Andy Ross 2014-08-21
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Martin Amis
Bryan Appleyard
Martin Amis

EZ Growth

German GDP shrank by 0.2% in Q2 and France had 0% growth in Q1 and Q2. Eurozone GDP was 0% in Q2 after 0.2% in Q1. Year on year EZ growth was 0.7%.
Eurostat said EZ inflation was its lowest in 5 years.

US Growth

Fed VC Stanley Fischer says the weak US recovery might be fallout from the financial crisis and the recession but might reflect a more structural shift in the global economy. US growth is held back by a still anemic housing market, cuts in federal government spending, and weaker global growth.

Oh happy day!

Leading Oxford University mathematician Frances Kirwan: "Maths is a hugely rewarding subject, but sadly many children lose confidence very early and never reap those rewards."

AR My first philosophy tutor
at Oxford was her father
Christopher Kirwan.

A humble ending

Islamic State jihadis
are advancing

Thousands of refugees
are fleeing

Kurdish Peshmerga forces
are ready

US CentCom air strikes
are ongoing

British Bingers

The British ruling classes are heroic binge drinkers. The university drinking clubs of Oxford and Cambridge still embarrass alumni like David Cameron, George Osborne, and Boris Johnson. The House of Commons has eight taxpayer-subsidized bars. The bars served 8,670 bottles of champagne last year.

AR Shameful

Amos Oz recalls that in 2005
Israel pulled out of Gaza:
"Since then there have been 10,000 rockets fired from the Gaza strip. ... Europeans see things in black and white, like a Hollywood movie, with good guys and bad guys. But it's more complicated than that."


2014 August 21

The Soul of the World

Angus Kennedy

Roger Scruton argues that an acceptance of death allows us to see the world as making a place for us. He makes the case for a transcendence founded on our works in a world we make human by looking for God. He finds hope in our refusal to rest content with the contingency of nature.

Humans have evolved from nature and stand at its edge. Scruton sees the "I" of self-consciousness as poised between freedom and mechanism, subject and object, nothingness and being. When science makes an account of the world, it cannot say what it is like to be me.

I stand forever on the edge of things. As do you. I am always looking for you, trying to attain to that infinite horizon which is your perspective, your uniqueness. Scruton: "I-you intentionality projects itself beyond the boundary of the natural world."

The atheist argument that we can find no evidence of God is as insufficient as attempting to explain love in terms of reproduction or music in terms of vibration. We cannot expect to encounter God any more than we can expect to meet the number one.

2014 August 20

The Curse of the Islamic State

Der Spiegel

The caliphate of the Islamic State is a nightmarish realm stretching from northeast Syria deep into Iraq. Thieves have their hands hacked off and opponents are publicly crucified or beheaded. Women wear the niqab and pants are banned. Livestock merchants must cover the rear ends of goats and sheep to spare men lustful thoughts. Girls are snatched from their families as brides for the warriors.

Journalist Medyan Dairieh made a 45-minute video that provides the first real view of life inside the caliphate. It shows a world of fanatical people in which adolescents shout into the camera, declaring war on infidels. IS spokesman Abu Musa uses his chance to send a message to America: "Don't be cowards who attack us with drones. Send your soldiers instead, the ones we already humiliated in Iraq."

Islamic State flags fly at protests in Paris and Brussels. In London, Islamists hand out leaflets rejoicing that the caliphate is here and calling for men and women to fly out and fight for the cause. The Umm Layth blogger is a British immigrant to the caliphate. She asks women: "How can you not want to produce offspring who may be, God willing, part of the great Islamic revival?"

Another Bloody Shambles

General Sir Michael Rose

There is a powerful case for intervening now against the Islamic State. But our strategists must decide with absolute clarity and precision the objective of the mission. They must also commit sufficient resources to destroy the terrorist organization now running amok in Iraq.

2014 August 19


Nikos Konstandaras

The Acropolis still stands. It became a symbol of Western civilization as the architecture of democracy. It inspired Sigmund Freud to introspection. His whole frame of reference was ancient Greece and its myths, archetypes and tragedies. He excavated like an archeologist through layers of consciousness, pursuing the secrets of the mind. If the Parthenon had crumbled, if the works of Greek thinkers were lost, if Freud and his books were lost, what would our world be like today?

