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News 08.04.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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News 08.04.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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News 08.04.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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The carpet cleaner heaves his machine up the stairs, untangles its hoses and promises to dump the dirty water only in the approved toilet. Another day scrubbing rugs for less than $20 an hour. Another Washington area house with overflowing bookshelves and walls covered in travel mementos from places he would love to go one day.

But this was not that day.

“Tell me about this stain,” 46-year-old Vaughn Smith asks his clients.

“Well,” says one of the homeowners, “Schroeder rubbed his bottom across it.”

Vaughn knows just what to do about that, and the couple, Courtney Stamm and Kelly Widelska, know they can trust him to do it. They’d been hiring him for years, once watching him erase even a splattered Pepto Bismol stain.

But this time when Vaughn called to confirm their January appointment, he quietly explained that there was something about himself that he’d never told them. That he rarely told anyone. And well, a reporter was writing a story about it. Could he please bring her along?

Now as they listen to Vaughn discuss the porousness of wool, and the difference between Scotchgard and sanitizer, they can’t help but look at him differently. Once the stool stain is solved, Kelly just has to ask.

“So, how many languages do you speak?”

“Oh goodness,” Vaughn says. “Eight, fluently.”

“Eight?” Kelly marvels.

“Eight,” Vaughn confirms. English, Spanish, Bulgarian, Czech, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian and Slovak.

“But if you go by like, different grades of how much conversation,” he explains, “I know about 25 more.”

Read the rest of this article at: The Washington Post

News 08.04.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

As images of destruction and death emerge from Ukraine, and refugees flee the country in their millions, the world’s attention is rightly focused on the horror of what many once thought an impossibility in the 21st century: a large-scale modern war in Europe. In this grim moment, however, it is all the more important to think through and coldly reassess the dangers presented by other potential conflicts that could be sparked by growing geopolitical tensions. The most significant among these is the risk of a war between the United States and China. The salutary lesson of our time is that this scenario is no longer unthinkable.

The 2020s now loom as a decisive decade, as the balance of power between the US and China shifts. Strategists of both countries know this. For policymakers in Beijing and Washington, as well as in other capitals, the 2020s will be the decade of living dangerously. Should these two giants find a way to coexist without betraying their core interests, the world will be better for it. Should they fail, down the other path lies the possibility of a war many times more destructive than what we are seeing in Ukraine today – and, as in 1914, one that will rewrite the future in ways we can barely imagine.

Armed conflict between China and the US in the next decade, while not yet probable, has become a real possibility. In part, this is because the balance of power between the two countries is changing rapidly. In part it is because, back in 2014, Xi Jinping changed China’s grand strategy from an essentially defensive posture to a more activist policy that seeks to advance Chinese interests across the world. It is also because the US has, in response, embraced an entirely new China strategy since 2017, in what the Trump and Biden administrations have called a new age of strategic competition. These factors combined have put China and the US on a collision course in the decade ahead.

We have arrived at a point in the long evolution of the US-China relationship when serious analysts and commentators increasingly assume that some form of crisis, conflict or even war is inevitable. This thinking is dangerous. The advantage of diplomatic history – if we study it seriously – is that the risk of talking ourselves into a crisis is real. The discourse of inevitability takes hold, mutual demonisation increases, and the public policy response, ever so subtly, moves from war prevention to war preparation. The sleepwalking of the nations of Europe into war in 1914 should remain a salutary lesson for us all.

In my view, there is nothing inevitable about war. We are not captive to some deep, imaginary, irreversible forces of history. Our best chance of avoiding war is to better understand the other side’s strategic thinking and to plan for a world where the US and China are able to competitively coexist, even if in a state of continuing rivalry reinforced by mutual deterrence. A world where political leaders are empowered to preside over a competitive race rather than resorting to armed conflict.

Indeed, if we can preserve peace in the decade ahead, political circumstances may eventually change, and strategic thought may evolve in the face of broader planetary challenges. It may then be possible for leaders to imagine a different way of thinking (the Chinese term is siwei) that prioritises collaboration over conflict, in order to meet the existential global challenges confronting us all. But to do that, we must first get through the current decade without destroying each other.

Read the rest of this article at: The Guardian

Bruce Willis has appeared in twenty-two feature films since 2018, and the vast majority are disposable by design. Cheaply produced, straight to streaming, and featuring performers who are mostly well below Willis’s star calibre—or pay grade—they bear titles that suggest a game of action-flick Mad Libs, or maybe an accidental wingnut haiku: “American Siege,” “Cosmic Sin,” “Survive the Night,” “Deadlock,” “Fortress,” “Breach.” Until recently, many Willis fans took a cynical, hard-bitten view of this prodigious output. Like his spiritual predecessor Charles Bronson, Willis, who is sixty-seven, had presumably made a conscious decision to simply switch his quality-control filter to the Off position in his golden years, raking in cash that he couldn’t possibly need. He was an icon cruising on autopilot, and, after watching him save the world several times over, who could blame him? As John McClane, the human one-liner dispenser that Willis played in the “Die Hard” franchise, might have told skeptics, “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker!” Then, last week, Willis’s family announced that he is suffering from aphasia, a cognitive disorder affecting the ability to produce and understand speech, and that he was “stepping away” from acting as a result. A subsequent report in the Los Angeles Times revealed that Willis’s decline had been apparent on set for years, and that his handlers had been maintaining his productivity by drastically cutting down his parts and even feeding him lines through an earpiece.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

