As Joe Biden promises to follow Islamic State “to the gates of hell” and Iraqi warplanes put munitions behind that threat, the world is struggling to understand the murderous “caliphate” that beheaded a second American journalist — Steven Sotloff — this week. Look at their hands, observers say, and you will see a gesture similar to the Western “we’re number one” sign. For militants, it’s a powerful symbol for the oneness of Allah, used to represent the wide-reaching, fundamentalist goals of ISIS.
The Presidential Daily Brief
Who did the so-called Blade Runner really believe was behind his bathroom door? After 18 months of speculation and a gripping six-month trial, Judge Thokozile Masipa will finally deliver her verdict on Thursday. Will she accept that Pistorius actually thought there was an intruder in the house and, if he did, was his response reasonable? The hotly anticipated verdict is also a test for South Africa’s justice system which, 20 years after the end of apartheid, is still suspected of perpetuating inequality.
Given that NATO was founded to oppose the Soviet Union, its current mission is something of a homecoming. The Alliance convened this week to determine its response to Russia’s increasing incursion into Ukraine and approved the formation of a rapid-response force. But according to former CIA deputy director John McLaughlin, there is a risk that NATO will freeze under pressure, granting Moscow a major strategic advantage. Cash-strapped European countries are not undertaking the military spending required to keep an aggressive Russia in line.
In the 1970s, a small, radical political party started making waves about an independent Scotland. Come September 19, the Scottish Nationalist Party could be leading the country out of the U.K. forever, according to new polling figures that show the independence campaign has taken the lead for the first time. Pundits offer countless explanations, including that the decline of the British Empire and gradual dismantling of the welfare state both hit Scots hard, fueling anti-British sentiment.
Obama delays executive action on immigration. (USA Today)
Fresh shelling in Donetsk threatens ceasefire. (BBC)
American detained in North Korea will be tried next Sunday. (ABC)
Sierra Leone plans three-day Ebola lock down. (CNN)
Underdogs stun both Federer and Djokovic to reach U.S. Open final. (CBS)
Know that sense of impending doom when you’re not prepared for an exam? Some educators think this feeling may be worth the pain. “Pretesting,” or taking — and probably failing — a final exam at the beginning of a course, might be a good way to learn new skills and rewire your thinking about the material you’re about to study. Not convinced? A recent trial showed that students who had “pretested” before taking a class did 10 percent better on their final exams than those who had not.
It keeps us safe and it makes us miserable, but humans are hardwired for negativity. Two-thirds of the neurons in the brain’s amygdala are attenuated for negativity, quickly storing bad memories while positive cells take their time. Our words are mostly negative, our dreams tilt toward anxiety. This may have protected early humans when they were as likely to become dinner as enjoy it, but now it’s threatening our loves, livelihoods and peace. Today’s scientists are trying to determine if we should deny or embrace our dreary orientation.
Nobody knows his identity, but a tweeting vigilante is needling the Saudi Arabian monarchy, telling the secrets of the shadowy Al Saud family. This Twitter activist, who goes by the alias “Mujtahidd,” is armed with 140 characters and has been tweeting in opposition to the Saudi establishment and political elites, whom he says are greedy, corrupt and resistant to reforms. Many question his credibility, but his outspoken, controversial and often very accurate statements have gotten him over 1.5 million Twitter followers so far.
Luck, Texas, is a town as mysterious and strange as Willie Nelson himself. It’s a little Wild West film set on the corner of Nelson’s 700-acre property, constructed for Red Headed Stranger. Like the 81-year-old singer who built it, Luck is rambling, derelict and doesn’t give up its secrets easily. Since Nelson was nine, country music has been his constant, despite tax disasters, drugs and tragedy. Despite a fading memory, Nelson still spends 150 days a year on the road, sleeping in his biodiesel tour bus and practicing tae kwon do.
On Sunday, the NFL season begins in earnest, inspiring prognosticators to make history or make fools of themselves. Prediction: Cleveland won’t be playing Minnesota in the Super Bowl, hands down. Returning champion Seattle, however, is expected to boom its way to the next February classic in Glendale, Arizona, possibly for a rematch with a rejuvenated Denver seeking revenge for last February’s drubbing. But with faithful fans and profit-sharing at their backs, there’s no telling which upstarts might bring down empires.