Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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Music: Jaga Jazzist — ‘One-Armed Bandit’

 

America’s complexity deficit has trapped us in a pandemic spiral

Ed Yong writes: Army ants will sometimes walk in circles until they die. The workers navigate by smelling the pheromone trails of workers in front of them, while laying down pheromones for others to follow. If these trails accidentally loop back on themselves, the ants are trapped. They become a thick, swirling vortex of bodies that resembles a hurricane as viewed from space. They march endlessly until they’re felled by

Bob Woodward: Trump intentionally misled Americans about the danger of the coronavirus

The Washington Post reports: President Trump’s head popped up during his top-secret intelligence briefing in the Oval Office on Jan. 28 when the discussion turned to the coronavirus outbreak in China. “This will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency,” national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien told Trump, according to a new book by Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward. “This is going to be the

Are we on the cusp of an era of radical reform that repairs America’s broken democracy?

George Packer writes: “There are in history what you could call ‘plastic hours,’” the philosopher Gershom Scholem once said. “Namely, crucial moments when it is possible to act. If you move then, something happens.” In such moments, an ossified social order suddenly turns pliable, prolonged stasis gives way to motion, and people dare to hope. Plastic hours are rare. They require the right alignment of public opinion, political power, and

The Electoral College will destroy America

Jesse Wegman writes: Last week, Nate Silver, the polling analyst, tweeted a chart illustrating the chances that Joe Biden would become president if he wins the most votes in November. The “if” is probably unnecessary. It’s hard to find anyone who disputes that Mr. Biden will win the most votes. This isn’t a liberal’s fantasy. In a recent panel discussion among four veteran Republican campaign managers, one acknowledged, “We’re going

Whistleblower accuses Trump appointees of downplaying Russian interference and White supremacist threat

CNN reports: A whistleblower is alleging that top political appointees in the Department of Homeland Security repeatedly instructed career officials to modify intelligence assessments to suit President Donald Trump’s agenda by downplaying Russia’s efforts to interfere in the US and the threat posed by White supremacists, according to documents reviewed by CNN and a source familiar with the situation. The whistleblower claims that acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf instructed DHS

Emails show HHS official trying to muzzle Fauci

Politico reports: A Trump administration appointee at the Department of Health and Human Services is trying to prevent Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, from speaking about the risks that coronavirus poses to children. Emails obtained by POLITICO show Paul Alexander — a senior adviser to Michael Caputo, HHS’s assistant secretary for public affairs — instructing press officers and others at the National Institutes of Health about what

One cure for an ailing American economy: Legalize cannabis

Tom Daschle writes: America’s next president will face an unprecedented array of challenges, chief among them an economy in ruins and an ugly social divide. Having served in government for nearly three decades, including as Senate majority leader, I know that there’s no silver bullet that can magically solve all of these problems. However, I’ve also learned that progress comes from unexpected places and that states often see the future

Music: Jaga Jazzist — ‘Tomita’

 

Will the United States belatedly fulfill its promise as a multiracial democracy?

Adam Serwer writes: After George Floyd was killed, Donald Trump sensed an opportunity. Americans, anguished and angry over Floyd’s death, had erupted in protest—some set fires, broke the windows of department stores, and stormed a police precinct. Commentators reached for historical analogies, circling in on 1968 and the twilight of the civil-rights era, when riots and rebellion engulfed one American city after another. Back then, Richard Nixon seized on a

White supremacy is ‘most lethal threat’ to the U.S., DHS draft assessment says

CNN reports: White supremacists will remain the most “persistent and lethal threat” in the United States through 2021, according to Department of Homeland Security draft documents. The most recent draft report predicts an “elevated threat environment at least through” early next year, concluding that some US-based violent extremists have capitalized on increased social and political tensions in 2020. Although foreign terrorist organizations will continue to call for attacks on the

At least 37 million people have been displaced by America’s war on terror

The New York Times reports: At least 37 million people have been displaced as a direct result of the wars fought by the United States since Sept. 11, 2001, according to a new report from Brown University’s Costs of War project. That figure exceeds those displaced by conflict since 1900, the authors say, with the exception of World War II. The findings were published on Tuesday, weeks before the United

Is Russian meddling as dangerous as we think?

Joshua Yaffa writes: In the summer of 2017, Nina Jankowicz, a twenty-eight-year-old American, was working in Kyiv as a communications adviser to Ukraine’s foreign ministry as part of a yearlong Fulbright fellowship. Jankowicz had an interest in digital diplomacy and in countering disinformation that was matched by a passion for musical theatre: in Washington, D.C., where she lived for several years before moving to Ukraine, she played Sally in “You’re

House lawmakers ask Trump for probe into Russian poisoning case

The Associated Press reports: The top Democrat and the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee are together calling on President Donald Trump to investigate whether chemical weapons were used by Russia in the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., and Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, told Trump in a letter Monday that they are “deeply concerned” by reports that Navalny was poisoned in August

If you can grocery shop in person, you can vote in person

Russell Berman writes: Zeke Emanuel has a message for jittery Americans ahead of a momentous election: Voting in person during the coronavirus pandemic is about as safe as going to the grocery store. In early July, Emanuel—the bioethicist and former Obama-administration health adviser—led a group of experts in developing a detailed and widely circulated chart that advised Americans about the relative health risk of more than two dozen common activities.

Physics and information theory give a glimpse of life’s origins

Natalie Elliot writes: How did life originate? Scientists have been studying the question for decades, and they’ve developed ingenious methods to try to find out. They’ve even enlisted biology’s most powerful theory, Darwinian evolution, in the search. But they still don’t have a complete answer. What they have hit is the world’s most theoretically fertile dead end. When scientists look for life’s origins, they usually work in one of two