North Korea Breaking News

Kim Jong Un and South Korea’s President Moon Jae-In met today on the North Korean side of Panmunjom, in the DMZ. Their last meeting was on the South Korean side.

It’s clear that they want to work out something, even if the American president is playing junior high hard-to-get. They do have to get the adolescent to the table, though. The United States has troops in South Korea and probably would have to be a party to a peace treaty. The American officials planning the summit are heading to Singapore.

It’s not all bad that the two Koreas’ leaders are taking the initiative and maintaining momentum while Trump sulks in his room and tweets lies, which seem to be worse this morning than usual. He is blaming the Democrats for ICE’s separating mothers from their children at the border under his administration’s orders. Last night he did tweet that the Korean summit might take place after all. Tune in to the next episode!

It looks like Kim Jong Un genuinely wants some sort of negotiations. He probably feels that his nuclear arsenal is at an appropriate stage to deter an American attack, and now he wants to begin improving North Korea’s economy. But Trump and company are going to have to shut up about “Libya solutions” and the nuclear threats. Or maybe North and South Korea can come up with an agreement they can present to him to sign.

In another development, Siegfried Hecker and his associates at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) have posted an enormous database of everything all the parties to the North Korean situation have ever done – nuclear weapons development, diplomacy – with a graphical indicator of whether the developments were more peaceful or warlike. Sig presented a preview when he was here in January, and I’ve been looking for it eagerly. Here’s his summary:

I’ve got people working in the yard, so I’ll be back and forth today.

Saturday Morning Sci-Fi Open Thread: Mars Needs Believers!

Even as a very young hardcore sf reader, I knew I would never be part of a one-way space mission, because I can barely stand to spend a long weekend trapped in the house with a handful of people I love, much less a bunch of random strangers. (And, yes, I did not rate my chances of appealing to a quorum of those strangers, either.) But Murphy the Trickster God bless the… idealists… who are willing to share their dreams of Martian colonization with all the world and the Boston Globe:

When the initial tingle had passed and the idea had been given time to marinate and settle, Peter Degen-Portnoy said his family split into camps regarding his decision to commit to a one-way trip to Mars.

His sons think it’s cool.

His two oldest daughters stopped speaking with him.

And his wife left him.

Three years ago, Degen-Portnoy, a 54-year-old father of five from Stoneham, was one of 100 semifinalists chosen for Mars One, a wildly ambitious Dutch-led project that ultimately seeks to colonize Mars, beginning in 2032, with 20 permanent, never-to-return-to-Earth settlers. The plan has been controversial from the moment it was announced in 2012, with serious questions about the technological feasibility, as well as the plan to fund much of the mission.

Mars One organizers say the project can be accomplished for roughly $6 billion; critics say that is preposterous, as is the plan to raise much of that through corporate sponsorship and the sale of television rights.

The mission is currently far, far away from becoming a reality — millions of miles and millions of questions remain about how they will get there, how they will survive on Mars and build a self-sustaining colony, and of course how they will survive the trip. The current plan involves sending supplies ahead, then sending crews of four crammed into spaceships the size of a tour bus for the 18-month journey. When solar flares erupt, they will retreat into a bathroom-sized pod, surrounded by water for protection, for several claustrophobic days at a time.

While space experts and keyboard cowboys continue their debate, Degen-Portnoy and the three other semifinalists from Massachusetts have been dealing with the very real impact on their personal lives that comes when you make a commitment to a one-way trip to outer space.

For whether they go to Mars or not, “the 100,” as they call themselves, are the first humans to actually experience the terrestrial repercussions of making such an extravagant extraterrestrial commitment…

But there’s also a love story! Much more at the link — along with a full-sized version of the video clip at the top.

Late Night Schadenfreude Open Thread: Confusion & Defeat to Them All

As any libertarian would tell you, taxes are theft, so Al Capone should never have gone to jail!

Much closer to the center axis on the “Evil vs Stupid” chart… Ed Kilgore has a nice (in both senses of the word) dissection of St. Bernie’s latest shenanigans:

There were two big developments on May 21 in the political universe of Bernie Sanders, one upbeat, one not-so-much.

On the positive side, Sanders formally announced he is a candidate for reelection to a third term in the Senate, as was universally expected. The only slight mystery about his bid was resolved when he indicated that he would follow his past procedure by running in the Democratic primary, and then declining the nomination and running as an independent while accepting the “endorsement” of Vermont Democrats. The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake had a sardonic comment about that:

Sanders is going to run in the Democratic primary for no reason except to preclude anybody else from winning it — despite having no intention of running as a Democrat in the general election. Sanders basically wants to ensure he will face no Democratic opponent in November. A cynic might say the guy who complained about the rigging of the 2016 Democratic presidential primary is kinda, sorta rigging the 2018 Vermont Senate race for himself…

… The announcement is also another indication that Sanders thinks he’s good to go in national office until 2024 at least, when he’ll turn 83. Whether that means he’ll run for president in 2020 is another matter, of course.
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Saturday Night Techno-Smut Interesting Read: “Are We Ready for Robot Sex?” [NSFW, Obviously]

Everyone who’s witnessed (or been) a toddler with a security toy, or a middle-aged man with his dream vehicle (bike, car, boat) already knows: When there are people-shaped robots, people will anthromophocize / individualize them. And when there are people involved, of course sometimes there will be sex, but also there will romanticization. From NYMag:

Henry is six feet tall, with six-pack abs and the customer’s choice of penis. He’s just a prototype at the moment — you can’t buy him — but the two female models Realbotix developed alongside Henry will ship this summer. So far, there have been 50 preorders at $12,000 apiece. Henry, Harmony, and Solana have sturdy silicone bodies, and once they’re synced up to a corresponding app, they can give compliments, recite poetry, tell jokes, and seduce.

