Fratricidal War | Containing Science and Technology | Generation Depressed | Trump v. Congress

MARCH 15, 2019  /   SUBSCRIBE



“When we are children we seldom think of the future. This innocence leaves us free to enjoy ourselves as few adults can. The day we fret about the future is the day we leave our childhood behind.” – Patrick Rothfuss

“Don’t you find it odd,” she continued, “that when you’re a kid, everyone, all the world, encourages you to follow your dreams. But when you’re older, somehow they act offended if you even try.” – Ethan Hawke




No More Designer Babies By CRISPR: In 2018 a Chinese scientist announced that he had used the powerful new gene-editing technique CRISPR to create the world’s first gene-edited babies. He Jiankui said he edited the twin girls’ DNA when they were embryos to try to protect them from the AIDS virus. Instead of being hailed as a scientific breakthrough, the announcement was widely condemned as unethical and irresponsible. An intense debate ensued about whether more could have been done to have stopped the scientist — and should be done now to try to prevent any more researchers from going rogue.

Worldwide, only the US and approximately 30 other countries prohibit the creation of gene-edited babies. Jiankui’s announcement prompted a group of prominent scientists and bioethicists to propose that every country declare a moratorium, perhaps for five years, on scientists trying to create babies whose DNA has been edited. In an article published Wednesday by the journal Nature, the 18 scientists and bioethicists, from seven countries, write: “We call for a global moratorium on all clinical uses of human germline editing — that is, changing heritable DNA (in sperm, eggs or embryos) to make genetically modified children.”

The scientists stress that they are not advocating a “permanent ban” or any restrictions on basic research that could eventually lead to the creation of gene-edited babies in the future. Instead, a global moratorium would allow for the creation of an “international framework” for how best to proceed responsibly. Critics believe a moratorium could stifle future discussions rather than clarify the issues, and perhaps drive scientists underground. Additional songs: The Departure from Gattaca and “The Tree Of Life – Trailer Music”.




Shocked And Awed: In what can only be described as a terrible misunderstanding, an Afghan army unit became engaged in a firefight Wednesday with a convoy of Afghan Special Forces and American troops; the exchange of gunfire was followed within hours by American airstrikes that completely destroyed the Afghan army base, killing six soldiers and gravely wounding nine others. Who fired first is still unconfirmed, but because it was in the middle of the night apparently both forces thought they were engaging with the Taliban. The base was a long-established outpost known as Satarman Base; it guarded the approaches to Tirin Kot, which has been repeatedly attacked by Taliban insurgents who dominate much of the surrounding province. “This is an example of the fog of war,”said Sgt. First Class Debra Richardson. “The U.S. conducted a precision self-defense airstrike on people who were firing at a partnered U.S.-Afghan force.” (NYT)

Political BFFs: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing an ever-steeper uphill climb to reelection on April 9, but he has a very strong supporter abroad–none other than Donald Trump. The two men share deep parallels in their politics, similar struggles with scandals, and outright copycatting in how they denigrate opponents. Trump has sent the PM many political gifts, big and small, from moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem and declaring that divided city Israel’s capital, to calling Netanyahu “tough, strong and smart”, someone who “has done a great job as prime minister.” The two men have appeared together on large campaign billboards in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Netanyahu is prevented under an anti-propaganda law from exploiting Israeli soldiers as campaign props, so after a contingent of American troops was sent to Israel on March 4 to deliver a missile defense system, Netanyahu circulated a video and snapshot of himself surrounded by American troops instead. (NYT)

The Strong And The Suffering: On Wednesday a US State Department official slammed China’s treatment of its Muslim minority in the Xinjiang region and compared its atrocities to those in the 1930s, apparently referring to the persecution of Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union. Michael Kozak, head of the department’s human rights and democracy bureau, told reporters at a briefing on the department’s annual “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices”: “Rounding up, in some estimations … millions of people, putting them into camps, and torturing them, abusing them, and trying to basically erase their culture and their religion and so on from their DNA. It’s just remarkably awful. It is one of the most serious human rights violations in the world today.” China had originally denied there were camps; Kozak said adding its explanation now that the camps were for voluntary labor training “does not match the facts.” (Reuters)

