PICKS are stories from many sources, selected by our editors or recommended by our readers because they are important, surprising, troubling, enlightening, inspiring, or amusing. They appear on our site and in our daily newsletter. Please send suggested articles, videos, podcasts, etc. to picks@whowhatwhy.org.

‘Ten Years Ago, This Was Science Fiction:’ The Rise of Weedkilling Robots (Maria)

The author writes, “In the corner of an Ohio field, a laser-armed robot inches through a sea of onions, zapping weeds as it goes. This field doesn’t belong to a dystopian future but to Shay Myers, a third-generation farmer. … Farmers are under increasing pressure to reduce their use of herbicides and other chemicals, which can contaminate ground and surface water, affect wildlife and non-target plants, and have been linked to increased cancer risk. At the same time, they are battling a rise in herbicide-resistant weeds, giving extra impetus to the search for new ways to kill weeds.”

A Depressing Vacuum in Afghanistan Coverage, as Kabul Falls (Russ)

From Columbia Journalism Review: “Yesterday, after weeks of rapid advance as US forces withdrew from Afghanistan, the Taliban took Kabul, the capital. Ashraf Ghani, the president, fled the country; the US relocated its embassy staff to the airport for evacuation; thousands of civilians crowded there, too, in the desperate hope of also boarding a plane. US troops fired in the air to disperse the crowds; according to Reuters, at least five people have died at the airport; according to the Wall Street Journal, at least three people were shot; the story is developing. Images obtained by Al Jazeera showing Taliban officials inside the presidential palace circulated widely in the media. So did images captured by the Associated Press showing an American helicopter buzzing over the US embassy. Often, the latter images came packaged with comparisons to the pictures that became synonymous with the US retreat from Saigon, at the end of the Vietnam war. Some such commentary thoughtfully teased out the echoes of imperial folly and the many differences between then and now. Much of it trafficked in optics-driven, America-centric gotcha journalism — sensationalizing a cheap visual parallel and feasting off of President Biden’s recent assurance that ‘there’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy.’”

Justice Amy Coney Barrett Denies Request to Block Indiana University’s Vaccine Mandate (Mili)

The author writes, “Justice Amy Coney Barrett declined a request to block Indiana University’s vaccine mandate, signaling that similar policies going into effect amid a Covid-19 surge could pass legal muster. Barrett, who has jurisdiction over the appeals court involved in the case, acted alone without referring the matter to the full court.”

Inside Fox News, DeSantis Is ‘the Future of the Party.’ And He’s Taking Advantage. (DonkeyHotey)

From the Tampa Bay Times: “Early in Florida’s vaccine rollout, during a period marked by confusion and images of seniors in long lines desperate for a shot, Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office devised a pitch to air a more flattering view. In mid-January, his staff took the idea to Fox News. The timing was perfect. Producers for Fox & Friends, the network’s top-rated cable morning news show, were already inquiring about DeSantis’ availability. A plan came together in a flurry of emails and phone calls over several days. DeSantis’ team provided a senior, a location and the talking points. Fox News would bring the cameras and its audience. No other media would be allowed in.”

America Needs to Start Telling the Truth About Israel’s Nukes (Dan)

The author writes, “American politicians often warn that if Iran obtains a nuclear weapon, it will spark a nuclear stampede across the Middle East. Allowing Tehran to get the bomb, Senator Robert Menendez, the current chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, predicted in March 2020, could ‘set off a dangerous arms race in the region.’ In an interview in December, President-elect Joe Biden cautioned that if Iran went nuclear, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt might too, ‘and the last goddamn thing we need in that part of the world is a buildup of nuclear capability.’ Such statements are so familiar that it’s easy to overlook their artifice. In warning that Iran could turn the Middle East nuclear, American politicians imply that the region is nuclear-free now. But it’s not. Israel already has nuclear weapons. You’d just never know it from America’s leaders, who have spent the last half-century feigning ignorance.”

Murder Hornet Sighted in Washington State’s Whatcom County (ReaderSteve)

The author writes, “The second sighting of a so-called murder hornet this year was reported by a person in Whatcom County [last] week, the Washington state Department of Agriculture said Thursday. The Asian giant hornet was reported by a Whatcom County resident on Wednesday. Entomologists confirmed the sighting Thursday. The resident’s report included a photograph of the hornet attacking a paper wasp nest in a rural area east of the town of Blaine, about two miles from where state workers eradicated the first Asian giant hornet nest in the United States last October.”

One Living People Today Show More Traces of The Mysterious Denisovans Than Any Others (Sean)

The author writes, “The mysterious Denisovans were only formally identified about a decade ago, when a single finger bone unearthed from a cave in Siberia clued scientists into the ancient existence of a kind of archaic hominin we’d never before seen. But that’s only one side of the story. The truth is, modern humans had in fact already encountered Denisovans a long time before this. We crossed paths with them an eternity ago. So far back, in fact, that we forgot about them entirely. Especially as they — and other archaic humans, such as the Neanderthals — faded into the unliving past, and Homo sapiens assumed sole human dominion over the world. But even that’s kind of debatable.”

Hansle Parchment Thanks Woman Who Paid for Taxi to Race Where He Won Olympic Gold (Dana)

The author writes, “Jamaican hurdler Hansle Parchment has tracked down and thanked a Tokyo 2020 volunteer who paid for his taxi to the Olympic Stadium, where he subsequently won a gold medal. Parchment told the story in a video posted to social media last weekend, which ended with him meeting the volunteer, whom he called Tiana. He thanked her, showed her the gold medal, gave her a Jamaican Olympic shirt and paid her back the money she had lent. ‘You were instrumental in me getting to the final that day,’ he told her before they posed for a photo.”

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