Cancel by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images
Cancel by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

In December of 2013, Justine Sacco, a senior director of corporate communications at InterActive Corp (IAC), posted a tweet right before boarding an 11-hour flight from London to Cape Town. In the tweet, which has since been deleted, she wrote: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”


Almost 500 years ago, in 1516, Thomas More wrote the satire Utopia, in which he explored the concept of a supposedly perfect society. Partially set on the eponymous island, Utopia was an early effort to hold up a mirror to contemporary European societies and highlight their inequities and injustices.

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More’s satire began as an exchange of letters with various officials he had met in Europe where he criticized practices like enclosure (which he said created poverty for those unable to secure access to land), and various judicial punishments. But then he segued into exploring what a so-called perfect society would…


Elon Musk has been in the news talking about nuking Mars. Again. Sigh. This is a profoundly bad idea, and I wish someone who otherwise seems serious about actually sending humans to that planet would stop even joking about it. Not only has this been tried before, here on Earth, but on Mars it wouldn’t do nearly enough to make that planet habitable. It is a distraction. But let’s dig into why anyway.

Engineering our planet with nuclear weapons

There is, as you might expect, a little bit of history around using nukes like this that is worth perusing here. Namely, that transforming the landscape with…


Originally published at joshuafoust.com.

About the nicest thing you can say about President Trump’s incoming administration is that it is without precedent. But there is another way of looking at it: it is not normal.

Normal, you might argue, is a bad thing when people are hurting. In fact, there is enough polling about why people voted for Trump to suggest that a vague “need for change” was a powerful motivator. Though opinions about what needed to change varied widely — from economic issues to vague fears of a wrong direction to naked white supremacy — the fact is enough…


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General Directorate for External Security facility in domme, France. Wikipedia photo

France’s outrage to NSA revelations is a bit too rich

by JOSHUA FOUST

Over the weekend, the French newspaper Le Monde published a new set of documents from Edward Snowden that show the National Security Agency is surveilling French telephone networks. The French government has condemned the American actions, calling the U.S. ambassador in for a reportedly heated discussion … and raising tensions right before Sec. of State John Kerry visits Paris.

It’s curious, isn’t it, how these NSA revelations keep coming out right before major U.S. diplomatic initiatives? Back in June, Snowden revealed the IP addresses of Chinese servers being monitored by the NSA right when Chinese Pres. Xi…


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chinese drone near senkaky. japanese ministry of defense

Japan’s new anti-drone law is a harbinger of what’s to come

Last month, a small observation drone, piloted from China, flew over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea. The flight prompted outcries from Tokyo that China would be using drones to solidify its claim over the islands, which Japan sharply contests.

In response, Japan has passed a law authorizing its military to shoot down Chinese drones that venture too close to Japanese territory. Is this going to lead to war?

The politics of the island dispute are almost immaterial — it’s one of a number of territorial and other maritime disputes that are increasingly defining politics in China’s…


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Drone effigy at protest. compfight

This is a story about drones, not the NSA

by JOSHUA FOUST

The Washington Post has a killer story today about how the NSA helps drones kill. Based on documents provided by NSA leaker Edward Snowden, the story shows how the NSA, which is a military agency headed by a four-star general, also shares information with the CIA to enable Pres. Barack Obama’s drone war.

While some of the information there is noteworthy, it also seems to have a buried lede: the NSA is good at its job, and it’s part of a larger system operating around the world.

Much of the reaction to this story (the dulled outrage…


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US Navy seals. wikipedia

But the shutdown might undermine his new love of commandos

by JOSHUA FOUST

Back in May, Pres. Barack Obama gave a landmark speech at National Defense University, where he said “the use of force must be seen as part of a larger discussion about a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy.”

He laid out a compelling new vision: abandoning the conflict model (exemplified by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force against Al Qaeda), while moving toward a future marked by more collaboration with governments, more training and state-building, and a limited use of force.

This past weekend, we saw one way that new model for countering terror will work out.

In…


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Tor infographic. eff

Lessons from Silk Road’s Ross William Ulbricht

by JOSHUA FOUST

On Wednesday, the FBI announced a fascinating arrest: they had nabbed Dread Pirate Roberts, or DPR, the founder of Silk Road, a black-market Website famous for selling narcotics over the Web.

In the indictment, the Bureau listed activities worthy of a Martin Scorsese film: smuggling, billions of dollars of money laundering and even a murder-for-hire. But the person the FBI identified as the ringleader of this internet criminal ring was not who anyone expected: a mild-mannered, seemingly humble geek living in San Francisco.

Reality bites

Ars Technica uncovered the details of Ulbricht’s arrest:

[Tuesday], Ulbricht left his apartment to…


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Yemeni soldiers on motorbikes. bbc world service

It’s never easy balancing transparency and security

by JOSHUA FOUST

When Pres. Barack Obama closed 19 embassies around the Middle East last August, a miniature firestorm erupted: what sort of threat could spark such a massive response?

While there was rampant speculation about it, it seemed clear that whatever Al Qaeda chief Ayman Al Zawahiri and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula chief Nasser Al Wuhayshi were talking about when they were intercepted by U.S. intelligence, it was bad. Only a serious threat would do it, even if details about that threat remained frustratingly vague.

A new story in the New York Times suggests that Obama’s decision…

Joshua Foust

Writer of things about politics, foreign policy, tech, literature, and criticism

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