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News 04.15.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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News 04.15.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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It didn’t sound like the hottest ticket in Paris: a debate on the theme of “property” between two of the city’s economists, Frédéric Lordon and Thomas Piketty, on a January night in a dingy hall at the Bourse du Travail, the old Labour Exchange. Just to be sure, I arrived ten minutes early to get a good seat – only to find every one taken. Dozens of disappointed fans filled the pavement outside.

Piketty’s 753-page book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, published in 2013, sold 2.5 million copies worldwide and helped put inequality on the global agenda. But his latest, the even thicker Capital and Ideology, may prove still more influential. The book is nothing less than a global history of inequality and the stories that societies tell to justify it, from pre-modern India to Donald Trump’s US. It arrives just as anger about inequality (some of it generated by Piketty’s work) approaches boiling point, and was channelled by a contender for the White House, Bernie Sanders.

Capital and Ideology builds on Piketty’s long-standing argument that inequality has soared across the world since 1980. It proposes strong remedies. Piketty wants to slap wealth taxes of 90 per cent on any assets over $1 billion, and waxes nostalgic about the postwar decades when British and American top marginal income-tax rates were over 80 per cent.

Read the rest of this article at: Wired

News 04.15.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 04.15.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

When Kanye West shows up for breakfast in the central cabin at the ranch he recently bought near Cody, Wyoming, I ask how he’s doing. “Not good,” he says, turning to look at me. Not good? How come? “Because,” he says, “Kobe was one of my best friends.”

Of course. It’s the morning of January 29—72 hours after Bryant’s shocking death. Somehow, in my head, being out here under the limitless unfamiliar sky and rocky alien tundra has made the already unimaginable Kobe tragedy seem even less real. Still, it was a thoughtless question. I have known West since 2003 and have stayed in intermittent contact with him over the years, but it feels like an inauspicious start to what will become an intense series of experiences and conversations across five weeks and three countries.

The property—formerly Monster Lake Ranch, now rechristened West Lake Ranch—actually has two lakes across its nearly 4,000-acre expanse. The primary fishing lake has brown trout, brook trout, cutthroat trout, tiger trout, and rainbow trout. There are caves at the back of the property that have pictographs scrawled on the walls by indigenous tribespeople. This time of year, hundreds of antelope, mule deer, and a few elk appear on the property. The ranch is also home to colts and geldings, 160 cows, and approximately 700 sheep.

In its current state, the ranch appears pretty much the same as it did in October, when West bought it. There are some humble sleeping cabins clustered along the main driveway, two big barns, the eating cabin (with an upstairs lounge where West has installed a bare-bones studio as well as a whiteboard with “Yeezy Business Development” scrawled across the top), and out across the acreage, a couple of little un-winterized camp outposts. In fact, other than the name change, the only thing that seems to visibly mark Kanye’s new ownership are the vehicles: an army of Ford F-150 Raptor pickups, painted an intimidating aftermarket matte black, along with a fleet of 10 imposing SHERP ATVs (also matte-blacked-out), a handful of UTVs (matte black), and of course Kanye’s matte black tank.

So it isn’t until I get a Raptor tour from a ranch hand that the radical nature of what’s in store for West Lake Ranch begins to crystallize. We check out the sheep. We drive down by Monster Lake. Then finally we come upon what I’ll just call the Big Dig.

At the foot of West Lake Ranch’s grandest feature—a dramatic cliffscape that looks like it was created when one massive plate of earth crashed spectacularly up against another in some unknowable prehistoric era—is a tremendous excavation of terrain about the size of a sports arena. It is the ultimate spot for Kanye West to mark a big X and start digging. The next morning, while shooting pictures, we will climb up the back side of the cliff. “When we went up on the moon rocks and looked down,” Kanye says later, “you saw something the size of a spaceship.” Clearly this is not Wyoming ranch business as usual. This is the first sign that the strange future of this otherwise unassuming tract of land is already under way.

