The Road from Saddam Hussein to Donald Trump

John Cassidy, writing for The New Yorker:

It is hard to exaggerate the scale of the disaster that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Blair, Powell, et al. unleashed. Between 2003 and 2011, according to a 2015 study by a team of academic researchers from the United States, Canada, and Iraq, the war and its aftermath caused almost half a million deaths among Iraqis and people who fled the country. Not all these fatalities were the result of gunshots or explosions—they were also due to ingesting contaminated water, or conflict-related stress, or the fact that hospitals had been overburdened or destroyed. But they were still deaths that could have been avoided if the invasion hadn’t taken place, the researchers concluded.

That is just the toll on Iraq. Close to seven thousand members of the American military have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. And, in overthrowing Saddam and then failing to pacify Iraq, the U.S.-led coalition ended up destabilizing the entire region, with tragic consequences that are still playing out in Syria, Egypt, Libya, Turkey, and lots of other places. To be sure, the Iraq invasion didn’t create Islamic extremism or the Sunni-Shiite schism. However, as I noted in 2014, as isis cemented its grip on Mosul, the invasion “opened Pandora’s Box.” Which brings us back to Trump.

I link to this piece not because it’s interesting (it is), but because I want folks to read it, stop for a second, and then consider that it represents just one issue—one multi-faceted, complex, wide-ranging, issue—in a universe of issues that, come the end of January, Donald Trump will now be in charge of making the final decision on.


An American in a Strange Land

Jim Yardley, writing for The New York Times Magazine:

Then I moved to Rome and watched the European Union grow ineffective and paralyzed, as the dream of a vibrant, unified Europe seemed to wither. Democracy was losing ground in Hungary and the Philippines; it had all but surrendered in Russia. Syria became a slaughterhouse. The Islamic State dispatched terrorists around the world. China’s politics became more oppressive, as President Xi Jinping cracked down on dissent and nurtured a Maoist-style cult of personality. Economic globalization was supposed to accelerate political liberalization around the world, but instead authoritarianism appeared to be on the rise. The West, it seemed, had failed to anticipate the possibility that globalization could contribute to the destabilization of — or pose a threat to — democracy, even in the United States.

This summer, I decided I wanted to explore this place that had become a foreign country to me. I didn’t understand what had happened since I left, why so many people seemed so disillusioned and angry. I planned a zigzag route, revisiting places where I once lived or worked, a 29-day sprint through 11 states (and four time zones). I knew I would be moving too fast to make any sweeping declaration about the state of America, and I wouldn’t ask people which presidential candidate they were voting for. I was more interested in why they were so anxious about the present and the future. I wanted to find out why the country was fragmenting rather than binding together. Most of all I wanted to see with my own eyes what had changed — and so much had changed.

I won’t lie—the final quote of this piece has stuck with me. I don’t necessarily agree with it—but I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve severely misjudged just how many people do.


Radio Diaries no. 49: Majd’s Diary: Two Years in the Life of a Saudi Girl

Radio Diaries:

Majd Abdulghani is a teenager living in Saudi Arabia, one of the most restrictive countries for women in the world. She wants to be a scientist. Her family wants to arrange her marriage. From the age of 19 to 21, Majd has been chronicling her life with a microphone, taking us inside a society where the voices of women are rarely heard. She records herself practicing karate, conducting experiments in a genetics lab, and fending off pressure to accept an arranged marriage. In her audio diary, Majd documents everything from arguments with her brother about how much she should cover herself in front of men, to late night thoughts about loneliness, arranged marriages, and the possibility of true love.

I’m not breaking any news by pointing out how awesome Radio Diaries is, but this episode is even more special than usual. In a time when some people want to build walls and close themselves off from the rest of the world, it becomes even more important to listen to something like this. To learn, to educate, to expand your mind, and to better understand what you don’t have experience with.


