Findings, music, and occasional reflections by Paul Woodward

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A suspect tried to blend in with 60,000 concertgoers. China’s facial-recognition cameras caught him

The Washington Post reports: The 31-year-old man, wanted by police, had thought playing a numbers game would be enough to allow him to fade into anonymity. The population of China is a staggering 1.4 billion people, give or take a few million. More than 45 million of them live in Jiangxi province in southeast China, and 5 million of those people are concentrated in Nanchang, the province’s capital. On the

Trump is infecting our culture with the traits of organized crime, says James Comey

In a review of A Higher Loyalty, by James Comey, Michiko Kakutani writes: A February 2017 meeting in the White House with Trump and then chief of staff Reince Priebus left Comey recalling his days as a federal prosecutor facing off against the Mob: “The silent circle of assent. The boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us-versus-them worldview. The lying about all things, large and small, in service

The oceans’ circulation hasn’t been this sluggish in 1,000 years. That’s bad news

The Washington Post reports: The Atlantic Ocean circulation that carries warmth into the Northern Hemisphere’s high latitudes is slowing down because of climate change, a team of scientists asserted Wednesday, suggesting one of the most feared consequences is already coming to pass. The Atlantic meridional overturning circulation has declined in strength by 15 percent since the mid-20th century to a “new record low,” the scientists conclude in a peer-reviewed study

Environmental Defense Fund is launching satellite to measure methane from oil and gas operations

The Washington Post reports: When the Environmental Defense Fund told commercial space guru Tom Ingersoll that it wanted to launch a satellite to measure methane from oil and gas operations, he says his reaction was “Whoa! You guys want to do what?” Yet that’s what the EDF is doing. It is well on its way toward raising about $40 million. It has tapped into the work of Harvard University researchers

Former coal lobbyist becomes second in command at the EPA

BuzzFeed reports: The Senate just confirmed Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, to be the second in command at the Environmental Protection Agency. The Thursday vote was largely along party lines — 53-45. Sens. Joe Donnelly from Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota, and Joe Manchin from West Virginia were the only Democrats to vote in favor of the confirmation. Wheeler is one of only a handful of President Donald

Assad has used chemical weapons consistently, deliberately, and with a conscious consideration of their qualitative effects

John Bew and Shiraz Maher write: Assad has not simply eroded what academics call “the chemical weapons taboo”; he has shattered it. And his confidence has returned, especially compared to the high watermark of the war in 2014-15, when his authority had crumbled. Kurds dominated the north-east of Syria, while broader parts of the east had fallen to Islamic State. Meanwhile, an alphabet soup of various militias – jihadist and

On Syria, uncharacteristic deliberation inside the White House quickly disrupted by Trump’s characteristic impulsiveness

The Washington Post reports: In a White House known for chaos, the process of developing the U.S. response to the Syrian government’s alleged latest gas attack was proceeding with uncharacteristic deliberation, including several national security briefings for President Trump. But then Wednesday morning, Trump upended it all with a tweet — warning Russia, the Syrian government’s backer, to “get ready” because American missiles “will be coming, nice and new and

Israel and Iran are headed for a collision in Syria

Avi Issacharoff writes: Israel has stated clearly that it will not allow an Iranian military entrenchment in Syria. That is a red line as far as Israel is concerned, and, rather unusually, the military brass and the political leadership are in lockstep about the need to robustly enforce it (in stark opposition to the disagreements about the Palestinian issue). But meanwhile the Syrian reality has come knocking hard at Israel’s

Trump threatens Syria before allies are on board

The Daily Beast reports: Donald Trump’s tweeted bluster that Russia should “get ready” for American missiles to hit Syria has outpaced a crucial U.S. ally’s current decisionmaking on military action against Damascus, The Daily Beast has learned. Ever since Bashar Assad’s latest alleged chemical attack in Syria on Saturday, the U.S., France and Britain have scrambled to cobble together a concerted response. Russia, Assad’s patron, is taking a harsher stance

What Orbán’s third win in Hungary could mean for Europe

Der Spiegel reports: For a few days, it looked like the election might actually be close for Viktor Orbán. Pollsters had predicted a tight race and optimism flourished among Hungary’s opposition parties. In the end, though, Hungarian Prime Minister Orbán and his party Fidesz scored a surprisingly clear victory on Sunday, likely obtaining yet another two-thirds majority in parliament — for the third time in a row. Although ballots from

Facebook is able to ‘collect information from all of us’

The New York Times reports: Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, went to Capitol Hill this week to explain to members of Congress how the detailed personal information of up to 87 million Facebook users ended up in the hands of a voter-profiling company called Cambridge Analytica. What Mr. Zuckerberg got instead, as he testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday, was a grilling about Facebook’s own data-mining

Only a tiny fraction of the genes inside our bodies are human

James Gallagher writes: Prof Rob Knight, from University of California San Diego, told the BBC: “You’re more microbe than you are human.” Originally it was thought our cells were outnumbered 10 to one. “That’s been refined much closer to one-to-one, so the current estimate is you’re about 43% human if you’re counting up all the cells,” he says. But genetically we’re even more outgunned. The human genome – the full

Burning coal may have caused Earth’s worst mass extinction

Dana Nuccitelli writes: Recently, geologist Dr Benjamin Burger identified a rock layer in Utah that he believed might have formed during the Permian and subsequent Triassic period that could shed light on the cause of the Great Dying [the Earth’s deadliest mass extinction 252 million years ago]. During the Permian, Earth’s continents were still combined as one Pangea, and modern day Utah was on the supercontinent’s west coast. Samples from

There’s no scientific basis for race — it’s a made-up label

  Elizabeth Kolbert writes: In the first half of the 19th century, one of America’s most prominent scientists was a doctor named Samuel Morton. Morton lived in Philadelphia, and he collected skulls. He wasn’t choosy about his suppliers. He accepted skulls scavenged from battlefields and snatched from catacombs. One of his most famous craniums belonged to an Irishman who’d been sent as a convict to Tasmania (and ultimately hanged for

It’s Mueller, not Trump, who is draining the swamp

Quinta Jurecic writes: Following the investigation of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is an enduring lesson in humility, and not merely because no one — not the president, not legal analysts or anyone else — has been able to predict what his office will do next. Mr. Mueller is much more than a prosecutor. To many, he has become Mr. Trump’s opposite: an avatar of justice and probity. As special

The FBI raid on Trump’s lawyer’s office

The Washington Post reports on the FBI raid on Trump’s personal attorney: Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, a friend of Trump, called the Cohen raids “a little heavy-handed.” “Is this surprising? Yes,” said Giuliani, also a former U.S. attorney. “Is it extraordinary? No. This is the way prosecutors get information — sometimes to convict and prosecute, sometimes to exculpate.” Criticizing Mueller for veering into “highly personal issues,” such