China fined the internet giant Alibaba a record $2.8 billion this month for anticompetitive practices, ordered an overhaul of its sister financial company and warned other technology firms to obey Beijing’s rules.


Now the European Commission plans to unveil far-reaching regulations to limit technologies powered by artificial intelligence.



And in the United States, President Biden has stacked his administration with trustbusters who have taken aim at Amazon, Facebook and Google.


Around the world, governments are moving simultaneously to limit the power of tech companies with an urgency and breadth that no single industry had experienced before. Their motivation varies. In the United States and Europe, it is concern that tech companies are stifling competition, spreading misinformation and eroding privacy; in Russia and elsewhere, it is to silence protest movements and tighten political control; in China, it is some of both.








While nations and tech firms have jockeyed for primacy for years, the latest actions have pushed the industry to a tipping point that could reshape how the global internet works and change the flows of digital data.

Australia passed a law to force Google and Facebook to pay publishers for news. Britain is creating its own tech regulator to police the industry. India adopted new powers over social media. Russia throttled Twitter’s traffic. And Myanmar and Cambodia put broad internet restrictions in place.


China, which had left its tech companies free to compete and consolidate, tightened restrictions on digital finance and sharpened an antimonopoly law late last year. This year, it began compelling internet firms like Alibaba, Tencent and ByteDance to publicly promise to follow its rules against monopolies.


“It is unprecedented to see this kind of parallel struggle globally,” said Daniel Crane, a law professor at the University of Michigan and an antitrust expert. American trustbusting of steel, oil and railroad companies in the 19th century was more confined, he said, as was the regulatory response to the 2008 financial crisis.




Now, Mr. Crane said, “the same fundamental question is being asked globally: Are we comfortable with companies like Google having this much power?”


Underlying all of the disputes is a common thread: power. The 10 largest tech firms, which have become gatekeepers in commerce, finance, entertainment and communications, now have a combined market capitalization of more than $10 trillion. In gross domestic product terms, that would rank them as the world’s third-largest economy.


Yet while governments agree that tech clout has grown too expansive, there has been little coordination on solutions. Competing policies have led to geopolitical friction. Last month, the Biden administration said it could put tariffs on countries that imposed new taxes on American tech companies.


The result is that the internet as it was originally conceived — a borderless digital space where ideas of all stripes contend freely — may not survive, researchers said. Even in parts of the world that do not censor their digital spaces, they said, a patchwork of rules would give people different access to content, privacy protections and freedoms online depending on where they logged on.


“The idea of an open and interoperable internet is being exposed as incredibly fragile,” said Quinn McKew, executive director of Article 19, a digital rights advocacy group.




Tech companies are fighting back. Amazon and Facebook have created their own entities to adjudicate conflicts over speech and to police their sites. In the United States and in the European Union, the companies have spent heavily on lobbying.

Some of them, acknowledging their power, have indicated support for more regulations while also warning about the consequences of a splintered internet.

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/20/technology/global-tipping-point-tech.html?utm_source=pocket-newtab-intl-en







A large, passenger van-sized spacecraft sidled up to an active, 6-ton satellite on Monday afternoon about 36,000 km above the Earth's surface. Slowly, ever so slowly, the distance between the two vehicles closed.

There was nothing wrong with the satellite, which is 17 years old and owned by Intelsat. All the while, on Wednesday, it continued actively delivering broadband and other media services across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. But it was running desperately low on fuel to maintain its position, and Intelsat would have soon had to send the vehicle to a "graveyard" orbit.


So Intelsat contracted with Northrop Grumman to test its new life-extension services. That led to the launch of Northrop's "Mission Extension Vehicle-2" last year, which used fuel-sipping electric propulsion to approach the orbit of Intelsat 10-02 and dock with the active satellite on Wednesday. As a result of this pairing, the satellite will now live on for five more years.

Jean-Luc Froeliger, vice president of space, space systems engineering and operations for Intelsat, said the cost of servicing is far less than the value of five additional years of satellite service. Waiting five years will also allow Intelsat to replace the 10-02 satellite with a more modern, efficient vehicle. "For us, it's win-win," he said during a teleconference with reporters. "This extension for 10-02 is very valuable to us."


