THE ROSS BLOG
Andy Ross 2014-04-23
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BLOG 2014

JOY

Aristotle said there were two kinds of joy: hedonia (having fun) and eudaimonia (helping others and doing good work). The latter is more likely to last.

Researchers studied a group of teenagers to see whether their reactions to eudaimonic or hedonic rewards correlated with how depressed they felt over time. Brain scans of the teens while choosing a hedonic reward or a eudaimonic one and while playing a hedonic game of chance were compared with self-reported depressive symptoms both initially and again a year later. Teens whose brain responded more to the eudaimonic choice showed declines in depressive symptoms. Teens who liked the hedonic game grew more depressed.

 

2014 St George's Day

Radical Islam

Tony Blair

The threat of radical Islam is growing. It is destabilizing communities and even nations. It is undermining the possibility of peaceful coexistence in an era of globalization.

We have to take sides. Underneath the turmoil is a struggle between:

Those with a modern view of the Mideast, one of pluralistic societies and open economies,
    where the attitudes and patterns of globalization are embraced

Those who want to impose an ideology born out of a belief that there is one proper religion and
    one proper view of it, and that this view should, exclusively, determine the nature of society
    and the political economy.

AR There speaks a militant Christian.

Philosophy

Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

Philosophy is not a science. Philosophy once claimed physics, cosmology, biology, psychology, neuroscience, linguistics, and mathematical logic. But the view of philosophy as failed or immature science denies it the possibility of progress, as does the view of philosophy as a species of literature. Philosophy is really about rendering our human points of view ever more coherent.

The reasons we give in accounting for our behavior make no mention of the selfish gene. Coherence work of the moral kind commits us to making ourselves coherent to others. Having reasons means being prepared to share them. The progress in our moral reasoning has worked to widen both the kinds of reasons we offer and the group to whom we offer them. This is progress.

AR For me, philosophy is cognitive integration of science and human values.

2014 April 22

Christian Britain

The Independent

UK PM David Cameron is under attack for saying that Britons should be "more confident about our status as a Christian country". Critics say Britain is less Christian: 59% of those in England and Wales said they were Christian in 2011, compared with 72% in 2001. Parliamentary researchers predict that there will be more non-believers than Christians in the UK by 2030.

National Secular Society president Terry Sanderson: "If you put forward the idea that this is a Christian country with the implicit idea that Christians are somehow superior to other citizens then its leads down a dangerous path of prioritizing one group's belief ahead of others."

Catholic bishop Mark Davies: "Christianity is the single most important element in England's history. From our legal system to our constitution, it is at the very foundations of national identity."

AR History is not destiny. The UK is a secular institution.

British Muslims

The Telegraph

Ofsted will examine allegations that radical Islamists had sought to infiltrate the governing bodies of secular schools in Birmingham. Head teachers were said to be pressured into segregating pupils, abandoning un-Islamic sections of the biology syllabus, and neglecting non-Muslim pupils. Birmingham MP Khalid Mahmood: "There is most definitely a plot by a small group of individuals and the plot actually affects the majority of the Muslim community in Birmingham."

Former UK Home Secretary Jack Straw: "The parents have to accept … that we also live in the United Kingdom and that alongside values that are religiously based, there has to be a clear understanding that this is the UK, and there are a set of values, that are indeed Christian based, which permeate our sense of citizenship."

AR This needs firm action fast. No Islamic schools for British kids!

British Infrastructure

The Times

More than 200 projects to rebuild Britain by improving the roads and rail network, broadband coverage, and flood defenses will begin this year, say prime minister David Cameron and chancellor George Osborne. Taking advantage of improving economic figures before European and local elections, they will announce £36 billion of new investment in infrastructure this financial year. More than 200 schemes are to be completed in 2014-15. Most of the £36 billion costs are being covered by the private sector.

Cameron: "Ensuring Britain has first-class infrastructure is a crucial part of our long term economic plan: supporting business, creating jobs and providing a better future for hardworking people."

AR Buying votes, but that's OK if they resurface the roads I use before my car wears out.

2014 April 21

A Mystical Moment

Barbara Ehrenreich

In 1959, when I was 17, I stepped out alone one day and and saw the world suddenly flame into life. This was a furious encounter with a living substance that was too vast and violent to hold on to, too beautiful to let go of. I felt ecstatic and somehow completed.

Historically, the range of people reporting such experiences is wide. On the religious end of the spectrum, people have tended to describe their experiences as encounters with familiar deities or spirits, while nonbelievers are likely to speak of a more generic living presence.

One explanation is that such experiences represent some sort of encounter. My scientific training nudged me to consider this possibility. The universe could be pulsing with a kind of life, and capable of bursting into something that looks to us momentarily like the flame.

2014 Easter Sunday

Humanism

Theo Hobson

Atheism is now about more than just not believing in God. Today it aspires to a moral system too. The problem is that our morality has religious roots. When God is rejected, the entire moral tradition of the West is put in question. This was the insight of Friedrich Nietzsche. What we mean by good and bad is rooted in Christianity.

Richard Dawkins says humans have evolved to be altruistic. He believes that morality is natural, yet he believes in moral progress. He explains that there has been a major advance in our moral conventions "from biological science, especially evolution". But biological science and evolution can be used to authorize eugenics and racism. The real issue is the triumph of humanism, an ideology of equality.

A.C. Grayling says humanism is necessarily anti-religious: with the withering of religion, "an ethical outlook which can serve everyone everywhere, and can bring the world together into a single moral community, will at last be possible". He claims that humanism naturally arises from clear unprejudiced thought about human life. But the universalism of modern humanism is rooted in Christianity.

Terry Eagleton says rational humanism is rooted in the Protestant passion for reform: the Enlightenment "inherited its brave campaign against superstition partly from Christianity itself, with its rejection of all false gods and prophets, all idols, fetishes, magical rituals, and powers of darkness, in the name of human flesh and blood".

AR Historically, Eagleton is right.

Mace Group
Kingdom Tower, Saudi Arabia: 1 km high, building starts next week


FB
And of politics?

Social Physics
MIT Tech Rev

MIT Human Dynamics Lab director Alex Pentland says in his new book Social Physics that our enhanced ability to gather behavioral data will enable scientists to develop a causal theory of social structure and ultimately discover the basic mechanisms of social interaction.

 

2014 April 19

Are Atheists the New Mormons?

Michael Schulson

The American Atheists are gathering in Salt Lake City for their annual conclave. The event is taking place at a downtown Hilton, just three blocks away from Temple Square, spiritual and administrative capital of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). The convention opens on Good Friday and concludes on Easter.

AA PR director Dave Muscato: "We can actually get quite a bargain at convention centers, because few other groups want to have a convention on Easter weekend." He explains that the goal of the convention is to reach suppressed atheists in Salt Lake City, not to convert Mormons. The convention is intriguing for three reasons:

1 Atheists and Mormons are both American insiders and persistent outsiders, trying to assert a public identity while holding principles that baffle most Americans. The LDS church mixes Protestantism with new rituals and founding documents by a New York-born prophet. Meanwhile, the AA has helped transform atheism from a theological position to a movement, an identity, and a culture.

2 The two groups occupy, in many ways, a position of social privilege. Both groups are overwhelmingly white, comprise about 2% of the American population, and tend to be more affluent than the American population as a whole. Close to two-thirds of those who identify as atheist or agnostic are men. Both Mormons and organized atheists have a history of heavily male-skewed leadership.

3 The LDS and AA both have good PR. BYU scholar J.B. Haws says new LDS campaigns are "less scripted, and a little more trying to individualize Mormonism" than previous outreach efforts. Recent AA billboards took the "I'm a Mormon" campaign and recast it as "I'm an atheist" with atheists looking friendly and ordinary. Muscato says they were "supposed to be cute" but not meant to anger Mormons.

AR What a fun idea!

2014 April 17

Bad Times

Nigel Farage

The Times has grossly misled the British public in its smear campaign against me. The use by The Times of the word "expenses" is a deliberate and cynical attempt to conflate the anger over MPs expenses with the way that MEPs work. All MEPs are given a fixed allowance of £3,580 per month. They do not have to provide receipts for any of that expenditure. Like other UK MEPs, I publish a list of the types of things on which the allowance is spent. I recognize that it is public money. I have always said that I will use all legal means to get us out of the EU, and I make absolutely no apologies for using EU money to do it.

2014 April 16

UKIP

The Times

Nigel Farage and other UKIP officials tried to silence colleagues who questioned how UKIP handled its funds. Farage called a senior female UKIP official a "stupid woman" and told her to "shut up" when she asked for an independent audit into party finances. He dismissed criticism over his EU spending as "yet another politically motivated attack".

The party faces an investigation into a "missing" £60,000 in EU allowances. Former UKIP member Ian Gillman was once "physically threatened" for airing concerns. Tony Ellwood witnessed the threat and said that when he was asked to reconcile the UKIP accounts he found that 95% of its funds were being withdrawn as cash for unknown purposes.

Former UKIP national treasurer Bruce Lawson said he was "wholly uncomfortable" with how UKIP MEPs handled allowances. He wrote to Farage: "MEPs [get] an office allowance of about £30,000. No receipts are required ... everyone relies on the MEPs' honesty. There are no checks that any of them actually do repay this money."

MEPs vote in the European Parliament today on a plan to reform European allowances.

AR So UKIP may be corrupt. And the EU is beset with corruption. What's new?

Cannabis Alters Brain

The Telegraph

Harvard Medical School researchers scanned the brains of 20 students who used cannabis casually and compared them with those of 20 who had never used it. They found changes in areas involved in emotion, motivation, and addiction.

Rethink Mental Illness chief executive Mark Winstanley: "For too long cannabis has been seen as a safe drug, but as this study suggests, it can have a really serious impact on your mental health. Research also shows that when people smoke cannabis before the age of 15, it quadruples their chance of developing psychosis."

Imperial College London professor David Nutt: "Whatever cannabis does to the brain, it's not in the same league as alcohol, which is a proven neurotoxin."

AR What are the psychosocial data for people who smoke cannabis at age 15? Nutt is right.

2014 April 15

Islamophobia

Ali A. Rizvi

Extremism in any ideology is an informed, steadfast adherence to its fundamentals. In a true religion of peace, the extremists would be nonviolent pacifists to an extreme. The main reason that terrorism is linked with Islam is that jihadi terrorists link themselves with Islam. Parts of their religion undeniably promote armed jihad.

New atheists judge religions by the contents of their sacred texts. Reading the Abrahamic holy books reveals endorsements of virtually all the oppressive and discriminatory systems that civil and human rights movements have tried to dismantle over time: patriarchy, misogyny, slavery, tribalism, xenophobia, totalitarianism, and homophobia.

Ethnicity, gender, age, nationality, educational status, financial status, citizenship status, marital status, and family background have little to do with Islamist terrorism. The only common denominator is Islamic belief and religious fervor, which is not a race or ethnicity. Muslims use the "Islamophobia" label against critics of bigotry.

2014 April 14

Meditation

Sam and Dan Harris

DH I was skeptical about meditation. My parents are both physicians and scientists at academic hospitals in the Boston area, and my wife is also a scientist and a physician. I was raised in a very secular environment. I work out because I want to take care of my health, and meditation seemed like it could fall in the same bucket. But my first taste of it was miserable.

SH Imagine that the goal of meditation is to see your own reflection clearly in each moment. You are looking through the very thing you are trying to find. People who have done a lot of meditation practice often develop a misconception that the truth is somewhere deep within. But non-duality is right on the surface. You just need to know where to look. The trick is to become sensitive to what consciousness is like the instant you try to turn it upon itself. Consciousness is already free of the ego, the thinker.

DH Most people will see the value of having more self-awareness so that they can have more emotional intelligence. However, I don't know that it will be apparent to most people why it would be desirable to see the self as an illusion.

SH The illusoriness of the self is potentially of great interest to everyone, because this false construct really is our most basic problem in every moment.

DH My book is a great prolog to yours.

AR Sam and Dan are not related, apparently.

USS Zumwalt
US Navy

DDG-1000 USS Zumwalt, christened Saturday, displaces 15 000 tons and cost $3 billion. The stealth destroyer features electric propulsion and will mount a Mach 7 electromagnetic rail gun, currently in development, and perhaps a future laser weapon.


Bitstrips
Ah, partnership

Belsen
Daily Mail

On April 15, 1945, SAS Lieutenant John Randall was the first British soldier to drive into the Nazi concentration camp at Belsen. One prisoner he spoke to was a Hungarian girl called Mady Goldgruber. Six decades later, John and Mady met again in London and talked for hours.

Pax Americana
Reihan Salam

I believe that the United States should maintain an overwhelming military edge over all potential rivals, and that we ought to be willing to use our military power in defense of our ideals as well as our interests. Global stability depends on US global leadership. This costs money: US defense spending in 2012 surpassed that of China, Russia, the UK, Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Italy, and Brazil combined.







