News 11.23.18 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 11.23.18 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 11.23.18 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 11.23.18 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Home For The Holidays

T’was the night before leaving for Pittsburgh, and Mom called to inform me that it was very cold there. I hid my shock well, though I lived in Boston and it was the end of November. I assured her I’d bring a coat. She said she had called four times before, and hung up when she heard, “that answering machine pick up.” In five weeks, it will be 1990, except at Mom and Dad’s house, where 1956 will never end. Before she could say “See you tomorrow,” Dad interrupted to remind me to get to the airport half an hour before my flight. He said they would be waiting for me “with painted breath.”

The next morning would begin the four hellish days spent with my family. Ninety-six hours jam-packed with television, eating and being treated like an idiot.

I took a coat. Even though I’m 40 years old with a grown child of my own, I respond to these parental directives with the fevered, “Gimme a *^#[email protected]!! break!” of a 15 year old. I had half a mind not to take a bloody coat. Whenever I deal with my parents, in fact, it’s with half a mind. What kind of ignoramus do they take me for? OK, OK: I should know better. But this problem doesn’t reside in the domain of knowing. This one is in the gut, where only anti-anxiety drugs seem to help.

Read the rest of this article at: Longreads

Design Inspiration: Decorating Your Home for the Holidays

The Existentialist’s Reluctant Guide To Life

News 11.23.18 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Some people are apparently totally cool with living in an absurd world. Presumably, these folks don’t experience existence as futile or see enthusiasm as foolish.

However, not all of us are so lucky or plucky, and so we’re left mustering up reasons to be and do even as we sense it’s all pointless. We can’t go on. We must go on. We’re already here.

The reluctant have to make meaning up. We do things even when most of what humans do seems pretty pointless and stupid given how many of us there are, how briefly we live, and how hard it is to make a difference on this crowded planet.

Still, we are not doomed to perpetual gloom. We can still get a lot done. We can even have fun, despite our underlying sense of dread, boredom, and anxiety—perhaps because of it.

Existential philosophers have already worked out some answers for you, so don’t despair. Or despair, that’s fine, too.

But don’t let your fundamental gloominess be a reason to do nothing. For the great victory of the reluctant is that we do despite knowing better—knowing our contributions will not change the course of humanity. That’s how Friedrich Nietzsche’s übermensch would approach the world: without the reliance on anyone else to confirm their existence. It turns meaninglessness into a sort of freedom that allows one to affirm life despite its absurdity.

Think about it. Really, it’s no big deal to try to be a decent human who does no harm and maybe even helps, is generous of spirit and labors diligently, if you think there’s a god, country, or boss who will reward you now or in the afterlife.

But if you manage to live life based on certain values because you’ve examined them and found them preferable under the circumstances to other less laudable or more destructive approaches, that’s no joke. Then you have forged meaning in the fires of futility and you have overcome, which is something. Or at least it’s more than nothing.

Read the rest of this article at: Quartzy

Eating To America

The last meal I ate in Iran was a stew of cow tongue on white rice, its grains elongated by steam and enclosed in a perfect crispy tadig (crust), stained golden with saffron.

“What are you cooking?” I asked Shee Shee, my mom.

“Beef stew,” she lied, knowing I hated tongue.

It was May 19, 1990. The Iran-Iraq War had ended less than two years before, but the remnants of war — lack of provisions, jarred nerves from years of bombings — remained. Khomeini had died less than a year before. We’d thought his death would usher in a freer era, but not much had changed. I was 9 years old and we were at my aunt’s two-bedroom apartment in Tehran. My maternal grandparents were there, as well as my uncle, his wife and my four younger cousins. They’d all come for one last meal together, to say goodbye and to see me and Shee Shee off to our new life.

A few days before, we’d left my childhood home in Karaj (a suburb of Tehran) for the last time. I’d packed a couple of my favorite toys — a Barbie, a Cabbage Patch Kid — but had to leave most everything else behind — Mini Mouse, books, a dollhouse, my beloved Disney cartoons. Most of my toys and clothes, along with Shee Shee’s things, had been sold to friends and neighbors. What was left, my aunt promised to safeguard for me. Shee Shee had packed her favorite hair rollers — which 30 years later she still travels with — all of our photos, and Baba’s uniform, two pairs of his pajamas, his dog tag, his wings and his papers.

