Summary of “Extreme global weather is ‘the face of climate change’ says leading scientist”

The extreme heatwaves and wildfires wreaking havoc around the globe are “The face of climate change”, one of the world’s leading climate scientists has declared, with the impacts of global warming now “Playing out in real time”.
Climate change has long been predicted to increase extreme weather incidents, and scientists are now confident these predictions are coming true.
“This is the face of climate change,” said Prof Michael Mann, at Penn State University, and one the world’s most eminent climate scientists.
“We literally would not have seen these extremes in the absence of climate change.”
“The impacts of climate change are no longer subtle,” he told the Guardian.
“We can see the fingerprints of climate change on local extremes,” he said.
Prof Mann said that asking if climate change “Causes” specific events is the wrong question: “The relevant question is: ‘Is climate change impacting these events and making them more extreme?’, and we can say with great confidence that it is.”
Serious climate change is “Unfolding before our eyes”, said Prof Rowan Sutton, at the University of Reading.

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Summary of “What Can We Learn from Utopians of the Past?”

His utopians showed enormous courage in imagining and, to one degree or another, trying to create new worlds against the grain of the one they had inherited.
What in the world made “Looking Backward” appealing not only to men of letters like William Dean Howells and Mark Twain but to so many farmers and workers that Bellamy was eventually made a delegate of a populist party? Part of the appeal, Robertson persuasively argues, had something to do with post-Civil War nostalgia for the purity of wartime regimentation.
Robertson pays his final visit to the idealistic imaginings of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, an American whose vast writings on ideal societies were the catalyst for the feminist utopia “Herland”, which, like Morris’s “News from Nowhere,” was written under the direct influence of “Looking Backward.” In “Herland,” three young American men fly a biplane to an Amazonian world.
No doubt progressive causes depend on a vision of a better world, and he quotes Wilde’s remark that “All progress is the realization of Utopias.” But what distinguishes the radically realistic liberal tradition from the self-frustrating leftist tradition is its disabused attitude toward perfect worlds.
Each of Robertson’s utopians inhabited a personal dream world, a fabric of eccentric desire, more incoherent but also more endearing than the mostly boring perfect societies they imagine.
For, without some desire for a more beautiful world, it’s hard to have a cogent idea of a better world.
Although we wish for better worlds, and dream of perfect ones, we end by leaving behind things made more often than things wished for.
The familiar imperative is that we must get out and past the wallpaper to actually change the world.

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Summary of “Behemoth, bully, thief: how the English language is taking over the planet”

Elevating English while denigrating all other languages has been a pillar of English and American nationalism for well over a hundred years.
It’s a strain of linguistic exclusionism heard in Theodore Roosevelt’s 1919 address to the American Defense Society, in which he proclaimed that “We have room for but one language here, and that is the English language, for we intend to see that the crucible turns our people out as Americans, of American nationality, and not as dwellers in a polyglot boardinghouse”.
There is only one: English, which De Swaan calls “The hypercentral language that holds the entire world language system together”.
What a work is English, how copious in its vocabulary, how noble in expression, how sinuous in its constructions, and yet how plain in its basic principles.
Here is the memoirist Eva Hoffman on the experience of learning English in Vancouver while simultaneously feeling cut off from the Polish she had grown up speaking as a teenager in Kraków: “This radical disjointing between word and thing is a desiccating alchemy, draining the world not only of significance but of its colours, striations, nuances – its very existence. It is the loss of a living connection.” The Chinese writer Xiaolu Guo described something similar in her recent memoir, writing about how uncomfortable she felt, at first, with the way the English language encouraged speakers to use the first-person singular, rather than plural.
In his landmark 1986 book Decolonising the Mind: the Politics of Language in African Literature, he describes the corrosive effect of English language instruction, comparing it to a form of “Spiritual subjugation”.
As he said in a recent interview: “If I meet an English person, and he says, ‘I write in English,’ I don’t ask him, ‘Why are you writing in English?’ If I meet a French writer, I don’t ask him, ‘Why don’t you write in Vietnamese?’ But I am asked over and over again, ‘Why do you write in Gikuyu?’ For Africans, the view is there is something wrong about writing in an African language.”
The hegemony of English is now such that, in order to be recognised, any opposition to English has to formulated in English in order to be heard.

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Summary of “Barack Obama’s Nelson Mandela Lecture”

For once solidly middle-class families in advanced economies like the United States, these trends have meant greater economic insecurity, especially for those who don’t have specialized skills, people who were in manufacturing, people working in factories, people working on farms.
More than a quarter century after Madiba walked out of prison, I still have to stand here at a lecture and devote some time to saying that black people and white people and Asian people and Latin American people and women and men and gays and straights, that we are all human, that our differences are superficial, and that we should treat each other with care and respect.
Don’t you get a sense sometimes that these people who are so intent on putting people down and puffing themselves up, that they’re small-hearted, that there’s something they’re just afraid of? Madiba knew that we cannot claim justice for ourselves when it’s only reserved for some.
You notice the people who you think are smart are the people who agree with you.
Just as people spoke about the triumph of democracy in the nineties, now you are hearing people talk about the end of democracy and the triumph of tribalism and the strongman.
Mandela said, “Young people are capable, when aroused, of bringing down the towers of oppression and raising the banners of freedom.” Now is a good time to be aroused.
People like Abaas Mpindi, a journalist from Uganda, who founded the Media Challenge Initiative to help other young people get the training they need to tell the stories that the world needs to know.
People like Caren Wakoli, an entrepreneur from Kenya who founded the Emerging Leaders Foundation to get young people involved in the work of fighting poverty and promoting human dignity.

