In many ways, 2011 was a banner year for the enforcement of human rights. After 16 years on the run, Bosnian Serb war-crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic was arrested and sent to The Hague for trial. Dictatorships fell across North Africa, and, in the case of Libya, with a considerable push from Western military might. And the United States has committed its military know-how to taking down central Africa's infamous Lord's Resistance Army.
Led for the last 18 years by Kenneth Roth, a tenacious former prosecutor, Human Rights Watch has been at the center of all these issues, taking bold risks to produce damning reports from inside closed regimes and putting pressure on governments and the media to keep their eye on abuses. And it's doing so with more resources and staff in more countries than ever after an eye-popping $100 million grant from financier George Soros in 2010.
At the end of last year, Roth called on Washington to show that "the humanitarian use of force remains a live option at the Obama White House." After two years when realpolitik seemed to be the president's guiding strategy, Obama now seems to have done just that in Libya and Uganda.
Roth's positions can often be controversial -- he supported calls for Canada to arrest former U.S. President George W. Bush on torture charges -- but nobody can deny that his views carry more weight than ever.
Stimulus or austerity? Stimulus. At this stage, making a real dent in unemployment is more important than curbing the deficit.
America or China? China's model of repressive development is enormously attractive to authoritarian regimes around the world. The United States (and other friends of human rights) must do a better job of making the case for accountable government as the best way to improve the lot of the most needy, impoverished segments of society.
Arab Spring or Arab Winter? Still Arab Spring. The route was never going to be smooth, but the tide is on the side of the reformers.
Best idea Obama's decision to deploy a contingent of special operations forces to arrest Joseph Kony, the leader of the brutal Lord's Resistance Army.
Worst idea The offer of amnesty to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
In 2006, the New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote that Iraqi-born British architect Zaha Hadid's utopian and international vision was "as close to a manifesto for the future as we have." Five years later, we are all living in that future -- and it is fabulous. Hadid's snaking, geometric, fluid structures now grace cities from Guangzhou to London to, soon enough, her native Baghdad, where Hadid has been commissioned to replace the bombed-out Central Bank of Iraq. And the lushly reptilian visual signature of her buildings now influences everything from Lady Gaga's footwear to the spaceship-style architecture coming into fashion across the developing world, offering a democratic and highly modern alternative to the ubiquitous glass towers preferred by the neoauthoritarians of China and the Gulf. The global economic decline has done nothing to slow down her inexorable march into the bolder, better, faster, and newer. "We are in a period of economical decline -- so we should do bad stuff?" she told Newsweek this year. "What kind of bullshit is that? Show restraint? Why?"
Muse The people of Japan, for their resilience and dignity in coping with the aftermath of the devastating tsunami.
Stimulus or austerity? Stimulus.
America or China? Both -- America and China.
Arab Spring or Arab Winter? Spring.
Reading list Serpentine Gallery Pavilions, by Philip Jodido; The Autopoiesis of Architecture, by Patrik S. Schumacher; Hans Ulrich Obrist: Interviews, by Hans Ulrich Obrist.
Best idea Programs to help the young around the world.
Worst idea Cuts to education budgets.
Long before Malcolm Gladwell tipped over into celebrity or Freakonomics was a gleam in Steven Levitt's eye, Daniel Kahneman was enthralling readers with surprising insights into the cognitive routines and inherent biases that drive human decision-making. A psychologist by training, he was awarded the 2002 Nobel Prize in economics for illuminating the motivations behind risky decision-making.
In his highly anticipated book Thinking, Fast and Slow, published this year, Kahneman sketches a model of the human mind as driven by two systems of thinking: one that makes fast, intuitive judgments and choices, and one that is slower and more deliberative. In Kahneman's view, "gut-level" intuitive thinking drives an astonishingly high number of human decisions, from what car a consumer buys to what company a broker invests in to whether two countries go to war. In the wake of the global financial crisis, his warning that "organizations that take the word of overconfident experts can expect costly consequences" is particularly welcome. Here's hoping it encourages world leaders to let their two-track brains do the thinking.