Mesopotamia, a cradle of world civilization, is ravaged today by psychopaths with armored trucks, swords and genocidal zeal. Living in an eternal present rooted in an imagined past, the militants are obsessed with destroying all that is unlike them. It is almost impossible to reconcile the progress of the past few decades with the remorseless hatred of the Islamic State. If our symbols are lost, we will be no better than ignorant armies riding pickup trucks through the endless dust.

2014 August 18

The Wisdom of the Exile

Costica Bradatan

There are many types of uprooting. But each person who survives uprooting and finds himself in exile experiences an existential earthquake of sorts. The world around you turns into a ruin.

To live is to sink roots. Life is possible only to the extent that you find a place hospitable enough to receive you and allow you to settle down. When your old world goes down it also takes with it all your assumptions, commonplaces, prejudices and preconceived ideas.

When you lose everything, you gain something else. What you get is the insight that the world does not simply exist, but it is something you can dismantle and piece together again. Uprooting gives you the chance to create not only the world anew, but also your own self.

2014 August 17

Islamic State Threat

David Cameron

The creation of an extremist caliphate in the heart of Iraq and extending into Syria is our concern. If we do not act to stem the onslaught of this exceptionally dangerous terrorist movement, it will only grow stronger until it can target us on the streets of Britain.

We must understand the true nature of the threat we face. This is a struggle for decency, tolerance and moderation in our modern world. It is a battle against a poisonous ideology that is condemned by all faiths and by all faith leaders, whether Christian, Jewish or Muslim.

We are witnessing a battle between Islam on the one hand and extremists who want to abuse Islam on the other. This threat cannot simply be removed by airstrikes alone. We need an approach that can defeat the terrorist threat at source.

The so-called caliphate makes no secret of its expansionist aims. A terrorist state bordering a NATO member is a clear danger to Europe and to our security. We must rise to the challenge.

The Zone of Interest

Bryan Appleyard

Martin Amis turns 65 on August 25. His new novel, The Zone of Interest, is about the Holocaust. Saul Bellow described the Holocaust as the terminal point so far in human evil. The novel takes us inside the minds of the Germans who managed Auschwitz. It is also a love story.

"When I was about seven, I asked my mother what all this stuff about railway tracks and smokestacks was all about, and she said, 'Oh, don't worry about Hitler. You've got blond hair and blue eyes — Hitler would have loved you.' I felt a kind of ignoble relief that Hitler would have been on my side. ... Bellow said we must try to see things with our original eyes. You have to retain your childish vision."

2014 August 16


MIT Technology Review

Bitcoin is now worth $7.7 billion. Gavin Andresen, 48, maintains its code base and created the Bitcoin Foundation in 2013. He says 2014 "is going to be the year of the multisignature wallet".

Andresen graduated from Princeton in 1988 and took a job with Silicon Graphics. He encountered Bitcoin in 2010 and liked the work of its pseudonymous inventor, Satoshi Nakamoto. Bitcoins are "mined" by people running software that races to solve a mathematical puzzle and win a prize of newly minted bitcoins. The prize shrank over time and now 21 million bitcoins exist. A "block chain" log serves to verify transactions.

In 2010, Andresen launched a website handing out free bitcoins to visitors (and shut it down in 2012). He began sending code tweaks to Nakamoto, who persuaded him to work as project manager, paid in bitcoins. Andresen: "I am not Satoshi Nakamoto. I have never met him."

As the price of Bitcoin soared, its stakeholders have widened from the early enthusiasts to investors on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley. Andresen: "I hope in 10 years that Bitcoin is really boring."

AR Trust a company like SAP to bring Bitcoin to global business.

2014 August 15

Early Life

New Scientist

Life began around 4 billion years ago. In all life, a protein pump shunts hydrogen ions out of a cell, creating a proton gradient across the cell membrane. Protons flow back into the cell through another protein in the membrane. The cell uses the energy to produce ATP.

Life comes in three empires: eukaryotes, bacteria, and archea. Bacteria and archea have impermeable membranes made of hydrophobic lipids, but their membranes evolved independently.

Life seems to originated on the sea floor at alkaline hydrothermal vents. As warm alkaline fluids well up through cracks in the sea floor and hit the cold seawater, minerals precipitate out to form rocky chimneys full of narrow channels and pores. There molecules evolved into lipids and RNA.