Borough of Poole
Sandbanks

"People hardly ever give up
their freedom, including their
rights to kill and impoverish each other, unless forced to
do so, and virtually the only
force strong enough to bring
this about has been defeat
in war, or fear that such a
defeat is imminent."
Ian Morris

Vikings: Life and Legend
British Museum, London
2014-03-06 — 2014-06-22





Bitstrips

NASA
NASA
NASA spacecraft Cassini suggests Saturn moon Enceladus has a subsurface water ocean. Enceladus is about 500 km across and at the north pole has an ice shell 50 km thick over solid rock. The south pole ice is thinner, over an ocean 10 km deep.


Bitstrips
Mens agitat molem

Noah
Paramount
Noah
(2:25)

 

2014 April 13

Russian Revanchism

Robin Niblett

Many think Europe and the United States provoked President Putin into annexing Crimea. But his belligerence stems from problems at home. Despite recent high global oil prices, he presides over an economy in reverse. Russia's current account surplus will disappear this year, capital outflows amounted to $63 billion last year, and growth is projected to fall in 2014 to 0.6%.

Putin's notion of national security is to surround Russia with a string of economic black holes (such as Ukraine and Belarus) and frozen conflicts (as in Transnistria, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia). These areas depend on Russia for their economic survival and hinder Russian economic growth. Europe and the United States should not accept the way Russia threatens its neighbors.

Capitalism Isn't Working

Will Hutton

Rising wealth inequality imperils the future of capitalism. Once the return on capital exceed the real growth of wages and output, the stock of capital will rise as a share of output. Inequality of wealth in the West is broadly twice the inequality of income. Historically, war and depression arrested the inequality dynamic and progressive taxes kept social peace. But now the process of capital concentration is accelerating on a global scale.

Almost no new entrepreneurs can make enough new money to challenge existing concentrations of wealth. Property owners will get richer in an era when the returns exceed those of wages and output. Their incentive is to be a rentier rather than take risks. The rich can forget frontier innovation or investment in production. They just need to harvest their returns and tax breaks, and tax shelters and compound interest will do the rest.

The rich protect their wealth from taxation, so the burden of paying for public goods such as education, health, and housing is increasingly shouldered by average taxpayers. Wealth inequality thus becomes a recipe for sluggish rentier economies, tougher working conditions, and degraded public services. No solution is in sight.

AR Conservatives should be as eager as socialists to avert a plunge into the abyss.

2014 April 12

Romanticizing Russia

Christian Neef

Germans understand little about the Russians. Russophiles say that the West slighted Russia after the Cold War and that Moscow is now taking revenge. They say we should be more inclusive of Russia. We did that in 1996 when, in the midst of a war in Chechnya that had been launched by Moscow, Russia applied for membership in the Council of Europe. The appeasers said it would prevent Moscow from any further acts of military force. The second Chechen war began three years later.

German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble compared the occupation of Crimea with the Nazi occupation of the ethnic German Sudetenland in the former Czechoslovakia. Of course it is absurd to compare Putin with Hitler. But the coverage on Russian television leading up to the annexation of Crimea, with all its lies and agitation, was reminiscent of Joseph Goebbels.

Germany needs a new way to deal with Russia.

AR We all do.

2014 April 11

Consciousness

Max Tegmark

I contend that consciousness is the way information feels when processed in certain complex ways. Giulio Tononi argues that for an information processing system to be conscious, its information must be integrated into a unified whole. This is his integrated information theory (IIT).

IIT explains why the cerebellum is unconscious. The cerebellum is mainly a collection of feed-forward neural networks, but without feedback there is no integration and no consciousness. For many integrated systems, one can design a functionally equivalent feed-forward system that IIT says is unconscious. So zombies that behave like a human yet lack conscious can exist. But systems with feedback typically require far fewer computational resources than their zombie equivalents, so evolution has made us conscious.

IIT says why we are unconscious during seizures, sedation and deep sleep, but not REM sleep. Although our neurons work during sedation and deep sleep, their interactions are weakened, reducing integration and consciousness. During a seizure, the interactions between neurons get too strong, reducing their independent information content. A consciousness index (CI) measured from EEG traces showed that awake and dreaming people had high CI, and those sedated or in deep sleep had low CI.

IIT is based on bits. But there should be a way of identifying consciousness from the particle motions alone. A conscious system must strike a balance between too little integration and too much.

If our neurons form a Hopfield network, they can only support about 37 bits of integrated information. Viewing them as a quantum system, I calculate the maximum drops to about 0.25 bits. We seem to be conscious of more than that.

AR As Max says, IIT is not fundamental. The feedback criterion for escaping zombie status would delight Douglas Hofstadter because it confirms the relevance of strange loops. It would interest David Chalmers because it lets us prove we are not zombies. I explored the loop theory in my 2009 book Mindworlds.

2014 April 10

How Western Is Germany?

Christiane Hoffmann

Germans and Russians have a special relationship. The connection reaches deep into German history. German families still share stories of cruel, but also kindhearted and soulful Russians. So for Germany, the Ukraine crisis goes right to the core of the question of German identity.

Some Germans charge that the EU and NATO snubbed Moscow with their recent eastward expansion. Germans have always idealized Russia, and they were thrilled when glasnost and perestroika brought the end of the Cold War. Finally it was acceptable to love Russia again.

German opposition to Western superficiality is seen as part of the Russian soul. During the First World War, Thomas Mann sought to differentiate Germany from the West: "Being German means culture, soul, freedom, art and not civilization, society, the right to vote, literature."

War guilt created a link between Germans and Russians, with the Second World War as an experience shared on both sides. After 1945, the Eastern way of thinking was pushed aside in West Germany, but Russia remained a country of longing for East Germans.

Old questions about a special role for Germany have resurfaced. No German would question membership in the EU or NATO, but in the Ukraine crisis almost half of all Germans want the country to adopt the middle ground between Russia and the West.

Anti-Zionist Jews

Ben Lynfield

The ultra-Orthodox young men at the Hebron Yeshiva are holding out against plans to draft them into the Israeli military and the workforce, and to make them follow the Zionist ideology of the state. The young men at the yeshiva say they are fulfilling the divine will by spending their days poring over sacred texts. But many secular Israelis call them parasites.

Secular Israelis face 3 years of mandatory military service from age 18 and reserve duty for another 20 years. The Israeli Knesset has now passed the Equal Service Bill, which would draft many yeshiva students and reverse their previous exemption.

Ultra-Orthodox haredim say their learning and prayers help defend Israel. Yeshiva student Moshe Saler: "The Torah holds the world together, and because of the Torah and prayers, the IDF succeeds.''

Yeshiva students say they would rather go to jail than serve. Yeshiva student Yaacov Halevy: "I hope I go to jail. That is my aspiration if those are the choices. Even if the army provides a framework for haredim, it will not satisfy us because we have a central goal in life: studying Torah."

Following the last Israeli elections, the secularist Yesh Atid party became part of the ruling coalition. Yesh Atid education minister Shai Peron: ''Military and civilian service is a symbol. It is one of the symbols of the togetherness, of the nationalism of Zionism. In dodging and evasion there is a divorcing from the Israeli public life.''

AR Many of us want to study all day. I say no legal exceptions on religious grounds.

The Story of the Jews

G.W. Bowersock

Simon Schama starts in the early fifth century BC, moves into the rise of Christianity and the growth of a rich Jewish tradition of philosophy and law in the Arabic language, and concludes in 1492 in Spain. For the encounter of the Jews with Greeks and Romans he relies upon the account of Flavius Josephus.

Jesus of Nazareth is part of the story of the Jews. The Greeks who listened to Paul had instant access to Greek versions of the Hebrew Bible. Christians accepted the Hebrew Bible as sacred scripture.

The arrival of Islam as a new monotheist religion in the seventh century was fraught with consequences for Jews. The new faith was not only monotheist but recognized that it shared this conviction with the Jews. The future of the Jews after the Islamic conquests was tied to the new faith and its language.

Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon wrote with equal facility in Arabic and Hebrew. He became known in Hebrew as Rambam and in Western languages as Maimonides. He settled in Cairo, where his authority made him effectively the Rabbi of all Israel in the Islamic world. Maimonides made a compendium of written and oral law known as the Mishneh Torah. Jews and Muslims agreed about Christian idolatry.


Heartbleed

The Heartbleed bug is a serious vulnerability in the popular OpenSSL cryptographic software library. This weakness allows stealing the information protected, under normal conditions, by the SSL/TLS encryption used to secure the Internet.

The Heartbleed bug allows anyone on the Internet to read the memory of the systems protected by the vulnerable versions of the OpenSSL software. This compromises the secret keys used to identify the service providers and to encrypt the traffic, the names and passwords of the users, and the actual content. This allows attackers to eavesdrop on communications, steal data directly from the services and users and to impersonate services and users.

As long as the vulnerable version of OpenSSL is in use it can be abused. Fixed OpenSSL has been released and now it has to be deployed.

2014 April 9

Spintronics

PC Pro
British researcher Stuart Parkin has been awarded the €1 million Millennium Technology Prize for his research into spintronics in hard drives.

Spintronics uses the magnetic spin of electrons to store bits, and is "one of the most successful fields of nanotechnology yet," said award sponsor Technology Academy Finland (TAF). Parkin's innovations have led to a huge expansion of data acquisition and storage capacities. TAF: "Another key spintronics advance is magnetoresistive random-access memory (MRAM), which Parkin proposed in 1995. This technology is based on magnetic tunnel junction (MTJ) memory cells. The MTJ, a close cousin of the GMR spin valve, has become standard in hard disk drive read heads."

Phys.org
Japanese researchers found a way to use nonvolatile spin-transfer torque magnetoresistive random access memory (STT-MRAM) technology to create faster computers back in 2001. Now Japanese researcher Koji Ando says: "STT-MRAM no longer requires an electromagnetic coil for both writing and reading information. We're excited by this paradigm shift and are working on developing a variety of technologies for next-generation electronics devices."

Devices that consume zero power during inactive intervals would find use in mobile computing and wearable or embedded electronics.

AR From electronics to spintronics to photonics — physics just keeps on giving.

Spreadsheets

Wired

A spreadsheet is a giant grid of rows and columns filled with letters and numbers and symbols. It gives you countless tools for manipulating and reformating this data, but these are relics of a time when computing was the domain of engineers and geeks willing to tinker with their software.

Two Stanford dropouts and a former investment banker hope to change this. Ari Dyckovsky and Ryan Atallah, both 20, quit Stanford to found Arktos. Dyckovsky had done quantum entanglement research and then worked as a quantitative researcher, or quant, at a stock market outfit. Atallah had interned at Facebook. Andrew Vigneault, 24, brought a college degree to the mix and experience in the world of venture capital and investment banking. Arktos has no product and no funding, just an idea.

The idea is to create a tool that lets you organize data in what are essentially nested images. Dyckovsky calls this a data browser. You see no more than you need to understand the data at hand. Arktos aims to bring data analysis to our personal devices.

AR My SAP team made such a tool. We offered a dashboard where CEO types could play around with huge multidimensional cubes of their business data to get to know it at the gut level. But we needed some awesome hardware behind the scenes.

Sandbanks

The Independent

Dorset millionaire beach peninsula Sandbanks is now the world's fourth most expensive place to live. But some of the millionaires are furious.

Poole MP Robert Syms (Conservative) says constituents are angry at revelers who hire houses for a weekend and bring extras ranging from naked butlers and prostitutes to inflatable phalluses and flying beer bottles. Current laws fail to halt the "party house" fad plaguing Sandbanks, and homeowners now dread Friday nights when carloads of rowdies show up for the weekend.

Syms: "I really think this needs to be acted upon, otherwise the situation will get worse and I fear that the anger of my constituents is such that some of them will take the law into their own hands, because they spend all their life working for a home and they find it's being disturbed weekend after weekend after weekend. It is running people down and they are very angry indeed."

AR My jogging trail, my MP, my sympathies.

2014 April 8

Syria

Tony Blair

We have not intervened in Syria. The consequences will be a huge problem not just for the Mideast region, but for us in the years to come.

You have to compare the fact and the consequences of intervention with the fact and the consequences of non-intervention. Supposing you had left Saddam. Arguably, you would have had the Arab spring come to Iraq. If it had come to Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, it was going to come to Iraq and you would be facing what you are facing in Syria now in Iraq. When you remove the dictatorship, that is the beginning not the end.

AR ME horrorshow — keep out.

Stress

Jonathan Heaf

Stressed? Ask: "What would Liam Neeson do?" Neeson represents everything decent and honorable about a man who doesn't fret. One thing that Neeson wouldn’t do if he were a little stressed at work, say, dealing with an airborne hostage situation or disarming a nuke, is get in a huddle with his work colleagues, steep a teabag, and politely begin fielding opinions.

