Celebration and national pride overwhelm the Egyptian capital
CAIRO, Egypt -- One longs to know what finally convinced Hosni Mubarak to relinquish his office. What, as of this afternoon, did he see that he could not have seen before? By the end of January, he must have known that his people were desperate to be rid of him. By the end of last week, they showed they were prepared to fight and die. And by yesterday night, after his weird and deluded speech failed to mollify crowds and instead pumped them full of wrath, he must have known that the movement would metastasize beyond Tahrir Square, and that by staying in power he was only making things worse.
One theory: He was watching his own state television network. This afternoon around three o'clock, a crowd of about 1,000 people had the entrance of the building blocked, in an effort to send a message that could penetrate even the waxy ears of official State media. The crowd's cheers were led by a girl, no older than six, but with the lungs developed far beyond her years. Riding the shoulders of a man, probably at her father, she screamed the familiar incantations of Egyptian democracy, and the crowd screamed with her. Five minutes after she started, I saw her thwack her dad on the back, like a horse: she wanted not to face the crowd, but instead to face the M1 tanks and freshly stretched razor wire that stood between her and the state television building. If Mubarak was looking at the live raw feed from the windows of that building, he would have seen the glare of a child, fixed with bravery and loathing, and leading a crowd of thousands. How can one look back at that and continue in office is beyond me, and perhaps proved beyond him, too.
Tonight, when the announcement of Mubarak's resignation percolated through Cairo's alleys, car horns confirmed the news before Twitter did. For the last several hours, the horns have not stopped. Not only in Tahrir, but also parts of Cairo so-far untouched by rioting, the refrain is "We are Egyptians: Hold up your head." This is entirely apposite, for a movement that Mubarak tried to slander as a foreign plot. But it's also something one has heard in Tahrir for many days. A man with a bandage told me he had applied for a visa to Canada but no longer had any intention of using it, because of the pride he felt in his country. Mubarak, he said, had defamed and befouled a great civilization. "Now I will never leave this place," he said. "This is my country. I finally discovered this."
There are, now, few reminders of the squalid last moments of Mubarak's dictatorship. The curfew, imposed as an inconvenience to make the protests unpopular, is completely ignored. The bridges I once scurried across furtively late at night in hopes that I wouldn't be noticed and arrested, are now packed with cars and crowds, who are setting off firecrackers and engaging in light celebratory pyromania. Pieces of sheet metal crinkle underfoot: These were the barricades, now disassembled and trampled. The song of choice, played no fewer than five times in succession this evening near Talaat Harb Square, is Shadia's "Ya Habibti Ya Masr" -- "Oh Egypt, My Beloved."
And where to now? When the sun rises tomorrow on an Egypt that is so much closer to democracy, it will shine first on Sharm al Sheikh, where Mubarak fled this afternoon and is, one presumes, on the phone at this very minute to verify reports that his family assets in Swiss banks have been frozen. I've met almost no one in Tahrir willing to countenance amnesty for 30 years of corruption and tyranny, not to mention a crowning week of thuggery and murder. The crowds today are celebrating. Perhaps tomorrow will see a mass road trip to the Sinai.
Today’s empires are born on the web, and exert tremendous power in the material world.
Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t had the best week.
First, Facebook’s Free Basics platform was effectively banned in India. Then, a high-profile member of Facebook’s board of directors, the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, sounded off about the decision to his nearly half-a-million Twitter followers with a stunning comment.
“Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades,” Andreessen wrote. “Why stop now?”
After that, the Internet went nuts.
Andreessen deleted his tweet, apologized, and underscored that he is “100 percent opposed to colonialism” and “100 percent in favor of independence and freedom.” Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, followed up with his own Facebook post to say Andreessen’s comment was “deeply upsetting” to him, and not representative of the way he thinks “at all.”
Why the Syrian war—and the future of Europe—may hinge on one city
This week, the Syrian army, backed by Russian air strikes and Iranian-supported militias including Hezbollah, launched a major offensive to encircle rebel strongholds in the northern city of Aleppo, choking off one of the last two secure routes connecting the city to Turkey and closing in on the second. This would cut supplies not only to a core of the rebellion against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but also to the city’s 300,000 remaining civilians, who may soon find themselves besieged like hundreds of thousands of others in the country. In response, 50,000 civilians have fled Aleppo for the Turkish border, where the border crossing is currently closed. An unnamed U.S. defense official toldThe Daily Beast’s Nancy Youssef that “the war is essentially over” if Assad manages to seize and hold Aleppo.
By announcing the first detection of gravitational waves, scientists have vindicated Einstein and given humans a new way to look at the universe.
More than a billion years ago, in a galaxy that sits more than a billion light-years away, two black holes spiraled together and collided. We can’t see this collision, but we know it happened because, as Albert Einstein predicted a century ago, gravitational waves rippled out from it and traveled across the universe to an ultra-sensitive detector here on Earth.
This discovery, announced today by researchers with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO), marks another triumph for Einstein’s general theory of relativity. And more importantly, it marks the beginning of a new era in the study of the universe: the advent of gravitational-wave astronomy. The universe has just become a much more interesting place.
