31 January 2015

Context Institute: “What is Education for?”

The plain fact is that the planet does not need more “successful” people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every shape and form. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these needs have little to do with success as our culture has defined it.

A second principle comes from the Greek concept of paideia. The goal of education is not mastery of subject matter, but of one’s person. Subject matter is simply the tool. Much as one would use a hammer and chisel to carve a block of marble, one uses ideas and knowledge to forge one’s own personhood. For the most part we labor under a confusion of ends and means, thinking that the goal of education is to stuff all kinds of facts, techniques, methods, and information into the student’s mind, regardless of how and with what effect it will be used. The Greeks knew better.

David Orr

Some powerful ideas in this 15-year old article, but I always get a little skeptical when people start to idealize the past (the only people who have lived sustainably on the planet for any length of time could not read) and treat it as the solution to all of today’s problems. The world is so different than it was two thousand years ago – heck, very different than last century or fifty years ago – that we need to find our own answers, not search for them in a long-past age.

30 January 2015

The Atlantic: “5,200 Days in Space”

Spaceflight has faded from American consciousness even as our performance in space has reached a new level of accomplishment. In the past decade, America has become a truly, permanently spacefaring nation. All day, every day, half a dozen men and women, including two Americans, are living and working in orbit, and have been since November 2000. Mission Control in Houston literally never sleeps now, and in one corner of a huge video screen there, a counter ticks the days and hours the Space Station has been continuously staffed. The number is rounding past 5,200 days.

It’s a little strange when you think about it: Just about every American ninth-grader has never lived a moment without astronauts soaring overhead, living in space. But chances are, most ninth-graders don’t know the name of a single active astronaut—many don’t even know that Americans are up there. We’ve got a permanent space colony, inaugurated a year before the setting of the iconic movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s a stunning achievement, and it’s completely ignored.

Charles Fishman

It’s even stranger if you think about the burst of excitement on Twitter as the Rosetta probe started orbiting comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and Philae landed on its surface. I think the public feeling is that NASA has stopped taking risks in space exploration – the activity has certainly slowed down from the adventurous start in the ‘60s, when no less than five probes were sent out towards Venus in a single year. Fortunately, there are others willing to step up and tackle the challenge of space – and to bear the sometimes tragic consequences.

25 January 2015

Trei zile în capitala Norvegiei

in Bucharest, Romania

Am aterizat la Oslo într‑o după‑amiază mohorâtă de septembrie, după o escală la fel de mohorâtă pe aeroportul din Amsterdam. Am zburat pe această etapă într‑un mic avion bimotor, nici măcar complet ocupat, ca pentru a‑mi atrage atenția că nimeni nu alege această perioadă pentru a vizita o latitudinea asta. Vederea de la fereastră era întreruptă de fâșii de nori, deasupra unor dealuri stinghere, acoperite de brazi și ocazionale sate. Mi‑am făcut drum printre zonele în renovare spre un birou de informații, unde am fost îndrumat către următorul tren, care m‑a dus rapid spre oraș printre aceleași dealuri împădurite. Acolo oboseala cred că și‑a spus cuvântul, pentru că am luat‑o plin de încredere într‑o direcție și am nimerit cu tot cu bagaje în mijlocul unui mall aglomerat. Judecând după oamenii din jur aș fi putut să jur că am aterizat nu în Europa, ci undeva prin Istanbul sau Egipt. Am rătăcit vreo jumătate de oră în căutarea unei ieșiri, traversând o pasarelă exterioară și folosind liftul, până la urmă evadând prin parcarea subterană pe o stradă lăturalnică. M‑am reorientat cu harta primită la aeroport și confuzia mea inițială nu m‑a împiedicat să ofer sfaturi unor turiști la fel de rătăciți ca și mine, care m‑au întrebat cu accente rusești dacă știu unde e o stație de tramvai. Oxlo - Oslo Extra Large

