News 01.13.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 01.13.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 01.13.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 01.13.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Three decades ago, Tim Berners-Lee devised simple yet powerful standards for locating, linking and presenting multimedia documents online. He set them free into the world, unleashing the World Wide Web.

Others became internet billionaires, while Mr. Berners-Lee became the steward of the technical norms intended to help the web flourish as an egalitarian tool of connection and information sharing.

But now, Mr. Berners-Lee, 65, believes the online world has gone astray. Too much power and too much personal data, he says, reside with the tech giants like Google and Facebook — “silos” is the generic term he favors, instead of referring to the companies by name. Fueled by vast troves of data, he says, they have become surveillance platforms and gatekeepers of innovation.

Regulators have voiced similar complaints. The big tech companies are facing tougher privacy rules in Europe and some American states, led by California. Google and Facebook have been hit with antitrust suits.

But Mr. Berners-Lee is taking a different approach: His answer to the problem is technology that gives individuals more power.

The goal, he said, is to move toward “the web that I originally wanted.”

“Pods,” personal online data stores, are a key technical ingredient to achieve that goal. The idea is that each person could control his or her own data — websites visited, credit card purchases, workout routines, music streamed — in an individual data safe, typically a sliver of server space.

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

News 01.13.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 01.13.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Peter turchin, one of the world’s experts on pine beetles and possibly also on human beings, met me reluctantly this summer on the campus of the University of Connecticut at Storrs, where he teaches. Like many people during the pandemic, he preferred to limit his human contact. He also doubted whether human contact would have much value anyway, when his mathematical models could already tell me everything I needed to know.

But he had to leave his office sometime. (“One way you know I am Russian is that I cannot think sitting down,” he told me. “I have to go for a walk.”) Neither of us had seen much of anyone since the pandemic had closed the country several months before. The campus was quiet. “A week ago, it was even more like a neutron bomb hit,” Turchin said. Animals were timidly reclaiming the campus, he said: squirrels, woodchucks, deer, even an occasional red-tailed hawk. During our walk, groundskeepers and a few kids on skateboards were the only other representatives of the human population in sight.

The year 2020 has been kind to Turchin, for many of the same reasons it has been hell for the rest of us. Cities on fire, elected leaders endorsing violence, homicides surging—­­to a normal American, these are apocalyptic signs. To Turchin, they indicate that his models, which incorporate thousands of years of data about human history, are working. (“Not all of human history,” he corrected me once. “Just the last 10,000 years.”) He has been warning for a decade that a few key social and political trends portend an “age of discord,” civil unrest and carnage worse than most Americans have experienced. In 2010, he predicted that the unrest would get serious around 2020, and that it wouldn’t let up until those social and political trends reversed. Havoc at the level of the late 1960s and early ’70s is the best-case scenario; all-out civil war is the worst.

The fundamental problems, he says, are a dark triad of social maladies: a bloated elite class, with too few elite jobs to go around; declining living standards among the general population; and a government that can’t cover its financial positions. His models, which track these factors in other societies across history, are too complicated to explain in a nontechnical publication. But they’ve succeeded in impressing writers for nontechnical publications, and have won him comparisons to other authors of “megahistories,” such as Jared Diamond and Yuval Noah Harari. The New York Times columnist Ross Douthat had once found Turchin’s historical model­ing unpersuasive, but 2020 made him a believer: “At this point,” Douthat recently admitted on a podcast, “I feel like you have to pay a little more attention to him.”

Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic

The Balmoral in Chestnut

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The first Neanderthal face to emerge from time’s sarcophagus was a woman’s. As the social and liberal revolutions of 1848 began convulsing Europe, quarry workers’ rough hands pulled her from the great Rock of Gibraltar. Calcite mantling her skull meant that, at first, she seemed more a hunk of stone than a once warm-blooded being, and obscured her decidedly odd anatomy – massive eyes, heavy brow ridges and a low, long cranium. While monarchies fell and serfs breathed the sweet air of freedom that year, it would take another decade for human origins as a science to begin its own overthrow of the old world order. The first recognised Neanderthal was a different skull-top, blasted from the Feldhofer cave in Germany in 1856, just two years before Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Darwin presented their theory of evolution by natural selection.

However, the Forbes skull, as the earlier Gibraltarian find is now known, had to wait until 1863 for her turn in the limelight. Catching the eye of a visiting doctor with anthropological interests, she was packed aboard a ship bound for Britain, then introduced to none other than Darwin (who reportedly found the experience ‘wonderful’). While her overall anatomy excited huge interest, her potential sex was little considered. Instead, the world-wrenching significance of the Forbes and Feldhofer fossils was the first proof of another kind of ancient human entirely.

