Islam as statecraft: How governments use religion in foreign policy

Peter Mandaville and Shadi Hamid at the Brookings Institution: The discussion of Islam in world politics in recent years has tended to focus on how religion inspires or is used by a wide range of social movements, political parties, and militant groups. Less attention has been paid, however, to the question of how governments—particularly those in the Middle East—have…

New paper claims that LIGO’s gravitational wave detection from a neutron star merger can’t be right

Sabine Hossenfelder in Back Reaction: The executive summary of the paper is this. They claim that the optical signal does not fit with the hypothesis that the event is a neutron-star merger. Instead, they argue, it looks like a specific type of white-dwarf merger. A white-dwarf merger, however, would not result in a gravitational wave…

These Truths

Scott Spillman in The Point: For educated liberals, Jill Lepore is perhaps the most prominent historian in America today. Since 2005, two years after she moved across the Charles River from Boston University to Harvard, Lepore has written dozens of reviews and essays for the New Yorker on everything from Thomas Paine and Kit Carson to Wonder…

Waymo to Start First Driverless Car Service Next Month

Tom Randall at Bloomberg: In just a few weeks, humanity may take its first paid ride into the age of driverless cars. Waymo, the secretive subsidiary of Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., is planning to launch the world’s first commercial driverless car service in early December, according to a person familiar with the plans. It will operate under a new brand and…

The Voice of the ‘Intellectual Dark Web’

Amelia Lester in Politico: One evening this fall at a house in West Hollywood, the Australian editor and writer Claire Lehmann had dinner with the neuroscientist Sam Harris and Eric Weinstein, the managing director of tech entrepreneur Peter Thiel’s investment firm. Joe Rogan, the podcast host, joined later on, when the group decamped to a comedy…

The Rivalry That Shaped Modern Egypt

Shadi Hamid in Foreign Affairs: Seven years since the heady days of early 2011, when massive, electrifying protests brought down the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, the political atmosphere in Egypt has turned somber. In 2013, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi overthrew President Mohamed Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who had narrowly won Egypt’s first free presidential election the…

The origins of Earth’s water are a big mystery—but we may have one more piece of the puzzle

Neel V. Patel in Popular Science: In a new paper published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, Arizona State University researchers suggest that water on Earth originated from material brought by asteroids, assisted by some leftover gas strewn about after the sun’s formation. This is certainly far from the first time people have suggested water as we…

A Hundred Years After the Armistice

Adam Hochschild in The New Yorker: For millions of soldiers, the First World War meant unimaginable horror: artillery shells that could pulverize a human body into a thousand fragments; immense underground mine explosions that could do the same to hundreds of bodies; attacks by poison gas, tanks, flamethrowers. Shortly after 8 p.m. on November 7, 1918, however, French troops…

The Coming of Age of Transgender Literature

Peter Haldeman in the New York Times: The Pioneer Valley in western Massachusetts is a cradle of social progress — a place where L.G.B.T.Q. is often followed by I.A. (for intersex and asexual), there’s a Stonewall Center (now 33 years old), and gender-nonconforming parents have a nickname of choice (it’s “Baba”). On a Maple-lined street…

Genes within Genes

Tyler Hampton in Inference Review: In a publication titled “Russian Doll Genes and Complex Chromosome Rearrangements in Oxytricha trifallax,” Jasper Braun et al. explore what they describe as “architectures that transcend simple twists and turns of the DNA.” The paper is short, dry, clear, and interesting. Oxytricha trifallax is a unicellular eukaryotic species and a ciliate, one widely…