27 November 2016

Thomas Heaton – Landscape Photography on Location: Travel, Learn, Explore, Shoot

in Bucharest, Romania
Landscape Photography On Location: Travel, Learn, Explore, Shoot by Thomas Heaton
Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.

I have discovered the work of UK landscape photographer Thomas Heaton through his YouTube channel around a year ago, and I have been following his videos with interest and enjoyment ever since. He has quite a talent for staging and keeping the story focused and fun. And that’s before starting to consider his actual photography, his attention to light and composition. The results are quite impressive. What I find very appealing is his discipline and restraint (if you can call it that): he strives to capture a single image per location, with the best lighting and composition, and do the least amount of postprocessing required. Since my passion for photography started with a film camera where you don’t have the luxury of shooting dozens of versions of the same scene to select the best later, I can relate closely to this style of working. I think many photographers would improve their skills considerably if they would adopt this approach for a limited period at least.

Professional lenses do not make the sun rise. Full frame cameras contribute nothing to the freezing of a Scottish Loch or the scattering of light in the earth’s atmosphere. A carbon fibre tripod has never been the known cause of the Aurora Borealis. No! You are the main contributing factor to a good image. You need to be planning and preparing. You need to be out of bed and hiking up that mountain before anybody else. You need to know your subject and learn when those magical conditions are likely to happen.

26 November 2016

Politico Magazine: ‘We’re the Only Plane in the Sky’

Ari Fleischer: As we were flying out of Sarasota, we were able to get some TV reception. They broke for commercial. I couldn’t believe it. A hair-loss commercial comes on. I remember thinking, in the middle of all this, I’m watching this commercial for hair loss.

Gordon Johndroe: [Putin] was important—all these military systems were all put in place for nuclear alerts. If we went on alert, we needed Putin to know that we weren’t readying an attack on Russia. He was great—he said immediately that Russia wouldn’t respond, Russia would stand down, that he understood we were under attack and needed to be on alert.

Ari Fleischer: Putin was fantastic that day. He was a different Vladimir Putin in 2001. America could have had no better ally on September 11th than Russia and Putin.

Rep. Adam Putnam: We get to Barksdale, keep in mind that we haven’t really had good TV images. We were all overwhelmed with emotion, because we were all catching up to where everyone else had had a couple hours to process. I called my wife and said, “I’m safe. I can’t tell you where I am.” And she said, “Oh, I thought you were in Barksdale? That’s what I saw on TV.”

Sonya Ross: I had started on the White House beat on September 11th, six years earlier. I said to Ari at some point, “This is my White House anniversary.” He laughed, “Some anniversary party you threw.”

Mike Morell: It was about an hour from touching down, pretty late in the day, a lot of people were asleep, and the lights on Air Force One were turned down. The president came back into the staff compartment. I was the only one awake. I said, “How are you doing?” “I’m just fine, thanks for asking.” One of the things that struck me, he transformed right before my eyes from a president who was struggling a bit with the direction of his administration on September 10th, to a wartime president, just in a matter of hours. I could already see this new confidence and power in him.

Karl Rove: I watched the fighters and I realized this was no ceremonial escort—this was the last line of defense in case there was a MANPAD [surface-to-air missile] on the approach to Washington. They were going to put themselves between Air Force One and whatever the threat was.

Garrett M. Graff

Gripping article (that could be made into a movie) about the September 11th terrorist attacks told from the unique perspective of the staff accompanying president George W. Bush. Together they spent the next eight hours in the only plane flying in the air, with very little information about the events down on the ground and trying to make decisions that could save or imperil the United States. It’s only 15 years ago, but the difference in terms of communicating are enormous. Also, I find it intriguing how, despite little to no contact with the outside world, Al Qaeda was already being singled out as the organization behind the attack – suggesting their plans were known to intelligence agencies but they didn’t take any action to prevent them. And with Donald Trump as president elect, it’s chilling to imagine how a similar scenario will play out under his leadership.

