An Invincible Summer
August 8, 2019
“Nothing in the world is worth turning one’s back on what one loves.”
“All I maintain is that on this earth there are pestilences and there are victims, and it’s up to us, so far as possible, not to join forces with the pestilences.”
– Albert Camus, The Plague
Will Hinduism Hinder Kashmir?
No one familiar with the situation disagrees that something needed to be done about Kashmir. It’s a complicated, disputed mountainous area of South Asia, parts of which both India and Pakistan claim, and which several times has nearly driven the two nuclear-armed nations to war.
It’s also an area with enormous economic potential, enjoying stunning alpine scenery, great downhill skiing, endless apple orchards and a centuries-old excellence in weaving carpets. But decades of repression, conflict and protests have devastated the economy and left the majority-Muslim population aching for peace.
Unfortunately the unilateral action taken Monday by Prime Minister Narenda Modi’s nationalist government — revoking the special status that Jammu and Kashmir had enjoyed for 70 years as a semi-autonomous state, and splitting it into two separate federal territories — has struck many critics as deeply undemocratic.
Since Modi took office in 2014, his right-wing government has rewritten history books to remove Muslim rulers, and pushed extremist Hindu priorities like spending public money trying to find a mystical river prominent in Hindu scriptures. Under Modi’s leadership hate crimes against Muslims have increased, and some analysts warn he could move on to make more religiously polarizing decisions, like wiping out Muslim marriage and inheritance laws.
Kashmiris remained on lockdown Tuesday, their civilian leaders under arrest, internet cut off, phones lines severed.
Additional quote: “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen.” – Vladimir Lenin
A Modern Day Plague Hits The Philippines
- On Tuesday the Philippines declared a national dengue epidemic, with 622 people dying this year from the mosquito-borne disease. More than 146,000 cases had been reported through July, almost twice as many as in the same period last year. Worst hit was the Western Visayan Islands region with more than 23,000 cases, followed by suburbs south of Manila with more than 16,500 cases.
- The government has struggled to halt dengue since December 2017, when it stopped using a vaccine called Dengvaxia that was found to pose health risks to people who had not previously had the disease. (NYT)
Smile And Say Greece
- For your next Glamour shots, or pre-wedding photos, try getting them taken in Santorini, Greece. Asian couples in particular like going to the island with the deepest blues, the whitest whites and the most mesmerizing peach-colored sunsets imaginable.
- Pre-wedding photos have become a multi-billion-dollar business, and to profit off the Chinese market, Greek photographers have developed websites with galleries of stunning brides-to-be, stretching languorously on stark white steps, or leading white horses on beaches.
- For many couples, fees running into the thousands of euros are a small price to pay for an image that they say encapsulates both true romance and social mobility. (NYT)
Take Me To Your Seeder
- Recently an Arizona-based timber company named World Tree had a write up in Bloomberg Businessweek which focused on a type of tree the company grows and plants to combat global warming. Empress trees grow lightening fast — 20 feet the first year, 50 feet by year ten. They can be cut down for their wood and they’ll regrow from the stump.
- While each acre of most tree species can capture and store 1.1 to 9.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide a year, an acre of empress trees can absorb 103. World Tree has planted 1,000 acres of these trees and encourages others to do so.
- Just one problem. The scientific name for these Empress trees is Paulownia, which is a genus of 6 to 17 species of flowering plants in the family Paulowniaceae. One of the species, is horribly invasive, and has been responsible for tons of misinformation on the internet, even by reputable sites like Ecosystem Gardening. Many other species of this amazing tree are non-invasive and shouldn’t be given a bad rap. (Bloomberg, USDA)
- In America, last weekend’s mass shootings could conceivably wind up as just another horrific gun-violence statistic that, ultimately, nothing gets done about. But internationally — along with people’s continued disbelief about the availability of firearms in the US — focus is shifting to the toxic mixture of racism, nationalism, terrorism, and President Trump’s role in inflaming ethnic divisions.