Neeson would make an executive decision. He would trust his fast thinking: your first instinct is the right one. Like the very best chess players, strong, silent men succeed. Look at Clint Eastwood. Or James Bond. Dealing with stress is all about making clear, concise decisions rather than endless wittering. And, yes, sometimes this means raising your voice.

SermonSlam

Rachel Delia Benaim

The SermonSlam aims to give Jews an outlet to explore Jewish thought and ideas through spoken word poetry. The second SermonSlam in New York featured 16 performers. Their given topic was freedom.

Mordechai Martin, who introduced himself as Mo, was the winner. He gave a heartfelt sermon that intertwined ideas about the freedom of the Jews with his own experience at a mental health clinic.

SermonSlam is the brainchild of David Zvi Kalman, 26, a graduate student in Jewish and Islamic law at the University of Pennsylvania.

Another SermonSlam was held last week in California. Future slams are scheduled in other cities. Columbia Medical School student Raphy Rosen: "It's publicizing the word of God."

2014 April 7

Rwanda

Tony Blair

My foundation, the Africa Governance Initiative, has been operating in Rwanda since 2008. Progress has been extraordinary.

When the new government took power in 1994, Rwanda was a shell of a nation. Some 800 000 people had been killed in 100 days of genocide, and millions more displaced from their homes. Security and stability came first, with humanitarian relief, and then improved health, education, and incomes.

In little over five years, more than a million Rwandans have lifted themselves out of poverty. The proportion of children dying before their fifth birthday has more than halved, and when they reach seven years old, they can nearly all go to school. Most of the population is covered by health insurance, and malaria deaths have fallen. Rwandans are united in patriotism and belief in the government.

Vikings

Patrick Cockburn

Vikings waged war against the Anglo-Saxons from the time of their first recorded raid on the British east coast in 789 CE. These escalated by 865 CE into invasions by hundreds of ships bent on conquest and settlement. The kings of East Anglia and Northumbria were defeated and apparently killed in a ritual known as "the blood-eagle" in which the victim's lungs were ripped out of his ribcage and draped on his shoulders like wings. In 1002, the Anglo-Saxon king Ethelred the Unready ordered the deaths of all Danes in his kingdom. The Vikings stormed and sacked the city of Canterbury in 1011. They held the archbishop as a hostage, then beat him to death at a drunken feast.

Failure

Scott A. Sandage

Failure is a gift that keeps on giving. Sarah Lewis: "Managing the gap between vision and work, which often looks to others like being swallowed by failure, is a lifelong process."

Failing well is the best revenge. Megan McArdle: "Failing well can't be that hard, because America spent several centuries being really good at it. We're the descendants of failures who fled to these shores from their creditors, their failed farms, their disastrous love affairs."

2014 April 6

France

Matthew Campbell

President François Hollande named a new government last week. Ségolène Royal, the mother of his four children, now heads the environment super ministry. In the three decades of their relationship she was suspected of wearing the trousers — in those days his nickname was "Monsieur Royal" — and there is mirthful speculation about whether she will end up back in the cockpit.

New prime minister Manuel Valls will outline a rescue plan for cuts of €50 billion before parliament next week. The new economy minister is Arnaud Montebourg, a former criminal lawyer with a taste for oratory and a hatred of globalization, whose conquests range from TV anchor Audrey Pulvar to actress Elsa Zylberstein. Finance minister Michel Sapin worries that Montebourg could derail his job of convincing Brussels that France is fiscally responsible.

France

Nabila Ramdani

In an admission of socialist failure, President François Hollande has appointed Manuel Valls as France's new prime minister. Valls built his reputation as interior minister by clamping down on undesirables. He said the Roma should be deported, razed squatter camps, and supports anti-Muslim measures such as the ban on women wearing veils and restrictions on the sale of halal meat.

Hollande chose Ségolène Royal, the mother of his four children, as new environment and energy minister. Royal was rejected in parliamentary elections in 2012 and in the presidential poll five years earlier.

AR France will turn right and give Muslims a hard time.

2014 April 5

European Union

Mehdi Hasan

Norway (pop. 5 million), Liechtenstein (pop. 36 000), and Iceland (pop. 326 000) are members of the European Economic Area. EEA membership has some of the pros and most of the cons of being in the European Union.

Norway has had to implement 75% of EU laws and its total financial contribution to the EU each year is about €340 million. Norway pays more per capita to the EU than the UK does. Unlike the UK, Norway is also a signatory of the Schengen Agreement, which scrapped internal borders.

Switzerland (pop. 8 million) makes its own bilateral deals with the EU. It is under no obligation to implement all EU internal market legislation. It has a free trade agreement in goods with the EU but no agreement on services, including financial services. And it contributes about €450 million a year to the EU budget.

Inside the EU or out, the UK will have to follow EU rules and regulations. Eurosceptics say they like the single market but not the EU regulations. There is no single market without regulations. EU members can change them.

2014 April 4

European Protest

The Independent

After the recent Dutch election, Geert Wilders took to the stage when his Party for Freedom (PVV) won seven seats: "Do you want more or fewer Moroccans in this city and in the Netherlands?" His supporters: "Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!" Wilders: "We'll take care of that."

Wilders won over voters with promises of a European alliance of right-wing MEPs who would bring down the European Union. The alliance includes PVV, Vlaams Belang in Belgium, and the National Front in France. Parties in Italy, Austria, and Sweden may join too. UKIP leader Nigel Farage has declined. A quarter of the vote at the European Parliament elections in May could go to protest parties.

Islamophobia

Robin Yassin-Kassab

Arun Kundnani sees two dominant security approaches to Muslim citizens: culturalist and reformist. Culturalists see Islam as a totalitarian culture or ideology incompatible with democratic modernity. Reformists see the problem as a perversion of Islamic doctrine and categorize Muslims as extremists or moderates. Both culturalism and reformism neglect the basic political question. British Muslims were ghettoized as a result of industrial collapse, discriminatory housing policies, and fear of racist violence. The new European far right embraces Zionism and Islamophobia.

Turin Shroud

Linda Geddes

The Turin Shroud is a piece of linen cloth imprinted with the faint image of a naked man with what appear to be streams of blood running down his arms, and other wounds. Some believe it wrapped the body of Jesus after crucifixion. Carbon dating suggests the shroud is a medieval forgery.

Researchers have found that the marks on the shroud correspond to a crucifixion only if the arms hung above the head in a Y and not a T pose. Someone crucified in this way would die from asphyxiation. Similar positions were used during medieval torture. A forger making the shroud must have been skilled to create the correct blood spatter for a crucifixion.

2014 April 3

Farage Versus Clegg

UK deputy prime minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg faced UKIP leader Nigel Farage for a second BBC TV debate. Farage won the debate on personality and sound bites but took a position with many weak points. Clegg floundered and was often reduced to rhetorical hyperbole defending a reasonable and potentially strong case. Outtakes:

NF "You were absolutely hellbent on getting involved militarily in the war in Syria, and I personally am delighted we didn't go to war in Syria, and we're not going to get involved, I hope, in military conflict in the Ukraine. The British people have had enough of endless foreign military interventions."

NC "I just think if your hatred of all things to do with the European Union leads to such a morally perverse conclusion — that you admire the one leader in the world who could have reined in President Assad — it really shows quite how extreme his views have become."

NF "The British people have had enough of endless foreign military interventions. I don't admire Putin. What I said was he had outwitted and outclassed you all over Syria."

NC "Nigel Farage doesn't want to work with the Americans, to work with the EU, he only wants to work with Vladimir Putin."

NF "Let's take back control of our our borders. Let's stop giving £55 million a day as a membership fee of a club we don't need to be part of. Let's free ourselves up. I know the people are behind this. Come and join the People's Army. Let's topple the establishment that led us into this mess."

NC "What next? Are you going to say we should return to the gold standard or a pre-decimal currency, or maybe get W.G. Grace to open the batting for England again?"

NF "I want the EU to end but I want it to end democratically. If it doesn't end democratically, I am afraid it will end very unpleasantly. We are already, in some countries, beginning to see the rise of worrying political extremism. If you take away from people their ability through the ballot box to change their futures because they have given away control of everything to somebody else, then I'm afraid they tend to resort to unpleasant means."

NC "I think a referendum now would put the economic recovery at risk."

AR The Conservative coalition covers the left but leaves an exposed right flank.

More Planets

Aviva Rutkin

Last week astronomers reported the discovery of 2012 VP113, nicknamed Biden after the US VP. This potential dwarf planet was spotted in the inner Oort cloud. Days later, the same team reported two more potential dwarfs: 2013 FY27 and 2013 FZ27. Both are in the Kuiper belt, which is also home to Pluto and three other known dwarf planets. FZ27 is 50 AU from the sun and about 600 km wide. FY27 is probably about 1000 km across and 80 AU from the sun. Astronomers suspect the Kuiper belt is littered with dwarfs.

Noah

Brook Wilensky-Lanford

In the story of Noah, Darren Aronofsky has found the quintessential thought experiment: If God asked you to save the world, but lose your soul, would you do it? What kind of person is able to save the animal kingdom and his own family, but leave the rest of humanity to drown?

Noah makes a decision that turns him into the villain for a good bit of the film. The Ark is basically a giant wood box. There's something heartbreaking about watching it tumble about in the waves. During the Flood, there are a couple of shots of the wreckage that gave me apocalyptic shivers.

In addition to the Bible, Aronofsky and his co-writer Ari Handel consulted the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Book of Enoch, and the Book of Jubilee, as well as modern scholarly analysis. God is always referred to as the Creator. Aronofsky insists that he is just trying to make blockbuster entertainment.

2014 April 2

UK Nuclear Warheads

Hugh Chalmers

The UK SLBM force is based on US Trident D5 missiles and their nuclear warheads. The reliability of the warheads will decline, but replacing the UK warheads would take about 17 years and cost around £4 billion at 2012 prices. After 2015, the next government may have to decide on a replacement.

The Trident entered service in Vanguard submarines in 1995. The UK has an estimated 225 Trident warheads, now being cut to 180. Up to 120 warheads are kept operational for the Vanguard submarines. Each submarine on patrol carries 8 active Trident missiles and a total of 40 warheads.

The UK Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) occasionally removes warheads from the stockpile for maintenance. About once a year, a warhead is removed for breakdown and examination. The results update an AWE virtual warhead, which is detonated in various ways for reliability assessments.

2014 April 1

Me

Freeman Dyson

I used to be a scientist and did a lot of calculations. It was a competitive world, and when I got older, I decided I wouldn't compete with the bright young people anymore, so I write books instead.

I was trained as a mathematician, and I remain a mathematician. That’s really my skill, just doing calculations and applying mathematics to all kinds of problems. I look for interesting problems that I can solve. I translated Feynman's ideas into mathematics, and as a result I became famous.

The next exciting thing I did was to work with a company in California called General Atomics for a couple of years building a spaceship. We decided we would go around the solar system with a spaceship driven by nuclear bombs. We were very disappointed when the Orion never flew.

I have strong views about climate. I think the majority is wrong. We don't understand climate. The majority don't understand what they're seeing. It will take a lot of hard work before that question is settled.


NSW Rural Fire Service
Bush fire near Sydney, Australia


Carnegie Institution for Sciences
The paths of Oort cloud objects 2012 VP113 (red) and Sedna (orange) outside the Kuiper belt (cyan) around the Solar System (magenta)

2012 VP113, a.k.a. Biden, is 450 km across, about half the size of Sedna. If it is made mostly of ice, then its gravity probably pulls it into a spherical shape, making it a dwarf planet.

How can I be happy?
British Humanist Association
Narrated by Stephen Fry
(3:08)


AR
In prep.

England

In his TV documentary England, Martin Amis, 64, says he finds being English "a source of quiet pride". But he describes the England of his younger days.

AR It's just a personal view,
like Roger Scruton's book
England: An Elegy

Photo of me with
old schoolfriends
Graham and Steve
after my mother's
funeral

UK TOP TEN
Most Satisfying Jobs
(plus mean income)

1
Clergy
(£20,568)
2
CEOs and senior officials
(£117,700)
3
Managers and proprietors in agriculture and horticulture
(£31,721)
4
Company secretaries
(£18,176)
5
QA professionals
(£42,898)
6
Health care managers
(£31,267)
7
Medical practitioners
(£70,648)
8
Farmers
(£24,520)
9
Hotel managers and proprietors
(£32,470)
10
Skilled engineering supervisors
(£35,316)


Image: Andy Gilmore
Amplituhedron


en.ria.ru
Putin and the Surgeon


BICEP2
Dark Sector Lab

 

2014 March 31

Climate Change

Suzanne Goldenberg

A report from the UN intergovernmental panel on climate change concludes that climate change is already melting sea ice and thawing permafrost in the Arctic, killing off coral reefs in the oceans, and leading to heat waves, heavy rains, and mega-disasters. Climate change also poses a threat to global food stocks and to human security. It could lead to dramatic drops in global wheat production as well as reductions in maize. Fish catches in some areas of the tropics are projected to fall by about a half. So climate change is linked to rising food prices and political instability.

