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News 08.10.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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News 08.10.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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News 08.10.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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News 08.10.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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“Irony” is a term that everyone uses and seems to understand. It is also a concept that is notoriously difficult to define. Much like Winona Ryder’s character in the 1994 rom-com “Reality Bites,” whose inability to describe irony costs her a job interview, we know it when we see it, but nonetheless have trouble articulating it. Even worse, it seems as if the same term is used to describe very different things. And following your mother’s advice — to look it up in the dictionary — is liable to leave you even more confused than before.

Uncertainty about irony can be found almost everywhere. An American president posts a tweet containing the phrase “Isn’t it ironic?” and is derided for misusing the term. A North Korean dictator bans sarcasm directed at him and his regime because he fears that people are only agreeing with him ironically. A song about irony is mocked because its lyrics contain non-ironic examples. The term has been applied to a number of different phenomena over time, and as a label, it has been stretched to accommodate a number of new senses. But exactly how does irony differ from related concepts like coincidence, paradox, satire, and parody?

Read the rest of this article at: The MIT Press Reader

News 08.10.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 08.10.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Sometimes an advertisement is so perfectly tailored to a cultural moment that it casts that moment into stark relief, which is how I felt upon first seeing an ad for the mega-best-selling writer James Patterson’s course on MasterClass a few years ago. In the ad, Patterson is sitting at a table, reciting a twisty opening line in voice-over. Then an overhead shot of him gazing out a window, lost in thought like a character in a movie. A title card appears: “Imagine taking a writing class from a master.” It didn’t matter that I’d never read a book by Patterson before—I was hooked. What appealed to me was not whatever actionable thriller-writing tips I might glean, but rather the promise of his story, the story of how a writer becomes a mogul. Any hapless, hand-to-mouth mid-lister can provide instructions on outlining a novel. MasterClass dangled something else, a clear-cut path out of the precariat, the magic-bean shortcut to a fairy-tale ending—the secret to ever-elusive success.

MasterClass launched in 2015 with just three classes: Dustin Hoffman on acting, Serena Williams on tennis, and Patterson on writing. Since then the company has grown exponentially, raising $135 million in venture capital from 2012 to 2018. It now has more than 85 classes across nine categories. (Last year it added 25 new classes, and this year it intends to add even more.) After the pandemic hit, as people started spending more time at home, its subscriptions surged, some weeks increasing tenfold over the average in 2019; subscribers spent twice as much time on the platform as they did earlier this year. In April, the company moved from offering individual classes for $90 a pop, with an all-access annual pass for $180, to a subscription-only model, and in May, it raised another $100 million. Its trailers have become so familiar and ubiquitous that they spawned their own SNL parodies, “MasterClass: Quarantine Edition,” in which Chloe Fineman appears as Phoebe Waller-Bridge for a class on journaling, as Timothée Chalamet for a class on fashion, and as Britney Spears for a class on … something.

Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic

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In the 50 years since the break-up of The Beatles – reluctantly initiated by Paul McCartney as a way of extricating himself from the advancing clutches of John Lennon’s new manager, the awful Allen Klein – “Paul” (McCartney has always refused to encourage any more formal appellations) has had various professional relationships with his own past.

In the immediate aftermath of The Beatles, he was reluctant to acknowledge the importance of his previous existence (in his eyes he was a box-fresh performer, publicly spooning with his beloved wife, Linda, in Wings); he expected to be afforded the respect of his fans, without wanting to explain why. He was a Beatle, after all; he just didn’t want to be reminded of the fact.

Later, as his fame escalated – and, for the record, let it be stated that McCartney very soon became more famous than he was during the seven years The Beatles were actually operational – he grew more accepting of his past, no longer bristling when pesky journalists brought up his mop-top achievements.

Read the rest of this article at: GQ

News 08.10.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 08.10.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

It’s difficult, in retrospect, to pinpoint when exactly panic about coronavirus took hold in the United States, but March 12 stands out. Stores ran out of canned goods. Streets emptied of cars. Tom Hanks had just tested positive for the virus. That evening, Scott Sternberg, a fashion designer, was lying awake at home in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, thinking about Entireworld, a line of basics he founded two years earlier. Would people still buy clothes? How much cash did he have to keep going? When would he have to lay people off? “My Band of Outsiders battle scars just opened wide,” he said.

