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News 05.24.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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News 05.24.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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News 05.24.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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News 05.24.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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Vanilla Fever

I follow Felicité Raminisoa and her father, Romain Randiambololona, up a narrow track along the forested slopes of her family’s farm in southern Madagascar. It is lychee season and, as we walk, we break off branches of fruit and peel off the pink, spiky shells. Large yellow jackfruit grow like Chinese lanterns among loquat and clove trees, pepper vines and coffee plants. Sapphire dragonflies flash by as they chase each other over ponds of tilapia dammed into the valley. The air is muggy under the banana leaves but grows fresher as we climb. In all directions we can see vanilla vines winding around tree trunks. Each zigzag stem has been trained so that it grows no higher than Raminisoa can reach. Every so often she stops at a pale-yellow bloom and parts its waxy petals. With a spike snapped from an orange tree, she delicately scrapes away the membrane separating the anther from the stigma in order to pollinate the flower. This is a task that requires perfect timing. Each flower must be pollinated by hand on the morning it blooms or the beans won’t sprout.

The family began to plant vanilla vines about 20 years ago mostly as “decoration”, says Randiambololona, his big grin punctuated by a missing tooth. At first the family sold fresh green vanilla pods to tourists, surprised that they would pay anything for them. But in 2014 the price of vanilla began to rise. Over the next three years it went from less than $40 per kilogram to more than $600 per kilogram. It felt like money was growing on their trees. In 2016 Raminisoa travelled to the northern region of Sava, where vanilla has been grown for generations, to learn how to cure the green pods into the commodity that was in such demand: pungent and wizened black beans.

Read the rest of this article at: 1843

News 05.24.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

The Invisible City Beneath Paris

News 05.24.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

The map runs to sixteen laminated foolscap pages, or about ten square feet, when I tile the pages together. I have been given it on the condition that I do not pass it on. It is not like any map I have ever seen, and I have seen some strange maps in my time. The plan of the above-ground city is traced carefully in pale silver-gray ink, such that, if you read only for the gray, you can discern the faint footprints of apartment blocks and embassies, parks and ornamental gardens, boulevards and streets, the churches, the railway lines and the train stations, all hovering there, intricate and immaterial.

The map’s real content—the topography it inks in black and blue and orange and red—is the invisible city, the realm out of which, over centuries, the upper city has been hewn and drawn, block by block. This invisible city follows different laws of planning to its surface counterpart. Its tunnelled streets often kink and wriggle, or run to dead ends. Some of them curl back on themselves like whips. At junctions, three or four tunnel-streets might spray out. There are slender highways running almost the length of the tiled map, from southwest to northeast. There are inexplicably broken grids of streets, or hubs where the spokes of different tunnels meet. Coming off some of the tunnels are chambers, irregular in their outlines and with dozens of small connecting rooms.

The map’s place names traverse a range of cultural registers, from the classical to the surreal to the military-industrial. The Room of Cubes. The Boutique of Psychosis. Crossroads of the Dead. The Medusa. Bunker Under the Mountain. The Monastery of the Bears. Ossa Arida. Room Z. Affordance is specified on the map in handwritten cursive words: “Low,” “Quite low,” “Very low,” “Tight,” “Flooded,” “Impracticable,” “Impassable.” More detail is occasionally given: “Humid and unstable region (sometimes flooded)”; “Beautiful gallery, vaulted and corbelled.” “Chatières”—cat-flaps—mark a point of lateral transition between tunnel and tunnel, or between tunnel and chamber. Other captions gloss contact sites between the upper city and the invisible city (“Hole to the sky”) or between levels (“Tiny hole in the ground debouching into a dangerous lower level”). Scattered around the map are little inked skulls-and-crossbones and laconic warnings of danger: “Cave-in”; “Open well: dangerous”; “Collapsing ceiling.”

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

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Rapper on the Run

News 05.24.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Josep Miquel Arenas Beltrán is behind the wheel, driving too fast. He’s coming back from dinner with friends in downtown Brussels, where he ordered a double cheeseburger with fries and showed off the AK-47 tattoo on his left forearm. The tattoo was sort of dumb, he admits. He was 18 when he got it, but he doesn’t regret it. The car’s sound system blasts a song that Josep’s friend Marc, a.k.a Poor Tràmit, who’s squeezed in the back with another friend, recorded in his living room this afternoon. “Turned out really cool,” Josep tells Marc, who grins.

