Lawless Lands

lawless-lands-3What happens in the absence of government and who or what comes in to fill the void? Sometimes, it’s a strongman enforcing his will; other times, it’s just anarchy, and occasionally it’s something completely unexpected.

This episode starts in Libya, where police no longer can maintain the rule of law, and the only thing people can do is call for help from the dozens of armed groups that keep order – but they operate according to their own rules.

Next, we head to the rural West – Josephine County in Oregon – where budget cuts have stretched law enforcement to the breaking point. There’s no detectives division, the jail runs on a skeleton crew, and deputies patrol just 10 hours a day. Fixing the problem would mean raising local taxes, but residents refuse to do so.

Then follows Crystal City in Texas. The town’s mayor has been arrested – several times – and the FBI took away most of the city council in handcuffs after they allegedly accepted bribes in exchange for awarding permits and city contracts. Without a functioning government, things have spiraled out of control.

The final stop is a swath of desert wedged between Sudan and southern Egypt – Bir Tawil (beer tah-WEEL) – the last unclaimed territory on earth, and it’s been that way for more than 100 years due to a dispute over competing maps and a neighboring stretch of desert. A farmer from Virginia has decided to make this place his very own kingdom.


Daniel Dennett about the Magic of Consciousness

The how’s and why’s of consciousness, from an evolutionary and neurological standpoint, and through the lenses of computer science and human culture. Beyerstein and Dennett catch up to discuss Dennett’s newest book, “From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds”. It’s a fresh look at Dennett’s earlier work on the subject of consciousness, taken in new directions as he seeks a “bottom-up view of creation.”

Daniel C. Dennett is best known in cognitive science for his multiple drafts (or “fame in the brain”) model of human consciousness, and to the secular community for his 2006 book “Breaking the Spell”. Author and co-author of two-dozen books, he’s the Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy, and Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, where he taught our very own Point of Inquiry host Lindsay Beyerstein.

Point of Inquiry

How the Pentagon Punished NSA Whistleblowers

To understand why Edward Snowden leaked top-secret documents revealing that the National Security Agency was spying on hundreds of millions of people across the world, you have to know the stories of two other men.

“The first is Thomas Drake, who blew the whistle on the very same NSA activities 10 years before Snowden did. Drake was a much higher-ranking NSA official than Snowden, and he obeyed US whistleblower laws, raising his concerns through official channels. And he got crushed. Drake was fired, arrested at dawn by gun-wielding FBI agents, stripped of his security clearance, charged with crimes that could have sent him to prison for the rest of his life, and all but ruined financially and professionally. The only job he could find afterwards was working in an Apple store in suburban Washington, where he remains today. Adding insult to injury, his warnings about the dangers of the NSA’s surveillance programme were largely ignored. “The government spent many years trying to break me, and the more I resisted, the nastier they got.”” Illustration by Nathalie Lees

The Guardian’s Audio Long Reads

The Pentagon Papers: Secrets, Lies and Leaks

the-pentagon-papersDeep look at the leaking and publication of the Pentagon Papers. At the center are two guys who have a knack for being in the room when history gets made: Robert J. Rosenthal and Daniel Ellsberg.

When Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers to the press in 1971, he was turning his back on a long career close to power, immersed in government secrets. His early career as a nuclear war strategist made him fear that a small conflict could erupt into a nuclear holocaust. When the Vietnam War flared, Ellsberg worried his worst fears would be realized. He wonders if leaking top-secret material he’s seeing at work could help stop the war. Soon, he was secretly copying the 7,000-page history that would come to be known as the Pentagon Papers and showing them to anyone he thought could help.

As a result, President Richard Nixon wakes up to the biggest leak in American history. His first reaction is a little surprising: The Pentagon Papers might make trouble for the Democrats – this instinct starts a chain reaction that helps bring down his presidency.


One-dimensional Jew of Yossi Klein Halevi

“I discovered the reality and the power of Palestinian identity by getting a rock thrown at my head.” Israel author Yossi Klein Halevi joins The Atlantic’s editor in chief Jeffrey Goldberg to discuss the conflict in the Middle East and his new book Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor. Halevi shares how he believes Israelis need to both remember that they live in a world where genocide is possible and to remember that they were strangers in the land of Egypt. “And if you don’t have both of those sensibilities, then you are a one-dimensional Jew,” says Halevi.

The Atlantic Interview

The Onset of Mega Identities

Mega-identities that fuse party affiliation to ideology, race, religion, gender, sexuality, geography, and more didn’t exist 50 or even 30 years ago, but now that they’re here, they change the way we see each other, the way we engage in politics, and the way politics absorbs other — previously non-political —spheres of our culture.

Lilliana Mason, author of Uncivil Agreement: How Politics Became Our Identity, offers one of the best primers on how little it takes to activate a sense of group identity in human beings, and how far-reaching the cognitive and social implications are once that group identity takes hold. Her recounting of the “minimal group paradigm” experiments is not to be missed. This is the kind of research that will change not just how you think about the world, but how you think about yourself.

The Ezra Klein Show

How to Rig an Election

The greatest political paradox of our time is this: there are more elections than ever before but the world is becoming less democratic. Elections are often the frontlines in a global battle for democracy. Dictators, despots, and counterfeit democrats hold elections to legitimize their regime, but then rig them to ensure that they maintain their iron grip on power. Vote buying. Violent repression. Assassinating rivals. Gerrymandering. Voter suppression. Ballot box stuffing. And the digital frontier of hacking and disinformation campaigns.

In this talk, Professor Nic Cheeseman and Dr Brian Klaas show the ways an election can be rigged – with the hopes that the lesson will help save democracy. They have co-authored “How to Rig an Election”; Yale University Press 2018.


Being Human – Why Do We Laugh?

why-do-we-laugh-3Laughter is a universal human behavior. Have you ever wondered why we laugh or what it really means when we do? Greg Bryant of UCLA studies the evolution of communication and vocal behavior, especially of spontaneous vocal expressions such as laughter. In this episode he explores the origins and evolution of human laughter.
Greg Bryant is an associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

Origin Stories

Evolutionary Arms Race

evolutionary-arms-raceA closer look at the evolutionary arms race between humans and the microbes that make us sick. What does each side bring to the fight? Dr. Pardis Sabeti of Harvard University is a computational biologist who uses math and computers to look into the genomes of humans and infectious microbes to see how both humans and microbes are evolving. She was named one of TIME Magazine’s People of the Year in 2014 for her role in the fight against ebola.

Origin Stories