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In the News 22.09.17 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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In the News 22.09.17 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
In the News 22.09.17 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Facebook’s War on Free Will

All the values that Silicon Valley professes are the values of the 60s. The big tech companies present themselves as platforms for personal liberation. Everyone has the right to speak their mind on social media, to fulfil their intellectual and democratic potential, to express their individuality. Where television had been a passive medium that rendered citizens inert, Facebook is participatory and empowering. It allows users to read widely, think for themselves and form their own opinions.

We can’t entirely dismiss this rhetoric. There are parts of the world, even in the US, where Facebook emboldens citizens and enables them to organise themselves in opposition to power. But we shouldn’t accept Facebook’s self-conception as sincere, either. Facebook is a carefully managed top-down system, not a robust public square. It mimics some of the patterns of conversation, but that’s a surface trait.

Read the rest of this article at: The Guardian

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A High-End Mover Dishes on Truckstop Hierarchy, Rich People, and Moby Dick

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I’ll take the movie stars, the ambassadors, the corporate bigwigs.

Loveland Pass, Colorado, on US Route 6 summits at 11,991 feet. That’s where I’m headed, having decided to skip the congestion at the Eisenhower Tunnel. Going up a steep grade is never as bad as going down, though negotiating thirty-five tons of tractor-trailer around the hairpin turns is a bit of a challenge. I have to use both lanes to keep my 53-foot trailer clear of the ditches on the right side and hope nobody coming down is sending a text or sightseeing.

At the top of the pass, high up in my Freightliner Columbia tractor pulling a spanking-new, fully loaded custom moving van, I reckon I can say I’m at an even 12,000 feet. When I look down, the world disappears into a miasma of fog and wind and snow, even though it’s July. The road signs are clear enough, though— the first one says runaway truck ramp 1.5 miles. Next one: speed limit 35 mph for vehicles with gross weight over 26,000 lbs. Next one: are your brakes cool and adjusted? Next one: all commercial vehicles are required to carry chains september 1—may 31. I run through the checklist in my mind. Let’s see: 1.5 miles to the runaway ramp is too far to do me any good if the worst happens, and 35 miles per hour sounds really fast. My brakes are cool, but adjusted? I hope so, but no mechanic signs off on brake adjustments in these litigious days. Chains? I have chains in my equipment compartment, required or not, but they won’t save my life sitting where they are. Besides, I figure the bad weather will last for only the first thousand feet. The practical aspects of putting on chains in a snowstorm, with no pullover spot, in pitch dark, at 12,000 feet, in a gale, and wearing only a T-shirt, is a prospect Dante never considered in enumerating his circles of hell. The other option is to keep rolling—maybe I’ll be crushed by my truck at the bottom of a scree field, maybe I won’t. I roll.

I can feel the sweat running down my arms, can feel my hands shaking, can taste the bile rising in my throat from the greasy burger I ate at the Idaho Springs Carl’s Jr. (It was the only place with truck parking.) I’ve got 8.6 miles of 6.7 percent downhill grade ahead of me that has taken more trucks and lives than I care to think about. The road surface is a mix of rain, slush, and (probably) ice. I’m one blown air hose away from oblivion, but I’m not ready to peg out in a ball of flame or take out a family in a four-wheeler coming to the Rocky Mountains to see the sights.

Read the rest of this article at: Longreads

The Media Has A Probability Problem

Two Saturday nights ago, just as Hurricane Irma had begun its turn toward Florida, the Associated Press sent out a tweet proclaiming that the storm was headed toward St. Petersburg and not its sister city Tampa, just 17 miles to the northeast across Tampa Bay.

Hurricane forecasts have improved greatly over the past few decades, becoming about three times more accurate at predicting landfall locations. But this was a ridiculous, even dangerous tweet: The forecast was nowhere near precise enough to distinguish Tampa from St. Pete. For most of Irma’s existence, the entire Florida peninsula had been included in the National Hurricane Center’s “cone of uncertainty,” which covers two-thirds of possible landfall locations. The slightest change in conditions could have had the storm hitting Florida’s East Coast, its West Coast, or going right up the state’s spine. Moreover, Irma measured hundreds of miles across, so even areas that weren’t directly hit by the eye of the storm could have suffered substantial damage. By Saturday night, the cone of uncertainty had narrowed, but trying to distinguish between St. Petersburg and Tampa was like trying to predict whether 31st Street or 32nd Street would suffer more damage if a nuclear bomb went off in Manhattan.

