Archive

June 24th, 2016

Another Age of Discovery

    Have we been here before? I know — it feels as if the internet, virtual reality, Donald Trump, Facebook, sequencing of the human genome and machines that can reason better than people constitute a change in the pace of change without precedent. But we’ve actually been through an extraordinarily rapid transition like this before in history — a transition we can learn a lot from.

    Ian Goldin, director of the Oxford Martin School at Oxford University, and Chris Kutarna, also of Oxford Martin, have just published a book — “Age of Discovery: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New Renaissance” — about lessons we can draw from the period 1450 to 1550, known as the Age of Discovery. It was when the world made a series of great leaps forward, propelled by da Vinci, Michelangelo, Copernicus and Columbus, that produced the Renaissance and reshaped science, education, manufacturing, communications, politics and geopolitics.

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All Russians are tainted by Putin's regime

    The International Olympic Committee's decision to let Russian athletes compete in the Rio Olympics if they can prove that they haven't used performance-enhancing drugs won't be popular with other countries. Nonetheless, it was the right call. But it also carries some unpleasant undertones: It formally requires Russians to prove that they are not tainted by the rotten regime that runs their country.

    On Tuesday, the Olympic summit -- a meeting of the movement's top officials -- adopted a declaration that backed an earlier decison by track and field's world governing body to ban the Russian athletics federation from international competition. That decision was based on the finding by the World Anti-Doping Agency of a clear state-supported doping culture in Russian track and field; Kenya also was declared non-compliant. So the IOC said athletes from these countries wouldn't automatically be considered clean -- instead, they'd have to provide evidence of their compliance with doping regulations to the international federations that run their sports:

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Why extremely rare events keep happening all the time

    Something weird seems to be happening in the heavens. This week marks a coincidence of the full moon and the summer solstice. Some astronomers are calling this combination of maximum moonlight and the Northern Hemisphere's longest day a rare event.

    It comes close on the heels of last month's rare passage of Mercury in front of the sun, September's rare pairing of a lunar eclipse with a so-called supermoon, the rare 2014 "tetrad" of lunar eclipses, the rare 2012 transit of Venus, and a plethora of once-in-a-lifetime planetary alignments, one earlier this year, one in 2014 and one in the summer of 2013. Next year there will be a rare total eclipse of the sun.

    If these sorts of events are so rare, why do they happen so often?

    Ask a statistician. David Hand, a professor at Imperial College London makes sense of world's abundance of rare events in his 2014 book, "The Improbability Principle: Why Coincidences, Miracles and Rare Events Happen Every Day."

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U.S. Muslims are terrorism's collateral victims

    Americans are still grieving the tragic murder of 49 people in a gay night club in Orlando, Florida. The deranged assassin was a Muslim.

    The attack has sparked concern about a culture of terror sweeping the nation, prompting demands for actions against Islam and its followers.

    A year ago, Dylann Roof, a neo-Nazi, slaughtered nine black congregants, including the pastor and a state senator, at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. He's referred to as a lone wolf white supremacist.

    The calls for banning Muslims, greater surveillance of mosques and even creating a new House Committee for UnAmerican Activities focusing on jihadists give rise to two questions: Do Muslim Americans present a grave threat and could much more be done to prevent such attacks? The answer to both is no; most Americans wouldn't agree.

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The government can't make you use 'zhir' or 'ze' in place of 'she' and 'he'

    The New York City Commission on Human Rights recently announced that employers, landlords and other professionals are required to use a transgender person's preferred pronoun "regardless of the individual's sex assigned at birth." The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission similarly determined that failing to use a person's preferred pronoun could violate federal anti-discrimination laws.

    Though these mandates may seem like acts of civility, they in effect impose ideas about gender identity on speakers. Requiring people to voice beliefs that they do not hold, or even understand, is a flagrant and unacceptable violation of the freedom of speech.

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New gun laws can't prevent every tragedy. But we still desperately need them.

    She died, and I lived.

    Like me, Jo Cox was just 41 when she was shot. Like me, she was doing the essential business of government, meeting with the people she represented, when a sick man attacked her.

