News 11.11.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 11.11.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 11.11.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 11.11.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

It’s over. Facebook is in decline, Twitter in chaos. Mark Zuckerberg’s empire has lost hundreds of billions of dollars in value and laid off 11,000 people, with its ad business in peril and its metaverse fantasy in irons. Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter has caused advertisers to pull spending and power users to shun the platform (or at least to tweet a lot about doing so). It’s never felt more plausible that the age of social media might end—and soon.

Now that we’ve washed up on this unexpected shore, we can look back at the shipwreck that left us here with fresh eyes. Perhaps we can find some relief: Social media was never a natural way to work, play, and socialize, though it did become second nature. The practice evolved via a weird mutation, one so subtle that it was difficult to spot happening in the moment.

The shift began 20 years ago or so, when networked computers became sufficiently ubiquitous that people began using them to build and manage relationships. Social networking had its problems—collecting friends instead of, well, being friendly with them, for example—but they were modest compared with what followed. Slowly and without fanfare, around the end of the aughts, social media took its place. The change was almost invisible, but it had enormous consequences. Instead of facilitating the modest use of existing connections—largely for offline life (to organize a birthday party, say)—social software turned those connections into a latent broadcast channel. All at once, billions of people saw themselves as celebrities, pundits, and tastemakers.

Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic

News 11.11.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 11.11.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

On the evening of December 30, 2003, Joan Didion and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, decided to stay in. Didion made a fire—a habit from their years in California, where, late in the day, the coastal fog creeps landward—and then dinner. They ate in the living room, as they usually did when it was just the two of them, at a small table set near the fireplace. They were discussing the scotch that Dunne was drinking, maybe, or World War I; Didion couldn’t quite remember. What she did remember, though, is what happened after Dunne, in the middle of the meal, collapsed: the silence, the panic, the paramedics, the defibrillator, the doctor, the priest. The fact that, as they had their dinner that night, “John was talking, then he wasn’t.”

The table where Dunne fell, with its spindly legs and folding leaves, features prominently in The Year of Magical Thinking, Didion’s memoir about Dunne’s death and her attempt to find coherence in her grief. The table is also now for sale: It is one of the more than 200 items from the couple’s New York City apartment being auctioned after Didion’s own death last year. The auction house, Stair, describes the table—listed as a “Late Regency Ebony Inlaid Mahogany Pembroke Table”—as having “staining, fading, gouges and scuffing throughout, particularly on the top,” adding, “It was at this table that John Dunne suffered the fatal heart attack that took his life.” Its estimated value is $1,000 to $1,500.

The famous are, in that way, ordinary: Death’s sour pragmatisms will come for us all, emptying our homes and distributing our things and selling the scenery of our lives, eventually, to the highest bidders. The difference here is that the scuffs and scars on the things Didion left behind will only bolster their value. You can’t talk about Didion the writer without also talking about Didion the myth—or without noting that the two figures, by the end of her life, had become nearly indistinguishable. She was sometimes described, with only some irony, as a saint, her fans as a cult. The list she used when packing for reporting trips (clothing, underwear, cigarettes, Tampax, typewriter) has taken on talismanic dimensions. The auction, which goes by the name “An American Icon” even as it sells Didion’s paper clips, brings an apt literalism to all the lore. In the process, it makes a claim fit for a writer who so deftly punctured our national fictions: You can, it turns out, put a price on mythology.

Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic

Crows are some of the smartest creatures in the animal kingdom. They are capable of making rule-guided decisions and of creating and using tools. They also appear to show an innate sense of what numbers are. Researchers now report that these clever birds are able to understand recursion—the process of embedding structures in other, similar structures—which was long thought to be a uniquely human ability.

Recursion is a key feature of language. It enables us to build elaborate sentences from simple ones. Take the sentence “The mouse the cat chased ran.” Here the clause “the cat chased” is enclosed within the clause “the mouse ran.” For decades, psychologists thought that recursion was a trait of humans alone. Some considered it the key feature that set human language apart from other forms of communication between animals. But questions about that assumption persisted. “There’s always been interest in whether or not nonhuman animals can also grasp recursive sequences,” says Diana Liao, a postdoctoral researcher at the lab of Andreas Nieder, a professor of animal physiology at the University of Tübingen in Germany.

In a study of monkeys and human adults and children published in 2020, a group of researchers reported that the ability to produce recursive sequences may not actually be unique to our species after all. Both humans and monkeys were shown a display with two pairs of bracket symbols that appeared in a random order. The subjects were trained to touch them in the order of a “center-embedded” recursive sequence such as { ( ) } or ( { } ). After giving the right answer, humans received verbal feedback, and monkeys were given a small amount of food or juice as a reward. Afterward the researchers presented their subjects with a completely new set of brackets and observed how often they arranged them in a recursive manner. Two of the three monkeys in the experiment generated recursive sequences more often than nonrecursive sequences such as { ( } ), although they needed an additional training session to do so. One of the animals generated recursive sequences in around half of the trials. Three- to four-year-old children, by comparison, formed recursive sequences in approximately 40 percent of the trials.

