Nikola Tesla’s Dark Secret

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The boy spent much of his early childhood enduring Serbian traditions, including an overabundance of sloppy kisses from two wrinkly old aunts, one of whom had “two teeth protruding like the tusks of an elephant,” Nikola Tesla wrote in his autobiography. So one day, when his mother asked him which of the two aunts he thought was prettier, Tesla thoughtfully mulled it over, declaring, “This here is not as ugly as the other,” and thus revealing an early and wicked sense of humor. 

Tesla, the forefather of the internet and the man who essentially invented the 20th century — with everything from modern electrical engineering advances such as the electric motor to X-rays, remote controls, radars and radio — didn’t just have a remarkable mind; he also had a witty one. Recognized as one of the greatest inventors of his time, his celebrity status saw him hobnobbing with the likes of Mark Twain, Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Edison and J.P Morgan.

There were moments where he would be the toast of the town and moments where he seemed to want to sit in a dark hotel room and be by himself.

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23-year-old Nikola Tesla

Source Public Domain

“It’s a word that is overused, but he really was a genius and a star among the stars,” says Marc Seifer, author of the biographical account of the engineer, Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla. The darling of the 20th century, best friends and acquaintances alike were regularly subjected to Tesla’s sense of humor. Arthur Brisbane, a newspaper editor for the New York World, once asked Tesla how he could have such light eyes and be a Slav (he was Serbian-American), and Tesla said that “using his mind a great deal had made them many shades lighter.” 

But behind that exceptional brain was a dark secret. His obsessive mind, helped by an eidetic memory that focused the direction of his experiments, would often give way to overwhelming mania that some historians say resembled the chronic symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder. He rarely slept, claiming to only need two hours a night, but he admitted to dozing occasionally to recharge. He hated the feel of jewelry and wrote that he had “a violent aversion against the earrings of women” and that “the sight of a pearl would almost give [him] a fit.”

He would not touch another person’s hair, he wrote, unless he was “perhaps, at the point of a revolver,” and he could contract a fever just by looking at a peach. At Tesla’s most extreme, he was reportedly obsessed with a white pigeon he believed was communicating with him. “There were moments where he would be the toast of the town and moments where he seemed to want to sit in a dark hotel room and be by himself,” says W. Bernard Carlson, author of Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age.

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Self-deprecating genius or mad scientist?

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But his innate brilliance and persistence in advancing humanity’s access to technology led one of his greatest inventions: wireless communications and limitless free energy. As early as 1893 he made pronouncements on the possibility of wireless communication with his devices, building a wireless-controlled boat and a wireless telephone, says Seifer, a full 70 years before wireless telephones went into circulation. Yet, he threw those ideas aside for the ill-fated, unfinished Wardenclyffe Tower project in Long Island, a station aimed at providing intercontinental wireless transmission. Though the project was primarily backed by financier J.P. Morgan, who recognized there was likely profit to be made with wireless power, when Tesla asked for more money, Morgan refused.

 

Tesla’s main problem, Seifer says, was that Morgan couldn’t conceive of how to make money from something invisible like radio. “Morgan was used to simply putting a meter on and bringing money in that way,” Seifer said. “It was a whole new paradigm.” In 1904, Tesla, determined to see his idea come to fruition, wrote with absolute certainty that “when wireless is fully applied, the earth will be converted into a huge brain, capable of response in every one of its parts.” But the lack of cash proved the project’s death knell, leading to the ultimate downfall of one of the greatest inventors of our time — a megalomaniac who believed in all or nothing. “That was one of his character flaws,” says Carlson. “His illusions got ahead of the practical engineering.”

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Mark Twain in Tesla’s lab. (That’s Tesla watching in the background.)

Source Public Domain

But he could be forgiven for his imperfections. After all, he also invented the hydroelectric system, a renewable clean energy system that for the first time ever slowed global warming, according to historians. In terms of relative foresight, Elon Musk, who named his automotive and energy storage company after Tesla, pales in comparison to the firm’s namesake. Yet Tesla himself was riddled with insecurity, especially over never managing to get his big tower project off the ground.

