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In the News 13.11.17 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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In the News 13.11.17 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
In the News 13.11.17 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
In the News 13.11.17 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Why Beauty Is Not Universal – Facts So Romantic

We’re all human—so despite the vagaries of cultural context, might there exist a universal beauty that overrides the where and when? Might there be unchanging features of human nature that condition our creative choices, a timeless melody that guides the improvisations of the everyday? There has been a perpetual quest for such universals, because of their value as a North Star that could guide our creative choices.

One oft-cited candidate for universal beauty is visual symmetry. Consider the geometric patterns of Persian carpets and the ceilings of the Alhambra Palace in Spain, created in different places and historic periods.

But the relationship between beauty and symmetry is not an absolute. The Rococo art that was popular in Europe in the 18th century was rarely symmetrical, and Zen gardens are prized for their lack of symmetry.

Read the rest of this article at: Nautilus

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America’s ‘Retail Apocalypse’ Is Really Just Beginning

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The so-called retail apocalypse has become so ingrained in the U.S. that it now has the distinction of its own Wikipedia entry.

The industry’s response to that kind of doomsday description has included blaming the media for hyping the troubles of a few well-known chains as proof of a systemic meltdown. There is some truth to that. In the U.S., retailers announced more than 3,000 store openings in the first three quarters of this year.

But chains also said 6,800 would close. And this comes when there’s sky-high consumer confidence, unemployment is historically low and the U.S. economy keeps growing. Those are normally all ingredients for a retail boom, yet more chains are filing for bankruptcy and rated distressed than during the financial crisis. That’s caused an increase in the number of delinquent loan payments by malls and shopping centers.

The reason isn’t as simple as Amazon.com Inc. taking market share or twenty-somethings spending more on experiences than things. The root cause is that many of these long-standing chains are overloaded with debt—often from leveraged buyouts led by private equity firms. There are billions in borrowings on the balance sheets of troubled retailers, and sustaining that load is only going to become harder—even for healthy chains.

The debt coming due, along with America’s over-stored suburbs and the continued gains of online shopping, has all the makings of a disaster. The spillover will likely flow far and wide across the U.S. economy. There will be displaced low-income workers, shrinking local tax bases and investor losses on stocks, bonds and real estate. If today is considered a retail apocalypse, then what’s coming next could truly be scary.

Until this year, struggling retailers have largely been able to avoid bankruptcy by refinancing to buy more time. But the market has shifted, with the negative view on retail pushing investors to reconsider lending to them. Toys “R” Us Inc. served as an early sign of what might lie ahead. It surprised investors in September by filing for bankruptcy—the third-largest retail bankruptcy in U.S. history—after struggling to refinance just $400 million of its $5 billion in debt. And its results were mostly stable, with profitability increasing amid a small drop in sales.

Read the rest of this article at: Bloomberg

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Who Was Prince in Private?

In his fifty-seven years, Prince mastered the art of control—not merely the show of self-possession but the daily practice of it. The gravitational pull of racial, sexual, spiritual systems did not appear to act on him. In 1981, the questions he posed in “Controversy”—was he black or white, gay or straight, religious or godlike?—were answered in his right to ask them in the first place, his right to be everything. He was a producer, writer, vocalist, bassist, water drummer, cymbalist, hand-clapper, finger-snapper, rustler of wind chimes. It was by something like magic that he was able to stamp “Slave” on his cheek, to change his mononym to a then-unprintable glyph (both acts in protest of Warner Brothers’ legal exertions), and still to broadcast, for the ages, a spectacle of freedom. Not even the presence of his orthopedic cane, in his last two decades, could persuade us that the congenital heel-wearer, who, onstage, had divided his small body into splits with such animal grace, was aging painfully. We knew only what Prince wanted us to know. In the year and a half since he collapsed in an elevator at Paisley Park, his Minnesota compound, his well-guarded myth has become vulnerable to the influence of others. A will has yet to be recovered; Warner Brothers and other entities threaten to organize the contents of his vault into albums; his estate follows through with distribution deals that run counter to his artistic wishes; and his Minnesota refuge has been opened to the public, like some latter-day Graceland.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

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The Small Business Myth

Small business is the hero of modern capitalism. Owners of small firms are the virtuous strivers, the job creators and the plucky entrepreneurs who drive the economy. ‘Small businesses make a huge contribution to national prosperity and supporting Australian jobs,’ states the Labor Party in Australia. And you would struggle to find a political party in any Western democracy that disagrees. A British government official made the (unverifiable) claim that firms with fewer than five employees made 95 per cent of radical innovations. Even amid the divisive politics of the United States, as the satirist John Oliver recently noted, everyone seems to agree that ‘small business is the backbone of the economy’. In a world of international conglomerates and global capital, the proverbial Main Street proprietors get a lot of love.