22 November 2016

iOS 10 is the most retarded update in the history of iOS

Even though Apple’s latest mobile OS was launched more than two months ago, I felt no need to update or try it out. Previous updates used to have many changes and improvements to talk and be excited about, but this one felt particularly unimportant. I don’t use Siri or Apple Maps, two of the main apps reportedly improved in iOS 10. iMessage also received much hyped changes in the form of flashy, utterly unnecessary stickers and gimmicky invisible text, but it’s another app I rarely use because, well, cross-platform apps are more convenient. As a photographer, I was interested in the ability to save RAW images from the camera – alas, Apple decided to keep that feature exclusive to its newer phones (6s and above I think) – in an effort to encourage the slow replacement cycle I’m sure.

Co.Design: “This $1,500 Toaster Oven is everything that’s wrong with Silicon Valley Design”

This salmon had become more distracting to babysit than if I’d just cooked it on my own. This salmon had become a metaphor for Silicon Valley itself. Automated yet distracting. Boastful yet mediocre. Confident yet wrong. Most of all, the June is a product built less for you, the user, and more for its own ever-impending perfection as a platform. When you cook salmon wrong, you learn about cooking it right. When the June cooks salmon wrong, its findings are uploaded, aggregated, and averaged into a June database that you hope will allow all June ovens to get it right the next time.

And yet, June is taking something important away from the cooking process: the home cook’s ability to observe and learn. The sizzle of a steak on a pan will tell you if it’s hot enough. The smell will tell you when it starts to brown. These are soft skills that we gain through practice over time. June eliminates this self-education. Instead of teaching ourselves to cook, we’re teaching a machine to cook. And while that might make a product more valuable in the long term for a greater number of users, it’s inherently less valuable to us as individuals, if for no other reason than that even in the best-case scenarios of machine learning, we all have individual tastes. And what averages out across millions of people may end up tasting pretty … average.

Mark Wilson

Interesting idea! I’m sure many people would love to have an intelligent oven that can quickly cook meals without much intervention while they’re doing other things – the closest thing today to a Star Trek food replicator. But the current implementation looks all kinds of bad.

21 November 2016

The New York Times: “The Right Way to Resist Trump”

Mr. Berlusconi was able to govern Italy for as long as he did mostly thanks to the incompetence of his opposition. It was so rabidly obsessed with his personality that any substantive political debate disappeared; it focused only on personal attacks, the effect of which was to increase Mr. Berlusconi’s popularity. His secret was an ability to set off a Pavlovian reaction among his leftist opponents, which engendered instantaneous sympathy in most moderate voters. Mr. Trump is no different.

We saw this dynamic during the presidential campaign. Hillary Clinton was so focused on explaining how bad Mr. Trump was that she too often didn’t promote her own ideas, to make the positive case for voting for her. The news media was so intent on ridiculing Mr. Trump’s behavior that it ended up providing him with free advertising.

Unfortunately, the dynamic has not ended with the election. Shortly after Mr. Trump gave his acceptance speech, protests sprang up all over America. What are these people protesting against? Whether we like it or not, Mr. Trump won legitimately. Denying that only feeds the perception that there are “legitimate” candidates and “illegitimate” ones, and a small elite decides which is which. If that’s true, elections are just a beauty contest among candidates blessed by the Guardian Council of clerics, just like in Iran.

Luigi Zingales

Sad but true. Twitter is full of outrage against Trump and he hasn’t even been sworn in yet. If people don’t learn to pick their fights, these are going to be a couple of very long and angry years. Not to mention counterproductive: as during the campaign, constant attacks directed at Trump only serve to strengthen his image of outsider, rally his supporters and distract the opposition with a thousand fake causes while he pushes other agenda. The noise is even more annoying as non-American; I’m seriously considering filtering out tweets about Trump (and Mike Pence) from TweetDeck.

20 November 2016

Tan Twan Eng – Grădina cețurilor din amurg

in Bucharest, Romania
Tan Twan Eng - Gradina ceturilor din amurg

Există o zeiță a Memoriei, Mnemosina, dar nu și o zeiță a Uitării. Și cu toate astea ar trebui să fie, pentru că sunt surori gemene, forțe pereche care ne însoțesc pe drumul vieții până la moarte, luptându‑se să pună stăpânire pe noi și pe ceea ce suntem.

