Matters of Facts, and Opinions, this week

Public Health Crucial for Urbanized World, by Nate Berg  Report

CC BY-SA 2.0,

Memorial to John Snow’s public health breakthrough in London. Wikipedia/Creative Commons

About 4 billion people now live in urban areas. Denser concentrations are considered efficient, reduce environmental impact and are more sustainable. They also mean a greater risk of exposure to infectious diseases.

Pope at Auschwitz, Says Same Horrors Happening Today, by Philip Pullella  Report

Pope Francis made an emotional and silent visit to the former Nazi death camp at Auschwitz, and said many of the horrors committed are happening in places at war today.

Bernie or Bust? – Smells Like White Privilege, by Tom Regan   Column

On the opening day of the U.S. Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, I invented a drinking game. Every time I saw a black or Hispanic (heck, any person of colour, period) shown by the cable news networks of Bernie Sanders supporters, I would take a swing of beer. I ended the night stone cold sober.

Turkey’s Shock Waves Slam Middle East, by Jonathan Manthorpe   Column

The fascist coup of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – for that is what it is – has thrown a large boulder into the boiling, muddy waters of the Middle East.

Photos Shape Attitudes to Refugees: View from Australia, by Jane Lydon  Essay

Photography has mapped a distinctively Australian version of this global story. Once migrants were represented as complex, vulnerable, diverse people. Today the Australian government seeks to suppress photographs of asylum seekers, seemingly from fear that such images will prompt empathy with them and undermine border security policy.

Boys arrange blocks at a brick factory on the outskirt of Sanaa, Yemen May 28, 2016. Picture taken May 28, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

Boys arrange blocks at a brick factory on the outskirt of Sanaa, Yemen May 28, 2016. Picture taken May 28, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

Mud, Water, Fire: Building Sanaa, by Mohamed al-Sayaghi   Photo essay

Author J.K. Rowling speaks to media as she arrives at a gala performance of the play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child parts One and Two, in London, Britain July 30, 2016. REUTERS/Neil Hall

Author J.K. Rowling REUTERS/Neil Hall

Yemen, a poor country awash with weapons where the rule of law is weak, is no stranger to conflict. But the war that erupted last year brought widespread destruction. The traditional houses of Sanaa, a UNESCO world heritage site said to have been founded by the son of Prophet Noah two and half millennia ago, have been spared – mostly.

Harry Potter Has Cast Last Spell — J.K. Rowling, by Alexander Smith  Arts report

Harry Potter has cast his last spell, his creator J.K. Rowling said at the gala opening of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” in London’s West End.

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When a future generation looks back, what will they consider the landmark event of 2016? Heat records; British and American political upheaval; space exploration; Zika? My guess is the first around-the-world airplane journey on solar power, by the Solar Impulse. It’s a globe-sized rebuttal to naysayers who claim we can’t solve environmental problems and keep our options open.


Why we’re post-fact, by Peter Pomerantsev in Granta, is one of more thoughtful explanations for our bread and circus times.  Excerpt:

As his army blatantly annexed Crimea, Vladimir Putin went on TV and, with a smirk, told the world there were no Russian soldiers in Ukraine. He wasn’t lying so much as saying the truth doesn’t matter. And when Donald Trump makes up facts on a whim, claims that he saw thousands of Muslims in New Jersey cheering the Twin Towers coming down, or that the Mexican government purposefully sends ‘bad’ immigrants to the US, when fact-checking agencies rate 78% of his statements untrue but he still becomes a US Presidential candidate – then it appears that facts no longer matter much in the land of the free. When the Brexit campaign announces ‘Let’s give our NHS the £350 million the EU takes every week’ and, on winning the referendum, the claim is shrugged off as a ‘mistake’ by one Brexit leader while another explains it as ‘an aspiration’, then it’s clear we are living in a ‘post-fact’ or ‘post-truth’ world. Not merely a world where politicians and media lie – they have always lied – but one where they don’t care whether they tell the truth or not.

How did we get here? Is it due to technology? Economic globalisation? The culmination of the history of philosophy? There is some sort of teenage joy in throwing off the weight of facts – those heavy symbols of education and authority, reminders of our place and limitations – but why is this rebellion happening right now? Read the full article here. (Granta) via the Ethical Journalism Network

Ursula Franklin died this month. She was, said one of her colleagues in a University of Toronto memorium,  “one of Canada’s and the world’s most important interdisciplinary scholars. With a background in the sciences, engineering and physics, a strong scholarly engagement and achievement in philosophy and remarkable lifelong advocacy for peace, humanism, and the human priorities for technology, Dr Franklin’s work will live on for centuries to come.”

Who Is Polluting Rio’s Bay?” asked the New York Times. It sent a team of writers, photographers and a web producer to find out, and produced the kind of thoughtful, gorgeous and disturbing read that is too rare on the web.

“Anger is the emotion that has come to saturate our politics and culture. Philosophy can help us out of this dark vortex” writes Martha Nussbaum in Aeon magazine, with Oxford University Press.

America’s fall election will be, as usual, a fight between behemoths. This time, they’re poles apart. Noted  New York Times in the wake of the party conventions, “this is not going to be a “there’s no difference between the candidates” election.” Scores of people run for president, including under America’s Green and Libertarian parties. In healthy democracies, the Greens, Libertarians and others would receive their due. In the black-or-white U.S. everything is starkly simplistic: Democrat Hillary Clinton vs. Republican Donald Trump. America’s impact on the world is outsized. Here are the two party platforms, a must-read for anyone who wishes to be informed:

2016 US Democratic Party Platform 

2016 US Republican party Platform

Health authorities this week reported the first Zika infections transmitted by mosquitoes in the U.S., in Florida.  From our archives, read Love in the time of Zika by Beverley Paterson: “Love, sex and babies are the foundation of human existence. Without them the human race ceases to exist. Zika, a virus that few people had heard of a month ago, has suddenly disrupted this normal course of events.”

Reader-Supported Facts and Opinions is employee-owned and ad-free. We survive on an honour system. Thanks for your interest and support. Details.


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