News 08.08.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 08.08.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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News 08.08.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 08.08.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

On March 8, 1993, “Beavis and Butt-Head” premièred on MTV. The show’s title characters—two gross, immature, violent, strangely lovable, and very American teen-agers—were like little else onscreen. Each episode involved the pair idling around their Texas town, indulging in petty acts of vandalism and moronic conversations. In between these adventures, they watched TV and made fart noises, and called each other names such as “monkey spank” and “turd burglar.” They were magnificently stupid, but so pure that they achieved a kind of innocence. To watch them, the critic Roger Ebert wrote, was “to learn about a culture of narcissism, alienation, functional illiteracy, instant gratification and television zombiehood.”

Both Beavis and Butt-Head were voiced by the show’s creator, Mike Judge. Judge, now fifty-nine, was raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. After graduating with a physics degree, he began sending out homemade cartoons to festivals, and soon became one of the most prolific, needle-accurate satirists of the past few decades. Judge has skewered the corporate workplace (“Office Space”), the rise of anti-intellectualism in politics and pop culture (“Idiocracy”), the rhythms of suburbia (“King of the Hill”), and the absurdity of a high-tech modern-day gold rush in which little of consequence is ever produced (“Silicon Valley”). He’s also something of a comedic Nostradamus: “Idiocracy,” which came out in 2006, predicts a near future in which payment is automated, Crocs are popular, and the President orders fast food in bulk.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

News 08.08.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 08.08.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Materialism holds the high ground these days in debates over that most ultimate of scientific questions: the nature of consciousness. When tackling the problem of mind and brain, many prominent researchers advocate for a universe fully reducible to matter. ‘Of course you are nothing but the activity of your neurons,’ they proclaim. That position seems reasonable and sober in light of neuroscience’s advances, with brilliant images of brains lighting up like Christmas trees while test subjects eat apples, watch movies or dream. And aren’t all the underlying physical laws already known?

From this seemly hard-nosed vantage, the problem of consciousness seems to be just one of wiring, as the American physicist Michio Kaku argued in The Future of the Mind (2014). In the very public version of the debate over consciousness, those who advocate that understanding the mind might require something other than a ‘nothing but matter’ position are often painted as victims of wishful thinking, imprecise reasoning or, worst of all, an adherence to a mystical ‘woo’.

It’s hard not to feel the intuitional weight of today’s metaphysical sobriety. Like Pickett’s Charge up the hill at Gettysburg, who wants to argue with the superior position of those armed with ever more precise fMRIs, EEGs and the other material artefacts of the materialist position? There is, however, a significant weakness hiding in the imposing-looking materialist redoubt. It is as simple as it is undeniable: after more than a century of profound explorations into the subatomic world, our best theory for how matter behaves still tells us very little about what matter is. Materialists appeal to physics to explain the mind, but in modern physics the particles that make up a brain remain, in many ways, as mysterious as consciousness itself.

When I was a young physics student I once asked a professor: ‘What’s an electron?’ His answer stunned me. ‘An electron,’ he said, ‘is that to which we attribute the properties of the electron.’ That vague, circular response was a long way from the dream that drove me into physics, a dream of theories that perfectly described reality. Like almost every student over the past 100 years, I was shocked by quantum mechanics, the physics of the micro-world. In place of a clear vision of little bits of matter that explain all the big things around us, quantum physics gives us a powerful yet seemly paradoxical calculus. With its emphasis on probability waves, essential uncertainties and experimenters disturbing the reality they seek to measure, quantum mechanics made imagining the stuff of the world as classical bits of matter (or miniature billiard balls) all but impossible.

Read the rest of this article at: Aeon

It’s Monday evening and Nick walks in with the latest issue of Barron’s – a ritual at the start of our investing week. With a giddy smile, he opens the magazine in front of me and we dig in, hunting for potential buys.

Around us, guys are shuffling cards on circular steel tables between games of pinochle, rolling ramen noodles into burritos in front of a communal microwave and chatting about what life’s gonna be like, someday. We barely notice all the noise as we scour the paper for numbers in bold print indicating which companies have set fresh 52-week lows.

Gradually others gather around and offer their own views on market trends and analyst predictions. After we are done, the magazine gets snatched up quickly and passed around until the pages are dog-eared and smudged by greasy fingers.

At the end of the night, the copy of Barron’s ends up stacked neatly with the other periodicals Nick keeps next to his bed – which happens to be bolted to the wall of an 80-square-foot cell in an American prison not far from Seattle.

Since the crash of stocks in March 2020 at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic and the storm of media attention that ensued, our prison has seen a boom in speculation – and in financial literacy. There are two factors behind this. First, the initial crash gave us the opportunity to exploit the dip. What had been a game for rich folks seemed within reach for the rest of us.

Then, crucially, the government stepped in with covid-relief funds, which were somehow granted to prisoners. (Congress did not bar us from getting stimulus cheques, though the Internal Revenue Service tried to.) That windfall came as a total shock. When Nick first heard prisoners might be eligible to get the money, he laughed in disbelief. “After 20 years of listening to rumour after rumour in prison, one thing I know is that the ones with good news are almost never true. This time I was wrong,” Nick said. (Nick was convicted of murder in 2002 and has been fighting his conviction for 20 years; I was convicted in 2010 of first-degree assault, possession of a firearm and two counts of possession of a stolen vehicle.)