Our Climate Future

Michael Slezak

The new IPCC report is the second of three parts of its fifth assessment of climate change. Part 1, released last year, covered the physical science of climate change. It stated that the climate is changing as a result of our greenhouse gas emissions.

Part 2 focuses on how people can adapt in the face of uncertainty. The IPCC says we must become resilient against diverse changes in the climate: "The natural human tendency is to want things to be clear and simple. And one of the messages that doesn't just come from the IPCC, it comes from history, is that the future doesn't ever turn out the way you think it will be."

Confident predictions include more rain in parts of Africa, more heat waves in southern Europe, more frequent droughts in Australia, and rising sea levels. Poverty makes the impacts worse, and the report suggests adaptations for alleviating it. All countries should diversify their economies, rather than relying on a few main sources of income that could flood or blow over. Countries should also find ways to become less vulnerable to the current climate variability. Current global spending on adaptation is tiny. But the unpredictability makes it difficult to prepare for some of the threats.

Part 3, due out in April, is on how to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing emissions now would give us more time to adapt to climate change, as well as a better chance of avoiding its worst effects.

2014 March 30

Climate Change

Rowan Williams

We have heard for years the predictions that the uncontrolled burning of fossil fuels will lead to an accelerated warming of the Earth. What is now happening indicates that these predictions are coming true. Our actions have had consequences that are deeply threatening for many of the poorest communities in the world.

Rich, industrialized countries, including our own, have unquestionably contributed most to atmospheric pollution. Both our present lifestyle and the industrial history of how we created such possibilities for ourselves have to bear the responsibility for pushing the environment in which we live toward crisis.

Cleaner Coal

Charles C. Mann

Technology for extracting the carbon dioxide from a coal-fired power plant and channeling it away for underground storage is known as carbon capture and storage (CCS). At a 2008 meeting of the G8, the assembled energy ministers backed an IEA recommendation to launch CCS demonstration projects.

China burns almost as much coal as the rest of the world put together. It emits a quarter of the world's greenhouse gases. In 2006, Beijing established a nationwide program to boost its coal production. Starting in 2010, Shenhua built a big facility to convert coal into liquid fuel for automobiles. In 2013, the facility's CCS plant sequestered more than 110 000 tons of CO2 in an underground saltwater aquifer. By 2020, if all goes well, Shenhua could be sequestering 2 million tons (2 Tg) of CO2 a year.

The most developed technique for capturing CO2 is amine scrubbing. The exhaust from burning coal is bubbled through a solution of MEA in water. MEA bonds to the CO2 to form MEA carbamate. The MEA carbamate and water are boiled or the pressure is lowered, and the MEA carbamate breaks up into CO2 and MEA. The CO2 is pumped away and the MEA is recycled.

This kind of CCS will eat up about a quarter of the plant's thermal output. Given that typical coal plants convert only half their thermal energy into electricity, CCS-equipped power plants will consume a lot more coal.

Canadian CCS startup Inventys Thermal Technologies has a better idea. A ceramic-coated drum rotates inside power-plant smokestacks, and CO2 molecules adhere to the drum by static electricity. Steam washes off the CO2. This method is much cheaper than amine scrubbing.

2014 March 28

Russia's Revenge

Angus Roxburgh

A new cold war is starting. President Putin does not understand the west. His political technologists have been priming Russian television viewers with alarming images. One showed a millionaire fascist on a stage in the Maidan (Independence Square in Kyiv, the cauldron of the revolution) demanding that Russians be shot in the head.

When informed (incorrectly, as it turned out) that opposition gunmen might have been responsible for the mass killings on the Maidan in Kyiv that were the catalyst for the Ukrainian revolution, the European Union high representative for foreign affairs Catherine Ashton responded: "I didn't pick that up. That's interesting. Gosh!"

Western leaders shuttled in and out of Ukraine, taking decisions apparently way beyond their competence. The US assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland distributed cookies to the Maidan protesters, and discussed with her ambassador which opposition leader should become prime minister, as though she were viceroy of Ukraine.

The first decade after the collapse of the USSR was a disaster for Russia. Putin came to the scene so inexperienced he opened himself up to all kinds of advice. He wooed western leaders and mused about joining NATO one day. But then he began closing down critical media and gathering power around himself and his KGB comrades. The west took fright and began to build up its defenses against Russia. NATO expanded eastward. In return the Russians started building up their own defenses.

Strobe Talbott describes the upheaval in Ukraine today as Putin's payback to the United States for "a quarter-century of disrespect, humiliation and diplomatic bullying".

2014 March 27

Ageism

Noam Scheiber

Silicon Valley has become one of the most ageist places in America. Even the best venture capitalists fail most of the time, so the returns on successes must be enormous. But the veneration of youth in Silicon Valley now seems way out of proportion to its usefulness. However much age and experience may grind down the rest of us, it is impossible to generalize to that tiny fraction of people so brilliant and driven as to be capable of creating the next Google.

Ageism

Jon Nathanson

Noam Scheiber paints a picture of competent entrepreneurs unable to secure venture capital on account of their age. Silicon Valley's startup scene is an unparalleled hub of innovation, and the industry's most successful founders have been young. The problem is the data set. The young may be better at large-scale innovation. Or they may not be. We don't have enough data to make that claim, and we have plenty of evidence to the contrary. Plenty of entrepreneurs, engineers, and business leaders in tech can appreciate the wisdom of age, the strength of diversity, and the value of experience.

Nymphomaniac

Liel Leibovitz

You may have heard that Nymphomaniac, the new movie by Lars von Trier, is pornographic.

A man discovers a woman lying beaten and takes her home. She says she's Joe, a nymphomaniac and a horrible person. He says his name is Seligman and he is Jewish. He urges Joe to tell her story. A conversation starts. It is the conversation between Judaism and Christianity.

Joe is Christ inverted. At 12, she experiences an involuntary orgasm that mirrors the transfiguration of Jesus. Her life becomes a quest for more perfect forms of transcendence.

Seligman is her polar opposite. Everything he learned in life, he learned from the books that line his apartment. He offers Joe interpretation, to turn her endeavors from a pursuit of salvation to a sensible way of being in the world.

The film lets us all understand the dangers inherent in Joe's spiritual appetites. As he had in Antichrist and Melancholia, von Trier is arguing here that our thirst for transcendence can only lead to disaster. We may yearn for love, but we can't handle it.

Seligman embodies Jewish eschatology. He believes that all attempts at redemption must focus not on some desperate thrust heavenward but on a series of small earthly steps.

Nymphomaniac is a godly film.

2014 March 26

Putin Saves NATO

Roger Boyes

Vladimir Putin is almost single-handedly saving the moribund Atlantic alliance. President Obama is only a day or two into his European trip and it is already clear that something is going right again. We are thinking and acting strategically for the first time in five years. The annexation of Crimea took the West by surprise but has not shocked it into paralysis. We are comfortable with this kind of enemy.

Beyond The Big Bang

Lisa Grossman

The BICEP2 team saw hints of gravitational waves in the CMB from 12 Ts ABB. Planck satellite data depict an early universe that was almost uniformly smooth, which seems to support inflation. The Planck team saw no signs of gravitational waves. The BICEP2 gravitational wave signal is twice what Planck suggested.

The BICEP2 results support the simplest models of inflation. An inflaton particle drove the process. In the chaotic inflation model, the inflaton that decays quickly and allows quantum fluctuations to trigger new bursts of inflation, giving rise to other universes. In the natural inflation model, the inflaton retains its peak energy for longer before decaying, to explain the smoothness of the CMB. In Higgs-like inflation, the inflaton had a scalar field like the Higgs boson.

If the Planck team sees weak gravitational waves, the models get more complex. In one, inflation starts out fast and slows down abruptly. In another, inflation was faster in one direction, explaining the "axis of evil" in the Planck data.

Or, in a variant of string theory, there was no inflation. Picture the cosmos as a rolled-up piece of paper held in place with rubber bands. The paper is a 9D universe and the rubber bands are vibrating strings. If two strings meet, their edges can form a single, twisted loop, and release 4D spacetime to swell to the size of our universe today. The BICEP2 results favor this model.

AR Oh, what fun!

2014 March 25

Shame

Michael Hayden

The Internet was begun in the United States and it is based on American technology, but it's a global activity. We in the United States feel it reflects free people, free ideas, and free trade. The Russians and the Chinese want to divide the Internet up into national domains and create barriers in cyberspace.

I'm not prepared to apologize for conducting intelligence against another nation. I am prepared to apologize for embarrassing a good friend. I am prepared to apologize for the fact we couldn't keep whatever it was we may or may not have been doing secret and therefore put a good friend in a very difficult position. Shame on us.

At the Munich Security Conference it was clear to me that Germans regard privacy the way we Americans might regard freedom of speech or religion. I think the director of national intelligence, the director of the CIA, and the new director of the NSA need to put Germany very early in their travel plans and meet with the German service.

As a professional intelligence officer, I stand back in awe at the depth, breadth, and persistence of the Chinese espionage effort against the West and the United States. The differences between us and the Chinese: We're more sophisticated and we're self-limited. I never claimed the moral high ground.

G8 is dead — long live G7

The Times

Russia is out of the G7 following President Putin's landgrab in Crimea. President Obama and the leaders of Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Canada, and Japan decided to freeze Russia out of the G8 club, boycott a planned G8 summit in Sochi, and meet as G7 in Brussels in June.

AR All these Gn meetings, for n in N, are precursors to GO meetings in Globorg.

2014 March 24

Philosophy

Clancy Martin

Rebecca Newberger Goldstein wrote Plato at the Googleplex to show us that figuring out how to live a meaningful life is something very different from understanding the meaning of special relativity or evolution. She transports Plato into the 21st century and puts him into fictional dialog with a variety of contemporary characters.

Goldstein's Plato is less interested in teaching those with whom he converses than he is in helping them see that they don't know what they think they know. In sending Plato to Google, Goldstein deftly exposes the conceptual presumption at the heart of what looks like the latest high-tech methodology.

Goldstein reminds us that virtually every scientific area of inquiry began with a question or an insight from a philosopher. The grand forward push of human knowledge requires each of us to begin by trying to think independently, to recognize that knowledge is more than information, to see that we are moral beings.

2014 March 23

Inflation

Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw

Inflation is the idea that the visible universe expanded exponentially for a tiny fraction of the first second, from a size very much smaller than an atom to about the size of a grapefruit. The energy of the expansion formed the particles that later formed our universe.

Cosmic microwaves have been flying free almost since the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago. When the universe was just under 400 000 years old, hydrogen atoms formed and there were no longer free particles to scatter the light. The light from that time now bathes us as microwaves. They appear much the same wherever you look in the sky. We explain that fact with inflation.

Quantum theory predicts ripples in the fabric of spacetime. They are stretched by inflation and dimple the grapefruit. As the Big Bang unfolds, the ripples clump particles together under gravity, in time leading to stars and people. Inflation predicts the average properties of how the matter should be distributed, and the agreement between prediction and observation is terrific.

The BICEP2 telescope tests for the existence of gravitational waves from the primordial universe. BICEP2 sees their imprint on the cosmic microwaves as a distinctive swirling pattern in their polarization. The amount of polarization is a measure of the energy once stored in the vacuum. BICEP2 sees a lot of swirl, so the vacuum energy was near the grand unification energy.

Particle physicists have long dreamt of grand unification of the electromagnetic force and the strong and weak nuclear forces. The forces seem to fuse at the energy levels about a trillion times above those in the LHC. The new results could help turn the dream into reality.

2014 March 22

Turkey

Christopher de Bellaigue

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan leads the AKP government and works in Ankara. Turkish preacher and moral didact Fethullah Gülen lives in seclusion in Pennsylvania and presides over an empire of schools, businesses, and followers.

The AKP government and the Gülen movement share a modernizing Islamist ideology, but relations between them have deteriorated. Erdoğan has purged his entourage and replaced half his cabinet. Thousands of policemen have been moved from their posts, as well as judges and bureaucrats.

Before all this, in early 2013, Turkey's modernizing Islamist current enjoyed much goodwill. Erdoğan came to power in 2003, after a long struggle by Islamists against the country's secular institutions. Erdoğan reformed the economy and reined in the armed forces.

