A number of years ago, I spent some time in Africa with members of the Kenyan Wildlife Service whose mission was to protect endangered and protected wildlife from poachers. The job was hazardous; poachers were generally armed and willing to shoot. And the penalties, if the poachers were caught, were severe. But, the KWS rangers said, it wasn't a clear case of good guys versus the bad guys. Yes, the poaching was terrible. And the big money it offered didn't even go, in most cases, to the hunters themselves. They might make $200 for elephant tusks that their "employers" would turn around and sell on the global market for many, many times that amount. "But it's hard to make the case that we need to preserve the elephants," one of the rangers explained to me, "to a Masai tribesman who is so poor that $200 could make the difference between his 6-year-old son living or dying. He's not going to sacrifice his son to save some wild animal."
No, of course not. No parent would. Part of the challenge, then, was to try to convince the tribesmen that the tourism the elephants would bring to the area would provide as much or more income, at far less risk, than poaching.
It's a point that was highlighted earlier this week during Secretary of State HIllary Rodham Clinton's visit to India, when her upbeat comments about being partners with India in fighting global warming were countered, almost immediately, by Jairam Ramesh, India's environment and forests minister. The Indian minister said that India was not in a position to take on legally binding emission standards, and already had one of the lowest carbon emissions rates per capita, in the world.
Roughly translated, Ramesh was saying, pointedly, that the U.S. could well talk about reducing emissions, because it already had a developed and basically well-fed society ... a position it had attained because it didn't have to worry about carbon emissions as it developed. India, with a population of over 1 billion, a poverty rate (living on less than $1.25 a day) of somewhere around 40%, doesn't have that luxury. The rich folk can worry about saving the elephants; the poor have more urgent problems at hand. When most Indians can afford clean transportation, are well fed and safely above poverty levels, come talk to them about reducing emissions.
It's a point echoed in "Mr. Gore, Your Solution to Global Warming is Wrong," a feature in the current issue of Esquire magazine. Written by Bjorn Lomborg, the director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and a professor at the Copenhagen Business School, the article offers an interesting perspective on the global warming debate. Or, rather, the global warming solution debate. Professor Lomborg does not believe that reducing carbon emissions will solve the problem, and argues that our focus on emission reduction is misplaced. In part because of the minor difference that approach is projected to have, over time, but also because of the punitive consequences of that approach for a large percentage of the world's population.
Global warming may harm your grandchildren's chances of survival in sub-Saharan Africa 50 years from now, but if you don't use that poorly maintained, diesel-guzzling truck you somehow got lucky enough to have access to, your children may die next week. And rather than investing billions in reducing carbon emissions, you'd much prefer the powers that be invested in mosquito nets.
When and how does that change? One way, according to Lomborg, is for the poor to become, well ... less poor. "Once a country achieves a certain standard of living, with their kids healthy and educated, citizens invariably begin to shift their focus toward the environment, and pollution starts to fall," he notes -- a dynamic known as the "Kuznets curve."
Consequently, Lomborg advocates a number of nutrition and economic initiatives that may not seem directly related to global warming, but could aid the effort by increasing the number of people with enough margin, or luxury, to care. Lomborg also argues that significant change needs to come from developing alternate fuel sources and eliminating the need for fossil fuel; an approach he believes would have a greater impact over time, and would also eliminate the punitive carbon-reduction-without-other-substitutes problem for the poor, or developing countries.
While eliminating poverty in the world is a noble goal, it might rate even higher on the challenge Richter scale than stopping global warming itself. Not that we shouldn't invest in mosquito nets, micro-finance and micro-nutrient initiatives. And not that we shouldn't, as a country that has more margin to play with, do all we can to reduce our carbon emissions. Just because the rest of the world isn't perfect doesn't excuse us from our own responsibility to be responsible.
But although Lomborg didn't explicitly make this point, it occurred to me that if the key to success is, in essence, to convince the Masai that they will economically benefit more by saving the elephant than killing it, there might be another benefit in his alternative fuels and technology approach. Investing in alternative fuels, versus focusing on carbon emission reduction, might reduce the punitive pressure on developing countries. But if there were somehow money to be made by alternative technology that could be developed, built, or somehow used to the profit and benefit of those people and countries, they might be more willing to work on keeping the elephant alive.
