Hard to believe that I visited Ukraine more than 10 years ago, but not hard to believe that it keeps coming up in US politics. Julia Ioffe explains why:
Whenever Ukraine appears in our news cycle, it is talked about as if it’s a simpler place than it is. The political dynamic gets reduced to neat binaries—the forces there are either pro-Russia or pro-West; leaders are either corrupt actors or laudable reformers; the good guys versus the bad guys. But that framework belies the moral complexity of the place, which is why it pops up in our domestic political scandals in the first place.
Ukraine would like America and Europe to think of it as a promising young democracy, the good little country struggling to fend off the gravitational pull of evil Russia. There is a lot of truth in that. But it is also an oligarchy where a very small number of people control the country’s natural resources, a legacy of its Soviet past. Around each of these people is a clan vying for influence, resources, and political power. They sponsor media outlets and politicians. Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, for example, has promised to fight corruption but is also closely linked with one of the country’s most powerful oligarchs.
Ukraine pops up in our domestic political scandals because it is in the middle of a tug-of-war between Russia and the West, and because Westerners go there to enrich themselves doing questionable work. But in our minds, it is a small country somewhere over the horizon, full of people with funny Slavic names. Ukraine is much easier to think about if we cram it into our own political dichotomies, even if that distorts what’s really happening on the ground. The problem in doing so, however, is that we become unwitting participants in someone else’s games.
Julia Ioffe is one of our best reporters on post-Soviet countries. She's right: the more private American citizens muck about in Ukraine, the more we're going to get sucked into post-Soviet politics.
I was busy today, and apparently so was everyone else:
I'm sure there was other news today. But this is what I have open in my browser for reading later on.
When your stupid, racist, age-befuddled uncle says something dumb at Thanksgiving dinner, the best course of action might be to ignore him. Unfortunately, when your stupid, racist, age-befuddled president says something dumb, you have to respond in some way. Which is how the U.S. has now ended up in a diplomatic tiff with, of all places, Denmark:
President Trump faced a fierce European backlash to his reported interest in acquiring Greenland from Denmark, as some lawmakers compared the idea to colonialism on Friday while officials on the island said they welcome investment but not a new owner.
“Of course, Greenland is not for sale,” Greenland’s government said in a statement, echoing earlier remarks by Greenland’s Foreign Minister Ane Lone Bagger.
In its statement, the government said it viewed the reports “as an expression of greater interest in investing in our country and the possibilities we offer.”
The news of Trump’s interest in purchasing Greenland comes ahead of a planned visit to the Danish capital of Copenhagen next month. Danes are worried this will derail the agenda of Trump’s trip.
“It will suck the oxygen out of the room and it will take over everything,” said Jon Rahbek-Clemmensen, a professor at the Institute for Military Operations at the Royal Danish Defence College.
Meanwhile, a Fox News (!) poll shows the four Democratic front-runners easily trouncing the president in 2020. Let's hope so.
A former FBI agent is using "cold-case" techniques to figure it out:
Gertjan Broek, a lead researcher with the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, believes that the search for an informant might prevent researchers from discovering what really happened. “By asking ‘Who betrayed Anne Frank?’ you actually assume tunnel vision already. You leave out other options,” he says.
It’s possible, Broek says, the Franks weren’t betrayed at all—instead they might have been discovered by accident. There’s a chance that those in hiding were discovered during a search regarding fraudulent ration coupons, he says after a two-year research project.
Another group of more than 20 forensic, criminology, and data researchers hope to narrow the margins to a single culprit. The team, led by retired FBI agent Vincent Pankoke, is treating the investigation like a modern cold case. For years they’ve been combing through archives and interviewing sources around the world while also using 21st-century technology to crosscheck leads. The team has created a 3-D scan of Frank’s hiding place to see how sounds might have traveled to nearby buildings.
Regardless, it's fairly certain that Anne Frank was not a "Belieber."