The AKP was in an unofficial coalition with Islamists such as the movement of Fethullah Gülen. His schools turned out well-behaved, patriotic, pious Turks, and the government welcomed them into the bureaucratic and business elites. The Islamists promised high standards of ethics and behavior.

Erdoğan has reacted to the dissatisfaction of a largely secular minority with police violence. He talks of "false prophets, seers, and hollow pseudo-sages" and his target is clear. Gülen, in one of his frequent sermons broadcast to big audiences in Turkey, recently placed a malediction on his enemies, as the Gülenist media spread allegations of government corruption.

Gülen denies that he heads a movement. His followers share his vision of a modern and tolerant Islam. He has been winning followers since he was a young imam preaching that humanity needs to be saved from sin and shown the path of Koranic revelation and prophetic example.

The Gülen movement controls numerous Turkish schools and universities, proselytizes energetically, and has infiltrated secular institutions such as the police force. The AKP government launched a huge investigation in 2007, which ended in 2013 with the jailing of 242 people.

2014 March 21

Russia

George Soros

The European Union has a resurgent rival to its east. Russia badly needs Europe as a partner, but Putin is positioning it as a rival. The spontaneous uprising of the Ukrainian people must have taught Putin that his dream of reconstituting what is left of the Russian Empire is unattainable.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was a brief moment when the United States emerged as the undisputed leader of the world. It abused its power, but the oligarchs who control much of the Russian economy have no confidence in the regime. That is what makes the economy so weak.

Russia is trying to reassert itself as a geopolitical player. Ukraine and Crimea are of great interest to Russia. The West cannot reverse the annexation of Crimea. Ukraine is a potentially attractive investment destination, but realizing this potential requires improving the business climate.

Paul de Man

Liel Leibovitz

Paul de Man was one of the fathers of deconstruction. The critic Louis Menand said deconstruction was "like digging a hole in the middle of the ocean with a shovel made of water".

During the Second World War in Belgium, de Man published an essay titled "The Jews in Present-Day Literature" arguing that European civilization remained healthy despite Jewish attempts to soil it and that it may be best for the Jews to move far away so as not to pollute the purity of the master race. He behaved badly in his personal life too.

There was a correlation between the man and the theory. The catastrophic effects of this mindset have been widely documented. A big contribution of Judaism to the advancement of civilization was to abandon crowds of little gods and replace them with one God, to whose service all are called. Such a worldview has lapsed among the thinking classes.

The atomization of the American mind is a moral failure. Academics champion individual rights and set up bulwarks of divergence. But once you have deconstructed, problematized, and tortured the notion of the common good beyond recognition, any act is as good as the next one and all are bowed in the service of radical difference.

If this mentality is horrible for all mankind, it is particularly horrible for Jews. The story of Paul de Man is a cautionary tale of what bad ideas can do to erode the pillars of civilization.

AR God is dead — long live Globorg, our destiny.

2014 March 20

Funeral of Liz's consort Don (1924-06-26 — 2014-03-09)

Quantum Gravity

Quanta

Physicists are searching for a theory of quantum gravity. Most physicists believe that gravitons give rise to gravity. But calculations of graviton interactions yield infinities.

Supergravity posits the existence of new particles that mirror graviton effects. It has long been assumed to suffer from the infinity problem, but no one was sure. Using new tools, UCLA physicist Zvi Bern and his team are now calculating these gravitational interactions and making sense.

In one approach to calculating scattering amplitudes in supersymmetric quantum physics, gluon scattering amplitudes are computed by measuring the volume of an amplituhedron. The amplituhedron corresponds to interactions between gluons. The fact that gravitons behave like two copies of gluons could point the way forward.

The Amplituhedron

Quantum field theory would be simpler if interactions previously calculated with long formulas matched the volume of the corresponding amplituhedron. The amplituhedron encodes scattering amplitudes representing the probability that a set of particles will turn into certain other particles upon colliding. The amplituhedron research could show how our universe emerges out of pure geometry.

2014 March 19

Multiverse

Lisa Grossman

In general relativity, gravity is the curvature of spacetime. Gravitational waves are ripples made by accelerating objects. The discovery of primordial gravitational waves supports inflation. For some theorists, proving that inflation happened is a sign of the multiverse.

Andrei Linde: "If inflation is there, the multiverse is there. Each observation that brings better credence to inflation brings us closer to establishing that the multiverse is real."

The simplest models of inflation require a particle called an inflaton to inflate spacetime. Inflatons decay over time, so for inflation to work, they need to last longer than the period of inflation. Then they continue to drive inflation in their location, blowing new universes into existence that rapidly inflate before settling down. This "eternal inflation" produces new universes in a multiverse.

Frank Wilczek: "For the first time, we're directly testing an aspect of quantum gravity. We're seeing gravitons imprinted on the sky."

Atheism

Emma Green

Peter Watson interprets Friedrich Nietzsche's 1882 declaration "God is dead" as a turning point in intellectual history. Nazis drew on Nietzsche and writers like Martin Heidegger for philosophical heft.

Modern times have seen a theological understanding of humankind replaced by a psychological one. The new atheists say evolution and biology disprove the existence of God. Religious belief fails to explain the modern world and the idea of God has been debunked.

Watson implies that full engagement with the project of being human in the modern world leads to atheism. But the vast majority of the world believes in God or some sort of higher power. If the age of atheism started in 1882, most people still haven't caught on.

2014 March 18

Crimea

Simon Tisdall

A majority of the residents of Crimea were happy to abandon Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. The overall outcome reflected popular wishes and was crudely democratic. So it is unwise of US President Barack Obama and the Europeans to declare they will "never" recognize the Crimean result.

In his telephone conversation with Obama on Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin quoted the "Kosovo precedent" of a 2008 declaration of independence by the provincial assembly in Pristina, when Kosovo was still a part of Serbia. Putin's question to Obama was: So what's the difference?

The right of self-determination of peoples is guaranteed under the UN Charter. It is a mistake to make of the secession of Crimea an issue of principle on which there can never be compromise. The key challenge for Obama and the EU is what the departure of Crimea implies for the wider region. The sanctions should pivot on what Moscow does next, especially in eastern Ukraine but also in Moldova, the Baltic states, and Georgia.

The Surgeon

The Times

Alexander Zaldostanov is the Surgeon. He leads the Russian motorcycle gang the Night Wolves, who crossed to Crimea from Kerch and set up camp near Sevastopol. Their base is straight from Mad Max. Zaldostanov: "We are seeing victory here today, victory for Russians and victory for Sevastopol." Amid his fans he added: "We've come to protect Russians from the Banderas and fascists, and I hope Britain and America learn their lesson."

Big Bang To TOE

The Guardian

Discovery of primordial ripples in spacetime provides a deep connection between general relativity and quantum mechanics. University College London cosmologist Andrew Pontzen: "This is a genuine breakthrough. It represents a whole new era in cosmology and physics as well."

The detection provides the first direct evidence for inflation. BICEP2 collaboration lead John Kovac: "Detecting this signal is one of the most important goals in cosmology today. A lot of work by a lot of people has led up to this point."

The BICEP2 team spent three years analyzing the polarization in the CMB signal. The work could offer clues on the way to a quantum theory of gravity and the theory of everything (TOE).

2014 March 17

Big Bang Ripples

Lisa Grossman

Gravitational waves in spacetime let us peer back to the first slivers of a second after the big bang. Scientists working with the BICEP2 collaboration at the South Pole (image left) announce the first clear sign of gravitational waves in a pair of papers published today. The results still need to be confirmed by other experiments, but physicists say the results look convincing.

Alan Guth: "No experiment should be taken too seriously until there's more than one that can vouch for it. But it does seem to me that this is a very reliable group and what they've seen is very definitive."

Cosmologists say a growth spurt in the baby universe called inflation would let us see traces of short gravity waves in maps of the cosmic microwave background (CMB). Guth proposed inflation in the 1980s to explain the fact that CMB variations are too uniform for subluminal expansion.

Inflation should have stretched the first gravitational waves to a size we can detect in the CMB. The CMB is polarized as it scatters off electrons in the cosmos. Rippling gravitational waves would twist the polarization pattern into distinctive swirls called B-modes (diagram below). The BICEP2 result supports the simplest models of inflation and matches the predictions of grand unification theory (GUT).

The detection is also the first whiff of quantum gravity. Guth: "If gravity were not quantized, inflation would not produce gravitational waves. So we really are seeing a direct effect caused by the quantization of gravity."

Breakthrough

Lawrence Krauss

Scientists operating a sensitive microwave telescope at the South Pole announced the discovery of polarization distortions in the CMB. The distortions appear to be due to gravitational waves dating back to 10^-35 s after the Big Bang (ABB). By comparison, the CMB was created 10^13 s ABB. Where this may lead, no one knows. But it should be cause for great excitement.

In 1979, Alan Guth proposed what he called inflation: that the universe expanded in size by over thirty orders of magnitude in a tiny fraction of a second ABB. Inflation explains how the universe is likely to have grown back then. Within a few years, Guth and others demonstrated that quantum effects during this period could have resulted in the formation of all observed cosmic structures.

If gravity is also subject to quantum mechanics, then quantum fluctuations in gravity would appear today as gravitational waves. Now a CMB probe that measures how primordial light might be polarized by gravitational waves apparently sees precisely the signal expected from inflation. The amplitude of the effect is about as expected if the scale of inflation is the GUT scale.


BICEP2


Bitstrips
Looking for a soft landing


Bitstrips


Bitstrips
The philosopher's cone?


SPIEGEL
Former Ukrainian President
Viktor Yanukovych had an
obscenely opulent palace
for his presidential villa


Bitstrips
Running from the mental
fog of a bleak winter

The Times Higher Education
World Reputation Rankings
2014


1
Harvard University
2
Massachusetts Institute
of Technology
3
Stanford University
4
University of Cambridge
5
University of Oxford
6
University of California
Berkeley
7
Princeton University
8
Yale University
9
California Institute
of Technology
10
University of California
Los Angeles

Academic Fat Cats
Aditya Chakrabortty

University vice-chancellors defend mega-pay as the going rate for "talent" and pocket as much cash as they can get away with. Higher education managers pose as CEOs and claim similar pay and perks. Open University boss Martin Bean is on £407,000. University of Birmingham VC David Eastwood is paid almost three times as much as the prime minister.

AR UK HE starves students:
This is rank injustice.


Bitstrips
Checking the unrest in Crimea

 

2014 March 17

UK Agenda for EU Reform

David Cameron

I am putting forward an ambitious agenda for a new European Union:

1 Powers flowing away from Brussels, not always to it.

2 National parliaments able to work together to block unwanted European legislation.

3 Businesses liberated from red tape and benefiting from the strength of the EU market to open up greater free trade with North America and Asia.

4 UK police forces and justice systems able to protect British citizens, unencumbered by unnecessary interference from the European institutions, including the European court of human rights.

5 Free movement to take up work, not free benefits.

6 Support for the continued enlargement of the EU to new members but with new mechanisms in place to prevent vast migrations across the continent.

7 Ensuring Britain is no longer subject to the concept of ever closer union enshrined in the treaty signed by every EU country.

AR All sound domestic politics, but will it fly across Europe?

2014 March 15

Crimea

CNN

Crimeans vote Sunday in a referendum that effectively gives them two options: either to become independent or join the Russian Federation. But Crimea is integrated into Ukraine's mainland economy and infrastructure: it imports 90% of its energy, and 90% of its water, 80% of its electricity, and roughly 65% of its gas come from the rest of Ukraine. Crimea gets 70% of its $1.2 billion budget from Kiev. Moscow plans to invest over $5 billion in Crimea, but local people dependent on tourism will suffer.

Atheism

John Gray

Nietzsche said God is dead. Science, notably Darwinism, had revealed a world with no inherent order or meaning. With theism no longer credible, meaning would have to be made in future by human beings.

The idea that religion is separate from culture is a Christian notion. Christianity may be a more tragic creed than Nietzsche's doctrine, but neither the Christian religion nor Nietzsche's philosophy can be said to express a tragic sense of life. According to Christianity, there is nothing that cannot be redeemed by divine grace and even death can be annulled.

Nietzsche wanted to revive the tragic worldview of the ancient Greeks. Tragedy requires a conflict of values that cannot be revoked by any act of will. But Nietzsche ended up producing a hyperbolic version of humanism.

2014 March 13

WWW @ 25

Tim Berners-Lee

All the people who have been part the Word Wide Web can be proud of what has been achieved. The Web has become an important technology for everyday life and almost everything we do. So there is a strong tendency for governments, big organizations, and companies to try to control it.

The lack of oversight over the spying systems both in the UK and the US needs to change. Any country that has a part of the government or the police spying on the Internet must demonstrate that they have a very solid level of accountability and that the information they get is never abused.

