1. Archive


Published Nov. 19, 2012

In the New York Times Magazine, Robert F. Worth looks at the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi through the filter of how diplomatic security has fundamentally changed. Read "Can American Diplomacy Ever Come Out of Its Bunker?" in full at Here's an excerpt about the old days.

Even in the midst of the Lebanese civil war, diplomats in the field were free to handle safety as they saw fit. On Sept. 18, 1982, Ryan Crocker, then the 33-year-old political section chief at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, drove to the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in southwest Beirut, where Christian militia fighters had carried out a mass slaughter of Palestinians. "There was no security, no nothing," he told me. "That's when I discovered what a massacre looked like." There were hundreds of bodies strewed on the ground inside the camps, many of them mutilated; some had been booby-trapped with explosives. The next day Crocker was asked to go back for a detailed body count. He drove to the camps again, without a bodyguard. "No one gave it a second thought at that time," Crocker told me. "It was just what you did." That was about to change.

* * *

Neural connections, positive and negative, get early start

Writing in Education Week, Sarah D. Sparks looks at the implications when "Research Traces Impacts of Childhood Adversity." Read her essay in full at Here's an excerpt.

The same brain flexibility, called plasticity, that makes children open to learning in their early years also makes them particularly vulnerable to damage from the toxic stressors that often accompany poverty: high mobility and homelessness; hunger and food instability; parents who are in jail or absent; domestic violence; drug abuse; and other problems. ... Good experiences, like nurturing parents and rich early-child-care environments, help build and reinforce neural connections in areas such as language development and self-control, while adversity weakens those connections. Over time, the connections, good or bad, stabilize, "and you can't go back and rewire; you have to adapt," (a researcher) said. "If you've built on strong foundations, that's good, and if you have weak foundations, the brain has to work harder, and it costs more to the brain and society."

* * *

Buddhist ecology

In Aeon, David P. Barash makes a connection between Buddhism and ecology: "Both refuse to separate the human and natural worlds - and demand that we act accordingly." Read "Only Connect" in full at Here is an excerpt.

Each of us arises in conjunction with others, dependent on and inseparable from those others. Trying to locate an inviolate particle of selfhood within anyone (or indeed, in any living thing) is not like finding a solid pit inside an apricot. It is more like peeling an onion: we are layers within layers, with nothing at the center. Or, like an eddy in a river, each of us can be identified and pointed to, but nonetheless, there isn't any persistent 'us': just a constantly moving pattern of flow, with everyone composed entirely of non-self stuff, all of it passing through. For Buddhists and ecologists alike, we are all created from spare parts scavenged from the same cosmic junk-heap, from which "our" component atoms and molecules are on temporary loan, and to which they will eventually be recycled.

* * *

Playing favorites

In the Chronicle Review, Stephen T. Asma looks at the American culture of egalitarianism and what it does and doesn't mean. Read "In Defense of Favoritism" in full at Here is an excerpt that focuses on China, for the sake of comparison.

The contrast of our fairness system with merit-based Chinese preschool is astounding. Imagine your 4-year-old preschooler getting up the nerve to stand in front of her class to tell a story. It's a sweet rite of passage that many children enjoy around the world, and it builds self-esteem and confidence. Now imagine that when your preschooler is finished spinning her yarn, the other children tell her that her story was way too boring. One kid points out that he couldn't understand it, another kid says her voice was much too quiet, another says she paused too many times, and another tells her that her story had a terrible ending. In most schools around the world, this scenario would produce a traumatic and tearful episode, but not so in China, where collective criticism is par for the course - even in preschool.