News 02.26.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 02.26.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 02.26.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 02.26.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Before Inauguration Day, the White House residence staff were already exhausted. For several weeks, many of them had worked sixteen-hour days preparing for the transition—the approximately six-hour-long window between when the Trumps would depart and the Bidens arrive. White House transitions typically demand superhuman effort, but this year’s was among the most physically demanding in recent memory. At risk of falling ill with the coronavirus, staffers worked in close quarters to transform the upstairs rooms of the White House, where the windows don’t open and are paned with thick, bulletproof glass, in accordance with the strong preference of the Secret Service.

In previous transitions, the residence staff brought the White House to a state of as-ready-as-possible without making major changes until the new First Family arrived and redecorated. If a departing family took a personal sofa with them, the staff replaced it with one from the White House collection, so that the incoming family need not walk into a bare room. But, under a new White House chief usher, Timothy Harleth, the transition became a far more ambitious affair. Hired by the Trumps, in 2017, Harleth had previously been a rooms manager at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. Early in the Administration, he had hired a “creative manager,” and on Inauguration Day Harleth enlisted that person to make the upstairs rooms look “ ‘Architectural Digest’-ready,” a residence worker said. In the frantic final hours, the creative manager was laying out guestbooks and new stationery, filling the bookcases with decorative plates and candles, and staging throws on furniture. “They wanted these rooms to look like a high-end hotel,” the worker added.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

News 02.26.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 02.26.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

The day after the Great Blizzard of 2020 dropped a foot of snow on her farm in Bedford, New York, in December, Martha Stewart arose around 4 a.m., like she always does, jumped into her snowplow and got to work. The 79-year-old, who became America’s first self-made female billionaire when her company went public in 1999, has plenty of groundskeepers for her “hundred and fifty fucking acres”—as she once described her vast estate on her cheeky HGTV gardening show, Martha Knows Best—but she’s a gay icon for a reason: She. Will. Work. Plowing her own roads is just so very Martha: taking a problem, attacking it creatively, getting visible results, and, most importantly, doing it yourself.

“Oh, I love to snowplow,” says Stewart. “I was out there actually for three hours before I realized it was three hours, and I was semi-frozen to death. But it was fun.” She’s calling me from the farm, where she sometimes runs into her neighbor Ralph Lauren while they’re both horseback riding. It would be easy to hate blonde, rich, famous Martha Stewart the way people love to hate Gwyneth Paltrow—of whom Stewart said in 2014, “She just needs to be quiet. … If she were confident in her acting, she wouldn’t be trying to be Martha Stewart.” But then there’s the snowplowing, and the burlap curtains she made for her chicken coop, which, who knows if she made them herself, but we at least know that she knows how to do it. And there’s the endless dedication to improving people’s lives, by showing us how to get oil stains out of our clothes or reminding us that we deserve a delicious, easy cocktail (with dried cranberries and a sprig of rosemary!) at the end of the day. So she made a little money while doing it, who could blame her? As we face down a full year of hiding from the coronavirus and being at home, with plenty of time to start loathing our dinnerware or learning how to make sourdough, Stewart and all she stands for have never felt more relevant. Every day she is churning out videos and Instagram posts (not to mention magazine issues and TV shows) about recipes and home decor to get us through the doldrums. Then there is her hilariously self-aware yet also unaware personal Instagram, @marthastewart48, on which she posts photos of her grandkids (Jude and Truman), her Chows and Frenchies (Emperor Han and Empress Qin, and Bête Noire and Crème Brûlée), and occasional viral thirst traps, like the one in her pool in one of her many homes (this one in East Hampton) that she took by accident while trying to take a photo of a blue ceramic pot (“I thought I looked nice, so I just snapped the picture”).

Read the rest of this article at: Harper’s Bazaar

The Balmoral in Chestnut

Shop the Balmoral in Chestnut
at Belgrave Crescent &

Pandemic fatigue hits different. You know the feeling: You’ve been online all day, bouncing between video calls with colleagues and FaceTimes with family, maybe pausing for a quick vinyasa flow. Your eyeballs feel glassy, your brain parched and limbs sluggish. When your workday is finally over, you consider leaving the house but hear the voice of the comedian Elsa Majimbo — it’s a pandeeeemic — in your head. Instead, you get back online, maybe to listen to a talk, binge a costume drama, play a few hours of Fortnite, look up a dinner recipe or fire up Seesaw to help your kids with their homework. This is the sum of your life now. You’re essentially a husk. In sweatpants.

Shifting our entire lives indoors this past year has also meant shifting our entire lives online. For a significant part of the population, where we work, where we socialize, where we relax got squeezed into the same two-dimensional space: our screens. The distinction between work and everything else, already a blurry line for most Americans, got even blurrier. Many of us spend a vast majority of our waking hours working, rarely taking breaks for lunch, vacation or even parental leave. Before the pandemic, the workday was full of natural pauses like commuting, elevator rides, hallway chats, caffeine runs. Now many of us work for hours straight without even pausing to stand up.