Read the rest of this article at: Longreads


Degrees Of Freedom

For eighteen years, Jan Scheuermann has been paralyzed from the neck down. She is six feet tall, and she spends all day and all night in a sophisticated, battery-powered wheelchair that cradles her—half sitting, half reclining—from head to toe. In effect, the chair has become an extension of her body. To navigate the world in it, Scheuermann manipulates a cork-tipped joystick with her chin. She can move in this way with remarkable agility, but her height, combined with the bulk of the chair and the unrelenting nature of gravity and matter, can limit her. Over the phone, though, it is possible to not ever think of her paralysis. She has a soft voice, a wry sense of humor, and a warm, gentle manner. Sometimes when she speaks she pauses to inhale; the deliberate breaths are necessary because her lungs do not automatically pull in enough air, but a listener tends not to notice them. Across a fibre-optic network, her words are converted into weightless digital information. She floats to you.

When I first met Scheuermann, it was by phone. I had called her at home, in Pittsburgh, after learning that she had participated in a neuroscience experiment that allowed her to partially escape the confines of her paralyzed body. Scheuermann is one of a very few Americans to have experienced a direct brain-computer interface, a complex assemblage of technology—transistor-like cortical implants, wires, algorithmic decoders, robotics, all in their early stages of development—designed to fuse minds with machines. For decades, the idea of plugging a brain into a computer has been a mainstay of cyberpunk fiction, not biotechnology. (“I jack in and I’m not here,” a character explains in William Gibson’s 1984 novel, “Neuromancer.”) The human brain is the most complicated object in the known universe. A single brain contains more electrical connections than there are galaxies in space. Understanding the behavior of its eighty-six billion neurons is as formidable a scientific challenge as interstellar travel.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

The Decline And Fall Of The Zuckerberg Empire

Mark Zuckerberg isn’t the first person in human history to draw inspiration from Augustus Caesar, the founder of the Roman Empire, but he’s one of a very few for whom the lessons of Augustus’s reign have a concrete urgency. Both men, after all, built international empires before the age of 33. “Basically, through a really harsh approach, he established 200 years of world peace,” Zuckerberg explained to a New Yorker reporter earlier this year. “What are the trade-offs in that?” Augustus, Zuckerberg explained, “had to do certain things” to ensure the stability of his empire. So too, apparently, does Facebook.

A 6,000-word report published in the New York Times last week disclosed in humiliating detail the lengths to which Facebook has gone to protect its dominance and attack its critics. As various interlocking crises concerning hate speech, misinformation, and data privacy widened, top executives ignored, and then kept secret, evidence that the platform had become a vector for misinformation campaigns by government-backed Russian trolls. The company mounted a shockingly aggressive lobbying and public-relations campaign, which included creating and circulating pro-Facebook blog posts that were functionally indistinguishable from the “coordinated inauthentic content” (that is, fake news) Facebook had pledged to eliminate from its platform. In one particularly galling example, the company hired a political consultancy that spread a conspiracy theory accusing George Soros of funding anti-Facebook protests. Zuckerberg, it seems, had taken the “really harsh approach” to establishing digital hegemony.

Augustus, at least, was a charismatic leader and confident ruler. No one at Facebook comes across in the Times piece as a similarly bold visionary. Not Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s top lobbyist, who encouraged the company to suppress and hold back findings of Russian influence campaigns for fear of alienating Republicans. Not Chuck Schumer, who confronted one of the Senate’s top Facebook critics and told him to figure out how to work with the company. (Schumer’s daughter works for Facebook.) Not Sheryl Sandberg, the adult-in-the-room COO who presided over the entire suspicious and hostile crisis response. And certainly not Zuckerberg, who seems to have been consistently absent — or plainly uninterested — during key meetings about Facebook’s handling of hate speech and misinformation. It’s hard to be a historical visionary hailed for brokering stability by making morally complex decisions if you can’t even be bothered to show up to the Morally Complex Decisions meetings.

Demands for the CEO to abdicate, or to at least step down from his role as chairman of the board, have increased, but Zuckerberg — who controls 60 percent of Facebook’s voting shares — is no more likely to resign than Augustus would have been. As the Wall Street Journal reports, he told company executives earlier this year that Facebook is at war. The trouble is that the war may have already been lost. Beset by stagnant growth, low employee morale, plummeting stock, public outrage, and a bipartisan group of enemies in government, the old Facebook, the ever-expanding, government-ignoring, world-conquering company of only a year or two ago, is gone.

Its own internal surveys bear this out: Facebook was once legendary for the cultish dedication of its employees — reporting on the company was nearly impossible because workers refused to leak — but employee confidence in Facebook’s future, as judged by internal surveys reported on by the Journal, is down 32 percentage points over the past year, to 52 percent. Around the same number of Facebook employees think the company is making the world a better place, down 19 points from this time last year, and employees report that they plan to leave Facebook for new jobs earlier than they had in the past. Scarier even for Facebook is the possibility, for which there is some anecdotal evidence, that it’s no longer a sought-after employer for top computer-science and engineering graduates.

Read the rest of this article at: Intelligencer

P.S. previous articles & more by P.F.M.

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