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Dark Victory in Raqqa

In August, in the living room of an abandoned house on the western outskirts of Raqqa, Syria, I met with Rojda Felat, one of four Kurdish commanders overseeing the campaign to wrest the city from the Islamic State, or ISIS. Wearing fatigues, a beaded head scarf, and turquoise socks, Felat sat cross-legged on the floor, eating a homemade meal that her mother had sent in a plastic container from Qamishli, four hours away, in the northeast of the country. In the kitchen, two young female fighters washed dishes and glanced surreptitiously at Felat with bright-eyed adoration. At forty years old, she affects a passive, stoic expression that transforms startlingly into one of unguarded felicity when she is amused—something that, while we spoke, happened often. She had reason to be in good spirits. Her forces had recently completed an encirclement of Raqqa, and victory appeared to be imminent.

The Raqqa offensive, which concluded in mid-October, marks the culmination of a dramatic rise both for Felat and for the Kurdish political movement to which she belongs. For decades, the Syrian state—officially, the Syrian Arab Republic—was hostile to Kurds. Tens of thousands were stripped of citizenship or dispossessed of land; cultural and political gatherings were banned; schools were forbidden to teach the Kurdish language.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/11/06/dark-victory-in-raqqa

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Posted by on December 11, 2017 in Middle East, Revolution

 

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The Globalized Jitters

We were on our way from breakfast to the bodega when the stomach-scrambling panic started to kick in. My best friend and I had embarked on what was supposed to be a gonads-to-the-wall gonzo journalist reporting project, interviewing activists and radicals all over post-Trump California. We were camped out in Downtown L.A. in a ridiculous hotel room we’d rented cheap—a space she declared a “Kubrickian Porno Suite,” full of ergonomic lounge furniture spotted with suspicious stains. It was day one, and we had already made our first mistake. We had underestimated the strength of the breakfast coffee.

By the time we figured out just what was amiss, it was far too late. I had had two, and she had had three—it was free, after all—and thus it came to pass that mere hours into our comradely, clichéd, hell-raising road trip into the dark heart of the Trump resistance, I was hyperventilating myself into a spiral of neurosis over an unmemorable Facebook flamewar, and she was having a full-on panic attack.

https://thebaffler.com/salvos/the-globalized-jitters-penny

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2017 in Reportages

 

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Nestlé Makes Billions Bottling Water It Pays Nearly Nothing For

In rural Mecosta County, Mich., sits a near-windowless facility with a footprint about the size of Buckingham Palace. It’s just one of Nestlé’s roughly 100 bottled water factories in 34 countries around the world.

Inside, workers wear hairnets, hard hats, goggles, gloves, and earplugs. Ten production lines snake through the space, funneling local spring water into 8-ounce to 2.5-gallon containers; most of the lines run 24/7, each pumping out 500 to 1,200 bottles per minute. About 60 percent of the supply comes from Mecosta’s springs and arrives at the factory via a 12-mile pipeline. The rest is trucked in from neighboring Osceola County, about 40 miles north. “Daily, we’re looking at 3.5 million bottles potentially,” says Dave Sommer, the plant’s 41-year-old manager, shouting above the din.

Silos holding 125 tons of plastic resin pellets provide the raw material for the bottles. They’re molded into shape at temperatures reaching 400F before being filled, capped, inspected, labeled, and laser-printed with the location, day, and minute they were produced—a process that takes less than 25 seconds. Next, the bottles are bundled, shrink-wrapped onto pallets, and picked up by a fleet of 25 forklifts that ferry them to the plant’s warehouse or loading docks. As many as 175 trucks arrive every day to transport the water to retail locations in the Midwest. “We want more people to drink water, keep hydrated,” Sommer says. “It would be nice if it were my water, but we just want them to drink water.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-09-21/nestl-makes-billions-bottling-water-it-pays-nearly-nothing-for

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2017 in Reportages

 

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Europe’s Fastest-Growing Economy Could Be Headed for Trouble

Somewhere inside the vast shopping mall — beneath the roller coaster, across from the IMAX theater and down the corridor from the electronic casino — Anca Mariana Petculescu spotted an appealing pair of black leather boots.

She remembered her credit card debt. She recalled the expensive repairs needed on the heating system at her apartment. Then she thought of the extra 500 lei — about $130 — the government had just added to her monthly pension. She bought the boots.

“Shopping is like my therapy,” said Ms. Petculescu, 64, who retired five years ago from her accounting job at a state-owned telephone company. “To feel good, I buy.”

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2017 in European Union

 

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An Israeli dream might come true if Trump declares Jerusalem the capital – but so will an Arab nightmare

Amid three catastrophic Middle East wars, it would be difficult to imagine anything more provocative, dangerous – or just plain insane – than for the Americans to move their embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Yet that is just what Donald Trump is this week thinking of doing. In a way, we should have expected this: mad presidents do mad things.