It's a win for Northrop Grumman as well. The company made history a year ago when its first mission-extension vehicle docked with another Intelsat satellite, moved it from a graveyard orbit, powered it on, and placed it back into active service. No two commercial spacecraft had ever docked in orbit before. The difference Monday is that the servicing vehicle docked with an active satellite in a busier orbit. Both of the mission-extension vehicles will detach from their Intelsat targets in 2025 and move on to other satellites and have a functional lifetime until 2035.

Northrop sold the first two mission-extension missions to a commercial customer, Intelsat. However, the company expects that much of its future business may come from governments seeking to protect and extend the life of their most valuable assets in space.


“Government interest is accelerating as they see this capability bearing out,” said Tom Wilson, a vice president at Northrop Grumman and president of its SpaceLogistics subsidiary. "We’re on the cusp of some bigger initiatives with them."

This successful second mission suggests that Northrop has taken a first step toward its goal of offering a range of satellite services. It has now demonstrated rendezvous-and-docking and the ability to deliver power and mobility to satellites. But that's just the beginning of what is possible with in-orbit servicing, Wilson said.

In 2024, Northrop plans to launch a "Mission Robotic Vehicle" that can provide basic inspection and repair services and deploy mission extension pods to satellites. After this, the company plans to develop refueling capabilities and debris removal from the vicinity of high-value satellites. Finally, in the 2030s, the company intends to begin in-orbit assembly and manufacturing capabilities.

Over the last decade, SpaceX has radically changed the paradigm of launch from that of expendable rockets to a future in which at least the first stages of such boosters are reused. This is lowering the cost of launch and allowing companies to put more and more satellites into various orbits around Earth. As this environment becomes more cluttered, the responsible thing is to more actively refuel, recycle, and dispose of satellites. Northrop Grumman has made meaningful progress toward such a future of satellite servicing. As a result, reusability is now moving into space.

Source: https://arstechnica.com/science/2021/04/the-era-of-reusability-in-space-has-begun/?utm_source=pocket-newtab-intl-en


And God said, ‘Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.’ And it was so. God called the dry ground ‘land,’ and the gathered waters he called ‘seas.’ And God saw that it was good.”

Hans Joosten doesn’t know Genesis by heart, so he is paraphrasing: “And one of the first things that God does, is separating land from water.” But then, he says, one must ask what was the nature of this water in the first place, before it was spliced in two. The answer? A mixture of both elements. In the beginning, in other words, there were swamps.


Joosten grew up in the Netherlands, surrounded by bogs. Now a professor of peatland studies and a founding member of the Greifswald Mire Center, Joosten has spent the past several decades dedicating his life and work to habitats supported by a partially decayed plant matter called peat and which, depending on the context and their characteristics, are known as bogs, mires, fens, and swamps, and more broadly referred to as peatlands.

The Netherlands was once rich in peat bogs. Before 1600, it is estimated that they stretched across an area of nearly four thousand square miles. It was not until his studies that Joosten discovered this landscape he and many others took for granted was under threat from all sides. This was just a few years after the revolutionary 1968 student protests in West Germany, and Joosten saw in the bogs a potentially radical political topic. “In the region where I lived, in the municipality where I lived, in every thinkable way they were destroying the peatland,” he says. Across the country, bogs were being drained and converted for agricultural use, turned into refuse dumps, and mined for peat extraction. “Everybody was working together to destroy the bog.”

Compared to this period of destructive disregard, the past several years have been good ones for peatlands. In 2016, at its World Conservation Congress in Hawaii, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) agreed upon a resolution that recognized the importance of peatlands and their vital role in climate change mitigation—though they cover only 3 percent of the earth’s land surface area, peatlands contain more carbon than all of the world’s vegetation (including forests) combined. The Global Peatlands Initiative was also formed in 2016, with the goal of saving peatlands and mapping their extent in remote regions across the world. And in 2018, at long last, Alec Baldwin had his say, recording a PSA about peatlands for the UN Environment Program. The increased attention on the international conservation circuit was soon followed by increased attention by the media: Nature published an ambitious feature on the topic last year, and other stories can be found sprinkled across the BBC, the Guardian, and various other outlets.
Though they cover only 3 percent of the earth’s land surface area, peatlands contain more carbon than all of the world’s vegetation (including forests) combined.

