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News 15.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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News 15.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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News 15.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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News 15.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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MEXICO CITY — In the middle of 2018, nine months or so after the city had last shaken with a major earthquake, Elena* lay in bed in her apartment, wide awake for what must be the fourth night in a row. “It was as if I could hear the walls,” she would later tell me, noting that such sleepless nights had become routine since the quake.

That quake was a magnitude 7.1 shake — comparatively moderate for Mexico, but because it was centered on the capital, one of the deadliest. It had frightened Elena but she was fine, as were her friends and family. Her building too was ostensibly unharmed.

And yet, as time passed, cracks began appearing in the walls of her apartment, deep, alarming fissures that wrapped silently around the room. More troubling was that these cracks extended to the apartments above and below — not isolated, superficial damage, but markers that some hidden thing had gone wrong in the building itself. As if its slow disintegration was too loud, Elena got in the habit of leaving her apartment in the middle of the night, driving to the office where she worked, putting her head on her desk and falling asleep until her colleagues arrived.

Elena, by her own admission, is “tocada.” “Tocada” or “tocado” translates as “touched” but is often used to mean “crazy,” like the English phrase “touched in the head.” In her 50s, Elena has lived in Mexico City all her life and has experienced many of the city’s tremors and earthquakes. But during the 40 seconds or so that she lay on the floor that September 19, arms wrapped tightly around her head, something changed in her. Since then, she has been affected by a peculiar range of health issues: She has lost more than 30 pounds, she is plagued by dizzy spells and she suffers long bouts of insomnia. Though years have now passed, she told me that for her, the earthquake never really ended.

I’ve been doing ethnographic research into the fallout of that quake here in Mexico City for the last four years, and I’ve met dozens of people like Elena. They have a wide range of symptoms: insomnia, panic attacks, listlessness, wasting (where certain body parts become weaker and emaciated), loss of appetite, dizziness, diarrhea and behavioral responses, such as being unable to sleep in an empty apartment or sleeping with shoes on or bouts of vertigo. But with every tocado person I’ve met, there is one thing that’s constant: The earthquake made them sick.

Read the rest of this article at: Noema

 News 15.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

 News 15.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Shinzo Abe, the former Japanese Prime Minister, was assassinated last week in the city of Nara. During his second stint in power, from 2012 to 2020, Abe embarked on a domestic agenda known as Abenomics. Japan had been plagued by a long period of deflation and anemic growth, and Abe’s policies aimed to reverse both trends. I wanted to understand whether he succeeded, and what lessons the Japanese experience fighting deflation might impart to policymakers and central bankers who are currently battling the opposite problem. (Tools that are deployed by the government to fight inflation include monetary policy, by which central banks manipulate interest rates and the over-all supply of money, and fiscal policy, which involves how the government taxes the public and spends money.) To talk through these questions, I recently spoke by phone with Richard Koo, the chief economist at Nomura Research Institute, in Tokyo. He was previously an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed how Abe damaged his own economic agenda, what the COVID era has revealed about the dangers of relying too strongly on monetary policy, and why economists might find it harder to fight inflation now than they would have decades ago.

Abe was very concerned that Japan was falling into deflation, and he listened to those economists who argued that, if the Bank of Japan printed tons of money, this problem would go away—all the problems rested with the Bank of Japan’s refusal to do so. That was the argument that a lot of American economists were also making about Japan. Many American economists at that time were saying, “The Bank of Japan is nuts. They should print money and just get this problem out of the way.”

Many people in Japan were saying that [printing more money] was not going to work very well, but Abe, listening to those you might call reflationists, forced the Bank of Japan to do that by making [Haruhiko] Kuroda its new governor, in 2013. And Kuroda used what is now known as his bazooka asset-buying program by just putting tons of liquidity into the market.

At that time, the yen was very strong. With Abe’s Prime Ministership, the exchange rate moved significantly toward a weaker yen, all on the assumption that, with the Bank of Japan pumping tons of money into the system, the supply of yen would grow faster relative to the supply of U.S. dollars, and therefore the yen exchange rate would depreciate. That was the anticipation. And, if Japan started having inflation, the yen should also depreciate. Those were the arguments. In a textbook world, if one country starts printing money like crazy and the other one refuses to do so, then you would expect the one that’s printing money to have an exchange rate that would depreciate.

