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News 01.22.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

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News 01.22.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
@philippacraddock
News 01.22.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
@isabellopezquesada
News 01.22.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
@anoukyve

Human beings find comfort in certainty. We form governments, make calendars, and create organisations; and we structure our activities, strategies and plans around these constructs. These routines give us the satisfaction of knowing that, by having a plan, there’s a means of it coming to fruition.

But there’s another force, constantly at play in life, that often makes the greatest difference to our futures: the ‘unexpected’ or the ‘unforeseen’. If you think about it, you already look out for the unexpected every day, but perhaps only as a defence mechanism. For example, whenever you use a pedestrian crossing on a busy road, you look out for the unexpected driver who might race through the red light. That ‘alertness’ to, or awareness of, the unexpected is at the centre of understanding the science of (smart) luck and exploiting it to your benefit.

In my research into what makes individuals and organisations fit for the future, one insight has come up again and again: many of the world’s leading minds have developed a capacity, often unconscious, to turn the unexpected into positive outcomes. Developing this ‘serendipity mindset’, as I call it, is both a philosophy of life and a capability that you can shape and nurture in yourself. (Note, while this approach has been successful across many settings, it does need to go hand in hand with tackling the structural inequality related to factors such as race, gender and income.)

Read the rest of this article at: Psyche

News 01.22.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 01.22.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

On October 19, 2017, a Canadian astronomer named Robert Weryk was reviewing images captured by a telescope known as Pan-starrs1 when he noticed something strange. The telescope is situated atop Haleakalā, a ten-thousand-foot volcanic peak on the island of Maui, and it scans the sky each night, recording the results with the world’s highest-definition camera. It’s designed to hunt for “near-Earth objects,” which are mostly asteroids whose paths bring them into our planet’s astronomical neighborhood and which travel at an average velocity of some forty thousand miles an hour. The dot of light that caught Weryk’s attention was moving more than four times that speed, at almost two hundred thousand miles per hour.

Weryk alerted colleagues, who began tracking the dot from other observatories. The more they looked, the more puzzling its behavior seemed. The object was small, with an area roughly that of a city block. As it tumbled through space, its brightness varied so much—by a factor of ten—that it had to have a very odd shape. Either it was long and skinny, like a cosmic cigar, or flat and round, like a celestial pizza. Instead of swinging around the sun on an elliptical path, it was zipping away more or less in a straight line. The bright dot, astronomers concluded, was something never before seen. It was an “interstellar object”—a visitor from far beyond the solar system that was just passing through. In the dry nomenclature of the International Astronomical Union, it became known as 1I/2017 U1. More evocatively, it was dubbed ‘Oumuamua (pronounced “oh-mooah-mooah”), from the Hawaiian, meaning, roughly, “scout.”

Even interstellar objects have to obey the law of gravity, but ‘Oumuamua raced along as if propelled by an extra force. Comets get an added kick thanks to the gases they throw off, which form their signature tails. ‘Oumuamua, though, didn’t have a tail. Nor did the telescopes trained on it find evidence of any of the by-products normally associated with outgassing, like water vapor or dust.

“This is definitely an unusual object,” a video produced by nasa observed. “And, unfortunately, no more new observations of ‘Oumuamua are possible because it’s already too dim and far away.”

As astronomers pored over the data, they excluded one theory after another. ‘Oumuamua’s weird motion couldn’t be accounted for by a collision with another object, or by interactions with the solar wind, or by a phenomenon that’s known, after a nineteenth-century Polish engineer, as the Yarkovsky effect. One group of researchers decided that the best explanation was that 1I/2017 U1 was a “miniature comet” whose tail had gone undetected because of its “unusual chemical composition.” Another group argued that ‘Oumuamua was composed mostly of frozen hydrogen. This hypothesis—a variation on the mini-comet idea—had the advantage of explaining the object’s peculiar shape. By the time it reached our solar system, it had mostly melted away, like an ice cube on the sidewalk.

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

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The United States of America was founded on a conspiracy theory. In the lead-up to the War of Independence, revolutionaries argued that a tax on tea or stamps is not just a tax, but the opening gambit in a sinister plot of oppression. The signers of the Declaration of Independence were convinced — based on “a long train of abuses and usurpations” — that the king of Great Britain was conspiring to establish “an absolute Tyranny” over the colonies.

“The document itself is a written conspiracy theory,” says Nancy Rosenblum, a political theorist emerita at Harvard University. It suggests that there’s more going on than meets the eye, that someone with bad intentions is working behind the scenes.

If conspiracy theories are as old as politics, they’re also — in the era of Donald Trump and QAnon — as current as the latest headlines. Earlier this month, the American democracy born of an eighteenth century conspiracy theory faced its most severe threat yet — from another conspiracy theory, that (all evidence to the contrary) the 2020 presidential election was rigged. Are conspiracy theories truly more prevalent and influential today, or does it just seem that way?

Read the rest of this article at: NiemanLab

News 01.22.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 01.22.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

In the American Southwest, birds fell dead from the sky by the tens of thousands, succumbing mid-flight to starvation, emaciated by climate change.