In May of 2020, a newly formed youth organization called Re-Peat hosted a global, virtual “Peat Fest”: twenty-four interdisciplinary “peaty hours” to help further the conversation around peatlands—but also to highlight artists, read poetry, and do yoga. The field is a very different one, a more optimistic one, than it was when Joosten first took up the cause. Back in the 1970s, international conversations about peat leaned largely toward the commercial and the industrial, and the conservation movement was still in its earliest stages. Progress was mostly incremental: in 1968, the International Peatland Society was formed in Quebec, followed by the International Mire Conservation Group (IMCG), of which Joosten is secretary-general, in 1984. Today, there are dozens of organizations spread across the world; peatlands are recognized under the Paris Agreement and the Kyoto Protocol; funding is, for now, plentiful.

Even so, peatlands can still seem like fringe topic. This is why Re-Peat is calling for a shift in how we think about them, one that is strikingly similar to what peatland conservationists have been pushing for for decades: to move away from the perception of peatlands as “wastelands,” “spaces of nothingness,” and into a new understanding of their value.





When you imagine a peatland, what do you think of? What do you see? If you were to ask this of a certain councilman in northern Scotland in the 1980s, he’d probably tell you: not much. In Scotland’s Flow Country, boglands are today a treasured landscape and an aspiring world heritage site, but in the ’80s, there was controversy brewing over whether to develop them—namely, to drain them—for private forestry, and to plant the area up with quick-growing conifers in their stead. On a visit to one bog, this councilman surveyed the land and said, “Well it’s MAMBA country isn’t it? Miles and miles of bugger-all.” “It became a bit legendary, that comment,” says Richard Lindsay, the head of environmental sciences at the University of East London’s Sustainability Research Institute, who told me this story. Whenever people wanted to disparage peatlands, he says, they would repeat that phrase.

Peatlands often appear to the untrained eye as a bland swatch of greys, browns, oranges, and green. What we do not see is what they really are: robust ecosystems of flora and fauna—such as wetland birds, sphagnum moss, heather, and several species of quite crafty carnivorous plants. Furthermore, much of what makes these habitats so special exists beneath the surface. Peat stores, which can reach down into the earth for upwards of thirty-two feet, are dense with carbon, making the peatland a Goliath of sequestration. And with their regulatory effect on a region’s water table, peatlands also help improve water quality, reduce flooding and fires, and keep at bay rising sea levels.

The French philosopher Gaston Bachelard once characterized our relationship toward “swamps, mud, or the dark, wet earth” as contradictory: “[we] must concede that the moist earth strikes a nerve in the material imagination,” he wrote. They represent an uncomfortable porousness. “Bogs are simultaneously limited and limitless,” writes Derek Gladwin in Contentious Terrains: Boglands, Ireland, Postcolonial Gothic, “yielding and unyielding, canny and uncanny, stable and unstable, ordered and disordered, known and unknown, political and apolitical, spatial and indeterminate, and temporal and atemporal.”

The images we’ve been fed of them are spongey and stinky, murky and dangerous. One famous Middle-English text compares man’s sinful body to, in the words of its preface, “a pit full of oozy water and mire.” Historically, we’ve associated bogs with sickness—specifically malaria. In literature, bogs and swamps are sites of hauntings, murders, and encounters with the occult. In Lord of the Rings, they contain corpses that threaten to pull you down to join them in their watery limbo; in The Princess Bride, they’re home to Rodents Of Unusual Size. Even our language is infused with bad peatland vibes: we’re bogged down; we have a sinking feeling. The awful situation we find ourselves in is a quagmire; when our work becomes too much to handle, we’re swamped.