French inventor Franky Zapata piloted a jet-powered hoverboard across the English Channel yesterday, covering 32 km in 22 minutes, including a refueling stop on a boat:
Mr. Zapata’s first attempt to cross the English Channel had been intended to commemorate the 110th anniversary of the first flight between continental Europe and Britain, made by the French pilot Louis Blériot.
“What I have done is a lot smaller, but I followed my dream, and that’s huge,” Mr. Zapata told the BFM TV channel.
His device, a gas turbine-powered contraption fueled by five small jets, can theoretically fly up to 175 km/h at an altitude of 15 m to 20 m for about 10 minutes.
Last year, the French Defense Ministry pledged nearly $1.5 million to his company, Zapata Industries, to develop the device, which was featured at a military-sponsored convention.
Oh, right. So I don't get a flying car, but the French Army gets a bunch of them...
Still, this is a very cool achievement. And civilians will get jet-powered hoverboards someday.
Researchers from Rice University and residents of Iceland have put up a memorial to a glacier that disappeared in 2014:
The memorial is “a letter to the future.” It describes what we lost: the Okjokull glacier — and how we lost it: human-caused climate change. And yet it is hopeful, acknowledging “what is happening and what needs to be done.”
“Only you,” future visitor, “know if we did it.”
It’s a reminder of geologic times gone by, like a Mount Rushmore but for the natural landmarks we’ve lost. The plaque, dedicated to Iceland’s first glacier lost to climate change, will be installed next month in Borgarfjordur.
[A]ll of Iceland’s glaciers are projected to melt in the next two centuries. The Rice University researchers say they hope this small memorial helps create a path forward for thinking about climate change and its impact.
It was an ice thing to do as well.
As our planet warms to global average temperatures not seen in over 125,000 years, a pair of long-range studies has concluded the unique way or climate is changing right now, as opposed to the rest of history:
“The familiar maxim that the climate is always changing is certainly true,” Scott St. George, a physical geographer at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, said in a written commentary about the studies. “But even when we push our perspective to the earliest days of the Roman Empire, we cannot discern any event that is remotely equivalent — either in degree or extent — to the warming over the last few decades.”
One of the studies, published in the journal Nature, shows that the Little Ice Age and other natural fluctuations affected only limited regions of the planet at a time, making modern warming the first and only planetwide warm period in the past two millennia. The other study, published in Nature Geoscience, shows that the rate of modern warming has far outpaced changes that occurred before the rise of the industrial era.
For the Nature Geoscience study, the researchers charted global temperature averages over time, and then compared the data to a set of climate simulations to figure out what might have driven the changes. Neukom and his colleagues found that the fastest warming in the last two millennia occurred during the second half of the 20th century.
The researchers also found that the main cause of temperature fluctuations changed over time. Prior to 1850, fluctuations were mainly linked to volcanic eruptions, which cooled the planet by spewing sun-blocking ash into the stratosphere; after 1850, greenhouse gas emissions took the wheel.
As if to underscore that, today London saw temperatures over 37°C while France and other parts of Europe set new all-time heat records, with a reading of 42.6°C in Paris today.
As I mentioned this morning, the UK Met predicts that tomorrow—Boris Johnson's first full day as UK PM—will be the hottest day in recorded history for the country. Today, however, is already the hottest day in recorded history for the Netherlands and Belgium:
The Dutch meteorological service, KNMI, said the temperature reached 39.1°C at Gilze-Rijen airbase near the southern city of Tilburg on Wednesday afternoon, exceeding the previous high of 38.6°C set in August 1944.
In Belgium, the temperature in Kleine-Brogel hit 38.9°C, fractionally higher than the previous record of 38.8°C set in June 1947. Forecasters said temperatures could climb further on Wednesday and again on Thursday.
After several cities in France broke previous temperature records on Tuesday, including Bordeaux, which hit 41.2°C, the national weather service, Météo France, said Paris was likely to beat its all-time high of 40.4°C, set in July 1947, with 42°C on Thursday.
City records in Amsterdam and Brussels are also expected to fall. Cities are particularly vulnerable in heatwaves because of a phenomenon known as the urban heat island effect, in which concrete buildings and asphalt roads absorb heat during the day and emit it again at night, preventing the city from cooling.
