News 02.21.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 02.21.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 02.21.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 02.21.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

I worked at various start-ups for eight years beginning in 2010, when I was in my early 20s. Then I quit and went freelance for a while. A year later, I returned to office life, this time at a different start-up. During my gap year, I had missed and yearned for a bunch of things, like health care and free knockoff Post-its and luxurious people-watching opportunities. (In 2016, I saw a co-worker pour herself a bowl of cornflakes, add milk, and microwave it for 90 seconds. I’ll think about this until the day I die.) One thing I did not miss about office life was the language. The language warped and mutated at a dizzying rate, so it was no surprise that a new term of art had emerged during the year I spent between jobs. The term was parallel path, and I first heard it in this sentence: “We’re waiting on specs for the San Francisco installation. Can you parallel-path two versions?”

Translated, this means: “We’re waiting on specs for the San Francisco installation. Can you make two versions?” In other words, to “parallel-path” is to do two things at once. That’s all. I thought there was something gorgeously and inadvertently candid about the phrase’s assumption that a person would ever not be doing more than one thing at a time in an office — its denial that the whole point of having an office job is to multitask ineffectively instead of single-tasking effectively. Why invent a term for what people were already forced to do? It was, in its fakery and puffery and lack of a reason to exist, the perfect corporate neologism.

Read the rest of this article at: Vulture

News 02.21.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 02.21.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Laurence Berland had just gotten out of the subway in New York, some 3,000 miles from his desk in San Francisco, when he learned that Google had fired him. It was the Monday before Thanksgiving, and the news came to him, bad-breakup-style, via email. “Following a thorough investigation, the company has found that you committed several acts in violation of Google’s policies,” the note said. It did not elaborate on what he had done to violate these policies.

Berland, an engineer who had spent more than a decade at the company, had reason to expect he might be fired. He had been suspended a few weeks earlier after subscribing to the open calendars of several senior Google employees, whom he suspected of meeting with outside consultants to suppress organizing activity at the company. During a subsequent meeting at which he was questioned by Google investigators, he had the feeling that they were pressuring him to say something that could be grounds for termination. Then, the Friday before he was fired, he had spoken at a well-publicized rally of his co-workers outside Google’s San Francisco offices, accusing the company of silencing dissent.

Even so, the timing and manner of his dismissal surprised him. “I thought they’d do it when all the media attention died down,” he said. “When the suspensions and the rally were no longer on people’s minds.” Instead, at a moment when the spotlight was shining brightly, Google had escalated — as if to make a point.

Berland was one of at least four employees Google fired that day. All four were locked in an ongoing conflict with the company, as they and other activists had stepped forward to denounce both its treatment of workers and its relationship with certain customers, like U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Berland’s terminated colleagues were even more shocked by the turn of events than he was. Rebecca Rivers, a software engineer based in Boulder, Colo., was dismissed over the phone after accessing internal documents. Rivers had only recently come out as transgender and was pursuing a medical transition. “I came out at Google expecting to stay at Google through the entire transition,” she said. “It’s terrifying to think about going to a job interview, because I’m so scared of how other companies treat trans employees.”

Sophie Waldman and Paul Duke, the two other Googlers fired that day, had not received so much as a warning, much less a suspension. Though they had been questioned by corporate security two months earlier about whether they had circulated documents referring to Customs and Border Protection contracts, they had been allowed to continue their work without incident. Waldman, a software developer in Cambridge, Mass., said she was given a 15-minute notice before she was summoned to the meeting where she was fired; Duke, an engineer in New York, said an invitation appeared on his calendar precisely one minute beforehand. Security officials escorted him out of the building without letting him return to his desk. “I had to describe to them what my jacket, scarf and bag looked like,” he said.

