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News 21.03.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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News 21.03.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
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On the last day of February, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its most dire report yet. The Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, had, he said, “seen many scientific reports in my time, but nothing like this.” Setting aside diplomatic language, he described the document as “an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership,” and added that “the world’s biggest polluters are guilty of arson of our only home.” Then, just a few hours later, at the opening of a rare emergency special session of the U.N. General Assembly, he catalogued the horrors of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and declared, “Enough is enough.” Citing Putin’s declaration of a nuclear alert, the war could, Guterres said, turn into an atomic conflict, “with potentially disastrous implications for us all.”

What unites these two crises is combustion. Burning fossil fuel has driven the temperature of the planet ever higher, melting most of the sea ice in the summer Arctic, bending the jet stream, and slowing the Gulf Stream. And selling fossil fuel has given Putin both the money to equip an army (oil and gas account for sixty per cent of Russia’s export earnings) and the power to intimidate Europe by threatening to turn off its supply. Fossil fuel has been the dominant factor on the planet for centuries, and so far nothing has been able to profoundly alter that. After Putin invaded, the American Petroleum Institute insisted that our best way out of the predicament was to pump more oil. The climate talks in Glasgow last fall, which John Kerry, the U.S. envoy, had called the “last best hope” for the Earth, provided mostly vague promises about going “net-zero by 2050”; it was a festival of obscurantism, euphemism, and greenwashing, which the young climate activist Greta Thunberg summed up as “blah, blah, blah.” Even people trying to pay attention can’t really keep track of what should be the most compelling battle in human history.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

News 21.03.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 21.03.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

In the world as it existed before Russia invaded Ukraine, on February 24th, the Vnukovo International Airport, in Moscow, was a point of departure for weekend-holiday destinations south of the border: Yerevan, Istanbul, Baku. In the first week of March, as tens of thousands of President Vladimir Putin’s troops advanced into Ukraine, Vnukovo teemed with anxious travellers, many of them young. The line for excess baggage split the giant departure hall in half. These people weren’t going for the weekend.

In a coffee shop, a skinny young man with shoulder-length hair and steel-framed glasses sat at a tall counter. “I haven’t done much in the last day,” he told someone through his headphones, sounding more nervous than apologetic. “I’ve been busy with my move. I am flying to Yerevan today, then overland. I’ll be settled tomorrow and back to work.” The flight to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, was later cancelled. Two of my friends who were also scheduled to go to Armenia that day ended up flying seven hours to Ulaanbaatar, then three hours to Seoul, ten to Dubai, and a final three to Yerevan. My friends, a prominent gay journalist and his partner, were among the Russians—more than a quarter of a million, by some estimates—who have left their country since the invasion of Ukraine.

From Moscow, it’s a four-hour flight to Istanbul. There, you could spot the recently arrived: they had the disoriented look best summed up by the Russian expression “hit over the head with a dusty sack.” Snippets of conversations I overheard in the streets concerned possible next destinations. Istanbul is easy to get to, but it’s pricey, and Russian citizens can stay in Turkey for only two months without a visa. At a low table on a restaurant terrace, a crew of Russian journalists in their twenties scrolled through their phones looking for tickets (“There are two seats left to Tbilisi for next Sunday!” “Got one!”); they tried to figure out whether they’d ever be able to access their bank accounts, which were frozen by new restrictions from both Russia and the West; and they watched as the world as they knew it disappeared. Independent media outlets, now blocked in Russia, were deleting their Web sites and hiding YouTube videos and social-media posts to protect staff members who could face prosecution under new censorship laws. At home and abroad, Russians were wiping their social-media accounts to shield themselves and those who had liked or left comments on antiwar petitions, or even posts simply containing the word “war”—acts that were now punishable by up to fifteen years in prison. Russia was fast becoming an economic pariah: the lights were going out at Ikea, H&M, and Zara. Hundreds of thousands of people were losing their jobs.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

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My friend Peter Attia, a wellness and longevity expert who helps people live better lives, is dreaming up an invention to improve his own: a machine that shocks him with 100 volts of electricity every time he starts to engage with his online critics. “Every time I get attacked unfairly and answer an internet troll, it always gets worse and worse because the virtual crowd that shows up is made up of more trolls,” he told me. “But I never seem to learn.”

Attia is far from alone in his troll trouble. If you use the internet, the odds are about even that you’ll be mistreated there. A 2021 Pew Research report found that 41 percent of U.S. adults have personally experienced some form of online harassment. Fifty-five percent think it is a “major problem.” Seventy-five percent of the targets of online abuse say their most recent experience was on social media. I can’t think of any other area of voluntary interaction—with the possible exception of driving in rush-hour traffic—where people so frequently expose themselves to regular abuse.

But we are not helpless in the face of either online abusers or the ones flipping us off on the highway. In fact, they are mostly one and the same: bullies with personality disorders. And you can protect your happiness by dealing with them both in some tangible, practical ways.

Read the rest of this article at: The Atlantic

News 21.03.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 21.03.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

A voice says: “Close your left hand. Don’t ask yourself whether you’re asleep. Think about trees.”