The Lives of the Immigrant Women Who Tend to the Needs of Others

Rachel Aviv, writing for The New Yorker:

Emma knew mothers who were too ashamed to explain to their children why they were compelled to leave, but she was accustomed to discussing everything with her daughters, down to their menstrual cycles. When she returned home, she held a family meeting and told the children, “Mama is going to go to America for a better job.”

Her youngest daughter, Ezreil, who was eleven, shouted, “No, Mama!” Her fifth-oldest daughter, Eunice, proposed that they all walk to school, rather than take a pedicab, to save money for tuition. The older girls were more cavalier. “Are you going to send us plenty of money?” one said. “So we can buy the Levi jeans?” Emma said that Ezreil told them, “I don’t need the Levi jeans.”

On August 21, 2000, Emma borrowed two service vans from her office and, with her daughters, her husband, and her brother-in-law, drove two hours to the city of Cagayan de Oro, which has a small airport. She took one suitcase containing four pairs of pants, a sweater, two pairs of shoes, two nightgowns, and a hairbrush. Virgie had told her not to take any dresses; there would be no occasion to wear them. In the terminal, all her daughters were crying. They would be cared for by their father and two “helpers,” whom Emma had hired for the equivalent of twenty dollars a week. Emma went to the bathroom to weep alone in a stall. She said, “My conscience was telling me, ‘Don’t leave your kids. Don’t leave your kids. They are young and need you.’ ”

In a political climate that has seen a very vocal minority take hold of the debate around immigration and who exactly the people are who come to the United States and for what purpose, this piece should be required reading.


Nomads of Mongolia

Brandon Li, writing on Vimeo:

Life in Western Mongolia is an adventure. Training eagles to hunt, herding yaks, and racing camels are just a few of the daily activities of the nomadic Kazakh people. I spent a few weeks living with them and experiencing one of the most unique cultures in the world. Saddle up and enjoy the ride.

I made the mistake of watching this amazing short documentary right after ordering a $175 external solid state drive because I’m running out of space on my laptop with how much room my podcast producing software takes up—and I almost immediately began to regret about 90% of my choices in life. But—don’t let that stop you. Incredible work here.

/via Devour


Terrorism in the Age of Twitter

John Cassidy, writing for The New Yorker:

Today’s information technology mediates our awareness of dreadful events, such as terrorist attacks, in a manner that makes them feel closer and more pressing. Unless we are dreadfully unlucky, the actual bombs and bullets don’t affect us directly; thanks to social media, though, we are all a part of the aftermath.

One danger is that this distorts the way we perceive such happenings and the scale of the threat that they represent to us. Obviously, ISIS and other radical Islamist groups now represent a real security issue. But how large is it compared to other causes of death and injury?


The Doomsday Invention

Raffi Khatchadourian, writing for The New Yorker:

He believes that the future can be studied with the same meticulousness as the past, even if the conclusions are far less firm. “It may be highly unpredictable where a traveller will be one hour after the start of her journey, yet predictable that after five hours she will be at her destination,” he once argued. “The very long-term future of humanity may be relatively easy to predict.” He offers an example: if history were reset, the industrial revolution might occur at a different time, or in a different place, or perhaps not at all, with innovation instead occurring in increments over hundreds of years. In the short term, predicting technological achievements in the counter-history might not be possible; but after, say, a hundred thousand years it is easier to imagine that all the same inventions would have emerged.

Bistro calls this the Technological Completion Conjecture: “If scientific- and technological-development efforts do not effectively cease, then all important basic capabilities that could be obtained through some possible technology will be obtained.” In light of this, he suspects that the farther into the future one looks the less likely it seems that life will continue as it is. He favors the far ends of possibility: humanity becomes transcendent or it perishes.

