Cheerful or not

Jul 22

The Malaysia Airlines crash is the end of Russia’s fairy tale || Anne Applebaum (Washington Post) -

Before there is any further discussion of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, it’s important that one point be made absolutely clear: This plane crash is a result of the Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine, an operation deliberately designed to create legal, political and military chaos. Without this chaos, a surface-to-air missile would not have been fired at a passenger plane.

From the beginning, the Russian government did not send regular soldiers to Ukraine. Instead, it sent Russian mercenaries and security service operatives such as Igor Strelkov — the commander in chief in Donetsk and a Russian secret police colonel who fought in both Chechen wars — and Vladimir Antyufeyev, the Donetsk “deputy prime minister” who led the Latvian KGB’s attempt to overthrow the independent Latvian government in 1991.

With the help of local thugs, these Russian security men besieged police stations, government offices and other symbols of political authority to delegitimize the Ukrainian state. In this task, they were assisted by the Russian government and by Russia’s state-controlled mass media, both of which still constantly denigrate Ukraine and its “Nazi” government. Just in the past week, Russian reporting on Ukraine reached a new pitch of hysteria, with fake stories about the supposed crucifixion of a child and an extraordinary documentary comparing the Ukrainian army’s defense of its own country with the Rwandan genocide.

Into this ambiguous and unstable situation, the Russians cynically funneled a stream of heavy weapons: machine guns and artillery and, eventually, tanks, armed personnel carriers and anti-aircraft missiles. In recent days, the separatist forces were openly using man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS) and boasting of having taken down large Ukrainian transport planes, clearly with Russian specialist assistance. Indeed, Strelkov on Thursday afternoon reportedly boasted online of having taken down another military plane before realizing that the plane in question was MH17. The blog post was removed. In late June, several different Russian media sources published photographs of Buk anti-aircraft missiles that they said had been captured by the separatists — though they were probably outright gifts from Russia. These posts have also been removed.

This is the context within which a surface-to-air missile was aimed at a passenger plane: a lawless environment; irregular soldiers who might not be so good at reading radar; a nihilistic disregard for human life; scorn for international norms, rules or standards. Just for the record: There weren’t any Ukrainian government-controlled anti-aircraft missiles in eastern Ukraine because the separatists were not flying airplanes….

If it has done nothing else, the crash of Flight 17 has just put an end to the “it’s not a real war” fairy tale, both for the Russians and for the West. Tragically, this unconventional non-war war just killed 298 people, mostly Europeans. We can’t pretend it isn’t happening any longer or that it doesn’t affect anyone outside of Donetsk. The Russians can’t pretend either.

Nemophila or baby blue eyes (by Megu; via Colossal)

Nemophila or baby blue eyes (by Megu; via Colossal)

Hong Kong (by Simon Kwan; via National Geographic)

Hong Kong (by Simon Kwan; via National Geographic)

Jul 18


Jul 17

After liftoff from the Moon, the lunar module approaches the Command and Service Modules for docking, with earthrise in background. (by NASA; via In Focus)

After liftoff from the Moon, the lunar module approaches the Command and Service Modules for docking, with earthrise in background. (by NASA; via In Focus)

Launch of Apollo 11, on July 16, 1969. Fully fueled for liftoff, the Saturn V weighed 2.8 million kilograms (6.2 million pounds) — and generated 34.5 million newtons (7.6 million pounds) of thrust at launch. (by NASA; via In Focus)

Launch of Apollo 11, on July 16, 1969. Fully fueled for liftoff, the Saturn V weighed 2.8 million kilograms (6.2 million pounds) — and generated 34.5 million newtons (7.6 million pounds) of thrust at launch. (by NASA; via In Focus)

Moon Eclipses Saturn (by Carlos Di Nallo; via APOD)

Moon Eclipses Saturn (by Carlos Di Nallo; via APOD)


Jul 15

French Jewry’s Moment of Truth || Commentary Magazine -

On July 13, Bernard Abouaf, a French Jewish journalist, posted on his Facebook wall: “I just passed through one of the truest moments in my life.” A bit earlier, he had been an eyewitness to a pogrom attempt.

About one hundred Muslim thugs had gathered in front of the Don Isaac Abravanel synagogue in Central Paris, a few blocks away from Place de la Bastille (Bastille Circle), and threatened to storm it. Two to three hundred worshipers, who had gathered for a pro-Israel religious service, were locked inside. There were five police officers to protect them–and two dozen Jewish youths trained in martial arts who were members of the Jewish community sponsored Security Organization or of the more militant Jewish Defense League.

For Abouaf, whose family is of Tunisian Jewish descent, the whole scene looked like a reenactment of the storming and torching of the Great Synagogue in Tunis during the Six-Day War in 1967: a traumatic event that accelerated the flight of Tunisian Jews to France or to Israel.

“What I have seen today,” he remarked, “is Arab hatred against Jews. Pure hatred. Right in the middle of Paris. Don’t try to ‘explain’ or ‘understand’, it was hatred, period.”