At the age of 86, Tesla died alone in room 3327 of the New Yorker Hotel. He had been a lifelong bachelor, remaining single and boasting that his chastity helped him focus on his work. The success of the American economy will always depend on “a mix of the visionaries and the engineers,” says Carlson. But as Tesla learned, in a democratic society, it’s not enough to just come up with a product or idea. “You have to figure out how to scale it, or it doesn’t change the world,” Carlson adds.

Could This Holy City Be a Test Lab to Save All Cities?

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Part of a series about the promise of Narendra Modi’s India.

The kinds of observations one can make about the city of Varanasi are so platitudinous as to be almost offensive. This is India, and it is nothing new to note that things are messy, dirty, disorganized or confusing. For those with a stake in the subcontinent, though, it’s not just annoying — it’s downright frightening to see the city at the end of monsoon season, where flooding waters from the holy river Ganga strike up against traffic that crawls along at an inchworm pace. At the river itself, pilgrims and visitors cannot even walk down the steps known as the ghats to bathe in the sewage-tinged water; in August, those ghats were nearly fully submerged by rising water levels.

For those who want a glimpse into the task the world’s largest democracy faces as it tries to make its urban areas livable for the 21st century, it would be hard to find a better example than Varanasi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s constituency, where all these problems are front and center. It’s where the additional specter of the environment looms large thanks to the Ganga waters, a reminder that every challenge of urbanization will become more urgent in the face of climate change. The city of 1.5 million (according to Census data) may not have a lot of solutions to boast of yet, but it’s certainly set thinkers flurrying to understand what looks like a canary in the coal mine of urban disaster — and how to try to create a turnaround in what some call the world’s tier-two cities, meaning a step down in size and importance from the big ones, like MumbaiDelhi or Bangalore. “The ecological conditions are very bleak,” says Vijay Pandey, a Varanasi native and research scholar in the Delhi School of Economics’ geography department.

Over the last two years, as Modi kicked off his time in office, Indians have dared to hope that development and the hazy, fey future the country has long been promised will finally come to pass. Chief among these hopes: that Indian cities will at last become more livable, even beacons for progress that the rest of Asia can follow. There are some success stories, like Pune in the western state of Maharashtra. But much remains to be done in other Indian cities as they face basic challenges like equitable water distribution, sewage connection, employment deserts and traffic congestion. In “heritage” cities — which the Indian government has deemed protected because of historical significance — a roughly $76 million initiative is ready and waiting to be dispensed for usage. Yet money alone is not the problem, notes Binay Pratap Singh, a postdoctoral candidate in geography at Banaras Hindu University. He argues it’s a lack of political will to tackle knotty problems that seem to date back millennia.

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Pilgrims and visitors pray at the submerged Kedarnath ghats of Varanasi.

Source Smita Sharma for OZY

In the 1970s, Singh adds, over half of Varanasi was open space — in 2011, that number sunk to under 4 percent. The city’s ability to dispose of waste is far under what it should be, with Ministry of Urban Development data showing almost a third of the city’s homes were unplumbed in 2013. Researchers at BHU also found that one in five Varanasi citizens lacks drinking water — the supply system was created in 1892, according to a report from the School of Planning and Architecture in New Delhi. And then there’s the city’s monkeys, who chew through electric cables above the Ganga. The challenges are similar across India’s urban environments, especially in tier-two cities, says Suveer Sinha, a partner at consulting firm McKinsey & Company who has worked on urbanization issues, including in Pune. An added wrinkle in Varanasi: This city has been industrially, spiritually and educationally important since the second century BCE. “We are talking about very old streets,” where the population has exploded beyond its original scale, Sinha points out. “How do you make sure things actually move  in a place like this?” 

Indian planners are getting to know their cities all over again, literally redrawing the map of urban areas.

So what now? For one, Indian planners are getting to know their cities all over again, literally redrawing the map of urban areas that have been named and renamed by Hindus, Muslims and the British over the centuries. Differentiating between the urban center of a city and the outer sprawl is the starting point, allowing planners to make transportation decisions. They’re also having to balance grand ambitions about sexy Wi-Fi-connected cities with the reality that sewage pumps along the water’s edge might need to come first. Varanasi is the most obvious — but not sole — example of how Modi’s astral plan to create 100 smart cities may strike up against ugly terrestrial realities.

