Geopolitical hot spot simmers in the Red Sea region

Connor Severino

Transcript Correspondent

The area encompassing the Red Sea can be defined as a “puddle muddle” because of how the region’s economics and religion are intertwined.

That label was applied by Blake Michael, a Swan-Collins-Allen professor of religion at Ohio Wesleyan, who enlightened 77 Delaware residents about the geo-political disputes of the region Friday at the latest Great Decision lecture at Williams Street United Methodist Church.

The Red Sea is a part of the world not often acknowledged by Americans due to lack of involvement by the United States, Michael said.

Meanwhile, the region is responsible for nine percent of global trade and it is the second largest oil reserve in the world.

“My main point is (to see) the complexity of any geo-political situation, specifically an area such as the Red Sea that is complicated through elements I talked about, like for ethnicity and religion,” Michael said.

In terms of religious complexity, different cultural groups practice different forms of the Muslim faith. Those groups are settled in the countries that border the Red Sea, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Sudan, Eritrea and Djibouti.

Economically, Japan, China, and countries from Europe depend on the Red Sea region for natural resources and materials. The most sought after resource is oil, which provides global economic stability, Michael said.

“It is an enlightening part of the world, but people are not aware of all that goes on politically,” he said.

Attendee and Delaware resident Wayne Moore said he enjoyed the presentation.

“It’s an area we don’t have much place in so it was fascinating to learn,” he said.

Another local resident, Roger Koch, said, “It added clarity to an obtuse part of the world.”

AI won’t erase need for human talent

Meg Edwards

Transcript Correspondent

Machines will only control the future if we let them.

That was the core message delivered by David J Staley, associate professor of history and director of the Humanities Institute at The Ohio State University, at the latest Great Decisions lecture Friday titled “Artificial Intelligence and Data: Augment or Automate?”

The 1982 Buckeye Valley graduate returned to Delaware to address a room of fifty to sixty community members, many retirees, at the William Street United Methodist Church.

Staley said the challenges which graduating students will face in the job market cannot purely be attributed to artificial intelligence.

AI “doesn’t have the consciousness to say, hmm, whose job should I take today,” he said, earning laughterfrom the audience. It will be humans, he said, who will make the decision to replace workers with artificial intelligence.

“If technology can do a job better and cheaper, technology replaces human beings every time,” he said.

AI is quickly replacing many jobs once thought to be safe from mechanization, such as skilled labor or desk jobs like accounting and editing, Staley said.

He also recommended the audience watch videos from the robotics company Boston Dynamics, which has developed robots capable of lifelike movement, which Staley imagines could be used to replace human troops in battle zones. Robots could remove the human cost from warfare.

Combining artificial intelligence with human intelligence is one way forward. For instance, Staley said cyborg chess, in which a human and a computer play together on the same team, allows mediocre chess players to defeat both master chessmen and the most advanced AI technology.

Some things AI can’t do include tasting wine, creating original works of art, adapting quickly to a new situation and imagining something that does not yet exist, he said.

Modern education must adjust to this new world and develop not only knowledge and skills for students, but also key human attributes such as flexibility, teamwork, communication, and creativity. Such skills will be necessary for determining ethics in a world in which robots have legal responsibility and AI can increasingly make decisions too complex for humans to understand, Staley said.

“Politicians should be engaged in regulation,” Staley said, adding that in few other fields are researchers allowed to run experiments without considering the long-term costs of their findings.

In biology, for instance, researchers are asked to consider the potential impact of their experiments, while technologists are permitted to explore anything in the name of progress.

Staley cited deep fake technology, which allows for realistic manipulation of video, as an example of a technology which was created without any prior consideration of its consequences.

Staley also said those interested in foreign or domestic policy become informed about artificial intelligence and its outsized implications for society.

Becky Cornett, an OSU Wexner Medical Center employee for 30 years, introduced Staley, highlighting his work and recommending his book, “Alternative Universities: Speculative Design for Innovation in Higher Education.”

Delaware resident Donna Jean Savely, a former secretary at Ohio Wesleyan, said this is the third year she and her husband have attended a Great Decisions lecture.

“Sometimes they’re too long and too detailed,” she said of the talks, but she said she is looking forward to this year’s series.

Professor talks conflicts in Middle East

By: Breanne Reilly, Transcript correspondent


R. Blake Michaels. Photo courtesy of
R. Blake Michael, professor of religion at OWU since 1978. Photo courtesy of

Extreme interpretations of Islam are to blame for the conflicts in the Middle East, said R. Blake Michael, professor of religion at Ohio Wesleyan University.

He opened his Great Decisions presentation Friday with a Sunni phrase about Shi’as.

“Oh Sunni of Bahrain, we know nothing of what they do is in any way related to Islam and is full of superstitions and empty turbans. There is no Islamic basis to their actions,” Michael said.

Bahrain, located in the Persian Gulf, is divided between two major denominations of Islam, the Sunni and the Shi’as. In Bahrain, the ruling family is Sunni and the population is mostly Shi’a. The quote Michael used demonstrates one of the conflicts that makes the Middle East violent because of the variety of ethno-linguistic groups and religions that reside there. Sectarianism, discrimination or hatred arising from attaching importance to perceived differences between subdivisions within a group is often the result.

To demonstrate the problem, Michael compared two maps, one depicted ethno-linguistic groups and the other depicted religions in the area. He over-laid the two maps to demonstrate how the various ethno-linguistic groups and the religions bleed into one another. This is considered problematic because the groups disagree on how their religions are interpreted.

“In Islam, the prescriptive use is the prevalent use,” Michael said. “They tend to identify their way of being Islamic as true Islam and other ways as un-Islamic.”

Like al-Qaida, ISIS pushes for a strict application of the Quran. However, while al-Qaida focused on terrorism abroad, until recently, ISIS wanted authority over territory in the Middle East because it would give its caliphate power. Now, ISIS wants recognition for off-site events. This week, it claimed responsibility for the Yemen mosque bombings and Tunisia museum attack.

With regard to those attacks, Michael recommended not forming a prejudice.

“Don’t blame that on the Muslim living down the street from you,” Michael said.

When Delaware resident Helmut Kremling asked why young people are joining ISIS, Michael explained that the appeal lies with the groups’ identification with a goal.

“It’s the same reason our military recruits are 18 years old,” Michael said. “You’re young; you’re looking for a meaning, self-definition or purpose.”

Michael said ISIS recruits identify with a radical eschatological vision that promises paradise to devotees after Armageddon.

“Better that the battle be fought and lost, than the battle not be fought,” Michael said.

As for U.S. involvement, Michael said he is no political expert, but it would be unwise for the U.S. to engage in direct conflict with ISIS.

“It would be playing right into their hands,” he said.

A survey of those attending the presentation found 84 percent opposed sending ground troops to fight ISIS if air strikes are not enough to stop the group. And 90 percent said Muslims are like people everywhere and common ground can be found. The vast majority said they believed violent conflict between civilizations is not inevitable.

“The only hope for the Middle East is that the fanaticism wears down,” Michael said.

The final session of the eight-part Great Decisions series occurs on March 27 at noon when Irfan Nooruddin, a professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, will talk about India.