Around the World in Six Ideas

Article excerpt

Byline: Christopher Dickey

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

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

"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. …