Read the rest of this article at: The New York Times

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Kant is the most influential of all modern philosophers. Virtually every philosophical movement since the end of the eighteenth century is some version, interpretation or variation on Kant’s “critical” philosophy, his “transcendental turn”, his “Copernican revolution”. Kant’s dominant influence is sometimes hard to understand and, especially for non-specialists, hard to accept. And much of his influence is in fact due partly to various misunderstandings of his thought. Kant could write wittily and even elegantly when he wanted to. But he did not, like David Hume, think of himself as primarily “a man of letters”, and his aim was not, like René Descartes’s, to publicize to the world in elegant prose a new conception of nature and science. His prose was couched in the forbidding jargon he inherited from the tradition of Wolffian scholasticism in which he was educated.

I tell my students that they should be grateful for this, because that jargon is what connects Kant’s often highly original ideas to the Western philosophical tradition going back to the Greeks. Kant himself was not knowledgeable in that tradition. He came to philosophy from natural science – physics, astronomy, geology: what would then have been called “natural philosophy”. Kant became a “philosopher” in our sense of the word only when he began reflecting on the foundations of these emerging and changing departments of knowledge. It was not until relatively late in life that Kant’s interests shifted to include ethics, politics and religion (though his final decade of philosophical activity was concentrated on them). The remarkable thing about Kant, to those who study him, is the striking originality and insight present in what might to casual readers seem to be the dark corners of his obscure and forbidding prose. It is easy to find Kant mystifying or off-putting unless you have the time, patience and sympathy to discover and properly reflect on his remarkably original work.

Read the rest of this article at: TLS

News 02.21.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 02.21.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


In its first decade of life, the website appeared in as many punch lines as headlines. The Office’s Michael Scott called it “the best thing ever,” because “anyone in the world can write anything they want about any subject—so you know you are getting the best possible information.” Praising Wikipedia, by restating its mission, meant self-identifying as an idiot.

That was in 2007. Today, Wikipedia is the eighth-most-visited site in the world. The English-language version recently surpassed 6 million articles and 3.5 billion words; edits materialize at a rate of 1.8 per second. But perhaps more remarkable than Wikipedia’s success is how little its reputation has changed. It was criticized as it rose, and now makes its final ascent to … muted criticism. To confess that you’ve just repeated a fact you learned on Wikipedia is still to admit something mildly shameful. It’s as though all those questions that used to pepper think pieces in the mid-2000s—Will it work? Can it be trusted? Is it better than Encyclopedia Britannica?—are still rhetorical, when they have already been answered, time and again, in the affirmative.

Of course, muted criticism is far better than what the other giants at the top of the internet are getting these days. Pick any inflection point you like from the past several years—the Trump election, Brexit, any one of a number of data breaches, alt-right feeding frenzies, or standoffish statements to Congress—and you’ll see the malign hand of platform monopolies. Not too long ago, techno-utopianism was the ambient vibe of the elite ideas industry; now it has become the ethos that dare not speak its name. Hardly anyone can talk abstractly about freedom and connection and collaboration, the blithe watchwords of the mid-2000s, without making a mental list of the internet’s more concrete negative externalities.

Yet in an era when Silicon Valley’s promises look less gilded than before, Wikipedia shines by comparison. It is the only not-for-profit site in the top 10, and one of only a handful in the top 100. It does not plaster itself with advertising, intrude on privacy, or provide a breeding ground for neo-Nazi trolling. Like Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, it broadcasts user-generated content. Unlike them, it makes its product de-personified, collaborative, and for the general good. More than an encyclopedia, Wikipedia has become a community, a library, a constitution, an experiment, a political manifesto—the closest thing there is to an online public square. It is one of the few remaining places that retains the faintly utopian glow of the early World Wide Web. A free encyclopedia encompassing the whole of human knowledge, written almost entirely by unpaid volunteers: Can you believe that was the one that worked?

