Bold start. Smooth finish. A spicy, daily cocktail of emerging changemakers, trends and delicious recommendations. Sip on the newsletter that interesting people love.
Sep 13, 2021
Happy Monday! I’m a physicist by training and deeply skeptical of conspiracy theories and claims of UFO sightings. But today you’ll meet an Israeli researcher who’s making me rethink my views on aliens … using solid science to hunt down extraterrestrial life. Check out how Australia, South Africa and India could offer lessons to America on tackling deep political polarization. And learn why picking between Chilean and Peruvian potatoes is … a hot potato.
It’s easier for the U.S. and the U.K. to agree on countering Russia than on defeating COVID-19. Britain has dropped plans to enforce a vaccine passport in October that would have required proof of inoculation against the virus at most public places. Across the pond, President Joe Biden’s moves to pressure unvaccinated Americans to take the shot are drawing flak from Republicans, even though several GOP-ruled states have mandated other vaccines. Meanwhile, South Africa is also introducing vaccine passports to drive up inoculation rates. (Sources: Guardian, NYT, France24)
2 - Tax Tussle
House Democrats hope to raise $2.9 trillion in extra taxes through a plan to fund the party’s ambitious new project to dramatically upgrade the social security net for Americans. The corporate tax rate could leap from its current 21% to as high as 26.5%. But the ruling party will likely need to compromise, with thin margins in both chambers of Congress and moderate and rural Democrats unconvinced about some of the proposed measures. How high should the corporate tax rate go? Vote here or on Twitter. (Sources: WaPo, WSJ)
3 - Ant Can’t
China plans to force fintech giant Ant to break up its wildly popular payments app Alipay and hand over user data to a new joint venture in which the communist-ruled government is part owner. It’s the latest blow to China’s booming fintech industry in a crackdown led by President Xi Jinping. Last year, Ant was poised for what could have been one of the biggest IPOs in history — before Beijing ordered it to drop those plans. (Source: FT)
4 - Women Can’t Either
The Taliban has forbidden coeducational classrooms at universities, insisting that gender segregation be mandatory under the hardline Islamist group’s interpretation of their religion. (Sources: BBC, Deutsche Welle)
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TheHarvard astrophysicist isn’t just convinced that aliens exist — he’s confident they’ve already visited us on Earth. “Oumuamua” — which roughly translates to scout in Hawaiian — was a long, cigar-shaped object captured by high-resolution telescopes in 2017. And while many other scientists have disagreed with him, Loeb has since passionately argued, including in scientific publications, that the visitor washumanity’s first confirmed contact with extraterrestrial beings. In July, the former Israeli soldier took his belief to a new level, unveiling an initiative called theGalileo Project,with $1.75 million in private funding, to use artificial intelligence-powered telescopes to hunt for aliens.
2 - Sofia Sheikh
She has a knack for finding the bizarre.Scrolling through Reddit in her free time in 2015, when she was an undergraduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, she came across a $100 million project to search for aliens. Today, six years later, the PhD student at Penn State is leading efforts under that initiative to track down a surprising signal that astronomers detected late last year from the direction of Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to the Solar System.
3 - Zhang Tongjie
But if there are aliens out there,52-year-old Zhang wants China to be the first to find them. The cosmologist at Beijing Normal University is his country’s leading alien detective, and last year finally won his government’s approval to access the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST) — one of the world’s most powerful telescopes ever, unveiled recently on a mountaintop in southwestern China. Globally, astronomers believe FAST is our best bet at tracking extraterrestrial life. Zhang’s got the dream seat.
Ways to Make Politics Less Partisan
As Congress battles to find common ground on anything, check out some ideas that encourage politicians to build consensus.
Could America’s two-party system be the problem? Some experts argue it’s a recipe for a greater move toward extremes, with little room for centrists. Instead, look at India, the world’s largest democracy. Prime Minister Narendra Modi holds abigger majority in parliament than any leader in nearly four decades. Yet the country’s dynamic multi-party system serves as a check, forcing him to occasionally bend. A range of political parties, many of them regional, are in power in several of the nation’s 31 state legislatures. To implement most national policies, Modi needs to get them on board.
2 - Ranked Choice Voting
Australia has used RCV for over a century, and the method has helped it diversify its polity in ways that seemed impossible. What was once a three-party system has flourished under RCV, with an average of nearly seven candidates per ballot and about 40 parties represented in the 2019 national elections. The system, which allows voters to rank candidates by preference, eliminates the possibility of “spoiler” candidates and incentivizes politicians to seek support beyond their core base — forcing them to build coalitions and campaign across party lines. Ireland has a similar system. And America doesn’t even need to look beyond its borders: Maine used RCV in the 2020 presidential election.
3 - National Unity Governments
But there’s another way too — though it calls for rare statesmanship. In 1994, Nelson Mandela won a resounding majority for the African National Congress in South Africa’s first post-apartheid election. Yet he built on his vision for a “rainbow nation” by appointing his closest political rival and former President F.W. de Klerk as his deputy president. Over in the Americas, Costa Rica’s President Carlos Alvarado Quesada, a former rock singer and novelist, called for a government that included ministers from rival parties even after his comfortable win in the 2018 election. Is it just a coincidence that the tiny nation routinely tops Latin America on democratic indices?
These spicy squabbles over specialties and basics alike are a reminder of just how central food is to our identity.
Is the knafeh Palestinian or Israeli, Turkish orEgyptian? The sweet-as-sugar dessert that’s filled with cheese and topped with nuts is claimed by all of the Middle East. The only way to settle this debate is to taste every version. I have … but I won’t influence you. Read more.
2 - Kimchi
Most of us know it as a Korean staple made of fermented vegetables. But in 1996, Japan tried to pitch its own version, calledkimuchi, as an official food of the Atlanta Olympics, upsetting South Korea. And last year, that tussle turned triangular when a Chinese state publication claimed that thecountry had set the global standard in kimchi, sparking allegations of culinary appropriation. Like kimchi, this fight has a sting that isn’t going anywhere fast.
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