It's a complex issue, with more problems than answers. But looking at what would make the rest of the world want to get on board is certainly an angle worth considering in the debate.
FEMA Director Craig Fugate on why the Katrina response failed, why it’s important to talk about “survivors” instead of “victims,” and why citizens can’t just wait for the government to save them in a huge disaster
In continuing to tinker with the universe she built eight years after it ended, J.K. Rowling might be falling into the same trap as Star Wars’s George Lucas.
September 1st, 2015 marked a curious footnote in Harry Potter marginalia: According to the series’s elaborate timeline, rarely referenced in the books themselves, it was the day James S. Potter, Harry’s eldest son, started school at Hogwarts. It’s not an event directly written about in the books, nor one of particular importance, but their creator, J.K. Rowling, dutifully took to Twitter to announce what amounts to footnote details: that James was sorted into House Gryffindor, just like his father, to the disappointment of Teddy Lupin, Harry’s godson, apparently a Hufflepuff.
It’s not earth-shattering information that Harry’s kid would end up in the same house his father was in, and the Harry Potter series’s insistence on sorting all of its characters into four broad personality quadrants largely based on their family names has always struggled to stand up to scrutiny. Still, Rowling’s tweet prompted much garment-rending among the books’ devoted fans. Can a tweet really amount to a piece of canonical information for a book? There isn’t much harm in Rowling providing these little embellishments years after her books were published, but even idle tinkering can be a dangerous path to take, with the obvious example being the insistent tweaks wrought by George Lucas on his Star Wars series.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
The man who made computers personal was a genius and a jerk. A new documentary wonders whether his legacy can accommodate both realities.
An iPhone is a machine much like any other: motherboard, modem, microphone, microchip, battery, wires of gold and silver and copper twisting and snaking, the whole assembly arranged under a piece of glass whose surface—coated with an oxide of indium and tin to make it electrically conductive—sparks to life at the touch of a warm-blooded finger. But an iPhone, too, is much more than a machine. The neat ecosystem that hums under its heat-activated glass holds grocery lists and photos and games and jokes and news and books and music and secrets and the voices of loved ones and, quite possibly, every text you’ve ever exchanged with your best friend. Thought, memory, empathy, the stuff we sometimes shorthand as “the soul”: There it all is, zapping through metal whose curves and coils were designed to be held in a human hand.
An image of a small child evokes an unfathomably huge tragedy.
I had just dropped my son off at daycare when I opened Twitter and came across a photo that over the next 24 hours would become a totem of the refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East, and the blight that is the Syrian civil war. The picture would quickly reappear, this time as an earnest social-media meme, at a meeting of dithering UN officials and a gathering of unfeeling Arab leaders: a small Syrian boy in a red shirt, blue shorts, and worn shoes, lying face down in wet sand, his head cocked to one side along a gray, glistening shoreline, his lifeless hands cupped upwards, his knees slightly bent.
My first reaction was despair. My second was: My son sleeps just like that.
The attention this photo has received has generated discomfort as well as indignation—for understandable reasons. There are important ethical questions surrounding the taking or sharing of photos of children, dead or alive, in the media, including questions about the intent of the sharers and the consent of the subject. The scale of the Syrian tragedy is orders of magnitude greater, and infinitely more variegated, than this one picture, or this one victim’s story, can possibly convey. Over the last four and a half years, an estimated 240,000 people have died in the grinding violence, including nearly 12,000 children. More than half of Syria’s pre-war population—half, the proportional equivalent of nearly 170 million Americans—have been forced to flee their homes, spawning the largest exodus of refugees in a generation. Seven hundred and fifty thousand Syrian children won’t be going back to school this fall.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
According to Franklin, what mattered in business was humility, restraint, and discipline. But today’s Type-A MBAs would find him qualified for little more than a career in middle management.
When he retired from the printing business at the age of 42, Benjamin Franklin set his sights on becoming what he called a “Man of Leisure.” To modern ears, that title might suggest Franklin aimed to spend his autumn years sleeping in or stopping by the tavern, but to colonial contemporaries, it would have intimated aristocratic pretension. A “Man of Leisure” was typically a member of the landed elite, someone who spent his days fox hunting and affecting boredom. He didn’t have to work for a living, and, frankly, he wouldn’t dream of doing so.