… Similar incidents occurred all over Greater Paris and France at about the same time. The morning before–that is to say, on the Sabbath–a Molotov cocktail was thrown into a synagogue at Aulnay-sous-Bois, a Parisian suburb. At Asnieres, another suburb, the police said a Muslim mob of 300 gathered in front of the synagogue and shouted anti-Israel slogans for about half an hour. Smaller group of Muslim mobsters attempted to get into the Belleville synagogue, in northeastern Paris, and into the Tournelles synagogue, in the Marais district.

No less horrid were the many pro-Palestinian rallies, in Paris, Marseilles, Lille, Bordeaux, and other cities, complete with Palestinian and ISIS flags and proudly displayed fake Fajr rockets. The demonstrators–almost all of them of North African or Subsaharan African origin–shouted explicitly anti-Semitic slogans, notably “Itbah al-Yahud!” (Slaughter the Jews, in Arabic.)

Hyper-Efficient Indoor Vegetable Factories Prove Malthus Wrong, Again || via Meadia -

A Japanese scientist working in conjunction with General Electric has developed an indoor vegetable factory that can produce huge crop yields in a small area—and one that’s well nigh impervious to droughts and extreme weather. Japanese plant physiologist Shigeharu Shimemura created an high-tech indoor farm in a disused Sony factory that grows lettuce in tightly packed stacks under ultra-thin LED’s….

By monitoring the photosynthesis process carefully, the system grows lettuce two-and-a-half times faster than an outdoor farm.

It also cuts waste product by 40 per cent and productivity per square foot is up 100-fold.

Doomsayers have long warned that we are nearing the limits of human productivity. But over and over they are proved wrong by technological innovations.

A foal snuggles up to its mother at a private zoo in Querétaro, Mexico (by Oscar Medina; via National Geographic)

A foal snuggles up to its mother at a private zoo in Querétaro, Mexico (by Oscar Medina; via National Geographic)

Jul 10

Eduard Shevardnadze || The Economist -

Eduard Shevardnadze, Soviet foreign minister and then president of Georgia, died on July 7th aged 86

The obscure provincial leader was at first sight an unlikely choice to be foreign minister of the world’s largest country. Eduard Shevardnadze did not even want the job: he spoke only his native Georgian and heavily accented Russian, had no important foreign contacts, and had barely travelled abroad. But Mikhail Gorbachev was immovable. The new Soviet leader wanted big changes—and the “Silver Fox”, his friend since the 1950s, to make them.

After decades in which policy had crunched downhill like a glacier, the new man at the foreign ministry brought stunning shifts. Its trademark surly silence gave way to openness and charm. Taboos flew out of the window. He decried ideology and the class struggle, once the mainsprings of foreign policy, as useless. Arms spending too: it brought weakness, not strength. Only friendship with the West could end backwardness and isolation….

Mr Shevardnadze forged notable friendships with his American and German counterparts. The hardliners back home, with their grumbling jargon and rigid mindsets, were a greater obstacle.

Seemingly, he was cut from the same cloth. He had joined the party at the height of the Stalin era. A ferocious local official, he brought even the sybaritic Georgians to follow Party discipline. A possibly apocryphal story relates how he called a show of hands on some anodyne motion at a meeting of senior officials, on his first day as anti-corruption chief there. As the grey-clad arms went up, he inspected every wrist—and remarked caustically how strange it was that the servants of the proletariat could afford pricey Western watches. Other tactics were tougher: mass arrests, beatings, torture and executions. He jailed dissidents and cracked down on those trying to defend Georgian language and culture from Russification.

Jul 08


Venice (by Halszka Tutaj-Gasinska; via National Geographic)

Venice (by Halszka Tutaj-Gasinska; via National Geographic)

Jul 01

40 Years on, the Barcode Has Turned Everything Into Information || WIRED -

[P]utting barcodes on chocolate bars and instant oatmeal did more than revolutionize the economy, or the size of grocery stores. Thanks to bar codes, stuff was no longer just stuff. After a thing gets a barcode, that thing is no longer just itself. That thing now comes wrapped in a layer of information hovering just beyond sight in the digital ether. The thing becomes itself plus its data points, not just a physical object unto itself but tagged as a node in a global network of things. Barcodes serve up the augmented reality of the everyday, where everything can be cross-referenced with everything else, and everything has a number….

In 1949, grad school dropout Joe Woodland drew Morse code dots and dashes on a Florida beach, then drew vertical lines down from each character to tease out the first prototype of the modern barcode. Less than a century later, the physical world teems with metadata just waiting for a smartphone to reveal its “presence.” Even today’s barcodes themselves aren’t limited to information about an object’s price, owner or location, but can convey instructions to a 3-D printer to create the object itself. That pack of Juicy Fruit that Haberman helped send past the cash register is now in the Smithsonian. Perhaps the next pack of gum to enter the museum’s collection will be the one the food fabricator on your counter made for you when you pulled its barcode from an iPhone app and waved it past the scanner in your kitchen.

Barcodes did not merely speed up economic processes but opened up new spaces of economic possibilities, entirely new configurations that indeed changed the world of business but also the cultural and physical landscapes we all share. This simple technology accelerated the pace of globalization, not just by increasing the speed at which trade could take place but also by enabling entire industries to take on new shapes, to inhabit new forms. The evolution of the bar code has expanded the global economy’s capacity to evolve.