In the nineteen-nineties, as these ideas crystallized in his thinking, Bostrom began to give more attention to the question of extinction. He did not believe that doomsday was imminent. His interest was in risk, like an insurance agent’s. No matter how improbable extinction may be, Bostrom argues, its consequences are near-infinitely bad; thus, even the tiniest step toward reducing the chance that it will happen is near-­infinitely valuable. At times, he uses arithmetical sketches to illustrate this point. Imagining one of his utopian scenarios—trillions of digital minds thriving across the cosmos—he reasons that, if there is even a one-per-cent chance of this happening, the expected value of reducing an existential threat by a billionth of a billionth of one per cent would be worth a hundred billion times the value of a billion present-day lives. Put more simply: he believes that his work could dwarf the moral importance of anything else.

I don’t remember the last time that I read something that effected me on an emotional level so much. I’ve been having dreams about this article. I can’t stop thinking about it.


Faces of Cuba: A Photo Essay About Life on the Island

Johnny Harris, writing (and photographing) for Vox:

Earlier this summer, I pitched my editors on an idea: a week-long trip to Cuba with a camera. I wanted to go there to see how people live and communicate in a country so disconnected from the world. The trip resulted in multiple videos about the state of the Cuban internet and the outcomes of a distorted economy. My reporting helped me better understand what it’s like to live in isolation and under economic oppression — a story best told through some of Cuba’s 11 million residents. Through hundreds of stories, I glimpsed the power of human creativity, on display everywhere as Cubans are forced to invent ways to survive in a controlled and lifeless economy.

I spent my days in Cuba wandering the cobbled streets on foot and in the backs of 1950s Chevys turned public taxis, listening to Cubans of all walks of life generously share their opinions and stories, their frustrations and passions. The nurse who makes $40 per month and the taxi driver who makes $40 per day. The retired man who illegally sells cigars to survive. The military man who loves the Castros' oppressive regime and would die to defend it. These are stories that helped me understand life in isolation and oppression, and turned Cuba from just another topic in international news into a profound example of human struggle and creativity.

Wonderful images; important stories.


Ten Borders: One Syrian Refugee’s Epic Escape

Nicholas Schmidle, writing for The New Yorker:

He was taken to an interrogation room, where a plainclothes security official “wanted to know who gave me the passport, and I told him what I knew, but that wasn’t much,” Ghaith said. “When he saw my university I.D. card, he said, ‘Look at you. You’re studying law? You think you know what the law is? Look what you’re doing!’ ” Ghaith was slapped repeatedly across the face, then sent to jail, where he was strip-searched. “You reach a point when you become numb,” he recalls. “I was standing there naked. I felt like I was not a human anymore.”

He and about fifty other foreigners shared a dark cell, sleeping on the floor. They had to defecate in buckets. Ghaith didn’t know where he was, or who was in charge. In 2013, the Lebanese Center for Human Rights revealed the existence of a fetid, overcrowded detention facility for foreign nationals in a former underground parking garage in Beirut. Nadim Houry, a Human Rights Watch researcher, said that some refugees had been kept there for “weeks, months, and even years” while awaiting deportation. One day, Ghaith watched, horrified, as a pregnant prisoner fell to the floor, blood pooling around her. “I don’t know what happened to her,” he said.

Harrowing. I don’t know what the right answer is, or how to fix the multitude of problems that created this crisis, but what I do know is that stories like this demand our attention, our respect, and our concern.


An NPR Reporter Chauffeurs A Chinese Couple 500 Miles To Their Rural Wedding

Frank Langfitt, writing for NPR:

I went to Rocky's wedding in part to try to understand how he'd made the leap from farmhouse to Shanghai law firm — quite a feat in China's hypercompetitive society.

Xiao Piao offered one theory: "The entire village thinks his family sits on good land, good feng shui," she said, referring to the house's location vis-a-vis the natural environment.

Rocky politely disagreed: "Everyone's fate, career and job are the result of one's struggle. If I didn't take the bar and sat around at home, what use would good feng shui have been?"

There’s the single chocolate chip world that you know—and then there’s the entire rest of the cookie. Take five minutes out of your day and treat yourself to this piece—you won’t regret it.

/via Ben Thompson