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News 12.16.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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News 12.16.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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News 12.16.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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The South China Sea is the most important body of water for the world economy—through it passes at least one-third of global trade. It is also the most dangerous body of water in the world, the place where the militaries of the United States and China could most easily collide.

Chinese and American warships have just barely averted several incidents there over the past few years, and the Chinese military has warned off U.S. jets flying above. In July, the two nations carried out competing naval exercises in those waters. Given what is called the growing “strategic rivalry” between Washington and Beijing, the specter of an accident that in turn triggers a larger military confrontation preoccupies strategists in both capitals.

These tensions grow out of a disagreement between the two countries as to whether the South China Sea is Chinese territory, a quarrel that speaks to a deeper dispute about maritime sovereignty, how it is decided upon, and the fundamental rights of movement in those waters.

Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic

News 12.16.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 12.16.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

The Doomsday Machine was never supposed to exist. It was meant to be a thought experiment that went like this: Imagine a device built with the sole purpose of destroying all human life. Now suppose that machine is buried deep underground, but connected to a computer, which is in turn hooked up to sensors in cities and towns across the United States.

The sensors are designed to sniff out signs of the impending apocalypse—not to prevent the end of the world, but to complete it. If radiation levels suggest nuclear explosions in, say, three American cities simultaneously, the sensors notify the Doomsday Machine, which is programmed to detonate several nuclear warheads in response. At that point, there is no going back. The fission chain reaction that produces an atomic explosion is initiated enough times over to extinguish all life on Earth. There is a terrible flash of light, a great booming sound, then a sustained roar. We have a word for the scale of destruction that the Doomsday Machine would unleash: megadeath.

Nobody is pining for megadeath. But megadeath is not the only thing that makes the Doomsday Machine petrifying. The real terror is in its autonomy, this idea that it would be programmed to detect a series of environmental inputs, then to act, without human interference. “There is no chance of human intervention, control, and final decision,” wrote the military strategist Herman Kahn in his 1960 book, On Thermonuclear War, which laid out the hypothetical for a Doomsday Machine. The concept was to render nuclear war unwinnable, and therefore unthinkable.

Kahn concluded that automating the extinction of all life on Earth would be immoral. Even an infinitesimal risk of error is too great to justify the Doomsday Machine’s existence. “And even if we give up the computer and make the Doomsday Machine reliably controllable by decision makers,” Kahn wrote, “it is still not controllable enough.” No machine should be that powerful by itself—but no one person should be either.

Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic

The Balmoral in Chestnut

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Even before the new mine became the main topic of village conversation, João Cassote, a 44-year-old livestock farmer, was thinking about making a change. Living off the land in his mountainous part of northern Portugal was a grind. Of his close childhood friends, he was the only one who hadn’t gone overseas in search of work. So, in 2017, when he heard of a British company prospecting for lithium in the region of Trás-os-Montes, Cassote called his bank and asked for a €200,000 loan. He bought a John Deere tractor, an earthmover and a portable water-storage tank.

The exploration team of the UK-based mining company Savannah Resources had spent months poring over geological maps and surveys of the hills that ripple out from Cassote’s farm. Initial calculations indicated that they could contain more than 280,000 tonnes of lithium, a silver-white alkali metal – enough for 10 years’ production. Cassote got in touch with Savannah’s local office, and the mining firm duly contracted him to supply water to their test drilling site. The return on his investment was swift. After less than 12 months on the company’s books, Cassote had made what he would usually earn in five or six years on the farm.

Read the rest of this article at: The Guardian

News 12.16.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

IN CAPITAL IS DEAD, McKenzie Wark asks: What if we’re not in capitalism anymore but something worse? The question is provocative, sacrilegious, unsettling as it forces anti-capitalists to confront an unacknowledged attachment to capitalism. Communism was supposed to come after capitalism and it’s not here, so doesn’t that mean we are still in capitalism? Left unquestioned, this assumption hinders political analysis. If we’ve rejected strict historical determinism, we should be able to consider the possibility that capitalism has mutated into something qualitatively different. Wark’s question invites a thought experiment: what tendencies in the present indicate that capitalism is transforming itself into something worse?