    But Jo Cox died. My heart broke when I heard. I will think of her for the rest of my life, as I do the people who died in the Safeway parking lot where I was shot in 2011, including Christina-Taylor Green - just 9 years old, just elected to the student council at school, who had come to meet a young congresswoman. If she had lived, perhaps someday she would have followed the same path as Jo and I did and run for office herself. In continuing to campaign for a safer country, I now honor Jo's memory as I honor those lost in Tucson and Orlando and so many other places.

    Some will try to use the assassination of Jo Cox to cast doubt on meaningful gun violence prevention laws, or to try to diminish the urgency and hope the American people have - hope that's grown after the historic filibuster on the floor of the Senate last week.

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Lady Liberty vs. The Fear Merchants

    Texas didn’t need a federal court to know it couldn’t do this. Neither did Indiana, Arizona, Florida or any states seeking to excuse themselves from what America has always done.

    We welcome refugees in life-or-death straits.

    “Oh, no, we don’t,” said those states. “Not if they’re Muslim.”

    Oh, yes, you do, if the president orders it.

    U.S. District Judge David Godbey is the latest federal judge to say so in rejecting Texas’ attempt to keep out Syrian refugees arriving under a 2015 Obama administration directive.

    The ruling comes in the midst of political appeals to fear that are starting to make Sen. Joe McCarthy look like Mr. Rogers.

    Judge Godbey pointed out the obvious: Immigration is a federal responsibility. What President Obama ordered not only is legal but almost too modest, considering the dire situation.

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I reported Omar Mateen to the FBI. Trump is wrong that Muslims don't do our part.

    Donald Trump believes American Muslims are hiding something. "They know what's going on. They know that [Omar Mateen] was bad," he said after the Orlando massacre. "They have to cooperate with law enforcement and turn in the people who they know are bad. . . . But you know what? They didn't turn them in. And you know what? We had death and destruction."

    This is a common idea in the United States. It's also a lie. First, Muslims like me can't see into the hearts of other worshipers. (Do you know the hidden depths of everyone in your community?) Second, he's also wrong that we don't speak up when we're able.

    I know this firsthand: I was the one who told the FBI about Omar Mateen.

    I met Omar for the first time in 2006 at an iftar meal at my brother-in-law's house. As the women, including his mother and sisters, chatted in the living room, I sat with the men on the patio and got to know him and his father. Omar broke his Ramadan fast with a protein shake. He was quiet -- then and always -- and let his dad do the talking.

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How to get fired by the Trump campaign

    What do you have to do to be fired from the Trump campaign?

    Word emerged on Monday that Donald Trump had parted ways with his famously contentious campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. "The Donald J. Trump Campaign for President, which has set a historic record in the Republican Primary having received almost 14 million votes, has today announced that Corey Lewandowski will no longer be working with the campaign," Trump spokesman Hope Hicks informed The New York Times.

    Given what Lewandowski himself has done -- on camera -- that has not merited his firing (remember when he aggressively grabbed Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields?) and the kind of things Trump himself says and does on a regular basis, it is hard to imagine a firing offense. The logical explanation seems to be that Trump is doing this to placate the GOP establishment and signal that he is ready to become presidential. But when was the last time Donald Trump did something logical?

    No, it must be a scandal. But what? A few possibilities:

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'Dump Trump' Republicans are getting a bit weird

    How desperate is the Republican Party? This desperate: Political strategists are concocting schemes to preserve their congressional majorities that they know would concede the presidential contest to Hillary Clinton.

    The idea is to give a way for endangered Republican senators like Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania to avoid being associated with Donald Trump or being disloyal to the party. To do that, Republicans would recruit respected party elders to run as independent presidential candidates in competitive states. Think of former Govs. Tom Ridge in Pennsylvania and Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin, and former Sens. John Sununu and Judd Gregg in New Hampshire.

    That would provide what the would-be strategists are calling "safe havens" that would relieve Republican candidates of the pressure to back Clinton or defend Trump. Or so the theory goes.

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