News 01.27.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 01.27.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 01.27.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 01.27.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

In the 10 days leading up to Christmas, I searched on Instagram for three of my exes, an acquaintance I met on a trip to Cuba four years ago, an account dedicated to astrology memes, a past roommate, my own dog’s account (@lucythetherapypup), my best friend’s sweater-wearing poodle, a famous Pomeranian who lives in New York, a bird named Parfait I recently met at a San Francisco market, 10 contestants of the reality TV show Love Island, and the hashtag #wienerdog. I know all of this because Instagram told me.

That’s because this month, I submitted a data request under California’s new privacy law to see just how much information the company has on me. What I got was a wide-ranging look at how my life has changed in the 10 years since I first logged on to Instagram, and a window into what the company is willing to share about what it knows about me.

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, I have the right to demand companies disclose “any personal information” they collect about me and request a copy of that information. On 4 January, Instagram sent me 10 folders of data – nearly 8,000 photos, thousands of text files from my direct messages, and search history.

Read the rest of this article at: The Guardian

News 01.27.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 01.27.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

It’s April 2018, and my wife of 20 years, Lynette, and I are on our way to my parents’ house. This is our first cross-­country drive since my transition. We drive Interstate 90 from Boston through New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, then finally to my childhood home, Elkhart, Ind. One highway, 880 miles. Though I’m 51, I’m outfitted as if I’m in my mid-20s, the decade of my life I most mourn missing as a man: I’m bearded, wearing overpriced sweats, exclusive sneakers that you have to compete to buy before they sell out and, as always, a Chicago Cubs baseball hat. My integration into the straight white America of middle-­aged, middle-­class couples who road trip across the United States is seamless.

Every time we stop, some white man starts a conversation with me. Lynette is in disbelief. “You’re such a guy’s guy,” she says. “I just don’t get it.” It’s true. I fit right in with all the white dudes along this Interstate. The guys who really love to chat it up with me are usually about my age, maybe a few years older, but they think I’m a younger man and talk to me in some version of “fatherly bro.”

We stop for the night at the Hampton Inn near Ashtabula, Ohio, and we meet John Bolton and his wife — it’s not really John Bolton, the former national security adviser to President Trump, but he looks just like a slightly younger version of him: bushy white hair and what they call a walrus mustache. Mr. Bolton’s relaxed-­fit jeans, golf shirt and white Reeboks (sneakers that are back in fashion, though I doubt he knows this) make him indistinguishable from all the other 50-­something white men we have seen pulling off the Interstate. He sees me get out of the car with a bottle of small-batch bourbon. He and his wife are pulling pillows and sleeping bags from their Hyundai, as if they are on a camping trip. They have done this drive before.

“Hey,” he says, smiling. “Don’t be partying it up too loud tonight. We have to pull out of here early tomorrow. You a Cubs fan?”

“Yeah,” I reply, “since birth. Grew up in Indiana, and we don’t have our own baseball team.”

“No kidding. We’re from Noblesville, about 45 minutes out of Indy. You know it?”

“You bet I do. They had a pretty good basketball team when I was in high school. I’m from Elkhart.”

The conversation continues the next morning at breakfast. We’re all heading out early. Lynette and I learn that Mr. Bolton and his wife have been on four cruises, all to the Caribbean. “Cruises are the only way to vacation,” he tells us. “You have to try one.” The local Fox affiliate is blaring in the room with the free breakfast buffet, airing the story of two black men who were arrested after sitting at a Starbucks for a few minutes without ordering while they waited for another man. There are two other white couples eating waffles and boxed eggs, and we all look at the screen. Then everyone around us quickly looks away.

Read the rest of this article at: The New York Times

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We like to think that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, or more resilient, or . . . something. Deeper. Wiser. Enlarged. There is “glory in our sufferings,” the Bible promises. “Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” In this equation, no pain is too great to be good. “The darker the night, the brighter the stars,” Dostoyevsky wrote. “The deeper the grief, the closer is God!” We atheists get in on the action by insisting that the agony of loss elucidates the worth of love. The hours spent staring into the dark, looping around our own personal grand prix of anxieties, are not a waste of time but a fundamental expression of our humanity. And so on. To be a person is to suffer.

But what if our worst feelings are just vestigial garbage? Hypervigilance and pricking fear were useful when survival depended on evading lions; they are not particularly productive when the predators are Alzheimer’s and cancer. Other excruciating feelings, like consuming sadness and aching regret, may never have had a function in the evolutionary sense. But religion, art, literature, and Oprah have convinced us that they are valuable—the bitter kick that enhances life’s intermittent sweetness. Pain is what makes joy, gratitude, mercy, hilarity, and empathy so precious. Unless it isn’t.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

News 01.27.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 01.27.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

‘How-to writers are to other writers as frogs are to mammals; they are not born, they are spawned.’ So jeered the influential New Yorker journalist Dwight Macdonald in a 1954 screed against the self-help guides he worried were taking over the culture. Macdonald voiced the prevailing view that the distinct spheres – or species – of literary author and self-help writer had little, if anything, in common. Serious authors create; self-help writers multiply. But the influence of self-help on prestigious literature is much deeper and more sustained than figures such as Macdonald would have us believe.

