Can a Divided UN Help us Fight Terrorism?

President Obama came before the United Nations hat in hand this week and got it to commit to anti-terror action, as the Security Council unanimously approved his foreign fighters resolution. He should also use the UN to promote the “antidotes” to violence he spelled out – entrepreneurship, civil society, education and youth – as part of “an architecture of counterterrorism.”

In fact, the UN has been underused in counterterrorism. Almost ten years after former secretary-general Kofi Annan declared that the UN must up the ante in counterterrorism to stay relevant, the famously unwieldy body has yet to heed his call to tackle transnational security threats.

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Send Development Aid to North Africa, Not Drones

With the unforgiving sun beating down on creaking donkey carts in bone-dry heat, it is evident to first-time visitors that Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, is one of the poorest places on earth.

It’s also one of the four countries in North and West Africa, along with Libya, Niger and Mali, where the Pentagon is pumping millions into to build elite counter-terrorism units. About $29 million has been set aside for logistics and surveillance equipment for Mauritania. Secretary Kerry called the air capacity and counter-terrorism training given to the Mauritanian armed forces “a regional solution to a regional problem.” It recalls his 2004 campaign quip about the Bush administration’s outsourcing of finding bin Laden to the Pashtuns, only this time we are outsourcing the fight to African armies barely capable of countering Islamic terrorism.

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Ferry tragedy exposes pitfalls of South Korea’s education

Here in London, everyone’s been asking me about the ferry disaster. What plagues me the most is that in the two and a half hours it took the ship to tip over and sink, people didn’t manage to escape. Six hundred divers are working round-the-clock pulling out bodies. A girl, recovered Thursday morning, was clutching a mobile phone in hand. About 130 remain missing.

The surviving crew members said they believed if the passengers tried to evacuate in a mad rush, it would make things worse. There wasn’t time to consult the manual, one said. Having told everyone to sit tight, they fled the ship.

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Don’t go gaga over babies

Pop culture fires up the supremacy of marriage over singlehood. Corporations like American Express are introducing “made especially for busy, multitasking moms” credit cards to pump gas into the family minivans. President Obama keeps funding his predecessor’s “Healthy Marriage Initiative,” encouraging unmarried parents to tie the knot.

There is no escaping the story of virtues of having babies (and a heterosexual marriage that should precede them). Last week, Reihan Salam of Slate.com went as far as to insist that childless folks pay more tax to help parents raise kids because children are the saving grace in a nation of misanthropes and economic downfall.
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Give smart aid to protect gains in Afghanistan

A few years after 9/11, I worked for an aid agency in Kabul. One of the memories I cherish most is that of Sahar, a soft-spoken Afghan who was 20 then. Her mom didn’t like her working, because she was a woman. But she showed up every morning, her head wrapped in chador and her large brown eyes both cautious and curious. I taught her how to use Excel and convert Afghanis into U.S. dollars. She said she wanted to be an interior designer someday.

One time, she told me in passing that she’d never smoked a cigarette. So I bought a pack, locked the office door, and showed her how to smoke (“Inhale, Sahar, inhale”). I don’t think she enjoyed the taste, but she was thrilled to hold a cigarette.

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How to stop hammering the nail that sticks out

Just make stuff up.  That is the best way to ace the essay portion of the SAT, according to Matthew J. X. Malady. This is because time-pressured essay graders don’t care about facts. Students just need to show that they have the writing competency. It’s an abomination to coach kids to write like this.

Still, “the ability to bullshit on demand” by whipping out five paragraphs, with an intro, body and conclusion, taking sides on issues you don’t know or care about will not hurt your chances to thrive in a salaried job as a paper pusher.

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Preserving life at all costs is wrong, especially in Guantánamo

Leaving politics aside, debates surrounding the force-feedings in Guantánamo Bay highlight our reluctance to accept individuals’ right to die when living becomes intolerable.

In Man’s Search for Meaning, psychiatrist and holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl writes that even when everything was taken away from him in Auschwitz, he still had the freedom to choose how to respond to his circumstances.

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Why character matters as much as craft

I once had lunch with a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who was more or less my dad’s age. I had great respect for his deep commitment to impartial reporting and found his immense filing cabinet of memory impressive. So it was very unfortunate when he said suddenly that he wanted to . . . me, using a verb that begins with “f.”  He then added that what his wife didn’t know couldn’t hurt her.

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Don’t Pressure Expectant Moms

When I first moved to London from New York, I was blown away that I didn’t need medical insurance to see a doctor.  All I had to do was look up National Health Service clinics in my area and go to the nearest one.  Prescriptions cost me mere £7, and birth control didn’t even require that £7-prescription fee (in New York, I had to pay $50 every month out of my pocket because they were not covered by my insurance).  Whatever NHS’s troubles, it seemed to me that they were doing a fine job.

Two years and a pregnant friend later, I changed my mind.

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Choose both the arms and the legs

Emotional resilience is a key to surviving the challenges of today. It helps us adapt more easily to constantly changing circumstances.

So why do we continue to over-zealously support our children’s intellectual development over their emotional growth? In doing so, we are overlooking more than a decade of brain research that has confirmed children engage in learning at all levels.

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