Around the World in Six Ideas

Article excerpt

Byline: Christopher Dickey

Forget Your IQ

"Working memory is our ability to remember and manage information," says psychologist Tracy Packiam Alloway at the University of North Florida. It's about the conscious processing of information, not just accumulation. One simple example: when someone gives you directions and you repeat them to yourself, that's not working memory. When you apply that information while driving to your destination, it is. And whether we're educating our children or trying to hold on to our mental faculties as we age, Alloway says improving working memory is key. The author of numerous scholarly studies--and of Training Your Brain for Dummies--Alloway says tests for working memory are more reliable indicators of potential success in school than IQ tests, which often have built-in cultural biases. When privileged children are tested alongside those from less privileged backgrounds, results show "students from deprived backgrounds have the same ability to succeed." That's the good news. Less encouraging is evidence that children with less working memory who fall behind in kindergarten may continue to fall behind for the rest of their lives. In those cases, the key is recognizing the problem early. Specific mental exercises, nutrition, lifestyle choices--all can play a role improving working memory.

No Nukes is Good Nukes

Chuck Hagel took a lot of flak from his Republican interrogators on the Hill for co-authoring the "Global Zero" report last year recommending massive reductions in the American--and Russian--nuclear arsenals. But would-be Defense Secretary Hagel was far from alone signing on to that report. (Its lead author was former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James "Hoss" Cartwright.) At its core are some cold facts about post-Cold War defenses. First of all, reducing the number of nukes on each side from 5,000 to 900 should leave ample deterrence: 80 U.S. weapons, for instance, would remain targeted on Moscow. But those old Strangelove-era Minuteman missiles, poised in hardened silos ready on a few seconds' notice to soar skyward with apocalyptic intent, would be scrapped. They're total overkill for North Korea (which has perhaps 12 nukes) or Iran (which has none for the moment). But more to the point, to hit Pyongyang or Tehran, a Minuteman has to fly over Russia and risk provoking an accidental Armageddon. Meanwhile, the maintenance cost for the current arsenal is an estimated $200 billion over the next 20 years. "Global Zero" is about a negotiated reduction of risks all around.

Cyberspace Superstorms

The hackers who hit Twitter and several major news organizations recently helped prove a point the United States government has been trying to make for years. There's an arms race in cyberspace featuring all sorts of sinister players. But just how dangerous are they really? Janet Napolitano, who heads the Department of Homeland Security, has been calling the threat a "Cyber 9/11." Yet Napolitano knows, as she told a meeting at the Wilson Center recently, "We say 'cyber' and everybody's eyes glaze over." Another analogy may hit closer to home: the nightmare menace is a potential attack on the country's fundamental infrastructure. "It could happen imminently," said Napolitano. And what would it look like? Superstorm Sandy gave millions of people in the Northeast a first-hand idea what happens if something--or someone--takes down the power grid. "You see how that impacts everything from the ability to heat homes to the ability to pump gasoline to the ability to have lighting at night, everything," said Napolitano. To step up the country's defenses, DHS is looking for congressional permission to hire the best and brightest--and sometimes costliest--talent in the digital marketplace. …