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What We Read Today 18 February 2017

Econintersect: Every day our editors collect the most interesting things they find from around the internet and present a summary "reading list" which will include very brief summaries (and sometimes longer ones) of why each item has gotten our attention. Suggestions from readers for "reading list" items are gratefully reviewed, although sometimes space limits the number included.

This feature is published every day late afternoon New York time. For early morning review of headlines see "The Early Bird" published every day in the early am at GEI News (membership not required for access to "The Early Bird".).


Every day most of this column ("What We Read Today") is available only to GEI members.

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Topics today include:

  • The 8 Hour Work Week Doesn't Work

  • In an age of robots, schools are teaching our children to be redundant 

  • Elon Musk Thinks We All Must Become Cyborgs to Survive

  • Team Trump Rewrites a Department of Energy Website for Kids

  • Bill Gates warns tens of millions could be killed by bio-terrorism

  • Poll: Americans want Democrats to work with Trump

  • Insurance companies take the lead on Obamacare replacement ideas

  • Trump to interview four candidates for national security adviser

  • Mike Pence Reassures Europe and Leaves Doubts

  • Mike Pence Disappoints Russia

  • Startling air pollution maps reveal the true extent of rising emissions in the UK

  • Is the Eighth Continent Zealandia?

  • And More

Articles about events, conflicts and disease around the world


  • Bill Gates warns tens of millions could be killed by bio-terrorism (The Guardian)  Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates tells Munich security conference genetic engineering could be terrorist weapon.  The international community, Gates told the conference, needed to prepare for epidemics the way the military prepared for war:

“This includes germ games and other preparedness exercises so we can better understand how diseases will spread, how people will respond in a panic and how to deal with things like overloaded highways and communications systems.”


  • Poll: Americans want Democrats to work with Trump (The Hill)  A strong majority of Americans say Democrats should look to cooperate with President Trump to strike deals, according to the inaugural Harvard-Harris poll provided exclusively by The Hill.  The survey found that 73% of voters want to see Democrats work with the president, against only 27% who said Democrats should resist Trump’s every move.

The findings are significant as Democratic leaders in Congress are under growing pressure by their liberal base to obstruct the president's agenda. The poll shows the party is divided on how to deal with Trump: 52 percent of Democrats polled say they should cooperate with him on areas of agreement and 48 percent saying they shouldn't.

Those figures are nearly identical when the question is flipped – 68 percent of those polled say that Trump should be willing to compromise and find ways to work with Democrats in Congress. Thirty-two percent said Trump shouldn’t bend at all, even if it means finding ways to achieve his agenda without congressional approval.

  • Insurance companies take the lead on Obamacare replacement ideas (The Guardian)  As Republicans struggle to unify around a plan to replace the Affordable Care Act, insurance executives appear to have found a friendly ear for their demands, according to this article.  See also What an Obamacare replacement could look like under Tom Price.

  • Trump to interview four candidates for national security adviser (The Hill)  President Trump on Sunday will interview four candidates to replace recently resigned national security adviser Michael Flynn, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Saturday.  The president is at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida this weekend, where he’s expected to speak with several current and former U.S. officials about the top national security aide post, according to a pool report.  On the list of candidates is Army strategist Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, former United Nations ambassador John Bolton, acting national security adviser Keith Kellogg and West Point superintendent Lt. Col. Robert Caslen, Spicer told reporters.  It was indicated that Trump may interview others, as well.

  • Raining On The Gas Market's Parade (Bloomberg)  What a difference two years make.

Click for larger image.


This section of his speech to the Munich security conference, which is being attended by 500 delegates including government leaders and defence and foreign ministers from around the world, was greeted with lukewarm applause.

He was speaking immediately after the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, made it clear she would not be bullied by the US over defence spending. She said Germany had made a promise to increase defence over the next decade and would fulfil that commitment rather than be forced into the faster rises that Trump is looking for.


Click for larger image.


  • Russia Watches U.S. Reassure Allies, and It's Disappointed (Bloomberg)  See also article under EU, above.  U.S. VP Michael Pence’s reassurances to North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies were a far cry from previous hopes in Moscow, and fears in Europe, that U.S President Donald Trump would deliver dramatic change in the U.S.-Russian relationship, abandon an “obsolete” NATO, end sanctions over Ukraine and -- as he once intimated during his election campaign -- consider recognizing Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.  Most of those ideas have for now been thrust aside amid resistance in Congress, continuing suspicions that Russia interfered in November’s U.S. presidential election, and the turmoil that surrounded retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn’s brief tenure as Trump’s pro-Russian National Security Adviser.



Low-energy or zero-energy housing is international best practice, but is still considered costly. Part of the problem is that studies of housing standards typically use only cost-benefit analysis to assess their value, and so often wrongly conclude that sustainable housing is unaffordable.

Our new research shows how such analyses may miss some flow-on financial benefits – such as reduced energy bills and lower mobility costs. Most importantly, these analyses also overlook effects on householders’ health and quality of life arising from factors such as improved thermal comfort.

New Zealand

  • Zealandia: Is there an eighth continent under New Zealand? (BBC News)   You think you know your seven continents? Think again, as there's a new contender hoping to join that club.  Say hello to Zealandia, a huge landmass almost entirely submerged in the southwest Pacific.  It's not a complete stranger, you might have heard of its highest mountains, the only bits showing above water: New Zealand.  Scientists say it qualifies as a continent and have now made a renewed push for it to be recognised as such.

Other Scientific, Health, Political, Economics, and Business Items of Note - plus Miscellanea

Why The 8-Hour Workday Doesn't Work (Forbes)  Hat tip to Michael Brokaw.  The eight-hour workday is an outdated and ineffective approach to work. If you want to be as productive as possible, you need to let go of this relic and find a new approach.  The eight-hour workday was created during the industrial revolution as an effort to cut down on the number of hours of manual labor that workers were forced to endure on the factory floor. This breakthrough was a more humane approach to work 200 years ago, yet it possesses little relevance for us today.  

A study recently conducted by the Draugiem Group used a computer application to track employees’ work habits. Specifically, the application measured how much time people spent on various tasks and compared this to their productivity levels.

 In the process of measuring people’s activity, they stumbled upon a fascinating finding: the length of the workday didn’t matter much; what mattered was how people structured their day. In particular, people who were religious about taking short breaks were far more productive than those who worked longer hours.  

The ideal work-to-break ratio was 52 minutes of work, followed by 17 minutes of rest.

Children learn best when teaching aligns with their natural exuberance, energy and curiosity. So why are they dragooned into rows and made to sit still while they are stuffed with facts?

We succeed in adulthood through collaboration. So why is collaboration in tests and exams called cheating?

Governments claim to want to reduce the number of children being excluded from school. So why are their curriculums and tests so narrow that they alienate any child whose mind does not work in a particular way?

The best teachers use their character, creativity and inspiration to trigger children’s instinct to learn. So why are character, creativity and inspiration suppressed by a stifling regime of micromanagement?

  • Why Elon Musk's transhumanism claims may not be that far-fetched (Wired)  See also preceding article.  Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and SpaceX, has warned that a future where AI is smarter than us will be 'dangerous' and we must all become cyborgs to survive.  Like the disturbing independence of the computer HAL in 2001:  A Space Odyssey, Musk says there will be an "inevitable robot uprising"  and

" avoid becoming redundant in the face of artificial intelligence we must merge with machines to enhance our own intellect."

“Control of the stream by which we educate the young, that’s how you control the future.”


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