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News 09.21.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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News 09.21.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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News 09.21.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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Electronic music existed in the United States before the majority of Americans had access to electricity. The lineage can be disorienting that way. It is older than hip-hop or rock, certainly, but then it is also older than doo-wop, older than bluegrass or big-band jazz. It’s old enough to have predated futurism, which, with its call for a new music that could “conquer the infinite variety of noise-sounds,” might otherwise seem to have conjured it into existence. It’s old enough, for that matter, to have made Mark Twain fear death.

This was in 1906. Twain was in Manhattan, sitting on a stage at the corner of 39th Street and Broadway, a few days before Christmas. The New York Times found him there admiring a new musical instrument called the telharmonium, which resembled an organ but one backed by, instead of pipes, a tall switchboard with hundreds of cords leading down into a concealed machine room beneath, full of the complicated whizzing interplay of metal shafts and dynamos. The contraption had been patented a decade earlier by a man named Thaddeus Cahill, who had designed it to produce a “scientifically perfect music,” the Times wrote, “capable of reproducing any sound produced by any musical instrument and many more that no musical instrument produces.” Twain had come to hear it and been awed by it. “The trouble about these beautiful, novel things is that they interfere so with one’s arrangements,” he said. He was moved to the degree that it made him want to live longer. “I couldn’t possibly leave the world,” he went on, “until I have heard this again and again.”

Read the rest of this article at: Harpers Magazine

News 09.21.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 09.21.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

There are in history what you could call ‘plastic hours,’” the philosopher Gershom Scholem once said. “Namely, crucial moments when it is possible to act. If you move then, something happens.” In such moments, an ossified social order suddenly turns pliable, prolonged stasis gives way to motion, and people dare to hope. Plastic hours are rare. They require the right alignment of public opinion, political power, and events—usually a crisis. They depend on social mobilization and leadership. They can come and go unnoticed or wasted. Nothing happens unless you move.

Are we living in a plastic hour? It feels that way.

Beneath the dreary furor of the partisan wars, most Americans agree on fundamental issues facing the country. Large majorities say that government should ensure some form of universal health care, that it should do more to mitigate global warming, that the rich should pay higher taxes, that racial inequality is a significant problem, that workers should have the right to join unions, that immigrants are a good thing for American life, that the federal government is plagued by corruption. These majorities have remained strong for years. The readiness, the demand for action, is new.

What explains it? Nearly four years of a corrupt, bigoted, and inept president who betrayed his promise to champion ordinary Americans. The arrival of an influential new generation, the Millennials, who grew up with failed wars, weakened institutions, and blighted economic prospects, making them both more cynical and more utopian than their parents. Collective ills that go untreated year after year, so bone-deep and chronic that we assume they’re permanent—from income inequality, feckless government, and police abuse to a shredded social fabric and a poisonous public discourse that verges on national cognitive decline. Then, this year, a series of crises that seemed to come out of nowhere, like a flurry of sucker punches, but that arose straight from those ills and exposed the failures of American society to the world.

The year 2020 began with an impeachment trial that led to acquittal despite the president’s obvious guilt. Then came the pandemic, chaotic hospital wards, ghost cities, lies and conspiracy theories from the White House, mass death, mass unemployment, police killings, nationwide protests, more sickness, more death, more economic despair, the disruption of normal life without end. Still ahead lies an election on whose outcome everything depends.

The year 1968—with which, for concentrated drama, 2020 is sometimes compared—marked the end of an era of reform and the start of a conservative reaction that resonated for decades. In 1968 the core phenomenon was the collapse of order. In 2020 it is the absence of solidarity. Even with majorities agreeing on central issues, there’s little sense of being in this together. The United States is world-famously individualistic, and the past half century has seen the expansion of freedom in every direction—personal, social, financial, technological. But the pandemic demonstrates, almost scientifically, the limits of individualism. Everyone is vulnerable. Everyone’s health depends on the health of others. No one is safe unless everyone takes responsibility for the welfare of others. No person, community, or state can withstand the plague without a competent and active national government.

Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg, scholar, lawyer, judge, and Justice, died on Friday at the age of eighty-seven. Born the year Eleanor Roosevelt became First Lady, Ginsburg bore witness to, argued for, and helped to constitutionalize the most hard-fought and least-appreciated revolution in modern American history: the emancipation of women. Aside from Thurgood Marshall, no single American has so wholly advanced the cause of equality under the law.