Having worked as a successful shopkeeper with a keen eye for investments, Franklin had earned his leisure, but rather than cultivate the fine arts of indolence, retirement, he said, was “time for doing something useful.” Hence, the many activities of Franklin’s retirement: scientist, statesman, and sage, as well as one-man civic society for the city of Philadelphia. His post-employment accomplishments earned him the sobriquet of “The First American” in his own lifetime, and yet, for succeeding generations, the endeavor that was considered his most “useful” was the working life he left behind when he embarked on a life of leisure.
By reorienting the GOP’s foreign-policy debate away from the Middle East, the flamboyant frontrunner took the pact off the front page.
Next week, Donald Trump will join Ted Cruz, Glenn Beck and others at a rally denouncing the Iran deal. Which is ironic, because Trump is one reason the deal will pass.
Before Trump entered the campaign, foreign policy dominated the Republican presidential race. With Democrats less vulnerable on the economy, and the public growing more progressive on cultural issues like gay marriage, drugs and crime, the GOP candidates refocused on America’s supposedly collapsing position in the world. As The New York Timesreported in February, “Gruesome killings by the Islamic State, terrorist attacks in Europe and tensions with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia are reshaping the early Republican presidential race, creating anxiety among party voters and sending potential candidates scrambling to outmuscle one another on foreign policy.”
I traveled to every country on earth. In some cases, the adventure started before I could get there.
Last summer, my Royal Air Maroc flight from Casablanca landed at Malabo International Airport in Equatorial Guinea, and I completed a 50-year mission: I had officially, and legally, visited every recognized country on earth.
This means 196 countries: the 193 members of the United Nations, plus Taiwan, Vatican City, and Kosovo, which are not members but are, to varying degrees, recognized as independent countries by other international actors.
In five decades of traveling, I’ve crossed countries by rickshaw, pedicab, bus, car, minivan, and bush taxi; a handful by train (Italy, Switzerland, Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, and Greece); two by riverboat (Gabon and Germany); Norway by coastal steamer; Gambia and the Amazonian parts of Peru and Ecuador by motorized canoe; and half of Burma by motor scooter. I rode completely around Jamaica on a motorcycle and Nauru on a bicycle. I’ve also crossed three small countries on foot (Vatican City, San Marino, and Liechtenstein), and parts of others by horse, camel, elephant, llama, and donkey. I confess that I have not visited every one of the 7,107 islands in the Philippine archipelago or most of the more than 17,000 islands constituting Indonesia, but I’ve made my share of risky voyages on the rickety inter-island rustbuckets you read about in the back pages of the Times under headlines like “Ship Sinks in Sulu Sea, 400 Presumed Lost.”
Fractured by internal conflict and foreign intervention for centuries, Afghanistan made several tentative steps toward modernization in the mid-20th century. In the 1950s and 1960s, some of the biggest strides were made toward a more liberal and westernized lifestyle, while trying to maintain a respect for more conservative factions. Though officially a neutral nation, Afghanistan was courted and influenced by the U.S. and Soviet Union during the Cold War, accepting Soviet machinery and weapons, and U.S. financial aid. This time was a brief, relatively peaceful era, when modern buildings were constructed in Kabul alongside older traditional mud structures, when burqas became optional for a time, and the country appeared to be on a path toward a more open, prosperous society. Progress was halted in the 1970s, as a series of bloody coups, invasions, and civil wars began, continuing to this day, reversing almost all of the steps toward modernization taken in the 50s and 60s. Keep in mind, when looking at these images, that the average life expectancy for Afghans born in 1960 was 31, so the vast majority of those pictured have likely passed on since.
What do Google's trippy neural network-generated images tell us about the human mind?
When a collection of artificial brains at Google began generating psychedelic images from otherwise ordinary photos, engineers compared what they saw to dreamscapes. They named their image-generation technique Inceptionism and called the code used to power it Deep Dream.
But many of the people who saw the images reacted the same way: These things didn’t come from a dream world. They came from an acid trip.
The computer-made images feature scrolls of color, swirling lines, stretched faces, floating eyeballs, and uneasy waves of shadow and light. The machines seemed to be hallucinating, and in a way that appeared uncannily human.
The idea behind the project was to test the extent to which a neural network had learned to recognize various animals and landscapes by asking the computer to describe what it saw. So, instead of just showing a computer a picture of a tree and saying, "tell me what this is," engineers would show the computer an image and say, "enhance whatever it is you see."