Digest: 22 July 2014

 

 

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In Can You Learn in Your Sleep?, David Robson (for BBC News) discusses new research into the manipulation of sleep patterns as a means of increasing the processing of information by the brain. The science fiction version in which the sleeper is manipulated with new information does not seem possible at this stage, but it does seem to be possible to trigger and enhance the processing of information that has already been taken in. Robson describes the history of efforts to trigger and manipulate dreams, and then describes how new technology may allow people to shift their sleep cycle straight into the processing phase in which the memories from the day are consolidated into more general principles that can act as foundations for later decisions. The success of the research so far suggests we can expect sleep-based memory consolidation products to appear in the markets in the not too distant future, but valid concerns exist regarding, for example, the appropriateness of manipulating children’s memories.

Environmental 

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In The Harmonization of US National Security and Climate Goals, David L. Goldwyn (for The Brookings Institution) discusses current national security concerns and the role of climate change as a risk multiplier.  The world is currently in a volatile condition, particularly in regions rich in energy. This produces uncertainty as regards energy security, and that is a strong recipe for conflict. The US, Goldwyn argues, has a good toolkit for mitigating energy supply disruptions including energy diplomacy, technical assistance to help countries develop their energy infrastructure, and the competitive free trade which has proved a good method of binding countries together.  Along these lines, he points out that the US can use liquified natural gas as a means of developing domestic energy independence, to help stabilize world energy markets, and as a bridge to increased use of renewable energy.

In Germany Pledges $1bn to UN Climate Change Fund, Megan Rowling (for The Guardian) discusses Chancellor Merkel’s decision to fund the UN’s climate initiative which, until Germany’s contribution, had received no large pledges at all.  The fund was set up to help poor nations develop clean energy options and adapt to the repercussions of climate change. But while the establishment of the fund was agreed on in 2010, it has since been held up in negotiations over details. By 2020 it is hoped it will have as much as $100bn in contributions from rich countries to work with – whether or not rich countries in lean times will come up with that money remains to be seen, but Germany has made a promising first step that may trigger others to make their own contributions.

In What the US Can Learn from Germany and Brazil in the Climate and Renewable Energy Arenas, Vivian Thomson (for The Brookings Institution) discusses how the US can look to the other two largest federal nations for both guidance and collaboration. Germany has proved far more successful than the US in increasing per capita GDP while decreasing per capita carbon emissions. Brazil, like the US has climate action taking place at both the national and regional level. In the US federal/state partnerships under the Clean Air Act are making progress, but much needs to be improved and built upon. Thomson discusses her sophisticated interdependence paradigm as a means of achieving the necessary developments.

In Climate Models Accurately Predicted Global Warming When Reflecting Natural Ocean Cycles, Dana Nuccitelli (for The Guardian) discusses how climate predictions are not as wrong as people might have thought, they just failed to take account of one factor – natural ocean cycles.  The El Nino and La Nina ocean cycles have meant that global surface warming has not taken place at the expected rate over the last decade.  Climate skeptics considered this proof of the unreliability of the climate models, but in fact it seems that the excess heat was absorbed by the ocean to an unexpected extent.  This takes place on a cyclic basis, the concern is that global warming will rapidly increase when the ocean cycle shifts.

Political

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In The US is Losing the Close Friends It Needs Most, Fen Osler Hampson and Derek Burney (for the Center for International Governance Innovation) discusses US foreign policy and how it has fallen short of the ideal where careful maintenance of friendships is concerned.  The authors focus on Germany first, pointing out the unprecedented expulsion of the CIA’s station chief following repeated US breaches of trust. Then they discuss Japan, pointing out that relations on that front are hardly better in that Japan no longer feels confident relying on the US as a strategic ally. The US’s relationship with Canada has been stagnating on a number of fronts, and its relationship with Mexico has been suffering the distraction of the a migratory crisis at the border. As Americans look to focus more on domestic affairs, the US will need friends, and it’s been losing them fast.

In World Cup Chants Reveal True State of US-German Relations, Ian Bremmer (for Reuters) discusses the distrust that has developed in Germany towards the US and how it is causing a tilt in Germany towards stronger relations with China. The problem does not end with the series of recent NSA spying scandals, Germany recognizes a potential for economic conflict with the US and no longer sees the US as a trustworthy partner rather as a fickle and opaque entity with interests misaligned from German interests.

In Global Opposition to US Surveillance and Drones, But Limited Harm to America’s Image, the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project discusses its findings that the NSA’s surveillance activities and the US’s use of drones in conflict are heavily opposed around the world. For example, only the US, Israel and Kenya have majorities that approve the use of drones. Despite this ongoing damage to the US’s reputation, so far a majority still approve of the US overall and prefer it to China.  For the first time a 50% mean of respondents now see China taking over as the world’s dominant superpower.

Social

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In Facebook’s Virtual Reality Gamble Is (Again) About Data Mining, Joshua Kopstein (for Al Jazeera America) discusses Facebook’s $2bn acquisition of the virtual reality start-up Oculus VR. Oculus crowd-sourced money from people who thought they were supporting a new gaming platform, so when Facebook bought the company a degree of disappointment was apparent, and this was reinforced when Facebook got into trouble for manipulating the emotions of its users in an experiment they ran without notification or permission of those users. But as exciting as the development of virtual reality is, ultimately for Facebook it is another opportunity to mine data. The nature of the virtual reality technology is that it will provide a far greater and more invasive opportunity for data-mining than anything Facebook has got in trouble for so far.