WHO’S Most Polluted: A new report detailing the Greenpeace and AirVisual analysis of air pollution readings from 3,000 cities around the world found that 64 percent exceed the World Health Organization’s annual exposure guideline for fine particulate matter that is linked to a wide range of health problems. The report is based on 2018 air quality data from public monitoring sources. Every city measured in the Middle East and Africa exceeds the WHO guidelines, as well as 99 percent of cities in south Asia and 89 percent in east Asia. The world’s most polluted nation is India, which has 22 of the 30 most polluted cities. India’s capital, Delhi, is once again the most polluted capital city on the planet. The tech hub of Gurugram, a city just to the southwest of Delhi which was previously known as Gurgaon, and where international firms including Uber and TripAdvisor have headquarters, ranked as the most polluted city in the world. (Guardian)




Congress Vs. Trump: 12 Republicans joined with Democrats in the Senate Thursday to pass a resolution to overturn President Trump’s executive order declaring a national emergency at the US-Mexico border. The House voted to pass the resolution last month. The Senate’s 59-41 vote was a blow to Trump delivered by his own party over the president’s top campaign pledge of building a wall at the southern border. Trump will surely veto the resolution, but there are not enough votes to amass the thirds-majority needed to override the veto, meaning the issue will next be debated in the courts. It was the second set-back for the president this week. Wednesday the Senate voted to curtail US military support for a Saudi-led war in Yemen, which has created a humanitarian crisis in that country. (CNN)

The Daily DeclineLocal journalism is dying in plain sight. The smaller the community the more likely there is no local news coverage at all. In the past 15 years more than 1,400 cities and towns across America have lost a newspaper. Blame can be cast on revenue being siphoned off by online competition, or cost-cutting ownership, or sheer disinterest among readers. US newspaper circulation has declined every year for three decades, and advertising revenue has plummeted since 2006. As for staffing—the nationwide number of reporters, editors, photographers and other newsroom employees in the industry fell by 45 percent between 2004 and 2017. While national outlets deal with a president who calls the press the enemy of the people, many Americans just want to know what their city council is doing, or how their kids’ sports teams are performing, who may have gotten married, or who just passed away. “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” (AP)




Generation Depressed: A study published Thursday in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology finds the percentage of US teens and young adults reporting mental distress, depression and suicidal thoughts and actions has risen significantly over the past decade. To find this increase in negative psychological states “among our vulnerable population of teens and young adults is absolutely heartbreaking,” said Jean Twenge, the psychologist who headed the study. Twenge and her colleagues analyzed data from a government survey that tracks mental health and substance use in Americans age 12 and over. The data included survey responses from more than 200,000 adolescents ages 12 to 17 and almost 400,000 young adults ages 18 and over between 2005 and 2017. Twenge believes the rise in smartphones and social media use is a significant factor. In earlier research, Twenge found the more time teens and young adults spend with phones and social media, the greater the risk of depressive symptoms. Other researchers are skeptical of the study’s findings, suggesting the rise in mental health issues could be explained by other factors such as the opioid crisis. (NPR) Additional read: The Well-Meaning Bad Ideas Spoiling a Generation: Psychologist Jonathan Haidt on politics, morality, and the coddling of the American mind. (Nautilus)

Give Me A Break! (Literally): Don’t have time for a soothing massage or a game of volleyball during your work day? Just take a few “microbreaks” — any brief activity that helps to break up the monotony of physically or mentally draining tasks. Grab a cup of tea, stand up and stretch at your desk, close your eyes for 60 seconds, or walk to the elevator and back (provided you’re not in a sales meeting or with a client.) Microbreaks are especially important if your job requires staring at a computer for hours. Remember: ‘Sitting is the new smoking.’ Get up, change position, move around … at least once an hour. (BBC)

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