For those of us who’ve grown up near them, peatlands were and sometimes still are infused with a different flavor of the uncanny. As Gladwin writes, in Ireland, home to over five thousand square miles of peatland—most of it bog—a cadre of swampy apparitions and omens have long populated folklore and nightmares, from the shape-shifting pooka to bog sprites and water sheeries—said to lead the “wayward traveller to an untimely death on the bog”—to the dancing lights of the will-o’-the-wisps, flickering above the soggy surface, signaling the arrival of an evil spirit.
Even our language is infused bad peatland vibes: we’re bogged down; we have a sinking feeling.

Beyond the realm of the fictional and the metaphysical, how we see bogs has also been shaped by what we find within them. On the one hand, they are a resource. Because peat is carbon dense, it is also an excellent source of fuel; in Ireland, peat was, by the late eighteenth century, the main source of fuel in the country—as well as a source of independence from English coal, and therefore, English rule. For families and communities living near peatlands, hand-harvesting has been practiced for hundreds of years. In the ninetieth and twentieth centuries, however, what was once largely a subsistence-use practice became highly commercial and industrialized, as countries across the world began manufacturing peat into secondary products, such as fertilizer. Decayed sphagnum moss, dug out from the peat, is a miracle helper for the garden: as soil, it supports plants craving high acidity and water retention.

But the same conditions that bestow peat with many of its unique characteristics also create an environment that preserves with startling efficiency. Bogs have, as a result, been compared to archives: accidental treasure troves of past civilizations. “With a bog, and its buried contents,” the literary historian Terry Eagleton writes, “the past is no longer behind you, but palpably beneath your feet. A secret history is stacked just a few feet below the modern world in which you’re standing.” In the 1970s, in fact, an archaeologist by the name of Seamus Caulfield helped unearth an entire neolithic site, Céide Fields in County Mayo, Ireland, that lay beneath a bog. His father, harvesting peat, had found the first indications of the site decades before.

They also serve as ancient graves, home to bog bodies. The Tollund Man, the Grauballe Man: these are faces you might have seen, in textbooks or museum displays. In general, bog bodies are often found by accident. These two in particular were discovered by peat cutters in the Danish peninsula of Jutland. Though the Tollund Man and Graubelle Man are estimated to have lived in the fourth and third century BCE, respectively, their features—as with those of many other bog bodies—are almost impossibly intact. Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet laureate of the bog, once wrote that the Tollund Man bore a striking resemblance to his Great Uncle Hughie, so familiar and recently departed did he seem to him.

Adding to the general eeriness of stumbling upon an ancient mummified man in the midst of a misty bog, many of the bodies found have shown signs of a violent death—ropes around the neck, deep slashes from a blade, shattered bones. Because of this, some have theorized that bogs were once a place to punish criminals. In one of the earliest written records of peatlands and their uses, Tacitus describes how, for their executions, “the cowardly, the unwarlike and those who disgrace their bodies [were] drowned in miry swamps under a cover of wicker.” Others postulate that they are evidence that these landscapes were once thought of as a place to access the afterlife, and that these individuals were meant to be messengers between the worlds.




It is impossible to separate the stories of bogs—both real and imagined—from their history of destruction and damage—though this is not to say that fears of will-o’-the-wisps are the reason why companies, politicians, and developers decided, for their different purposes, that peatlands were “wastelands,” waiting to be “improved” for agriculture, forestry, or fuel extraction. When we are called upon to care about coral reefs or rainforests, it feels easy. They are pretty and bright and full of funny animals. Peatlands, as Re-Peat co-founder Bethany Copsey points out, are an altogether different beast—one that is “never going to be as enticing as a forest, on a collective level.” Though peatlands have entered the global conservation stage and seem here to stay, they remain a difficult sell.

Of course, peatlands aren’t singular in this history of destruction. Landscapes of much more natural splendor and majesty—including those coral reefs and rainforests—have also been pushed, prodded, burned, and polluted. But in this more general sweep of Anthropocene wrongs, peatlands are perhaps most acutely proof of our drive to make things fit into a neat conception of productivity and goodness. “Claiming something to be nothing in order to exploit it, is not a new technique,” as Re-Peat puts it. “This is one of the foundations of the colonial narrative.”

