Digest: 2 September 2014




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In The Scientific A-Team Saving the World from Killer Viruses, Rogue AI and the Paperclip Apocalypse, Andrew Martin (for The Guardian) discusses the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) with its founders. Cosmologist Martin Rees, Skype co-founder Jaan Tallinn, economic theorist Sir Partha Dasgupta, and philosopher Huw Price founded CSER to study low-probability-but-high-consequence future events, specifically those we create for ourselves. Four prominent such risks are the possibility of the release of a virus with a modified genome, geo-engineering, 3D printing of weapons, and runaway artificial intelligence.   


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In Volatile Emotions Are Driving the World Economy, Philip Pilkington (for Al Jazeera America) discusses efforts to understand what drives financial events. Recent research in London has measured the prevalence of optimistic and anxious words in the financial press to determine a correlation between mood and market results. In Britain the results show a strong causal connection between so-called animal spirits and stock market volatility. The research fundamentally undermines the long-held conception that markets produce efficient outcomes, and thus need not be regulated.


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In Why We’re So Blasé About Global Warming, Jack Shafer (for Reuters) discusses how public alarm in the US over global warming has decreased despite a surge in professional consensus about its seriousness. Shafer considers some possible explanations for this including that long term issues may be overlooked in light of short term gains, the volume of press content has decreased, people may have a limited supply of concern, or perhaps the global warming theorists have won the argument and so the obvious intensity of the issue has simply receded, people get it, they just would prefer to think about something else.


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In Failed Diplomacy: NATO Hardliners Push for Firmer Stance Against Russia, Nikolaus Blome, Christiane Hoffmann, Ralf Neukirch and Christoph Schult (for Der Spiegel) discuss how in the absence of diplomatic headway, the hawks are closing in. Hopes had been that Prime Minister Angela Merkel of Germany would be able to find a good solution to the Ukraine crisis through her relatively close ties with Russian President Putin. No obvious good has come of the talks however leading NATO to consider what other options there may be. Merkel had hoped to avoid such an escalation, but may not be able to avoid it for much longer.

In US Strategy vs. Islamic State: Better Right Than Fast, Jim Gaines (for Reuters) discusses the need for care in managing confrontation with ISIS. It need not be considered dire that the Obama Administration has not yet finalized a strategy – it is a complex matter, and plausible arguments can be made that insufficiently-considered excursions in the region in the past caused the very issue we face now. Such mistakes should not be made again.

In Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault: The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin, John J. Mearsheimer (for Foreign Affairs) discusses how naive NATO, European, and US encroachments into Eastern Europe provoked Russia’s response. Mearsheimer argues that Western policymakers failed to foresee Putin’s reaction because they subscribe to a faulty understanding of  international politics. Western expansionist policy has been based on the idea that an “all-inclusive liberal order” would emerge negating the need for old-style realist geopolitics. But Russia continues to operate in the old way, and its response to the West’s courting of Ukraine was to be expected.


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In The New History Wars, James R. Grossman (for The New York Times) discusses some of the resistance faced by the College Board’s revised Curriculum Framework for Advanced Placement history courses. The new framework focuses on developing students’ ability to interact with history in a more critical, analytical way. The result is that it doesn’t gloss over difficult things in history, like slavery or the treatment of the native American population. It’s better for our students, Grossman argues, if they learn to actively engage with the past as it was rather than a censored, though perhaps more appetizing, version of it.

In ISIS’ Antiquities Sideline,  Amr Al-Azm, Salam Al-Kuntar and Brian I. Daniels (for The New York Times) discuss the role ISIS has been playing in looting and selling antiquities in Iraq and Syria. A recent investigation by the authors has shown that ISIS has been far more active than was originally feared – it allows people to dig for artifacts provided they pay a percentage of the value of the find. Not only is the organisation is using the export of such artifacts as a source of income, they are causing untold damage to the sites themselves - Mesopotamian, Assyrian, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Christian and Islamic.