Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Timbuktu and Brain Implants (Link Round-Up 6/13/12)

[YouTube memefest via Reddit]

Islamist rebel group in Mali takes Timbuktu
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has made millions of dollars through ransom payments for Western hostages. This money is thought to have been spent on a more sophisticated arsenal that may, according to some Western intelligence estimates, include ground-to-air missiles looted from Gadhafi's arsenals. While specifics regarding this more sophisticated weaponry remains speculative for the time being due to a dearth of verifiable intelligence in the Azawad region, what is known is that this sprawling, ungoverned area is becoming a magnet for regional and even transnational jihadists, according to several witnesses.

Basically, Mali remains in political freefall while quarrelsome rebels attempt to consolidate their control over an area the nearly the size of Texas.
Obama's leaked trade documents show corporate power winning over sovereignty, environment
While the current trade deal could pose a challenge to American sovereignty, large corporations headquartered in the U.S. could potentially benefit from it by using the same terms to oppose the laws of foreign governments. If one of the eight Pacific nations involved in the talks passes a new rule to which an American firm objects, that U.S. company could take the country to court directly in international tribunals.
Public Citizen challenged the independence of these international tribunals, noting that "The tribunals would be staffed by private sector lawyers that rotate between acting as 'judges' and as advocates for the investors suing the governments," according to the text of the agreement. 
Modern elitism: oligarchy pretending to be meritocracy
While smartness is necessary for competent elites, it is far from sufficient: wisdom, judgment, empathy and ethical rigor are all as important, even if those traits are far less valued. Indeed, extreme intelligence without these qualities can be extremely destructive. But empathy does not impress the same way smartness does. Smartness dazzles and mesmerizes. More important, it intimidates. When a group of powerful people get together to make a group decision, conflict and argumentation ensue, and more often than not the decision that emerges is that which is articulated most forcefully by those parties perceived to be the “smartest.” 
It is under these conditions that destructive intelligence flourishes. Behind many of the Bush administration’s most disastrous and destructive decisions was one man: David Addington, counsel and then chief of staff to Dick Cheney. Addington was called “Cheney’s Cheney” and “the most powerful man you’ve never heard of.” A former Bush White House lawyer told The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer that the administration’s legal framework for the “war on terror”—from indefinite detention, to torture, to rejection of the 1949 Geneva Accords, to denial of habeas corpus—was “all Addington.”
Iraq's biggest ally is Iran, not US
I point all this out not to add to the fear-mongering and saber-rattling currently fashionable in D.C., but to highlight the absurdity of rattling those sabers at Iran without acknowledging the role played by our disastrous decade-long war in Iraq -- and the hubris, ignorance and lies that fueled it -- in making Iran more powerful. Every time those voices that helped get us into a war with Iraq beat the drums of war against Iran, they should be asked: what effect has the war you supported in Iraq had on Iran's power in the region? By clamoring for a war in Iraq, was it your plan to empower Iran? If not, and if you were so obviously wrong, then why should we trust you now? What rethinking have you done that would give you credibility this time around?
Survey: Smart people more likely to make stupid cognitive errors
When people face an uncertain situation, they don’t carefully evaluate the information or look up relevant statistics. Instead, their decisions depend on a long list of mental shortcuts, which often lead them to make foolish decisions. These shortcuts aren’t a faster way of doing the math; they’re a way of skipping the math altogether. Asked about the bat and the ball, we forget our arithmetic lessons and instead default to the answer that requires the least mental effort.
MIT makes glucose fuel cell for brain implants
This discovery is exciting for two main reasons: a) The fuel cell is completely synthetic, and b) they can be produced using low-tech, decades-old chip fabrication processes. Glucose fuel cells have been created before, primarily to power pacemakers, but they used biological enzymes (like your own cells) — and enzymes need to be replenished. Platinum, however, will happily strip electrons from glucose indefinitely. Platinum also has the added bonus of being very biocompatible — i.e. your immune system doesn’t try to reject it. Cerebrospinal fluid is almost entirely devoid of cells, too — it’s basically just a glucose-rich fluid that insulates your brain and spine. Because there are no cells, this means there are no white blood cells that can reject the fuel cell.
International poll shows China seen as top economic power over US
Across the 21 nations surveyed, the median percentage with positive views of China and the United States were about the same, at 49 percent and 52 percent, respectively. But Pew noted that overall figure concealed big differences in some countries. In Japan, 72 percent saw the U.S. favorably, versus just 15 percent for China. In Pakistan, 85 percent saw China favorably while just 12 percent said the same for the United States.

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