Roundup #250

By Justin Long

Issue No. 250 – 21 May 2021

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New Events

Northern Africa (266m)

Egypt: water supplies safe despite Ethiopia’s filling the dam reservoir. Arab Weekly
… but ‘will respond’ if Ethiopia does something other than generate electricity from the dam

TunisAir becomes the first foreign carrier to resume flights to Libya. Al Jazeera

Tunisia lockdown ends, despite Africa’s worst Covid death rate. Guardian
… 327k infections, 11,899 deaths (4% CFR) … projection of 50,000 deaths by September

Algeria backs off reopening land borders, will resume international flights in June. Reuters

East Africa (520m)

Madagascar: the worst drought in 40 years threatens famine. ReliefWeb
… FAO report: 1.14m in high acute food insecurity. FAO PDF

Ethiopia announces June 21 date for twice-delayed elections. Al Jazeera

Crisis in Mozambique is grabbing the world’s attention. CFR
… or CFR’s attention, at any rate. Over 700,000 IDPs and 1m facing hunger.

Western Africa (457m)

Fresh attacks and dire conditions plague Africa’s Sahel. UN

Boko Haram leader reportedly ‘badly wounded’ – Arab News
… he’s been reported dead several times, though …
Separatist movements in Nigeria. Cameroon are joining forces. FP
… escalating pro-independence movements are igniting ethnic tensions, threatening regional stability …

Nigerian government to launch ops in SE against IPOB independence force – CFR
… “Indigenous People of Biafra” – same group joining forces with Cameroonians

Western Asia (303m)

As the level of the Euphrates drops, Syrian civilians on its banks pay the price. Syria Direct
… drop caused by decrease in water flowing from Turkey …
… reduces water level of the lakes behind three dams, causing water & power crisis …

Lebanon’s disappearing Ramadan Iftar: ‘we eat and drink from garbage.’ CNN
… “Fasting is simple in crisis-hit Lebanon. The struggle is finding food for Ramadan dinner”

The coming crisis in Idlib. Brookings
… On July 10, the last remaining border crossing between Turkey and Idlib may close
… For 3.4 million civilians, including 2 million IDPs, this will be “a disaster”
… 75% of NW Syria dependent on UN aid to meet needs, of which 85% comes through border crossing

The toll of 8 days of conflict in Gaza and Israel. NYT *
Israel says Hamas leaders are its primary target. WSJ
… some suggestions this demonstrates the conflict may be nearing an end …
… a cease-fire could come as soon as Friday – WSJ 
… the cease-fire came in a few hours before the Roundup goes – NYT
How evictions in Jerusalem led to Israeli-Palestinian violence. CFR
Mob violence against Palestinians is fueled by groups on WhatsApp. NYT *
Gaza doctors say hospitals overwhelmed with casualties from airstrikes. WSJ
Israeli airstrikes damaged Gaza’s only lab for processing Covid tests. NYT *
… the strike targeted a building across the street, but the building and some people were damaged by shrapnel

South + Central Asia (2b)

Cyclone Tauktae impacts Covid-19 ravaged India. AccuweatherNPR

continues to set world records for daily Covid deaths: now 267k cases, 4,529 deaths. Axios
virus spreads to its rural villages, where healthcare is hard to find. WPost
… “rural areas spared in the first wave but now face devastating numbers of infections”
stench of death pervades rural India as Ganges swells with Covid victims. Guardian
crisis hits Covax vaccine sharing scheme. BBC
vaccine-maker hopes to share shots by end of the year. AP
Covid causes orphan crisis in India. Al Jazeera

Sri Lanka teaches the world how not to respond to Covid-19. Diplomat
… “bungled communications and ethnic profiling” …

Nepal: Act to avert looming Covid-19 disaster. Human Rights Watch
Steep Covid-19 rise in Nepal mirrors India’s surge. WSJ
… in early March, 100 new daily cases. Today, more than 9,000 daily cases …

Will Uzbekistan cotton reap the benefits of Xinjiang’s alleged labor abuses? SCMP

Eastern Asia (1.6b)

China’s rust belt population plummeted in the last decade. SCMP
… Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning lost 30% of their population from 2010-2020
… Prosperous provinces make up 40% of population in 2020
… Regional economic divide exacerbated

What lessons does Japan hold for China’s shrinking workforce? SCMP
… pension reforms, use of robotics and automation …

30 million unmarried men in China. SCMP
… shortage of single women mostly a result of 40-year one-child policy

China registers an average of 10 million new marriages per year. Link

Divorces cut 70% by new ‘cooling off’ law. Guardian
… must wait 30 days to formalize divorce … government wanted to discourage rising divorce rate to cope with demographic crisis … some alleged that fewer people would want to get married … the fashionable “flash marriage” and “flash divorce”

Chinese contractors dominate Africa’s megaprojects. SCMP
… first went to Africa in 1979. Today, they are the dominant force, winning a majority of megaprojects in Africa.