By mining electronic medical records, scientists show the lasting legacy of prehistoric sex on modern humans’ health.
Modern humans originated in Africa, and started spreading around the world about 60,000 years ago. As they entered Asia and Europe, they encountered other groups of ancient humans that had already settled in these regions, such as Neanderthals. And sometimes, when these groups met, they had sex.
We know about these prehistoric liaisons because they left permanent marks on our genome. Even though Neanderthals are now extinct, every living person outside of Africa can trace between 1 and 5 percent of our DNA back to them. (I am 2.6 percent Neanderthal, if you were wondering, which pales in comparison to my colleague James Fallows at 5 percent.)
This lasting legacy was revealed in 2010 when the complete Neanderthal genome was published. Since then, researchers have been trying to figure out what, if anything, the Neanderthal sequences are doing in our own genome. Are they just passive hitchhikers, or did they bestow important adaptations on early humans? And are they affecting the health of modern ones?
When two black holes collide, the noises scientists hear are birdlike.
This morning, scientists from the Laser Interferometer Gravity Observatory announced that LIGO had detected gravitational waves from the collision of two black holes, an event so cataclysmic that it converted the mass of three solar systems into pure energy in about a tenth of a second.
Scientists have been trying to figure out how to “listen” to gravitational waves—and to prove their existence—ever since Einstein predicted them in 1915. But until September 14, 2015, when the colliding black-hole event was first detected, this was beyond our technical abilities. In the words of Scott Hughes, “Gravity is a weak force. Measuring these things is bloody hard.”
Hughes is a theoretical physicist at MIT who has been contemplating LIGO since its inception in 1992. He has struggled with a question at the heart of the observatory program: Once we do hear gravitational waves, how will we know where they come from? How can we use them to explore the mysteries of the cosmos? To this end, Hughes has modeled the “sounds” of a host of astrophysical events, including colliding black holes. (You can listen to his impressions of these sounds below.)
The number of American teens who excel at advanced math has surged. Why?
On a sultry evening last July, a tall, soft-spoken 17-year-old named David Stoner and nearly 600 other math whizzes from all over the world sat huddled in small groups around wicker bistro tables, talking in low voices and obsessively refreshing the browsers on their laptops. The air in the cavernous lobby of the Lotus Hotel Pang Suan Kaew in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was humid, recalls Stoner, whose light South Carolina accent warms his carefully chosen words. The tension in the room made it seem especially heavy, like the atmosphere at a high-stakes poker tournament.
Stoner and five teammates were representing the United States in the 56th International Mathematical Olympiad. They figured they’d done pretty well over the two days of competition. God knows, they’d trained hard. Stoner, like his teammates, had endured a grueling regime for more than a year—practicing tricky problems over breakfast before school and taking on more problems late into the evening after he completed the homework for his college-level math classes. Sometimes, he sketched out proofs on the large dry-erase board his dad had installed in his bedroom. Most nights, he put himself to sleep reading books like New Problems in Euclidean Geometry and An Introduction to Diophantine Equations.
Once it was because they weren’t as well educated. What’s holding them back now?
Though headway has been made in bringing women’s wages more in line with men’s in the past several decades, that convergence seems to have stalled in more recent years. To help determine why, Francine D. Blau and Lawrence M. Kahn, the authors of a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research parse data on wages and occupations from 1980 to 2010. They find that as more women attended and graduated college and headed into the working world, education and professional experience levels stopped playing a significant role in the the difference between men and women’s wages. Whatever remains of the discrepancy can’t be explained by women not having basic skills and credentials. So what does explain it?
When four American women were murdered during El Salvador’s dirty war, a young U.S. official and his unlikely partner risked their lives to solve the case.
On December 1, 1980, two American Catholic churchwomen—an Ursuline nun and a lay missionary—sat down to dinner with Robert White, the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador. They worked in rural areas ministering to El Salvador’s desperately impoverished peasants, and White admired their commitment and courage. The talk turned to the government’s brutal tactics for fighting the country’s left-wing guerrillas, in a dirty war waged by death squads that dumped bodies in the streets and an army that massacred civilians. The women were alarmed by the incoming Reagan administration’s plans for a closer relationship with the military-led government. Because of a curfew, the women spent the night at the ambassador’s residence. The next day, after breakfast with the ambassador’s wife, they drove to San Salvador’s international airport to pick up two colleagues who were flying back from a conference in Nicaragua. Within hours, all four women would be dead.
After getting shut down late last year, a website that allows free access to paywalled academic papers has sprung back up in a shadowy corner of the Internet.
There’s a battle raging over whether academic research should be free, and it’s overflowing into the dark web.
Most modern scholarly work remains locked behind paywalls, and unless your computer is on the network of a university with an expensive subscription, you have to pay a fee, often around 30 dollars, to access each paper.
Many scholars say this system makes publishers rich—Elsevier, a company that controls access to more than 2,000 journals, has a market capitalization about equal to that of Delta Airlines—but does not benefit the academics that conducted the research, or the public at large. Others worry that free academic journals would have a hard time upholding the rigorous standards and peer reviews that the most prestigious paid journals are famous for.