That was how the market reacted at that time. The yen did depreciate. And that is considered one of the greatest achievements of Abenomics—that the yen was moved away from this very strong position to a much weaker one. But there was an assumption that inflation would come and the economy would improve as a result. That didn’t happen. Until recently, the Japanese inflation rate never reached two per cent, in spite of astronomical monetary easing. Because the economy continued to remain weak, Kuroda, under pressure from Abe, kept on pumping money into the system. The total liquidity in the Japanese economy was almost the size of the Japanese G.D.P.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

Twenty months after he developed a crush, 18 months after he’d fallen in love, Diego, who is enormously appealing but also very canceled, boarded the bus with Jenni and Dave. They were going to the beach, and it wasn’t a big deal — except for the fact that pretty much all of Diego’s friends had dropped him, so, yeah, it was. The three, all 17, sat in a row of orange seats that ran the length of the bus, Diego’s eyes dark, goofy, and sad; his body freshly stretched to almost six feet; his oversize Carhartts ripped on skateboard ramps. This could have been in any American city this past January, on any bus. (First names in this article are pseudonyms.) Jenni kept her face tilted down toward her lap, hidden by a scrim of shoulder-length hair.

Then, a stop away from school, another high-school student boarded the bus. Just one more kid with a backpack in a hoodie, and at first Diego waved and Jenni smiled. Diego because he wanted to show he wasn’t scared, as this kid had thrown accelerant on a stupid mistake Diego had made, thus blown up Diego’s life. Jenni because she’s pragmatic enough to play along with social rules, plus this kid sat right in front of her in AP Statistics. But instead of waving and smiling back, this boy just stared, his eyes flat and certain. Jenni began to hyperventilate.

When, the month prior, Jenni first befriended Diego, he tried to warn her: You really don’t want to be canceled. It sucks. No one looked at him during the day at school. His teachers marked him present, then sent him to study by himself in the library because kids changed seats if he sat next to them in class. Diego no longer wanted to get out of bed. But he had talked to Jenni at the climbing gym, where he’d started going after the skate parks filled up with “opps” — kids who hated him. She noticed that Diego was surprisingly sweet and funny given how much his life had turned to shit.

Read the rest of this article at: The Cut

 News 15.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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 News 15.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Success these days seems to require deprivation. Steve Jobs, that god-pharaoh of innovation, went stretches eating only fruit. Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey says he eats a single meal each day. Tech execs from Phil Libin (former CEO of Evernote) to Daniel Gross (former partner at Y Combinator) prostrated themselves at the shrine of intermittent fasting. Zappos founder Tony Hsieh practiced a 26-day “alphabet diet”, eating only foods that started with a different letter each day. And then there’s Elizabeth Holmes.

In late 2014 journalist Ken Auletta profiled Holmes and her company Theranos in The New Yorker. This was before her epic downfall—before there was a book, documentary, and miniseries recounting how the Stanford dropout had gamed some of the loftiest names in government and venture capital. There are hints of the dodgy tactics that would eventually topple Holmes, yet the overwhelming impression is of her extraordinary nature. Auletta paints her as beyond human—more like a humanoid alien or the offspring of a human-ghost mating. She is “unnervingly serene.” She speaks in a “near-whisper.” She designed a time machine at the age of seven and read Moby-Dick at nine. She can quote Jane Austen by heart and completed three years of college Mandarin by the end of high school. She has, according to Henry Kissinger, “a sort of ethereal quality.”

Especially striking is her diet. Her fridge is practically empty, we are told. Instead she sips a spartan brew of kale, celery, spinach, parsley, cucumber, and romaine lettuce. This was—and continues to be—one of the most popular talking points about Holmes, attracting write-ups in HuffPost, Women’s Health, and Yahoo Lifestyle, many of them questioning how anyone can stay healthy on such nutritionally impoverished fare.

