News 12.14.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 12.14.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 12.14.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 12.14.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Once, in another life, I was a tech founder. It was the late nineties, when the Web was young, and everyone was trying to cash in on the dot-com boom. In college, two of my dorm mates and I discovered that we’d each started an Internet company in high school, and we merged them to form a single, teen-age megacorp. For around six hundred dollars a month, we rented office space in the basement of a building in town. We made Web sites and software for an early dating service, an insurance-claims-processing firm, and an online store where customers could “bargain” with a cartoon avatar for overstock goods. I lived large, spending the money I made on tuition, food, and a stereo.

In 1999—our sophomore year—we hit it big. A company that wired mid-tier office buildings with high-speed Internet hired us to build a collaborative work environment for its customers: Slack, avant la lettre. It was a huge project, entrusted to a few college students through some combination of recklessness and charity. We were terrified that we’d taken on work we couldn’t handle but also felt that we were on track to create something innovative. We blew through deadlines and budgets until the C-suite demanded a demo, which we built. Newly confident, we hired our friends, and used our corporate AmEx to expense a “business dinner” at Nobu. Unlike other kids, who were what—socializing?—I had a business card that said “Creative Director.” After midnight, in our darkened office, I nestled my Aeron chair into my IKEA desk, queued up Nine Inch Nails in Winamp, scrolled code, peeped pixels, and entered the matrix. After my client work was done, I’d write short stories for my creative-writing workshops. Often, I slept on the office futon, waking to plunder the vending machine next to the loading dock, where a homeless man lived with his cart.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

News 12.14.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 12.14.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Armed with a handgun, a fake ID card and disguises, Miriam Rodríguez was a one-woman detective squad, defying a system where criminal impunity often prevails.

Cartel violence has long scarred San Fernando, Mexico. The corpses of 72 Central American migrants were discovered at this ranch.Credit…Video by Daniel Berehulak

SAN FERNANDO, Mexico — Miriam Rodríguez clutched a pistol in her purse as she ran past the morning crowds on the bridge to Texas. She stopped every few minutes to catch her breath and study the photo of her next target: the florist.

She had been hunting him for a year, stalking him online, interrogating the criminals he worked with, even befriending unwitting relatives for tips on his whereabouts. Now she finally had one — a widow called to tell her that he was peddling flowers on the border.

Ever since 2014, she had been tracking the people responsible for the kidnapping and murder of her 20-year-old daughter, Karen. Half of them were already in prison, not because the authorities had cracked the case, but because she had pursued them on her own, with a meticulous abandon.

She cut her hair, dyed it and disguised herself as a pollster, a health worker and an election official to get their names and addresses. She invented excuses to meet their families, unsuspecting grandmothers and cousins who gave her details, however small. She wrote everything down and stuffed it into her black computer bag, building her investigation and tracking them down, one by one.

She knew their habits, friends, hometowns, childhoods. She knew the florist had sold flowers on the street before joining the Zeta cartel and getting involved in her daughter’s kidnapping. Now he was on the run and back to what he knew, selling roses to make ends meet.

Without showering, she threw a trench coat over her pajamas, a baseball cap over her fire engine-red hair and a gun in her purse, heading for the border to find the florist. On the bridge, she scoured the vendors for flower carts, but that day he was selling sunglasses instead. When she finally found him, she got too excited, and too close. He recognized her and ran.

He sprinted along the narrow pedestrian pass, hoping to get away. Mrs. Rodríguez, 56 at the time, grabbed him by the shirt and wrestled him to the rails. She jammed her handgun into his back.

“If you move, I’ll shoot you,” she told him, according to family members involved in her scramble to capture the florist that day. She held him there for nearly an hour, awaiting the police to make the arrest.

In three years, Mrs. Rodríguez captured nearly every living member of the crew that had abducted her daughter for ransom, a rogues’ gallery of criminals who tried to start new lives — as a born-again Christian, a taxi driver, a car salesman, a babysitter.

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

The Balmoral in Chestnut

Shop the Balmoral in Chestnut
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Raised in a six-bedroom mansion in Philadelphia’s outer exurbs — the kind with a grand circular driveway, tucked 100 yards from the street — 25-year-old Jake learned from an early age that wealthy families like his had a moral obligation to give back through charity.

Jake, who asked OneZero to protect his last name, shares his surname with a major college that renamed itself in honor of his late grandmother. His grandfather, the millionaire founder of a family-run tax software firm, cut $2,500 checks each Christmas to the charities each grandchild selected. Growing up, Jake watched his parents primp for charity galas and endow scholarships. They would casually pick up the tuition of kids they met on their international vacations. For a period in his childhood, Jake’s parents even operated their own children’s health nonprofit.

