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News 18.02.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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News 18.02.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
@lovisabarkman
News 18.02.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
via @worldinteriorarchitect
News 18.02.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
@lovisabarkman

In a drab office building near a slum on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya, nearly 200 young men and women from countries across Africa sit at desks glued to computer monitors, where they must watch videos of murders, rapes, suicides, and child sexual abuse.

These young Africans work for Sama, which calls itself an “ethical AI” outsourcing company and is headquartered in California.

Sama says its mission is to provide people in places like Nairobi with “dignified digital work.” Its executives can often be heard saying that the best way to help poor countries is to “give work, not aid.” The company claims to have helped lift more than 50,000 people in the developing world out of poverty.

This benevolent public image has won Sama data-labeling contracts with some of the largest companies in the world, including Google, Microsoft and Walmart. What the company doesn’t make public on its website is its relationship with its client Facebook.

Here in Nairobi, Sama employees who speak at least 11 African languages between them toil day and night, working as outsourced Facebook content moderators: the emergency first responders of social media. They perform the brutal task of viewing and removing illegal or banned content from Facebook before it is seen by the average user.

Since 2019, this Nairobi office block has been the epicenter of Facebook’s content moderation operation for the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa. Its remit includes Ethiopia, where Facebook is trying to prevent content on its platform contributing to incitement to violence in an escalating civil war.

Read the rest of this article at: Time

News 18.02.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 18.02.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Francis Ford Coppola lives—as he has in one way or another since directing 1972’s The Godfather—in splendor. Loosely held splendor: In the ensuing five decades, Coppola has filed for bankruptcy at least once and has been expelled from Hollywood more than once. But splendor nonetheless. His primary residence is in the Napa Valley, on the grounds of a once-great vineyard, Inglenook, that Coppola has spent the past 47 years making great again. There is a grand old château here, where the wine used to be made, and a state-of-the-art facility where wine is made now. There is a carriage house that holds a film-editing suite and Coppola’s personal film archive—shooting scripts for The Cotton Club and Jack and The Outsiders; the written score for Bram Stoker’s Dracula; research material for The Godfather Part III. There is a two-story guest barn on a mossy edge of the property, where his children often stay, and an old Victorian house built by a sea captain, where the Coppolas raised their family and where they still entertain, though they have since built themselves another house to live in. There are roaming gangs of wild turkeys among the trees and creeping vines and an outdoor fountain designed by Dean Tavoularis, the set designer of The Godfather. There is, in almost every corner of this place, something beautiful: a first edition of Leaves of Grass; a painting by Akira Kurosawa or Robert De Niro Sr.; a photo of Coppola’s daughter, Sofia, embracing Coppola’s old friend George Lucas.

Coppola, who is 82, moves between these various buildings in a Tesla or a Nissan Leaf that he drives at alarming speed, or on foot, bent over at the waist as if walking into a powerful wind. He has already told me that I’m too impressed with what he owns, what he’s had and lost and gained again. “That’s what you’re having trouble with, really,” he said. “You are meeting a guy who basically can tell you quite honestly my motive in doing what I did in my life was never to make a lot of money.” He grinned. “Ironically, I did what I wanted to do and I also made a lot of money.” A brief pause. “That’s a joke.”

But he has made a lot of money: first in the film business and then, spectacularly, in the wine business. His second fortune has allowed him to spend most of his time here now, he said, reading things like the 18th-century Chinese novel Dream of the Red Chamber, one of the longest books ever written. “They spend their time inventing poetic names for things,” Coppola told me about the characters in the novel. “For example, if I were to say hello to you, I should have met you on the Steps of Friendly Greetings and greeted you there. And when I say goodbye to you, I should take you into the Pavilion of Parting. And it’s the sort of attitude of making everything in life beautiful and a ritual of a kind. And you can do it! I’ll say goodbye to you in the Pavilion of Parting—you’ll never forget it.”

Read the rest of this article at: GQ

Where were you during the great bread baking boom of 2020? Me, I was cleaning out a trash can full of dog food to make room for 50 pounds of flour.

The trash can belonged to Ziggy, my family’s late dearly beloved chihuahua (may he rest in peace), but at the height of the first COVID crisis in August, I needed somewhere to store the flour I’d ordered from a wholesale bakers outlet. Ziggy would understand, I reasoned, so I dumped the kibble, hosed down the can, and lined it with a trash bag. In went the white stuff, a flurry of particles clouding around me like a halo.

A store of flour weighing as much as a small child felt necessary then: No one knew how long the pandemic would last (a long time, still ongoing, maybe forever), and for the many (the many, many) who had taken up baking in March and April of 2020, tentative forays into bread-making had evolved into full-blown lifestyles. As a result, the demand for flour exploded, and by summer, access to a product that had previously seemed as pedestrian and ubiquitous on grocery store shelves as cornflakes and ketchup — and which typically costs under about 50 cents a pound and was designed to last forever — became tenuous at best. At King Arthur, the brand that became synonymous with the millions of sourdough loaves baked during the pandemic, business boomed: In 2019, it sold 23.7 million 5-pound bags of flour to consumers; it sold nearly double that between April and November 2020 alone.

Long before I acquired my wholesale hoard, though, I had bought myself some break-glass-in-case-of-emergency flour. In the fridge, tucked behind a head of purple cabbage and next to a few cans of beer, was a small, clear bag from Castle Valley, a local stone mill located in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. “Refrigerate or freeze,” the bag read, with an expiration date of six months.

