Weekly Roundup 10/24/2011

Revolution Won, Top Libyan Official Vows a New and More Pious State
Adam Nossiter and Kareem Fahim, The New York Times, Oct. 24, 2011

Mogadishu on the Mediterranean?
Christian Caryl, Foreign Policy, Oct. 20, 2011

The colonel is caught
The Economist, Oct. 22, 2011

What’s Next for Libya?
L. Paul Bremer III, The Washington Post, Oct. 23, 2011

Synopsis: The death of Libya’s longtime dictator Moammar Gaddafi marks the end of an eight-month civil war, but the beginning of an uncertain transition. Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, chairman of the Transitional National Council, said the new government would be based on Islamist principles. Meanwhile, human rights groups were raising concerns about the killing of Gaddafi after he had been captured alive. In Foreign Policy, contributing editor Christian Caryl says the weak interim government may preside over a Somalia-style failed state. But The Economist views Gaddafi’s death as encouragement for democratic movements in the Arab world. And in the Washington Post, L. Paul Bremer III, the American diplomat who oversaw the U.S. occupation of Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein, says the new regime’s success depends on providing security and demonstrating real political change.

Takeaway: Gaddafi’s death “will not necessarily spell the onset of sweetness and light across the region,” The Economist writes. “But it is a turning point all the same.”

For CQ Global Researcher coverage, see “Turmoil in the Arab World,” May 3, 2011

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


Information Is Cheap, Meaning Is Expensive
The European, Oct. 11, 2011

Synopsis: Historian of science George Dyson notes that computer technology is evolving rapidly and that because of digital technology’s nearly unimaginable complexity this evolution is occurring almost entirely out of human control. This poses some of the most profound ethical and philosophical challenges of our time, he writes. Computers already are far better than human minds at finding answers to many questions, for example. Just consider what happens when you type a query into the Google search engine. Human minds are still far better at posing the most important questions, though, Dyson notes. But there’s a danger we’ll allow the seductive ease of computer-assisted thinking to usurp our facility for doing so.

Takeaway: “The danger is not that machines are advancing. The danger is that we are losing our intelligence if we rely on computers instead of our own minds. On a fundamental level, we have to ask ourselves: Do we need human intelligence? And what happens if we fail to exercise it?... I spent a lot of my life living in the wilderness and building kayaks. I believe that we need to protect our self-reliant individual intelligence—what you would need to survive in a hostile environment. Few of us are still living self-reliant lives. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but we should be cautious not to surrender into dependency on other forms of intelligence.”

For more, see Patrick Marshall’s April 22, 2011, report on “Artificial Intelligence”; Alan Greenblatt’s Sept. 24, 2010, report, “Impact of the Internet on Thinking”; and my Sept. 17, 2010, report, “Social Networking.”

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


A jobs plan we shouldn’t bank on
Chris Edwards, The Washington Post, Oct. 23, 2011

Synopsis: Many people, myself included, think that government spending on infrastructure, such as new highways, can boost employment and the economy in general. Not always so, says the author, an analyst at the conservative Cato Institute.

Takeaway: “The recent infrastructure debate has focused on job creation,” Edwards writes. “The more important question is who is holding the shovel. When it’s the federal government, we’ve found that it digs in the wrong places and leaves taxpayers with big holes in their pockets. So let’s give the shovels to state governments and private companies.”

--Tom Colin, Contributing Editor


From Russia With Lies
Elena Gorkokhova, New York Times Magazine, Oct. 23, 2011

Soviet civilization belongs to history books. But its survivors still walk among us. One of them, an emigré to the United States who has written a memoir of growing up in the USSR, authored this jewel of a piece on a special category of lie that was part of Soviet life. This genre of mendacity lives on, she writes, pointing to a recent episode involving Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. He too is a product of Soviet civilization, and it shows.

--Peter Katel, Staff Writer