Despite that white-gloved lineage, Jake — who voted for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary, and still struggles to explain the wealth he inherited — does not exude Carnegie or Rockefeller vibes. In conversation, the freelance film technician is boisterous and self-deprecating and very, very earnest, prone to incidental overshares and meandering asides. On Twitter, he posts about movies, indie rock, social justice, and the guilt of growing up in a family rich enough to rent the occasional private plane.

Read the rest of this article at: OneZero

News 12.14.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 12.14.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

“I actually feel pretty comfortable in New York. I get scared, like, in Sweden,” mumbled Lou Reed, the legendary frontman of the Velvet Underground, while playing the disheveled city-dweller in the 1995 movie “Blue in the Face.” “It’s kind of empty, they’re all drunk, everything works. If you stop at a traffic light and don’t turn your engine off, people come over and talk to you about it. You go to the medicine cabinet and open it up, and there’ll be a little poster saying: ‘In case of suicide, call …’ You turn on the TV, there’s an ear operation. These things scare me. New York? No.”

This droll monologue hints at how Nordic societies are different — or at least how they are perceived by outsiders to be different. They are distinctive in ways that border on the inhuman, or perhaps the post-human. Some years ago, two Swedish authors even wrote a book asking the disturbing question: “Are the Swedes humans?”

At the same time, when it comes to the Nordic countries themselves, the casual observer is instinctively drawn to their commonalities. A historical, cultural and, in some cases, even a linguistic proximity — as well as similar material conditions such as healthcare, demographics, state capacity and political stability — make these lands often indistinguishable to outsiders.

So, when a cataclysmic crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic struck, one might assume that each of the Nordic countries would be equally well prepared to respond effectively. On this latter count, however, the evidence so far is confounding: Neighbors such as Sweden and Denmark took drastically different approaches to their coronavirus responses, with a quest for herd immunity in the former case and draconian lockdowns in the latter case. Supposedly very close in their underlying social and political structures, and making decisions on the basis of evidence, science and rigorous public management, Sweden and Denmark nonetheless adopted wildly divergent responses.

Read the rest of this article at: Noema

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News 12.14.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

In the winter of 1942, on the shores of a lake high in the Himalayas, a forest ranger came across hundreds of bones and skulls, some with flesh still on them. When the snow and ice melted that summer, many more were visible through the clear water, lying on the bottom. The lake, a glacial tarn called Roopkund, was more than sixteen thousand feet above sea level, an arduous five-day trek from human habitation, in a mountain cirque surrounded by snowfields and battered by storms. In the midst of the Second World War, British officials in India initially worried that the dead might be the remains of Japanese soldiers attempting a secret invasion. The apparent age of the bones quickly dispelled that idea. But what had happened to all these people? Why were they in the mountains, and when and how had they died?

In 1956, the Anthropological Survey of India, in Calcutta, sponsored several expeditions to Roopkund to investigate. A snowstorm forced the first expedition to turn back, but two months later another expedition made it and returned to Calcutta with remains for study. Carbon dating, still an unreliable innovation, indicated that the bones were between five hundred and eight hundred years old.

Indian scientists were intensely interested in the Roopkund mystery. The lake, some thought, was a place where holy men committed ritual suicide. Or maybe the dead were a detachment of soldiers from a thirteenth-century army sent by the Sultan of Delhi in an ill-fated attempt to invade Tibet, or a group of Tibet-bound traders who had lost their way. Perhaps this was hallowed ground, an open-air cemetery, or a place where victims of an epidemic were dumped to prevent contagion.

People in the villages below Roopkund had their own explanation, passed down in folk songs and stories. The villages are on the route of a pilgrimage to honor Nanda Devi, a manifestation of Parvati, a supreme goddess in Hinduism. The pilgrimage winds up through the foothills of the Trisul massif, where locals believe that the goddess lives with her husband, Shiva. It may be the longest and most dangerous pilgrimage in India, and a particularly perilous section—the Jyumra Gali, or Path of Death—runs along a ridge high above Roopkund. As the villagers tell it, long ago Nanda Devi left her home to visit a distant kingdom, where she was treated discourteously by the king and queen. Nanda Devi cursed the kingdom, unleashing drought and disaster, and infesting the milk and rice with maggots. In order to appease the goddess, the royal couple embarked on a pilgrimage. The king, who liked his entertainments, took along a bevy of dancing courtesans and musicians, in violation of the ascetic traditions of the pilgrimage. Nanda Devi was furious at the display of earthly pleasures, and she shoved the dancing girls down into the underworld. The pits into which they are said to have sunk are still visible high on a mountainside. Then, according to the legend, she sent down a blizzard of hail and a whirlwind, which swept all the pilgrims on the Path of Death into the lake. Their skeletons are a warning to those who would disrespect the goddess.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

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