Robert Heinlein – ‘–All You Zombies–’

in Bucharest, Romania

Robert Heinlein - All You ZombiesO seară cu puțini clienți într‑un bar din New York, un tânăr care încearcă să‑și înece amarul în băutură, un barman dornic de conversație. Așa începe o povestire pe cât de scurtă, pe atât de complicată, cu un pariu între cei doi despre care dintre ei are o istorisire mai ieșită din comun. Scrisă la sfârșitul anilor ‘50, ‘–All You Zombies–’ este una dintre clasicele genului călătorie în timp, un paradox temporal atât de încâlcit încât ar fi ușor să‑l confunzi cu o parodie a genului. Construcția perfect circulară e de admirat, subliniată de inelul purtat de personajul principal: Ouroboros, șarpele care‑și înghite coada, simbolul morții și renașterii eterne. Eu unul am fost intrigat mai degrabă de final, de indiciile frugale despre lumea din jur și efectele călătoriei temporale, de aluziile că totul în jur e de fapt o iluzie. Ar fi fost bine dacă Heinlein ar fi extins unele idei; în orice caz cred că o voi mai citi încă o dată, încercând să deslușesc mai bine la ce se referă în încheiere.

24 January 2015

The Guardian: “Isis: the inside story”

The other prisoners did not take long to warm to him, Abu Ahmed recalled. They had also been terrified of Bucca, but quickly realised that far from their worst fears, the US-run prison provided an extraordinary opportunity. We could never have all got together like this in Baghdad, or anywhere else, he told me. It would have been impossibly dangerous. Here, we were not only safe, but we were only a few hundred metres away from the entire al-Qaida leadership.

He was respected very much by the US army, Abu Ahmed said. If he wanted to visit people in another camp he could, but we couldn’t. And all the while, a new strategy, which he was leading, was rising under their noses, and that was to build the Islamic State. If there was no American prison in Iraq, there would be no IS now. Bucca was a factory. It made us all. It built our ideology.

Martin Chulov

American prison camps were the perfect breeding ground for more terrorism. Yet another reason why the invasion of Iraq was a bad idea gone horribly wrong. Whoever thought that keeping dangerous prisoners together and allowing them so much freedom inside the prison walls must be one of the most incompetent members of the US Army.

Slate Magazine: “The world is not falling apart”

How can we get a less hyperbolic assessment of the state of the world? Certainly not from daily journalism. News is about things that happen, not things that don’t happen. We never see a reporter saying to the camera, “Here we are, live from a country where a war has not broken out”—or a city that has not been bombed, or a school that has not been shot up. As long as violence has not vanished from the world, there will always be enough incidents to fill the evening news. And since the human mind estimates probability by the ease with which it can recall examples, newsreaders will always perceive that they live in dangerous times. All the more so when billions of smartphones turn a fifth of the world’s population into crime reporters and war correspondents.

The world is not falling apart. The kinds of violence to which most people are vulnerable—homicide, rape, battering, child abuse—have been in steady decline in most of the world. Autocracy is giving way to democracy. Wars between states—by far the most destructive of all conflicts—are all but obsolete. The increase in the number and deadliness of civil wars since 2010 is circumscribed, puny in comparison with the decline that preceded it, and unlikely to escalate.

Steven Pinker and Andrew Mack

Whenever there’s a new shooting or terrorist attack, I end up having a similar talk about it with my mother, with the same conclusion: the world is not getting worse, we’re just seeing more and more of what’s happening elsewhere – and the media regularly focuses on the bad. It’s especially striking for us, after living for dozens of years inside the Communist block, where little of the turmoil of the outside world trickled in. And in this study there’s finally statistical confirmation. Though, as with all trends, it’s not always safe to assume it will continue unchanged forever…

23 January 2015

San Francisco Magazine: “The Smartest Bro in the Room”

Uber Travis Kalanick

You get in the habit of not identifying yourself as an Uber employee when you’re a passenger, that’s for sure, a former corporate staffer tells me. A lot of people say they work at another company in the building when getting picked up or dropped off at HQ.

Ellen Cushing

Great profile on the founder of Uber, Travis Kalanick, with lots of information about the founding and evolution of the company. You know you’re stepping on enough toes when your own employees won’t admit they are working at Uber! Somehow I doubt this rough way of doing business is going to benefit the company – and the thousands of people partnering with them – in the long term.

All along, this brazen approach has been matched by Kalanick’s rhetoric. We’re in this political campaign, and the candidate is Uber, and the opponent is an asshole named Taxi, Kalanick told the audience at a tech conference earlier this year. Nobody likes him, he’s not a nice character, but he’s so woven into the political fabric and machinery that a lot of people owe him favors. We have to bring out the truth about how dark and dangerous and evil the taxi side is.

But who do you ‘vote’ for, if the challenger is just as bad as the incumbent (or worse)?