News 22.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 22.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 22.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
@studioandrewtrotter / photo by @salvalopez
News 22.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

In 1976, at the tail end of the Ford Administration, hippies no longer hip, Sue Vargo and Molly Mead decided that they wanted to drive to the Florida Keys in a Volkswagen bus. They were best friends, in their twenties, living in a women-only commune in Massachusetts: muddy boots, acoustic guitars, mercurial vegetarians. They bought a beat-up VW bus, circa 1967, red and white, with a split windshield, a stick shift that sprouted up from the floor like a sturdy sapling, a big, flat, bus-driver steering wheel half the size of a hula hoop, and windshield wipers that waved back and forth—cheerful and eager, like a puppy—without wiping anything away. The bus had no suspension. “You just bounced along,” Vargo said, bobbing her head. “Boing, boing, boing.”

This year, Volkswagen is bringing back the bus—souped up, tricked out, and no longer bouncy—as the ID. Buzz. “ID.” stands for “intelligent design,” and “Buzz” means that it’s electric. It might be the most anticipated vehicle in automotive history. Volkswagen has been teasing a return of the classic, iconic, drive-it-to-the-Grateful-Dead bus for more than two decades. (I’m one of the people who’ve been counting the days.) The company keeps announcing that it’s coming, and then it never comes. Finally, it really is coming, and not only is it electric but it can also be a little bit psychedelic, two-toned, in the colors of a box of Popsicles: tangerine, lime, grape, lemon. It’s on sale in Europe this fall and will be available in the United States in 2024. (One reason for the wait is that Volkswagen is making a bigger one for the U.S. market, with three rows of seats instead of two.) Volkswagen expects the Buzz, which has a range of something like two hundred and sixty miles, to be the flagship of a fast-growing electric fleet. The C.E.O. of Volkswagen of America said that the demand for the Buzz in the U.S. is unlike anything he’s seen before. “The Buzz has the ability to rewrite the rules,” Top Gear reported in April, naming it Electric Car of the Year.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

News 22.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 22.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

At first glance, the posts appeared to have nothing in common. A Philadelphia-area attorney who proffers financial advice urged her 1,700 Twitter followers to sign up for a credit union. A 23-year-old climate activist in Texas rallied her 49,000 fans on TikTok and Instagram to join a mailing list promoting Democrats in statewide offices. A physical therapist for the elderly in Florida prodded her 3,900 Instagram followers to sign a petition demanding that Congress pass paid medical leave, sharing the story of her grandmother’s battle with dementia. Each of these posts was funded by a well-heeled advocacy organization: the Credit Union National Association, the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State, and UsAgainstAlzheimer’s Action.

Even though none of the people reading these posts knew it, however, they were all made possible by the same company: Urban Legend, a small ad-tech startup operating out of a loft in Alexandria, Virginia.

Launched in 2020 by a pair of former Trump administration staffers, Urban Legend pledges on its website to “help brands run accountable and impactful influencer campaigns.” Its more comprehensive mission, one rarely articulated in public, is slightly more ambitious.

Staffed by a plucky 14-person team, Urban Legend keeps its largest asset carefully hidden away inside its servers: an army of 700 social media influencers who command varying degrees of allegiance from audiences that collectively number in the tens of millions. The company has painstakingly cultivated this roster to reflect every conceivable niche of society reflected on the internet: makeup artists, Nascar drivers, home improvement gurus, teachers, doulas, Real Housewives stars, mommy bloggers, NFL quarterbacks, Olympians, and the occasional Fox News pundit.

These influencers are paired with clients on Urban Legend’s private platform, the Exchange, where buyers spell out the parameters of the message they want to push to the public and set a budget. Influencers snatch the best available offers from a menu and are then free to craft the campaign’s message, molding it to the rhythms and vernacular of their followers. Clients only pay for each “conversion” an influencer nets—$1.25, say, for every follower who joins a newsletter. In two years, Urban Legend’s influencers have run more than 400 campaigns, connecting people to its clients millions of times. Henri Makembe, a veteran Democratic campaign strategist in Washington who has worked with Urban Legend several times, compared the concept to “unboxing” videos—when an influencer unwraps and showcases a product sent to them by a brand. Such product influencers are a $15 billion marketing industry. “Now we’re realizing, ‘Oh: We can do that with an idea,’” Makembe says.

