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News 02.24.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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News 02.24.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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News 02.24.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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News 02.24.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
@naning9_ via @dana_chels

When you watch the news these days, it’s hard not to be pessimistic — and even harder for some people, depending on genes and socioeconomic status.

Yet battling your inner Eeyore can have profound effects. Research suggests that optimists earn more money, have better relationships and even live longer. And the thing is: Optimism can be learned.

“Pessimism is one of the personality traits that’s highly heritable, but also modifiable by specific exercises,” said Martin Seligman, director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania and author of “The Hope Circuit.”

In other words, you can blame your parents for your bleak outlook, but you don’t have to resign yourself to it forever. Here are four ways to start walking on the sunnier side of the street.

Imagine your dream life in 10 years — what would it look like? How would it feel? Now sit down and write about it: once a week, for six to eight minutes, for one or two months. Spend each session focusing on your “best possible self” in a single domain, such as family, career, romance or health.

Though it might sound like wishful thinking, dozens of studies show that imagining your ideal future can actually boost your levels of optimism.

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

News 02.24.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 02.24.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

I CALL THEM “THIS THING IS LATE CAPITALISM” ESSAYS. There are several variations on this genre of lifestyle writing. They don’t always invoke the “late capitalism” phrase explicitly, but all offer a critique of a popular brand or product in terms of its relationship to the system. Some are formulated as takedowns of companies that market themselves as millennial-friendly, or environmentally focused or, most often, feminist. In these essays, a writer will explain that, while this brand claims to be offering you empowerment, it is selling you a product at the end of the day: the enlightened brand is actually capitalist, but you might be fooled into thinking otherwise. Another type is the one in which writers chronicle their journey as they use a selection of hip, socially conscious products for a week, ultimately finding that, although these products promised to improve their life, it has, disappointingly, remained the same. Even the fanciest things cannot make you a better version of yourself, the writer will conclude, but it’s easy to be conned into thinking they might. Finally, there are the essays that credulously profile a company seeking to make a statement about, or better still, “shake up” capitalism.

There is, of course, crossover here, and many such essays fall under more than one grouping. But a few common features apply across the board: they are heavy on analysis but low on data; they make statements about the millennial experience that apply primarily to those who are relatively wealthy, living in cities, and in possession of one or more college degrees; they take it as a given that the marketing targeted by “cool” companies at this particular demographic is received without cynicism; and they all conclude with a kind of “no ethical consumption under capitalism” mantra. Recently, as I’ve noticed more and more of these essays appearing across the internet, on everything from Sweetgreen salads to puffer jackets, I’ve found myself wondering: What is the point?

A few months ago, BuzzFeed News writer Anne Helen Petersen wrote a glowing profile of the millennial-focused company Pattern as it launched Equal Parts, a brand of cookware aimed at time-strapped young professionals that offers a cooking “coach” text service, consisting of friendly reminders and advice, designed to make preparing meals seem less overwhelming. Petersen set out to discover “what an anti-burnout company, operating within American capitalism might actually look like.” The answer, it turns out, is pretty much like a regular company with slightly more flexible maternity leave; a loose (but not official) policy to not work later than 6 p.m.; and signs on the wall reminding employees to “ENJOY DAILY LIFE.”

Read the rest of this article at: The Baffler

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The email popped up on my screen at 6:45 a.m. on December 24. I’d already been up for a couple of hours, working to deadline. It was from someone I know quite well: the minister of the North Shore Unitarian Church, which we attend.

“I need a favor from you,” the message said. “Email me as soon as you get my message.”

“Ahoy Ron,” I replied.

A friend was in the hospital battling cancer, he said, and he’d just learned she was scheduled for surgery tonight. Could I possibly pick up some iTunes gift cards? “She needs the cards to download her favorite music and videos to boost her confidence on her next phase of surgery.” He’d do it himself, but he was tied up, he explained. “I will surely reimburse you as soon as I can.”

No one else in the house was up, so there was no one to run this by. But then, I probably wouldn’t have asked for a second opinion anyway. For reasons I’ll explore, reasons that are the heart of this story, it didn’t really occur to me that this might be a scam.

“Ok,” I emailed back.

“Thank you so much, Bruce,” my correspondent replied. Then he got down to business. I was to buy $300 of cards. (That is quite a lot of music, I thought.) “I need you to scratch the silver lining laced at the back of each card to reveal the redemption code, then take a snapshot of the code and have the picture or the Ecodes sent directly to Sharon at the hospital on her email.” He gave the address.

“Let me know when you’ve sent it,” he said. “God bless.”

God bless? We’re Unitarians. Optimistic agnostics at best. The “G” word doesn’t come up much. Totally weird sign-off there. I assumed Ron’s mind was still on the dire circumstances of his friend Sharon, who was evidently a Christian.

“I can pick up the card around noon and engineer this by tonight,” I said.

He was super grateful, he replied six minutes later, but tonight’ll be too late for Sharon to use the cards. “Can you please send them to her by noon so she could be able to use them before her surgery?”

