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News 12.11.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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News 12.11.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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News 12.11.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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Many of us, scientists included, harbour contradictory intuitions about Mother Nature. We can see that ecosystems often have an inherent ability to self-stabilise, and we know we wouldn’t be here if the planet hadn’t maintained conditions suitable for life for almost 4 billion years. One reaction is to claim that some Earth-wide equilibrium, though fragile, does exist, and reflects the fact that species have evolved to cooperate with one another. Another is to say that the first response is nonsense: organisms are ‘selfish’, and evolution isn’t cooperative but rather a brutish Darwinian competition that selects individual organisms based on their ability to survive and reproduce. The primordial balancing act performed by our biosphere, if it exists at all, is more or less a lucky accident.

The idea that the Earth itself is like a single evolving ‘organism’ was developed in the mid-1970s by the independent English scientist and inventor James Lovelock and the American biologist Lynn Margulis. They dubbed it the ‘Gaia hypothesis’, asserting that the biosphere is an ‘active adaptive control system able to maintain the Earth in homeostasis’. Sometimes they went pretty far with this line of reasoning: Lovelock even ventured that algal mats have evolved so as to control global temperature, while Australia’s Great Barrier Reef might be a ‘partly finished project for an evaporation lagoon’, whose purpose was to control oceanic salinity.

Read the rest of this article at: aeon

News 12.11.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 12.11.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Six months have passed since a Minneapolis police officer killed George Perry Floyd Jr., and already the subsequent storm of fury and hope that spawned so many anti-racist dreams seems to have lost its charge. A recent Pew survey points to a decrease in support for the Black Lives Matter movement among all racial groups except Black people since June, a reflection of the American, and perhaps human, tendency to return to life as normal, even if today’s normal is very weird. One hopes, at least, that a new awareness has been brought to daily life.

For a dedicated few, though, Floyd and the other Black people killed and wounded by police will forever remain front of mind—for those activists and civil rights lawyers and family members with a heroic, if sometimes tragic, resolve. Notable among the steadfast are the men who raised the injured and slain, who tend to be Black and are themselves more likely to have been battered by the forces that undid their kin. It is not possible for them to quit imagining a more just future for the United States.

Yet as the movement lulls, they are an easy group to overlook. One could be forgiven, for example, for thinking that no man helped raise George Floyd. Postmortem profiles in the press took us back to Floyd’s youth in the public-housing projects of Houston’s Third Ward, where his single mother, Larcenia Floyd, did her level best to help raise him and his siblings. Some accounts, searching even deeper for the causes of Floyd’s demise, went further back, to his family’s roots in the sharecropping South, where his mother grew up as one of 14 children in a small house in the tobacco fields of eastern North Carolina. There was a way in which Floyd’s story seemed to adhere to a very old myth, hardly questioned now, of the fatherless and thus doomed Black child. That Floyd in his final moments on earth cried out for his mother, already deceased, was a kind of heartbreaking capstone to this tale. The big man that Floyd was—six feet four inches, 223 pounds—without a big man in his life. This was rendered an implicit part of his tragedy.

Read the rest of this article at: GQ

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News 12.11.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

The war over American exceptionalism is over. The idea has been battered beyond recognition by more than a decade in the gladiator ring of American politics. Now it is just a club wielded by combatants unaware that the fight has ended. The term has so many meanings that it has no meaning. One economist has even predicted that the world’s waning belief in America’s exceptionalism will help trigger a collapse of the dollar.

American exceptionalism is an honorable idea that deserves to be put on a stretcher and carried back to the intellectual world where it was born and where it may still live a long and productive life. That is where it enjoyed a relatively quiet existence until the first rumblings of war erupted around the beginning of this century. In 2008, the Republican vice-presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, injected exceptionalism into the presidential campaign. “We are an exceptional nation,” she declared, and “an exceptional country,” at one point assuring an audience that “you are all exceptional Americans.”1 After that, conservative critics used the term to attack President Barack Obama’s policies of more expansive government at home and a diminished role abroad, and even to question his patriotism. “The survival of American exceptionalism as we have known it is at the heart of the debate over Obama’s program,” wrote Ramesh Ponnuru and Rich Lowry, two National Review editors, in the pages of that magazine in 2010.2 Newt Gingrich and other political figures joined the fray with books that equated exceptionalism with American greatness. Obama kept things going by coyly delivering only qualified endorsements of the holy words. “American exceptionalism” became a phrase conservatives wore on their sleeves to complement their flag lapel pins.