Cells used energy from the natural proton gradient at the interface between the alkaline vent fluid and seawater. A turbine protein in their membranes produced ATP. Lipid membranes formed a leaky membrane that let protons flow from seawater, through the cell, and back out into the vent fluid.

Cells evolved proton pumps and the membrane evolved to be less leaky. A protein in cell membranes swapped protons for sodium ions across the membrane, to form a sodium ion gradient. Sodium ions re-entered the cell via the turbine. Better pumps and less leaky membranes evolved together.

Cells learned to generate their own proton gradient and broke free of the vents. They did this twice, giving rise to bacteria and archea.

2014 August 14

UK Must Bomb IS

Liam Fox

Islamic State militants are tightening their grip on the territory and people they control. They are well funded and well organized. They are barbaric and savage. They pose a direct threat to all who oppose their views, they destabilize the region, and they will create and export young jihadists.

Allowing an extremist caliphate to extend from Syria to the borders of Iran would bring further horrors to innocent people and risk a bigger conflict with global consequences. The caliphate would be a magnet for jihadists and would export terrorism. The fundamentalists need to be defeated.

The US government has decided to use US air power to hit IS bases. We should be ready to do the same. Sending humanitarian aid is right but if we leave the vulnerable unprotected from IS terror then our help is superficial. There are risks, but the cost of failing to act could be high.

AR Fox has what it takes to serve again in government.

Ye Cannae Change the Laws of Physics


A few years ago, Guido P. Fetta developed what he considered a revolutionary engine technology. His background is in marketing for pharmaceutical companies, though he studied chemical engineering in college. He dubbed it the Cannae Drive.

Instead of relying on fuel or nuclear reactors, the engine bounces microwaves around a carefully shaped container, creating changes in radiation pressure that ultimately generate thrust. The drive could potentially cut travel time to Mars from months to mere weeks, overturning the laws of physics along the way. NASA tested it (blog August 4). It seemed to work.

AR Bet on physics.

2014 August 13

General Relativity

Pedro G. Ferreira

Albert Einstein proposed his general theory of relativity in 1915. His 1905 special theory of relativity had brought together Newtonian mechanics and Maxwell's theory of electricity and magnetism. Space and time became intertwined and the speed of light became invariant. It all worked beautifully, except for Newton's gravitational force. So Einstein came up with a general formulation including gravity.

The new general theory of relativity needed a completely different form of mathematics and a fresh way of thinking about physics. The decade that followed brought amazing discoveries. Arthur Eddington showed that the light from distant stars was bent by gravity, as predicted. Karl Schwarzschild conceived of black holes. Alexander Friedmann calculated that the universe was expanding. And Einstein predicted gravitational waves.

The discovery of quantum physics pushed his theory into the long grass. Decades later, a new generation of mathematical physicists revealed the inner workings of black holes in detail, and observational evidence for them started to amass. The discovery of the cosmic microwave background added weight to the idea of an expanding universe.

Future big ESA missions include eLISA to measure the gravitational waves from collisions between black holes, Euclid to measure universal expansion, and ATHENA to look at X-rays from a black hole. The advanced LIGO will search for the echoes of embryos of black holes. The Event Horizon Telescope may see the black hole at the center of the Milky Way. The Square Kilometer Array will test Einstein's theory on galactic and cosmological scales.

AR Quantum mechanics and general relativity are incompatible. Their union in quantum gravity is an unsolved problem. Quantum spacetime will be granular. Some work here is really exciting.

Fields Medal 2014

The Guardian

Stanford University professor of mathematics Maryam Mirzakhani has been award the Fields Medal by the International Mathematical Union. The other Fields Medal winners this year are Martin Hairer, Manjul Bhargava, and Artur Avila.

Born and raised in Iran, Mirzakhani completed her PhD at Harvard in 2004. Her research interests include Teichmüller theory, hyperbolic geometry, ergodic theory, and symplectic geometry. "I dreamed of becoming a writer," she said in an interview for Oxford University.

AR As a graduate student at Oxford I studied, among other things, the Teichmüller-Tukey lemma, which is equivalent to the axiom of choice in set theory.