Across the horn of Africa swarmed 200 billion locusts, 25 for every human on earth, darkening the sky in clouds as big as whole cities, descending on cropland and chewing through as much food as tens of millions of people eat in a day, eventually dying in such agglomerating mounds they stopped trains in their tracks — all told, 8,000 times as many locusts as could be expected in the absence of warming.

The fires, you know. Or do you? In California in 2020, twice as much land burned as had ever burned before in any year in the modern history of the state — five of the six biggest fires ever recorded. In Siberia, “zombie fires” smoldered anomalously all through the Arctic winter; in Brazil, a quarter of the Pantanal, the world’s largest wetland, was incinerated; in Australia, flames took the lives of 3 billion animals.

All year, a planet transformed by the burning of carbon discharged what would have once been called portents of apocalypse. The people of that planet, as a whole, didn’t take much notice — distracted by the pandemic and trained, both by the accumulating toll of recent disasters and the ever-rising volume of climate alarm, to see what might once have looked like brutal ruptures in lived reality instead as logical developments in a known pattern. Our time has been so stuffed with disasters that it was hard to see the arrival of perhaps the unlikeliest prophecy of all: that the plague year may have marked, for climate change, a turning point, and for the better.

When trying to share good news about climate, it pays to be cautious, since so many have looked foolish playing Pollyanna. A turning point isn’t an endgame, or a victory, or a cessation of the need to struggle — for speedier decarbonization, for a sturdier future, for climate justice. Already, a future without profound climate suffering has been almost certainly foreclosed by decades of inaction, which means the burden of managing those impacts equitably will be handed down, generation to generation, into an indefinite and contested climate future.

But if the arrival of Joe Biden in the White House feels like something of a fresh start, well, to a degree it is. The world’s most conspicuous climate villain has been deposed, and though Biden was hardly the first choice of environmentalists, his victory signals an effective end to the age of denial and the probable beginning of a new era of climate realism, with fights for progress shaped as much by choices as by first principles.

The change is much bigger than the turnover of American leadership. By the time the Biden presidency finds its footing in a vaccinated world, the bounds of climate possibility will have been remade. Just a half-decade ago, it was widely believed that a “business as usual” emissions path would bring the planet four or five degrees of warming — enough to make large parts of Earth effectively uninhabitable. Now, thanks to the rapid death of coal, the revolution in the price of renewable energy, and a global climate politics forged by a generational awakening, the expectation is for about three degrees. Recent pledges could bring us closer to two. All of these projections sketch a hazardous and unequal future, and all are clouded with uncertainties — about the climate system, about technology, about the dexterity and intensity of human response, about how inequitably the most punishing impacts will be distributed. Yet if each half-degree of warming marks an entirely different level of suffering, we appear to have shaved a few of them off our likeliest end stage in not much time at all.

The next half-degrees will be harder to shave off, and the most crucial increment — getting from two degrees to 1.5 — perhaps impossible, dashing the dream of avoiding what was long described as “catastrophic” change. But for a climate alarmist like me, seeing clearly the state of the planet’s future now requires a conspicuous kind of double vision, in which a guarded optimism seems perhaps as reasonable as panic. Given how long we’ve waited to move, what counts now as a best-case outcome remains grim. It also appears, miraculously, within reach.

Read the rest of this article at: New York Magazine

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News 01.22.21 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

In 2008, as a young, unknown chef, he took a loin from one fish and attached it to the loin of another, using collagen to bind the two proteins together. He called them hybrids and served them to unsuspecting diners at Aponiente, his restaurant in the southern Spanish port town of El Puerto de Santa María, just across the bay from Cádiz. He discovered that fish eyes, cooked at 55°C in a thermal circulator until the gelatin collapsed, made excellent thickening agents for umami-rich sauces. Next he found that micro-algae could sequester the impurities of cloudy kitchen stocks the same way an egg white does in classical French cooking. In the years since, León has used sea bass to make mortadella; mussels to make blood sausage; moray eel skin to mimic crispy pigskins; boiled hake to fashion fettuccine noodles; and various parts of a tuna’s head to create a towering, gelatinous, fall-apart osso buco.

It is these creations, and the relentless curiosity behind them, that have helped turn León into one of most influential chefs in the world. The Spaniards call him the Chef del Mar, a man singularly dedicated to the sea and its bounty. But Aponiente isn’t anything like other gilded seafood temples around the world. You won’t find Norwegian lobster there. Or Scottish langoustines. Or Hokkaido uni. In fact, unless you’re an Andalusian fisherman it’s unlikely you’ll know most of the species León serves to his guests.

That’s because León isn’t interested in plucking from the sea its most celebrated creatures. He wants to go deeper to find something you didn’t know existed: “What’s more hedonistic, eating something no one on the face of the earth has ever tried, or eating another f-cking spoon of caviar?” Jellyfish, sea worms, a bounty of sea “vegetables” foraged from the ocean floor: all have found their way onto his menu.

But for León, hedonism is beside the point. Everything that he does communicates an unshakable -commitment to honoring the ocean. He thinks about the sea the way a physicist or an astronomer thinks about the sky: as an infinitely discoverable space, where the right mix of curiosity and discipline can yield solutions to some of the most pressing problems of the 21st century. In his wide-eyed enthusiasm and boyish curiosity and fierce marine mania, he comes across as a mixture of Captain Nemo and Willy Wonka.

Read the rest of this article at: Time Magazine

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