Richard Holmes, Rătăciri prin memorie și uitare

După o viață în slujba legii, întâi ca procuror al crimelor japoneze de război, apoi ca judecător, Teoh Yun Ling se retrage în munți la Yugiri, singura grădină japoneză din Malaezia, lăsată moștenire de proprietarul originar, Aritomo Nakamura. O supraviețuitoare a lagărelor japoneze de concentrare din Asia de Sud‑Est în timpul celui de‑al Doilea Război Mondial, Yun Ling suferă acum de o boală neurodegenerativă incurabilă care îi va eroda încet dar sigur memoria, furându‑i identitatea și amintirile tumultoase – care este de altfel motivul pentru care s‑a retras prematur din postul ei. Singurii apropiați din tinerețea ei rămân vechiul ei prieten Frederik, proprietar al plantației vecine de ceai Majuba, și bătrânul servitor care a avut grijă de grădină de zeci de ani. Deși caută izolarea, Yun Ling permite unui specialist japonez în stampe să viziteze Yugiri pentru a examina opera lui Aritomo și a o reproduce pentru cunoscători. Fost grădinar al Împăratului Japoniei, Aritomo fusese exilat din Țara Soarelui Răsare înainte de război și a căpătat o notorietate neașteptată pentru grădina lui din munți și mai apoi din cauza dispariției misterioase în junglă. Prinsă între propria memorie care se năruie și amintirile răscolite de întoarcerea în grădină, între Zeița Memoriei și cea a Uitării, Yun Ling se hotărăște să pună pe hârtie momentele care i‑au definit viața, atât cât le mai poate reconstitui.

Deși scrisă de un străin, romanul Grădina cețurilor din amurg mi s‑a părut că întruchipează într‑un mod excepțional spiritul japonez. Personajul lui Aritomo reflectă pe de o parte datoria neclintită față de Împărat, chiar și atunci când nu este de acord cu deciziile acestuia, pe de alta o complexitate greu de pătruns, ascunsă de lume nu de frică sau rușine, ci dintr‑un simț al demnității și intimității. Cu fiecare dezvăluire despre trecutul lui se nasc alte întrebări, la care însă Yun Ling nu mai poate găsi acum răspunsuri, ci doar reinterpretări ale propriilor experiențe într‑o nouă lumină.

19 November 2016

The Guardian: “China’s memory manipulators”

Observing China sometimes requires a lens like Nagel’s. Walking the streets of China’s cities, driving its country roads, and visiting its centres of attraction can be disorienting. On the one hand, we know this is a country where a rich civilisation existed for millennia, yet we are overwhelmed by a sense of rootlessness. China’s cities do not look old. In many cities there exist cultural sites and tiny pockets of antiquity amid oceans of concrete. When we do meet the past in the form of an ancient temple or narrow alleyway, a bit of investigation shows much of it to have been recreated. If you go back to the Five Pagoda Temple today, you will find a completely renovated temple, not a brick or tile out of place. The factory has been torn down and replaced by a park, a wall, and a ticket booth. We might be on the site of something old, but the historical substance is so diluted that it feels as if it has disappeared.

Other emotions are more ambiguous. The bluntest I have experienced is this: a country that has so completely obliterated and then recreated its past – can it be trusted? What eats at a country, or a people, or a civilisation, so much that it remains profoundly uncomfortable with its history? History is lauded in China. Ordinary people will tell you every chance they get that they have 5,000 years of culture: wuqiannian de wenhua. And for the government, it is the benchmark for legitimacy in the present. But it is also a beast that lurks in the shadows.

Ian Johnson

Interesting perspective on China’s troubled relationship with the past, the tension between its millennia-old traditions and Mao’s Cultural Revolution. The current leaders are trying to reconcile them and consolidate their legitimacy on Confucian teachings, but the whole effort reads like a benign version of the fluent, state-controlled history in 1984.

17 November 2016

The Keyword: “Introducing a smarter and more beautiful Google Play Newsstand”

Today, we are announcing a complete redesign of Newsstand that focuses on three big improvements: personalization, rich media, and the extension of our platform to the web.