- It was that aspect of the attack in El Paso, reflecting the rise of ethno-nationalism seen in many countries, that drew the most attention around the world. Even Venezuela, one of the most crime-ridden countries in South America, issued warnings for its citizens traveling to the US to beware of indiscriminate violence fueled by hate, racism and discrimination. (NYT)
- After Mass Shootings, Other Nations Issue Caution About ‘Gun Society’ In U.S. (NPR)
Home Grown Denial Leads To Home Grown Terror
- In exclusive reporting, a senior source close to the Trump administration told CNN: “Homeland Security officials battled the White House for more than a year to get them to focus more on domestic terrorism. The White House wanted to focus only on the jihadist threat which, while serious, ignored the reality that racial supremacist violence was rising fast here at home. They had major ideological blinders on.”
- The National Counterterrorism Strategy, issued last fall, states that “Radical Islamist terrorists remain the primary transnational terrorist threat to the United States and its vital national interests,” which few experts dispute. What seems glaring to Homeland Security officials is the minimizing of the threat of domestic terrorism, which had been on their radar as a growing problem.
- “Ultimately the White House just added one paragraph about domestic terrorism as a throw-away line.” That paragraph mentions “other forms of violent extremism, such as racially motivated extremism, animal rights extremism, environmental extremism, sovereign citizen extremism, and militia extremism.” It makes no mention of white supremacists. (CNN)
- ‘People are afraid to be Hispanic’: Trump visits an angry, grieving El Paso: President faces protests as he spends day at sites of mass shootings in Texas and Dayton, Ohio (Guardian)
- FBI faces skepticism over its efforts against domestic terrorism (WaPo, $)
Many Wrongs Don’t Make A Rice
- One of the nation’s leading climate change scientists is leaving the Agriculture Department in protest over the Trump administration’s efforts to bury his groundbreaking study about how rice is losing nutrients because of rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
- 62-year-old Lewis Ziska has researched plants at the USDA through five administrations, contributing significantly to the country’s understanding of how climate change affects agriculture. Ziska said department officials not only questioned the findings of his study — which raised serious concerns for the 600 million people who depend on rice for most of their calories — but also tried to minimize media coverage of the paper, which was published last year in the journal Science Advances.
- Last week an intelligence analyst at the State Department said he left his post after administration officials blocked his testimony to Congress about the wide-ranging national security implications of climate change. Several other government officials have resigned from their posts over accusations that the administration is censoring climate science. (Politico)
Facing The Hard Truth Scanning Us Right In The Face
- Facial recognition technology is improving rapidly. The ability of the best algorithms to match a new image to a face in a database improved 20-fold between 2014 and 2018. But as with all algorithmic assessment, there is reasonable concern about bias.
- An AI researcher at Imperial College London says the algorithm assesses faces by gradients of light and dark, which allow it to detect points on the face and build a 3D image. No algorithm is better than its dataset, and in truth, there are more pictures of white people on the internet than there are of black people.
- “We have less data on dark-skinned people,” she said. “Large databases of Caucasian people, not so large on Chinese and Indian, desperately bad on people of African descent.”
- A psychologist at the University of Greenwich who works on facial recognition in humans and AIs adds another problem: darker skin reflects less light, providing less information for the algorithms to work with. Accordingly, algorithms are more likely to correctly identify white people than black people, raising civil liberties and criminal justice concerns. City officials in San Francisco have banned the use of facial-recognition technologies by the police and other government agencies. (Guardian)
- Millions of Books Are Secretly in the Public Domain. You Can Download Them Free: A quirk of copyright law means that millions of books are now free for anyone to read, thanks to some work from the New York Public Library. (Vice)
- Stanford analyzed 292 retirement strategies to determine the best one—here’s how it works (NBC)
- Why Are These Medical Instruments So Tough to Sterilize? Duodenoscopes have sickened hundreds of patients in hospital outbreaks. Now some experts are demanding the devices be redesigned or taken off the market. (NYT, $)
- Evolution Gave Us Heart Disease. We’re Not Stuck With It. Heart disease is still a new disease, and we can adapt accordingly. (NYT, $)
- Dying the Christian Science way: the horror of my father’s last days: The anti-medical dogma of Christian Science led my father to an agonising death. Now the church itself is in decline – and it can’t happen fast enough. (The Guardian)
- Was E-mail a Mistake? The mathematics of distributed systems suggests that meetings might be better. (New Yorker, $)
“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.
And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”
– Albert Camus
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