Wikipedia is not perfect. The problems that it does have—and there are plenty of them—are discussed in great detail on Wikipedia itself, often in dedicated forums for self-critique with titles like “Why Wikipedia is not so great.” One contributor observes that “many of the articles are of poor quality.” Another worries that “consensus on Wikipedia may be a problematic form of knowledge production.” A third notes that “someone can just come and edit this very page and put in ‘pens are for cats only.’” Like the rest of the tech world, the site suffers from a gender imbalance; by recent estimates, 90 percent of its volunteer editors are men. Women and nonbinary contributors report frequent harassment from their fellow Wikipedians—trolling, doxing, hacking, death threats. The site’s parent organization has repeatedly owned up to the situation and taken halting steps to redress it; several years ago, it allocated hundreds of thousands of dollars to a “community health initiative.” But in a way, the means to fix Wikipedia’s shortcomings, in terms of both culture and coverage, are already in place: Witness the rise of feminist edit-athons.

Read the rest of this article at: Wired

News 02.21.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

It was 12:38 in the afternoon on January 13, 2006, when the call went out to police: a bank robbery in progress. Moments later, cops were racing through San Isidro, a leafy, affluent suburb north of Buenos Aires. When officers arrived at the scene—a tan two-story branch of Banco Río, one of Argentina’s largest financial institutions—they were pleased to discover that the thieves were still inside.

As officers established a perimeter, they watched as the bank’s lone security guard ambled out the door, carrying his gun.

The robbers had emptied the weapon and placed its bullets in the guard’s pocket before permitting him to leave. There were hostages inside, he reported, and 10 minutes later, another of them, a young, nervous man, was released. Shortly after that, a masked thief appeared at the door, clutching a woman.

When he caught a glimpse of the assembled police force, the thief let the woman go and he ran back inside the bank.

There were five thieves in the bank, costumed in various disguises, and now they were trapped, along with 23 hostages. Outside, the streets were swarming with police, who soon established radio contact with one of the robbers, who called himself Walter. The thieves knew they were surrounded, Walter said, but they weren’t yet ready to give up. And until they were, the police had better stay back. Nobody wanted to see another Ramallo.

This struck a nerve. The heist in the town of Ramallo was infamous in Argentina. Six years earlier, three armed men had burst into another bank, not far from this one. As on this day, the thieves held hostages and, during an attempted escape, used them as shields. That’s when things went sideways. Police opened fire, killing a robber and two hostages. Ramallo was a national scandal, but what made it especially terrible is that the fiasco played out on live TV.

Now, in San Isidro, the news cameras had arrived again, training their lenses on the scene as more than 100 cops surrounded the bank and cordoned the nearby streets. Every available perch that afforded a view to the bank was occupied by either photographers or snipers.

For more than six hours, the nation was transfixed. The police had nicknamed Walter “the Man in the Gray Suit.” He was instantly famous. The hostages, Walter said, were being treated well. The mood inside seemed oddly ebullient: At one point, Walter and another robber could be heard singing “Happy Birthday” to a bank employee whose phone had been buzzing with birthday messages from friends and family. At 3:30 in the afternoon, Walter asked for pizzas; the hostages were hungry, he said. Then, only a few minutes later, Walter went silent.

For over three hours, police leaders and city officials fretted over what to do as further attempts to reach Walter failed.

Finally a team of special-forces officers took up position outside the bank. At 7 p.m, they burst inside. But there was no shoot-out, no commotion. And no sign of the thieves. The hostages were dispersed on three floors—the lobby level, a mezzanine space, and down in a basement conference room, which had been locked from the inside. They were all unharmed.

It wasn’t until detectives reached the basement that they discovered what the robbers had truly been after. There, in the expanse of the bank’s subterranean level, hundreds of reinforced-steel safe-deposit boxes lined the walls. And in a place like San Isidro, at a time like 2006, those boxes represented a veritable treasure trove.

Argentines are uniquely distrustful of their banks, and for good reason. They’ve been betrayed by them, over and over. Most famously in 2001, when the collapse of the national banking system, known as the corralito, erased entire fortunes, affecting millions. With no faith in accounts, bank customers began tucking their savings—their cash, jewelry, and other valuables—into safe-deposit boxes. And this particular bank, situated in one of the richest enclaves of Argentina, must have seemed especially enticing, flush as its deposit boxes were sure to be with the fortunes of the city’s most well-to-do.

Read the rest of this article at: GQ

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