A fully personalized news and magazine reader for you

We are applying the power of Google machine learning to Newsstand’s rich catalog in order to find and recommend the most timely, relevant stories for you based on your individual interests.

Sami Shalabi

If Google is serious about curbing fake news, maybe it should start with its own blogs: the Newsstand web app is only available in Chrome, so the claim available anywhere you want it, including the web is pure bullshit. Maybe the intention is to gradually expand support for other browsers, but why not just say that in the announcement?

Also I love how, with all their fancy machine learning technology, Google still can’t figure out the correct temperature scale to use for local weather. I have to manually select Celsius from the settings – even though I selected this across all other Google apps tied to my account.

15 November 2016

BuzzFeed News: “Renegade Facebook Employees form Task Force to battle Fake News”

It’s not a crazy idea. What’s crazy is for him to come out and dismiss it like that, when he knows, and those of us at the company know, that fake news ran wild on our platform during the entire campaign season, said one Facebook employee, who works in the social network’s engineering division. He, like the four other Facebook employees who spoke to BuzzFeed News for this story, would only speak on condition of anonymity. All five employees said they had been warned by their superiors against speaking to press, and feared they would lose their jobs if named.

The employees declined to provide many details on the task force. One employee said “more than dozens” of employees were involved, and that they had met twice in the last six days. At the moment, they are meeting in secret, to allow members of the group to speak freely and without fear of condemnation from senior management. The group plans to formalize its meetings and eventually make a list of recommendations to Facebook’s senior management. Another Facebook employee said while the task force remained small, “hundreds” of Facebook employees had expressed dissatisfaction with the company’s stance on fake news in private online chats, and wanted to support efforts to challenge that position.

Sheera Frenkel

I wonder how these groups are coordinating inside Facebook while hiding from other employees and their managers. Maybe with third party apps (iMessage?) on their phones? I imagine they wouldn’t want to use Facebook Messenger or other internal communication apps that could in theory be accessed by IT.

13 November 2016

Michael Moore: “5 Reasons Why Trump Will Win”

Never in my life have I wanted to be proven wrong more than I do right now.

I can see what you’re doing right now. You’re shaking your head wildly – “No, Mike, this won’t happen!” Unfortunately, you are living in a bubble that comes with an adjoining echo chamber where you and your friends are convinced the American people are not going to elect an idiot for president. You alternate between being appalled at him and laughing at him because of his latest crazy comment or his embarrassingly narcissistic stance on everything because everything is about him. And then you listen to Hillary and you behold our very first female president, someone the world respects, someone who is whip-smart and cares about kids, who will continue the Obama legacy because that is what the American people clearly want! Yes! Four more years of this!

Michael Moore

And, unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened for more or less the reasons laid out here. A shame that nobody seemed to take this prediction seriously. Trump’s victory is as much a result of the artificial redistribution of votes through the electorate college (Hilary Clinton having won the popular vote), of the massive dissemination of disinformation through social media, and the missteps of the Clinton campaign.

11 November 2016

Medium: “What do games tell us about intelligence?”

Bill Robertie described, in a short letter to Inside Backgammon, his finding that Backgammon had a depth of 8, Chess 14, and Go 40. So what about the Imitation Game? What is the depth of the human game? Here, all of the sudden, the depth of the game itself says something directly about human intelligence, not just the complexity (or lack thereof) of a given board game. Beyond what we can learn about intelligence from the computer play of board games: could studying comparisons made by the Imitation Game provide insights about the nature of human intelligence as well? Computer programs have taught us new things about Backgammon, Chess, and Go, but can they also teach us about ourselves?

Johan Ugander

Another insightful article related to the recent victory of AlphaGo over a human opponent, covering some historical perspective and the connections between the simplest games and the Holy Grail of AI research, the Turing test. It underlines again the distinction between AI getting increasingly better at a specific task (so good that chess-playing AI may soon have nowhere to improve) and an AI that can mimic the complex behavior of humans.

Amusing side-note: apparently Tinder uses the same Elo rating system to predict dating matches, giving a whole new meaning to the ‘game of love’.