Or at least, this is the general idea. The easy fantasy of what a sex robot might be — indistinguishable from an actual human, except hotter and prepared to fulfill any desire — is far from the current reality. Henry, if we’re being cruel, is essentially a high-quality dildo attached to a fancy mannequin with a Bluetooth speaker in his head. But the gulf between what we imagine and what’s possible makes sex robots the perfect vehicle for pondering our sexual and technological future. We might not wake up with sex robots in our beds tomorrow, but right now they’re an irresistible thought experiment. Since making my date with Henry, he’s become my favorite dinner-party topic…
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Friday Morning Open Thread: Spume on Troubled Political Waters

As a break from the earnest / tragic business of national politics at this moment in time…

… I offer this brilliant brutal handbagging* of the worthless Chris ‘Mad Bitchin’ Cillizza:

Chris Cillizza’s job isn’t as easy as it seems, although it also isn’t nearly difficult enough to justify the salary he receives for doing it. What that job is even supposed to be is kind of a moving target, to be honest, but much of what Cillizza does in his current position as a political reporter and editor-at-large at CNN comes closer to blogging about celebrity fashion than it does conventional political writing. Fundamentally what he writes about is political style—hot new innovations in institutionalized incompetence; particularly deft or buzzy bits of toxic pettiness; what’s trending in the collapse of everything the country ever pretended to hold dear.

This feels, from one frothy burble to the next, like a very specific type of fashion writing, not of the kind that an astute critic or academic or even competent industry-facing journalist might write, but of the kind that you find on social media in the threaded comments attached to photos of Rihanna. Cillizza does not really appear to follow any policy issue at all, and evinces no real insight into electoral trends or political tactics. He just sort of notices whatever is happening and cheerfully announces that it is very exciting and that he is here for it.

Anyway, because he is to all appearances an absolute fucking doorknob, Cillizza excels at this work. But while he makes it look easy, even an eager-beaver Politics Noticer like Cillizza must eventually notice that this fun sport that so thrills and delights him is also generally debasing everyone participating in or otherwise subject to it and leading to infinitely more suffering than any sport should…

(* I originally used ‘pig-bladdering’, but that felt like insulting Cillizza’s genetics.)

As to the serious topic enthusiastically spittled by The Mad Bitcher — don’t worry, the grownups have things in hand:

Important Read: Laundering Whose Dirty Dollars?

Be kinda nice if this scheduled post is outdated by the time it appears, but…

Trump’s vast outlay of cash, tracked through public records and totaled publicly here for the first time, provides a new window into the president’s private company, which discloses few details about its finances.

It shows that Trump had access to far more cash than previously known, despite his string of commercial bankruptcies and the Great Recession’s hammering of the real estate industry.

Why did the “King of Debt,” as he has called himself in interviews, turn away from that strategy, defying the real estate wisdom that it’s unwise to risk so much of one’s own money in a few projects?

And how did Trump — who had money tied up in golf courses and buildings — raise enough liquid assets to go on this cash buying spree?…

To total up Trump’s cash payments in real estate transactions, The Washington Post examined land records and corporate reports from six U.S. states, Ireland and the United Kingdom. These records show purchase prices for Trump’s properties, details about any mortgages and — in the United Kingdom and Ireland — the amount of cash Trump plowed into his clubs after he bought them. The Post provided the figures it used to the Trump Organization, which did not dispute them…

During the 2016 campaign, Trump continued to brag about how he’d mastered the art of spending other people’s cash.

“I do that all the time in business: It’s called other people’s money. There’s nothing like doing things with other people’s money because it takes the risk,” Trump told a campaign-trail audience in North Carolina in September 2016. “You get a good chunk of it, and it takes the risk.”

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Your Friday Night Must Read

This, by Jebediah Purdy, may be the most important thing you read this year:

The structural buttresses of that world have been crumbling since 1989, but it took a long time to fall. The year 2016 brought the first genuinely post–Cold War election: the perennial carnage of American capitalism, intensified by forty years of growing inequality, prepared the ground for Bernie Sanders’s socialism, while the nativism and racism that had slunk just outside respectable politics returned full-throated. What unifies the crisis-of-democracy genre is the failure to understand this, that the present moment is not an anomalous departure but rather a return to the baseline—to the historical norm, one might say.

The result of this error is a response to the present crisis that is at once too dramatic and too sanguine. These books all claim that Trump is unprecedented—which is not at all true. (Rather, “unprecedented” was code for “terrible” in the language of American political consensus. And, of course, he is terrible.) But these authors are also rather modest in their suggestions. None of the proposals from this genre come close to the kinds of sweeping changes that made the New Deal or even the civil-rights revolution. What might that sort of transformation look like today? For one, we need substantial redistribution, starting with marginal tax rates at the 70 percent levels that lasted until the Reagan-era cuts of the 1980s. For another, we need entirely new institutions of planning and social provision, such as universal family leave and child care to help make the economy more humane, family life less exhausting, and get closer to gender equity. We might also have to do much more to strengthen labor unions, to the point of considering radical measures such as mandatory unionization, which is often the only way to break management’s hold on labor in large firms. It could also mean a new dispensation of basic legal rights, such as granting residents, rather than only citizens, the right to vote.

Read the whole thing.