My hard wheat flour was flavorful, it had personality — it wasn’t bland and white. But I also couldn’t explain what made it different.

Read the rest of this article at: Eater

News 18.02.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 18.02.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Every morning last autumn, as he took the short walk from Farringdon station in central London to his new restaurant, Russell Norman came face to face with a ghost. The pandemic had hit the hospitality sector hard, and this stretch of takeaway outfits and dine-in burger chains was no exception. A Byron, a Coco di Mama, an Itsu – all long gone, doors locked, interiors dark. And then, just before the final right turn, the one that really hurt, the words on its signage removed but the outline unmistakable: Polpo.

The Venetian-inspired restaurant, which took its name from the Italian for “octopus”, had been a breakout success for Norman in the early 2010s. With its small plates, no-reservations policy and stripped-down interiors, the original Soho site had been credited with reinventing casual dining after the Great Recession. But then, like so many brands that emerged during the same period, it started to expand: taking on investors, extending tentacles across the UK, and then collapsing in instalments from 2016 onwards. Most of its sites were forced to close in the context of a broader casual dining crunch, as the cost of running a restaurant rose and the number of customers fell. These days, just two Polpos survive, in Soho and in Chelsea, west London, under the management of Norman’s former business partner Richard Beatty. Norman’s own departure from the project was finalised in June 2020.

Now, after a hiatus, he was back. For years, Norman had wanted to open an old-fashioned trattoria, replicating the homely, family run restaurants of Italy for a central London audience. A 2017 trip to Tuscany had brought his vision into sharper focus. Many of the region’s most celebrated dishes are rooted in the tradition of cucina povera (“poor cooking”), which makes resourceful use of pasta, beans, bread and offal. The food is nourishing and full of flavour, but beige and unphotogenic. In recognition of this, the restaurant would be called Brutto – or, in English, Ugly.

Almost from the start, the name felt less like a clever, self-confident nod to Tuscan gastronomy – Tuscan food is not just ugly, it is “ugly but good”, brutto ma buono – and more like a description of Brutto’s own fortunes. The past two years have been the hardest in living memory for restaurateurs. Brutto was supposed to open in June 2021, but the global shortage of construction materials delayed it until autumn. A further delay to the completion of the kitchen had left the head chef, Oli Diver, little time to develop the menu for opening day. Brexit had made it difficult to recruit staff. Brexit- and pandemic-related disruption had made it nearly impossible to secure crucial ingredients. When I first visited the restaurant in late September 2021, Britain was in the midst of a fuel crisis and the queues at the petrol stations were at their longest. The shortage of lorries with drivers and full tanks meant that the bar – intended to be a space where local people could pop in for an espresso – would have to get through its first few weeks without any coffee cups.

Read the rest of this article at: The Guardian

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News 18.02.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

At the police headquarters compound in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif, a large crowd waited in front of a wire mesh door. The entrance was guarded by a young Taliban fighter with long shaggy hair and a beard, who sat on a broken plastic chair. Beside him was a large pile of shoes and flip-flops belonging to those who had already been admitted to meet the newly appointed Taliban police chief.

It was mid-October 2021, seven weeks since the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the Taliban were now in charge of the country. In a large office, Abu Idrees, the police chief – who has since been promoted to deputy governor of Balkh province, of which Mazar is the capital – sat on a sofa, shunning the large desk that stretched nearly the width of the room, which was a symbol of authority of the previous regime. Short and stocky, with broad shoulders and a big head wrapped in a black turban, he was flanked by his deputies and sub-commanders.

Throughout the day, men – and there were only men – entered the room, squatting on the floor in front of Abu Idrees. In hushed voices, they pleaded their cases, answered summons or pledged their undying support to the Taliban regime. In theory, anyone could come and demand an audience, something unheard of under the previous government, when people had to pay bribes and pull strings to see even a low-ranking police officer, let alone the police chief himself.

On the surface, it seemed little had changed in Mazar since the Taliban captured the city in mid-August. Taliban fighters, piled on the back of army and police pickup trucks, patrolled the city, while the new white flags of the Taliban emblazoned car windshields and flew from the roofs of motorised rickshaws, but in general, life went on uninterrupted. Local people still flocked to the historic blue-tiled shrine at the heart of the city; they still thronged at night around cars selling Mazar’s famous grapes, tomatoes and white aubergines; trucks laden with coal and onions still headed to the Uzbekistan border, about 50 miles north of the city, while those bringing UN food aid drove in the other direction. Even the large mural at the entrance to the city depicting the late Ahmad Shah Massoud, a commander revered for his role in resisting the Taliban in the 90s, was still standing. Around the city, girls’ schools were quietly reopening, defying the leadership in Kabul, which had ordered them shut. But under the surface, changes were unfolding in Mazar.

Mazar-i-Sharif sits on some of the most important trade routes in the region. The northern part of the province borders with Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Whoever rules Mazar controls the trade that passes through it, and its network of roads and custom revenues, official and unofficial. Mazar is also surrounded by fertile agricultural lands, watered by rivers that rise in the highlands of central and western Afghanistan, and which feed an ancient network of irrigation canals. These lands were spared the ravages of the Afghan civil wars of the 80s and 90s. The region produces cotton, flax seed oil, melons, Karakul wool and what locals claim to be the best hashish in Afghanistan.

Read the rest of this article at: The Guardian

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