10 November 2016

Android Central: “A weekend with Google Home: Where’s the magic?”

Sorry, I don’t know how to help with that. But my team is helping me learn.

I’ve heard that phrase, or some variant of it, 47 times since I took Google Home out of the box. Google’s answer to everything Home can’t do right now is a reminder that this system is designed to constantly improve, and for techy nerds like me that’s a comfort. My greatest personal hypocrisy is telling people not to buy gadgets that promise to get better with age and then turning around and doing it myself, and Google Home is no different.

Google Home is exactly the same as Amazon Echo to my family, by which I mean they have no interest in using it because their stuff isn’t available to them with the same ease my information is available to me. I’m the only one who can ask for a calendar recap. News briefs only come from my input. Traffic conditions are based on my drive routes. Multiple account support isn’t easy, but it’s the only way this speaker gets used by anyone other than me most of the time, and that’s not great.

Russell Holly

A gadget category I have no intention of buying whatsoever (mainly because I don’t see its usefulness), but interesting to see conclusions from other people testing them. As with other tech products centered on the smart assistant idea, the biggest issue is inconsistent and missing data; few people will take the time to constantly feed the system to receive relevant recommendations in return. And the concept of voice-based interface is ridiculous if it can’t distinguish between family members.

09 November 2016

Nautilus: “Human and Artificial Intelligence may be equally impossible to understand”

Das, Batra, and their colleagues then try to get a sense of how the network makes its decisions by investigating where in the pictures it chooses to look. What they have found surprises them: When answering the question about drapes, the network doesn’t even bother looking for a window. Instead, it first looks to the bottom of the image, and stops looking if it finds a bed. It seems that, in the dataset used to train this neural net, windows with drapes may be found in bedrooms.

While this approach does reveal some of the inner workings of the deep net, it also reinforces the challenge presented by interpretability. “What machines are picking up on are not facts about the world”, Batra says. “They’re facts about the dataset.” That the machines are so tightly tuned to the data they are fed makes it difficult to extract general rules about how they work. More importantly, he cautions, if you don’t know how it works, you don’t know how it will fail. And when they do they fail, in Batra’s experience, “they fail spectacularly disgracefully.”

Aaron M. Bornstein

While machine learning has shown promise lately in the field of artificial intelligence, the complexity of the algorithms prevents even the people designing them from understanding how exactly does their machine work. This may not seem important at first, except… Not understanding the reasons behind the success can have many unintended, unpredictable consequences. It means you can’t improve the results, because you don’t know the factors contributing to the efficiency of the machine. It also means it’s very hard to spot false answers, as described in the example above. That may not seem such a big deal when AI is beating humans at board games, but if you employ these methods on more sensitive areas like treating diseases or managing city traffic the results could be catastrophic. AI could provide excellent results in some cases (on datasets similar to the one used for its training) but fail miserably in others – a common concern with self-driving cars. Placing faith in empirical success is not exactly a good method for advancing in a complex field – without an underlying theory progress can stall at any moment without a new path to follow.

08 November 2016

Quartz: “Google’s AI won the game Go by defying millennia of basic human instinct”

The AlphaGo-Lee Sedol matchup was an intense contest between human and artificial intelligence. But it also contained several moves made by both man and machine that were outlandish, brilliant, creative, foolish, and even beautiful. Deconstructing the gameplay helps explain why AlphaGo’s achievement is even more notable than it may seem on the surface and points to a fascinating future for AI.

Lee went on to win the fourth game. AlphaGo regained its composure to win the fifth and take the match, 4–1. But that brief moment of unusual and effective strategizing by Lee demonstrated that the true value of artificial intelligence reaches far beyond the simplistic narrative of man versus machine. Instead, AI’s potential may be in teaching humans new ways of thinking for ourselves.