If you follow any of the Kanye West fan accounts on Instagram, there are a few laymen you might start to notice in the background of the photos—guys trailing West out of his Calabasas office or sitting behind him on private airplanes. These are the Yeezy architects. Over the course of following West for this story, I met up with him in Cody for two days, flew on a jet to Los Angeles, attended Sunday Service—one of the weekly performances by the new gospel choir he founded—in Hollywood the morning of the Oscars, rejoined him three days later at an oceanside house in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and two weeks later, flew out to interview him in Paris the morning after his Yeezy Season 8 fashion show. The architects were within earshot of West every step of the way.

Read the rest of this article at: GQ

The 1918 influenza crisis makes for an obvious parallel to our own — two global pandemics, roughly 100 years apart, caused by viral outbreaks. But many also have in mind a more recent crisis that we are still living with today: the attacks on September 11, 2001 and the creation of the anti-terrorism state. Just as “post-9/11” is used to mark when the world became a different place — a worse place — so too will we now say “post-2020” or “post-Covid” as shorthand for a crisis that set in motion massive political and economic reverberations.

The atmosphere of late 2001 has been largely forgotten, distorted in some quarters by nostalgia for the moment of unity it supposedly provided or by so much history having happened since then. At the height of the post-9/11 panic, people feared leaving their houses. Large gatherings felt risky. Dread lingered in the background of every trip to the shopping mall or a sporting event. What if another attack happened? Then came the threat of anthrax. Some turned their homes into bunkers to protect themselves from the possibility of biological warfare, stocking up on supplies and sealing off their homes from the outside world, save for the continuous barrage of fear and agitprop emanating from the always-on television, or, for the more plugged in, the internet forums where people shared survival tips and bits of “truthiness.”

Read the rest of this article at: Real Life

News 04.15.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 04.15.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

ON FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2019, Matthew Prince and Michelle Zatlyn, cofounders of the San Francisco internet security firm Cloudflare, stood on a slim marble balcony overlooking the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. A cluster of the company’s executives stood near Prince, ready to shout out a countdown. “Louder! Loud!” Prince urged them. “Five! Four! Three! …” At 9:30 am sharp, the founders reached down to ring the exchange’s famous bell, kicking off the day’s trading and offering their 10-year-old company on the public market. It was a rite of passage and also their payday, a moment that unlocked many millions of dollars in newfound wealth.

More than 100 employees and investors cheered from the trading floor below, their phones held high to capture the scene. Kristin Holloway, employee number 11, looked up at the balcony and snapped photos, then popped them into a text to her husband, Lee Holloway, the company’s third cofounder. He was home in California. Every so often, a familiar face pushed through the throng to say to her, “Lee should be here.”

In Cloudflare’s early years, Lee Holloway had been the resident genius, the guy who could focus for hours, code pouring from his fingertips while death metal blasted in his headphones. He was the master architect whose vision had guided what began as a literal sketch on a napkin into a tech giant with some 1,200 employees and 83,000 paying customers. He laid the groundwork for a system that now handles more than 10 percent of all internet requests and blocks billions of cyberthreats per day. Much of the architecture he dreamed up is still in place.

But some years before the IPO, his behavior began to change. He lost interest in his projects and coworkers. He stopped paying attention in meetings. His colleagues noticed he was growing increasingly rigid and belligerent, resisting others’ ideas, and ignoring their feedback.

Lee’s rudeness perplexed his old friends. He had built his life around Cloudflare, once vowing to not cut his hair until the startup’s web traffic surpassed that of Yahoo. (It took a few short months, or about 4 inches of hair.) He had always been easygoing, happy to mentor his colleagues or hang out over lunch. At a birthday party for Zatlyn, he enchanted some children, regaling them with stories about the joys of coding. The idea of Lee picking fights simply didn’t compute.