 

And then there is the issue of employment. Sinha chalks up some of Pune’s success to the 800 colleges located in the city, which has drawn IT companies to collect on the talent. Though Varanasi is home to some good schools of its own, the informal economy still rules here, with residents toiling in dying handicraft industries, comprising a third of all industry in the city, meaning no plan can sustain itself unless it’s coupled with a labor-force rejuvenation. Already, the government has tried to protect handicraft artisans, offering them electricity subsidies and healthcare schemes — but experts say we’ve only begun to see the havoc to be wreaked on these ancient industries.

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People wade through flooded streets of Varanasi.

Source Smita Sharma for OZY

The questions facing Varanasi are not unlike those being dealt with by architects and planners in the heart of old Beijing or those tasked with the unlucky job of untangling new Bangkok. Asian cities not only have to contend with modern sprawl and teeming populations living cheek-to-jowl but also very old urban quarters unprepared for new transit updates. Which means preexisting Western models of development aren’t going to work, Sinha points out. “It has to be an Indianized model of urbanization,” says Sinha. “There are not a lot of role models.”

Who Has Time to Masturbate Twice a Day? Rich People

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You have sexy questions? Eugene has sexy answers. Write. Now: Eugene@ozy.com

Bad Timing: A Sexual Obsession

EUGENE, SIR: He wants to have sex when he wants to have sex, which is not always when I want to have it. If I don’t want to have it when he wants to have it, it becomes such a big deal that I really don’t want to have it. So it becomes a thing. Is there an easy way for couples to negotiate this? We don’t want to break up, but we’ve been together for two years. We’re 30 and I, personally, don’t see this changing unless maybe I change it, but who wants to have sex with someone who is having sex with them as a favor? —Tali

Dear Talladega: This is really almost a no-win battle. If he wants it less than you? You’re concerned that he’s not as into you as you are into him. Which could be what he’s thinking about now. Well, that and you going all Lysistrata on him in some kind of weird power play. Which it may be. The point is no matter which way the pieces are moved, no one is winning this and yet, if you think about it, it’s probably virtually impossible for two people to have one sex drive. So you hope for a close-but-no-cigar scenario that you both can live with and that living with it doesn’t result in just being the closest witness to the death of sex for youse two. 

But my attitude? Whether I cook a meal for you that you eat alone or I cook a meal that we eat together, I’m just jazzed to have made you happy. If, in my efforts to make you happy, I cook a meal that you don’t want to eat, then I’d hope that you’d not mind me eating it alone. Understanding, as you should, that if I am eating alone too often, I might just find someone else who is OK with turning eating back into dining. All analogies aside, the truth remains: We don’t often say no to that which we believe is GREAT, so our nos frequently come with the unspoken understanding that we’re saying no to something we don’t believe is great, and you know as well as I do that living life with the less than great is for the birds.

How do you “negotiate” in a way to keep both people happy? How do you make sex sound orders of magnitude LESS sexy? Well, use words like “negotiate,” for starters, unless you’re dealing with professionals. And secondly: You don’t. Are you going to trade one fellatio for nonspecific later-to-be-named sex acts?

Ugh. This might sound ugly, but honestly, I’ve never seen this get better. Like never, ever. Let him/set him free. And you too while you’re at it, since if you’ve got the time, you should be using it to find a shoe that fits you.

Picking a Bone With Onan

EUGENE, SIR: Should I be jealous about how much my wife masturbates? Yes, I work and she doesn’t, and she still has sex with me whenever I want to have sex, but masturbating twice a day seems like a lot to me. —Adam

Dear 1-Adam-12: You’ve almost got almost all of this right. You’re disturbed that your wife is spending a lot of alone time when she’s alone. But methinks the disturbance comes from an innate sense that jealousy is just the canary in the coal mine. I mean, any spoken conversation of significance between two people is immediately subtitled by a second, more silent, conversation. In other words, there’s what we say versus what we mean. Sometimes these flow together. Sometimes not.

