News 02.03.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 02.03.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 02.03.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 02.03.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

It’s February in Las Vegas, and because I have managed to step on my glasses and break them, as I do at least once a year, I have gone to the LensCrafters at the Boulevard Mall, a faux deco artifact of midcentury Vegas that, like so many malls in America, is a mere husk of its former self. In a faculty meeting a few days earlier, I’d watched as one of my colleagues bent and manipulated a paper clip, then used it to refasten the left bow of his glasses, creating a tiny antenna at his temple. That’s not a look I’m after, so I am here, obsessively trying on frame after frame, as the young Iranian man who is helping me on this quiet Monday afternoon patiently nods or shakes his head: yes, yes; no, no, no.

I order two pairs. LensCrafters, the movie theater chain of eyeglasses, is always offering deals: half off a second set of frames, a supersize popcorn for fifty cents more. While I wait, I walk around the mall, a 1.2-million-square-foot monstrosity built on seventy-five acres, with a 31,000-square-foot SeaQuest aquarium and a 28,000-square-foot Goodwill.

Read the rest of this article at: The Believer

News 02.03.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 02.03.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

The United Kingdom will soon begin the most radical national experiment of the 21st century so far: Brexit. Having won a landslide election victory on a promise to “get Brexit done,” Boris Johnson will finally make good on 2016’s referendum result. Britain will leave the European Union, with no easy way back or guarantees about what will come next. Having voted twice for Brexit, the country is finally ready to make the leap—even if it has little idea where it is leaping.

This, at least, is the conventional view. In this story, Brexit is essentially an aberration, a decision of epic stupidity, which, at its heart, seeks to reverse the tide of history pushing midsize countries into multinational blocs in order to compete in a world of superpowers. Britain, in voting to leave the biggest and most advanced of these blocs, has allowed an instant of nostalgic madness to rip it from its moorings, casting it off into the exposed waters of economic isolation at the very moment the rest of the world, led by Donald Trump, is putting up trade barriers. It is a story of a country that has lost control of who it is and where it is going.

But that is only one way of looking at this moment in British history, marking the end of one era and the beginning of the next. There is another perspective, viewing Brexit as a largely conservative act, returning to what remains, after all, the norm for most countries: independent national sovereignty. In this view, shared by some conservative historians, economists, and politicians, Brexit is primarily about protection from the EU’s radicalism, viewing the bloc’s push for ever-closer union—manifested most obviously in its single currency—as the aberration of history, turning what was once a confederation of nation-states into a federal union.

The reality is that both stories contain elemental truths. Brexit is a revolution and a conservative decision that seeks no immediate break—but that might usher one in anyway. It is an act of British radicalism, no doubt, but one that can really be understood only within a much wider story of European radicalism.

Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic

Life Lately: A Move to the English Countryside

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It was probably during the fourth episode of the second season of HBO’s “High Maintenance” when I finally noticed what it was up to. The show follows a weed dealer known only as The Guy while he bikes around Brooklyn, leading the viewer into his customers’ homes and lives, where the cameras remain long after he’s gone, letting us peer into their problems, quirks, traumas and anxieties. Like many representations of New York on TV, it’s loosely predicated on the notion that people who live here are inherently more interesting than people who live in, say, Milwaukee. This particular episode centers on a man named Baruch who has just left one of Brooklyn’s ultra-­Orthodox sects. His hair is still twisted into payos, and he’s crashing with a friend in a squalid railroad apartment, looking for whatever work he can find by plugging search terms like “kosher jobs” into Craigslist. He tells his friend that he’s going on a date with a shiksa, one who has been asking him penetrating questions. “Wait a minute,” the friend responds. “Is she a writer?”

She is indeed a writer, on assignment for Vice, and she has fooled Baruch into thinking they’re going on a date. She invites him to a nightclub, where she quickly abandons him. He then meets another woman, leaves with her as the club empties out at dawn and then the two, hungry from a night of dancing, go in search of food. They find their way to a bodega, where he orders tuna salad on a bagel and immediately inhales enough of it to obstruct his windpipe. A drag artist who had been dancing at the same nightclub — and whose elaborate preparations the episode had also been following — happens to be in that same bodega, and luckily, just so happens to be a doctor. He performs an emergency tracheotomy with the barrel of a ballpoint pen, saving Baruch’s life. Well, I thought as the credits rolled, that’s New York for you.

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

News 02.03.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 02.03.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

As the Democratic candidates for president spent 2019 battling each other in early voting states, Donald Trump’s re-election campaign built a sophisticated social media machine to communicate with conservative voters, grow its email list and fine-tune its messaging.