Chris Kanaracus

Some SAP customers remain puzzled over how the SAP HANA platform can fit into their IT strategies. Three-quarters of respondents to an ASUG survey who hadn't bought HANA said they had not been able to pin down a business case that justified the cost.

SAP isn't forcing them. Nearly three-fourths of those who said they had no current plans to implement HANA also said they believed SAP would support their existing environments into the future or for at least five years or more.

SAP hopes to convince its Business Suite customers to migrate their environments to HANA. At the last AGM, SAP said it had more than 3600 HANA customers overall and 1200 for the Suite on HANA.

SAP HANA converges database and application platform capabilities in-memory to transform transactions, analytics, text analysis, predictive and spatial processing so businesses can operate in real time.

AR I worked in the SAP team that developed HANA from 2003 to 2009. In those days it was called the SAP NetWeaver Business Intelligence Accelerator and I wrote the SAP Press book on it.

2014 August 12


Tom Vanderbilt

There is a huge literature on the psychology of first impressions. There is not much of a literature on last impressions. Amid the contemporary frenzy of competing entertainment and information streams, a writer needs to bring readers straight into the story.

Every terminus is also a potential beginning. Not every film opens with someone coming toward the camera or closes in the opposite fashion, but the technique is common enough to suggest that it echoes some kind of cognitive process in the real world.

Our trouble with endings hints at a larger problem: how it all ends. Martin Rees: "It will not be humans who watch the sun's demise, six billion years from now. Any creatures that then exist will be as different from us as we are from bacteria or amoebae."

2014 August 11

Consciousness as a State of Matter

Max Tegmark

Consciousness can be described in terms of quantum mechanics and information theory. Giulio Tononi proposed that a conscious system must be able to store and process large amounts of information and to unify this information in a whole that cannot be divided into independent parts.

Let perceptronium be the most general substance that feels subjectively self-aware. This substance should be able to store and process information in a way that forms a unified whole. We can use this approach to ask why conscious observers living in a quantum reality perceive a classical world.

Information in a conscious system must be unified. The system must correct errors to allow any subset of up to half the information to be reconstructed from the rest. A Hopfield net can do this, but one with 10^11 neurons can only store 37 bits of integrated information. Something wrong here!

AR I mentioned this Arxiv paper on April 11. It is technical and I don't pretend to follow its details, but a moment of "now" in consciousness can only reliably hold a few bytes of information, so the Hopfield limit looks harmless. Our consciousness is layered in time and we use painfully learned heuristics to reduce errors. Max needs to study the phenomenology of consciousness more closely. On the quantum-classical transition and the sense of time flow, see chapter 13 in my book Mindworlds (2009).

2014 August 10


Barack Obama

I don't think we're going to solve this problem in weeks. I think this is going to take some time. American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq, because there's no American military solution to the larger crisis there.

The Islamic State

Jessica T. Mathews

The Islamic State has swept almost to the gates of Baghdad. The Sunni insurgency that has risen up against the government of Nouri al-Maliki includes another jihadi group, Ansar al-Islam, as well as the military council of the eighty or so tribes of Iraq, and the army of the Naqshbandi order.

These disparate groups will not fight together for long. The Islamic State and its allies have triumphed because the Sunni populations of northern Iraq have welcomed and supported them. The Sunnis are more afraid of what their government may do to them than of the Sunni militia.


Reihan Salam

The war unfolding in Iraq is scary. The Islamic State jihadis are killing because they want to live in a world cleansed of those who do not share their deranged beliefs. By killing Yazidis and Christians and members of other religious minorities, they believe they are serving a noble cause. They are closing in on stranded pockets of people they see as pagans and slowly starving them to death.

President Obama has decided to act. He has authorized a limited bombing campaign as well as a humanitarian effort on behalf of the stranded Yazidis. The decision to intervene militarily is a thorny one, but the prospect of genocide changes things. If the jihadis succeed in collapsing the Iraqi state, there will be no end to the killing. The president is doing the honorable thing.

Humanitarian Aid

The Observer

United States Central Command forces conducted four air strikes against Islamic State armored vehicles and positions to defend Yazidi civilians near Sinjar. Meanwhile delivery of relief to civilians fleeing the IS continues. Aircraft from multiple air bases dropped 72 bundles including more than 14 kl of water and more than 16,000 packaged meals.