Read the rest of this article at: Scientific American

News 11.11.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 11.11.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Azadeh Masihzadeh’s family owned a VCR, a rare possession in their neighborhood in Shiraz, a city in the south of Iran. Using long cables, her father connected their machine to the televisions of seven other households, so they could watch, too. At night, after her father chose a movie, Masihzadeh, the eldest of three children, rode her bike down their alley to alert the neighbors. She honked her bike horn once if it was a foreign movie. If it was an Iranian film, she honked twice.

Masihzadeh learned English by watching these movies, and, when she was eighteen, she became an English instructor, teaching her students the language through dialogue from films. To practice greetings, she told them to act out the moment in “The Matrix” when Neo says, “It’s an honor to meet you,” and Morpheus replies, “No, the honor is mine.” If her students didn’t say their lines with enough feeling, she made them do it again. “They would get so angry at me,” she said. “One student told me, ‘You are a teacher, not a director, what are you doing? We are not your actors.’ ” She thought the student had a point, and she began saving money to make her first short film, a silent portrait of a boxing match. She completed it in 2013, when she was thirty-four, and it was accepted by more than a dozen film festivals.

The following year, she learned that Asghar Farhadi was holding a filmmaking workshop at the Karnameh Institute of Arts and Culture, a prestigious cultural center in Tehran. Farhadi, who is fifty, is the only director in the twenty-first century to have won the Academy Award for Best International Feature Film twice. After his first Oscar, for “A Separation,” in 2012, Time named him one of the hundred most influential people in the world. The English director and playwright Mike Leigh has described Farhadi, whose dramas focus on lies that reverberate through middle-class families, as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. Farhadi has an extraordinary ability to shift among different characters’ perspectives, so that each character, even when committing acts of violence or deception, seems moral and reasonable. “The drama comes from making very small mistakes,” he has said. “Very specific mistakes. Which is the core of the story for me.”

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

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News 11.11.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

For the past four years, a special government taskforce in Fiji has been trying to work out how to move the country. The plan it has come up with runs to 130 pages of dense text, interspersed with intricate spider graphs and detailed timelines. The document has an uninspiring title – Standard Operating Procedures for Planned Relocations – but it is the most thorough plan ever devised to tackle one of the most urgent consequences of the climate crisis: how to relocate communities whose homes will soon be, or already are, underwater.

The task is huge. Fiji, which lies in the south Pacific, 1,800 miles east of Australia, has more than 300 islands and a population of just under 1 million. Like most of the Pacific, it is starkly susceptible to the impacts of the climate crisis. Surface temperatures and ocean heat in parts of the south-west Pacific are increasing three times faster than the global average rate. Severe cyclones routinely batter the region. In 2016, Cyclone Winston hit Fiji, killing 44 people and causing $1.4bn of damage, a third of Fiji’s GDP. Since then, Fiji has been hit by a further six cyclones. Five of the 15 countries most at risk from weather-related events are in the Pacific. Fiji is number 14.

What Fiji is attempting to do is unprecedented. For years, politicians and scientists have been talking about the prospect of climate migration. In Fiji, and in much of the Pacific, this migration has already begun. Here, the question is no longer if communities will be forced to move, but how exactly to do it. At present, 42 Fijian villages have been earmarked for potential relocation in the next five to 10 years, owing to the impacts of climate crisis. Six have already been moved. Every new cyclone or disaster brings with it the risk of yet more villages being added to the list.

Moving a village across Fiji’s lush, mountainous terrain is an astonishingly complex task. “We keep on trying to explain this,” Satyendra Prasad, Fiji’s ambassador to the UN, told the Guardian last year. “It is not just pulling out 30 or 40 houses in a village and moving them further upfield. I wish it were that simple.” He rattled off a list of the things that need to be moved along with homes: schools, health centres, roads, electricity, water, infrastructure, the village church. “And in case even that you were able to achieve, you have to relocate people’s burial grounds. Try doing that.” If anything, Prasad was understating the challenges, which are not just logistical – though that element is hard enough – but also financial, political, even spiritual.

The Standard Operating Procedures document is in the final stages of consultation and will soon go before Fiji’s cabinet for approval. “No other country, to the best of my knowledge, has progressed as far in their thinking about how to make planned relocation decisions at a national level,” says Erica Bower, an expert on planned relocations, who has worked with the UN and the Fijian government. “These are questions that so many governments around the world are going to be asking in the next 10 years, 20 years, 50 years.”

Read the rest of this article at: The Guardian

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