Digest: 5 August 2014

 

 

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In Secrets of the Creative Brain, Nancy Andreasen (for The Atlantic) discusses her research into the correlation of creativity and mental illness. Andreason is a psychiatrist and neuroscientist who has been studying creativity since the 1960s largely through her connection to Iowa University’s Writer’s Workshop, one of the premier writing programs in the country. She describes the difficulties in attempting to isolate creative genius, which cannot be shown merely through an IQ test. Rather, it seems as though creative people are considered so as a result of their particularly strong associative skills. Even once research subjects have been found, it is not easy to isolate and monitor the creative processes in the brain. MRIs pick up only an instant of brain activity, whereas creativity is generally a long process that builds on itself over time – that is to say that “Eureka!” moments usually come at the end of a long immersive process.  But by monitoring brain activity during tasks that involve association and recognition, she has found that creative types have stronger activations in the brain’s association cortices and as a result they tend to outperform control groups.  Still there is the question of the prevalence of mental instability in the highly creative – Andreasen’s research is ongoing but it seems that both nature and nurture are responsible.

Economic

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In Fund Managers: Assets or Liabilities?, The Economist discusses the growing thought among regulators that the next financial crisis may stem from the activities of asset managers.  The asset management industry controls $87 trillion.  Its increasing scale has made regulators nervous and the Financial Stability Board has started to ask whether some managers ought to be regulated under the more stringent requirements applicable to Systemically Important Financial Institutions. Regulators are concerned that managers are subject to increasing concentration risk as well as herd mentality. This dynamic could lead to a panic sell-off that could undermine the stability of the overall economy.

In New World Order, Erik Brynjolfsson, Andrew McAfee, and Michael Spence (for Foreign Affairs) discuss the changing state of economic order as technological progress looks to favor those who can most effectively innovate over both capital and labor interests. Labor will be increasingly squeezed out as a result of technological automation, and holders of capital can only be as effective as they are capable of seeing what will happen next. What will happen next will more and more be in the hands of those who come up with the next big idea. The effect of the digital age and increased automation is that new ideas can be developed with next to no overhead costs.

In With Africa’s Private Sector on the Rise, U.S. Businesses Seek to Expand Their Presence, Rebecca Robbins (for The Washington Post) discusses the competing interests looking to gain a foothold in Africa’s private sector growth.  China has the advantage having aggressively pushed to expand its economic presence to the point that it has economic attaches in 54 African countries to the US’s eight. The Obama administration is now acting to close the gap, but has a lot of catching up to do.

Environmental 

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In The Dark Side of Physics, Maria Spiropulu (for Project Syndicate) discusses how the discovery of the Higgs Bosun spells the opening of a new era of understanding opening up about the fundamentals of the universe.  The discovery will likely bring about not only new knowledge but also may challenge paradigms of understanding that have been in place for the past 76 years. The possibility of prior understanding being challenged can be considered positive. With the data and technology now available, it can be expected that science will achieve a surge in new understanding.  

Political

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In Crimes Against Humanity in Gaza: Is It Really a ‘Buffer Zone’ – Or A Bigger Plan?, Dennis Kucinich (for The Guardian) discusses the Israel/Gaza conflict as a land grab by Israel supported by the United States taxpayer. While the US has condemned recent attacks by Israel on safe havens such as schools, it continues to provide funds to Israel for weapons. Kucinich argues that Israel’s moral inconsistencies have gone too far, the discrepancy between the suffering of the Palestinians in Gaza and Israelis is too great. The so-called buffer-zone will shrink Gaza’s habitable land area by 44% – an estimated 25o,000 Palestinians will have to leave their homes or be bombed.

In What Science Says About Marijuana, Philip M. Boffey (for The New York Times) discusses the clear consensus of science that marijuana is less harmful to health than alcohol or tobacco and should be legalized and regulated. Marijuana has shown few if any health risks for adult users, and is not addictive in the way that alcohol, tobacco, cocaine and other drugs are. It still poses risks to children, to whom it is widely available. The adverse effects of marijuana are increased in developing brains. To protect children marijuana should be tightly regulated, but it should be legalized.

Social

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In Gaza Crisis: ‘The Real Danger to Israel Comes from Within’, Julia Amalia Heyer (for Der Spiegel) interviews Israeli sociologist Eva Illouz about the Israel/Gaza conflict. Illouz, a professor of sociology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, argues that while Israel started out as modern democratic nation, it has grown more extreme, more focused on fear to the extent that she sees security as being the paramount concept underlying social and political policy. This mindset is reinforced by far-right political elements in government.