Over the course of 2019, the Trump campaign spent nearly $20m on more than 218,000 different Facebook ads, a new Guardian analysis shows. Among the ads were some of the images and videos that made front-page news for their xenophobic, fear-mongering, vitriolic and outright false rhetoric.

But the campaign also ran a decidedly mundane social media campaign featuring classic marketing ploys designed to harvest user data. Considering the fact that the campaign has run these ads – which are largely substance-free and appear designed to maximize engagement with simple requests – over and over again, they were probably very effective.

Trump’s prowess on Facebook has struck fear in the hearts of Democrats. The architect of his 2016 digital campaign, Brad Parscale, boasted of the sophistication of his Facebook operation, and was promoted to campaign manager for 2020. “The campaign is all about data collection,” Parscale told the Guardian. “If we touch you digitally, we want to know who you are and how you think and get you into our databases so that we can model off it and relearn and understand what’s happening.”

In order to understand how Trump is communicating with Americans on Facebook in the 2020 election cycle, the Guardian built a database of all 218,100 campaign ads launched by the Trump campaign in 2019, using the Facebook political ad archive application programming interface, or API. The analysis is the most comprehensive of the Trump re-election campaign’s Facebook advertising to date.

On Facebook, Trump is vastly outspending his Democratic rivals. The top-spending Democratic candidate, Tom Steyer, spent $16.8m on just 12,704 ads on the platform over the course of the year. The former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg came closest to matching Trump’s volume of advertisements, with 74,286 distinct ads.

Of the hundreds of thousands of Facebook ads the Trump campaign ran in 2019, the most successful could reasonably be described as the most boring.

“TAKE THE OFFICIAL APPROVAL POLL!” reads the ad copy, which sits above a portrait of Trump. “Please take the Official Trump Approval Poll before 11:59 PM TONIGHT to have your vote counted in the official results.”

The “Official Approval Poll” ads send Trump supporters to a “job performance survey” designed to collect email addresses. This particular format – two sentences of copy atop one of a handful of portraits of Trump – garnered at least 48.9m “impressions”, a metric that refers to the number of times an ad is shown to users. The campaign launched hundreds of versions of the ad every few days – 3,578 total – between October and December, the “11:59 PM TONIGHT” deadline notwithstanding.

Read the rest of this article at: The Guardian

News 02.03.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

UNTIL THE 1980S, it was possible to ignore the fact that Centralia was on fire. By then, the mines in this Pennsylvania coal town had been burning underground for nearly twenty years, but there was no roaring blaze, no Biblical conflagration. What you saw was mostly steam spouting from the ground, gassy and sulphurous—more like the farts of hell, really, than the flames of an inferno. The easiest thing was to hold your breath and pretend not to notice, and often enough, you didn’t have to pretend. Sure, sometimes tomatoes would grow in midwinter. Sometimes snow would melt off the smoldering ground before you could shovel it. In places, the earth glowed blue from methane, like the hills themselves were suffocating. But if you were a resident of Centralia, this was all you had as evidence of the supposed facts: that you and your neighbors were slowly roasting and that the ground you lived on was trying to kill you.

Only once did anyone come close to dying. That was twelve-year-old Todd Domboski, who in February of 1981 was nearly eaten alive by his own backyard. He stepped out onto the lawn where a former mining shaft had collapsed and the lawn swallowed him whole, opening a scalding-hot cavern full of carbon monoxide. When his cousin hauled him out forty-five seconds later, the mud on his clothes had hardened, baked as though in a kiln. But the Domboski cave-in was one of few traumatic episodes in Centralia’s half-century of seething anxiety. With the fire underground, the most immediate danger—carbon monoxide seeping up into people’s homes—was liable to put you to sleep; the disaster, for the most part, was drowsy and undramatic. Women tracked the arc of the story by pasting articles about the fire into special scrapbooks. There were tense town hall meetings and tense visits from elected officials: the endless tedium of bureaucratic incompetence and government neglect. Lured by the promise of small-town conflict, People came to town in 1981 and took a famous photograph of a man frying an egg on the smoldering asphalt. A picture implies an instant, but in truth it took more than a half hour for the yolks to set.

The Centralia fire is a human crisis unfolding in geological time—some estimate that it could burn for another 250 years. It has already burned for fifty-seven, a length of time that feels both supernatural and sweetly geriatric. The fire is around the same age as my mom, who lives about three hours away from Centralia in the Philadelphia suburbs. You can imagine the fire growing old alongside an entire generation of boomers, cashing out its retirement savings and turning up every Billy Joel song that comes on the radio. But the fire will outlive them all, and me. It will outlive my grandchildren and perhaps the human species. It has been burning for so long that it’s possible to forget that it started at the town dump. Centralia is the site of a disaster that sounds too stupid to be real, a trash fire that will inherit the earth.

Read the rest of this article at: The Baffler

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