With the rise of the 20th century, literary authors had a new book genre to reckon with. It might seem anachronistic to picture the French symbolist poet Charles Baudelaire bingeing on ‘how to get rich quick’ books in 1864, or to imagine the late-Victorian aesthete Gustave Flaubert annotating a do-it-yourself manual, or to conceive of the ethereal modernist Virginia Woolf becoming so inflamed by Arnold Bennett’s practical guide How to Live on 24 Hours a Day (1908) that she writes her own time-books Mrs Dalloway (1925) and The Years (1937) in response. But this seems surprising to us only because most scholars – particularly literary scholars – have been so busy ignoring or dismissing self-help that they have failed to recognise its long history and tremendous impact on even the most prestigious literary authors. These authors often made fun of self-help, deriding its crass instrumentalism but also, and more surprising, they learned from its appeal, borrowed its techniques, and coveted its cultural influence.

As firmly canonised literary figures, Baudelaire, Flaubert and Woolf might have won the culture wars, but we are living in self-help’s world. A formidable force in the publishing ecosystem, the self-improvement market in the United States will be worth $13.2 billion dollars by 2022, according to Market Research. And though it is difficult to obtain exact figures due to the different labels under which it is sold, self-help – whether in American or native form – is a bestselling genre in Latin America, China, Africa, the global South, the Middle East – in short, all over the world.

The industry’s international appeal dates back to the first blockbuster improvement manual: Samuel Smiles’s Self-Help (1859), which turned the term into a catchphrase, and described successful labourers, artists and inventors who had used industry and perseverance to improve their conditions. Critics disparaged it, according to Smiles, as a ‘eulogy of selfishness’, but he saw his manual as a tool for working-class inspiration and uplift. The book marshalled scores of aspiring autodidacts in early 20th-century Nigeria, Syria, Guatemala, Trinidad and Japan (it’s said that late-19th-century Japanese samurai lined up overnight to buy a copy of the manual). In a 1917 review, the American poet Ezra Pound dismissed such ‘improving literature’ – ‘Samuel Smiles’s Self-Help and the rest of it’ – likening it to a ‘virus’, and the English author H G Wells wrote a cautionary tale, ‘The Jilting of Jane’, about a young man whose reading of Self-Help goes to his head, inspiring him to abandon his fiancée and his principles in favour of a higher match.

Read the rest of this article at: aeon

News 01.27.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

On the morning of Sept. 11 last year, about two dozen family members of those killed in the terror attacks filed into the White House to visit with President Donald Trump. It was a choreographed, somewhat stiff encounter, in which each family walked to the center of the Blue Room to share a moment of conversation with Trump and the first lady, Melania Trump, before having a photograph taken with the first couple. Still, it was an opportunity the visitors were determined not to squander.

One after another, the families asked Trump to release documents from the FBI’s investigation into the 9/11 plot, documents that the Justice Department has long fought to keep secret. After so many years they needed closure, they said. They needed to know the truth. Some of the relatives reminded Trump that Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama blocked them from seeing the files, as did some of the FBI bureaucrats the president so reviled. The visitors didn’t mention that they hoped to use the documents in a current federal lawsuit that accuses the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia — an American ally that has only grown closer under Trump — of complicity in the attacks.

The president promised to help. “It’s done,” he said, reassuring several visitors. Later, the families were told that Trump ordered the attorney general, William P. Barr, to release the name of a Saudi diplomat who was linked to the 9/11 plot in an FBI report years earlier. Justice Department lawyers handed over the Saudi official’s name in a protected court filing that could be read only by lawyers for the plaintiffs. But Barr dashed the families’ hopes. In a statement to the court on Sept. 12, he insisted that other documents that might be relevant to the case had to be protected as state secrets. Their disclosure, he wrote, risked “significant harm to the national security.”

The families were stunned. They knew that the success of their lawsuit might well depend on access to the FBI’s investigation into possible Saudi involvement in the plot by al-Qaida. In a federal courthouse in Manhattan, near where the twin towers once stood, the fight over evidence had already dragged on for more than a year. Now, as the judge prepared to rule on what documents would be disclosed, the Justice Department was digging in.

Daniel Gonzalez wasn’t surprised by the hard line. A former street agent in the FBI’s San Diego field office, he was one of several retired investigators who had signed on to help the families. During the last 15 years of his FBI career, Gonzalez was a central figure in the bureau’s effort to understand Saudi connections to 9/11. But even on the inside, Gonzalez often felt as if his own government wanted no part of what he was finding.

From the day of the attacks, the trail seemed to point to Saudi Arabia. First, there was the inescapable fact that, like Osama bin Laden, 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis. The first two flew in to Los Angeles in January 2000 and quickly made their way to a Saudi mosque. When they moved to San Diego a few weeks later, they turned for help to a middle-aged Saudi student whom the FBI suspected of spying for the kingdom.

But as details of the 9/11 plot came into focus, the FBI line on possible Saudi involvement began to shift: When the evidence was assessed, FBI officials reported, there was no solid proof that the Saudi government or any of its senior officials deliberately aided the Qaida terrorists. Low-level Saudis with government ties might have helped the two hijackers in California, the bureau acknowledged, but there was no indication that they knew the men were terrorists — much less planning to murder thousands of Americans.

Gonzalez knew he hadn’t seen all the evidence; he had just a corner of an investigation that stretched around the world. American intelligence agencies surely had pieces of the Saudi puzzle that even senior FBI officials might not be aware of. But what Gonzalez uncovered was troubling, and he knew that bigger questions about the plot were still unanswered. “My head was already flat from banging it against the wall,” he recalled. “But I thought, We’re not done.”

Gonzalez, a tough, affable Texan, pressed on. With a small group of like-minded investigators in New York and California, he hunted down witnesses who had slipped away and circled back to clues that had been missed. The evidence they developed was nearly all circumstantial. But it added to the questions about the role of the Saudi government.

Read the rest of this article at: Propublica

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