Watching and Ignoring

What We're Watching

Will he or won’t he? — Later today, President Trump will decide whether to effectively scrap the Iran nuclear deal. We don’t think he’ll do it and, as UK Foreign Minister Boris Johnson made clear on Thursday, US allies won’t back such a decision. Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are working on legislation that would make the deal permanent by eliminating the “sunset provisions” on Iran’s nuclear restrictions. If Iran implements its long-term enrichment program — which the deal allows but Trump opposes — US secondary sanctions would be reimposed.


Protests in Tunisia — This is the place where the Arab Spring began. Tunisia is rightly considered the one true democratic success story that emerged from that upheaval, but its democracy has hardly been a model of stability. Hundreds have been arrested following anti-austerity protests in several cities. Seven years and nine governments later, the economic pain continues.

Boris Nemtsov Street — Here’s another sign that much of Washington doesn’t share President Trump’s benign view of Putin’s Russia. The Washington DC City Council voted Wednesday to rename the street in front of the Russian Embassy in honor of Boris Nemtsov, an opposition figure murdered near the Kremlin three years ago. Various makeshift memorials to Nemtsov in Moscow, installed by his supporters, have repeatedly been removed or vandalized. Maybe Russia will respond to Washington’s move by naming the street in front of the US Embassy in Moscow after Edward Snowden.

Kim Jong-un’s birthday — Dear Leader, you thought we forgot, didn’t you? You thought, “I’ll just execute anyone who tries to make my birthday (January 8) a national holiday so that no one over at Signal remembers the day and agonizes over what to get me this year.” Fat chance, old friend. Your Celine Dion tickets are in the mail!

What We're Ignoring

The cultural invasion of Iran — Iran’s High Council of Education has announced a ban on the teaching of English in primary schools to repel a “cultural invasion” from the West. Looks like an ineffectual response from Iran’s conservatives to recent protests in the country, the largest since 2009.

The Skype Inauguration — Pro-independence parties in Catalonia have reportedly agreed to inaugurate Carles Puigdemont, who remains in self-imposed exile in Brussels, as president via Skype. This is not a decision any intelligent algorithm would have made.

Norishige Kanai — A Japanese astronaut told the world this week that he had grown nine centimeters taller in space. That’s more than 3.5 inches. (It’s common for astronauts to grow two or three centimeters as a lack of gravity allows the spine to lengthen.) “I grew like some plant in just three weeks,” Kanai tweeted from space. “I’m a bit worried whether I’ll fit in the Soyuz seat when I go back.” Later, Kanai admitted a measurement mistake; he had grown just two centimeters or three-quarters of one inch. C’mon, Kanai-san, astronauts have to know how to measure things. We do like tweets from space though.

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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