This was unhandy. But hey, what was my slight inconvenience against this woman’s cancer fight—on Christmas Eve, no less? I drove to the grocery store and purchased four gift cards. The clerk activated them at the till, turning them into currency. Back home, I took pictures of the codes. At 9:30, I emailed the pictures with the following message:

Read the rest of this article at: The Walrus

News 02.24.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

The tech industry currently holds unprecedented power and influence. Its companies have reached vast market capitalizations, employing hundreds of thousands of workers, and reshaping a range of other industries to accommodate its prerogatives, when it doesn’t absorb them outright. Its international political reach is expanding, as companies are intervening in political elections and influencing policy and regulations through millions of dollars spent lobbying. On the academic front, work in tech-related fields such as artificial intelligence and machine learning secures funding with relative ease, its merit and necessity seemingly taken for granted. Directly or indirectly, tech companies continue to invest handsomely in creating an attractive image of the industry, the hackers behind the code, and the technologization of society in general.

What emerges from this is a portrait of technology as inevitable progress that must, despite its inevitability, be fully embraced without hesitation. For the tech evangelist, artificial intelligence research is self-evidently necessary, the next triumph in the ever-rising pyramid of human achievement and progress. In this discourse, AI allows humans to surpass their own limitations, biases and prejudices. This view prefers to imagine worst-case scenarios in science-fiction terms: Will AI take over humanity? Will we ever create sentient machines, and if so should we give it rights on a par with human beings? These First World armchair contemplations, far removed from the current concrete harms, preoccupy those that supposedly examine the moral dimensions of AI.

The truth, however, is that the tech industry hardly concerns itself with human welfare and justice. Its practices have been starkly opposed to protecting the welfare of society’s most vulnerable, whether it’s prohibiting employees from protesting against exploitation of the LGBT community, or protecting white men (but not black children) from hate speech, or treating its low-paid workers poorly, or spending millions of dollars lobbying against regulations that protect the disfranchised and vulnerable, or developing such despicable technologies as a “wife tracking app.”

This is not a matter of the industry becoming more conservative as it has assumed more power and has more to gain from preserving the status quo. For all its celebration of disruption and innovation, the tech industry has always tended to serve existing power relations. In a 1985 interview with The Tech, an MIT News service, Joseph Weizenbaum — the computer scientist who developed ELIZA, the first chatbot in 1964 — pointed out that “the computer has from the beginning been a fundamentally conservative force … a force which kept power or even solidified power where it already existed.” In place of fundamental social changes, the computer allows technical solutions to be proposed that would allow existing power hierarchies to remain intact.

Weizenbaum had recognized this pattern decades earlier. During the 1950s, he helped design the first computer banking systems in the U.S. for Bank of America, computerizing the banking process as the banks faced rapid growth. He saw first-hand how the introduction of computers allowed such institutions and their priorities to remain pretty much as they were rather than consider social change, decentralization, or some other form of change to address the rapid growth.

Read the rest of this article at: Real Life

News 02.24.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

WE STAKE a lot on workplace and economic equality, often making it the yardstick with which we measure women’s progress more generally. For women to be equal, they have to earn as much as men, own as much as men, be in the same decision-making rooms as men; the women’s rights movement has fought hard—is fighting hard—for these things. And so, when we take the measure of how far women have come, we know there is still a long way to go.

We know this because, while women represented an average of almost 38 percent of MBA students in North America and Europe in 2018, they held just under 10 percent of executive positions at Canada’s largest 100 publicly traded companies that same year. While nearly half of practising lawyers in Canada are women, they make up less than 30 percent of equity partners at law firms and only 39.6 percent of judges. While 60 percent of university graduates are women (discounting STEM), only about 28 percent of tenured professors are as of 2017. And, while women make up half the voting population, at the start of 2018 they accounted for only 26 percent of Canada’s MPs, 29 percent of MPPs, and 18 percent of mayors. Canada has had only eleven female premiers in its entire 150-plus-year history; the first was elected in 1991.

If that wasn’t depressing enough, there’s also the problem of us getting the solution all wrong. There’s an assumption that, in making it to the top of any particular field, women are, well, at the top. They can effect change, enact a vision, control their own lives and the lives of people around them. They have resources and organizational influence and positions that effectively halt the need to grin and bear it. They do not have to suffer men grabbing their asses, making crude sexual jokes, masturbating into office plants—or whatever it is men do on a given day to show dominance and control. At the top, those days are thought to be gone.

Except they’re not—that is, at least by every standard that we use to measure equality: equal pay, equal opportunity, a work life free from sexual violence and discrimination. As awful as things are for women at the bottom, they’re just as awful for women at the top. Actually, they’re worse.

For an example of how the fantasy stacks up against reality, let’s look at “glass ceiling pioneer” Ann Hopkins. By 1982, Hopkins was a rising star at Price Waterhouse (now PricewaterhouseCoopers). She had billed more hours than any of her colleagues, all of whom were men. And she had recently secured a $25 million contract with the Department of State, historically one of the firm’s biggest deals. Some of the partners sang her praises. And how could they not? She’d been at the firm for only five years, and look at what she’d already done. In their joint statement, evaluators called Hopkins “an outstanding professional” who had a “deft touch” and “strong character, independence and integrity.” One major client called her “extremely competent, intelligent,” as well as “strong and forthright, very productive, energetic and creative.”

Read the rest of this article at: The Walrus

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

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