Read the rest of this article at: The Hedgehog Review

News 12.11.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Two years ago, a handful of Facebook employees began to raise internal alarms about a series of advertisements appearing in their news feeds. Purchased by a then up-and-coming lip-synching app called Musical.ly — now known as TikTok — the ads featured teenage girls provocatively gyrating to music in short video clips.

Curious as to why he and his colleagues were seeing ads ostensibly meant for young girls, one Facebook employee, who was also a father, dug into the company’s advertising system at the time to determine what was going on. What he discovered wasn’t an error, but Facebook’s advertising system working as intended. The social network’s algorithms had been optimizing the ads for the audience interacting with them the most: middle-aged men.

Initial complaints about the ads, which continued after Musical.ly was acquired and turned into TikTok, were rebuffed. TikTok, which reportedly spent $1 billion on advertising in 2018, was a valued business partner, one employee was told by higher-ups. Another person in a position to know told BuzzFeed News that a Facebook manager’s response to the concerns was to restrict access to data about the ads’ targeting.

The ads persisted for at least a year and a half — long after they had been publicly flagged in Facebook’s Workplace forum. Following publication of this story company spokesperson Joe Osborne disputed this timeline, saying “This isn’t accurate, we first learned about this is in 2019, not 2017.”

“It’s so weird that I only hear my 8-year old nieces talk about tiktok, but then see these ads with voluptuous young ladies targeted to men over 35 years old,” one Facebook data scientist wrote on the company’s internal message board last year. “Are we indeed making sure Facebook is not creating a predator’s paradise?”

Facebook’s handling of TikTok’s ads is one of many examples of its advertising system run amok, and the company’s ongoing prioritization of revenue over the safety of its 3 billion users, the public good, and the integrity of its own platform. The consequences vary: Consumers are sold goods they never receive or are lured into financial scams; legitimate advertisers’ accounts or pages are hacked and used to peddle those nonexistent goods or scams; credit card numbers are stolen. But the end result is often the same: Facebook banks ad revenue, while its users get ripped off.

Read the rest of this article at: BuzzFeed

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News 12.11.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Even while the votes were still rolling in, it had become axiomatic among the green-room set that Democrats had hurt themselves by focusing too much on “cultural issues.” Surely you’ve heard the argument before. It arrives every four years on the button, glib and overwrought and covered in pancake makeup, like the Olympic gymnastics all-around.

“In their minds,” Andrew Yang said on CNN two days after the election, referring to the working-class people he’d met on the trail during his bid for the Democratic nomination, “the Democratic Party unfortunately has taken on this role of the coastal, urban elites who are more concerned about policing various cultural issues than improving their way of life that has been declining for years.”

The returns needed to be explained. Democrats had failed to win a thumping mandate, and their failure once again was thought to be most acute among the white working class that used to make up its base. Everywhere you turned in the aftermath of the election, there was someone arguing the hard line on cultural issues as a way of accounting for the outcome. Al Franken on MSNBC. Abigail Spanberger. Bill Maher. Bill Freaking Simmons. “I had a friend ask me yesterday why I thought white people who made less than $50,000 a year in a million years would vote for Trump, given what happened the last four years,” said Simmons, a podcaster. “It was about, you know, a reaction to cancel culture and the woke left and celebrities and kind of being told what to do.”

The point was made in different ways, by different commentators of at least outwardly different political persuasions, with different code words and different bogeys—feminists, socialists, police abolitionists, transgender people, social-justice warriors, wokeness, identity politics in general. However they might have varied in their particulars, these arguments all circled the same thesis: The members of the working class—by which is always meant the white working class and very often, incoherently but significantly, the white middle class, too—have fled the Democratic Party because of its abandonment of the firm materiality of class politics for the soft superfluities of culture and identity.

By my calculations, we are now in the fifth decade of people making some version of this claim. It is the great tonic chord of American political punditry. That the argument is constructed on a set of patronizing assumptions about the limited moral capacities of white working-class voters has never much damaged its popularity. Nor do the culture-war contras care that the analysis doesn’t make sense even on its own impoverished terms, as the great Ellen Willis pointed out years ago in her essay about the genre’s paradigmatic text, Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter With Kansas?

The critics’ premise has two parts, the one at odds with the other. The first is that these cultural issues are so powerful as to dislodge certain workers from their “natural” affinities and antagonisms, as crudely reckoned by their class position. One glimpse of the specter of wokeness and they go running into the arms of the party of the bosses and plutocrats who hate them. The second is that these cultural issues are so flimsy and evanescent as to vanish at the mention of “meat-and-potatoes issues,” as Claire McCaskill put it on MSNBC the day after the election.

Read the rest of this article at: Mother Jones

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