I have heard the theory that every time we remember something it is influenced by our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs at the time of remembering. That implies that the memories we think most about are the ones that have been most distorted from their original form.

An exaggerated version is in effect for stories recounted to others. They always need to be selective in detail to make the account manageable in length, and simple tweaks to make it more comprehensible and straightforward have a tendency to persist in later retellings. In particular, I find in myself a tendency to combine the most memorable features of multiple events into a single recollection/story — not, for example, as two or more different parties at distinct semi-remembered places, but one party which sets up a subsequent part of the story.

I suppose the phenomenon demonstrates the value of contemporaneous records and accounts like journaling. Doubtless our interpretations of those records are influenced by subsequent context, but at least the record itself is immutable.



Back in 2008, I wrote about the Future Leaders Survey and the gloomy views it uncovered among young people about the future of the planet.

Recently, The Lancet published a study based on a survey of 10,000 people aged 16–25 in 10 countries. It demonstrates that apocalyptic psychology is a broad-based phenomenon, not exclusively concentrated among climate change or environmental activists.

83% of those surveyed said people have failed to care for the planet; 75% that the future is frightening; 65% that governments are failing young people; and that just 31% think governments can be trusted.

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Divest Harvard is announcing that the school has committed to divest.

See also: President Bacow Reviews Harvard Climate Actions

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UBC professor Kathryn Harrison was interviewed by the CBC’s Front Burner: Where the major parties stand on climate change

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Books and moving boxes


On a global level, bin Laden’s 9/11 attacks set the course of U.S. foreign policy for the first two decades of the twenty-first century and reshaped the Muslim world in ways that bin Laden certainly didn’t intend and that few could have predicted in the immediate aftermath. The Authorization for Use of Military Force, which Congress passed days after 9/11, allowed President Bush to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, or harbored such organizations or persons.”

This authorization sanctioned “forever wars” that lasted for two decades after 9/11. Three presidents as different from each other as Bush, Obama, and Trump used this same authorization to carry out hundreds of drone strikes against groups such as ISIS, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Shabaab, and the Pakistani Taliban. Few of these strikes had any connection to the perpetrators of 9/11. The authorization was also used to justify various types of U.S. military operations in countries around the world, in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. And, of course, 9/11 provided much of the rationale for George W. Bush to invade and occupy Iraq two years later.

The was exactly the opposite of bin Laden’s aim with the 9/11 attacks, which was to push the United States out of the greater Middle East, so its client regimes in the region would fall. Instead, new American bases proliferated throughout the region, in Afghanistan, Djibouti, Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda—”the Base” in Arabic—lost the best base it ever had in Afghanistan. Rather than ending American influence in the Muslim world, the 9/11 attacks greatly amplified it.

Bin Laden later put a post facto gloss on the strategic failure of 9/11 by dressing it up as a great success and claiming the attacks were a fiendishly clever plot to embroil the U.S. in costly wars in the Middle East. Three years after 9/11, bin Laden released a videotape in which he asserted, “We are continuing with this policy of bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy.” There was no evidence that this was really bin Laden’s plan in the run-up to the 9/11 attacks. 9/11 was a great tactical victory for al-Qaeda—the group inflicted more direct damage on the United States in one morning than the Soviet Union had during the Cold War—but ultimately it was a strategic failure for the organization, just as Pearl Harbor was for Imperial Japan.

Bergen, Peter. The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden. Simon & Schuster, 2021. p. 242-3

Related: The success of bin Laden’s strategy


It’s worth mentioning here that there is simply no evidence for the common myth that bin Laden and his Afghan Arabs were supported by the CIA financially. Nor is there any evidence that CIA officials at any level met with bin Laden or anyone in his circle. Yet the notion that bin Laden was a creation of the CIA is widespread. For instance, the American film-maker Michael Moore has written, “WE created the monster known as Osama bin Laden! Where did he go to terrorist school? At the CIA!” The real problem is not that the CIA helped bin Laden during the 1980s, but that the U.S. government had no idea about his possible significance until 1993, when he first started to appear in internal U.S. intelligence analyses describing him as a financier of Islamic extremist groups.

The notion that the CIA aided the rise of the Afghan Arabs is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how the agency supported the Afghan war effort. First, it was overseen by a tiny group of CIA officers in Pakistan. Vincent Cannistraro, who helped coordinate CIA support to the Afghans during the mid-1980s, explained there were only six CIA officials in Pakistan at any given time, and they were simply “administrators.” Secondly, CIA officers in Pakistan seldom left the embassy in Islamabad, and rarely even met with the leaders of the Afghan resistance, let alone Arab militants. That’s because the CIA officers provided American funding to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, which, in turn, decided which among the Afghan mujahadeen groups would receive this funding.