Southeast Asia (700m)

Timor-Leste’s flood displaced face food, health, Covid-19 worries. New Humanitarian

‘Facade of tolerance’: Is Indonesia’s blasphemy law unfair to minority groups? SCMP

Covid-19 comes to Cambodia. Brookings
… As of May 18, 159 deaths and 23,282 total cases … and exponential growth …
… linked to four Chinese nationals caught bribing security guards, fleeing quarantine
… “The growth of this ‘foreigners disease’ risks fueling antagonism against China”

Myanmar: Fears for supplies as exodus grows from fighting: 15k in India. Reuters
… Activists say more than 800 have been killed since the coup. Reuters

N America / W Europe

Europe opens to vaccinated visitors. Link


Covid case data

… 5/20: 165.0m (+4.4m) cases, 3.42m deaths … 5/14: 160.6m (+5.2m) cases, 3.35m deaths
… 5/7: 155.4m (+5.5) cases, 3.24m deaths
… 4/30: 149.9m (+5.1) cases, 3.15m deaths
… 4/23: 144.8m (+6.32) cases, 3.07m deaths
Trackers: Johns HopkinsNYT

Asia suffers outbreaks where Covid-19 had seemed beaten. WSJ

The 60-year-old scientific screwup that helped Covid kill: all about aerosols and droplets. Wired

Longer Reads

How noisy is your company? book review of “Noise,” the latest from Daniel Kahneman & company. Link

What I’ve just finished

  • Conflicted – wonderful thought-provoking book on enabling productive “difficult conversations.” Amazon
  • Messengers – who we listen to, and why. Cultural critique + a little self-help. Amazon
  • Driving in the Dark: 10 propositions about predictions & national security. More for forecasting. Amazon

Kindle samples I’m exploring

  • Upstream – starts by exploring what we can predict & what we can’t. Amazon
  • Noise – bias (aim is off) vs noise (unsystematic error) – intriguing idea not often focused on. Amazon
  • Mine! – stories fascinated me with the nuances of arguments of ownership – Amazon
  • Fifty inventions that changed the world – the implications of things – Amazon
  • Undercover Economist – economic thinking and scarcity, that I hadn’t thought about – Amazon
  • The Data Detective – because I’m always interested in statistical stuff – Amazon

Tech & Futures

Israel’s Iron Dome, explained by an expert. Vox
… expensive system designed specifically to intercept rockets …

What England’s new vaccine passport could mean for Covid tech’s next act. MIT

Blue Origin is auctioning off a tourist seat on a space flight: current bid is $2.6 million. Link

China landed its own rover on Mars for the first time. MIT Tech Review

The Pentagon inches toward letting AI control weapons: in swarms of robots, so many are involved that no human operator can keep an eye on all of them. But does that mean we should tell an AI “weapons free” and let it go? Wired

… Scenarios like ‘Micro Drones Killer Arms Robots’ make me very leery of this. Youtube

… Autonomous killer drones may already be in the field: “Was a flying killer robot used in Libya? Quite possibly.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

In the midst of the global chip shortage, lots of countries are trying to up their national production of chips–but it’s a long, expensive process. South Korea.

Ransomware attacks are going to get worse: “the next big gasoline shortage is coming.” Atlantic

On the other hand, the attention brought by the scope of the ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline sparked focus by the US government. Then, suddenly, multiple ransomware groups began saying they were shutting down or scaling back. It’s one thing to scam a bunch of people out of $1,000 each, but when you poke the bear, suddenly it’s all “Sorry, our bad, please don’t send the drones.” Reuters

Ironically, KrebsOnSecurity suggests adding a Russian virtual keyboard to stop malware in its tracks: apparently, malware authors already know they don’t want to mess with the Russians. Link

Ordered online, assembled at home: the deadly toll of California’s “ghost guns”, DIY firearms. Link

Seven Apple suppliers accused of using forced labor from Xinjiang. Link

And: Censorship, Surveillance and Profits: a hard bargain for Apple in China. Link
… Apple customers in China have their data available to the government.

ChinaSource: to WeChat or not WeChat? Link

Ford unveils first electric pickup truck: “decarbonization has entered a new era” – Atlantic

* Source that may be behind a paywall.

New Essay: Measuring

“Les chiffres sont les signes de Dieu”—Statistics are signs from God—is attributed to Prior Roger Schultz of Taize. It’s interesting that this is in the plural: a single number, existing on its own, does not tell us the whole story. Considering multiple ways of measuring a fact can give us more insight into what the signpost is telling us—if we take the time to do so.

The number itself is obviously the first and foremost piece of information. Three questions immediately arise: is the number truthful—is it accurate—is it precise?

Read the whole thing online.

Also, last week’s essay (correct URL, now):
Urbanization and measuring the remaining task

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