When peatlands are drained—in an effort to turn those “wastelands” into a productive space—they become unstable. Their carefully balanced conditions compromised, they quickly switch from carbon sink to carbon emitter. Though only 15 percent of the world’s peatlands are drained—occupying a mere 0.4 percent of the globe’s surface—these damaged habitats release at least two gigatons of carbon per year or nearly 6 percent of global anthropogenic emissions, according to a 2009 report. In 2015 in Indonesia, for instance, mega fires on forests and damaged peat swamps emitted nearly 16 million tons of CO2 in a day: more than the entire United States’ daily emissions. In Germany, though drained peatlands comprise just 7 percent of the total agricultural land area, they release 99 percent of the CO2 emissions from agricultural soils and 37 percent of all emissions from agriculture in general.

In some places, the fate of peatlands is beyond the realm of mitigation and management. In the far north, peatlands caught under the melting permafrost are at the mercy of our more general climate policies and our global emissions. But in more temperate climates, the story is different. The restoration and rewetting of peatlands is considered a comparatively cost-effective carbon reduction method. They have been called the “low hanging fruit” of climate mitigation. Richard Lindsay refers to peatlands as “Cinderella environments”: “They’re doing all these amazing functions for us, right across the world, and nobody knows,” he says.

But peatland scientists and advocates are also trying to salvage something more abstract from our historical abuse of these landscapes: the chance to fundamentally question the paradigm of productivity that led to the loss of those habitats in the first place. One manifestation of this is a push for paludiculture, a type of wetland farming that scientists and policy makers are hoping presents an attractive compromise to those who oppose more traditional conservation efforts. Adopting paludicultural methods, farmers could continue cultivating the land for, say, sustainable biofuels, without degrading the peatland. “What this is doing is offering a lifeline to current land managers,” Lindsay explains, “who are, at the moment, committed to traditional, conventional forms of land use agriculture, but who are facing an extremely uncertain future.”
Peatland scientists and advocates are trying to salvage something more abstract from our historical abuse of these landscapes.

In his email signature, Lindsay has hopefully inserted a quote often attributed to Henry David Thoreau: “It’s not what we look at that’s important, it’s what we see.” It is a nice concept. But with an uncertain environmental future before all of us, many outside of the sphere of the sciences or climate activism are more inclined to cling to, and seek comfort in, an idealized vision of nature. Those of us in urban spaces, even in suburban spaces, spend so little time in nature as it is. When we go into it, we’re looking for recognizable images, a hit of the transcendental. In other words, and this perhaps speaks to my own lack of imagination, it seems like a nearly impossible task to ask a general public to look at the bog, the swamp, the mire and see a landscape worth fighting for.

But maybe we can find another angle. Once, Hans Joosten took a helicopter ride out over the Vasyugan Swamp in southern Siberia, the largest peatland in the northern hemisphere: he wanted to see the swamp from above. The birds eye view is an altogether different thing than the view from below. From up above, Vasyugan is a quilt of patterns, colors, and textures: a blanket of orange and rusty red lined with veins of verdant green. In irregular shapes, not unlike clouds, pools of water like melted silver glisten. As the light shifts, so do the colors: dark green peninsulas of land slither through a honeycomb of more pools of water of a deep oceanic blue. The organization of it all appears to be in perfect harmony.

Derek Gladwin writes that, “Bodies themselves are bog-like; they are organic liquid and solid matter containing over 70 per cent water and exhibiting an accretion of layers of skin, muscle, bone, and organs.” But bogs are also body-like. Like a body, they are self-regulating. A bog, as it adapts to rainfall and the surrounding water table, will expand and shrink. It breathes. Joosten likes this concept, of the peatland as organism. After all, he says, those giant expanses of wetland, like the Vasyugan Swamp, or like the Red Lake Peatlands in Minnesota, have properties that resemble a kind of consciousness. “It is almost mystic,” he says. And though this, he knows, “is not politically operational,” he does think that perhaps, just maybe, it could motivate us “to think about these landscapes in a somewhat other way.”