I’m lying in bed. A sleep mask covers my eyes. A tangle of wires covers my left hand. At the tip of my ring finger, a sensor measures my heart rate. A flexible length of plastic embedded with circuits stretches from my palm to the top of my middle finger. This will record the hypnic jerks and spastic opening-hand motions that signal my entry into hypnagogia, the first stage of sleep, where thoughts slip free of conscious control.

There’s a laptop on the bedside table; the screen shows fluctuating green and red lines. Adam Haar Horowitz, who is running the experiment, speaks to me over Zoom, monitoring my somatic information. The device I wear is called a Dormio. It was developed by Adam and a team of professors and researchers at the MIT Media Lab to facilitate “dream incubation,” the shaping of dreams according to words or images chosen by the dreamer. I’m wearing a prototype. Adam envisions a time when the components of the Dormio will be widely available; anyone will be able to download its blueprint and, with a few cheap premade circuits, construct her own dream incubator.

The way it works is simple. The device connects to a website where you can record a voice message to yourself—“think about trees”—that will play as you begin to fall asleep. Dormio detects when you enter hypnagogia, waits a short period, then awakens you and prompts you to describe what you’re experiencing, and sends the recording to your hard drive. You can also alter the parameters of awakening, which enables you to enter deeper or shallower levels of sleep. This first time, Adam is manning the controls himself; his is the voice reminding me to think about trees.

I settle into bed. The Dormio feels light on my hand, and I soon forget about it. My eyes are closed under the mask.

“Hold the image of a tree in your mind.”

I’m not going to be able to do this, I think. A spark of nervous energy runs through my legs.

“Relax. Don’t ask yourself whether you’re asleep. Think about trees.”

Okay, I think. Trees. I don’t want to disappoint Adam. He’s been so nice. I’m not feeling sleepy at all. I briefly consider lying. I could tell him I’m seeing people turning into trees, I’m seeing tree people. What are they called? Ents.

Stop it, I think. He’s got me strapped to this device. He can see my heart rate and everything. He’d see I was lying instantly. Shut up and think about trees.

Okay. Focus. Just trees in general? I can’t think about trees in general. What was that Wordsworth line about trees? “Of many, one.” One tree. The magnolia tree in my backyard. I picture it. Pendulous pink blossoms, pale bark, spreading branches . . .

Read the rest of this article at: Harper’s Magazine

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News 21.03.22 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

How and why did the modern world and its unprecedented prosperity begin? Learned tomes by historians, economists, political scientists and other scholars fill many bookshelves with explanations of how and why the process of modern economic growth or ‘the Great Enrichment’ exploded in western Europe in the 18th century. One of the oldest and most persuasive explanations is the long political fragmentation of Europe. For centuries, no ruler had ever been able to unite Europe the way the Mongols and the Mings had united China.

It should be emphasised that Europe’s success was not the result of any inherent superiority of European (much less Christian) culture. It was rather what is known as a classical emergent property, a complex and unintended outcome of simpler interactions on the whole. The modern European economic miracle was the result of contingent institutional outcomes. It was neither designed nor planned. But it happened, and once it began, it generated a self-reinforcing dynamic of economic progress that made knowledge-driven growth both possible and sustainable.

How did this work? In brief, Europe’s political fragmentation spurred productive competition. It meant that European rulers found themselves competing for the best and most productive intellectuals and artisans. The economic historian Eric L Jones called this ‘the States system’. The costs of European political division into multiple competing states were substantial: they included almost incessant warfare, protectionism, and other coordination failures. Many scholars now believe, however, that in the long run the benefits of competing states might have been larger than the costs. In particular, the existence of multiple competing states encouraged scientific and technological innovation.

The idea that European political fragmentation, despite its evident costs, also brought great benefits, enjoys a distinguished lineage. In the closing chapter of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1789)Edward Gibbon wrote: ‘Europe is now divided into 12 powerful, though unequal, kingdoms.’ Three of them he called ‘respectable commonwealths’, the rest ‘a variety of smaller, though independent, states’. The ‘abuses of tyranny are restrained by the mutual influence of fear and shame’, Gibbon wrote, adding that ‘republics have acquired order and stability; monarchies have imbibed the principles of freedom, or, at least, of moderation; and some sense of honour and justice is introduced into the most defective constitutions by the general manners of the times.’

In other words, the rivalries between the states, and their examples to one another, also meliorated some of the worst possibilities of political authoritarianism. Gibbon added that ‘in peace, the progress of knowledge and industry is accelerated by the emulation of so many active rivals’. Other Enlightenment writers, David Hume and Immanuel Kant for example, saw it the same way. From the early 18th-century reforms of Russia’s Peter the Great, to the United States’ panicked technological mobilisation in response to the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of Sputnik, interstate competition was a powerful economic mover. More important, perhaps, the ‘states system’ constrained the ability of political and religious authorities to control intellectual innovation. If conservative rulers clamped down on heretical and subversive (that is, original and creative) thought, their smartest citizens would just go elsewhere (as many of them, indeed, did).

Read the rest of this article at: aeon

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

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