We created webwewant.org to define the values that we as Web users insist on. I would like every country to debate what that means in terms of their laws. The right to privacy must be in there, the right not to be spied on and not to be blocked. Access to the Web is a fundamental right.

2014 March 12

Cosmology

Joseph Silk

In the multiverse scenario, our universe is one of an infinity of space-time patches, each one outside the causal reach of any other. In infinite space, universes indistinguishable from ours are repeated infinitely, as is every conceivable configuration of mass-energy permitted by the laws of physics. Even the laws of physics may vary across the multiverse. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that everything that can happen will happen, infinitely many times.

Support for this scenario stems from the fine-tuning of our surroundings. A cosmological constant much different from the observed value would make life as we know it impossible. If it has different values in each of the universe domains in the multiverse, then somewhere there has to be a universe with the value in our universe. But it is not clear whether we can calculate the odds for anything to happen in an infinite volume of space-time.

AR The fallacy here is that everything that "can" happen will happen in an infinite multiverse. Lots of things might never happen, however far out we go.

2014 March 11

Atheists

Peter Watson

In 1882, Nietzsche declared that God is dead, adding that we had killed him. Darwin's Origin of Species was the greatest blow to Christianity, but Nietzsche's work was a near-second. Darwin said his ideas had gone down better in Germany than anywhere else.

Religion is a psychological adjustment to our predicament. Worship is best understood as a sociological phenomenon. Religion is prevalent among the poor and in decline in the more prosperous parts of the world. It is less that religion is on the rise as poverty is.

There is no one secret to life, other than that there is no one secret to life. If you must have a transcendent idea then make it a search for the good or the beautiful or the useful, always realizing that your answers will be personal and never final.

2014 March 10

Consciousness

Alun Anderson

Stanislas Dehaene studies consciousness and the brain at his lab near Paris. He sees an "avalanche in the brain" when the threshold for conscious awareness is crossed. Electrical activity in certain centers is suddenly amplified and spread into regions of the parietal and prefrontal cortex. Activation surges on into a much larger expanse of cortex, and distant brain regions start showing tightly correlated activity.

Dehaene sees consciousness as the process of brain-wide information sharing. Your brain is constantly creating millions of short-lived mental representations of your world by unconscious processing. When one is broadcast to decision systems distributed around the brain it enters consciousness. The global workspace supports a kind of collective intelligence. But the "hard problem" of consciousness remains.

AR See my book Mindworlds.

Memory

Michael S. Malone

Memories are created by a biochemical reaction in neurons. Short-term or working memory operates at a number of different locations around the brain. Long-term memory takes up much of the landscape of the upper brain. The memories are often stored in the same neurons that first received the stimulus. Memories are made when certain proteins are synthesized in the cell. Frequent repetition of signals makes the record stable and permanent.

Memory is explicit or implicit. Explicit or declarative memory is all the information in our brains that we can consciously bring to the surface. Episodic memories occurred at a specific point in time. Semantic memory lets us understand how the world works. Implicit or procedural memory stores skills and memories of how to function in the natural world.

2014 March 9

Ukraine

Henry A. Kissinger

Ukraine has been part of Russia for centuries. The Western part was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1939. Crimea became part of Ukraine only in 1954. The west is largely Catholic, the east largely Russian Orthodox. The west speaks Ukrainian, the east speaks mostly Russian. Any attempt by one wing of Ukraine to dominate the other would lead eventually to civil war or breakup.

The problem lies in efforts by Ukrainian politicians to impose their will on recalcitrant parts of the country. Ukraine should:

1 Have the right to choose freely its economic and political associations
2 Not join NATO
3 Be free to create any government compatible with the expressed will of its people

It is incompatible with the rules of the existing world order for Russia to annex Crimea.

National Security

Peter W. Singer

Americans are more afraid of cyberattack than attack by Iran or North Korea, climate change, or China or Russia. Some 40 trillion emails are sent a year, 30 trillion websites now exist, 9 new pieces of malware are discovered every second, and 97% of Fortune 500 companies admit they’ve been hacked. The complexity of the issue overwhelms policy makers.

Cybersecurity is crucial but is treated as an area only for IT folk. The technical community understands the hardware and software but not the human side. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Very basic cyber hygiene would go a very long way. They would stop 90% of all cyber attacks.

Snowden exposed three kinds of NSA activity:

1 Smart and strategic espionage against American enemies
2 Questionable mass collection of data from American citizens
3 Unstrategic targeting of close American allies and leaders

2014 March 8

Imaginary Jews

Michael Walzer

Karl Marx called for the overthrow of the capitalist order. But he identified capitalism with Judaism. For Marx, the overthrow of capitalism will emancipate mankind from Judaism.

In Anti-Judaism, David Nirenberg argues that Marx appropriated a powerful language of opprobrium. Marx had Jewish origins and might have questioned the association of Judaism and capitalism, but instead he stoked old fears about Jewishness.

The identification of Judaism with materialism predates the appearance of capitalism in Europe by at least 1500 years. The enemies are mostly not Jews but Judaizing non-Jews who take on Judaism's negative characteristics. Real Jews have little to do with all this.

Joseph Goebbels proclaimed that the age of rampant Jewish intellectualism was at an end. He was making an argument that begins in the Gospels. Arguments about how Christianity superseded Judaism were based on oppositions: law superseded by love, the letter by the spirit, the flesh by the soul.

German idealist philosophers repeated many of the arguments of the early Christians. Kant understood the moral heteronomy he sought to overcome in Jewish terms. Hegel said Kantianism was simply a new version of the Jewish principle of opposing thought to reality. These philosophers used the language of anti-Judaism to resolve the ancient tension between the ideal and the real.

The Bolsheviks were widely understood as Jewish, and many of them were Jews. Jewish bankers can rule the world and Jewish Bolsheviks can aspire to overthrow and replace the bankers. In some alcoves of the Western imagination, the two groups can almost appear as co-conspirators.

Nirenberg argues that a certain view of Judaism lies deep in the structure of Western civilization.

2014 March 7

Black Holes

Michael Finkel

The death of a star more than 20 times the mass of the sun is spectacular. It collapses in a colossal burst of energy, its core plunges inward, and temperatures soar. Gravity pulps atoms into quarks and leptons and gluons, and so on until no one knows. The star has become a black hole.

At the center of most galaxies is a teeming bulge of stars and gas and dust. At the very hub of the bulge, in virtually every galaxy looked at, including our Milky Way, is a black hole. The one at the center of the Milky Way is 4.3 million times more massive than the sun. It is currently tranquil. But it's pulling a gas cloud toward it. Radio telescopes around the world are waiting to observe the black hole in action. We will see the accretion disk, a ring of debris outlining the edge of the hole. This should be enough to dispel most doubts that black holes exist.

Matter falling toward a black hole produces a lot of frictional heat. Black holes also spin, and the combination of friction and spin results in a lot of matter being flung off. This hot stuff is channeled into jet streams that spurt out at a tick below the speed of light. The jets can drill straight through a galaxy. Eventually they cool and the gas forms new stars.

At the center of a black hole is a singularity. Something is there, extremely small and dense. Our universe began, 13.8 billion years ago, in a tremendous big bang. The moment before, everything was packed into a small, dense singularity. A singularity was the seed of our universe.

2014 March 6

Hillary on Putin

Timothy Stanley

Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton: "All ... the Germans by ancestry who were in places like Czechoslovakia and Romania and other places, Hitler kept saying they're not being treated right. I must go and protect my people, and that's what's gotten everybody so nervous."

In the eyes of many ethnic Russians, the Ukrainian nationalists are the Nazis. The revolution overthrew a democratically elected leader and elevated Russophobe fascists into key government positions. Ukraine was a part of the Soviet Union until two decades ago and Crimea was part of Russia until 1954. The country contains millions of ethnic Russians and has Russian military installations that are key to Russian strategic interests.

The Ukrainian Nazi movement is small, and Ukraine is dwarfed by Russia, which puts Putin in the role of the dominant regional power picking on a small country and exploiting its extremist politics for the purpose of propaganda. But Putin is still no Hitler.

German Anti-Islamism

Der Spiegel

German anti-Islamists say Islam is a political ideology. CDU delegate Hans-Jürgen Irmer warned Hesse state parliament that "Islam is set on global domination" and that Muslim groups could not be trusted because deceiving non-Muslims is central to Islam.

There are about four million Muslims in Germany. An estimated 42 000 of them are fundamentalists. According to the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, 5% of Germans say Islam is an "archaic religion, incapable of fitting into modern life" and want to restrict religious freedom for Muslims.

Politically Incorrect is a popular German-speaking anti-Islam website: "The spread of Islam means that our descendants — and probably us too — will live in an Islam-dominated social order oriented towards the Sharia and the Koran and no longer towards the constitution and human rights."

Muslims are rising to higher positions in German society. Mosques are being built in city centers, as in Leipzig. Yasemin Shooman from the Academy of the Jewish Museum in Berlin says continuing Muslim integration is strengthening anti-Muslim prejudice.

2014 March 4

Russia vs. Ukraine

CNN, 1002 GMT

Russian President Vladimir Putin may have overplayed his hand by sending troops into Crimea. The United States and many European countries demand that Moscow scale back its deployment.

Carnegie Europe scholar Ulrich Speck: "Putin's broader plan is to recreate some kind of Soviet Union lite ... If Moscow succeeds in Ukraine, it will come to the conclusion that it can act like an empire ... Inside the EU there is no unity about the proper reaction."

The United States has halted trade and investment talks and military engagements with Russia. Nobody in Washington appears eager for a military confrontation. US Secretary of State John Kerry: "The last thing anybody wants is a military option in this kind of situation."

Ukraine's interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk says his government will not give up Crimea. Former Ukrainian PM Yulia Tymoshenko said that if diplomacy fails to persuade Moscow to withdraw its forces from the Ukrainian region of Crimea, the world should apply the "strongest means" on Russia.

Russia says ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych requested that Russia send in military forces. Russian soldiers wearing no insignia have deployed around the region and blockaded Ukrainian troops in their bases. Russian forces have complete operational control of the Crimean peninsula.

2014 March 3

Crimea

Christopher Meyer

In Crimea, unbadged, troops have seized key buildings and strategic points. It is pretty obvious that most of them are Russian. President Putin has obtained authority for a military intervention to protect Russian interests and nationals. There could be war between Ukraine and Russia. Some have begun to draw comparisons with Hitler's invasion of the ethnically German Sudetenland in 1938.

Crimea became part of the Russian Empire more than 200 years ago under Catherine the Great. For Russians, it is the scene of two historic episodes of heroic resistance: firstly in the Crimean War of the 19th century and then to the German army in the Second World War. Add the great naval base at Sevastopol and you can see why Putin sees a clear national interest in what transpires in Ukraine.

There will be costs for Obama and NATO if we cannot deflect Putin from his path. Obama has gained the reputation of being a weak president, who will not take a stand against aggressors. But foreign policy should be based on a cold calculation of national interest. As Putin knows, the US and NATO are not going to war to stop Russia taking Crimea or the eastern Ukraine under Russian control.

Atheism

Michael Dirda

The Age of Nothing by Peter Watson surveys and summarizes 20th-century philosophical and moral thought on "how we have sought to live since the death of God".

The wholly secular lack — Watson paraphrases and quotes Charles Taylor — "a sense of wholeness, fulfillment, fullness of meaning, a sense of something higher; they have an incompleteness ... 'a massive blindness’ to the fact that there is 'some purpose in life beyond the utilitarian' ".

Clifford Geertz: "The drive to make sense out of experience, to give it form and order, is evidently as real and pressing as the more familiar biological needs."

AR Seems worth reading: Watson was good on Germans.

2014 March 2

Crimea

CNN, 0949 GMT

The Ukrainian National Security Council ordered a mobilization as Russia appeared to mass troops for military intervention in Crimea. Ukraine's acting President Oleksandr Turchynov announced that intervention would lead to war.

US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke for 90 minutes to express concern over the crisis, according to separate statements released by their respective governments.

UN spokesman for the Ukraine mission Yegor Pyvovarov says Russia now has 15 000 troops in Crimea. Russia's UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin rejected Ukrainian calls to stop Russian intervention and said reports of Russian troop deployments were only rumors.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen tweeted that NATO ambassadors meet in Brussels today to discuss the situation.

Project Fear

Dominic Lawson

Project Fear is the political campaign to keep Scotland within the United Kingdom. It bombards Scots with warnings about what they will lose if they vote in September to secede:

1 The three main Westminster political parties reject monetary union with an independent Scotland. Scottish National Party leader Alex Salmond wants Scotland to keep the pound, but it would have no support from the Bank of England as lender of last resort.

2 President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso said it would be "extremely difficult, if not impossible" for an independent Scotland to rejoin the European Union.