Read the rest of this article at: 1843 Magazine

News 08.08.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 08.08.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

President Joe Biden promised that “not another foot of wall” would be built if he was elected president. Instead, his administration would use “high-tech capacity” to secure the border. Drones, cameras, and sensors would be more effective and more humane than a physical barrier, he claimed. What Biden’s promises ignored, however, is that the federal government has spent billions on border surveillance technology for the past three decades — and that despite these efforts and aside from a brief lull in crossings early in the pandemic, the number of unauthorized border crossings has gone up year after year. Since the ’90s, the question hasn’t been whether to fund border technology but how to get more of it. The fact that some migrants still make it across the border undetected — or that they attempt the journey at all — isn’t seen as a failure of technology or policy. Instead, it is used to justify more surveillance, more spending, and more manpower.

I first traveled to Arizona to meet with groups that wanted Biden to not only reverse Trump’s policies and halt construction but also to tear the wall down. The wall, they said, was an ecological and humanitarian catastrophe; leaving it up wasn’t an option. Early on in Biden’s presidency, it seemed like such things were possible: in his first few months in office, he had sent a comprehensive immigration reform bill to Congress and ended Trump-era policies like the Muslim ban and Remain in Mexico. His administration had created an exemption process to Title 42, a public health policy implemented in March 2020 that lets Border Patrol agents quickly send migrants back to Mexico without a hearing. It seemed like the Biden administration would end the policy altogether last summer.

When I first started reporting this story in the spring of 2021, there was a feeling of cautious optimism in the air — a feeling that, with the right prodding, Biden would usher in a more welcoming immigration system. By the time I first visited Arizona last summer, that feeling was mostly gone. Migrant deaths in the desert were on the rise for the second consecutive year, and no one in the federal government seemed to be doing anything about it. The previous summer had been the hottest and driest in the state’s history — and the deadliest for migrants in a decade. The Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office recovered remains of 227 suspected border crossers in the desert in 2020, and the summer of 2021 was on track to be just as fatal. By the time I arrived in Tucson, there were 137 known migrant deaths that year. Another 10 sets of human remains were recovered in the nine days I spent in Arizona.

Read the rest of this article at: The Verge

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News 08.08.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

“Will the day come where there are no more secondhand bookshops?” the poet, essayist, and bookseller Marius Kociejowski asks in his new memoir, “A Factotum in the Book Trade.” He suspects that such a day will not arrive, but, troublingly, he is unsure. In London, his adopted home town and a great hub of the antiquarian book trade, many of Kociejowski’s haunts—including his former employer, the famed Bertram Rota shop, a pioneer in the trade of first editions of modern books and “one of the last of the old establishments, dynastic and oxygenless, with a hierarchy that could be more or less described as Victorian”—have already fallen prey to rising rents and shifting winds. Kociejowski dislikes the fancy, well-appointed bookstores that have sometimes taken their place. “I want chaos; I want, above all, mystery,” he writes. The best bookstores, precisely because of the dustiness of their back shelves and even the crankiness of their guardians, promise that “somewhere, in one of their nooks and crannies, there awaits a book that will ever so subtly alter one’s existence.” With every shop that closes, a bit of that life-altering power is lost and the world leaches out “more of the serendipity which feeds the human spirit.”

Kociejowski writes from the “ticklish underbelly” of the book trade as a “factotum” rather than a book dealer, since he was always too busy with writing to ever run a store. His memoir is a representative slice, a core sample, of the rich and partly vanished world of bookselling in England from the late nineteen-seventies to the present. As Larry McMurtry puts it, in his own excellent (and informative) memoir of life as a bookseller, “Books,” “the antiquarian book trade is an anecdotal culture,” rich with lore of the great and eccentric sellers and collectors who animate the trade. Kociejowski writes how “the multifariousness of human nature is more on show” in a bookstore than in any other place, adding, “I think it’s because of books, what they are, what they release in ourselves, and what they become when we make them magnets to our desires.”

The bookseller’s memoir is, in part, a record of accomplishments, of deals done, rarities uncovered—or, in the case of the long-suffering Shaun Bythell, the owner of the largest secondhand bookstore in Scotland, the humdrum frustrations and occasional pleasures of running a big bookshop. While Kociejowski recounts some of the high points of his bookselling career (such as cataloguing James Joyce’s personal library or briefly working at the fusty but venerable Maggs Bros., the antiquarian booksellers to the Queen), he above all remembers the characters he came to know. “I firmly believe the fact of being surrounded by books has a great deal to do with flushing to the surface the inner lives of people,” he writes.

Some of them are famous, like Philip Larkin, who, as the Hull University librarian, turned down a pricey copy of his own first book, “The North Ship,” as too expensive for “that piece of rubbish.” Kociejowski tells us how he offended Graham Greene by not recognizing him on sight, and once helped his friend Bruce Chatwin (“fibber though he was”) with a choice line of poetry for “On the Black Hill”; how he bonded over Robert Louis Stevenson with Patti Smith, and sold a second edition of “Finnegans Wake” to Johnny Depp, of all people, who was “trying incredibly hard not to be recognised and with predictably comic results.” But more precious are the memories of the anonymous eccentrics, cranks, bibliomanes, and mere people who simply, and idiosyncratically, love books. “Where is the American collector who wore a miner’s lamp on his forehead so as to enable him to penetrate the darker cavities of the bookshops he visited? Where is the man who came in asking not for books but the old bus and tram tickets often found inside them? Where is the man who collected virtually every edition of The Natural History of Selborne by Reverend Gilbert White? Where is everybody?” Kociejowski’s tone, though mostly wry, verges on lament. “I cannot help but feel something has gone out of the life of the trade,” he writes.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

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