English articles

One man’s (very polite) fight

News about Muslims in the British press is rarely positive, but it is never scarce. Consider these stories, published across a typical month towards the end of 2016. In the Times on 9 November 2016, an article announced: “Islamist School Can Segregate Boys and Girls.” On the Daily Express website, nine days later: “Anger as less than A THIRD of Muslim nations sign up to coalition against Isis.” In the Sun online, on 1 December: “SECRET IS SAFE: Half of British Muslims would not go to cops if they knew someone with Isis links.” On the Daily Express site the day after: “New £5 notes could be BANNED by religious groups as Bank CAN’T promise they’re Halal.” On ITV News, the same day: “Half of UK Muslims would not report extremism.” Two days later, in the Sunday Times: “Enclaves of Islam see UK as 75% Muslim.” The Mail on Sunday, that same day: “Isolated British Muslims are so cut off from the rest of society that they see the UK as 75% Islamic, shock report reveals.” And another version, in the Sun online: “British Muslims are so cut-off from society they think 75% of the UK is Islamic, report reveals.” Link

Hacked Emails Take Us Inside the Billionaires’ Club Around Vladimir Putin

At first glance, little separates Andrey Pavlov from thousands of other wealthy Russians who do business in the West. The lawyer, who turned 40 last year, travels across Europe’s luxury resorts, stays in five-star hotels, eats in the best restaurants, and hires concierge services to track down exclusive $17,000 Hermès handbags for his wife.

But Pavlov, an unassuming man of middling build and height with short brown hair, may be one of the most influential Russians you’ve never heard of, with a set of unique connections across the elites of Russia and Eastern Europe—not to mention London and Washington, D.C.—which typify the elaborate networks of connections and influence that have come to attract huge media and government attention in the early years of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Pavlov has engaged some of the world’s biggest law firms to act on behalf of him and his clients, has encouraged a former U.K. attorney general to lobby on his behalf, and has hired the consultancy firm part-owned by U.K. and Australian election maestro Lynton Crosby.

Yet he’s also embroiled in a huge international row over an alleged $230 million Russian fraud that left a lawyer tortured to death in a Russian prison; is closely tied to the Russian and Kazakh interior ministries; and is even alleged to have acted as a mediator between a Russian whistleblower and an alleged criminal gang, shortly before the whistleblower was found dead—with U.S. intelligence pointing blame for the death directly at Russian President Vladimir Putin. Link

Germany’s ‘China City’

If in 2018 Duisburg is slowly rediscovering its cosmopolitan past, it is not just because four centuries after Mercator, traders are still trying to find the most direct route from A to B. As the threat of Donald Trump’s tariffs and Brexit-related trade barriers is driving wedges between the EU and the Anglosphere, this former rust-belt town town allows one to see in real time how Germany and China are intensifying their economic ties. Link

Vladimir Putin’s Russia is a creaking ship

Russia is often presented in binary terms: as a country divided between Putinists and liberals, rich and poor, rural folks and Moscovites, “slavophiles” and westerners. The Kremlin’s narrative hinges on the notion of a “patriotic” Russia constantly overcoming a minuscule opposition, depicted as a “fifth column” that is activated or manipulated by external forces. It is tempting for foreign observers to adopt such a black-and-white vision, in which the leader is dominant and admired while his doubters are an exception.

In fact, there are three Russias:

  1. The first is Putin’s Russia, built on an oligarchic power structure and its massive propaganda machine.
  2. The second is the average man’s Russia, with its many facets but also its common problems.
  3. The third is of the professional elites and upper-middle class, who benefited from the economic boom of the 2000s and now have much to lose.

The overwhelming majority of Russia’s 140 million people worry about declining living standards, falling health and education levels, material insecurity, and corruption. A few weeks ago, protests erupted in many regions and across social classes against a government plan to raise the pension age – polls show that eight out of 10 Russians oppose the reform -. This demonstrated a swell of mistrust in the authorities, with many people doubting that the Putin system has their best interests at heart. Furthermore, sociologists at the independent Levada Centre in Moscow point to a rising pessimism. Despite TV propaganda – or perhaps because of it – more and more Russians say they are gloomy about their personal prospects, as well as about the country’s future. There is also concern about military involvement in Ukraine and Syria, and the toll these conflicts are having on young soldiers. Link

It’s Time For a Perspective

Compare the defense budgets of the United States and Russia. The president recently signed a gargantuan $700 billion gift to the Pentagon, with marginal dissent from either party or their affiliated media outlets. The budget increase alone ($61 billion) exceeds Russia’s entire annual expenditure ($46). The U.S. military budget now equals more than the combined budgets of China, Russia, Britain, Japan, Saudi Arabia, India, and France. As Vice concluded, “it’s 14 times larger than the Kremlin’s budget.”

Furthermore, covert American operations are deeply invested in interrupting democratic processes not only in Russia, but everywhere else. This includes the heart of Europe, where corporate media is now pretending the United States has always respected happy norms and decorum. It is as if the Snowden leaks never happened. The Defense Department’s tapping of Angela Merkel’s phone never happened. The Obama administration’s spying on the German press, including Der Spiegel, never happened. The same administration’s outing of German government whistle-blowers never happened.

