Watching and Ignoring

What We're Watching:

Saudi Vegas — Last year, Saudi Arabia announced plans to build a Las Vegas-sized city near Riyadh that will host cultural, entertainment and sporting events in a country that has little history of any of these things. Next month, the kingdom will get its first public movie theaters after a 35-year ban. This week, the government announced plans to invest $64 billion over ten years to promote tourism and to give Saudis more opportunities to get out of the house. Imagine the controversies to come.


Rohingya and social media — In Myanmar, about 90 percent of people have a mobile phone, making Facebook an important source of news in that country. Unfortunately, fake news is as prevalent in Myanmar as in other countries, and some have planted false accusations against the Muslim-minority Rohingya population to support a campaign of murder, rape, and arson against the group by Myanmar’s Army, forcing hundreds of thousands of Rohingya across the border into Bangladesh. The UN says it’s the fastest mass expulsion of people since the genocide in Rwanda nearly a quarter century ago.

Billy Graham — In an age of anonymous vitriol and political bitterness, it is still possible, maybe essential, to honor the sincerity and integrity of those with whom we have profound, fundamental disagreements. Christian evangelist Billy Graham passed this week. Among other things, he was the most charismatic public speaker this author has seen. Graham was far from a perfect practitioner of all he preached, particularly on questions that combined sexuality and civil rights, but he was also that rare leader, spiritual or political, who shunned personal profit and treated others with care.

What We're Ignoring

Justin Trudeau’s Trip to India — You have to see the photos to understand why we’re averting our eyes. And there are plenty of them.

Wilbur Ross — Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross won the award for “Least Romantic Thing Ever Said” this week. Referring to the viability of commercial space operations, he said “I think a lot depends upon how successful we are in turning the moon into a kind of gas station for outer space.” Wilbur just fatally compromised his (admittedly limited) future as Hollywood’s next romantic leading man.

Another Kazakh alphabet — About four months ago, we let you know we were ignoring Kazakhstan’s new written alphabet, because we expected further changes. Our prediction was deadly accurate. Earlier this month, Kazakhstan’s government announced that it’s changing the alphabet againthis time because over-used apostrophes just completely freaked people out. The apostrophes have now been replaced by accents. (That’ll solve it.) There are other changes, but don’t try to memorize them. They’ll probably change it again soon.

Scientists, engineers and technologists are turning to nature in search of solutions to climate change. Biomimicry is now being applied in the energy sector, medicine, architecture, communications, transport and agriculture in a bid to make human life on this planet more sustainable and limit the impacts of global warming. New inventions have been inspired by humpback whales, kingfishers and mosquitoes.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

The drumbeat for regulating artificial intelligence (AI) is growing louder. Earlier this week, Sundar Pichai, the CEO of Google's parent company, Alphabet, became the latest high-profile Silicon Valley figure to call for governments to put guardrails around technologies that use huge amounts of (sometimes personal) data to teach computers how to identify faces, make decisions about mortgage applications, and myriad other tasks that previously relied on human brainpower.

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January 27 marks 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi extermination camp. But even as some 40 heads of state gathered in Jerusalem this week to commemorate the six million Jews who were killed, a recent Pew survey revealed that many American adults don't know basic facts about the ethnic cleansing of Europe's Jews during the Second World War. Fewer than half of those polled knew how many Jews were killed in the Holocaust, and close to a third didn't know when it actually happened. Here's a look at some of the numbers.

1: The Greek parliament has elected a woman president for the first time since the country's independence some 200 years ago. A political outsider, Katerina Sakellaropoulou is a high court judge with no known party affiliation. "Our country enters the third decade of the 21st century with more optimism," Greece's prime minister said.

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A quarantine in China– Local authorities have locked down the city of Wuhan, the source of the outbreak of a new and potentially deadly respiratory virus that, as of Thursday morning, had infected more than 540 people in at least six countries. Other nearby cities were also hit by travel restrictions. Rail and air traffic out of Wuhan has been halted. Public transportation is shut, and local officials are urging everyone to stay put unless they have a special need to travel. Wuhan is a city of 11 million people, many of whom were about to travel for the Chinese New Year. We're watching to see whether these extraordinary measures help stem the outbreak, but also to see how the people affected respond to the clampdown.

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