September 20th – The Day’s Most Fascinating News

Can we rebuild nature? We're about to find out.

Confronted with this season’s steady stream of hurricanes, floods, and natural disasters, it occurred to me that future leaders may need to shift their focus from how we can kill each other to how we can protect each other from nature. To paraphrase the opening narration from the Six Million Dollar Man, can we rebuild it and make it better than it was before? The race is already underway (as are the ethical debates) when it comes to building a better coral reef — an effort made increasingly necessary because the original ones are dying off. The goal of researchers working with coral “is not just to study them, but to find the ones with the best genes, multiply them in tanks on land and ultimately return them to the ocean where they can continue to breed. The hope is to create tougher reefs — to accelerate evolution, essentially — and slowly build an ecosystem capable of surviving global warming and other human-caused environmental assaults.” From the NYT: Building a Better Coral Reef.


Name Dropping

“Their daughter, and oldest child, loved cheerleading in junior high; she was eager to try out for the squad at the local public high school, where she was set to enroll as a freshman in the fall. But the name of this particular school in Tyler, a community that some residents like to think of as the western edge of the Old South, ate away at her parents. ‘We would ask ourselves, Are we really gonna have our daughter running around a football field yelling, ‘I love Robert E. Lee’?'” The New Yorker’s Tasneem Raja with an interesting look at what it’s like to be black at Robert E. Lee High School.

+ NYT: “Last September, Patrik Hermansson, a 25-year-old graduate student from Sweden, went undercover in the world of the extreme right.” Here are some of the things he learned. (Interestingly, the anti-globalist movement has gone global…)


Rocket (Man) Fuel

The Atlantic’s Kori Schake with a good overview of Trump’s comments about North Korea at the UN, the trouble with drawing red lines, and what total destruction of North Korea really means. “Not only does that draw a red line that will be difficult to walk back from; it is also a much less credible and ethical threat than a pledge to more narrowly target the Kim regime. Waging war against people already enslaved by an authoritarian government punishes them unjustly—that would have been an easy point score in front of a UN audience.” (I made a similar point yesterday.)

+ Reuters: From Russia with fuel — North Korean ships may be undermining sanctions. (Russia seems to make its way into every major story these days.)

+ The other major portion of Trump’s speech had to do with the Iranian nuclear deal. Today, President Rouhani condemned what he called an ‘ignorant, absurd, hateful’ Trump speech.

+ David Sanger ties the two big issues together in his NYT piece: The Contradiction Buried in Trump’s Iran and North Korea Policies. “If Mr. Trump makes good on his threat to pull out of the 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran, how will he then convince the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, that America will honor the commitment to integrate North Korea into the world community if only it disarms.”

+ The Economist was way ahead of the curve when it came to North Korea’s Rocket Man.


Predatory Alienation

“In 1960, about 80 percent of elderly Japanese lived with a child; since then that number has split in half. Combined with the fast, well-known aging of the population — today about one in five Japanese people is over 65; that number is projected to grow to one in three by 2030 — that leaves a lot of seniors adrift. Already almost a quarter of Japanese men and a tenth of Japanese women over age 60 say there is not a single person they could rely on in difficult times.” Nautilus on how alienation is killing Japanese people (and there are some simliar signs in America).


Kimmel and Bits

This isn’t the first time the Senate GOP has raced to push an Obamacare replacement to a vote, but this time, they really do need to hurry. As of October 1, repealing the Affordable Care Act will take 60 votes. So it’s now or never. Vox got nine Senators to slow down long enough to try to explain what the proposed health law actually does.

+ Everything is political these days, so it somehow makes sense that Jimmy Kimmel has moved to the center of the health insurance debate. Here’s The Atlantic on the Anger of Jimmy Kimmel. “By the way, before you post a nasty Facebook message saying I’m politicizing my son’s health problems, I want you to know: I am politicizing my son’s health problems.” (When the moment called for it, Jimmy Kimmel became an activist. Let that be a lesson to you…)

+ WaPo: How well does Jimmy Kimmel understand the GOP health-care bill? (Not as well as top experts, but way too well to be a Senator.)


Mexico and Maria

More than twenty students at a primary school are among the hundreds dead after Mexico’s earthquake. Rescue operations are still underway. Here’s the latest from Buzzfeed.

+ Some inspirational photos of people helping each other in Mexico City. And more photos of the damage from InFocus.

+ “Everyone in the earthquake business knows that Mexico City is built on pudding.” Buzzfeed: Here’s why Mexico City is such a deadly place for earthquakes.

+ And after wreaking havoc across the Caribbean, Maria brings her winds and flooding to Puerto Rico. Telecommunications have “collapsed” and power is out … across the entire island.


Invention is a Mother

“My favorite invention was paper. It didn’t occur to me at first. People said to me, ‘You must put the printing press in the book. It revolutionized the way we think; it led to the Reformation and rise of Europe.’ But without paper, the press isn’t very useful. Yes, you can print on animal skin. But 5,000 copies of a book will require a quarter of a million sheep. Paper is what makes the printing press economically feasible. It’s an extremely underrated invention. Also, it has other practical uses, like toilet paper.” Derek Thompson talks to economist Tim Harford about his book on the greatest breakthroughs in human history, including barbed wire, air conditioning, and money. (Somehow, Retweets didn’t make the list.)


Further On Up The Road

“Dorcy died on Saturday at the age of 92, after 70 years of working the roads with musicians too numerous to name, but primarily with Willie Nelson since 1960. Yes, he was still working — I saw him in the heat of Willie Nelson’s Fourth of July Picnic just a couple months ago.” Austin American Statesman: Remembering Ben Dorcy.

+ Willie Nelson back in 2007: “When I’m contemplating one of life’s difficult decisions, I generally consult with Ben Dorcy. Bless his barely thumping heart, Ben is my canary in the coalmine. When faced with a difficult decision, I observe Ben and do the opposite of what he does.” A feature from Texas Monthly: Ben Dorcy, The First Roadie — Ever.

+ “The three toughest opponents I’ve ever been up against were Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray Robinson and Sugar Ray Robinson. I fought Sugar so many times, I’m surprised I’m not diabetic.” Raging Bull Jake LaMotta has died at 95.


A Party in Your Pants

“For hundreds of years, pants were thought to have transformative qualities. They turned a little boy from a genderless child, stymied from tree-climbing or other rambunctious activities by long skirts, into a boy ready to enter the rugged world of men.” Atlas Obscura: For Centuries, People Celebrated a Little Boy’s First Pair of Trousers. (I’ll celebrate when my son wears any pants that aren’t sweats…)


Bottom of the News

“Nasty behavior spreads much faster than nice behavior, unfortunately.” Jessica Pressler on a fast-growing academic field. The study of assholes. This Stanford Professor Has a Theory on Why 2017 Is Filled With Jerks. (Aside from the theory we all have…)

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