In this instance, you might be wondering if her masturbating twice a day is a sign that not having sex twice a day is a problem. Moreover, is it a problem you can solve with your penis? If it is a problem you can solve with your penis, can you do so on the regular or is toning her down easier than you tuning yourself up? And, ultimately, will all of this lead to her subbing out your husbandly duties to ready and willing delivery dudes, postal workers and guys in her yoga class?

I don’t know, Adam, but I do know this: Having the time to masturbate twice a day is a luxury, and only rich people can afford luxuries. Or to quote Lou Reed: “Some people like to go out dancing/Other people like us, we gotta work.” Now if she’s got enough juice after a 10-hour workday to still lay it down twice a day, you need to step up. I suspect, though, the schedules will match up much more equitably, and this will cease to be a problem.

Which it really shouldn’t be anyway. In case you haven’t figured this out yet, masturbating alone is fundamentally a different animal than even masturbating with someone else. So, this could be like getting jealous of her brushing her teeth. Or not. Lots of variables, but the first one that needs to be dealt with? Turning your household into a two-income household!

Accidentally Gay?

EUGENE, SIR: I am confused. I just discovered my boyfriend cheated on me with one of his friends. A male friend. They were drinking, he said, and it was an accident. I want to forgive him, but this seems wrong in a lot of ways and I feel guilty for feeling that way. Advice? —NM

Dear Not Me: That he’s cheated on you with another dude means nothing to me, necessarily. The fact that you use the word “cheated” implies that this was not part of any sort of prior agreement, so I’m going to have to call bullshit on the sleight of hand that has you feeling impolitic for being angry that it was with a dude. I’d not say you’re a homophobe, if that’s what you’re thinking. I would say you’re a lover-having-another-lover-phobe. Makes lots of sense to me.

The question remains, though: What are you going to live with? The stumbling drunken excuses of a wanton lover? Or love without aforementioned wanton lover? The choice is clearly yours. But if you choose the former, expect nothing more. Good luck.

The Geopolitical Secrets Hidden on Wikipedia

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Many people say they want a revolution, but we’re pretty sure that not many say they want a revolution in geopolitics. But there are at least a couple. Once upon a time, a group of scientists decided to apply their expertise in molecular and genetic interactions in your DNA to the field of global political stability. To achieve their goal, they’d use every high schooler’s (and college student’s) favorite homework resource — Wikipedia.

Sounds like an episode of Scooby-Doo, Science Edition. The results are arguably as cool. 

A country’s geopolitical stability can be measured on Wikipedia.

The Wikipedia Dispute Index correlates with a number of established measures of geopolitical stability, about as well as they correlate with one other. Rob Russell, professor of protein evolution and cell networks and a specialist in computational biology, worked with two colleagues at the University of Heidelberg — his wife, biotechnology entrepreneur Gordana Apic, and bioinformatics research scientist Matthew Betts — to create the index by running a relatively simple calculation: On how many pages linked to each country’s homepage does Wikipedia helpfully notify the reader “The neutrality of this article is disputed”? (A notice all too familiar to those of us who research civil wars in obscure countries on weekends.)

The index relies on the “guilt by association” principle, a concept commonly used in biology, says Russell. If a country’s homepage is linked to many disputed Wikipedia pages, it is likely that there is unsettled public interpretation of, say, certain historical events, which can be used as a proxy for … well, something. “We don’t really know what it is measuring,” says Russell. “Something about how angry the contributors” to Wikipedia are in a certain country, he speculates. Nevertheless, a 2011 study published by the researchers showed that the measure remains stable over time, seems to cancel out “false positives” on aggregate and responds to real world events. The values for Georgia, for instance, jumped around the time of the 2008 conflict with Russia.

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An example of the neutrality claim.

Source Wikipedia

There remains scope to refine the index, such as by combining different-language editions of Wikipedia, if only Russell had the resources. “I suppose I had this naive dream that I would be approached by the CIA to try to beef this up,” says Russell. Well, that might not be so naive: In 1994, the CIA commissioned the Political Instability Task Force (PITF) to develop more accurate ways to chart and predict political instability in different countries.

