Every Smartphone Is a Spy | Future of Food | Political Pay-Per-View


“Big Brother in the form of an increasingly powerful government and in an increasingly powerful private sector will pile the records high with reasons why privacy should give way to national security, to law and order […] and the like.” ― William O. Douglas

“Nothing great in the world was accomplished without passion.” ― Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel


Quid Pro Qapture: International Crisis Group’s senior adviser for north-east Asia has been detained in China, and his employer has been unable to get information on his whereabouts. Michael Kovrig is a former Canadian diplomat; at present it is unclear if his detention is related to the December 1 arrest of Meng Wanzhou, CFO for Huawei, a Chinese multinational telecommunications equipment and consumer electronics company. Canadian police arrested Meng, who is the daughter of the company’s founder, in the Vancouver airport at the request of US authorities. The US wants her extradited to face charges that her company violated sanctions against doing business with Iran. Kovrig, who speaks Mandarin, has been working as a full-time expert for the International Crisis Group since February 2017.

Additional reads: “Japan effectively bans China’s Huawei and ZTE from government contracts, joining U.S.: China’s ZTE will effectively be denied official government contracts in Japan under new rules. Numerous countries, including the US, have already made similar rules affecting Huawei and ZTE over concerns about security.” (WaPo) “Huawei arrest puts ‘bullseye’ on Apple.: You don’t need to look hard to see how the Global Times – the state-backed Chinese newspaper – is interpreting the arrest of Huawei chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou.” (BBC)


That’s Definitely Not A Pearl: Eating raw oysters is getting riskier as the planet warms. The danger comes from a pervasive bacteria called Vibrio vulnificus, which naturally thrives in brackish waters where the temperature is above 68 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s more common in the Gulf of Mexico, where the waters are warmer, than on the East and West coasts. Dr. Fred Lopez, who studies infectious disease at Louisiana State University’s Health Sciences Center says: “If you’re consuming a raw oyster that comes from the Gulf Coast waters … particularly in the summer months… You have to assume that it has Vibrio vulnificus.” Not everyone is affected, but people with specific pre-existing health problems are most vulnerable, and when people with weakened immune systems are infected by the virus , the mortality rate is up to 50 percent. (NPR)

Maybe Just Have The Steak: Climate change is affecting pufferfish, a delicacy in Japan which can also kill a person in hours if its liver and reproductive organs containing a neurotoxin aren’t removed. There are about 50 varieties of pufferfish found around Japan but only 22 are approved as edible by the government. And the location of the deadly neurotoxin differs in certain types of pufferfish, so chefs and fish butchers require special training and licensing to deal with all that. Here’s where the deleterious impact of climate change on marine animals comes in—hybrid species of pufferfish have been developing that also carry the deadly neurotoxin. But the new hybrids are unidentifiable to fisherman and even experienced fish handlers. (Reuters)

Crab, Crab Everywhere, Nor Any Claw To Eat: In an apparent case of first impression, fisherman in California and Oregon have filed suit against 30 companies, mostly oil producers, contending that the fossil fuel industry is directly at fault and must be held accountable for recent warming-related damages to the West Coast’s prized Dungeness crab fishery. Since 2014 the northeast Pacific Ocean has experienced several dramatic marine heatwaves which have caused blooms of toxic algae. The algae blooms produce the neurotoxin domoic acid, which makes Dungeness crab and other shellfish unsafe to eat.

Echoing past claims against tobacco companies, the fisherman allege companies like Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP and Shell Oil deliberated obfuscated the likely global effects of climate change. A spokesperson for the plaintiff said: “All these impacts we’re dealing with have nothing to do with abundance of the stock or overfishing. They’re driven by ocean warming and these blooms of toxin-producing algae.” (NPR)

Valid ID Putin: The Ministry for State Security, commonly known as the Stasi, was the official state security service of East Germany, the region of Germany controlled by Soviet forces at the end of World War II. East Germany was among the group of states making up the Soviet Bloc during the Cold War from 1949 to 1990. Mass surveillance was widespread, and the penalties for unapproved political contacts were severe. Vladimir Putin’s old East German secret police identification card has reportedly been discovered in Stasi archives, among Soviet-era personnel files in Dresden where Putin served as a KGB officer in the 1980s. Dresden was Putin’s first foreign posting with the KGB. The card would have let Putin enter Stasi offices unhindered, and made it easier to recruit agents because he would not have had to mention his KGB affiliation. (Guardian)

