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News 29.10.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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News 29.10.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
@monicaflatland
News 29.10.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 29.10.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
@monicaflatland

Meta—the company formerly known as Facebook—desperately wants you to believe that it is going to put the future on your face. That was the gist of Mark Zuckerberg’s hour-and-a-half announcement today that the largest social-media company in history was officially rebranding, and reorienting itself to focus on “the metaverse.”

The news was jarring, but hardly surprising. For Facebook, 2021 has been the Year of Trying to Make the Metaverse Happen. First, there was the splashy announcement in The Verge, courtesy of Zuckerberg himself, that Facebook would no longer be a social-media company. Instead, it would transition into “a metaverse company.” In Zuckerberg’s words, this means building out “an embodied internet, where instead of just viewing content—you are in it.”

In short order, Zuck dropped by a CBS morning show to demonstrate Horizon Workrooms, where users would be embodied in sub-Sims-quality avatars—not just viewing a dull virtual conference room, but in it. Then Facebook launched its partnership with Ray-Ban to sell a pair of privacy-challenged augmented-reality sunglasses. Then came the news that Facebook was hiring 10,000 people in Europe to work on building the metaverse. Then, finally, word came last week that Facebook would rebrand itself with a moniker that reflects its newfangled metaverse aspirations. That name, we now know, is Meta.

Read the rest of this article at: The Arlantic

News 29.10.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 29.10.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

In London, in the nineteen-thirties, the émigré Hungarian intellectual Karl Polanyi was known among his friends as “the apocalyptic chap.” His gloom was understandable. Nearly fifty, he’d had to leave his wife, daughter, and mother behind in Vienna shortly after Austria lurched toward fascism, in 1933. Although he had long edited and contributed to the prestigious Viennese weekly The Austrian Economist, which published such celebrated figures as Friedrich Hayek and Joseph Schumpeter, he had come to discount his career as a thing of “theoretical and practical barrenness,” and blamed himself for failing to diagnose his era’s crucial political conflict. As so often for refugees, money was tight. Despite letters of reference from eminent historians, Polanyi failed to land a professorship or a fellowship, though he did manage to earn thirty-seven pounds co-editing an anti-fascist anthology, which featured essays by W. H. Auden and Reinhold Niebuhr. In his own contribution to the book, he argued that fascism strips democratic politics away from human society so that “only economic life remains,” a skeleton without flesh.

In 1937, he taught in adult-education programs in Kent and Sussex, commuting by bus or train and spending the night at a student’s house if it got too late to return home. The subject was British economic history, which he hadn’t much studied before. As he learned how capitalism had challenged the political system of Great Britain, the first nation in the world to industrialize, he decided that it was no accident that fascism was infecting countries as disparate as Japan, Croatia, and Portugal. Fascism shouldn’t be “ascribed to local causes, national mentalities, or historical backgrounds,” he came to believe. It shouldn’t even be thought of as a political movement. It was, rather, an “ever-given political possibility”—a reflex that could occur in any polity experiencing a certain kind of pain. In Polanyi’s opinion, whenever the profit-making impulse becomes deadlocked with the need to shield people from its harmful side effects, voters are tempted by the “fascist solution”: reconcile profit and security by forfeiting civic freedom. The insight became the keystone of his masterpiece, “The Great Transformation,” which was published in 1944, as the world was coming to terms with the destruction that fascism had wrought.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

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“I don’t know much about whales. I have never seen a whale in my life,” says Michael Bronstein. The Israeli computer scientist, teaching at Imperial College London, England, might not seem the ideal candidate for a project involving the communication of sperm whales. But his skills as an expert in machine learning could be key to an ambitious endeavor that officially started in March 2020: an interdisciplinary group of scientists wants to use artificial intelligence (AI) to decode the language of these marine mammals. If Project CETI (for Cetacean Translation Initiative) succeeds, it would be the first time that we actually understand what animals are chatting about—and maybe we could even have a conversation with them.

It started in 2017 when an international group of scientists spent a year together at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at the Radcliffe Fellowship, a program that promises “an opportunity to step away from usual routines.” One day, Shafi Goldwasser, a computer scientist and cryptography expert also from Israel, came by the office of David Gruber, a marine biologist at City University of New York. Goldwasser, who had just been named the new director of the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing at the University of California, Berkeley, had heard a series of clicking sounds that reminded her of the noise a faulty electronic circuit makes—or of Morse code. That’s how sperm whales talk to each other, Gruber told her. “I said, ‘Maybe we should do a project where we are translating the whale sounds into something that we as humans can understand,’” Goldwasser recounts. “I really said it as an afterthought. I never thought he was going to take me seriously.”