Joon Ian Wong & Nikhil Sonnad

AlphaGo’s victory in March was surprising for many, generating a number of over-enthusiastic articles and predications. But I think the best takeaway is simply the one stated here: given the complexity of the game – indeed even AlphaGo doesn’t evaluate every possible consequence of a move, relying on heuristics to determine the most likely outcomes – there are numerous styles of play that haven’t been explored until now. Since AlphaGo doesn’t come with the human ‘baggage’ of relying on the experience of previous players, it can experiment with new solutions and so the competition between human and artificial minds can uncover different strategies that were previously ignored. It will be interesting to follow the developments, especially since the CEO of DeepMind announced on Twitter new games for next year, but I don’t think we can easily generalize these results to the entire AI field.

The New York Review of Books: “Ur-Fascism”

But in spite of this fuzziness, I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.

3. Irrationalism also depends on the cult of action for action’s sake. Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection. Thinking is a form of emasculation. Therefore culture is suspect insofar as it is identified with critical attitudes. Distrust of the intellectual world has always been a symptom of Ur-Fascism, from Goering’s alleged statement (When I hear talk of culture I reach for my gun) to the frequent use of such expressions as “degenerate intellectuals”, “eggheads”, “effete snobs”, “universities are a nest of reds”. The official Fascist intellectuals were mainly engaged in attacking modern culture and the liberal intelligentsia for having betrayed traditional values.

4. No syncretistic faith can withstand analytical criticism. The critical spirit makes distinctions, and to distinguish is a sign of modernism. In modern culture the scientific community praises disagreement as a way to improve knowledge. For Ur-Fascism, disagreement is treason.

5. Besides, disagreement is a sign of diversity. Ur-Fascism grows up and seeks for consensus by exploiting and exacerbating the natural fear of difference. The first appeal of a fascist or prematurely fascist movement is an appeal against the intruders. Thus Ur-Fascism is racist by definition.

Umberto Eco

Go through this list of features typical of emergent fascism and compare them with the recent developments in our modern world, from Brexit to the current American election to Erdogan’s Turkey – and more – the similarities are disturbing. Even more remarkable: the article is more than twenty years old.

07 November 2016

Rolling Stone: “Inside the Artificial Intelligence Revolution (Pt. 1)”

As for the dangers of AI, LeCun calls them “very distant”. He believes the notion that intelligent machines will evolve with the trappings of human intelligence and emotion is a fallacy: A lot of the bad things that come out of human behavior come from those very basic drives of wanting to survive and wanting to reproduce and wanting to avoid pain. There is no reason to believe robots will have that self-preservation instinct unless we build it into them. But they may have empathy because we will build it into them so they can interact with humans in a proper way. So the question is, what kind of low-level drives and behaviors do we build into machines so they become an extension of our intelligence and power, and not a replacement for it?

On my way out of Facebook, I’m struck by how densely packed everyone is in the office – this is an empire of human beings and machines working together. It’s hard to imagine the future will be any different, no matter how sophisticated our robots become. Algorithms are designed and built by humans, and they reflect the biases of their makers, says Jaron Lanier, a prominent computer scientist and author. For better or worse, whatever future we create, it will be the one we design and build for ourselves. To paraphrase an old adage about the structure of the universe: It’s humans all the way down.

Jeff Goodell

According to Silicon Valley, Artificial Intelligence is the next big frontier of technological advancement – even though nobody’s quite sure how to achieve it or if it’s good or bad. Every time I read another article brimming with excitement about how great things will be I stop for a moment and remember travelling to the country here in Romania. Once you step out of the larger cities, every village and road here seems disconnected from the hectic flow of the world. It’s next to impossible to imagine how any advance in AI could change these places where even the Internet has a marginal effect; at some level this puts these discussions into perspective.

The National Cyber Security Centre: “The problems with forcing regular password expiry”

password must contain ... and the blood of a virgin

The problem is that this doesn’t take into account the inconvenience to users – the ‘usability costs’ – of forcing users to frequently change their passwords. The majority of password policies force us to use passwords that we find hard to remember. Our passwords have to be as long as possible and as ‘random’ as possible. And while we can manage this for a handful of passwords, we can’t do this for the dozens of passwords we now use in our online lives.

To make matters worse, most password policies insist that we have to keep changing them. And when forced to change one, the chances are that the new password will be similar to the old one.

Attackers can exploit this weakness.