But is there no one in the White House able to restrain him? Not even Jared Kushner, who is supposed to be Trump’s Middle East hand? Or is Kushner too bound up in his latest scandal – just revealed by Newsweek, that he failed to disclose his co-directorship of a foundation funding illegal Jewish colonies in the West Bank when he filed financial records with the Office of Government Ethics this year – to speak out?

https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/israel-donald-trump-jerusalem-capital-us-recognise-tel-aviv-muslim-palestinian-arab-middle-east-a8093081.html

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2017 in Middle East

 

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The Seven Deadly Sins of Predicting the Future of AI

We are surrounded by hysteria about the future of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics. There is hysteria about how powerful they will become how quickly, and there is hysteria about what they will do to jobs.

As I write these words on September 2nd, 2017, I note just two news stories from the last 48 hours.

Yesterday, in the New York Times, Oren Etzioni, chief executive of the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence, wrote an opinion piece titled How to Regulate Artificial Intelligence where he does a good job of arguing against the hysteria that Artificial Intelligence is an existential threat to humanity. He proposes rather sensible ways of thinking about regulations for Artificial Intelligence deployment, rather than the chicken little “the sky is falling” calls for regulation of research and knowledge that we have seen from people who really, really, should know a little better.

https://rodneybrooks.com/the-seven-deadly-sins-of-predicting-the-future-of-ai/

 
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Posted by on December 11, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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President Trump’s Jerusalem decision risks uniting the entire Arab world against the US

President Trump and the Israeli government will have foreseen and discounted a Palestinian “day of rage” and protests among Muslims everywhere in the wake of the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and plans to move its embassy there. They assume that this will all blow over because US allies such as the rulers of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt will be satisfied with pro-forma protests, and the Palestinians are too weak to do anything except demonstrate ineffectively.

The US and Israel could be miscalculating: when I lived in Jerusalem I came to believe that many dramatic events in Israel, such as shootings and bombings, often had less effect than the outside world expected. But anything involving Jerusalem itself, and above all its Muslim holy sites, had a much bigger impact than anybody had imagined.

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/donald-trump-israel-jerusalem-iran-turkey-sunni-shia-palestine-uprising-a8099801.html

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2017 in Middle East, North America

 

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The real reason Trump declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel was because he feared losing his evangelical voter base

I have got my latest Prayergram post. It is, quite aptly, on the topic of the day: the “Jerusalem Prayer”.

One passage reads “God bless Donald J Trump! He understands the real principles behind success. It is not being good at what you do or understanding theory and practice. It is being on the right side of the blessing of God. Whoever blesses Israel shall be blessed: whoever curses Israel shall be cursed.”

And, lest there be any misunderstanding: “If we bless Israel, regardless of its faults, lack of faith, both personally and organisationally, God bless us. While the world cries out, Donald J Trump who learned about the blessing on his mother’s knee, masters the simple, plodding art of doing the right thing regardless of consequences.”

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/jerusalem-donald-trump-israel-capital-decision-reason-why-evangelical-voters-us-fear-a8099321.html

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2017 in Middle East, North America

 

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Time for Europe to Take the Lead on Peace

Zionists have never liked Jerusalem. Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism, dreamed of a capital city in the north of the country, on the slopes of the Carmel Mountains overlooking the Mediterranean. He had nothing but disdain for the Western Wall in Jerusalem, once writing: “What superstition and fanaticism on every side!”

http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/trump-decision-on-jerusalem-makes-peace-more-difficult-a-1182367.html

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2017 in Middle East, North America

 

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Today’s anti-fascist movement will do nothing to get rid of right-wing populism – it’s just panicky posturing

Marx’s formula of religion as the opium of the people needs some serious rethinking today. It is true that radical Islam is an exemplary case of religion as the opium of the people: a false confrontation with capitalist modernity which allows some fundamentalist Muslims to dwell in their ideological dream while their countries are ravaged by the effects of global capitalism – and exactly the same holds for Christian fundamentalism. However, there are today, in our Western world, two other versions of the opium of the people: the opium and the people.

As Laurent de Sutter demonstrated, chemistry (in its scientific version) is becoming part of us: large aspects of our lives are characterised by the management of our emotions by drugs, from everyday use of sleeping pills and antidepressants to hard narcotics. We are not just controlled by impenetrable social powers; our very emotions are “outsourced” to chemical stimulation.

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/antifa-populism-white-nationalism-populism-brexit-donald-trump-alt-right-racism-a8097376.html

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2017 in European Union, North America

 

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