Israeli settlements, explained in 8 minutes

Israeli settlements, explained in 8 minutes

In a major speech on Wednesday at the State Department, Secretary of State John Kerry issued a strong rebuke to Israel for its ongoing support of settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank. To understand why this matters, you have to understand what settlements are, how they got there in the first place, and what their presence means for the Israel-Palestine conflict. This eight-minute video might help:

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is often more a war of narratives than of weapons (though there are plenty of weapons). Both sides claim the West Bank as legitimately belonging to them. And both sides list a wide spectrum of reasons for their claims, including international law, biblical history, and family heritage.

The settler narrative is one of return, not conquest. The settlers believe they are returning to the ancient lands of Judea and Samaria where many of the events in the Jewish Bible took place.

But in addition to the biblical overtones to their mission, the settlers also have a political mission: to possess the West Bank and prevent a Palestinian state there. As the settler population swells, any scenario of a Palestinian state that encompasses the entire West Bank dwindles. It’s simply not plausible to remove more than 400,000 residents from their established communities.

Early settlers referred to their mission as “creating facts on the ground,” meaning creating a real-life Jewish presence in the West Bank such that any negotiations would have to take them into account.

“Creating facts” was originally the work of zealous activists who moved onto hilltop outposts, unsanctioned by even the Israeli government. But the settlers later began to receive institutional support from the government.

Over time, and especially as Israeli politics has shifted rightward, the settler movement has become an institutionalized part of Israeli society. Support comes in the form of building permits, public investment, and even incentives for Israelis to move into the West Bank.

While peace talks remain frozen, the settlements continue to grow, making any possibility of a Palestinian state in the West Bank faint. Watch the video above for an overview of the history of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

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The Freaky Food Chain Behind Your Lobster Dinner


Caribbean spiny lobsters dine on clams they find in sea grass. The clams get their food from symbiotic bacteria in their gills, through a process known as chemosynthesis. CreditWilliam Pinder

If you’ve ever ordered a lobster tail from Red Lobster, there’s a good chance some of your meal can be traced back to swamp gas.

Let me explain.

Red Lobster is a major purchaser of Caribbean spiny lobster, a species that lives in coral reefs in the western Atlantic Ocean. In the 1980s, lobster fishers started constructing artificial reefs in sea grass beds throughout the Caribbean to attract these lobsters.

Before long, the fishers noticed something peculiar. They were finding “piles and piles of clams” outside their makeshift lobster shelters, said Nicholas D. Higgs, a marine biologist at Plymouth University in Britain who comes from generations of lobster fishermen in the Bahamas.

These clams, Dr. Higgs confirmed in a recent study, form a significant portion of the lobsters’ diet at these reefs. In a paper published on Thursday in Current Biology, Dr. Higgs and colleagues report that sea-grass-dwelling lucinid clams make up 20 percent of what Caribbean spiny lobsters eat in artificial reefs. What’s unusual about this situation (and where swamp gas comes in) is the way these clams get their food.

Most food chains, we learn in grade school, start with life-forms that make their own food using light. Through photosynthesis, plants, algae and some bacteria are able to convert carbon dioxide and water into organic carbon. This magical process ultimately sustains almost all life on Earth. But it’s not the only way organisms make food from scratch.

Lucinid clams get nourishment from symbiotic bacteria living in their gills. These bacteria use an alternative food-producing strategy, called chemosynthesis. Instead of relying on sunlight for fuel, they use the energy released from decomposing leaf litter in sea grass beds to turn carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide — the rotten-egg-smelling ingredient in swamp gas — into organic carbon.

This “dark carbon,” so named because it is produced in the absence of light, then makes its way up the food chain, from clams, to lobsters and then to predators like sharks, turtles and you and me as we tuck into our lobster dinner on a Saturday night.

This research fills in gaps from photosynthesis-based measurements of sea grass productivity, which fail to account for all the fisheries production that sea grass systems generate, said Brian R. Silliman, a professor of marine conservation biology at Duke University who was not involved in the research.


A chemosynthetic clam living in sea grass. Researchers are not sure how lobsters dig them up. CreditNicholas Higgs

“There was some carbon missing from these measurements,” he said. This study suggests “it’s coming from a spot we hadn’t suspected.”

To deduce the diet of Caribbean spiny lobsters, Dr. Higgs’s team compared the chemical makeup of muscle samples from 160 lobsters to samples of different items in their diet, including algae, sea grass, sponges, shrimp and lucinid clams.

In particular, the scientists looked at characteristic signatures of different elements, including sulfur. Lucinid clams specifically “have a very distinctive sulfur signature, because of the way they produce their food through sulfide-based chemosynthesis,” Dr. Higgs said.

Researchers have known for decades that chemosynthesis abounds in the deep sea, where there is no light. But in recent years, studies like this one have shown that chemosynthesis may play an unexpectedly important role in shallower rivers, lakes and coastal ecosystems.

Scientists knew that in sea grass beds, organisms like clams and marine worms relied on chemosynthesis, but they believed the process accounted for a relatively small amount of energy production in these habitats.

Lucinid clams live 5 to 25 centimeters below the sediment, in a dense mat of tough sea grass roots. How spiny lobsters are able to dig them up remains a mystery.

“People thought they just lived and died down there,” Dr. Higgs said. “Everyone assumed this was a dead end in the food chain.”

Over all, this study is a big win for chemosynthesizers, underdogs among nature’s food makers. Without them, the Caribbean spiny lobster fishery, which generates more than $450 million a year, would not be as robust as it is.