The new password may have been used elsewhere, and attackers can exploit this too. The new password is also more likely to be written down, which represents another vulnerability. New passwords are also more likely to be forgotten, and this carries the productivity costs of users being locked out of their accounts, and service desks having to reset passwords.

The National Cyber Security Centre

Good to see a sensible recommendation coming from an important organization such as the UK’s authority on cyber security. Managing multiple passwords and updating them every one to three months, depending on policy, is a chore that I would happily live without. I usually end up setting the same password for multiple accounts because it’s easier to remember – but this has the downside that each account password expires at a different time and so they quickly become ‘out-of-sync’. Sadly, I don’t think corporate IT departments will implement it any time soon.

06 November 2016

The Guardian: “Uncovering the brutal truth about the British empire”

The Mau Mau uprising had long fascinated scholars. It was an armed rebellion launched by the Kikuyu, who had lost land during colonisation. Its adherents mounted gruesome attacks on white settlers and fellow Kikuyu who collaborated with the British administration. Colonial authorities portrayed Mau Mau as a descent into savagery, turning its fighters into “the face of international terrorism in the 1950s”, as one scholar puts it.

The British, declaring a state of emergency in October 1952, proceeded to attack the movement along two tracks. They waged a forest war against 20,000 Mau Mau fighters, and, with African allies, also targeted a bigger civilian enemy: roughly 1.5 million Kikuyu thought to have proclaimed their allegiance to the Mau Mau campaign for land and freedom. That fight took place in a system of detention camps.

Marc Parry

If, like me, you read the novel The River Between and wondered what happens to the characters after the abrupt ending, this article is a good place to start. As I feared, the tension described in the book has erupted into open revolt, ending in the loss of countless lives.

05 November 2016

The Guardian: “The sugar conspiracy”

The most prominent recommendation of both governments was to cut back on saturated fats and cholesterol (this was the first time that the public had been advised to eat less of something, rather than enough of everything). Consumers dutifully obeyed. We replaced steak and sausages with pasta and rice, butter with margarine and vegetable oils, eggs with muesli, and milk with low-fat milk or orange juice. But instead of becoming healthier, we grew fatter and sicker.

Look at a graph of postwar obesity rates and it becomes clear that something changed after 1980. In the US, the line rises very gradually until, in the early 1980s, it takes off like an aeroplane. Just 12% of Americans were obese in 1950, 15% in 1980, 35% by 2000. In the UK, the line is flat for decades until the mid-1980s, at which point it also turns towards the sky. Only 6% of Britons were obese in 1980. In the next 20 years that figure more than trebled. Today, two thirds of Britons are either obese or overweight, making this the fattest country in the EU. Type 2 diabetes, closely related to obesity, has risen in tandem in both countries.

Ian Leslie

Interesting article about the scientist who warned about the health issues excess sugar can cause decades ago – and was met with criticism and derision by his fellows. An unfortunate example where the scientific method takes the back seat to personal feuds and corporate interests in the food industry. The official bodies and the press are beginning to acknowledge the problem, but much of the damage has already been done.

The Guardian: “The reluctant jihadi: how one recruit lost faith in Isis”

Abu Ali had heard about the Yazidi sex slaves, though he had never encountered any himself. The men called them “sabaya”. They were mostly rewards for officers or men who had done well on the front – not for delinquents like Abu Ali. Over the next few hours he heard the girls laughing, and once he heard them sobbing. He assumed it was because they missed their families. Later that day, a shouting match erupted in the dozen or so men in Abu Ali’s guesthouse. All of them wanted the sabaya. It went on for half an hour or so, getting increasingly heated.

Then a man in fatigues burst into the guesthouse. He looked like a commander. He asked where the sabaya were, and one of the men pointed to the door of the next room. He marched in without a word. Two loud shots rang out. The man in fatigues walked out again. Abu Ali, sitting in a chair by the door, stared up at him, frozen. “What did you do?” he asked. The man seemed unruffled. “Those girls were causing trouble between the brothers, so I dealt with them”, he said. And he walked out.

Robert F Worth

More about the horrors of living under ISIS rule, from an unlikely recruit who quickly realized this was not his faith nor his place in the world and managed to escape and return to his family.