News 07.02.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 07.02.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 07.02.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 07.02.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

There are questions about troop numbers, questions about diplomacy. There are questions about the Ukrainian military, its weapons, and its soldiers. There are questions about Germany and France: How will they react? There are questions about America, and how it has come to be a central player in a conflict not of its making. But of all the questions that repeatedly arise about a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine, the one that gets the least satisfactory answers is this one: Why?

Why would Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, attack a neighboring country that has not provoked him? Why would he risk the blood of his own soldiers? Why would he risk sanctions, and perhaps an economic crisis, as a result? And if he is not really willing to risk these things, then why is he playing this elaborate game?

To explain why requires some history, but not the semi-mythological, faux-medieval history Putin has used in the past to declare that Ukraine is not a country, or that its existence is an accident, or that its sense of nationhood is not real. Nor do we need to know that much about the more recent history of Ukraine or its 70 years as a Soviet republic—though it is true that the Soviet ties of the Russian president, most notably his years spent as a KGB officer, matter a great deal. Indeed, many of his tactics—the use of sham Russian-backed “separatists” to carry out his war in eastern Ukraine, the creation of a puppet government in Crimea—are old KGB tactics, familiar from the Soviet past. Fake political groupings played a role in the KGB’s domination of Central Europe after World War II; sham separatists played a role in the Bolshevik conquest of Ukraine itself in 1918.

Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic

News 07.02.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 07.02.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

The hundreds of bush fires that hit southern Australia on 7 February 2009 felt, according to witnesses, apocalyptic. It was already hellishly hot that day: 46.4C in Melbourne. As the fires erupted, day turned to night, flaming embers the size of pillows rained down, burning birds fell from the trees and the ash-filled air grew so hot that breathing it, one survivor said, was like “sucking on a hairdryer”. More than 2,000 homes burned down, and 173 people died. New South Wales’s fire chief, visiting Melbourne days later, encountered “shocked, demoralised” firefighters, racked by “feelings of powerlessness”.

Australians call the event Black Saturday – a scorched hole in the national diary. There, it contends with Red Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, Black Thursday, Black Friday and Black Sunday on Australia’s calendar of conflagration. But recently it has been surpassed – they all have – by the Black Summer, the cataclysmic 2019-20 fire season that killed hundreds with its smoke and burned an area the size of Ireland. A study estimated that the bushfires destroyed or displaced 3 billion animals; its stunned lead author couldn’t think of any fire worldwide that had killed nearly so many.

This will keep happening. As the planet heats, combustible landscapes will dry and ignite. Less fire-prone lands, such as Greenland, will start catching fire, too. Environmentalists now urge us to imagine the whole world aflame. If our old picture of climate breakdown was a melting glacier, our new one is a wildfire. Its message is simple and urgent: the higher we crank up the heat, the more everything will burn – call this the “thermostat model”. With headlines reporting enormous fires from Sacramento to Siberia, it’s easy to feel that we’re already on the brink of a devastating global conflagration.

Read the rest of this article at: The Guardian

News 07.02.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Bill Gates wheels a hefty metal barrel out onto a stage. He carefully places it down and then faces the audience, which sits silent in a darkened theater. “When I was a kid, the disaster we worried about most was a nuclear war,” he begins. Gates is speaking at TED’s flagship conference, held in Vancouver in 2015. He wears a salmon pink sweater, and his hair is combed down over his forehead, Caesar-style. “That’s why we had a barrel like this down in our basement, filled with cans of food and water,” he says. “When the nuclear attack came, we were supposed to go downstairs, hunker down, and eat out of that barrel.”

Now that he is an adult, Gates continues, it is no longer nuclear apocalypse that scares him, but pestilence. A year ago, Ebola killed over ten thousand people in West Africa. If the virus had been airborne or spread to a large city center, things would have been far worse. It might’ve snowballed into a pandemic and killed tens of millions of people. Gates tells the TED attendees that humanity is not ready for this scenario — that a pandemic would trigger a global catastrophe at an unimaginable scale. We have no basement to retreat to and no metal barrel filled with supplies to rely on.