Read the rest of this article at: Wired

To say that our plates are full would be an understatement. The reality of contemporary living requires our attention and efforts be divided between demanding jobs, essential familial caregiving, replenishing social gatherings, and fulfilling political and community engagements — not to mention any hobbies or creative endeavors. According to Pew Research Center surveys, 60 percent of adults said they were sometimes too busy to enjoy life. Busy-ness, unsurprisingly, intensifies once you have kids: 74 percent of parents with children under the age of 18 reported being too busy to enjoy life.

There are a number of reasons people pack their schedules. Hustle culture has normalized always-on, blind ambition; society still expects women to balance the pressures of work and home life; people pleasers have difficulty saying no. Existential fears of climate change, political turmoil, and economic strain perhaps weigh less heavily when you’re distracted by a never-ending to-do list.

“We’re socialized,” says licensed marriage and family therapist Mona Eshaiker, “to care and to provide and to help. If we do it without boundaries and without limits, we’re going to be burnt out and then we’re not doing anybody any favors.”

The myth of perfectionism keeps many in a cycle of feeding into external pressures: the illusion of “having it all,” gleaning self-worth from the validation of others. Of course, it is worthy and noble to be passionate about people and causes you care about. It’s also easy to fall into the trap of attempting too much in the pursuit of trying to have it all.

Instead of being everything to everyone and everything all the time, what would life look like if you cared a little less? “What if,” says Deborah J. Cohan, professor of sociology at University of South Carolina Beaufort and author of Welcome to Wherever We Are: A Memoir of Family, Caregiving, and Redemption, “we aim for good enough?”

Read the rest of this article at: Vox

News 22.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 22.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

On a Tuesday in mid-March, Jennifer Lepp was precisely 80.41 percent finished writing Bring Your Beach Owl, the latest installment in her series about a detective witch in central Florida, and she was behind schedule. The color-coded, 11-column spreadsheet she keeps open on a second monitor as she writes told her just how far behind: she had three days to write 9,278 words if she was to get the book edited, formatted, promoted, uploaded to Amazon’s Kindle platform, and in the hands of eager readers who expected a new novel every nine weeks.

Lepp became an author six years ago, after deciding she could no longer stomach having to spout “corporate doublespeak” to employees as companies downsized. She had spent the prior two decades working in management at a series of web hosting companies, where she developed disciplined project management skills that have translated surprisingly well to writing fiction for Amazon’s Kindle platform.

Like many independent authors, she found in Amazon’s self-service publishing arm, Kindle Direct Publishing, an unexpected avenue into a literary career she had once dreamed of and abandoned. (“Independent” or “indie” author are the preferred terms for writers who are self-publishing commercially, free of the vanity-press connotations of “self-published.”) “It’s not Dostoevsky,” Lepp said of her work, but she takes pride in delivering enjoyable “potato chip books” to her readers, and they reward her with an annual income that can reach the low six figures.

However, being an Amazon-based author is stressful in ways that will look familiar to anyone who makes a living on a digital platform. In order to survive in a marketplace where infinite other options are a click away, authors need to find their fans and keep them loyal. So they follow readers to the microgenres into which Amazon’s algorithms classify their tastes, niches like “mermaid young adult fantasy” or “time-travel romance,” and keep them engaged by writing in series, each installment teasing the next, which already has a title and set release date, all while producing a steady stream of newsletters, tweets, and videos. As Mark McGurl writes in Everything and Less, his recent book on how Amazon is shaping fiction, the Kindle platform transformed the author-reader relationship into one of service provider and customer, and the customer is always right. Above all else, authors must write fast.

