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Noam Chomsky’s Trick for Avoiding Political Letdown: Low Expectations

Question: What is the most commendable thing Obama has done in office? 

Noam Chomsky:  Well, I guess the most commendable thing he's done is not decide to bomb Iran or something.  I can think of things he hasn't done, and it's commendable that he hasn't done them, but you can point to very little that, at least by my standards, that's commendable. 

He's retracted some of the more extreme [George W.] Bush positions.  So, for example, say on Cuba, Bush imposed conditions—the normal conditions are totally outlandish and ridiculous, which is why everyone, except Israel, votes against them at the UN.  And why the majority of Americans object to them.

But Bush went way beyond.  He imposed even harsher conditions and Obama withdrew some of those.  On nuclear issues, he has indicated that the US should return to the mainstream of international affairs, assign the—consider again the comprehensive test ban treaty move towards reducing nuclear weapons.  Okay, that's a step forward from Bush's position, but it's a step towards the center and towards the international mainstream and also towards American public opinion.

And there's a number of other cases like that where the [George W.] Bush administration, especially its first term, was quite extreme, which is why the US’s standing in the world fell to historic lows. 

And in the second [term], Bush sort of moderated that to some extent.  And Obama's continues to move back to what I always thought he was frankly—and wrote about it before the election—a familiar center democrat.

Question: What has Obama done that has disappointed you?

Noam Chomsky:  Nothing much because I never expected anything.  I was a little surprised by the fact that he re-instituted some of the judicial practices that were kind of unconscionable, that [George W.] Bush made use of.  Like, he wants preventive detention permanently.  He's been waffling about torture.  He's refusing to grant normal criminal trials to people that they have no evidence against, they claim to have none.  Things like that have been a little surprising.  I don't think he had to be that extreme in his interpretation of—actually deviation from any reasonable legal system.

Recorded on: Aug 18, 2009.

Obama hasn’t disappointed Chomsky yet--but the linguist didn’t expect much from him anyway.

Why do people believe in conspiracy theories?

Are we genetically inclined for superstition or just fearful of the truth?

Videos
  • From secret societies to faked moon landings, one thing that humanity seems to have an endless supply of is conspiracy theories. In this compilation, physicist Michio Kaku, science communicator Bill Nye, psychologist Sarah Rose Cavanagh, skeptic Michael Shermer, and actor and playwright John Cameron Mitchell consider the nature of truth and why some groups believe the things they do.
  • "I think there's a gene for superstition, a gene for hearsay, a gene for magic, a gene for magical thinking," argues Kaku. The theoretical physicist says that science goes against "natural thinking," and that the superstition gene persists because, one out of ten times, it actually worked and saved us.
  • Other theories shared include the idea of cognitive dissonance, the dangerous power of fear to inhibit critical thinking, and Hollywood's romanticization of conspiracies. Because conspiracy theories are so diverse and multifaceted, combating them has not been an easy task for science.

COVID-19 brain study to explore long-term effects of the virus

A growing body of research suggests COVID-19 can cause serious neurological problems.

Coronavirus
  • The new study seeks to track the health of 50,000 people who have tested positive for COVID-19.
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Neom, Saudi Arabia's $500 billion megacity, reaches its next phase

Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.

Credit: Neom
Technology & Innovation
  • The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
  • The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
  • It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
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Better reskilling can future-proof jobs in the age of automation. Enter SkillUp's new coalition.

Coronavirus layoffs are a glimpse into our automated future. We need to build better education opportunities now so Americans can find work in the economy of tomorrow.

Image: metamorworks / Shutterstock
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Outplacement is an underperforming $5 billion dollar industry. A new non-profit coalition by SkillUp intends to disrupt it.
  • More and more Americans will be laid off in years to come due to automation. Those people need to reorient their career paths and reskill in a way that protects their long-term livelihood.
  • SkillUp brings together technology and service providers, education and training providers, hiring employers, worker outreach, and philanthropies to help people land in-demand jobs in high-growth industries.
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