But, Gates adds, the future might turn out okay. He has an idea. Back when he was a kid, the U.S. military had sufficient funding to mobilize for war at any minute. Gates says that we must prepare for a pandemic with the same fearful intensity. We need to build a medical reserve corps. We need to play germ games like generals play war games. We need to make alliances with other virus-fighting nations. We need to build an arsenal of biomedical weapons to attack any non-human entity that might attack our bodies. “If we start now, we can be ready for the next epidemic,” Gates concludes, to a round of applause.

Of course, Gates’s popular and well-shared TED talk — viewed millions of times — didn’t alter the course of history. Neither did any of the other “ideas worth spreading” (the organization’s tagline) presented at the TED conference that year — including Monica Lewinsky’s massively viral speech about how to stop online bullying through compassion and empathy, or a Google engineer’s talk about how driverless cars would make roads smarter and safer in the near future. In fact, seven years after TED 2015, it feels like we are living in a reality that is the exact opposite of the future envisioned that year. A president took office in part because of his talent for online bullying. Driverless cars are nowhere near as widespread as predicted, and those that do share our roads keep crashing. Covid has killed five million people and counting.

Read the rest of this article at: The Drift

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News 07.02.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Twitter has begun allowing its users to showcase NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, as profile pictures on their accounts. It’s the latest public victory for this form of … and, you know, there’s the problem. What the hell is an NFT anyway?

There are answers. Twitter calls NFTs “unique digital items, such as artwork, with proof of ownership that’s stored on a blockchain.” In marketing for the new feature, the company offered an even briefer take: “digital items that you own.” That promise, mated to a flood of interest and wealth in the cryptocurrency markets used to exchange them, has created an NFT gold rush over the past year. Last March, the artist known as Beeple sold an NFT at auction for $69.5 million. The digital sculptor Refik Anadol, one of the artists The Alantic commissioned to imagine a COVID-19 memorial in 2020, has brought in millions selling editions of his studio’s work in NFT form. Jonathan Mann, who started writing a song every day when he couldn’t find a job after the 2008 financial collapse, began selling those songs as NFTs, converting a fun internet hobby into a viable living.

NFTs have become both memes and marketing, too. Taco Bell sold “iconic and original artwork inspired by our tacos.” Gap made NFT pictures of Gap-branded hoodies. The first edit to Wikipedia got the NFT treatment. NFT-native collections, such as the Bored Ape Yacht Club’s generated images of ugly primates, have become so popular that an individual ape might sell for millions of dollars.

But it’s not terribly helpful to conceive of NFTs as a new form of digital art or ownership or even technology. Owning an NFT doesn’t confer any rights in the intellectual property underlying the thing owned, which anybody can download for themselves. Those who purchase NFTs end up with nothing but a digital record—the deed for a thing that can be copied at zero cost, with zero repercussions.

Forget the hype around all things crypto. Set aside, for a moment, whether it makes sense to spend a fortune on an ape picture. Those matters are distractions. Let’s call things what they are: NFTs represent a first step in the securitization of digital assets. They turn digital data into speculative financial instruments. That shift has enormous implications because computers are in everything, and that makes anything a digital asset—your bank records, your Fitbit data, rings of your smart doorbell, a sentiment analysis of your work email, you name it. First the internet made it easy for people to conduct their lives online. Then it made it possible to monetize the attention generated by that online life. Now the digital exhaust of all that life online is poised to become an asset class for speculative investment, like stocks and commodities and mortgages.

NFTs might burn out, the crypto-collectible equivalent of Beanie Babies. But the more likely scenario is weirder and scarier: a securities market for digital data. Financiers, who previously turned everything, whether loans or hurricanes or payroll data, into bets, will likely go to town on all this fodder. But ordinary people may also become fledgling financiers of their—or others’—computer records. It is, in a way, the most honest turn of the internet epoch. From the start, online businesses have presented themselves as making culture, even as they really aimed to build financial value.

Now, at last, the wealth seeking is printed on the tin.

Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic

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