answer, of course, is that we weren’t thinking. Or feeling. We don’t have time to think anymore. Thinking is a superluxury. Feeling is an even bigger superluxury.


Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner and the rest of the reporters at the New York Times Jerusalem bureau actually have to devote endless stores of energy to avoid reporting on all of the outrages unfolding all around them. Instead of reporting on the Prawer Plan to ethnically cleanse Bedouin citizens of Israel, for example, or the anti-African race riots in Tel Aviv—pivotal events in the history of the state of Israel—Rudoren covers a beauty contest for Holocaust survivors or takes to Facebook to complain about how she missed her spinning class but made up for it by scaling the steps of a building in Gaza destroyed by Israeli bombing. And when Kershner covers the national campaign to expel non-Jewish Africans, she focuses the story on the liberal Israelis and their anguished souls, rather than on the Africans who are being rounded up and placed in camps for the crime of not being Jewish. Just imagine if they went out and covered what was actually happening on the ground and clinically detailed the logic and planning behind it.
 When I stayed in Jaffa, just five minutes south of Tel Aviv, I witnessed racist extremism all around me through the state-orchestrated process of Judaization. In Jaffa, this process takes the form of a very politicized kind of gentrification, with wealthy Tel Aviv tech entrepreneurs and wealthy American Jews being planted into the heart of this poor, deliberately neglected community—where, by the way, there are/were five hundred standing eviction orders, almost all for Palestinian residents. Judaization in Jaffa also has relied on the increasing presence of religious nationalists not so different from the fanatical settlers in the West Bank. My favorite fish restaurant, a Palestinian-owned place where I would sometimes hang out with friends and colleagues from Tel Aviv, was attacked and firebombed by right-wing extremists. A house down the street was attacked and just weeks before one of the oldest Muslim graveyards in Palestine was vandalized in a “price-tag” attack by settlers. This is inside the heart of “Israel proper.” Soon after that a group of settlers won an auction to build a religious nationalist yeshiva in the middle of Jaffa.


We are already seeing the social hierarchy being registered in more subtle criteria: type of work and responsibility, level of education and culture (the wayof consuming everyday goods may itself be a kind of ‘scarce commodity’), participation in decision-making. Knowledge and power are, or are going to become, the two great scarce commodities of our affluent societies.
 But these abstract criteria do not prevent us, even today, from reading a growing discrimination in other concrete signs. Segregation by place of residence is not new, but, being increasingly linked to a consciously induced shortage and chronic speculation, it is tending to become decisive, in terms of both geographical segregation (town centres and outskirts, residential zones, rich ghettos, dormitory suburbs, etc.) and habitable space (the inside and outside of the dwelling, the addition of a ‘second home’, etc.). Objects are less important today than space and the social marking of space. Habitat thus perhaps has an opposite function to that of other consumables. The latter have a homogenizing function, the former a differentiating function in terms of space and location.
 Nature, space, clean air, silence—it is the incidence of the pursuit of these scarce commodities and their high price which we read in the differential indices of expenditure between two categories at opposite ends of the social spectrum. The difference in expenditure between workers and senior managers on essential goods is 100:135, but it is 100:245 on household equipment, 100:305 on transport and 100:390 on leisure. One should not see these figures as showing a quantitative graduation within a homogeneous space of consumption, but see, through them, the social discrimination attaching to the quality of goods sought after.
 There is much talk of the right to health, to space, to beauty, to holidays, to knowledge and to culture. And, as these new rights emerge, so ministries emerge with them, such as the Ministries of Health, or of Leisure. And why not add Beauty and Clean Air? This whole phenomenon, which seems to express a general individual and collective advance, rewarded in the end with embodiment in institutions, is ambiguous in its meaning and one might, as it were, see it as representing quite the opposite: there is no right to space until there no longer is space for everyone, and until space and silence are the privilege of some at the expense of others. Just as there was no ‘right to property’ until there was no longer land for everyone and there was no right to work until work became, within the framework of the division of labour, an exchangeable commodity, i.e. one which no longer belonged specifically to individuals. We might ask whether the ‘right to leisure’ does not, similarly, mean that leisure too has reached the stage of technical and social division which work did before it and has thus, in fact, come to an end.
 The appearance of these new social rights, brandished as slogans and emblazoned on the democratic banner of the affluent society, is in fact symptomatic, therefore, of the elements concerned acquiring the status of distinctive signs and class (or caste) privileges. The ‘right to clean air’ signifies the loss of clean air as a natural good, its transition to commodity status and its inegalitarian social redistribution. One should not mistake for objective social progress (something being entered as a right in the tables of the law) what is simply the advance of the capitalist system—i.e. the progressive transformation of all concrete and natural values into productive forms, i.e. into sources
 1 of economic profit;
 2 of social privilege.