Next, Dr. Higgs wants to search for other species that feed on chemosynthesizers. He suspects chemosynthesis makes an underappreciated contribution to ecosystems around the world. “I think this is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

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The collapse of the Trans-Pacific Partnership

The collapse of the Trans-Pacific Partnership

THE world’s most ambitious free-trade deal in decades is all but dead. Donald Trump has said that on his first day in office America will quit the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a pact that was nearly a decade in the works. Encompassing 12 Pacific Rim countries, including America, Japan and Canada, the TPP would have covered nearly two-fifths of the global economy. Mr Trump had called it a “horrible deal” on the campaign trail. In declaring his intent this week to withdraw from it, he said it was “a potential disaster for our country”. But proponents say it would have been a big improvement on existing trade deals and very good for America. Which view is right, and what happens now?

Measuring the precise impact of trade deals that have been in place for years is hard enough. Forecasting the impact of future deals is even harder. Nevertheless, many economists would agree with two general statements. On one hand, TPP would have generated more growth for all inside the agreement. A series of independent studies predicted that America would have reaped the biggest gains in dollar terms and that emerging markets, especially Vietnam, would have benefited most relative to their size. On the other hand, while free-trade deals enrich countries in general, downsides can be severe for industries and regions that lose out. Moreover, recent research has showed that these negative effects are often longer lasting than optimists had once believed. The TPP would, in other words, probably have increased America’s growth, but at least some people would have been justified in thinking it horrible.

But looking at the impact on GDP alone is too narrow. The purpose of the TPP was always partly strategic. America and others alongside it, from Australia to Singapore, hoped the deal would let them shape the architecture of international trade in Asia and beyond. Their ambition was that the TPP would set a new standard for future deals. Rather than a traditional emphasis on cutting tariffs (which are already very low between richer countries), they turned to thornier issues such as differences in intellectual-property regulations. Even if the TPP failed to live up to their lofty rhetoric, it did break new ground. It contained stronger protection for labour rights, more environmental safeguards and, for the first time ever, measures to limit government support for state-owned companies. The deal was most notable, though, for its exclusion of China. The door might eventually have been opened to it but only after signing on to the full body of rules that the original TPP members, led by America, had hammered out.

The collapse of the TPP thus creates a void in Asia. America’s role as an economic power in the region has been undermined by Mr Trump’s isolationist turn. In theory the remaining 11 members could refashion the TPP, but Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, spoke for many in saying that it would be “meaningless” without America. Observers are now looking for China to assume the mantle of economic leadership in Asia. Conveniently, it is pushing for a free-trade deal (the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) that is close to completion. But the shift of power to China is far from straightforward. Countries in the region are wary of its export juggernaut, an awkward starting point at the negotiating table. China’s blueprints for trade deals are also much more conservative than America’s, barely touching the regulatory thicket that made the TPP important. Asian countries will instead need to turn to the messy work of building up bilateral agreements. The hole left by America’s withdrawal is a big one, and not easily filled.

Why Obamacare’s building blocks are important for Trump to protect

This cartoon explains why Donald Trump can’t take the popular part of Obamacare and leave the rest

It could collapse the system and create a “death spiral.”

How to get the wine you really want


The war on terroir

How to get the wine you really want

Many of the survey’s participants admitted reluctance to ask for advice—often because of the snobbery and mystique that (at least in Britain) surround wine drinking. This conservatism does not, however, lead to satisfaction. The survey, which polled 138 drinkers, found that 70% were frequently disappointed by the wines they ordered. But it also found that the idea of having wines customised on the fly to individual tastes was appealing.


of connoisseurs: “raspberry notes”, “elderflower aftertastes”, “prune flourishes” and so on. They therefore asked survey-participants which adjectives they would use. The most popular were “light”, “full bodied”, “dry”, “mellow”, “sweet”, “sharp” and “fiery”.

Armed with that information, and concentrating at first on reds, Mr Wimalaratne and the team analysed 20 wines to see which, both individually and in combination, best produced the flavours and aromas people wanted. They also matched these results to the popular descriptions. From their original 20 wines they picked four that act like the primary colours of a spectrum of viniferous flavours. Different combinations of this quartet yield something approaching the full range of gustatory hues. The wines in question are a pinot noir and a merlot from Chile, a shiraz from Australia, and, despite its whiteness, a French muscat. This latter they picked because it adds sweetness to a blend.


To create a new wine the customer manipulates three sliders on a touch screen attached to the machine. One moves between the extremes of “light” and “full-bodied”. A second runs from “soft”, via “mellow” to “fiery”. The third goes from “sweet” to “dry”. No confusing descriptions like “strawberry notes with a nutty aftertaste” are needed.

The desired glass is then mixed from tanks of each of the four primaries, hidden inside the machine’s plinth. The requisite quantities are pumped into a transparent cone-shaped mixing vessel on top of the plinth. Added air bubbles ensure a good, swirling mix and flashing light-emitting diodes give a suitably theatrical display.

Traditionalists may be appalled by all this, but they should not be. In Mr Wimalaratne’s mind, the function of the Vinfusion system is in principle little different from the blending of grape varieties that goes on in many vineyards, to produce wines more interesting than those based on a single variety. Moreover, if Vinfusion works as intended, it will let people experiment with oenological flavours in a way that is currently impossible and which lets them discover what appeals. A decent sommelier ought then to be able to recommend wines vinified in the conventional way that will taste similar.

In the longer run, recording and collating the requests made to a group of Vinfusion machines might even help restaurants and bars stock bottles that people will like, rather than merely tolerate. And if all this happens, the snobbery and mystique surrounding wine—whether blended in the vineyard or the restaurant—may disappear for good.


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