New work on Facts and Opinions – and selected reading and viewing from elsewhere in the week past:

Natural Security columnist Chris Wood asks a shocking question in his new column today: Will trade deals let energy companies shake us down for $55 trillion? The important column is publicly available at no charge for the next week.

Photo by Greg Locke © Copyright 2013

Oil and gas companies plan to spend $700 billion searching for fossil energy next year—even when four-fifths of the reserves they already own may end up ‘stranded’ to stabilize the climate. Why? Because, writes Wood in his Natural Security column, free this week on FactsandOpinions.com, international trade and investment rules will allow fossil fuel companies to demand trillions of dollars in compensation for abandoning locked-in carbon assets. Every additional barrel in reserve is another potential claim. The total bill could rival the size of the world economy.

Jonathan Manthorpe’s new international affairs column focuses on the power struggles in the corridors of power in Beijing and Pyongyang. Excerpt:

The milk of human kindness is not flowing through the corridors of power in Beijing or in Pyongyang. In the capitals of China and North Korea ‘tis the season to be merry, but only over the bodies of purged enemies and rivals…

Nelson Mandela’s death sparked a global outpouring of reaction, analysis and  retrospectives. Here, F&O offers a selection of recommended reading and watching in addition to our own original works:

Behind Houghton Walls, a poem reflecting on Mandela’s last days by Iain T. Benson, a professor in South Africa, published in Commentary.

Learning from Mandela, an essay about Mandela’s role as “a truly global icon,” by professor and author Heribert Adam.

Analysis of Mandela’s legacy in South Africa in two columns by international affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe.

A new report in Dispatches examines a dispute over international arms sales in the United States, re-published from the investigative journalism organization ProPublica:

The administration of United States President Barack Obama is rolling back limits on some U.S. arms exports. Experts are concerned that the changes could result in military parts flowing more freely to the world’s conflict zones, and that arms sanctions against Iran and other countries will be harder to enforce.

F&O’s Expert Witness section features an eloquent science paper, Biodiversity in the Anthropocene:

Imagine you are traveling through space and come across Earth for the first time … what would you be most struck by? The one thing that appears to be fundamentally unique to Earth is its remarkable variety of life, argues Bradley Cardinale — and loss of this biodiversity is one of the most striking forms of environmental change in the Anthopocene.

From our archives, we recommend Greg Locke’s photo-essay and field notes from nearly a decade covering conflict in parts of Africa, Under a Malaria Moon, and Locke’s poignant report of the passing in May of Newfoundland’s iconic writer Ray Guy.

In other news, on F&O and read or watched elsewhere:

On Wednesday short-story master Alice Munro received her Nobel Prize for Literature, announced in October.  She was not well enough to travel and pick it up in person, but instead watched on a screen from Victoria, Canada, as her daughter Jenny accepted on her mother’s behalf. 

Time Magazine named Pope Francis as its “Person of the Year,” a rather arbitrary designation that has made the “POY” as famously iconic as the red on the newsweekly’s cover. A New Yorker writer who disagrees with Time’s choice would have preferred Edward Snowden. Germany’s Der Spiegel reported on what it’s like to work for Radio Vatican and be responsible for covering this unpredictable pope. (An earlier F&O column looked at the pope’s declaration of war on modern capitalism.)

The political turmoil wracking Ukraine is graphically evident in Der Spiegel’s photo gallery.  Lawmakers in the United States reached a budget deal, which some hope will end the “fiscal brinksmanship” that has lately plagued the country. Even France’s premier newspaper Le Monde reported (in French) the announcement that Canada’s government-owned postal service  will stop mail delivery to urban homes. Scientists reported from the University of Oxford on how electricity helps spider webs snatch prey and pollutants. Uruguay became the world’s first country to legalize its marijuana trade, garnering a spurt of renewed worldwide attention for the country’s unusual president, José Mujica. Chip Wilson, the billionaire founder of yoga-wear fashion company Lululemon, quit amid international controversy about his remarks about women’s body shapes. The United Arab Emirates banned supersize soda drinks due to fears of rising obesity. And with their tongues in cheeks, climate scientists in Britain finally nailed the answer to that ancient question: how did Hobbits find the weather in Tolkien’s Shire?

One final note: previously in Dispatches, F&O ran a ProPublica report on the lack of evidence for American claims that its National Security Agency thwarted attacks. Now an interesting essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Triumph of the Strange, argues that Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA raise fundamental questions about the intersection of curiosity, the Internet, and political power. It asks: Is the Internet liberating curiosity as never before, or bending it to corporate profit and state surveillance?