September 7th – The Day’s Most Fascinating News

Shape up everyone, we're the faces...

In the movie Saturday Night Fever, just before he and his friends are about to enter the disco at the center of their lives, Tony Manero tells them to shape up, “We’re the faces.” That line always stuck with me. My young kids often wonder why, just before entering an event, I remind them that we’re the faces. In the very near future, it will become clear that the statement will hold true for all of us, as facial recognition becomes a primary mode of identification. As is the case with many tech advances, this one will herald in a period of greater convenience, coupled with less privacy and increased weirdness. “One big difference between faces and other biometric data, such as fingerprints, is that they work at a distance.” Your face can tell us who you are, and give us clues about how you’re feeling and whether or not you’re telling the truth. Here’s The Economist with a glimpse of what life will be like in the age of facial recognition. It won’t all be positive. But it’s coming. So, as Pete Townshend warned (in a song that, after three decades, finally makes perfect sense), you’ve gotta Face the Face.

+ Vice: India’s biometric database is a dystopian nightmare.


Marveling at Our Nether Regions

“One more reason to marvel: The Netherlands is a small, densely populated country, with more than 1,300 inhabitants per square mile. It’s bereft of almost every resource long thought to be necessary for large-scale agriculture. Yet it’s the globe’s number two exporter of food as measured by value, second only to the United States, which has 270 times its landmass. How on Earth have the Dutch done it?” From NatGeo: The Netherlands has become an agricultural giant by showing what the future of farming could look like.

+ “Covering soil in plastic has been a boon for agriculture around the world, especially in China, where an area half the size of California is under polyethylene wrap.” What could go wrong? Allow Bloomberg to explain.


Mind Blown

If the weather forecasters didn’t worry those in the path of Irma, then the images from the islands over which it has already whipped will certainly do the trick. Wired’s Adam Rogers explains why this is a nearly impossible storm. Along with the massive damage, more than ten people have already lost their lives. Here’s the latest on Irma’s wrath and path.

+ The small islands most hammered by Irma now have a new visitor on the way: Jose.

+ WSJ: “After Hurricane Andrew pummeled Florida 25 years ago and leveled entire blocks of homes, local and state officials responded by creating some of the strictest building codes in the U.S., hailed by many as a model.” Irma is on a path to put those codes to the test.

+ NPR: Flamingos In The Men’s Room: How zoos and aquariums handle hurricanes.

+ Rush Limbaugh raised his own foul winds to the level of a Category Five Blowhard when he suggested that forecasters are overhyping Irma: “The reason that I am leery of forecasts this far out, folks is because I see how the system works.” If you take Rush’s word for it and decide to stay in the path of the storm, you might prove meteorologists and Darwin right at the same time.


Chuck Up and Upchucks

The GOP leadership must have thrown up a little (at least) in their mouths when President Trump sided with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer on a debt ceiling deal. And now, WaPo is reporting that Trump and Schumer have come to a “gentlemen’s agreement” on a plan to “permanently remove the requirement that Congress repeatedly raise the debt ceiling.”



“Citing Trump’s numerous statements disparaging Mexicans as ‘criminals, thugs and ‘bad hombres,’ Ferguson said Trump has revealed ‘a racial animus’ toward Mexicans: ‘Ask yourself one question: If the overwhelming majority were Caucasians, does anybody really think he (President Trump) would have taken the action he took?'” Fifteen states are suing Trump over his DACA move.

+ AP: Ending DACA a dream come true for Jeff Sessions.

+ “This is what I asked the president to do and boom, boom, boom, the tweet appeared.” Nancy Pelosi explained how she urged the president to tweet a reassuring message for the Dreamers.

+ “Trump truly is something new — the first president whose entire political existence hinges on the fact of a black president. And so it will not suffice to say that Trump is a white man like all the others who rose to become president. He must be called by his rightful honorific — America’s first white president.” Ta-Nehisi Coates: The foundation of Donald Trump’s presidency is the negation of Barack Obama’s legacy.


Fake Schmooze

Yesterday, we learned that a Russian firm tied to pro-Kremlin propaganda advertised on Facebook during election. Today, the NYT’s Scott Shane provides an interesting look at The Fake Americans Russia Created to Influence the Election.


Global Positioning

Syria has been out of the mainstream news lately, but the global fights taking place there are far from over. Following a report that confirmed Assad’s use of chemical weapons, Israeli jets hit Syria’s Masyaf chemical site.

+ Seth Harp in Rolling Stone: Inside America’s Secret War with ISIS.


The Guilt Complex

“Ever since DNA ushered in a new era in criminal justice, even the toughest law-and-order advocates have come to acknowledge a hard truth: Sometimes innocent people are locked away for crimes they didn’t commit. Less widely understood is just how reluctant the system is to righting those wrongs.” From ProPublica: What Does an Innocent Man Have to Do to Go Free? Plead Guilty.


We Can Rebuild Him

“He presents a video clip of a rat with a severed spinal cord dragging around its paralyzed hind legs. Having dragged my mostly unresponsive left leg around for two years, I think I know something about the rodent’s life. In the next clip, however, that rat, just 90 days later, is walking on all fours. A team at the MIT center led by Herr’s colleague Robert Langer successfully regrew the rat’s spinal cord by implanting a dissolvable scaffold seeded with neural stem cells. In Herr’s world, the limbless can be whole again, the paralyzed can walk. Making the extraordinary seem ordinary is maybe the whole point.” Outside’s Todd Balf on The $100 Million Plan to End Paralysis.


Bottom of the News

“Using a technique called the DolphinAttack, a team from Zhejiang University translated typical vocal commands into ultrasonic frequencies that are too high for the human ear to hear, but perfectly decipherable by the microphones and software powering our always-on voice assistants.” FastCo on a simple design flaw makes it astoundingly easy to hack Siri And Alexa. (I don’t understand all the technical details, but both of my dogs are nodding their heads…)

+ Don’t want to spend a night alone in a hotel room? You can always rent a fish. (The only thing worse than being replaced by a robot is being replaced by a goldfish.)

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