Suddenly Josep brakes and the car lurches forward. Standing outside his apartment building is a stocky man wearing black military-style boots.

“Joder,” Josep mutters, cursing in Spanish. He stalls the car for a moment, then speeds away.

“Tío, do you see his boots?” says one of his friends.

“That’s got to be the police.”

Josep suspects the man might be Spanish secret service, though he doesn’t know for sure that they’re following him. He’s not usually paranoid. But sometimes he gets worried, especially for his friends, who he thinks might get in trouble just for spending time with him.

Read the rest of this article at: Narratively

Curving the Universe

News 05.24.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Usually, when scientists test a theory, they get everything nicely under control. But in 1919, as the First World War was drawing down, the British astronomer and physicist Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington did not have that luxury. He was going to test Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity at a solar eclipse thousands of miles from the nearest precision laboratory. This was not easy. ‘In journeying to observe a total eclipse of the Sun, the astronomer quits the usually staid course of his work and indulges in a heavy gamble with fortune,’ wrote the young Eddington. For him, treacherous weather and war made true control even more difficult to attain.

Einstein’s situation was unstable as well. Berlin, his scientific space, was increasingly messy. His lectures on relativity were postponed because the university lacked coal to heat the lecture hall. Temporarily in Zurich to deliver lectures, Einstein found a lack of interest there too; only 15 students registered to hear him speak about relativity – and the university cancelled the event.

Back in Berlin, it was hard to know that the war was over, and there would be no true peace until the warring countries could agree upon a binding treaty. The negotiations involved setting up the League of Nations, as well as dividing Africa and the Middle East into new colonial possessions. As the scientists pursued their work, victorious empires gobbled up ever more of the world.

Read the rest of this article at: aeon

Inside Google’s Civil War

News 05.24.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

It started in Tokyo on Nov. 1, 2018, when 100 employees walked out of Google’s office at 11:10 a.m. local time. Thirteen hours later, the elevators at the company’s New York City headquarters were so packed that workers took the stairs down to the street to protest. Google employees in Austin observed two minutes of silence for victims of sexual assault as part of their demonstration. In San Francisco, hundreds of employees gathered across from the historic Ferry Building and chanted “Time’s Up at Google” and held signs with slogans like “Workers’ Rights Are Women’s Rights” and “Free Food ≠ Safe Space.”

After Googlers in Sydney walked out, 25 hours after Asia had kicked things off, 20,000 Google employees in 50 cities around the world had joined their colleagues to protest the company’s handling of sexual harassment.

The spark that ignited the walkout was a New York Times article that had appeared a week earlier, reporting that Google paid former executive Andy Rubin a $90 million exit package, despite facing a sexual misconduct accusation Google deemed credible. (In a statement to the Times, Rubin said the story contained “numerous inaccuracies about my employment.”)

It was the first time the world had seen such a massive worker protest erupt out of one of the giants of the technology industry—and certainly the first time outsiders got a glimpse at the depth of anger and frustration felt by some Google employees. But inside the Googleplex, the fuel that fed the walkout had been collecting for months. Tensions had been on the rise as employees clashed with management over allegations of controversial business decisions made in secret, treatment of marginalized groups of employees, and harassment and trolling of workers on the company’s internal platforms. “It’s the U.S. culture war playing out at micro-scale,” says Colin McMillen, an engineer who left the company in February.

To many observers, the tech workforce—notoriously well-paid and pampered with perks—hardly seems in a position to complain. And it’s a surprising tune to hear from employees of one of the titans of Silicon Valley, a place that has long worshipped at the altar of meritocracy and utopian techno-futurism. But in the past few years, the industry’s de facto mission statement—change the world (and make money doing it!)—has been called into question as examples of tech’s destructive power multiply, from election interference to toxicity on social media platforms to privacy breaches to tech addiction. No one is closer to tech’s growing might, as well as its ethical quandaries, than the employees who help create it. “People are beginning to say, ‘I don’t want to be complicit in this,’ ” says Meredith Whittaker, who leads Google’s Open Research group and is one of the walkout organizers. Workers are beginning to take responsibility, she says: “I don’t see many other structures in place right now that are checking tech power.”

Read the rest of this article at: Fortune

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