In the News 29.11.16 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
Friday 2nd December, 2016
Political Correctness: How The Right Invented A Phantom Enemy
Three weeks ago, around a quarter of the American population elected a demagogue with no prior experience in public service to the presidency. In the eyes of many of his supporters, this lack of preparation was not a liability, but a strength. Donald Trump had run as a candidate whose primary qualification was that he was not “a politician”. Depicting yourself as a “maverick” or an “outsider” crusading against a corrupt Washington establishment is the oldest trick in American politics – but Trump took things further. He broke countless unspoken rules regarding what public figures can or cannot do and say.
Every demagogue needs an enemy. Trump’s was the ruling elite, and his charge was that they were not only failing to solve the greatest problems facing Americans, they were trying to stop anyone from even talking about those problems. “The special interests, the arrogant media, and the political insiders, don’t want me to talk about the crime that is happening in our country,” Trump said in one late September speech. “They want me to just go along with the same failed policies that have caused so much needless suffering.”
Read the rest of this article at The Guardian
How to Hide $400 Million
A few weeks after she realized her husband was finally leaving her, Sarah Pursglove flew down to the Bahamas to figure out how much money he really had. Like many women married to very wealthy men, she didn’t know much about the family accounts. Her husband, a Finnish entrepreneur named Robert Oesterlund, had sworn to a Canadian court that his immediately calculable “net family property” totaled just a few million dollars. Pursglove was skeptical. She could come up with several family purchases worth more than that off the top of her head. There was the 165-foot yacht, Déjà Vu — that cost a few million dollars a year just to keep on the water. There was the $30 million penthouse at the Toronto Four Seasons, which was still being renovated. It wasn’t their only home. The Déjà Vu wasn’t even their only yacht.
Pursglove grew up in a working-class family. She did not consider herself to be a complicated person, or a greedy one. Recent events in her life had, however, inculcated a newfound habit of suspicion. Her husband’s tirades, his frequent absences and threats to leave, had led inexorably to the day when she tailed him through the streets of Toronto and caught him picking up an interior designer for what appeared to be a romantic ski getaway. She had been with Oesterlund since she was 25 and scraping by as a cruise ship’s photographer. Now, as she assessed her crumbling marriage and girded for divorce, she wondered what else she didn’t know.
Read the rest of this article at The New York Times
It’s Personal: Five Scientists on the Heroes Who Changed Their Lives
Several years ago, I attended a Buddhist retreat in which I was introduced to the idea of the “retinue,” a constellation of influential and supportive people whom one imagines in an enveloping cloud as one meditates. Mentors. I took the concept one step further and decided to create an actual photo montage that I could hang on the wall above my desk: my childhood piano teacher, my high school English teacher, my rabbi, mentors in science, writers who encouraged me—in all, 20 people who had profoundly influenced me. Some members of my retinue were still living, some not. In some cases I could find the photographs myself. In others, I had to contact the mentors.
When I finally tracked down William Gerace, who introduced me to physics nearly 50 years ago, he was puzzled as to why I should desire such a montage. We had not spoken for decades. Reluctantly, he sent me an old, out-of-focus photo of himself, dating back to the days when I knew him. Now, Gerace is a professor of science education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, after a 30-year career as a professor of physics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, during which time he made the transition from theoretical nuclear physicist to leader in science education and co-founder of the Scientific Reasoning Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
Read the rest of this article at Nautilus
The Case Against Dark Matter
For 80 years, scientists have puzzled over the way galaxies and other cosmic structures appear to gravitate toward something they cannot see. This hypothetical “dark matter” seems to outweigh all visible matter by a startling ratio of five to one, suggesting that we barely know our own universe. Thousands of physicists are doggedly searching for these invisible particles.
But the dark matter hypothesis assumes scientists know how matter in the sky ought to move in the first place. This month, a series of developments has revived a long-disfavored argument that dark matter doesn’t exist after all. In this view, no missing matter is needed to explain the errant motions of the heavenly bodies; rather, on cosmic scales, gravity itself works in a different way than either Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein predicted.
The latest attempt to explain away dark matter is a much-discussed proposal by Erik Verlinde, a theoretical physicist at the University of Amsterdam who is known for bold and prescient, if sometimes imperfect, ideas. In a dense 51-page paper posted online on Nov. 7, Verlinde casts gravity as a byproduct of quantum interactions and suggests that the extra gravity attributed to dark matter is an effect of “dark energy” — the background energy woven into the space-time fabric of the universe.
Read the rest of this article at Quanta Magazine
Confessions of an Instagram Influencer
I used to post cat photos. Then a marketing agency made me a star.
I’ve always been well-liked. At least, I think that’s the case. I have friends, a spouse, a job, a college degree. I exercise. I get haircuts regularly.
And yet lately I’ve felt unrealized—incomplete, almost. Everywhere I look on social media, I’m surrounded by extremely attractive, superbly groomed men and women who eat meals that are not only healthy but impeccably plated. My clothes seem tired, wrinkled, bereft of accessories. And my vacation photos—Christ, my vacation photos.
I should mention I’ve been spending a lot of time on Instagram, the app for sharing photos that is also, according to sociologists and my own experience, a perfectly designed self-esteem subversion service. Whereas Snapchat encourages users to create rainbow-vomit selfies that disappear after 24 hours, Instagram’s sleek design and flattering filters encourage its more than 500 million users to sexify their landscapes and soften their harshest features. It helps them turn snapshots into something out of the glossy pages of a lifestyle magazine.
Because of this—and because advertising budgets will inevitably flow to any medium where large numbers of people are spending large amounts of time—Instagram has attracted a sort of professional class. These “influencers,” as they’re known, are media properties unto themselves, turning good looks and taste into an income stream: Brands pay them to feature their wares. Look a little more closely at your Instagram feed, and you’ll probably notice that attached to the post of the gleaming hotel lobby, the strappy heels, the exquisitely berried breakfast is a sea of hashtags—among them, #ad or #sp, which discreetly disclose that these are in fact sponsored posts.
There are thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of influencers making a living this way. Some make a lot more than a living. The most successful demand $10,000 and up for a single Instagram shot. Long-term endorsement deals with well-known Instagrammers, such as Kristina Bazan, who signed with L’Oréal last year, can be worth $1 million or more. Big retailers use influencers, as do fashion brands, food and beverage companies, and media conglomerates. Condé Nast, publisher of the New Yorker and Vogue, recently announced that it would ask IBM’s artificial intelligence service, Watson, to take a break from finding cancer treatments to identify potential influencers.
Read the rest of this article at Bloomberg