Lepp, who writes under the pen name Leanne Leeds in the “paranormal cozy mystery” subgenre, allots herself precisely 49 days to write and self-edit a book. This pace, she said, is just on the cusp of being unsustainably slow. She once surveyed her mailing list to ask how long readers would wait between books before abandoning her for another writer. The average was four months. Writer’s block is a luxury she can’t afford, which is why as soon as she heard about an artificial intelligence tool designed to break through it, she started beseeching its developers on Twitter for access to the beta test.

Read the rest of this article at: The Verge

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News 22.07.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

If he’d blinked he might have missed them.

The pair of cars were parked window to window, just off the side of Highway 67, nine miles north of the tiny border town of Presidio, Texas. As David Ramirez cruised by in his dun-colored U.S. Border Patrol sedan, the night sky outside the range of headlights was so pitch-black that he could have been forgiven for not spotting the vehicles.

Ramirez guessed that something was up. Slowing the cruiser, he banged a quick U-turn and headed back.

“They were on the side of the road, at that time of night, in that area, which was known for drug trafficking,” Ramirez recalled. “And there wasn’t any other traffic. We were out there in a patrol vehicle and we saw maybe two other vehicles in a three-hour time span.”

It was May 1985, and Ramirez had only been with the Border Patrol for two and a half years. But at a posting as remote as southwest Texas, where only a handful of agents were stationed at the time, that qualified him to train the new guy. So, in the passenger seat sat his partner for the evening, a trainee agent learning the ropes as they cruised along this ribbon of pebbles, dust, and potholes masquerading as a state highway.

As Ramirez maneuvered his patrol car, two pairs of headlights came on, two engines rumbled to life, and two cars peeled out. A late-model pickup truck went first, and, following closely behind, a big-body, white Mercury Grand Marquis. They were headed south, toward Presidio, and toward Mexico.

Ramirez spun the cruiser around once again and sped off in pursuit, flashing his red-and-blues to signal the drivers to stop. The two vehicles ignored him.

The Mercury wasn’t going that fast, 60, maybe 70 miles-per-hour, but it acted as a sort of rearguard, allowing the driver of the pickup truck to put more and more distance between himself and the Border Patrol agents giving chase. This went on for a while, five minutes maybe.

Finally, with the pickup truck out of sight, the driver of the Mercury eased to the side of the road and crunched to a stop. Ramirez knew it was a feint designed to let the other driver — and whatever cargo he might be carrying — get away. But he also knew that at the end of that road, just before the international port of entry, was a Border Patrol station. He radioed ahead for agents to be on the lookout, and turned his focus to the Mercury.

Carefully opening his door, Ramirez climbed out of the cruiser, unclasped the snap on his holster, and drew his .38-caliber service revolver, holding it at a downward angleIt had been dark for hours, but in these parts even after midnight  in late spring can be mind-bendingly hot. The thermostat hovered around 95 degrees and the night air hung heavy like a blanket.

As Ramirez approached the Mercury from the driver-side door, his heart rate quickened. The ambient sounds of the desert night, the buzz of insects and snuffling of wild javelinas, receded into the background. His training — and his survival instinct — kicked in to guide him. The trainee, armed with a shotgun, mirrored the more experienced agent and sidled toward the car from the passenger side.

Speaking in Spanish through the rolled down window, the driver had an easy-does-it, friendly manner. With the trainee standing back, Ramirez holstered his revolver and requested the suspect’s documents. The driver obliged.

One was a border-crossing card, issued by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, that allowed Mexicans living close to the border to cross back and forth for errands and jobs.

The other document identified the driver as an agent of the Federal Security Directorate, or DFS, a powerful — and phantasmagorically corrupt — branch of Mexico’s federal law enforcement. For Ramirez, this didn’t prove the man was a cop. The DFS was notorious for its connections to drug traffickers, and its agents were known to hand out fake badges to the smugglers they worked with. But he couldn’t be sure the man wasn’t a cop.

Read the rest of this article at: Insider

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