Understanding political instability is extremely important, but also resource-intensive — to the tune of “tens of millions of dollars” of CIA money, says Dr. Monty G. Marshall, director of the Center for Systemic Peace, who has worked with the PITF for 18 years. Indices tend to aggregate measures of economic development, levels of discrimination, governance and many others, none of which are perfectly objectively comparable between countries or over time. Meanwhile, the Wikipedia Dispute Index is easy to compute and its methodology is wholly objective. An index by the Economist Intelligence Unit based off the work of the PITF correlates strongly with Russell’s Wikipedia Dispute Index. 

 

To be sure, the initial study was exploratory, and while the findings are promising — “things don’t usually work this well first time through,” Russell says — they are not conclusive. While it may be a “curiosity,” says Marshall, the Wikipedia Dispute Index “has no direct analytic utility or explanatory value.” He tells a story of how, in the PITF’s work regressing many factors against the indices it created, one time, the strongest association was simply with the “country code,” demonstrating how “correlations between apparently unrelated variables can occur randomly or spuriously.”

Nevertheless, applying the science of networks to the internet is an established technique, with Amazon book recommendations another example of how “guilt by association” can result in surprisingly accurate results, especially if you provide Amazon with a lot of information by buying a lot of books. And there’s a hell of a lot of information on Wikipedia (40,323,058 pages and counting). Finding ways to mine this information could yield insights we never knew existed. It might not be the best source to reference in your high school history papers, but perhaps Wikipedia could teach the CIA a thing or two. Chances are they’re already watching.

165 Reasons to Vote That Have Nothing to Do With Clinton or Trump

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Amid all the talk of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, there’s a side race mounting. First name: ballot. Last name: initiatives. And whether they’re about future funding or decisions about health care, retirement or energy, they’re just more reasons to get out in November and vote. 

Sure, Mary Jane— which has been off and on the ballot for decades now in one form or another — is back again and among the most burning, wide-sweeping subjects around. But there is even more interesting work afoot; in a presidential year, ballot initiatives are primed for an outsize effect. We’ve seen it in the past: George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election bid enjoyed an extra conservative push due to ballot initiatives in 11 states to ban gay marriage. And the people’s vote has already roused change this year — we’re looking at you, Brexit. So let’s dive into some of the roughly 165 initiatives on the American ballot that thus far have been approved and could spell a large, impending national conversation.

Retriggering a Debate

The 1999 Columbine High School shootings triggered a big shift in this country. President Bill Clinton took a hard line, going on national TV to discuss the issue and calling for restrictions on large-capacity ammunition clips “that make a mockery of our assault weapons ban.” He also noted, “We really can’t do what we need to do until there is national legislation.” But public opinion was divided; since then, ballot initiatives have come up often and mainly targeted a background check increase — with only some that have passed. This time around, Maine and Nevada will be voting on background checks. It seems like a standard approach, but if folks in more rural, gun-owning parts of these states go for it, that message might be a canary in a coal mine for the NRA: Support could become harder to find.

Meanwhile, California seems to be revisiting Clinton’s argument by offering up Proposition 63, which includes a proposal to limit large-capacity magazines, or magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. What’s most interesting is that a number of states have already banned these types of ammunition clips — including California. Yet the issue remains up for vote because if the ballot measure passes, then it will be protected by California’s rules about ballot measures — that they can only be repealed by another popular vote, unless the initiative itself says that the Legislature can amend it.

Earmarks the Spot

Taxing a good to set aside money for a service — earmarks — are back in season. While these revenue measures are often popular with voters, they make some economists cringe: Promising funds for one particular service hamstrings the flexibility of elected officials to prioritize issues over time, critics argue. 

This year, though, there’s the smoke-flavored variety. A handful of states, including California, Colorado and Missouri, are going after Big Tobacco. Back in 1988, California raised taxes on cigarettes and earmarked the money for other purposes. Who tried to help block a tax hike on cigs back then? None other than former Fox CEO and Chairman Roger Ailes, the New York Times reported. The argument against: Gangs would increasingly be tempted to smuggle tobacco. Still, these earmarks are typically popular since nonsmokers outnumber smokers at this point by about 5-to-1. 