Additional reads on Russia: “Russians Pay Last Respects To Human Rights Defender Lyudmila Alexeyeva” (NPR) “Russian Orthodox priest rebuked over Gucci Instagram posts: Vyacheslav Baskakov apologises after showing off luxury slippers, shoes and bags” (Guardian) And “Nuns Stole $500k And Spent It On Gambling And Vacations.” (Newsweek) “Russian serial killer convicted of 56 more murders: Mikhail Popkov raped and killed dozens of women in Ang arsk over two decades” (Guardian)


See You At (Modi’s Political) Crossroads, Crossroads, Crossroads:Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata (BJP) party took a shellacking from the opposition Congress party in state elections in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, and it could still lose in Madhya Pradesh where votes were slower coming in. The results showed BJP’s vulnerability with just six months to go before national elections that Modi had been predicted to win in a cakewalk. The three states are all part of the Hindi heartland where Indian governments are traditionally made or broken. Political commentator and Modi biographer Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay said the votes were a reflection of the poor performances of the incumbent state governments, and also a backlash against Modi’s administration for “failing to deliver on its promises”. 

Agriculture is hugely important in India—nearly 55 percent of the country’s 1.25 billion population is directly or indirectly dependent on it. Natural disasters and falling prices have hit farmers hard, and Modi’s government has had to contend with large protests in recent weeks by farmers who make up an important voting bloc. The governing BJP party’s vote collapsed by double digits, but the prime minister’s personal popularity remains strong. “Paradoxically, the popularity of Modi is not correspondingly falling with his government’s,” Mukhopadhyay said. “The government is getting flak but Modi is not.” That could certainly have something to do with Modi’s circumspection in public. As the Pnut reported in November, Modi’s “interactions with journalists are carefully managed….He prefers silence to random responses that could fuel attacks by the opposition.”


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Oval Office Square Off: In a jaw-dropping confrontation in the Oval Office, President Trump took on top Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, and admitted if he didn’t get funding for his southern-border wall he’d be “proud” to shut down the government. Throughout the meeting, Trump kept insisting that much of the wall has already been built, which numerous fact-checkers say isn’t so, then he said the military can finish building the rest. And he no longer mentions a mainstay 2016 campaign talking point about Mexico paying for the wall. Pelosi insisted during the meeting that the cameras should leave, saying afterward she hadn’t wanted to “contradict the president when he was putting forth figures that have no basis in fact….” Trump saw things differently, telling reporters he thought they’d had a very friendly meeting. (NPR)

H2Oh No: Under a new proposal announced Tuesday at the Environmental Protection Agency, vast amounts of wetlands and thousands of miles of US waterways would no longer be federally protected by the Clean Water Act. Under EPA’s proposal, the only wetlands that will be federally protected are those that are adjacent to a major body of water, or ones that are connected to a major waterway by surface water. The president of a conservation organization said besides implicating wildlife habitat and areas for recreation, this rule could affect people’s drinking water. This latest rollback is one of dozens of environmental regulations the Trump administration has curtailed or replaced in an effort to boost industry and fossil fuel production. (NPR)

– “Senate To Vote On Criminal Justice Bill After Push From Boosters, White House” (NPR)

– “Trump backs $750 billion defense budget request to Congress: official” (Reuters)


– “Boasting about how many hours you work is a sign of failure” (Quartz)

– “Why Small Habits Make a Big Difference” (Farnam Street)

– “It’s a Briefcase! It’s a Pizza Box! No, It’s a Mini Satellite: Orbiting instruments are now so small they can be launched by the dozens, and even high school students can build them.” (NYT)

– “Voyager 2 Bids Adieu To The Heliosphere, Entering Interstellar Space” (NPR)

– “Delete All Your Apps: It’s not just Facebook: Android and iOS’s App Stores have incentivized an app economy where free apps make money by selling your personal data and location history to advertisers.” (Motherboard)


“We learn from history that we do not learn from history.” ― Georg Hegel

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