Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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January 2019

William Arkin’s farewell memo

In his farewell memo, NBC military analyst William Arkin writes: When the attacks of 9/11 came, I was called back to NBC. I spent weeks on and off the air talking about al Qaeda and the various wars we were rushing into, arguing that airpower and drones would be the centerpiece not troops. In the new martial environment where only one war cry was sanctioned I was out of sync

Paul Whelan probably isn’t a spy. So why did Russia detain him?

Siobhán O’Grady and Amie Ferris-Rotman report: According to Russia’s domestic security services, a former U.S. Marine named Paul Whelan was in Moscow on a “spy mission” when he was arrested there last week. But experts say Whelan’s detention doesn’t look like a spying case at all. Whelan received a bad-conduct discharge from the Marines in 2008, according to military records. He is now the corporate security director at BorgWarner, a

Large Magellanic Cloud on collision course with Milky Way — in 2.5 billion years

The Guardian reports: As if battered post-Christmas finances, a looming disorderly Brexit and the prospect of a fresh nuclear arms race were not enough to dampen spirits, astronomers have declared that a nearby galaxy will slam into the Milky Way and could knock our solar system far into the cosmic void. The unfortunate discovery was made after scientists ran computer simulations on the movement of the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC),

Climate change is already here

Carolyn Gramling writes: The grim reality of climate change grabbed center stage in 2018. This is the year we learned that the 2015 Paris Agreement on global warming won’t be enough to forestall significant impacts of climate change. And a new field of research explicitly attributed some extreme weather events to human-caused climate change. This one-two punch made it clear that climate change isn’t just something to worry about in

Yuval Noah Harari sees a big-data threat to humanity

Steve Paulson interviews historian Yuval Noah Harari: What’s different about this moment in history? What’s different is the pace of technological change, especially the twin revolutions of artificial intelligence and bioengineering. They make it possible to hack human beings and other organisms, and then re-engineer them and create new life forms. How far can this technology go in changing who we are? Very far. Beyond our imagination. It can change

The denial of climate change and the denial of racism rest on the same foundation

Ibram X. Kendi writes: For two years, they formed a community of experts, about 1,000 in all, including 300 leading climate scientists inside and outside 13 federal agencies. For two years, they volunteered their time and expertise to produce the Fourth National Climate Assessment. There is no parallel process to tackle the questions I study; there is no ongoing national racial assessment mandated by a law summarizing the impact of

Time to get out of Afghanistan

Robert D. Kaplan writes: The decision by President Trump to withdraw 7,000 of the roughly 14,000 American troops left in Afghanistan, possibly by summer, has raised new concerns about his impulsive behavior, especially given his nearly simultaneous decision to pull out all American forces from Syria against the advice of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. But the downsizing of the Afghan mission was probably inevitable. Indeed, it may soon be time

Trump gives no timetable for Syria exit, wants to protect Kurds

Reuters reports: U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday the United States would get out of Syria “over a period of time” and wants to protect the U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in the country as Washington draws down troops. Trump did not provide a timetable for the planned military exit from Syria, which he announced last month against the advice of top national security aides and without consulting lawmakers or U.S.

Music: Sanam Marvi & Saieen Zahoor — ‘Lagi Bina’

 

Brazil is about to show the world how a modern democracy collapses

Travis Waldron reports: The tanks began to roll into Rio de Janeiro on the morning of April 1, 1964, some of them from the neighboring state of Minas Gerais, others from São Paulo. The Brazilian capital had moved to Brasília, the new planned city in the country’s interior, a few years prior, but Rio remained the effective center of power, and somewhere in the city, President João Goulart was clinging

It could take over 200 years for women to reach economic equality

CNBC reports: The gender gap is narrowing, but there’s still a long way to go before parity is reached. How long? The 2018 Global Gender Gap Report, released by the World Economic Forum (WEF), estimates that it will take 202 years for economic equality between men and women to be achieved around the world. The report benchmarks how countries perform across four dimensions: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health

Is revolutionary fervor afire — again — in Tunisia?

Robin Wright writes: On Christmas Eve, Abderrazak Zorgui, a thirty-two-year-old television reporter, posted a chilling cell-phone video shot in Kasserine, a city in western Tunisia that dates back to ancient Roman times. “I have decided today to put a revolution in motion,” he said, looking intently into the camera. “In Kasserine, there are people dying of hunger. Why? Are we not humans? We’re people just like you. The unemployed people

Outrage after Netflix pulls comedy show criticising Saudi Arabia

The Guardian reports: Netflix has taken down an episode of a satirical comedy show critical of Saudi Arabia in the country after officials from the kingdom complained, sparking criticism from Human Rights Watch, which said the act undermined the streaming service’s “claim to support artistic freedom”. It comes three months after the brutal killing of the Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi – which US senators have blamed

Wielding rocks and knives, Arizonans attack self-driving cars

The New York Times reports: The assailant slipped out of a park around noon one day in October, zeroing in on his target, which was idling at a nearby intersection — a self-driving van operated by Waymo, the driverless-car company spun out of Google. He carried out his attack with an unidentified sharp object, swiftly slashing one of the tires. The suspect, identified as a white man in his 20s,

A resonance theory of consciousness

Tam Hunt writes: Why are some things conscious and others apparently not? Is a rat conscious? A bat? A cockroach? A bacterium? An electron? These questions are all aspects of the ancient “mind-body problem,” which has resisted a generally satisfying conclusion for thousands of years. The mind-body problem enjoyed a major rebranding over the last two decades and is generally known now as the “hard problem” of consciousness (usually capitalized

Music: Abida Parveen & Rahat Fateh Ali Khan — ‘Chaap Tilak’