Band of Outsiders was Sternberg’s previous company. He founded it in 2004 as a line of slim shirts and ties. (Remember the skinny-tie boom? That was Sternberg.) Eventually it grew into full men’s and women’s collections that won over the fashion world with self-consciously preppy clothes. Sternberg took home two Council of Fashion Designers of America (C.F.D.A.) awards, the industry’s equivalent of the Oscars. He posed for photos with Kanye West. Michelle Obama wore one of his dresses. He opened stores in Tokyo and New York. Then, in 2015, to everyone’s surprise, Sternberg announced that Band was going out of business. An investment with some Belgians had gone bad, but that didn’t feel like the whole story. Sternberg knew the whole story. Every choice he made at Entireworld was to prevent it from happening again. Now a global pandemic had hit. He couldn’t foresee that. No one did.

Unlike other designers, Sternberg studied not design but economics, a major he chose in part because the year he entered Washington University in St. Louis, the economist Douglass North, a professor there, won a Nobel Prize. Sternberg graduated summa cum laude. His senior thesis was about the economics of actors in Hollywood, which is how he wound up in Los Angeles in the first place. This is all to say that Sternberg knew what uncertainty does to consumer behavior.

“What was going through my head was: Man, I don’t know how big businesses are going to deal with this,” he said. “But for a small business this is enough to take all of us out” — he snapped his fingers — “in one shot.”

As it happened, it was the giants who would fall first. Over the next few months, J. Crew, Neiman Marcus, Brooks Brothers and J.C. Penney filed for bankruptcy. Gap Inc. couldn’t pay rent on its 2,785 North American stores. By July, Diane von Furstenberg announced she would lay off 300 employees and close 18 of her 19 stores. The impending damage to small businesses was inconceivable.

The next morning, a Friday, Sternberg drove to Entireworld’s offices in Koreatown. He sat down at his desk and began drafting an email: “Wow. I mean, WTF.”

He didn’t run the email by his staff. There was no meeting about it. He just sat down and wrote it.

“Am I sick already? Can I leave my house? What do I tell my employees? Will my mom be OK on her flight home today? Can Zod” — Sternberg’s dog — “get coronavirus? Did I buy enough T.P.? How long will this last? Who’s in charge? What’s next?”

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

News 08.10.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Sometime in the fall of 1955, a Chinese statistical worker by the name of Feng Jixi penned what might well be the most romantic sentence ever written about statistical work. ‘Every time I complete a statistical table,’ Feng wrote:

my happiness is like that of a peasant on his field catching sight of a golden ear of wheat, my excitement like that of a steelworker observing molten steel emerging from a Martin furnace, [and] my elation like that of an artist completing a beautiful painting.

Feng’s clever juxtaposition allowed statistics, that most staid of subjects, to intrude into a much broader and more affective consciousness, one populated by more readily discernible achievements in industry, agriculture and the arts.

This intrusion does not sit easily. After all, most of us don’t care too much for statistics. We might celebrate Olympic medal tallies or share consternation about a decline in GDP, but our engagement remains superficial. It’s only in moments of crisis that we begin to pay attention. Our current obsession with all kinds of data related to COVID-19 is a case in point. But even in such moments, we focus largely on the numbers themselves, wondering about their reliability, politicising them, arguing about their possible manipulation, or making comparisons within and across societies. Implicit in these actions is the assumption that there exists a neutral, untainted truth that these numbers can accurately and unequivocally capture. This is, of course, patently false. Statistics are neutral only if we accept that how we come to know something has no bearing on what we know (and, of course, vice versa).

The 1950s were witness to arguably the most vigorous disagreement over this question of what and how. As the world emerged from the devastation of the Second World War and entered a period of decolonisation and imperial collapse, countries both old and new reposed great faith in the authority of quantitative methods and statistics. Collecting and analysing data using advanced statistical methods came to define modern governance. This shared faith, however, didn’t always translate into shared methods. Refracted through an increasingly thick Cold War lens, the universal desire for ever-increasing quantitative control splintered, taking forms that not only varied significantly but were seen as each other’s correctives.

In October 1949, Mao Zedong and the Communists declared victory over Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist government, putting an end to nearly four decades of chaos punctuated by rebellion, warlord-rule, a Japanese invasion and, finally, a bloody civil war. Buoyed by their victory and confident of the transcendence of Marxism-Leninism, the Communists set about transforming China. Few, if any, were ever more optimistic. But the great promises of improvement also helped rationalise repressive and violent measures, leaving behind scars both physical and psychological. Powerful and progressive reforms, such as the redistribution of land to peasants and the enactment of a new, egalitarian marriage law, coexisted with the need to discipline and subdue different sections of society, from bureaucrats to merchants to intellectuals. The final campaign of the decade brought the story full circle. A terrible famine devastated the same peasants that had so spectacularly been empowered 10 years earlier. Across this vivid canvas, the story of statistics, subject to benign neglect at the best of times, ought not to occupy pride of place. And yet, it lies at the heart of China’s socialist experiment in the 1950s.

Read the rest of this article at: aeon

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