 

But wait, there are other kinds of earmarks — including some that fund learning — like in Oregon, which will vote on whether to dabble in an earmark to help prevent dropouts.

Voting on How We Vote

In Maine, this could be a wild turn of events. They’ll get out the vote on ranked-choice voting, where preferences are taken into account in the election of local and state reps. In a state that doesn’t easily fall left or right and has opted for a third party (Sen. Angus King, for instance), this might just pass. It would be the largest experiment of its nature in the U.S., though other countries employ ranked-choice voting already. In the U.S., Oakland, California, uses the system for its mayoral race. Not everyone went with it, though. “When I figure out how ranked-choice voting works, I’ll tell you who else I’ll vote for,” California Gov. and Oaklandite Jerry Brown reportedly said.

Then there’s an initiative in Alaska to automatically register voters when they sign up for the Permanent Fund Dividend, which provides a $1,000 to $2,000 kickback annually. This is creative thinking and smells of the “motor voter” act. A report has found that approximately 70,000 Alaskans qualify for the PFD, but are not registered to vote. That’s about 13 percent of the voting public. You can bet on a bluer state disposition if wider voter registration passes — so keep watching this one. 

Payday for the Millennials 

The minimum wage debate is contentious. Seattle, which is putting into effect a $15 per hour minimum in the next few years, has some economists worried about unemployment. A handful of states will have the minimum wage question on the ballot, and it’s likely many increases will go into effect. There may be more incremental changes than Seattle, for one, which could help abate some negative consequences.

In South Dakota, though, a lowering of the minimum wage for youth workers is up for a vote. The idea: having an $8.50 an hour floor for teens hurts their chances of being hired and diminishes their attractiveness to businesses. Could a two-tiered minimum wage take off in the U.S. like it has in Australia? This might be a key test.

Which ballot initiatives will you be watching? Which are you passionately for? Against? Shoot an email to carlos.watson@ozymandias.com or respond in the comment section below.

The Coolest House Is Beatbox House

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Close your eyes and listen. You’ll hear syncopated drumbeats. Manipulated horns. A deep bass. This is a head-nodder track that any club DJ would deem worthy.

Open your eyes and you’ll see four dudes in sneakers and T-shirts onstage — producing sounds with only their voices. They’re members of New York City’s Beatbox House, a seven-person communal beatboxing group. It’s a fitting location for the place where beatboxing was made big by guys like Biz Markie. They live, party, play video games, eat and beatbox together. They used to compete against one another on the biggest stages; now they improvise with each other while doing the dishes, and play festivals together like OZY Fest this past July. The beatboxer Pepouni stayed with the group for a few weeks and was astonished by how they “leveled up their beatbox,” and were able to improve so quickly by challenging each other. “Every day you can have a heavy training session,” he says.

Damn, I want a safe space where all my homeys can chill and feel comfortable and do what they love to do.

Chris Celiz

In many ways, the collective’s members are pushing boundaries. A few have music school backgrounds, a few don’t. Gene Shinozaki, a Berklee College of Music dropout, adds musicality to his performance and leverages melody and harmony as key parts of his routine. Kaila Mullady is the best female beatboxer in the world. Napom is a young phenom who placed second in the World Beatbox battle. Chris Celiz, the group’s founder, is growing the beatboxing community in New York. 

Back in 2010, Celiz watched how the scenes at beatboxing championships unfolded. Beatboxers were hypercompetitive. They guarded their techniques. They were solitary and isolated, rarely collaborating. Celiz thought, “Damn, I want a safe space where all my homeys can chill and feel comfortable and do what they love to do.” He rented a place in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood — he had more money at the time than the others — and allowed people to crash after gigs and rehearsals.  

Like a good beatbox performance, the goals of Beatbox House are multilayered. One is to raise the profile of beatboxing from party trick to serious art form. Celiz tells the story of how he recently went to karaoke and beatboxed for the crowd. Afterward, the emcee praised Celiz for his “awesome trick” “That hurt my soul, you know,” Celiz says. “I put in time for this.” They ooze ambition too, with dreams of selling out stadium tours, which just might be possible, the way Pentatonix took over the professional a cappella world. Right now, they’re taking calls from air mattresses on the floor of the house they’ve moved into, where each member has a room of his or her own.