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

News 02.26.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Inside Xinjiang’s
Prison State

News 02.26.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

In the spring of 2017, Erbaqyt Otarbai, a forty-three-year-old truck driver living in Kazakhstan, crossed the border into China to accept a job with a mining company in Xinjiang. His wife had recently undergone surgery to remove kidney stones, and he needed money to cover her medical expenses. For the next three months, he crisscrossed the region, hauling iron ore in a hundred-ton truck. By August, he had saved up enough to pay his debts.

On the morning of August 16th, the county police in Koktokay, near the mine in northern China where he was based, summoned him to a meeting. At the police station, officers led Otarbai to a room lined with spongy, yellow soundproofing. There was a metal chair with arm and leg restraints, but the officers didn’t make him sit in it. One officer asked him questions in Chinese: When had he moved to Kazakhstan? For what purpose? With whom did he communicate? Did he go to a mosque? Did he pray? Otarbai answered honestly. He hadn’t done anything wrong and wasn’t worried. After two hours, the officers released Otarbai but kept his cell phone, saying that they would review its contents.

Later that evening, Otarbai drove a truckload of iron ore about four hundred miles south from Beitun, near the Mongolian border, to a processing plant outside of Ürümqi, Xinjiang’s capital. He arrived around dawn, after an eight-hour journey. While he was waiting to unload his cargo, he heard a knock on the side of his truck. It was a fellow-driver, who said he had received a call from the company dispatcher. The police were coming to pick up Otarbai, who should unload his truck and wait.

When officers arrived at the processing plant, around noon, they told Otarbai that they’d found a problem with his household registration. They would drive him to Tacheng—about six hours away—to get it fixed. As he rode away in the police car, Otarbai realized that he’d forgotten his wristwatch in his truck. The police told him not to worry. “We have some paperwork to fill out, and then you’ll be free and your truck will be waiting for you,” he recalled one of the officers saying. On the highway, they switched on the lights and the siren. Otarbai began to feel nervous.

Otarbai was born in a rural part of northern Xinjiang, near the borders that China shares with Kazakhstan, Russia, and Mongolia. His family’s roots were Kazakh, and, although he grew up speaking both Kazakh and Chinese, Otarbai felt closer in language and custom to Central Asia than to Beijing or Shanghai. Kazakhs are one of China’s fifty-six officially recognized ethnicities and the third-largest ethnic group in Xinjiang. Uighurs, the largest ethnic group in the region, like Kazakhs, speak a Turkic language and are predominantly Muslim.

As an adult, Otarbai found himself drawn to Kazakhstan, where members of the Kazakh diaspora in China had increasingly migrated, particularly after the country declared its independence from the Soviet Union, in 1991. After Otarbai got married, he moved to his wife’s home town, Tacheng City, about eleven miles from the Kazakh border, and changed his household registration to match hers. Then, in 2011, Otarbai moved to Kazakhstan to build a house for his family. He found work driving pipeline segments across the border for a Chinese oil company. His family followed several years later, but they continued to travel back and forth to see relatives and take advantage of better health care in China.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

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News 02.26.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Many scientists are expecting another rise in infections. But this time the surge will be blunted by vaccines and, hopefully, widespread caution. By summer, Americans may be looking at a return to normal life.

Lincoln Park in Chicago. Scientists are hopeful, as vaccinations continue and despite the emergence of variants, that we’re past the worst of the pandemic.Credit…Lyndon French for The New York Times

Across the United States, and the world, the coronavirus seems to be loosening its stranglehold. The deadly curve of cases, hospitalizations and deaths has yo-yoed before, but never has it plunged so steeply and so fast.

Is this it, then? Is this the beginning of the end? After a year of being pummeled by grim statistics and scolded for wanting human contact, many Americans feel a long-promised deliverance is at hand.

Americans will win against the virus and regain many aspects of their pre-pandemic lives, most scientists now believe. Of the 21 interviewed for this article, all were optimistic that the worst of the pandemic is past. This summer, they said, life may begin to seem normal again.

But — of course, there’s always a but — researchers are also worried that Americans, so close to the finish line, may once again underestimate the virus.

So far, the two vaccines authorized in the United States are spectacularly effective, and after a slow start, the vaccination rollout is picking up momentum. A third vaccine is likely to be authorized shortly, adding to the nation’s supply.

But it will be many weeks before vaccinations make a dent in the pandemic. And now the virus is shape-shifting faster than expected, evolving into variants that may partly sidestep the immune system.

The latest variant was discovered in New York City only this week, and another worrisome version is spreading at a rapid pace through California. Scientists say a contagious variant first discovered in Britain will become the dominant form of the virus in the United States by the end of March.

The road back to normalcy is potholed with unknowns: how well vaccines prevent further spread of the virus; whether emerging variants remain susceptible enough to the vaccines; and how quickly the world is immunized, so as to halt further evolution of the virus.

But the greatest ambiguity is human behavior. Can Americans desperate for normalcy keep wearing masks and distancing themselves from family and friends? How much longer can communities keep businesses, offices and schools closed?

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

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