Over the past decade, “neofeudalism” has emerged to name tendencies associated with extreme inequality, generalized precarity, monopoly power, and changes at the level of the state. Drawing from libertarian economist Tyler Cowen’s emphasis on the permanence of extreme inequality in the global, automated economy, the conservative geographer Joel Kotkin envisions the US future as mass serfdom. A property-less underclass will survive by servicing the needs of high earners as personal assistants, trainers, child-minders, cooks, cleaners, et cetera. The only way to avoid this neofeudal nightmare is by subsidizing and deregulating the high-employment industries that make the American lifestyle of suburban home ownership and the open road possible — construction and real estate; oil, gas, and automobiles; and corporate agribusiness. Unlike the specter of serfdom haunting Friedrich Hayek’s attack on socialism, Kotkin locates the adversary within capitalism. High tech, finance, and globalization are creating “a new social order that in some ways more closely resembles feudal structure — with its often unassailable barriers to mobility — than the chaotic emergence of industrial capitalism.” In this libertarian/conservative imaginary, feudalism occupies the place of the enemy formerly held by communism. The threat of centralization and the threat to private property are the ideological elements that remain the same.

A number of technology commentators share the libertarian/conservative critique of technology’s role in contemporary feudalization even as they don’t embrace fossil fuels and suburbia. Already in 2010, in his influential book, You Are Not a Gadget, tech guru Jaron Lanier observed the emergence of peasants and lords of the internet. This theme has increased in prominence as a handful of tech companies have become ever richer and more extractive, turning their owners into billionaires on the basis of the cheap labor of their workers, the free labor of their users, and the tax breaks bestowed on them by cities desperate to attract jobs. Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, and Alphabet (the parent company name for Google) together are worth more than most every country in the world (except the United States, China, Germany, and Japan). The economic scale and impact of these tech super giants, or, overlords, is greater than that of most so-called sovereign states. Evgeny Morozov describes their dominance as a “hyper-modern form of feudalism.”

Read the rest of this article at: Los Angeles Review Of Books

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News 12.16.20 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

In the months before Daphne’s death, a whistle-blower from Electrogas, the consortium behind Muscat’s power-station project, had been relaying e-mails and other documents to her from the company, practically in real time. Matthew had helped his mother receive and sort through the files, “but I didn’t know who the whistle-blower was,” he told me. After the murder, Matthew tracked down the source, and brought to the U.K. a hard drive containing the leaked documents.

Reporters from the Guardian and Reuters visited the country house. Then Daphne’s sons went to London to sort through their mother’s investigative materials with a group of journalists whom they trusted more than the Maltese police. The lead was a French reporter named Laurent Richard, who had set up a nonprofit called Forbidden Stories, to complete the investigations of journalists who are imprisoned or killed on the job. For the past several years, his mission had been to counter the incentive underlying the crime—to show that, Richard wrote, “even if you succeed in stopping a single messenger, you will not stop the message.” Forbidden Stories launched the Daphne Project, and forty-five reporters from eighteen publications in fifteen countries went to work.

“Because Malta is so endemically corrupt, you can’t tell yourself that the police are going to be doing their best,” Paul said. “You can’t tell yourself that the magistrate is on it. Any moment you spend away, there is, on the other side, a force pushing against you.”

Matthew and Andrew reached out to Bill Browder, an American financier and political activist who had successfully lobbied Congress for sanctions against the Russian government, after it detained and killed his friend and colleague Sergei Magnitsky. “Do at least three things a day to annoy them,” Browder advised. “There are three of you. It shouldn’t be hard.” He noted that, after the Russian journalists Boris Nemtsov and Anna Politkovskaya were murdered, the Council of Europe, the Continent’s main human-rights body, appointed a special rapporteur to scrutinize the Russian system.

Read the rest of this article at: The New York Times

P.S. previous articles & more by P.F.M.