For all the enthusiasm, a central puzzle remains: what, really, is the role of small business in the economy? Is looking out for small business a progressive goal? Surely, the public fascination with upstarts, bootstrappers, and innovators reflects ideals of independence, improvement, and a better tomorrow. Yet history reveals another story: a distinct and powerful small business mythology at the heart of modern political life. Beginning in the late 1970s, adulation of small business acquired a new and important role in modern capitalist countries. In particular, the Reaganite and Thatcherite movements turned to celebrating small business as a stalking horse to advance the very kind of economy that handicapped upstarts and small independent proprietors, and privileged big national and multinational corporations.

Although love for small business may seem like a timeless feature of capitalism, the widespread belief that small entrepreneurs hold the keys to economic revival is relatively recent. Across the wealthy world, starting around 1980, small business emerged from the shadows of ‘Big Business’, with newfound political, intellectual, and cultural clout. In the United States, President Jimmy Carter, cast himself as the first ‘small business owner’ in the White House since Harry Truman. Carter promised to help small businesses by rolling back government regulations. Small business lobbyists also became more active. The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), founded in the 1940s as a mail-order survey company, reinvented itself in the 1980s as an influential lobbying group on behalf of small businesses. Intellectual attention to small business increased as well. In 1970, eight American universities offered courses on starting a new business; by 1980, 137 did. Whole magazines devoted to entrepreneurship emerged. ‘After years of neglect, those who start and manage their own businesses are viewed as popular heroes,’ one commentator raved.

Read the rest of this article at: aeon

Why Can’t Addicts Just Quit?

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SEATTLE—Mere blocks from the tourists swarming Pike Place Market, Stacy Lenny pointed out the tradecraft of some of her drug-dealing clients: “There’s Todd with a wheelchair—that’s good camo for a drug hustle,” she said, nodding toward one man sitting on the corner and dealing crack out of his motorized scooter. “Missy has a lot of drugs in that bag,” she said, about another woman passing by.

A 50-year-old mom with short, gray hair and bright-blue glasses, Lenny is a harm-reduction recovery specialist with a program called REACH. The job involves driving around Seattle finding homeless drug users, befriending them, and trying to help them with their health and housing problems.

Lenny and I drove south of the city together, down roads lined with RVs and strewn with trash. Seattle has lately been strained by both rising homelessnessand heroin addiction. Last year, a record 359 people died in Seattle from drug overdoses. The majority of them involved opioids—heroin or prescription painkillers.

Working with the city’s most economically fragile addicts has made Lenny skeptical about the typical rhetoric about addiction—that it is a moral failing, that it is a choice, that users all want treatment, that addicts should be funneled swiftly into rehab. At rehab, they might be required to “admit to being a ‘junkie,’ or you detox and might die, or turn your life over to God,” she said.

That works for some people, but others spin through treatment and end up right back on the streets or using again. So instead of telling addicts what they need or where they should go, Lenny listens to what addicts tell her they need.

Eventually Lenny pulled her car over on a dirt patch surrounded by a chain-link fence. The fence was adorned with ribbons in the shape of a heart, along with a hand-drawn sign: Camp Second Chance. Alongside rows of tents and makeshift tiny houses for the homeless, there was a TV tent, a library, and a kitchen stocked with coffee cups and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. The camp doesn’t allow drugs or alcohol on the premises—the homeless people who live here decided to outlaw drugs, one resident explained to me, in an effort to avoid the awful violence that happens in non-sober homeless camps, like one nearby called “The Jungle.”

At the center of Camp Second Chance, I met Tammy Stephen, who lives in one of the few dozen domed tents that are lined up on pallets. She was sharply attired in a black dress and Uggs-style boots, and she had a similarly dignified perspective on her living situation: “We’re not homeless, we’re houseless,” she said. “This is our home.”

Our conversation turned to one of the hottest topics in Seattle, one so controversial that everyone—including an Uber driver and a Canadian border guard—offered up his own, unsolicited take when I revealed what I was there to report. Seattle is poised to become the first city in America to open up a so-called safe-injection site—a place where addicts can inject heroin openly under the watchful eyes of nurses, who could then rescue them in the case of an overdose by using the opioid agonist naloxone. Even in ultraliberal Seattle, where marijuana is legal and pottery shops advertise being part of the “Resistance,” the idea seems, to many, a little too much like enabling.

Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic

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

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