Source: https://thebaffler.com/latest/must-love-bogs-emory?utm_source=pocket-newtab-intl-en

Late last month, the leader of Myanmar’s junta, Min Aung Hlaing, stood on a huge parade field to recount the military’s “immense prestige etched in the annals of history.” Hundreds of soldiers who had not been deployed to quell an uprising against the country’s coup marched in formation at dawn. Armored vehicles spewing black smoke rumbled alongside them.

The speech marked Myanmar’s annual Armed Forces Day, telling a soaring and selectively edited tale of the institution’s “glorious past.” As in most retellings of the country’s recent history, special attention was paid to the wrongdoings of its former colonial master and the way the military “annihilated the British Imperialists.” Indeed, Myanmar (also known as Burma) might have won independence in 1948, but almost all of the country’s ills—real and perceived—are still regularly blamed on the British.



Yet that disdain is not quite enough to do away with the onerous laws Britain left behind: Successive Burmese governments have shown a fondness for wielding them to silence critics and quash dissent—and Min Aung Hlaing has proved no different. Five days after his speech, his regime charged Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s de facto leader, who has been detained since the February 1 coup, under the Official Secrets Act. The law dates from 1923 and covers a plethora of offenses, including trespassing and possessing documents deemed secret. It carries a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.

Across Asia, in places such as Myanmar, India, and Hong Kong, leaders that espouse nationalist rhetoric and bemoan their former colonial overlords see no issue with deploying laws designed by those foreign masters against their own people. These lasting vestiges of the British empire are draconian, overly broad, and vaguely worded, but they persist very much because of these traits, existing as powerful weapons of modern lawfare. In fact, rather than repealing them, some governments have tweaked and fused them with new rules, creating even more problematic regulations.

“Any government would want these laws to remain so that they could use it whenever politically convenient for them, and to silence dissenters,” Chitranshul Sinha, a lawyer and the author of The Great Repression: The Story of Sedition in India, told me of that country’s colonial legal legacy. “These laws cause a chilling effect on free speech—that archnemesis of authoritarians.”



Democratic and quasi-democratic postcolonial governments in Asia have for decades avoided abolishing or significantly reforming such laws, including Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act, sedition laws in India and Hong Kong, and a host of other colonial-era regulations, despite ample warnings about possible future misuse. In 1997, months before Britain returned Hong Kong to China, the late legal scholar Ming Kou Chan assessed the much-praised legal system that would be left behind when the Union Jack was lowered. “Despite British claims that they brought the blessings of the rule of law to Hong Kong, as in many other colonies,” he wrote, “the British have in fact created a legal system emphasizing law and order while neglecting the personal liberties and individual rights associated with the common law tradition.”

In Myanmar, the military—which in an effort at legitimacy has named itself the State Administration Council—has made liberal use of these outdated laws. Although Suu Kyi’s case has drawn the most attention, the junta makes almost nightly pronouncements through state television and radio of new arrest warrants targeting journalists, activists, models, and medical workers, all issued under a section of the country’s 1861 penal code that has long been criticized by activists and rights groups for criminalizing speech. (The military tweaked a portion of the law following its seizure of power, making possible the punishment of those who question the legitimacy of the coup or the military government.)



Among those at risk is Myat Noe Aye, a well-known actor and influencer who used her substantial social-media following to rally support for anti-coup demonstrations and document her own attendance at protests. This month, the 25-year-old saw her picture on TV alongside those of others accused of incitement. Seemingly unperturbed by the possibility of imprisonment, she turned to Facebook to do a bit of quick trolling, posting a screenshot of the broadcast with the caption “Thank you for using a beautiful photo” and a kissy-face emoji. “They want people to be afraid of them, to make them feel like they are powerful,” she told me of the junta. To do this, she said, they had resorted to their old tactics, using “stupid” laws, communications cuts, and arbitrary killings. But, she said, “we are living in the 21st century; they can’t scare us easily.”

Source: https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2021/04/british-empire-myanmar-india-hong-kong/618583/?utm_source=pocket-newtab-intl-en

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