Why US foreign policy keeps being bad
On his Scientific American blog, Scott recently posted an interesting piece about what kinds of things give people’s lives meaning.
It turns out people say they derive meaning from (among other things) extreme emotional experiences—not just positive ones, but negative ones as well. Which makes sense, when you think about it. The death of a close relative is an intensely negative emotional experience, one you wish you’d been able to avoid—but you certainly wouldn’t call it meaningless.
Washington spent the first part of this week trying to figure out who blew up some Saudi oil facilities. Was it Houthi rebels in Yemen, who proudly claimed responsibility? Or was it Iran? Or was it both—an attack conceived and orchestrated by Iran but executed by Iran’s Houthi allies?
There’s an important and underappreciated sense in which the answer doesn’t matter. The moral of the story is the same regardless of how the blame is distributed between Iran and the Houthis. Namely: If you don’t want people to blow stuff up, don’t attack them in the first place!
Sunflowers, believe it or not, play non-zero-sum games with one another—and do so with impressive skill! At least, that’s one reading of a study published this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society.
A typical sunflower, not surprisingly, tends to send its roots more profusely into nutrient-rich patches of soil than into nutrient-poor patches. But two researchers—Megan Ljubotina and James Cahill—report that, when there is another sunflower in the neighborhood, this behavior gets recalibrated.
If much closer to the nutrient-rich patch than its neighbor, the sunflower sends its roots into the patch more profusely than when there’s no neighbor around—as if it were rushing to colonize land before a rival gets to it.
Samantha Power—who wrote a Pulitzer prize–winning book about genocide that catapulted her onto President Obama’s foreign policy team, where she was a forceful advocate for humanitarian military intervention—has just published another book. It’s a memoir called The Education of an Idealist.
So far the commentary on the book illustrates a general principle of foreign policy commentary: the more your views depart from the establishment consensus, and the more willing you are to attack credentialed members of that establishment, the smaller the platform you’re allowed to express those views on.