3 Westminster may not accept the existing border between Scotland and England in the North Sea. An Oxford professor: "It is this line only that assigns almost all the oil to Scotland and Alex Salmond disingenuously talks as if that line would survive genuine separation. It could not. No one knows how international arbitration would go, but the best guess seems to be that about half would go to Scotland."

Project Fear amounts to a dry run for a campaign against British voters during a referendum on EU membership in 2017. Those who seek British liberation from the EU should take note.


TFS

Harbour View Woodland Burial and Memorial Gardens
Funeral of Elizabeth Pigdon, 13:30, 28 February 2014

My Mother Liz: A Tribute
PDF, 2 pages, 250 KB

Tool for Drivers
Frixo for up-to-the-minute
UK road traffic reports


Cranach the Elder (c 1525)
Strange Beauty
Masters of the German Renaissance
National Gallery
2014-02-19 — 2014-05-11


Bitstrips
Living in the
ice cream cone
PDF

Sam Adams Award
Oxford Union

Edward Snowden posts a video message as Chelsea Manning wins the Sam Adams award for "integrity in intelligence"

Edward Snowden on
over-classification

(4:01)

 

2014 February 28

Merkel in London

Der Spiegel

In her speech before parliament, Chancellor Angela Merkel praised the UK and its role as a liberator in the world wars, as the cradle of parliament, and as a leading European power. She even cited Richard von Weizsäcker that "Britain does not need to prove its European vocation".

As for the European Union, she agreed it need change. Its laws should be checked regularly. National parliaments should get more attention and failures must be exposed. But the EU is working well and only needs readjustment here and there. So a cold shower to Tory Eurosceptics.

Crimea

CNN

After the revolution in Ukraine, tension flared in Crimea. Five facts:

1 Russia gave Crimea to Ukraine in 1954, when both Russia and Ukraine were part of the Soviet Union. After 1991, lawmakers in Ukraine and Crimea voted for it to stay part of Ukraine.

2 A lot of Russians still live in Crimea. There are three main groups in Crimea: ethnic Ukrainians in the north, Russians in the south, and Tatars in the middle.

3 The Russian Navy has had a base at Sevastopol for 230 years. Russia is expanding its Black Sea port of Novorossiysk but Sevastopol is still the home of the Black Sea Fleet.

4 Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, became known as the Lady with the Lamp in the Crimean War when Britain, France, and Ottoman Turkey fought against Russia.

5 In 1945, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British PM Winston Churchill, and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin met in the Crimean resort of Yalta to carve up Europe for the Cold War.

AR If Russia takes Crimea, East-West relations freeze again.

2014 February 27

Merkel Wants UK in EU

The Times

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will set out the case for Britain to stay in the European Union in her address to both Houses of Parliament today. Germany and Britain have a common interest in reforming the single market, but the free movement of workers is a core principle of the market. She will say she is sympathetic to measures to stop the misuse of free movement for benefits tourism.

Downing Street was keen to stress its gratitude for the Chancellor's visit to London. Mrs Merkel is the second German Chancellor to address both Houses of Parliament after Willy Brandt did so in 1970. President Richard von Weizsäcker also did so in 1986.

AR When Brandt came he visited Oxford and I saw him speak live. Inspirational.

715 New Planets

CNN

NASA announces the discovery of 715 new planets. About a thousand planets had been identified in our galaxy previously. Four of the new planets are in the habitable zone. The planets orbit 305 different stars and were discovered by the Kepler space telescope. A new technique allows scientists to make new planetary discoveries more often and in more detail. The new batch of planets was verified using data from the first two years of the Kepler mission, so there may be many more to come.

NASA astrophysicist Douglas Hudgins: "Kepler has really been a game-changer for our understanding of the incredible diversity of planets and planetary systems in our galaxy."

AR These are historic times for planetology.

2014 February 25

Blunders

Freeman Dyson

Science consists of facts and theories. Facts are discovered by observers or experimenters. One wrong fact is enough to ruin a career. Theories are free creations of the human mind, intended to describe our understanding of nature. Since our understanding is incomplete, theories are provisional. Mistakes are tolerated.

The most exciting and creative parts of science are concerned with things that we are still struggling to understand. Wrong theories are not an impediment to the progress of science. They are a central part of the struggle. In every century and every science, I see brilliant blunders.

The key to enjoyment of any sport is to be a good loser. The greatest scientists are the best losers. As Einstein said, God is sophisticated but not malicious.

2014 February 23

Christian Beginnings

Rowan Williams

Jesus of Nazareth proclaimed a radically simplified version of the law of Moses and the religion of the Hebrew prophets. The early community of his followers was shaped by charismatic phenomena and social rituals that reinforced the familial bonds of the group.

A steady drift away from the Jewish faith followed. The Christian community developed a complex system of cosmology in which Jesus became a divine being manifested on Earth. This synthesis was different from the religion of Jesus and his first followers.

Geza Vermes refuses to follow earlier German scholars in their negativity toward Judaism and is familiar with the entire spread of Jewish thinking in the age of Jesus and Paul. His Jesus represents an intensified version of Mosaic and prophetic faith.

John's gospel has to be treated as a bit of an aberration. Vermes is inclined to see Platonic themes working the alchemical change in Christianity. The basic alteration is a matter of turning the faith that Jesus himself held into a faith about him.

Traditional Christian creeds are the product of a secular chain of influences, serving to obscure the historical core of what was new in Jesus' life and work. Vermes shows how the sort of thing that was being claimed in the creed of 325 CE had antecedents within a century of Jesus' crucifixion.

The authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls thought of their community in its remote desert setting as the real temple. Something of this carries over into the New Testament: God lives among those who associate themselves with Jesus. This develops into the idea that Jesus is the divine power incarnate.

AR Thanks, Rowan: I shall read a few books by Vermes.

False Messiah

Robert M. Price

According to Joseph Atwill, Titus Caesar and Josephus devised a plot to seduce Jews into worshipping Titus, son of Vespasian, under the guise of a fictitious Jesus. The four gospels and Josephus' history were written to be read together as a Flavian Pentateuch for a new and pacifist Judaism.

Accepting that a committee wrote the gospels and the history seems absurd. Only an obtuse reader can fail to appreciate the sublime quality of much of the New Testament. Atwill's claim that the gospels are black satires merely reveals his own inability to appreciate what he is reading.

Atwill connects widely separated dots and collects correspondences from gospel to gospel and between the gospels and Josephus, then uses them to create parallel accounts. But the natural way to deal with the parallels is to say the gospel writers wrote late enough to have borrowed from Josephus.

AR OK: Atwill has got it all wrong.

2014 February 21

Reason

Paul Bloom

Sam Harris says we are biochemical puppets. Unconscious associations and attitudes hold powerful sway over our lives. Such statements assault religious belief, traditional morality, and common sense.

The deterministic nature of the universe is fully compatible with neural systems that analyze different options, construct logical chains of argument, reason through examples and analogies, and respond to the anticipated consequences of actions, including moral consequences. These processes are at the core of rational choice.

If you doubt the power of reason, consider the lives of those who have less of it. The relationship between IQ and success is hardly arbitrary. High intelligence is also related to kindness. Self-control can be seen as the purest embodiment of rationality and benefits not just individuals but also society.

Morality is seen as the paradigm case of insidious irrationality. Intellect seems largely irrelevant when it comes to our sense of right and wrong. But the existence of moral dumbfounding is less damning that it might seem. Our moral attitudes show systematic change over human history. The moral circle has expanded toward inclusiveness.

Politics forces us to confront those who disagree with us. If you want to see people at their worst, press them on the details of complex political issues that correspond to political identity. But such instances of irrationality need not cloud our view of the rational foundations of our everyday life.

Reason underlies much of what matters in the world. We can use reason to invent procedures that undermine our explicit and implicit biases. This is how moral progress happens.

AR This is elegant but hardly fatal to Sam's views.

2014 February 20

Inglorious Bathos

My Amazon review

This bloodbath comedy reinvents the end of the Third Reich in a slapstick assassination of the top Nazis in a little cinematic holocaust planned and perpetrated by American and French Jews. The trademark Tarantino gore is splashed in abundance and the dextrous wit of the multilingual screenplay is a joy to the ears. Christoph Waltz plays an exuberantly garrulous "Jew hunter" SS colonel in a virtuoso performance that holds the plot together with dazzling panache. Brad Pitt by contrast looks out of place as a drawling hillbilly US lieutenant leading an inglorious pack of Jewish scalp-hunters. Still, with Tarantino chapter breaks and applied graphics to put a modern gloss on what could easily have sunk into another fictional war story, the production sings along quite effectively.

What worried me at the outset and still worries me now two viewings later is that the moral standpoint the movie as a whole represents is both well worn in countless previous movies and philosophically inadequate to the loathsomeness of the evil it reflects. The Nazis were beastly to the Jews, so let a bunch of Jews be equally beastly to the Nazis, and let them kill Hitler too, to end the war nine months earlier and save the world, as it were. This is fine as a first introduction to the issues for innocent youngsters, if there are any left, who have not yet gone deeper. But brutality was not the unique horror of the Nazi phenomenon, and ending the horror show nine months earlier would have saved far more Germans, who had collectively voted to stage the spectacle in the first place, than Jews, who had suffered their worst attrition already by then. Hypotheticals are anyway moot in history.

No, the unique horror of the Nazi phenomenon was its deep intellectual roots in a culture that saw history in racist terms and was prepared to suffer mightily to showcase its view in historical fact. Some six million Germans were killed in the war, in circumstances as hideous as those in which six million Jews also died, and the Germans knew from 1943 at the latest that their furious revolt against the rest of the world was doomed to spectacularly bloody failure. But they did it anyway, in an operatic celebration of the martial arts armed with the latest high-tech weapons that may well stand as unparalleled in history since the astonishing career of Alexander the Great in antiquity. That the feat left the stench of genocide in its wake is troubling, and nothing in Tarantino's movie helps us to digest or reprocess that obstinate fact of history.

AR This replaces the review I posted in January.

2014 February 18

A simple ceremony and a woodlands burial, later this month.

2014 February 16

She selflessly did her best for me all my life. That's what mums do. They do it for no other reason than love. Not for reward. Not for recognition. They create you. From nothing. Miracle?
They do those every day.
Ricky Gervais

Liz

My Mother Liz
1924-09-28 — 2014-02-16


Bitstrips
"I chose to do it, OK?"


SH

TITUS CHRIST
AR
Unauthorized summary of
Caesar's Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus
Flavian Signature Edition
PDF: 10 pages, 131 KB


UKEA
Severe flood warnings in force as rain shows no signs of abating


FB


IISS

The Grand Mufti
David Mikics

Amin al-Husaini, the Grand Mufti of Palestine, close pal of Hitler, champion of Islamist radicalism, and leader of the Palestinians until 1968, frequently said the Mideast needed to get rid of its Jews, spent the war years in Berlin, met often with Eichmann and Himmler, recruited for the SS in Bosnia, and opposed the UN partition of Palestine in 1947, which led to the creation of Israel. He still inspires those who dream of annihilating Israel and establishing a purely Muslim Mideast cleansed of Jews and Christians.


BBC
Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia)
and Saga Norén (Sofia Helin)

 

2014 February 14

Peace

Antony Beevor

The imminent withdrawal from Afghanistan is being hailed as the first moment when the UK has not been at war since 1914. A strategic pause may ease budget problems. The UK long ago ended its independent operational capacity and is entirely dependent on the Americans. The Pentagon has laid down three elements that a British government must maintain: the Trident nuclear deterrent, the GCHQ intelligence capacity, and special forces. The rest is optional.

AR The UK pays its dues for the US strategic nuclear force and NSA surveillance and lets Washington run the show. Now perhaps we can rebuild the old country along new lines.

2014 February 13

Free Will

Sam Harris

People think they have control over what they believe. But the popular sense of free will is primarily a 1P fact, not a 3P account of how human beings function. The philosophical problem of free will arises from the fact that most people feel that they author their own thoughts and actions. The moment you show that a person's thoughts and actions were determined by events that he did not and could not see, feel, or anticipate, his 3P account of himself may remain unchanged, but his 1P sense of autonomy comes under pressure.

Something in our moral attitude changes when we catch sight of antecedent causes. A person is unlucky to be given the genes and life experience that doom him to psychopathy. That doesn't mean we can't lock him up. We don't demand that mosquitoes and sharks behave better than they do. We simply take steps to protect ourselves from them. The same futility prevails with certain people.

AR This is in response to Dan Dennett (blog Jan 28).

2014 February 12

Success

Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld

In America today, some groups are more upwardly mobile than others. Indian-Americans earn almost double the national figure. Mormons have become leaders of corporate America. Jews make up only about 2% of the US adult population but account for a third of the current Supreme Court and about a third of US Nobel laureates.