Chaldean Catholics in Irbil say fewer than 40 Christians remained in northwestern Iraq after a jihadist rampage forced thousands to flee into Irbil in the Kurdish north. Irbil Archbishop Bashar Warda: "We did not expect that one day Mosul would be without Christians and that the Nineveh plains would be emptied of minorities. Trust is broken between the communities. Especially with the Arabs. For 2,000 years, all these minorities had lived together."

UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond says air sorties from the UK to northern Iraq will continue. Two RAF C-130 transport aircraft flew from RAF Brize Norton to airdrop emergency humanitarian supplies including reusable filtration containers filled with clean water, tents, and solar lights that can also recharge mobile phones.

Mahatma Gandhi

The Times

A statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square, London, was announced in July by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne and then Foreign Secretary William Hague during a trade mission to India.

Dr Kusoom Vadgama, who is the founder of the Indo-British Heritage Trust and chairwoman of this year's 400th anniversary celebrations of Britain's relationship with India, finds the proposed statue unacceptable: "Gandhi was obsessed with sex and it has all been hush-hushed for all these years. He had a habit of sleeping naked with women including his great niece and other married women to see if he could control himself."

AR He liked women. So what?

2014 August 9

IBM SyNapse

MIT Technology Review

The new IBM SyNapse chip is designed to work like the brain. It is weak at arithmetic but needs very little power, and is good at processing images, sound, and other sensory data. In tests, it can recognize cars, people, and bicycles in a road traffic video 100 times faster and using 100 000 times less power than a standard laptop.

SyNapse has over 5 billion transistors, but in a video test its power consumption was 63 mW. Its efficiency comes from avoiding the Von Neumann bottleneck. A conventional processor works through a program by constantly shuttling data back and forth from memory, wasting time and energy.

SyNapse processes information using a network of just over a million artificial neurons that send electrical spikes to each other via silicon synapses. Its neurons are organized into 4K identical blocks of 250. It has no separate memory or processor and no fixed program. Neurons fire when the sum of input spikes reaches a threshold. It requires a new approach to programming. It is historic.

2014 August 8


The Times

The House of Lords has been bloated to 850 members by the appointment of 22 new peers. The Electoral Reform Society says the new peers have donated nearly £7 million to their parties. ERS chief executive Katie Ghose: "These appointments further cement the impression that to get into the House of Lords, all you have to do is write a fat cheque to a political party or be a party hack. The second chamber is a crucial part of our political system, with real legislative power. It cannot be right that people are effectively able to buy a seat at the highest level of politics."

AR This looks corrupt. Reform the house.

2014 August 7


Willard Foxton

In December last year, bitcoins were trading at $1200 a pop. The Winklevoss brothers predicted that the coins could peak at $40,000 each, but now they are worth under $600 each. Bitcoins are still mainly used to buy and sell illegal goods online.

Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust SEC portfolio: "As the sponsor and its management have no history of operating an investment vehicle like the Trust, their experience may be inadequate or unsuitable to manage the Trust." The currency has never been hacked, but the wallets people use to hold their currency have been. Portfolio: "The loss or destruction of a private key required to access a bitcoin may be irreversible."

I'd rather burn my money in a bucket than give it to the Winklevoss brothers to invest in Bitcoin.

2014 August 6



ESA DG Jean-Jacques Dordain: "After 10 years, 5 months and 4 days traveling toward our destination, looping around the Sun 5 times and clocking up 6.4 billion km, we are delighted to announce finally: we are here. Europe's Rosetta is now the first spacecraft in history to rendezvous with a comet."

Measurements from the Microwave Instrument for the Rosetta Orbiter MIRO suggest the comet is emitting water vapour into space at about 300 ml/s. The Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer VIRTIS measures its average temperature to be about 200 K, indicating that the surface is predominantly dark and dusty rather than clean and icy.

Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and Rosetta now lie 405 Gm from Earth and are speeding toward the inner Solar System. Rosetta is orbiting 100 km from the comet's surface. In the coming weeks, Rosetta will attempt a close orbit at 30 km and perhaps closer. The final timeline for deploying Philae will be confirmed in October.

AR Congratulations!