The change Ginsburg ushered into American politics began a half century ago, and reckoning with its magnitude requires measuring the distance between now and then. At the time, only three in a hundred legal professionals and fewer than two hundred of the nation’s ten thousand judges were women. In 1971, as Richard Nixon prepared to make two appointments to the Supreme Court, he faced a dilemma. Yet another Southerner he’d tapped had been nixed for an opposition to desegregation, so Nixon decided to look for someone who was, preferably, not a racist. He considered naming a woman. “I’m not for women, frankly, in any job,” he told his aides, in a little fit of hysterics. “Thank God we don’t have any in the Cabinet.” He didn’t think women should be educated, or “ever be allowed to vote, even.” But, given the momentum of the women’s-rights movement, he conceded the political necessity of naming a woman to the bench: it might gain him a small but crucial number of votes in the upcoming election. “It’s like the Negro vote,” he said. “It’s a hell of a thing.” Then Chief Justice Warren Burger, in a similar huff, told Nixon that, if he were to nominate a woman, he’d resign. In the end, Nixon named Lewis Powell.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

News 09.21.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 09.21.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

A huge trove of secret government documents reveals for the first time how the giants of Western banking move trillions of dollars in suspicious transactions, enriching themselves and their shareholders while facilitating the work of terrorists, kleptocrats, and drug kingpins.

And the US government, despite its vast powers, fails to stop it.

Today, the FinCEN Files — thousands of “suspicious activity reports” and other US government documents — offer an unprecedented view of global financial corruption, the banks enabling it, and the government agencies that watch as it flourishes. BuzzFeed News has shared these reports with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and more than 100 news organizations in 88 countries.

These documents, compiled by banks, shared with the government, but kept from public view, expose the hollowness of banking safeguards, and the ease with which criminals have exploited them. Profits from deadly drug wars, fortunes embezzled from developing countries, and hard-earned savings stolen in a Ponzi scheme were all allowed to flow into and out of these financial institutions, despite warnings from the banks’ own employees.

Money laundering is a crime that makes other crimes possible. It can accelerate economic inequality, drain public funds, undermine democracy, and destabilize nations — and the banks play a key role. “Some of these people in those crisp white shirts in their sharp suits are feeding off the tragedy of people dying all over the world,” said Martin Woods, a former suspicious transactions investigator for Wachovia.

“Some of these people in those crisp white shirts in their sharp suits are feeding off the tragedy of people dying all over the world.”

Laws that were meant to stop financial crime have instead allowed it to flourish. So long as a bank files a notice that it may be facilitating criminal activity, it all but immunizes itself and its executives from criminal prosecution. The suspicious activity alert effectively gives them a free pass to keep moving the money and collecting the fees.

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, is the agency within the Treasury Department charged with combating money laundering, terrorist financing, and other financial crimes. It collects millions of these suspicious activity reports, known as SARs. It makes them available to US law enforcement agencies and other nations’ financial intelligence operations. It even compiles a report called “Kleptocracy Weekly” that summarizes the dealings of foreign leaders such as Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Read the rest of this article at: BuzzFeed

News 09.21.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

“It’s definitely [for] calm waters,” says engineer Lien Van Den Steen,

as Thursday afternoon sun streams through a window in her Ghent, Belgium, home.

From his home in Minnesota, Timm Ideker, a regional sales director, drops a link into the chat for a kayak that breaks into pieces for easy transportation. “I have some concerns that this just means it’s going to leak in seven places,” says Simon Mansfield, a member of GitLab’s sales team, in Cardiff, Wales.

For most employees, this sort of conversation would be a brief sidebar from work, but discussing kayaks—and weekend plans and favorite board games—is the entire point of this call. Employees from any GitLab team (or time zone) log on to these recurring 30-minute Company Calls to replicate the casual conversations that happen naturally when coworkers share the same office.

The company, which makes an application that enables developers to collaborate while writing and launching software, has no physical headquarters. Instead, it consists of more than 1,300 employees spread across 67 countries and nearly every time zone, all of them working either from home or (in nonpandemic times) in coworking spaces. Research shows that talking about non-work-related things with colleagues facilitates trust, helps break down silos among departments, and makes employees more productive. At GitLab, all of this needs to happen remotely.

The company takes these relaxed interactions so seriously that it has a specified protocol in its employee handbook, which is publicly available online in its entirety. If printed, it would span more than 7,100 pages.

The section on “Informal Communication in an All-Remote Environment” meticulously details more than three dozen ways coworkers can virtually connect beyond the basic Zoom call, from Donut Bot chats (where members of the #donut_be_strangers Slack channel are randomly paired) to Juice Box talks (for family members of employees to get to know one another). There are also international pizza parties, virtual scavenger hunts, and a shared “Team DJ Zoom Room.

Read the rest of this article at: Fast Company

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