The most successful groups in America today share three traits:

1 A superiority complex. Mormons see their group as an island of morality in a sea of moral decay. Many Iranians refer to a Persian superiority complex. Most Jewish children hear that Jews are the chosen people, a moral people, a people of law and intellect, a people of survivors.

2 A sense of insecurity. Immigrant kids frequently feel motivated to achieve because of an acute sense of obligation to redeem parental sacrifices. Chinese immigrant parents frequently impose exorbitant academic expectations on their children.

3 Impulse control. This runs against the grain of contemporary culture, but every one of the most successful groups inculcates habits of discipline from a very early age.

The three qualities are open to anyone. The way to develop this package of qualities is through grit. It requires the ability to work hard, to persevere, and to overcome adversity.

The United States was born a Triple Package nation. But by 2000, all that remained was a culture of entitlement and instant gratification. The trials of recent years have been good for America.

Response
Marjorie Ingall

The Triple Package looks at eight groups and uses financial metrics as indicators of success. Chua and Rubenfeld say all eight groups share the three traits essential for success.

Kindness, creativity, and happiness may not be as easy to measure as household income, but it's sad to see "success" defined so narrowly.

2014 February 11

UK R&D Spend 5x More For WMD Than Renewable Energy

Stuart Parkinson

We at Scientists for Global Responsibility have compared recent R&D spending by the UK government on major weapons systems with public R&D spending on measures to tackle major drivers of armed conflict, such as resource depletion, social and economic injustice, and climate change.

During the three financial years spanning 2008 to 2011, annual R&D spending on all aspects of UK nuclear weapons systems was over £320 million per year. In the same years, annual British public R&D spending on renewable energy was only £60 million.

Comparing total public spending on military R&D with that on work for sustainable security (international development and poverty alleviation, climate change impacts, sustainable energy technologies, food security, international relations, natural resource management, biodiversity, environmental risks and hazards, sustainable consumption, and other measures to mitigate and adapt to climate change), we found that on average during 2008 to 2011, the UK spent nearly £1.8 billion a year on military R&D, while for sustainable security research it spent less than £1 billion.

The huge UK R&D spend on nuclear weapons is particularly bizarre. Detonating half the nuclear missiles carried by a Trident submarine could disrupt the climate so badly through the injection of smoke into the stratosphere that about 2 billion people would be threatened by famine due to crop failure.

Against a backdrop of growing political instability driven by climate change, the imperative should be global abolition of nuclear weapons as soon as possible. Yet the UK spends much more to maintain the nuclear threat than it does for the tools to tackle climate change.

AR The UK nuclear deterrent policy was forged in the cold war and has never been properly reconsidered since then. No plausible security nightmare warrants an independent British capability to obliterate a score of cities worldwide in nuclear firestorms within minutes. Only desire for solidarity with the United States and for parity with France dictates such madness.

It is time for UK decision makers to wake up and reflect on (a) what image and heritage the UK should seek to project and leave for posterity in a rapidly growing and civilizing world and (b) how they can defend squandering scarce resources on weapons that no rational person would wish to use.

Overspending on defense versus civil welfare bankrupted the former Soviet Union. Overspending on UK defense now impoverishes British citizens who must suffer substandard healthcare and education plus a vainglorious public obsession with "punching above our weight" — compare a person who esteems his muscles and his handgun more than his civil skills and accomplishments.

2014 February 10

The Oldest Star

The Independent

Astronomers at the Australian National University have found the oldest known star in the universe. The star SMSS J 031300.36-670839.3 is only 60 Em away from us in the Milky Way and is roughly 13.6 billion years old. The Big Bang occurred some 13.8 billion years ago.

The star is thought to have been formed in the wake of a primordial supernova. Key to determining its age was an analysis of its iron content. Lead researcher Stefan Keller: "It's giving us insight into our fundamental place in the universe. What we're seeing is the origin of where all the material around us that we need to survive came from."

AR So close and yet so old — glory be!

2014 February 8

The Second Thirty Years War

Jan Fleischhauer

The years between 1914 and 1945 formed one long war. Germany lost two million soldiers in Part I and more than double that in Part II. Conversely, more than twice as many Britons and four times as many Frenchmen died on the battlefields of Part I than in Part II. The long war killed 70 million people.

For most of Part I, the Germans were tactically superior to their opponents. In 1917 France was on the verge of collapse. The United States turned the tide. By August 1918, some 1.3 million men had been shipped from the United States to Europe. When in September the Allies penetrated the Siegfried Line, the war was lost. General Erich Ludendorff asked the Kaiser to approve cease-fire negotiations.

Under the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was forced to concede that it was solely responsible for the war. The United States became noninterventionist, Germany was defeated, Britain was in debt to the United States, and France was no longer a major military power. The peace ignited a desire among Germans for revenge.

For the war veteran Adolf Hitler, the dream of exacting revenge became an obsession. He rose by angrily declaiming the "shameful and humiliating" Treaty of Versailles in his speeches. The German economy struggled with depression for years, until Germans voted for the Third Reich. In 1940 German troops defeated France in six weeks. It was the desired victory, but for Hitler it was merely the start of a much wider war of conquest.

In 1945, the victorious Western Allies chose generosity. Germans who lived in the Western occupation zones benefited from a reconstruction funded by the Marshall Plan. Those trapped in the eastern part of Germany bore a heavier burden for another 44 years, until reunification. The nation that had twice plunged the continent into war was now a model democracy and a force for European integration.

Ironically, as Niall Ferguson pointed out, the burden Germany took on for European integration roughly matches that imposed on the country by the Treaty of Versailles. Altogether, Germany paid about as many billions to the rest of Europe between 1958 and 1992 as it had earlier in war reparations.

2014 February 7

Morality

Toward a Science of Morality
A critique by Andy Ross
PDF: 2 pages, 51 KB

Schizophrenia

New Scientist

People with schizophrenia often have to agree to take antipsychotic drugs for the rest of their lives. We now know these may do little to aid recovery while trapping people in a mental miasma that ruins their chances of living a normal life. Adding to the cruelty, people with serious mental health problems are often denied adequate healthcare for physical illnesses because their symptoms are assumed to be delusional. Recent research suggests that people weaned off antipsychotics are much more likely to live productive lives.

Psychiatric insight at its best

2014 February 6

Scandinavia

The Guardian

I hereby plead guilty to a selective, provocative slant on the region. Everything I said on the grim truth behind the "Scandinavian miracle" was true, and backed up by the OECD, the IMF, and the UN. In my book, I reflect on the many positive aspects of the Nordic societies. Nearly all the negative views originated with the many local experts I interviewed during my years of research.
— Michael Booth

Denmark
Put it to a referendum and the Danes would always vote for the system we have versus, say, the US one. There are nuances in British culture that don't resonate here. Class matters a lot in Britain. Denmark is a more homogenous society. We stick together. There is a greater sense of community. Sure, we Danes are very happy.
— Adam Price

Finland
We Finns have a great sense of humor. We may not be big talkers, but if a Finn likes you he will eventually open up. How do you tell the difference between a Finnish introvert and a Finnish extrovert? One looks at his own feet when he's talking to you, the other will looks at yours.
— Alexander Stubb

Iceland
On all lists measuring quality of life, the Nordics tower over the UK. Iceland's eternal post-colonial project is guarding our sovereignty. But Iceland isn't really Nordic. Just look at the map. We are an Atlantic state. Culturally we are spot-on British. Even our black and dry Icelandic humor is horribly non-Nordic.
— Eiríkur Bergmann

Norway
In the global economy, it is almost impossible to maintain fully social democratic policies, but the newly elected rightwing government is launching deliberate attacks on collective and sustainable solutions. None of these challenges to Norwegian society, or the resistance to them, is mentioned by Booth. Yet the country remains a good place to live.
— Agnes Bolsø

Sweden
Modern Sweden seeks to balance the deep existential desire for individual freedom and social cohesion. The state promotes laws and policies that have freed individuals from unequal and patriarchal forms of community. But Swedes are currently no more successful in handling the conflict between rights of citizens and human rights than anyone else.
— Lars Trägårdh

2014 February 5

The Military Balance 2014

International Institute for Strategic Studies

Asian defense budgets rose again. Defense budgets in the West continued to contract. Defense spending is shrinking in European countries when the reorientation of US defense policy toward the Asia-Pacific places a greater share of the international security burden on them.

NATO allies have made progress on interoperability. This will be difficult to maintain in the face of decreasing spending and following the 2014 ISAF drawdown. The NATO agenda now includes ballistic missile defense, cyber security, and out-of-area maritime security tasks.

Missile defense remains a key priority area for states in the Mideast. Gulf states such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE have bought, or are buying, the most advanced Western missile and air-defense and strike systems, including standoff air-launched munitions.

Asian defense spending in 2013 was 11.6% higher in real terms than in 2010. China, Japan, and South Korea accounted for more than half of all the real increases in Asian defense spending in 2013. Asia lacks security mechanisms that could defuse regional crises.

AR The UK should press for more NATO interoperability.

2014 February 4

PRISM Reactors

MIT Technology Review

The UK has a large stockpile of plutonium. The UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) planned to mix it with uranium to form mixed oxide ceramic (MOX) fuel for a nuclear power plant, but the project was too technically challenging and put on hold. Now the authority says the GE Hitachi Power Reactor Innovative Small Module (PRISM) provides a credible alternative. PRISM is small and modular enough for key parts to be made in factories, speeding construction and reducing costs, and it features good passive safety. The reactor could burn not just plutonium but all hazardous nuclear waste, to generate low-carbon electricity at prices competitive with other nuclear reactors.

AR Memo to NDA: Go for PRISM.

Arab Chaos

CNN

Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahir is exasperated with the ISIS group fighting in Syria and blames it for "the enormity of the disaster that afflicted the Jihad in Syria". When ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi said ISIS was absorbing the al-Nusra Front, both al-Nusra and Zawahiri rejected the bid.

Between 40 000 and 50 000 jihadists in the new Islamic Front are clashing with ISIS. Zawahiri: "Our hearts are bleeding, the heart of our Islamic nation is bleeding when we see the internal strife among the mujahedeen in Syria." Baghdadi demanded that his opponents "repent or suffer consequences".

AR Let Baghdadi crush Zawahiri and let Iran back Assad. Then let Turks and Persians vie to rule the Arabs, who seem unable to rule themselves.

Sexist Philosophy

Rebecca Schuman

The American Philosophical Association Committee on the Status of Women reports sexual misconduct and a female-unfriendly environment of sexual harassment in the University of Colorado Boulder department of philosophy. Its report cites 15 official complaints of harassment and inappropriate sexualized professional behavior at alcohol-soaked extracurricular activities as well as divisive and bullying behavior to members of various underrepresented groups. Chair Graeme Forbes has been ousted and replaced by a faculty member from linguistics, and recruitment and admission of new graduate students has been halted until 2015.

AR I studied with Graeme at grad school in Oxford. Our research supervisor pushed Graeme into a career and left me cold, apparently because my ideas were still too fluid.

2014 February 3

Trident

The Guardian

UK defense secretary Philip Hammond has told his junior ministers to lobby shipbuilding unions after the ministers said that parliamentary support for the £80 billion Trident renewal program was waning.

The huge cost of building four new submarines for SLBM CASD has led MPs in Westminster to question whether at a time of austerity the UK can afford such "wildly paranoid cold war madness" (AR).

Former Tory defense minister James Arbuthnot, now chair of the defense select committee: "Nuclear deterrence does not provide the certainty that it seemed to in the past. It's not an insurance policy, it's a potential booby trap."

2014 February 2

The Bridge

 SVT1-DR1-ZDF-BBC4

The Bridge stars detectives Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia) and Saga Norén (Sofia Helin), a Dane and a Swede, in a Scandinavian crime drama set in Malmö and Copenhagen (between which runs the Öresund or Øresund Bridge — see below).

Belatedly I watched the last 4 hours of the second 10-hour series and loved it. The heroine Saga displays the symptoms of Asperger's syndrome and was a treat to see in action, racing around in her combat duds and her scruffy old Porsche. Ah, to be in Scandinavia now that wisdom's here!

2014 February 1

Retirement

Abby Ellin

The average age at which current United States retirees say they stopped working is 61, up from 59 in 2003 and 57 in 1993. But a January Gallup poll of baby boomers found that 49% didn't expect to retire until age 66 or older. Many cited financial concerns as the main reason they aren't quitting sooner.

Financial experts warn that baby boomers, who are often caring for ailing parents and supporting their fiscally challenged children while trying to navigate their own lives, are in over their heads. Aside from money worries, many baby boomers continue working because they want to, and because they can.

AR I need to earn more, and I can.


Soerfm (Creative Commons)

Öresund or Øresund Bridge between Malmö in Sweden and Copenhagen in Denmark:
I have driven across this bridge at least four times.

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