But can just anyone join? Beatbox House member Kenny Urban laughs. Not really, he says. But if you’re in the scene, you can crash there.

TRUMP, The Presidency: Barriers to Entry

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It’s time to anticipate Donald J. Trump in the Oval Office in just the sort of fashion such a scene demands — a comic strip. In TRUMP, the Presidency, OZY explores how a President Trump might make America great again. Watch for our latest installment every Thursday.

In this third volume — “Barriers to Entry” — President Trump unveils his plan to keep Muslims out of America. In our first volume — “Congress, You’re Fired” — President Trump precipitated a constitutional crisis with his Supreme Court pick, and in the second volume — “The Great Wall of America” — labor problems threatened to derail his first big domestic project. In the fourth — “Rogue Warfare” — he sends two special emissaries overseas to handle ISIS and North Korea. In the fifth volume — “The Art of the Steal” — President Trump shows Vladimir Putin the art of the deal. 

Embrace Your Inner Jerk — It Might Be Good for Your Health

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His protests notwithstanding, Donald J. Trump was definitely braggadocious when he spoke the other night of his “tremendous income.” 

What’s more, recent research suggests that everyone from the meek to the mighty could take a life lesson from the arrogant, boastful, blustery political neophyte who just might find himself in the Oval Office in January: We should embrace our inner braggarts. Forget humility, false or otherwise. We should all seek to cultivate our arrogance, for our own health and, probably, for that of the body politic.

One term for overconfidence is “self-enhancement bias,” and scientists Mark D. Alicke and Constantine Sedikides have linked it to a vast array of benefits. Blusterers are happier and more purposeful, better at solving problems and more connected socially. “Fake it till you make it,” it turns out, affects our very physiologies. The overconfident have lower baseline cortisol levels and more robust immune systems. They also tend to have reduced mortality rates. 

Now, before you start embracing narcissism under the guise of protecting your health, be warned: Tons of research points to the adverse effects of psychological overconfidence — besides, of course, people thinking you’re a jerk. Consider the investigations of social psychologist Daniel Gilbert. Among his findings? We have a devilishly hard time predicting what we will like, and yet we hate admitting that. In a 2009 study, Gilbert found that the best predictor of our responses to stimuli — potential partners, items on a restaurant menu, apartments — is how other people responded to it. Problem is, we tend not to ask others for advice. Essentially, we’re screwed by our own egos. (One might wish the fate on Trump.) 

But let’s not disgregard the perks of psychological overconfidence just yet. In conversation, Alicke acknowledged its risks, but says we’d be remiss to discredit it altogether. When it comes down to it, we still need to preserve our psychological interests. I felt that keenly at a recent life-planning powwow with some of my college friends. I charted out my future as best I could, my speech pocked with I don’t know’s and maybe’s. The spiel brought me nothing except a headache. But when it was my friend Gabe’s turn, he rolled up his sleeves and calmly explained, in detail, each subsequent step of his life. And we laughed. Because, clearly, Gabe was full of it.

But here’s the thing: Gabe probably should have been laughing at us. While he was definitely being an arrogant SOB, turns out he might be better off for it.

How Bison Will Take Over Suburban Wasteland

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Past the suburban fringe of Chicago, 60 miles west of Lake Michigan, the seemingly endless rhythm of curving cul-de-sac neighborhoods and strip malls gives way to vast expanses of green — cropland and wild prairie, divided by knots of rail yards where semitrailers wait to pick up cargo. Angular buildings are topped with green roofs, and cantilevered over the tracks are pedestrian-scale eco-villages: apartments, houses, schools and shops mixed in with the blur of shipping activity. Separated by an embankment, bison graze next to one of the continent’s largest inland freight rail hubs … and your kitchen.

Welcome to the Chicago exurbs, circa 2100. These are your neighbors, including the rail yard.

Landscape architects, ecologists and urban planners are all part of an emerging landscape-design movement that repairs polluted industrial sites with animal and human habitats.