He was becoming erratic in other ways too. Some of his colleagues were surprised when Lee separated from his first wife and soon after paired up with a coworker. They figured his enormous success and wealth must have gone to his head. “All of us were just thinking he made a bunch of money, married his new girl,” Prince says. “He kind of reassessed his life and had just become a jerk.”

The people close to Lee felt tossed aside. They thought he’d chosen to shed his old life. In fact, it was anything but a choice. Over the next few years, Lee’s personality would warp and twist even more, until he became almost unrecognizable to the people who knew him best. Rooting out the cause took years of detective work—and forced his family to confront the trickiest questions of selfhood.

Read the rest of this article at: Wired

News 04.15.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

In the third week of March, while most of our minds were fixed on surging coronavirus death rates and the apocalyptic scenes in hospital wards, global financial markets came as close to a collapse as they have since September 2008. The price of shares in the world’s major corporations plunged. The value of the dollar surged against every currency in the world, squeezing debtors everywhere from Indonesia to Mexico. Trillion-dollar markets for government debt, the basic foundation of the financial system, lurched up and down in terror-stricken cycles.

On the terminal screens, interest rates danced. Traders hunched over improvised home workstations – known in the new slang of March 2020 as “Rona rigs” – screaming with frustration as sluggish home wifi systems dragged behind the movement of the markets. At the low point on 23 March, $26tn had been wiped off the value of global equity markets, inflicting huge losses both on the fortunate few who own shares, and on the collective pools of savings held by pension and insurance funds.

What the markets were reacting to was an unthinkable turn of events. After a fatal period of hesitation, governments around the world were ordering comprehensive lockdowns to contain a lethal pandemic. Built for growth, the global economic machine was being brought to a screeching halt. In 2020, for the first time since the second world war, production around the world will contract. It is not only Europe and the US that have been shut down, but once-booming emerging market economies in Asia. Commodity exporters from Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa face collapsing markets.

It is now clear that we can, if circumstances demand, turn the economy off. But the consequences are catastrophic. Across the world, hundreds of millions of people have been thrown out of work. From the street hawkers of Delhi to the personal trainers of LA, the service sector – by far the most important employer in the modern economy – has been poleaxed. Never before has the global economy suffered a shock of this scale all at once. In the US alone, at least 17 million people have lost their jobs in the last three weeks. A severe global recession is now inevitable.

The crucial question is how much of the world economy will survive the lockdown, and this depends on the availability of credit. Business runs on credit. The bits of the economy that do continue to function – the warehouses, the mobile phone providers and internet firms – all need credit. Wage bills for those still working are financed through credit. Even greater is the need of those who are not working. If they can’t get loans, bills will go unpaid, which spreads the pain. To survive the lockdown, millions of families and firms around the world are relying on grants and loans from the state. But tax revenues have collapsed, so states need credit, too. Across the world we are witnessing the largest surge in deficits and government debt since the second world war.

But who do we borrow from? Banks, financial markets and money markets provide the financial fuel of the world economy. Normally, credit is sustained by the optimistic promise of growth. When that dissolves, you face a self-reinforcing cycle of collapsing confidence, contracting credit, unemployment and bankruptcy, which spreads a poison cloud of pessimism. Like an epidemic, if left uncontrolled, it will sweep all before it, destroying first the financially fragile and then much else besides. It is not for nothing that we speak of financial contagion.

What began with the lockdown in Wuhan in January is more intense and more fast-moving than any recession we have seen before. In a matter of weeks we have been confronted with an economic outlook that is as grim as at any moment since the 1930s. But it could have been even worse. Imagine a situation in which, on top of the pain of the lockdown and the hellish scenes in hospital wards, we also face calls for austerity because the government cannot safely finance extra spending. Imagine that interest rates were surging, and the terms for credit cards, car loans and mortgages were suddenly getting stiffer. All of this may still happen. It is already happening to the weaker economies around the world. But for now at least, it has not happened in Europe and the US – even after the turbulence of March 2020, when the pandemic hit with full force.

Read the rest of this article at: The Guardian

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

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