- Mort Zuckerman on Fighting a Cyberwar The upshot of WikiLeaks's "mischievousness" was to highlight how vulnerable personal, business, and government computer networks still are, figures the editor-in-chief of U.S News & World Report in The Wall Street Journal. The Internet, he explains, "was originally intended for thousands of researchers, not billions of users who did not know and trust one another." The Internet's founders never conceived that it could be used for commercial purposes or would control of critical systems. This is why its power and convenience can be likened to a "two-edged sword" that grants unprecedented access but enables terrorist groups. Zuckerman calls for the creation of something as ambitious as a new, "souped-up Manhattan Project" to try to figure out a way to try to create "impermeable barriers to the profusion of malware." If the government does not make security an utmost priority, a large cyber-terror attack could leave "an unimaginable degree of chaos in America." The private sector can't be expected to create security capabilities for the cyberthreat: America needs a federal agency "dedicated to defending our various networks," he argues.
- Ross Douthat on the 'Changing Culture War' For decades, "the contours of America's culture war seemed relatively straightforward," writes The New York Times columnist. The country was divided into an oversimplified (but "neat") division between secular, permissive, white-collar educated class and the more blue-collar, traditional social conservatives in middle America. New research by the National Marriage Project may further erode this picture, Douthat observes. College-educated Americans once overwhelmingly supported liberal divorce laws and were less likely to attend church, but now "college graduates are America's most faithful churchgoers, while religious observance has dropped precipitously among the less-educated." Furthermore, "it's no longer clear that middle America does hold more conservative views on marriage and family, or that educated Americans are still more likely to be secular and socially liberal." These changes can be attributed, Douthat reckons, to the upward mobility of social conservatives who are "as likely to enroll their children in an S.A.T. prep course as they are to ship them off to Bible camp." Left in the lurch, however, are the "moderately educated middle" who used to be tied together by churchgoing, but now do not appear to value that religious experience as highly. Douthat concludes: "This, in turn, may be remembered as the great tragedy of the culture war: While college-educated Americans battle over what marriage should mean, much of the country may be abandoning the institution entirely."
- Junia Yearwood on Valuing Education The Boston Globe columnist vents her frustration with the state of public education in the United States. A retired Boston Public Schools teacher, Yearwood argues that the responsibility for poor performance by public school students extends beyond teachers and has deep roots in our society. Yearwood compares the U.S. to Barbados, the small Caribbean island nation whose adult literacy rate is 98 percent and whose citizens believe "that being poor and black does not prevent one from achieving high levels academically and is no excuse for poor performance." Reevaluating expectations for students, the role of public schooling, and the method with which students are guided through the system, are all steps Yearwood proposes for bettering public education that do not require "titanic sums of money." "This difficult but feasible shift in American culture is for free, requiring only our collective will and commitment. It will begin only when we accept the collective blame and responsibility for restoring the health of our inner-city public schools."
- Michio Kaku on 'Alien' Life The announcement by NASA scientists last week regarding the discovery of a microbe with DNA that feeds on arsenic will have far-reaching consequences on scientific inquiry, writes the CCNY theoretical physics professor in The Wall Street Journal. Prior to last week's announcement, scientists had never seen a piece of DNA that did not incorporate the "usual six elements" of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur. This new variation on the DNA model could result in a change to "the very definition of life" in biology textbooks and "raises the possibility that 'shadow' life may exist on earth--and perhaps even on other planets." In the short run, Kaku believes the discovery of arsenic-based DNA means a "broadened definition of the chemicals of life" immediately change the criteria of NASA's current search for life on Mars, the moon of Saturn, and the moon of Jupiter.
- Anatol Lieven on Bringing Law to Russia The lack of respect for the rule of law in Russia--recently chosen to host the 2018 World Cup--has stifled the country's development, writes the King's College professor in the Financial Times. Lieven traces this trend back to "the collapse of state power in the 1990s, in which organised criminal groups shot their way into control of massive amounts of property, or were adopted as allies and gunmen by business and political figures." This has given rise to a system where journalists, judges, and prosecutors who try to stamp out corruption in the Russian political system risk being the targets of violent reprisals. Lieven credits Vladimir Putin with at least bringing "a measure of order to this chaos" but the fact the gangsters and oligarchs who perpetrated the violence have emerged as the nation's "property-owning elite" has created a situation in which the inmates are running the asylum. There's no easy fix for the current situation, other than the emergence of "new middle classes...to replace the existing oligarchy--classes that would be the bearers not just of a new political ideology but a new morality" where a respect for the law is stressed.
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