Scientists have said such heatwaves are closely linked to the climate emergency and will be many times more likely over the coming decades.
Last month, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research said Europe’s five hottest summers since 1500 had all occurred in the 21st century – in 2018, 2010, 2003, 2016 and 2002.
And the band played on.
Significant changes in the northern jet stream has caused serious problems for Europe and South Asia:
Unusual jet stream behavior has been recorded every three to five years since 2000 — in 2003, 2006, 2010, 2015 and 2018 — turning what scientists initially thought could be an isolated abnormality into what appears to be a pattern, [Jeff Masters, co-founder and director of meteorology for Weather Underground] said.
What is surprising to scientists now is that the wavier-than-normal jet stream has returned for a second year in a row — the first time that has been observed, said Kai Kornhuber, a climate scientist at The Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York City.
“I wouldn’t have expected this situation to return so quickly after the extreme summer last year,” Kornhuber said. “It gives me the chills to see this evolving in real time again. It’s a really worrying development.”
This weather pattern brought temperatures over 45°C to France earlier this week:
The highest reliable June temperature previously recorded in France was 41.5°C on 21 June 2003. The country’s highest ever temperature, recorded at two separate locations in southern France on 12 August during the same 2003 heatwave, was 44.1°C.
“At our local Potsdam station, operating since 1893, we’re set to break the past June record by about 2C,” tweeted Stefan Rahmstorf, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Eastern parts of Germany, including Berlin, are already experiencing their hottest June on record.
“Weather data show that heatwaves and other weather extremes are on the rise in recent decades,” he said. “The hottest summers in Europe since the year AD1500 all occurred since the turn of the last century: 2018, 2010, 2003, 2016, 2002.”
Monthly records were now falling five times as often as they would in a stable climate, Rahmstorf said, adding this was “a consequence of global warming caused by the increasing greenhouse gases from burning coal, oil and gas”.
And the band played on...
Yesterday's devastating fire in the Cathédral de Notre-Dame de Paris fortunately left the walls and bell towers intact. But the destruction of the fire and roof could take 10-15 years to fix, according to Le Monde. So far, corporations and other European governments have pledged over €700m ($790m, £605m) towards rebuilding it:
- La famille Arnault a la première annoncé un "don" de 200 millions d'euros par le groupe de luxe LVMH et a proposé que l'entreprise mette à disposition ses "équipes créatives, architecturales, financières" pour aider au travail de reconstruction et de collecte de fonds ;
- La famille Bettencourt a annoncé deux dons de 100 millions d'euros, l'un via L'Oréal et l'autre via sa fondation ;
- La famille d'industriels Pinault, qui possède le groupe Kering, a annoncé débloquer 100 millions d'euros via sa société d'investissement Artemis ;
- Le PDG du groupe Total, Patrick Pouyanné, a annoncé sur son compte Twitter, que le groupe, qui se présente comme le "premier mécène de la Fondation du patrimoine", allait faire un "don spécial" de 100 millions d'euros.
In the past few weeks, 9 churches in France have burned; however, the Paris Police have opened an accident investigation, suggesting they don't believe it's related. Also, firefighters appear to have saved not only the bell towers but also the grand organ:
The culture minister, Franck Riester, said religious relics saved from the cathedral, including the Crown of Thorns and Saint Louis’s tunic, were being securely held at the Hôtel de Ville, and works of art that sustained smoke damage were being taken to the Louvre where they would be dried out, restored and stored.
He said three stained-glass “rose” windows did not appear to be damaged but would be examined more closely when the cathedral was made safe. Photos from inside the monument suggest Notre Dame’s grand organ, built in the 1730s and boasting 8,000 pipes, was spared from the flames.
Sixteen copper statues that decorated the spire, representing the 12 apostles and four evangelists, had been removed for restoration only a few days before the fire. Relics at the top of the spire are believed lost as the spire was destroyed.
Still, the damage is appalling. I join with the people of France in hoping that they will be able to rebuild, even if it takes until the 2030s.