Read the rest of this article at: FiveThirtyEight

Making War Illegal Changed The World. But It’s Becoming Too Easy To Break The Law

Last Thursday at 2.42am, four Israeli jets fired a volley of missiles at a Syrian government facility, destroying buildings believed to be associated with the production of chemical weapons, killing two Syrians on the ground in the process. A statement from Syria issued hours later warned of “dangerous repercussions of such hostile acts on the security and stability of the region”.

This is not the first time Israel has used force to destroy facilities capable of producing unconventional weapons. In 1981, it launched an attack on the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq, claiming the reactor had “less than a month go to” before “it might have become critical”. The United Nations security council quickly condemned the attack as a “clear violation of the charter of the United Nationsand the norms of international conduct”. Other representatives of powerful nations – including Margaret Thatcher – joined in the condemnation. They pointed out that the UN charter prohibits the use of force by one state against another, with only two explicit exceptions: when the security council has approved the use of force (it hadn’t) or when state has a legitimate claim to self-defence (the consensus was that Israel didn’t).

By contrast, Israel’s attack in Syria this month met with deafening silence. One reason is obvious: Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, has launched horrific chemical weapons attacks on civilians, and many world leaders want to see him stopped. But many wanted to keep Iraq from obtaining nuclear weapons in 1981 and yet criticised the Israeli attacks as “a grave breach of international law” (as Thatcher put it). What has changed is not the content of the Israeli action – a clear violation of the UN charter in both cases – but its context. Today, perhaps more than at any time since 1945, the prohibition on use of force that has been the backbone of the international order for most of the last century is under attack. Indeed, it is in danger of collapsing – and taking the order it upholds down with it.

Read the rest of this article at: The Guardian

TROLLHÄTTAN

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As a young man I moved to a small Swedish town where no one spoke English, and much of the time I felt as out of place as if I had been on the upper slopes of Mount Everest, where nothing grows and the air is too thin to breathe. But over the years I adapted. I learned to speak the language, and then to think in it, and finally to feel in it and to dialogue with myself in words I can’t translate to English without a conscious effort.

Sweden then was a disciplined place. Violent crime was almost unknown. There was a subculture of unofficial, manly violence, but only directed at other men. One fiercely denunciatory book on Sweden included in its indictment of the country the readiness with which criminals confessed to their crimes once caught. Being cut off from society, the author maintained, was the most terrible fate that could befall a Swede, so they would confess in order to be reconciled with it.

The mysterious shimmer, or out of focus quality, that crime had then was reinforced by the mystification of criminals. Their names were hardly ever published in the newspapers – instead they would be referred to by their age so that the accused would be no more than ‘The thirty-five-year old’, or some other distinguishing characteristic. This rule, hugely frustrating to the impulses of the tabloid press, is largely still observed today in the old media.

Even Christer Pettersson, the man suspected as the murderer of the Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, was known in the newspapers for a decade as ‘the bayonet man’, because after a drunken quarrel with another drifter he killed him with a bayonet.

But very occasionally the names of some truly famous criminals would be published. One of them was Clark Olofsson, a bank robber from Trollhättan, a town about 30 km from Lilla Edet, where I lived with my girlfriend. Olofsson was only 16 at the time of his first conviction, but even after his adolescence ended he kept stealing things and thumping people. In 1973 he became famous when a friend took six women hostage in a bank in central Stockholm and held them for six days while demanding Olofsson’s release from prison. As part of the hostage negotiations Olofsson was allowed out of prison by the police to join his friend inside the bank vault, where he shot and wounded a policeman who was spying on them. The hostages were rescued, and Olofsson and his friend were sentenced, but the freed hostages maintained that their captors had been acting to protect them from the police – hence the term ‘Stockholm syndrome’.

Read the rest of this article at: Granta

P.S. previous articles & more by P.F.M. // Top images: @bei.bei.wei; @vivaluxuryblog; @lukecabrams

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