Facts and Opinions this Week

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St. Patrick’s day kicked off the past week, and F&O’s resident Irishman, Brian Brennan, explained in The Pluck of the Irish: How a proud native cuts through the kitsch why he tossed the green beer for James Joyce, Dublin pianist John O’Conor, and Irish composer John Field — and remembering why he and fellow emigrants “fear what Edna O’Brien calls the “psychological choke.”

In Our Rube Goldberg World Natural Security columnist Chris Wood compared earth’s climate to Rube Goldberg’s whimsical contraptions: “a vast assembly of invisibly connected parts, pushing and pulling each other around the spherical planet to achieve, for the last 12,000 years at least, a lot of movement of heat and wind and water, but very little change in the overall state of affairs.” Also check out F&O’s collated works on Energy, including a slideshow of stunning photographs by F&O photographers.

After looking at the China/Taiwan relationship in light of Russia/Ukraine in Taiwan’s People Power protest is Beijing’s Crimea moment, International Affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe turned his attention to South Africa. He predicts in Mandela’s heritage tainted by President Zuma’s graft that the balance between past and present has been finally shifted by corruption and incompetence, and a scathing new report. While considering South Africa, check out Learning from Mandela in our Expert Witness series – in which professor Heribert Adam wonders, in the wake of Nelson Mandela’s death in December, why Mandela emerged as a global icon.

Superconducting Detectors for Study of Infant Universe are part of the BICEP2 telescope at the South Pole. Novel technology uses superconductivity to gather, filter, detect and amplify polarized light from the cosmic microwave background — relic radiation left over from the Big Bang that created our universe. Photo credit: NASA

New science reporting includes a Frontlines post, The Beginning of Everything we Know about stunning new findings about the Big Bang, and a dispatch, Universities as corporate vassals? Not so fast, about research into the wider benefits of corporate versus publicly-funded science research.

American tycoons the Koch brothers seem to be constantly in the news, this week via an explosive and much-contested Washington Post report on their vast holdings in Canada’s oil sands. The non-profit journalism outfit ProPublica has an extensive and ongoing investigation into the Koch brother’s political involvement; F&O has published two of the broader pieces that are essential reading to anyone curious about these two businessmen and their impact on the world. America’s Dark Money: Who Controls the Kochs’ Political Network? unravels the Kochs complex network of indirect political funding — including some $383 million before the  2012 United States election. SEAN NOBLE: Dark Money Man for the ‘Kochtopus is a profile of an obscure former congressman’s aide who “became one of the most important people in American politics. Plucked from obscurity by libertarian billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, Noble was tasked with distributing a torrent of political money raised by the Koch network, a complex web of nonprofits nicknamed the Kochtopus.

Recommended elsewhere:

The Devil and the Art Dealer, by Alex Shoumatoff in Vanity Fair

“It was the greatest art theft in history: 650,000 works looted from Europe by the Nazis, many of which were never recovered. But last November the world learned that German authorities had found a trove of 1,280 paintings, drawings, and prints worth more than a billion dollars in the Munich apartment of a haunted white-haired recluse. Amid an international uproar, Alex Shoumatoff follows a century-old trail to reveal the crimes—and obsessions—involved.”

AAAS Kicks Off Initiative to Recognize Climate Change Risks

(The American Association for the Advancement of Science) launched an initiative “to expand the dialogue on the risks of climate change,” a ” What We Know” report that assesses current climate science and impacts. It states:

  • Climate scientists agree: climate change is happening here and now.
  • We are at risk of pushing our climate system toward abrupt, unpredictable, and potentially irreversible changes with highly damaging impacts.
  • The sooner we act, the lower the risk and cost. And there is much we can do.

Lucas Foglia’s new Wild West, by Liz Jobey: photo book review in the Financial Times

“For Lucas Foglia, who was born in 1983 and grew up in Huntingdon, Long Island, 30 miles from Manhattan, the American West was a mythological place, largely created by Hollywood, but still a physical territory, out there to be discovered. So in 2006, the year after he graduated from Brown University, he set off on a journey that took him to North Carolina, down to Florida, across to New Mexico and then up through Texas, Wyoming and Nevada. “What I expected when I went there was a frontier,” he says. “I expected wilderness; people living on the edge of it. I imagined cowboys and ghost towns. And what I encountered was a mining boom.”

 Mary Midgley: a late stand for a philosopher with soul, by Andrew Anthony in the Guardian

“… She says she doesn’t want to “keep on attacking” Dawkins, but he appears once again in Are You an Illusion? as a leading representative of what Midgley sees as a kind of self-deceiving fatalism, namely the conviction that the universe has no purpose, that it contains at bottom, as Dawkins has written, “nothing but blind, pitiless indifference”.

This Is What 80 Looks Like, by Gail Collins in the New York Times

“ON Tuesday, Gloria Steinem turns 80. Do not bother to call. She’s planning to celebrate in Botswana. “I thought: ‘What do I really want to do on my birthday?’ First, get out of Dodge. Second, ride elephants.”

Some Facts About How NSA Stories Are Reported, by Glen Greenwald at First Look

Several members of the august “US Journalists Against Transparency” club are outraged by revelations in yesterday’s New York Times (jointly published by der Spiegel) that the NSA has been hacking the products of the Chinese tech company Huawei as well as Huawei itself at exactly the same time (and in exactly the same way) as the US Government has been claiming the Chinese government hacks. Echoing the script of national security state officials, these journalists argue that these revelations are unjustified, even treasonous, because this is the type of spying the NSA should be doing, and disclosure serves no public interest while harming American national security, etc. etc.

— Deborah Jones