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Summary of “When is a nation not a nation? Somaliland’s dream of independence”

When I arrived at the airport, a customs officer in a Somaliland uniform checked my Somaliland visa, issued by the Somaliland consulate in Washington DC. At the airport, there was a Somaliland flag.
During my visit, I paid Somaliland shillings to drivers of cabs with Somaliland plates who took me to the offices of ministers of the Somaliland government.
On 26 June 1960, the former Protectorate of Somaliland became fully independent from British rule, its independence recognised by 35 countries around the world, including the US. The next day, its new legislature passed a law approving a union with the south.
Although it’s true that Somaliland voluntarily erased the border with Somalia in 1960, Somalilanders don’t consider that decision irreversible.
If these countries couldn’t make their marriages work, why, Somalilanders ask, should Somaliland be stuck in a loveless alliance?
The argument against Somaliland’s independence rests largely on factors beyond the country’s control.
Somaliland officials are used to hearing that if their independence were recognised, it would set off a domino effect for nationalist movements, destabilising the continent.
In 2007, a US defence official described Somaliland to the Washington Post as “An entity that works”, and said that in the Pentagon’s view “Somaliland should be independent”.

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Summary of “N’Golo Kanté: France’s Biggest Key Was Their Smallest Player”

To watch Les Bleus stifle more creatively inclined opposition wasn’t captivating or particularly flashy in a traditional sense, but it’s this workmanlike efficiency that made us marvel at the team’s understated MVP. N’Golo Kanté doesn’t jump off the screen in the same way as his teammates-neither for France nor for his club team Chelsea.
Kanté’s presence on the pitch is itself a paradox: The 27-year-old defensive midfielder is self-effacing to the point of anonymity, but also omnipresent; a common refrain is that he’s got a secret twin, because there’s no way one single player can cover that much ground.
While forwards Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy contributed to Leicester’s explosive counterattacks, Kanté was the anchor of their midfield, intercepting balls and completing more tackles than any other player in the EPL that season.
As former Chelsea coach Antonio Conte said of Kanté amid their title-winning season: “He’s a humble man, a humble player. I like him. I like these type of players who put the team before themselves.” For Kanté, I used to think the best NBA comparison was Kawhi Leonard and we all know how that’s going.
Put simply, Kanté was as integral to France’s World Cup success as Griezmann, Mbappé, and Paul Pogba-and his teammates know it.
After France won Sunday-a game in which Kanté underperformed and was subbed early in the second half, though it was later reported he tried to play through a stomach bug-Kanté was reportedly too shy to ask his teammates to hold the World Cup trophy, so Steven N’Zonzi had to ask them on his behalf.
Hopefully, with Les Bleus turning the Kanté chant into a nationwide rallying cry, the casual soccer fans of the world will get to know the world’s best defensive midfielder.
Unbelievable scenes outside the French presidential palace as Paul Pogba breaks out with the now famous N’Golo Kanté chant, Deschamps giddily joins in: “N’Golo Kanté, he is small, he is nice, he shut down Lionel Messi…” pic.

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Summary of “Athletic performance limits: How can we go faster, higher, farther?”

Setting aside the questions about performance-enhancing drugs, how far have we come in our never ending quest to go faster, higher, and farther? And what are we learning about how technology and new training methods can help us push the limits of human performance?
A demonstration included in a 2014 Ted Talk given by sports journalist David Epstein showed that if Owens had run on the same surface as Bolt, Owens’s best time in the 100 meters-accomplished shortly before the 1936 Olympics-could have been within one stride of Bolt’s performance in the 100 meters at the 2013 World Championships.
Peter Weyand, who runs the Locomotor Performance Laboratory at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, and is one of the world’s leading experts on the biomechanics of sprinting, says that the potential for significant improvement in the 100- and 200-meter sprints and in marathons is not out of the question.
The five-time Olympic gold medalist, who set two world records at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, eagerly digests readouts about her nutrition and blood work, and studies videos of her workouts and races, looking for ways to improve her arm and hand movements.
They were musing about how much faster she wanted to go in the 800- and 400-meter freestyles in 2016, and Ledecky wrote down her goals on a Styrofoam float she used in practice and carried with her to meets around the world.
Alan Ashley, the U.S. Olympic Committee’s chief of sport performance, says the key to breaking performance barriers is to “Keep athletes healthy. If they stay healthy, everything else falls into place.”
In 50 years Weisiger had progressed from learning organically how to land high, tightly spiraled jumps because otherwise she would run into a wall at the rink, to using her phone to tell how high and long a skater was in the air while doing a quad. Advances in technology give coaches the ability to help their skaters understand the physics of these jumps, but something more is at work here, Weisiger says.
Right before Powell uncorked the record jump, Lewis leaped farther than anyone ever had, beating Beamon by a quarter inch.