News 08.04.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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News 08.04.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

‘If you’re running for president as a Republican, chances are good that you are wearing cowboy boots,’ noted Ryan Teague Beckwith in a photo essay published by Time magazine in 2015. Beckwith’s assertion came with receipts: photographs showing cowboy-booted Republicans from nearly every corner of the nation, from Sarah Palin of Alaska, to Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, to Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, to Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, to Rick Perry and Ted Cruz of Texas. Wearing cowboy boots, it seems, signals Republican fealty to an ostensibly traditional, more conservative United States.

The cowboy boot fetish, suggested Beckwith, began with Ronald Reagan, the hobby rancher, cowboy actor, and US president from 1981-89. Reagan, however, was a latecomer. The prototype for the cowboy conservative was Barry Goldwater, the senator from Arizona, who won the Republican nomination for the presidency in 1964. Goldwater joined West and South against the moderate, ‘Eastern establishment’, Rockefeller wing of the Republican Party, creating what the California governor Pat Brown called ‘the stench of fascism’. In her recent book How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America (2020) – currently, Amazon’s top seller in the political history category – the historian Heather Cox Richardson expands and modifies Brown’s observation, arguing that Goldwater’s ‘Movement Conservatism’ – meaning vehement opposition to civil rights bills, communism, labour unions and social spending – solidified a neo-Confederate alliance between West and South that permanently transformed the Republican Party.

In Richardson’s telling, the Reagan/Goldwater cowboy persona evolved out of literary myths manufactured in the late 19th century specifically to counter Reconstruction era racial reforms, myths that 20th-century reactionaries used in their battle against civil rights. The anti-civil rights, anti-government alliance between South and West that began in the late 19th century, she argues, continued with early 20th-century opposition to anti-lynching bills before spawning Movement Conservatism in the 1960s.

Read the rest of this article at: aeon

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News 08.04.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

The day after a group of Amazon warehouse workers on Staten Island voted to form a union—potentially one of the biggest labor victories since the nineteen-thirties—their gargantuan gray warehouse, stamped with the company’s yellow arrow swoosh, looked as unremarkable as ever. A nearby creek sparkled in the sun. Prime container trucks growled along Gulf Avenue. The only thing out of the ordinary was in the warehouse parking lot. Large white tents, the kind you might see at a wedding, were being pulled down and carted away by men in fluorescent vests. For five days in late March, the National Labor Relations Board had run a union election underneath those tents. The thousands of men and women who work in fulfillment center JFK8, on day and night shifts, full and part time, had the chance to vote. The ballot was simple:

Do you wish to be represented for purposes of collective bargaining by

¿Desea usted estar representado para los fines de negociar colectivamente por

amazon labor union?

The count was broadcast live to the public on March 31st and April 1st. The final tally was 2,654 in favor to 2,131 against.

Their win was instantly remarkable: the first Amazon union outside of Europe. More remarkable still, the Amazon Labor Union was new and completely independent. It had none of the money or political connections of traditional organized labor.

I wanted to understand the source of this feat. Workers in JFK8 began to organize at the outset of the pandemic, a time of sickness and death. One man died from the coronavirus in May of 2020; a woman was fatally hit by a car outside the warehouse last November. The union demanded “8 immediate changes from Amazon,” including paid time off for injured workers, pay raises, an end to arbitrary discipline, and a shuttle bus to and from the Staten Island Ferry. For months, the organizing committee handed out flyers in the break room and operated a sort of union hall at the M.T.A. bus shelter across the street from JFK8, where workers catch the S40 or S90 to the ferry terminal. The day I visited, there were no victorious union organizers in sight. There was, however, a tall propane heater labelled “A.L.U.,” and there were several documents taped to the glass wall of the bus shelter. One poster read, “we’re not machines / we’re human beings.” Another displayed a grid of sixteen worker portraits under the phrase “unions start with you.” There was also a two-page letter from Chris Smalls, a former rapper and Amazon warehouse worker, who is the interim president of the A.L.U. “We’re asking that you vote yes,” it said. “Vote yes for job security. Vote for friends who were fired. Vote to scrap the system that writes you up. Vote for keeping their hands off our cell phones, for a lack of accommodations, for 1 hour lunches and 20 mins breaks.”

After the first coronavirus cases emerged in JFK8, Smalls and three of his co-workers, Derrick Palmer, Jordan Flowers, and Gerald Bryson—all Black men—had organized protests to demand safety improvements. Smalls and Bryson were fired (for violating social-distancing rules, according to Amazon), Palmer received a final warning but continued to work, and Flowers, who has lupus, sought long-term medical leave. The four friends started the Congress of Essential Workers to coördinate further actions. A year later, as Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama, tried to unionize with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, Smalls, Palmer, Flowers, and Bryson decided that they, too, should form a union, but from scratch. “It made sense that workers like us need to have a union, and we should take it upon ourselves, because other unions don’t know what Amazon facilities look like,” Flowers told me.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

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