Who Wood Have Thought?
October 26, 2021
The Good News
- Endangered orangutan in New Orleans expecting twins (AP)
- Scientists used a tiny brain implant to help a blind teacher see letters again (NPR)
“If you put the federal government in charge of the Sahara Desert, in 5 years there’d be a shortage of sand.” — Milton Friedman
Prince at the Scene of the Crime
Saad Aljabri was Saudi Arabia’s No. 2 intelligence official. A close ally of U.S. intelligence since 2001, he lives in exile in Toronto. In August 2020, Aljabri filed a federal lawsuit in Washington D.C. accusing Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) of targeting him for assassination and holding two of his children hostage because he has knowledge of damaging secrets about the prince’s rise to power.
Aljabri alleges in the lengthy, detailed complaint that MBS orchestrated a conspiracy to kill him in Canada that parallels the one resulting in the 2018 death and dismemberment of dissident Saudi journalist and Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi. MBS became a pariah after Khashoggi’s death; members of Congress once considered stalwart allies of the kingdom threatened to upend decades of economic and security cooperation between the two countries. The CIA later assessed that MBS likely ordered Khashoggi’s assassination personally, but President Trump gave him cover by refusing to accept the CIA’s conclusion. Trump said the crown prince had assured him he had nothing to do with what Trump called “an unacceptable and horrible crime.”
Aljabri’s lawsuit claims that MBS implanted malware on his phone and sent agents to the U.S. to find him. Once Aljabri was located, MBS sent a “hit squad” to kill him. Canadian customs officials intercepted the team and discovered they were carrying forensic tools that could have been used to dismember a corpse — a grisly reminder of the Khashoggi case. The complaint also says Saudi authorities arrested and imprisoned one of Aljabri’s sons, Omar, 22, and a daughter, Sarah, 20, “all in an effort to bait [Aljabri] back to Saudi Arabia to be killed.” Numerous U.S. elected officials and former members of the Clinton and Bush administrations urged Trump to do something to secure Aljabri’s children’s freedom; instead, Trump sought ways to protect MBS from legal liability.
Sunday night, in an interview on CBS “60 Minutes,” Saad Aljabri called the Saudi crown prince a “psychopath” who “poses a threat to his people, to the Americans and to the planet.” Aljabri described watching a video of a meeting that allegedly took place in 2014 between MBS and his cousin, Mohammed bin Nayef (MBN), then the country’s head of intelligence. “He [MBS] told him [MBN], ‘I want to assassinate King Abdullah. I get a poison ring from Russia. It’s enough for me just to shake hands with him and he will be done,’” Aljabri said. “That what he say. Whether he’s just bragging or, but he said that and we took it seriously.” King Abdullah died in January 2015 at age 90, after which his half-brother, King Salman, MBS’ father, ascended to the throne. (WaPo, CBS News, CNN)
Pakistan Releases Protesters
- Blasphemy against Islam and Prophet Mohammed can carry a compulsory death sentence in Pakistan. In 2009, a Christian woman was charged with blasphemy, tried, and sentenced to death. In 2018, she was acquitted and released. Supporters of the far-right Islamist party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) and other religious groups began protesting despite warnings from Prime Minister Imran Khan.
- In April 2021, TLP leader Saad Hussain Rizvi called for the expulsion of the French ambassador to Pakistan over so-called Islamophobic comments made by French President Emmanuel Macron last October. After TLP activists blocked highways, railways, and access routes to cities and battled police, authorities arrested Rizvi and banned the group.
- Protests again erupted in several cities. Authorities tried negotiating with the group, but talks broke down and supporters from around Pakistan were called to converge on Islamabad. On Friday, three police officers were killed in clashes; on Sunday, the government released 350 TLP workers, vowing to reassess charges against them. Negotiations were said to be entering a “final round” on Monday in Islamabad. (Al Jazeera)
Sudancing In The Coup-light
- Sudan has been governed by a civilian-military transitional council since the overthrow of longtime dictator Omar Hassan al-Bashir over two years ago. The civilian side of the government had set a November 17 deadline for a full transition to civilian power. But on Monday, Sudan’s military detained the prime minister, dissolved the government, and declared a state of emergency, which could mark the end of the long-awaited democratic transition.
- The coup comes just days after the U.S. envoy to the region met with Sudan’s military leaders and warned them that American support aiming to prop up an economic renewal after decades of sanctions was conditional on sticking to an agreement that would see power put squarely in civilian hands this year.