Bridadier Mohammad Yousaf, who ran the ISI’s Afghan operations, explained that it was “a cardinal rule of Pakistan’s policy that no Americans ever became involved with the distribution of funds or arms once they arrived in the country. No Americans ever trained or had direct contact with the mujahadeen, and no American official ever went inside Afghanistan.” Mark Sageman, a CIA officer who worked on the Afghan “account” in Pakistan during the mid-1980s, recalls “we were totally banned” from going into Afghanistan, for fear it would hand the Soviets a great propaganda victory if a CIA officer was captured there.[“] The CIA’s Milt Bearden says the agency “never recruited, trained or otherwise used Arab volunteers. The Afghans were more than happy to do their own fighting—we saw no reason not to satisfy them on this point.” No independent evidence of the CIA supporting al-Qaeda has emerged in the four decades since the end of the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan.

In short, the CIA had very limited dealings with the Afghans, let alone the Afghan Arabs. There was simply no point for the CIA and the Afghan Arabs to be in contact with each other, since the agency worked through Pakistan’s military intelligence agency during the Afghan War, while the Afghan Arabs had their own sources of funding. The CIA did not need the Afghan Arabs and the Afghan Arabs did not need the CIA.

Bergen, Peter. The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden. Simon & Schuster, 2021. p. 42-3


America’s unravelling continues, with the Supreme Court declining 5-4 to hear an emergency appeal of Texas’ bizarre and cruel fetal heartbeat anti-abortion law.

Laurence Tribe has written about what the law’s bounty system will do:

It wasn’t just Roe that died at midnight on 1 September with barely a whimper, let alone a bang. It was the principle that nobody’s constitutional rights should be put on sale for purchase by anyone who can find an informant or helper to turn in whoever might be trying to exercise those rights.

That, after all, is how the new Texas law works. Its perverse structure, which delegates to private individuals anywhere a power the state of Texas is forbidden to exercise itself until Roe is overruled, punishes even the slightest form of assistance to desperate pregnant women. Doctors, family members, insurance companies, even Uber drivers, are all at risk if they help a woman in need. And the risk is magnified by the offer of a big fat financial reward for whoever successfully nabs a person guilty of facilitating an abortion once a heartbeat can be detected, typically six weeks after a woman’s last period, well before most women even know they are pregnant. There is not even an exception for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. No law remotely like this has ever been allowed to go into effect.

The prospect of hefty bounties will breed a system of profit-seeking, Soviet-style informing on friends and neighbors. These vigilantes will sue medical distributors of IUDs and morning-after pills, as well as insurance companies. These companies, in turn, will stop offering reproductive healthcare in Texas. As of a minute before midnight on 31 August, clinics in Texas were already turning patients away out of fear. Even if the law is eventually struck down, many will probably close anyway.

Worse still, if women try to escape the state to access abortion services, their families will be on the hook for offering even the smallest aid. If friends or family of a woman hoping to terminate her pregnancy drive her across state lines, or help her organize money for a plane or bus ticket, they could be liable for “aiding and abetting” a now-banned abortion, even if the procedure itself takes place outside Texas.

Adding insult to injury, if a young woman asks for money for a bus ticket, or a ride to the airport, friends and parents fearful of liability might vigorously interrogate her about her intentions. This nightmarish state of affairs burdens yet another fundamental constitutional privilege: the right to interstate travel, recognized by the supreme court in 1999 as a core privilege of federal citizenship.

It’s a heartless and unfeeling religious morality that sees this kind of harassment as desirable. The Supreme Court’s conduct will also further erode its own position as a unifying public institution and legitimate arbiter of constitutional grievances. When people lose faith in unifying institutions — and in the perception that there are legitimate avenues for pursuing their interests — it threatens complete breakdown in the country’s self-understanding as one polity, and further progression into settling questions of policy and law by force rather than through reason and democratic debate.


Writing a PhD dissertation in collaboration with my committee is in some ways the hardest thing I have ever done. To begin with, the full draft is by far the longest single document I have ever written – far too long to be able to keep the entire contents in my mind at once, unlike a normal essay where it’s feasible to remember the purpose and general content of every section and paragraph. Naturally, the versions with comments from committee members are just as long.

Integrating those comments while also cutting the document from over 700 pages to at most 300 requires multiple passes and meticulous document tracking to avoid re-introducing problems that had been fixed elsewhere.

At this point, the task is to decide on and sequence the chunks that will make up the final defended dissertation. I’m looking forward a lot to having a draft of the right length and with content that everyone agrees is suitable. Then I can begin the comparatively blissful work of tidying up the language and moving things around for clarity.


Producing items additively by combining small pieces instead of starting with unshaped materials and cutting into them offers many intriguing possibilities, most notably the ability to make structures which would be implausible or impossible to make via conventional techniques and the option to customize every item produced to the dimensions and other specifications chosen.

This video from the architecture and furniture design group MX3D gives a sense of what is becoming possible:

See also: Feast Your Eyes Upon the World’s First 3D-Printed Steel Bridge