Read the rest of this article at: Hakai

The Biden administration came into office with a clear and unambiguous foreign policy priority: countering a rising China. The administration’s public statements, its early national security planning documents, and its initial diplomatic forays have all suggested that pushing back against Beijing’s growing global influence will be Washington’s national security focus, alongside transnational threats such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. The question of how to deal with Russia, by contrast, has taken a back seat, returning to the fore only when Russian troops amassed on Ukraine’s border in April. That crisis served as a reminder of the danger of looking past Moscow—yet by July, President Joe Biden was back to declaring that Russia was “sitting on top of an economy that has nuclear weapons and oil wells and nothing else.”

Biden is not the first American leader to think along these lines. Ever since the end of the Cold War, American politicians have periodically suggested that Russia’s days as a true global power are numbered. In 2014, John McCain, a Republican senator from Arizona, called Russia a “gas station masquerading as a country.” That same year, U.S. President Barack Obama dismissed Russia as a mere “regional power.” Not long thereafter, Russia successfully intervened in the Syrian war, interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and inserted itself into the political crisis in Venezuela and the civil war in Libya. And yet, the perception of Russia as a paper tiger persists.

The problem is that the case for Russian decline is overstated. Much of the evidence for it, such as Russia’s shrinking population and its resource-dependent economy, is not as consequential for the Kremlin as many in Washington assume. Nor should the United States expect that Russia will automatically abandon its course of confrontation once President Vladimir Putin leaves office. Putin’s foreign policy enjoys widespread support among the country’s ruling elite, and his legacy will include a thicket of unresolved disputes, chief among them that over the annexation of Crimea. Any disagreements with the United States are here to stay.

Read the rest of this article at: Foreign Affairs

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News 29.10.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

In early 2020, bushfires raged across Australia. More than 3,000 homes were destroyed, reduced to ash and rubble by the unrelenting onslaught of flames. Tragically, 34 people died in the fires themselves, with an estimated 445 more dying as a result of smoke inhalation. More than 16m hectares of land burned, destroying wildlife and natural habitats. Nearly 3 billion animals were affected. So massive were the fires that the smoke was visible over Chile, 11,000km away. The record-breaking inferno that engulfed Australia was described as a “global catastrophe, and a global spectacle”. As reported in the New Statesman, Australia had come to symbolise “the extreme edge of a future awaiting us all” as a result of the climate crisis. The Australian government’s inquiry into the bushfires unequivocally reported that “it is clear that we should expect fire seasons like 2019–20, or potentially worse, to happen again”.

If we turn the clock back to less than a year earlier, 15 March 2019 marked the day that 1.4 million children turned out at locations around the world, on “strike” from school in support of action against the climate crisis. In Australia, the strikes were especially targeted at the government’s dismal record of inaction, with many politicians being climate-change deniers. The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, was vocal in his criticism of the strikes. He wanted students to stay in school instead of engaging in democratic protest. His public statement said: “I want children growing up in Australia to feel positive about their future, and I think it is important we give them that confidence that they will not only have a wonderful country and pristine environment to live in, that they will also have an economy to live in as well. I don’t want our children to have anxieties about these issues.”

In Australia, coal is a primary export, peaking at A$69.6bn in 2019. Morrison is remembered by many for holding up a piece of coal in parliament in 2017 as a protest against those politicians campaigning for renewable energy. “Don’t be afraid, don’t be scared, it won’t hurt you. It’s coal,” Morrison jibed as his tittering colleagues passed the black lump between them. But as the harsh smell of smoke filtered into houses and offices in Sydney during last year’s fires, no one was laughing. Many wondered what kinds of anxieties the youth of Australia must have been feeling as they watched the blaze’s devastating sweep across the country, leaving destruction and death in its wake.

At the time of the fires, the Australian government had long worked hard to downplay or even deny the climate crisis, and many corporations supported this. Gina Rinehart, the billionaire mining magnate and executive chairman of Hancock Prospecting, had not long earlier been revealed as a multimillion-dollar funder of the Institute of Public Affairs, a rightwing thinktank that denies the climate crisis has humanmade causes. But other organisations sensed the global mood had changed, and called on Australia to fight the climate crisis. Another Australian mining billionaire, Fortescue Metals’ Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest, promised a donation of A$70m to bushfire relief. While not explicitly linking the fires to the climate crisis, he did say in a statement: “I would like to say, unequivocally, in my view climate change is real. I accept that the warming of our planet is a primary cause of the catastrophic events we have been experiencing.”

Read the rest of this article at: The Guardian

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