“[The bison are] not just something that you drive out to see once a year,” says Conor O’Shea, a landscape architecture professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the designer of this futuristic nature preserve. “It’s something you see outside your front door.” The animals are the centerpiece of an 85-year plan he calls Logistical Ecologies, which tackles sustainable ways to integrate people, infrastructure and nature at the suburban edge of cities, a place usually ignored by designers.

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A member of the press gets a tour of what will be New York’s new park land at Fresh Kills landfill in Staten Island New York 25 October 2006. The worlds largest landfill, which operated from 1948 until it closed in 2001,is being transformed by the City of New York over the next 30 years into a state of the art recreational and scenic park that will be roughly three times the size of Central Park.

Source Timothy Clark/Getty

Landscape architects, ecologists and urban planners are all part of an emerging landscape-design movement that repairs polluted industrial sites with animal and human habitats. The approach harnesses what are known as ecosystem services — the benefits that people obtain from nature. In some cases, the payoff consists of natural processes that repair damaged landscapes. One example: wetland plants that filter pollutants out of water. “People think nature is what you get on your two-week vacation,” says Steven Handel, a Rutgers University ecologist, “but we need the value of eco-services where we live and work.”

Long-running economic changes are also driving these mixed-use projects. Postindustrial economies (like ours) have lots of rusting steel mills and rail corridors going to seed, especially in and around cities. After decades of suburbanization, an increasing desire to live and work in city centers means a growing market wants to explore how industry and animals — including human ones — can coexist.

 

A number of projects already have established wildlife habitats on former industrial sites, like 2,200-acre Fresh Kills Park on Staten Island, once the nation’s largest landfill. In Chicago, the final section of the Chicago Riverwalk project includes reefs for fish habitats in the formerly rancid Main Branch of the Chicago River. A plan by Studio Gang transformed Chicago’s Northerly Island, previously the site of an airport, into a 91-acre park and wildlife preserve.

Northerly Island was a trial run for a larger Studio Gang project called Edge Effect, which proposes a massive reorganization of Milwaukee’s lakefront shipping port. Instead of segregating nature and human activity, Gia Biagi, the senior director of urbanism and civic impact at Studio Gang, says designers need to ask, “What are all the different constituencies, and what is the best way for them to work together in thinking about the whole ecology?”

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A rendering of Milwaukee’s Edge Effect plan. 

Source Courtesy of Studio Gang

Edge Effect includes an “ecological breakwater” made of construction debris located on the deep-water side of a man-made peninsula called Jones Island, the site of marine and rail terminals. The breakwater protects an estuary where three rivers converge at the lakeshore, turning it into a tranquil wetland for fish, herons and kayakers.

Wetland restoration also is the aim of the Conway Urban Watershed Framework Plan developed by Stephen Luoni, director of the University of Arkansas Community Design Center. Portions of Lake Conway, located on the outskirts of Arkansas’s fastest-growing city, are polluted with fertilizer from agricultural runoff, which causes massive algae blooms. One of Luoni’s solutions for bringing back freshwater mussels, ducks and other species to this formerly idyllic fish-and-game Eden is decidedly mechanized: solar-powered Aquabots that paddle around the lake, vacuuming up excess algae like aquatic Roombas and injecting oxygen-rich air into the water.

Fionn Byrne, a landscape architecture professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, focuses his work on the inherent tension in leveraging the natural world to help us tinker with the planet. Byrne’s biggest speculative project is a series of landscapes in northern Alberta’s Athabasca oil sands, one of the largest resource-extraction sites on the planet. Byrne’s Phantom Ecology includes Crane Lake, a tailings pit that became an improbable bird-watching spot when it was accidentally flooded. Byrne wants to highlight the artificiality of the lake by installing shimmering aluminum poles that will act as nesting sites. “Why always try to make things appear natural when they’re not?” he asks. “Why not accept our role as designers of new landscapes?”

Byrne’s provocations bring up a vital point: No matter how many mountain lions roam a capped-and-sealed landfill, there’s no such thing as restoring these places to an idealized state of nature. “Preservation is not the gold standard,” Luoni says. “What you’re putting back may function, but it may not function like it did before.” Though these hybrid landscapes might be healthier and greener places filled with wild creatures, they are just as designed and intentional as the industrial mess that came before them.