Around the World in Six Ideas: Drone Court, Lying, and More

A raven, an aerial reconnaissance vessel, being launched by members of the 3rd Platoon, Delta Coy, 1-64 Armored Batalion of the US Army operating under NATO command just outside the village of Madowza'i Kalay on September 7, 2012. Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty

Judge Drone

Even staunch supporters of the Obama administration’s tactics fighting terrorism are more than a little uneasy about the president appointing himself judge, jury, and executioner. Even if you trust Obama, what’s to say the next president won’t abuse this power? Jane Harman, a former member of Congress who now heads the Wilson Center (Harman is a former member of the board of directors for The Newsweek/Daily Beast Company LLC), has proposed what she calls “a simple solution”: use the 35-year-old Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act framework, which reviews intelligence collection, to create a new court reviewing the use of killer drones or cyberattacks. (Think Stuxnet.) The administration would have to provide the identity of the targets, evidence of a threat, whether capture is feasible, and whether the attack is consistent with the laws of war. Appropriate members of Congress would also be kept informed. This would be done in utmost secrecy, and with all due speed. But it would preserve America’s classic checks and balances in matters of life and death.

The Evolution Of Lying

dickey-co0309-think-embed2 A commuter uses an HTC Corp. mobile phone on the metro subway system in Beijing, China. Nelson Ching/Bloomberg via Getty

People have been talking to each other for an eternity, but for most of that time they could depend on their words floating away in the wind. No longer. As we communicate nonstop through emails, texts, and social networks, our thoughts are there for friends, enemies, and the courts to read at will. “We’ve evolved to speak in a way in which our words disappear,” says Cornell professor Jeff Hancock, “but we are in an environment in which we are recording everything.” As a result, Hancock tells us, it is getting harder to lie in public—a fact politicians are discovering all the time. The pols, he says, are “the canaries in the coal mine,” and from them we can glean a cautionary lesson: since everything we do creates a record, “we are in a period of evolutionary flux, and we are making these weird mistakes.” But just as technology has started storing our lives in the cloud, it may soon restore ephemeral communication. A popular app among teens is Snapchat, which sends photos that vanish after a few seconds.

Bundles of Joylessness

dickey-co0309-think-embed3 A weary father of twins waits while one brother gets a check up. Karen Kasmauski/National Geographic/Getty

“If your mom was like my mom,” psychology professor and bestselling author Daniel Gilbert told a packed auditorium at Harvard last month, “she gave you more advice than you probably wanted on how to be happy.” The keys, she said, were money, marriage, and kids. But Gilbert begs to differ. Yes, “a little money can buy you a lot of happiness, though a lot of money buys you only a little more happiness.” The sweet spot, he said, is $50,000 to $75,000 per person. Marriage, on average, brings happiness, if not exactly bliss, for eight to 15 years, which isn’t a bad return. But that bit about having kids? Not so, says Gilbert, who’s a father and grandfather. There are wonderful moments. After an exhausting day with a 5-year-old, one “I wub you” seems to make up for everything else. But as a general rule, “once people have kids, there’s a downturn in happiness,” said Gilbert, who hosted the PBS program This Emotional Life. “The only symptom of empty-nest syndrome is nonstop smiling.”


dickey-co0309-think-embed4 Chinese movie-goers wear 3-D glasses as they watch the science-fiction blockbuster "Avatar," at a cinema in Hefei, east China's Anhui province. AFP/Getty

It’s been 100 years since production began on the first feature film shot in a suburb of Los Angeles, and it has seemed since then that the U.S. would dominate the world’s entertainment industry forever. But the Hollywood century is ending. Bollywood has been striving to take its place, and the rising star to focus on is China. A recent report by Ernst & Young showed that the media and entertainment industry there is growing at an exponential rate. Thanks to an enormous internal market, by 2020 box-office receipts will top those in the U.S. But of course we’re not just talking about cinemas. What makes the market dynamic is the convergence of digital networks, new devices, and the expansion of advertising. Add to that the huge growth of “second-tier cities,” where enormous numbers of people with disposable income and high aspirations want a break from boredom, and you see why spending on entertainment and leisure activities in China rose 56 percent from 2010 to 2011. Sounds like the beginning of a new epic.

When Good Enough is Best

dickey-co0309-think-embed5 A solar panel stands on the roof of a house as women work on a rice paddy in Halliberu village, Karnataka, India. Kuni Takahashi/Bloomberg via Getty

A few years ago, Jaideep Prabhu at Cambridge University started studying what he calls “frugal innovation” among entrepreneurs in India. What he and his colleagues found is that people with imagination and limited means could create breakthrough products that are “good enough” to be just about perfect. “Often it isn’t the best technology or the best device that makes it,” he says. “It’s the one that is most appropriate to the needs.” One example: a clay refrigerator that uses no electricity. Another: cheap solar-power systems that can be bought for a few dollars or rented for pennies. And now it turns out frugal innovations have a place in the West as well. A relatively cheap, portable electrocardiograph developed by GE for rural India is now available in the U.S. And a $25 computer created by a student with emerging nations in mind is a hit among geeks in the U.K. People living in the developing world are proving to be a vast market for goods and services that meet their needs—and a catalyst for innovation.

In the Moment

dickey-co0309-think-embed6 Gilles Bassignac/Gamma

Language, as any polyglot knows, is about more than words. It’s about the way you think, with syntax and grammar shaping your view of the world as well as expressing it. What a recent study by Keith Chen at Yale’s School of Management suggests is that one particular quirk of language—the use of a future tense, or lack thereof—shows a profound correlation with attitudes toward savings, health care, and retirement. In German, for instance, where the present tense is used whether you’re talking about today, tomorrow, or next year, the future is now. As a likely consequence of that immediacy, savings rates are higher and so are the provisions people make for aging. But in languages like Greek, Italian, Spanish, French, and English, the effect of the future tense is to kick responsibility down the road: now is now, and the future is out there somewhere. Maybe that helps explain why the Germans get so frustrated with their fellow Europeans.

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