May You Survive in Interesting Times
October 17, 2019
“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power or our will.”
“Other people’s views and troubles can be contagious. Don’t sabotage yourself by unwittingly adopting negative, unproductive attitudes through your associations with others.”
An Inconvenient, Inevitable Truth
Assessments continue of the devastation done to central and northern Japan by Typhoon Hagibis last weekend. Officials, accustomed as they are to coping with natural disasters, believed the nation had been well prepared. Many billions of dollars had been spent on world-class infrastructure, with state-of-the-art levees designed to deal with nature’s wrath.
But the levee in an area northwest of the capital city of Tokyo, home to millions of people, was one of at least 55 breached throughout the country as Hagibis dumped record-breaking rains and floodwaters, killing upwards of 70 people and submerging more than 10,000 homes.
Now the island nation’s government must reexamine long-held assumptions that disaster management is a problem solvable by engineering. It begs the question, not only for Japan but the rest of the world, that any system, however designed or costly, can protect from future storms made ever more powerful by climate change.
Daniel Aldrich, a disaster management expert, said that huge engineering projects have often provided a false sense of security. “A lot of societies in North America or Singapore or Japan [are] fixated on the idea that we’ll engineer our way out of this problem,” he said. “We’ll build floating buildings or better sensors…but what do you do if your cellphone doesn’t work? Or [there’s no] electricity?” Rather than focusing on engineering as the solution to dealing with the effects of global climate change, Aldrich believes officials “should be placing more emphasis on so-called soft measures like encouraging neighbors to help each other evacuate ahead of a disaster.” Additional read: As The Climate Warms, Companies Scramble To Calculate The Risk To Their Profits (NPR)
Technology Run Amok: Darknet, Darker Times Aided By Bitcoin
- Law enforcement officials announced on Wednesday the arrest of 338 people worldwide who are accused of involvement in a South Korea-based dark web child pornography site. The “Welcome To Video” website relied on bitcoin cryptocurrency to sell access to 250,000 videos depicting child sexual abuse, including footage of extremely young children being raped.
- The site’s vast library is part of what authorities say is an explosion of sexual abuse content online, with “increases in severity, scale and complexity.” The website was among the first to monetize child pornography using bitcoin, which allows users to hide their identities during financial transactions.
- The site collected at least $370,000 worth of bitcoin, laundered through three unnamed digital currency exchanges, before being taken down last year.
- Darknet websites are designed to be nearly impossible to locate online; how authorities managed to locate and bring down the site isn’t clear.
- So far officials have rescued at least 23 underage victims in the US, Britain and Spain who were being actively abused by users of the site. (Reuters)
Terminator 2: Judgemental Day
- All around the globe, billions of dollars are being poured into AI innovations that are explosively recasting how low-income people interact with the state. The changes are being planned by engineers and coders behind closed doors, in secure government locations far from public view.
- It is a tech revolution that is transforming the welfare system worldwide — the nascent “digital welfare state” — and its predictive algorithms, risk modeling and biometrics will penalize the most vulnerable. (Guardian)
- ‘Digital welfare state’: big tech allowed to target and surveil the poor, UN is warned (Guardian)
- In WWII Allied forces fought a bloody battle with Japan on the South Pacific island of Tulagi. Its natural deepwater harbor made it a military gem. Now, under a secretive deal signed last month with a provincial government in the Solomon Islands, a Beijing-based company with close ties to the Chinese Communist Party has secured exclusive development rights for the entire island and its surroundings.
- Tulagi residents and American officials were shocked after learning of the lease agreement. The US considers South Pacific island chains as crucial to keeping China in check and protecting important sea routes.
- One expert said “China is expanding its military assets into the South Pacific and is looking for friendly ports and friendly airfields just like other rising powers before them.” (NYT)
- Additional quote: “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” – Sun Tzu
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Rising Tides Wash Away Sand Castles
- After an overwhelming bipartisan vote in the House Wednesday afternoon opposing President Trump’s decision to abruptly withdraw troops from Syria, Congressional members met with the president at the White House. But Democrats walked out after what Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters was Trump having a “meltdown” in the meeting, looking shaken, and “not relating to reality.”
- Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the president was not engaged in a dialogue, but “a nasty diatribe, not focused on the facts, particularly the fact of how to curtail ISIS that aims to hurt the United States in our homeland.”
- Earlier in the day Trump defended his decision to pull US forces from Syria, telling reporters at a photo op that Syria and Turkey “have a problem at the border; it’s not our border,” and that “they’ve got a lot of sand over there. There’s a lot of sand they can play with.” (NPR)
Who Is Pulling The Strings And Untying These Loose Ends?
- Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney is up to his eyeballs in the abortive “Ukraine Must Investigate Joe Biden or Not Get Military Aid” scandal. Last May Mulvany arranged to have America’s interactions with Ukraine stripped away from the National Security Council and the State Department and given instead to an unlikely trio who call themselves “the three amigos” — diplomats Gordon Sondland and Kurt Volker, plus Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
- Mulvaney’s role in enlisting Sondland and the others to take over relations with Ukraine was revealed Tuesday by George Kent, the State Department’s Ukraine expert, in testimony before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees.
- Officials said Mulvaney met frequently with Sondland and that details of their discussions were kept from then-National Security Adviser John Bolton and other officials who were raising internal concerns about the president’s hidden Ukraine agenda. (WaPo)
- 2014 photo shows earlier ties between Trump and indicted Giuliani associate: Trump has sought to distance himself from Lev Parnas as evidence of their ties mounts. (Politico)
Additional USA News
- Your Neighbor’s Christian Education, Courtesy of Your Tax Dollars: The Court will hear one of the most notable “Church and state” cases in years. (Atlantic, $)
- What Teaching Ethics in Appalachia Taught Me About Bridging America’s Partisan Divide: There’s a language for talking about hot-button issues. And we’re not learning it. (Politico)
- ‘I don’t think they know we exist’: In a small Alabama town, a quest to be recognized in one of America’s most powerless places (WaPo, $)
- Minneapolis mayor: We saw Trump stiffing cities for his other rallies, so we told him to pay up (WaPo, $)
The Heart Wants What It Wants
- A major new study of the health and evolution of cardiac muscles, published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), involved scanning the hearts of untamed primates and a wide variety of men. The purpose was to compare for the first time, the looks and inner workings of human hearts and those of our closest primate cousins — chimpanzees and gorillas.
- The study indicates that hearts adapt in telling ways to the needs of their owners. Before now researchers had not examined whether and how this changing of the heart, known as its plasticity, might have played out during our evolution as a species and what that process could mean for our heart health today.
- The findings also suggest that not getting enough of the right kind of exercise could mean that our hearts start to look a little less human, and could impact our long-term health.
- Bottom line: primates were born to clamber and climb; humans were born to walk and run. (NYT)
“If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.” – Epictetus
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