Digest: 11 February 2014




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 In Orwell was Hailed a Hero for Fighting in Spain. Today He’d Be Guilty of Terrorism, George Monbiot (for The Guardian) discusses the effect of the arbitrary nature of our terrorism laws.  Under the UK Terrorism Act of  2006, a person can be sentenced to life in prison for fighting abroad with a political, ideological, religious or racial motive. As such, while a modern day Orwell would go to prison for fighting in a civil war against a modern day Franco (e.g. going to Syria to fight against Assad), he would not go to prison if he signed up as a professional mercenary whose incentive to kill was merely cash.


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 In Nanomanufacturing: Emergence and Implications for U.S. Competitiveness, the Environment, and Human Health, the US Government Accountability Office presents its report on a technological development with implications of a magnitude potentially surpassing that of the digital revolution. While the US is in a good position to lead in the development of this new technology, there are some challenges that face the US in creating and maintaining innovation leadership. These include inadequate US involvement in international standard setting and a lack of a national vision for the development of nano-manufacturing. The report summarizes the results of a forum convened by the US Comptroller General.

In The Middle Class Is Steadily Eroding. Just Ask the Business World., Nelson D. Schwatz (for The New York Times) discusses how rising inequality is reflected in the types of products and businesses that are prospering. While businesses that cater to the poor and the rich are thriving, those that cater to the middle class are in trouble. This trend can be seen among both national retailers and restaurants.


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 In Do Large Cities Produce More CO2 Per Capita Than Small Ones?, MIT Technology Review discusses recent research that shows that large cities do produce more CO2 per capita than small ones.  Brazilian researchers have used the population densities provided by another project called the Rural Urban Mapping Project to develop more accurate results than those provided by previous studies. Economies of scale should allow a smaller output if designed to do so; in light of this it will be interesting to see whether “natural cities” can diminish emissions despite their size.


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In Stagnation by Design, Joseph E. Stiglitz (for Project Syndicate) discusses how our economy was in trouble even before and aside from the crisis, and how many of the problems that existed before the crisis remain and in some cases have worsened.  These problems are the results of bad policy decisions and unless they are corrected we will not experience the relief many are looking for. Stiglitz argues that markets are not self-correcting, and they are not good at achieving structural transformations on their own. Without government facilitation of transitions, major social and economic upheaval can be expected.

In Sordid Tale of Bob McDonnell Totally Explains Income Inequality, Leo Gerard (for AlterNet) discusses the indictment of the Virginia governor and how it epitomizes the problem of political capture by financial interests. He argues that rising inequality is not an accident, not just the inevitable result of the invisible hand of the market, but rather it is the direct result of many years of  allowing increasing influence of capital interests over lawmaking and political dealmaking. 


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 In Is Atheism Irrational?, Gary Gutting (for The New York Times) discusses the questionable logic of atheism with Alvin Plantinga, an emeritus professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame.  Plantinga argues that while science has undermined the explanatory power of theism, this does not rationally lead to the non-existence of God. The explanatory power of science is rooted in materialism, the consideration of material entities available to scientific enquiry. Atheism assumes knowledge, the absence of something in particular; but as science has no way to grasp the immaterial, the rational response would be agnosticism, an appreciation of our lack of knowledge one way or another.

In Davos Billionaires: Oblivious to the Coming Revolution, Paul B. Farrell (for The Wall Street Journal) discusses the distance of Billionaires in Davos from the negative repercussions of extreme concentrations of wealth. The article argues that billionaires (speaking generally) are greedy narcissists who fundamentally are interested simply in making more money, that all of the recent inequality talk represents a backlash against capitalism, and that the overall addictive mindset of capitalism will not change without a revolution.

In More Inequality Shock, Paul Buchheit (for Nation of Change) discusses and adds to the results of the Oxfam Report on the extremes of wealth inequality. The article adds statistics from Credit Suisse’s Global Wealth Report such as that the 30 richest Americans own as much as half of the US population, that the bottom half of America owns a smaller percentage of national wealth than almost all other countries and continents, that North America’s bottom half has less chance to move up than any other region of the world, and that America’s middle class is further from the top than in all other developed countries.

In Quantum Internet: First Teleportation to a Solid-State Quantum Memory, MIT Technology Review discusses advances in research into nanotechnology and its application. The developments are key to the generation of a quantum internet over which information could be transmitted with perfect security. Scientists in Switzerland have made an important step, they have teleported quantum information over the sort of ordinary optical fibers that are already in use around the world.