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Summary of “Are Things Getting Better or Worse?”

Was the past good or bad? Are we on the right track or the wrong one? Is life getting better or worse? These questions are easy to ask-pollsters and politicians love asking them-but surprisingly hard to answer.
Last year, the Pew Research Center asked people around the world whether life had been better or worse in their countries fifty years ago.
In “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress,” the cognitive scientist Steven Pinker looks at recent studies and finds that majorities in fourteen countries-Australia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Norway, Singapore, Sweden, Thailand, the U.A.E., and the United States-believe that the world is getting worse rather than better.
“Is life getting better or worse?” may be a dorm-room debate with consequences.
In the course of five hundred pages, he presents statistics and charts showing that, despite our dark imaginings, life has been getting better in pretty much every way.
Around the globe, improved health care has dramatically reduced infant and maternal mortality, and children are now better fed, better educated, and less abused.
Life could be getting much better objectively, on the social scale, without getting all that much better subjectively, on the individual scale.
Maybe the world is getting better, but not better enough, or in the right ways.

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Summary of “World Cup 2018: France and the Triumph of Negative-Capability Football”

No, the goal that most neatly symbolized France’s World Cup-winning 4-2 victory over Croatia, on Sunday-and, for that matter, Les Bleus’ brilliant, contrary, insolent, dazzling World Cup campaign-was the one that shouldn’t have counted.
No team in the World Cup possessed more lethal attacking talent.
The impression France gave, in match after match, was that these were weapons it would rather not utilize.
Sure, Didier Deschamps’s tactics seemed to say, we can unleash a thousand dragons; we can turn the world into fire.
Why, when it’s easier and more confounding to pack the back of the pitch, frustrate you, confuse you, let you wear yourself out, and then tesseract past you when you’re too maddened and tired to expect it? The weird miracle of France’s run through the World Cup was that the team played what looked like negative football while visibly retaining the high-alert, supercharged-ions look of a group that’s on the attack.
Aesthetically, it was both the most thrilling World Cup in recent memory and the one with the least straightforward drama; every French match, at least, felt like the comments section to an article that no one had time to read. Narratively, it was fascinatingly ambiguous.
World Cups generally turn into coronations for a single dominant team, but France seemed to invert all the normal expectations for dominance.
This, you felt, was what France had been playing for all along.

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Summary of “How to Change Your Mind: Michael Pollan on How the Science of Psychedelics Illuminates Consciousness, Mortality, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence – Brain Pickings”

The 1990s brought a quiet groundswell of second-wave interest in psychedelics – a resurgence that culminated with a 2006 paper reporting on studies at Johns Hopkins, which had found that psilocybin had occasioned “Mystical-type experiences having substantial and sustained personal meaning and significance” for terminally ill cancer patients – experiences from which they “Return with a new perspective and profound acceptance.” In other words, the humble mushroom compound had helped people face the ultimate frontier of existence – their own mortality – with unparalleled equanimity.
This renaissance of psychedelics, with its broad implications for understanding consciousness and the connection between brain and mind, treating mental illness, and recalibrating our relationship with the finitude of our existence, is what Michael Pollan explores in the revelatory How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.
By administering psychedelics in carefully calibrated doses, neuroscientists can profoundly disturb the normal waking consciousness of volunteers, dissolving the structures of the self and occasioning what can be described as a mystical experience.
Was it possible that a single psychedelic experience – something that turned on nothing more than the ingestion of a pill or square of blotter paper – could put a big dent in such a worldview? Shift how one thought about mortality? Actually change one’s mind in enduring ways?
We approach experience much as an artificial intelligence program does, with our brains continually translating the data of the present into the terms of the past, reaching back in time for the relevant experience, and then using that to make its best guess as to how to predict and navigate the future.
Pollan finds in the experience an affirmation of James’s notion that we possess different modes of consciousness separated from our standard waking consciousness by a thin and permeable membrane.
Perhaps psychedelics are a portal to the poetic truth that resides beyond scientific fact – the kind of transcendence Rachel Carson found in beholding the marvels of bioluminescence, “One of those experiences that gives an odd and hard-to-describe feeling, with so many overtones beyond the facts themselves.” Such a feeling radiates beyond the walls of the ego-bound self and into a deep sense of belonging to the whole of nature, part and particle of the universe.
In the remainder of the immensely fascinating How to Change Your Mind, Pollan goes on to explore the neuroscience of what actually happens in the brain during a psychedelic experience, how such a temporary rewiring of the cognitive apparatus can translate into enduring psychological change and precipitate profound personal growth, and why this breaking down of “The usually firm handshake between brain and world” may be particularly palliative to those perched on the precipice of mortality.

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