- The Biden administration immediately announced it will suspend $700 million in bilateral assistance to Sudan in response to the military’s takeover. A spokesperson for the State Department said the military had been called on to release civilian leaders, restore civilian control, and refrain from using violence, including live ammunition, against protesters. (WaPo)
Additional World News
- Afghanistan facing desperate food crisis, UN warns (BBC)
- Amnesty to close Hong Kong offices over National Security Law (BBC)
- ASEAN leaders hold summit with Myanmar’s general shut out (AP)
- Traveling Through a Divided Israel (NYT, $)
- Greenhouse gas levels hit record; world struggles to curb damage (Reuters)
- German court sentences IS woman to 10 years in prison (ABC)
- Budget 2021: NHS in England to receive £5.9bn to cut waiting lists (BBC)
- Red Cross calls for urgent help for PNG after record COVID surge (Al Jazeera)
The Ron Side Of The Law
- Florida’s Republican governor Ron DeSantis says he is actively working to recruit those out-of-state anti-vaccine police officers who are unhappy with their department’s vaccine mandates. “NYPD [New York], Minneapolis, Seattle, if you’re not being treated well, we will treat you better here. You can fill important needs for us, and we will compensate you as a result.”
- DeSantis hopes in the next legislative session to sign a bill that gives a $5,000 bonus to anyone in law enforcement who relocates in Florida. Like other Republican politicians in Donald Trump’s shadow, DeSantis has attacked public health measures meant to combat Covid-19, which has killed over 735,000 in the U.S. and 59,000 in Florida. Right-wing media figures and politicians are using opposition to those public measures to attack the Biden administration and other Democratic authorities. (Guardian)
Take That To The Banks
- Another Republican politician is using a socially divisive topic to hammer Twitter after the company locked his account for intentionally misgendering a high-ranking transgender official — an act the social media platform deemed “hateful.” Last week, Representative Jim Banks of Indiana sent a pair of tweets reacting to news of Dr. Rachel Levine, the country’s first openly transgender service person, being sworn in as a four-star admiral with the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, saying the honor had been “taken by a man.”
- In a follow-up tweet, Banks said: “Calling someone that was born and lived as a man for 54 years the first ‘female’ four-star officer is an insult to every little girl who dreams of breaking glass ceilings one day.” Banks told his followers if social media platforms could “cancel” him, the companies would soon silence them, too. He joins a growing chorus of Republican politicians, including Donald Trump and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga), who’ve railed against social media companies that have blocked comments labeled as hateful or misinformation. (WaPo)
Additional USA News
- AP source: Manchin agreeable to wealth tax for Biden plan (AP)
- A QAnon conspiracy theory about election fraud is becoming a pro-Trump push for traceable ballots (USA Today)
- Report: Rally organizers say GOP lawmakers worked on Jan. 6 protests (The Hill)
- Two people killed and officer among four injured in Boise mall shooting, police say (CNN)
- DNA testing helps identify a man who was killed by John Wayne Gacy (NPR)
- Biden administration unveils new Covid vaccine, testing requirements for travel into US (NBC)
- Tornadoes hit Missouri with severe storm threat shifting to Mid-Atlantic (WaPo, $)
Who Wood Have Thought?
- A way to define the stages of human civilization is by material progress. The Stone Age began about 2.6 million years ago, when researchers found the earliest evidence of humans using stone tools, giving way to the Bronze Age and then the Iron Age. We’re currently living in the hydrocarbon age, fueled by coal, oil, and gas. These fossil fuels supply our energy needs and make possible the materials that define our civilization: steel, concrete, and plastic. Scientists know that carbon dioxide and plastic waste are destroying our planet so we have to move on from using hydrocarbons — and fast. Many of them think that wood could be the answer.
- Scientists who’ve been studying how wood can be formed in a lab can imagine a wood-based, climate-saving economy rescuing the planet. Wood can already be processed into a super-material with extraordinary properties. Teng Li at the University of Maryland and his colleagues developed a material called hardened wood which is 23 times harder than raw wood and can be carved to make knives three times sharper than standard steel ones. A coating of mineral oil makes the knives resistant to water. The key to making the knives so sharp was using strong cellulose fibers found in plant cell walls, which make up almost half the mass of wood. “The hardened wood knives can be washed, dried, and resharpened if needed so that an extended lifetime is expected,” Teng says.
- People around the world in materials science labs and design studios are working on the theory that one day an entire civilization can be built from wood. A materials scientist, also at the University of Maryland, says “Wood could be used in cars.” He received a massive grant to build cars out of high-tech wood. And Japanese engineers are working on wooden concept cars as we speak. (phys.org, New Scientist, phys.org, CNET, Gear Patrol)
- Mammoths and other extinct Ice Age giants clung on longer than previously thought, DNA analysis suggests (CNN)
- A Cosmic Ray Event Pinpoints the Viking Landing in Canada (Wired)
- When it comes to solar farms, sheep are great groundskeepers (Ars Technica)
- 100-million-year old crab in amber rewrites ancient crustacean history (CNET)
- Deepest earthquake ever detected struck 467 miles beneath Japan (NatGeo)
- Hawaiian scientists discover one of the youngest planets ever seen (CBS)
- For sleepy Hong Kong residents, 5-hour bus tour is a snooze (AP)