Jean Baudrillard, The Consumer Society

Let us return, for a moment, to the specific ideology of leisure. Rest, relaxation, escape and distraction are, perhaps, ‘needs’: but they do not in themselves define the specific exigency of leisure, which is the consumption of time. Free time is, perhaps, the entire ludic activity one fills it up with, but it is, first of all, the freedom to waste one’s time, and possibly even to ‘kill’ it, to expend it as pure loss (this is why it is insufficient to say that leisure is ‘alienated’ because it is merely the time necessary to reproduce labour power. The alienation of leisure is more profound: it does not relate to the direct subordination to working time, but is linked to the very impossibility of wasting one’s time).
 The true use-value of time, the use-value which leisure desperately tries to restore, is that of being wasted. The holidays are this quest for a time which one can waste in the full sense of the term, without that waste entering in its turn into a process of calculation, without that time being (at the same time) in some way ‘earned’. In our system of production and productive forces, one can only earn one’s time: this fatality weighs upon leisure as it does upon work. One can only ‘exploit [faire-valoir] one’s time’, if only by making a spectacularly empty use of it. The free time of the holidays remains the private property of the holiday-maker: an object, a possession he has earned with the sweat of his brow over the year; it is something owned by him, possessed by him as he possesses his other objects — something he could not relinquish to give it or sacrifice it (as one does with objects in making gifts of them), to yield it back up to total availability, to that absence of time which would be true freedom. He is tethered to ‘his’ time as Prometheus was tethered to his rock, tethered to the Promethean myth of time as productive force.
 Sisyphus, Tantalus, Prometheus: all the existential myths of ‘absurd freedom’ are reasonably accurate representations of the holiday-maker in his setting, with all his desperate efforts to imitate ‘vacation’, gratuitousness, a total dispossession, a void, a loss of himself and of his time which he cannot achieve, being, as he is, an object caught up in a definitively objectivized dimension of time.
 We are in an age when men will never manage to waste enough time to be rid of the inevitability of spending their lives earning it. But you can’t throw off time like underwear. You can no longer either kill it or waste it, any more than you can money, since they are both the very expression of the exchange-value system. In the symbolic dimension, gold and money are excrement. It is the same with objectivized time. But it is, in fact, very rare — and logically impossible in the current system — for money or time to be restored to their ‘archaic’, sacrificial function of excrement. That would really be to deliver oneself of them in the symbolic mode. In the order based on calculation and capital, things are, in a sense, precisely the opposite way about: objectivized by it, and manipulated by it as exchange-value, it is we who have become the excrement of money, it is we who have become the excrement of time.
 Thus, everywhere, in spite of the fiction of freedom in leisure, ‘free’ time is logically impossible: there can only be constrained time. The time of consumption is that of production. It is so to the extent that it is only ever an ‘escapist’ parenthesis in the cycle of production. But, once again,this functional complementarity (variously shared out in the different social classes) is not its essential determination. Leisure is constrained in so far as, behind its apparent gratuitousness, it faithfully reproduces all the mental and practical constraints which are those of productive time and subjugated [asservi] daily life.

Jean Baudrillard, The Consumer Society