Though Holmes has fallen, Silicon Valley austerity continues to grow more extreme. By 2020 intermittent fasting was no longer enough, and dopamine fasting—an abstention not just from food but from any form of stimulation, including music, eye contact, and playing Magic: The Gathering—had taken off. These self-denial fads are often touted as biohacking innovations. Yet as an anthropologist who has studied austerity in some of the most remote regions of the world, I see them as part of a larger pattern: the self-shamanification of tech CEOs.

It was a sticky June day when I arrived at the shamans’ longhouse. The guide and translator who brought me there haggled with the family over reasonable compensation, and after helping me hang up my mosquito net, left. We decided he would return in three weeks.

Perched above a creek and surrounded by banana trees and muddy rainforest, the longhouse was home to fifteen people: a leathery matriarch, her two sons (the shamans), each of their wives, their two unmarried sisters, and eight children. The shamans and their sisters understood smatterings of Indonesian, but the household language was Mentawai, a tiny tongue limited to the Mentawai Archipelago in the Indian Ocean.

The next three weeks were hard. I spent most of each day burning coconut husks to avert mosquitoes. (My field notes for June 21, 2015, start out: “FUCK MOSQUITOES.”) I was forced to stay with rowdy preteens while their parents went off in search of meat and fish in the jungle. I spoke enough Mentawai to meet basic needs but remained silent and apart as they sat for hours each night swapping stories. I felt the shame of incompetence and the oppression of boredom like never before.

The food, however, was amazing. At home I waffle between vegetarianism and pescatarianism, but in the field I eat whatever’s put in front of me. And that summer, it was worth it. We had cassava leaves cooked in coconut milk, taro with mashed bananas, civet meat with sticks of sago. My absolute favorite was eel. The women caught big ones as long and thick as a human arm, and cooked them in bamboo. Unlike fatty pigs, bony chickens, and sinewy monkeys, eel meat was almost all soft skeletal muscle.

Read the rest of this article at: Wired

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 News 15.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

The country does not escape its various political crises despite its constitution. It escapes these crises because of it.

In times of crisis, Britain’s arcane constitution seems absurd—often because it is absurd. Questions emerge to which no one ever seems entirely sure of the answer. What if, for example, Boris Johnson had not resigned last week but instead sought to cling to power by asking the Queen to dissolve Parliament to hold new elections? At this point, somebody is sure to cite some old but meaningful convention, only for somebody else to discover that the source of this apparently sacred but largely forgotten rule is in fact an anonymous letter written to a newspaper. This all actually happened.

So whenever Britain emerges from one of its political upheavals, calls emerge for the country to codify its constitution in a single, intelligible document like the United States’. Britain may have escaped this time, the argument goes, but it is still far too reliant on the “good chap” theory of politics—that in the end, good chaps in power do the right thing.

Over and over, Britain finds itself in this mess. Even today, Britain’s constitution seems entirely absent when it comes to the matter of who will replace Johnson as prime minister. Over the summer, 160,000 or so Conservative Party members will choose their next leader, and therefore the country’s prime minister, based on rules drawn up by something called the 1922 Committee, a Conservative grouping in Parliament that has no constitutional basis at all.

But here’s the thing: Britain does not escape its various political crises despite its constitution. Britain escapes these crises because of it.

Britain did not need a set of written instructions to get rid of Johnson. Even though he won the biggest Conservative majority since 1987, he lost power within three years because a majority in Parliament decided he was no longer fit for office. America’s written constitution failed to get rid of Donald Trump despite the fact that he tried to blackmail Ukraine and then incited an attempted insurrection to steal an election. In France, a written constitution did not stop Charles de Gaulle from essentially taking power in a coup in 1958.

When Scottish voters chose a party committed to independence from the United Kingdom, the British government did not try to imprison the Scottish first minister à la Spain when Catalonia did the same, but granted a referendum that would have dissolved the U.K. and pledged to honor the result. When David Cameron called—and lost—a second revolutionary referendum two years later, this time on Britain’s membership of the European Union, he resigned and was quickly replaced by Theresa May, who committed to delivering that result. When she proved incapable, she was replaced by someone who was, Johnson. But once that job was complete and Johnson proved incapable of doing anything else, he was replaced. Now a debate is occurring over what kind of country Britain wants to be after Brexit.

Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic

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