Prominent think tanks in Washington are funded by the Gulf states. The United Arab Emirates contributes generously to the coffers of the Middle East Institute (MEI) and the Center for American Progress (CAP). The Brookings Institute graciously accepts millions from Qatar. The Atlantic Council and Center for Strategic and International Studies enjoy similar arrangements with other oppressive regimes like Saudi Arabia. The same can be said for numerous other repressive governments beyond the Gulf. And then there are the defense contractors, Wall Street banks, and Silicon Valley behemoths, all of which have joined such governments in capturing intellectual real estate in academia as well. Link

China’s social credit

China’s social credit system, a big-data system for monitoring and shaping business and citizens’ behaviour, is reaching beyond China’s borders to impact foreign companies, according to new research.

The system, which has been compared to an Orwellian tool of mass surveillance, is an ambitious work in progress: a series of big data and AI-enabled processes that effectively grant subjects a social credit score based on their social, political and economic behaviour.

People with low scores can be banned or blacklisted from accessing services including flights and train travel; while those with high scores can access privileges. The Chinese government aims to have all 1.35 billion of its citizens subject to the system by 2020. Link

Is It Time To Leave Earth?

From kilobytes to petabytes from 1s and 0s to Qubits we now have a glimpse of a future so immense that it has set off alarm bells for famed futurists like Ray Kurzweil, Max Tegmark and now the co-founder of string theory and best selling author Michio Kaku. Kaku is one of the most popular scientists on earth and is one of the very few figures that are able to talk a scientific language that most of us can understand. Link

Amateur wine scores are every bit as good as professionals

Few consumer products offer as staggering a range of choice as wine. You can buy a bottle of Dark Horse Big Red Blend for $8. Or for around $500, you can get a 2012 bottle of Sloan Proprietary Red. Yet for each bottle, the same question applies: Is it any good?

For decades, Americans turned to professional critics like Robert Parker to help them make that determination. But the internet changed all that. Link

Things to Consider Before Choosing Sides

Ali A. Risvi

Are you “pro-Israel” or “pro-Palestine”? It isn’t even noon yet as I write this, and I’ve already been accused of being both.

These terms intrigue me because they directly speak to the doggedly tribal nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You don’t hear of too many other countries being universally spoken of this way. Why these two? Both Israelis and Palestinians are complex, with diverse histories and cultures, and two incredibly similar (if divisive) religions. To come down completely on the side of one or the other doesn’t seem rational to me.

It is telling that most Muslims around the world support Palestinians, and most Jews support Israel. This, of course, is natural — but it’s also problematic. It means that this is not about who’s right or wrong as much as which tribe or nation you are loyal to. It means that Palestinian supporters would be just as ardently pro-Israel if they were born in Israeli or Jewish families, and vice versa. It means that the principles that guide most people’s view of this conflict are largely accidents of birth — that however we intellectualize and analyze the components of the Middle East mess, it remains, at its core, a tribal conflict.

By definition, tribal conflicts thrive and survive when people take sides. Choosing sides in these kinds of conflicts fuels them further and deepens the polarization. And worst of all, you get blood on your hands.

So before picking a side in this Israeli-Palestine conflict, consider these questions: Link



IBIS Power introduces the breakthrough solution that supplies the needed energy for high rises. PowerNEST is more efficient than other existing renewable systems as it makes use of both wind and sun, integrated in a single solution. This way, it generates as much energy as possible on the limited roof space of highrises, delivering an attractive payback time. In addition, PowerNEST can be customized to blend with the architectural design thus increasing the aesthetical value of the building. Link


Welcome to heaven

Architect Rob Derks designed Houten to prioritise pedestrians and cyclists over motorists. A ring road circles the suburb, and residential districts within are only accessible to cars through these roads on the edge of town. Instead, there is an extensive network of paths and cycle lanes connecting these areas. Link

Silicon as a new storage material

Longer life times, larger ranges and faster recharging—developments such as electric mobility or the miniaturisation of electronics require new storage materials for batteries. With its enormous storage capacity, silicon would potentially have decisive advantages over the materials used in commercial available lithium-ion batteries. But due to its mechanical instability, it has so far been almost impossible to use silicon for storage technology. A research team from the Institute for Materials Science at Kiel University, in cooperation with the company RENA Technologies GmbH, is developing anodes made of 100% silicon, as well as a concept for their industrial production. Through targeted structuring of its surface at the micrometer level, the team can fully exploit the storage potential of silicon. This opens up a completely new approach to rechargeable batteries, as well as the energy storage of tomorrow. Link

“Weathered but wiser”

Our decision to sell up, buy a boat and sail around the world had been slightly more challenging than anticipated.
We had begun the journey with much bravado on our 46-foot yacht “Boomerang” in the UK and ended our first stint weathered and wiser in Sardinia.
During that time, we’d clocked up a rescue from the coast guard thanks to a huge rope we collected around our propeller, two haul outs to get the sail drive fixed, a couple of leaks and countless days in marinas trying to get various gauges and gadgets repaired.
There had been near misses with unidentified vessels on night sails, close calls with erratic powerboat owners in Ibiza and way too much rowing in a fuel-hungry dinghy. Link

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