Read the rest of this article at: aeon

News 01.13.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

The so-called Gilded Age in the United States began with the Compromise of 1877, which settled the disputed presidential election of 1876 by awarding the White House to the Republican candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes, in exchange for the withdrawal of federal troops from three Southern states. In the short term, the compromise effectively ended Reconstruction. In the longer term, it empowered white terrorists in the South and led to a major realignment in U.S. politics that weakened the federal government’s ability to govern the “Money Power,” the term used by critics at the time to describe the forces that were steadily taking over markets and political systems.

By 1900, one percent of the U.S. population owned more than half of the country’s land; nearly 50 percent of the population owned just one percent of it. Multimillionaires, who made up 0.33 percent of the population, owned 17 percent of the country’s wealth; 40 percent of Americans had no wealth at all. Black men had been violently and systematically deprived of the hard-won right to vote in the South, where authorities had thrown up every possible barrier—literacy tests, poll taxes, gerrymandering, grandfather clauses—to prevent the restoration of Black political rights and the growth of Black economic power. After a quarter century, it had become impossible to see these outcomes as aberrations: monopolization and repression had come to define the American system.

The president was William McKinley, a Republican. Both his 1896 and his 1900 campaigns were fueled by large corporate donations collected by his chief strategist, “Dollar Mark” Hanna. John D. Rockefeller of the Standard Oil Company alone kicked in a direct contribution to McKinley’s first campaign equal to more than $7 million in today’s dollars. The resulting war chest allowed McKinley to outspend his populist Democratic rival, William Jennings Bryan, by a factor of 20. Rockefeller was one of a handful of men who controlled the monopolies that had come to dominate virtually every sector of the newly industrialized economy. Men such as Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jay Gould, and J. P. Morgan had built up power by acquiring a foothold in various markets and then destroying or buying out their competitors. These magnates defended their dominance by claiming they merely represented new, more efficient systems and technologies. They had enormous access to capital, with a long leash from creditors on Wall Street.

Read the rest of this article at: Foreign Affairs

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News 01.13.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

At noon on October 9, 1948, a group of political correspondents gathered at the Ecuadorean embassy in Washington, D.C. They were greeted by the ambassador, Augusto Dillon, a short man with slicked-back hair and a disarming smile. He led them into an elegant salon, where they were seated in chairs embroidered with gold thread. At the front of the room, the reporters noticed a six-foot-long wooden pole, an outfit made of shells and tree bark, clumps of leaves wrapped in cellophane, and eight round, leathery objects topped with what appeared to be human hair. Behind the reporters, a few balloons bobbed in the air, like leftovers from a birthday party.

Once everyone was settled, Ambassador Dillon—he went by Gus in diplomatic circles—said a few words. Then another man stood up. He wore a dark suit and rimless glasses. His name was Wilburn Ferguson, and he was the chief anesthesiologist of the San Juan de Dios Hospital, in Quito. Ferguson looked “young (40 or so),” one reporter judged, and “big, blondish.” Ferguson was an American who had lived in South America for most of the previous 17 years, studying indigenous medicine in hopes of finding new treatments for chronic diseases. Officially, he was in the United States to raise money for a new teaching hospital in Ecuador. But as one journalist noted, Ferguson had “more than a single mission in mind.”

After introducing himself, Ferguson picked up the wooden pole at the front of the room, raised it to his lips, and blew. A dart shot across the room, exploding a balloon. In the Amazon, Ferguson told the startled reporters, an indigenous hunter with a chonta blowgun like the one he held could drop a hummingbird from the highest branches of a tree. If the hunter was aiming for bigger prey, he dipped the dart in curare, a poison that could paralyze a large creature within minutes, causing death by asphyxiation.

Ferguson passed around a packet of leaves. These were the source of curare, he said, which in very small doses could control spasms. Then he distributed bark from the cinchona tree. This was used to make quinine, which revolutionized Western medicine after a Spanish missionary observed a healer use it to treat malaria. Another cellophane packet held coca leaves, used to make cocaine, one of the first local anesthetics. A tribe called the Jivaro, Ferguson said, understood the benefits of these substances long before Americans or Europeans had ever heard of them.

Finally, he turned to the round, leathery objects. “The doctor,” a reporter wrote, “began passing around human heads shrunken to baseball size.” They appeared “amazingly real,” a Canadian journalist reported. “[We] found it a grisly task, handling those long, black-haired and strikingly human, doll-like heads.” The reporters “gingerly handled them, squirmed, and passed them along.”

Ferguson thought the group might like to know how a head was shrunk. The skull and brain were removed straightaway, he explained; an incision was made from the crown to the nape of a severed head, and the face and scalp were then slipped off “like a sock.” The skull was discarded, while the husk was scraped clean, boiled in a liquid made from a mix of ingredients, and reshaped around hot sand and pebbles until it looked just as it had before death, only smaller.

“The head-shrinking rite is the most mystic and secret formula among all Jivaro religious and medical practices,” Ferguson said. The plants used in the process—the leaves and barks boiled in the liquid—had uncanny powers. Somehow, he said, they could shrink tissue “to any desired dimensions” and preserve it from decay.

Read the rest of this article at: the Atavist Magazine

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