Red Lines (Again) and Beyond

US President Donald Trump has promised to respond to the Syrian regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons on the town of Douma. His immediate challenge is to do so in a way that demonstrates US resolve to, well, respond, but which doesn’t risk opening up a more direct conflict with Russia or Iran, both of which now have troops and advisers embedded throughout the country.


But beyond the narrow question of if and how to respond to the chemical attack hangs the broader question of whether the US intends to stay in Syria and if so, under what pretext. Trump has signaled he wants out, though the Pentagon has evidently persuaded him to stay a while longer. Broadly speaking there are three possible objectives for staying:

To fight ISIS, in eastern Syria, where American forces have worked with Kurdish and Arab militias to all but eliminate the self-styled caliphate’s territorial reach. Leaving could allow ISIS to regroup, but as my pal Willis notes, what’s the harm in letting Iran and Russia deal with that problem if they want ownership over the postwar outcome?

To stop Russia and Iran from establishing Syria as a postwar client state. This is not a feasible objective given the relatively limited US presence. Russia, Iran, and Turkey — which are more involved — are already leading their own peace process without the US. Absent a significant increase in US troops, which the American public — including but not limited to Trump’s base — would never support, this isn’t a realistic goal.

To prevent humanitarian catastrophe and war crimes. Trump’s retaliation against Syria for chemical attacks certainly imposes some limited costs on the Assad regime, but are they enough to deter their future use? It was (exactly) a year ago that Trump hit Syria with 59 cruise missiles in response to a chemical attack. And yet the use of chemical weapons has continued, right through the Douma attack.

Technology is changing the way modern geologists locate precious resources and harness energy. With supercomputers capable of processing geophysical data from all over the world, geologists are reconstructing models of the subsoil to identify hydrocarbon deposits. The efficiency of these powerful data processors can scan massive rock formations to help laboratories analyze geological systems. While today's modern geologists still have a compass and hammer to collect samples, petaflops of computing power are changing energy research at lightning speed.

Learn more at Eniday: Energy Is A Good Story

Are e-Cigs an example of tech gone wrong?


There's a real tradeoff in e-cigarettes. To the extent that people stop smoking regular cigarettes to use e-cigarettes, that's good. To the extent that new people who wouldn't have been smokers, particularly young people, start smoking, that's bad. Now there are real societal problems and health problems and the data show that there are lots of new people starting to smoke. I don't think of it as much as a tech problem though or tech gone wrong as much as a social problem.


Moviepass has shut down. Final thoughts?


Moviepass was this insane business. You pay them ten dollars a month and then they let you see all the 2D movies you want. That was one business plan. They had about 20 business plans. It's kind of just, there lots of tech companies where the business model is: pay us a dollar and we'll pay you two dollars. And then they say to the venture capitalists: "Look we're growing. Give us more money." Of course that's going to run out.


Nostalgia. What's the next old tech about to make a resurgence?


Snapchat. A year ago, it looked like they were poached. That Instagram was just going to knock them out. And now, everybody's using Snapchat again.

Following another inconclusive election this week, Israel's politics are in turmoil, and the man at the center of the battle to form the next government is neither the embattled prime minister nor the opposition leader who appears to have bested him.

More Show less

Justin Trudeau's Bid to Save Face – Canada's prime minister shouldn't play dress-up anymore. An unfortunate series of outfits he and his family wore during a visit to India in 2018 drew widespread mockery, and now there are old photos and video of Justin Trudeau wearing brown and black makeup on separate occasions at costume parties years ago. Trudeau has acknowledged that the costumes are racist and apologized profusely. It'll be up to Canadian voters to decide on October 21 just how seriously they take these spectacular lapses of judgment and good taste. In the meantime, Signal readers can enjoy this video of Trudeau throwing himself down a flight of stairs.

More Show less

30: A U.S. drone strike aiming to hit an ISIS stronghold in Afghanistan, killed at least 30 civilians. There are around 2,000 ISIS fighters in Afghanistan, but some have been known to switch alliances between different insurgent groups, according to the US military.

More Show less