Image: Irfan Siddiqi, UC Berkeley

To all the heroes and victims on both sides in two world wars


2014 August 6



Today the European Space Agency Rosetta spacecraft arrives at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.
The comet is about 4 km wide.

Final rendezvous burn begins at 09:00 UTC. Orbit entry will be triggered by a small but crucial thruster firing lasting just 386 s.

From orbit, Rosetta will on 2014-11-11 drop lander Philae on to the surface. Philae will attach itself with an explosive harpoon and give scientists their first close view of a comet approaching the Sun. As the solar radiation rises, the comet will start spouting a tail of dust and gas that could grow to more than 1 Gm long.

2014 August 5

Extraterrestrial Life

Sara Seager

We can say with certainty that, for the first time in human history, we are finally on the verge of being able to search for signs of life beyond our solar system around the nearest hundreds of stars.

Our own galaxy has 100 billion stars and our universe has upwards of 100 billion galaxies, making the chance for life elsewhere seem inevitable based on sheer probability.

2014 August 4


New Scientist

This graph maps the random trajectories of the quantum state of a qubit as it evolves from its initial state to its final one, over many repeated experiments. The work verifies theoretical models of the most likely way in which a quantum system will collapse, proving that the probable path can be predicted.

Mapping the optimal route between two quantum states

Quantum Thruster


An RF resonant cavity excited at 935 MHz using magnetoplasmadynamics to obtain a propulsive momentum transfer via the quantum vacuum virtual plasma generated a recorded 30-50 μN of thrust.

AR If it really works and scales, this is exciting.

2014 August 3


The Sunday Times

David Cameron does not want to leave the European Union. He believes it will be possible to negotiate powers back from Brussels and also secure referendum approval for staying in the EU on the back of that renegotiation.

Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, believes the prime minister has scuppered his chances of meaningful renegotiation by declaring at the outset that he wants to stay in the EU and lead the "in" campaign in a referendum.

Any sign that the government was planning its exit from the EU would provoke alarm in corporate Britain and among some foreign investors. The London mayor offers the red meat on Europe for which many in the Tory party hunger. The Europe argument is hard for the prime minister to win.


Thomas L. Friedman

Iron Dome is smart and frugal. It can calculate whether a Hamas rocket launched in Gaza needs to be intercepted or can be ignored, avoiding the $50,000 cost of an interceptor. If this Israeli government had applied the same ingenuity to trying to forge a deal with the moderate Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, Hamas would be isolated.

Hamas developed an underground maze of tunnels in Gaza, with branches into Israel. If Hamas — which has brought only ruin to the people of Gaza, even in times of quiet — had applied that same ingenuity to building above ground, it could have created the biggest contracting company in the Arab world by now, and the most schools.

Israeli and Palestinian Authority officials have been discussing the principles of a lasting deal for Gaza. Hamas is unlikely to stop this war without an agreement to end the blockade of Gaza. Israel is not likely to stop this war without having rooted out most of the Hamas tunnels and put in place a regime that will largely demilitarize Gaza.

The only chance these goals have of being implemented is if the moderate Palestinian Authority is invited back into Gaza. Hamas and Israel will both have to cede something. Israel will have to negotiate in earnest about a withdrawal from the West Bank, and Hamas will have to serve in a Palestinian unity government and forgo violence.

2014 August 2

British Army: 168 Tanks

The Times

Britain will have just one tank regiment from today. The Royal Tank Regiment is armed with 56 Challenger 2 tanks. Two other armoured regiments, the King's Royal Hussars and the Queen's Royal Hussars, also with 56 tanks each, enable the army to field 168 tanks in total.

Lieutenant-General Sir Andrew Ridgway, Colonel of the Royal Tank Regiment: "Defence capability is like insurance: You don't have the insurance you want. You have the insurance you can afford. The crucial thing is to get your priorities right."

The British army now has more horses than tanks.

AR So trooping the colour for the queen has priority over fighting battles.

2014 August 1

David Cameron Visits Poole

Poole Conservatives

UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne visited the Royal Marines base in Hamworthy, Poole, today. They used the occasion to announce a £100 million package of help for military families and related charities, funded by fines levied on banks implicated in the LIBOR scandal.

Prime Minister visits Poole

FKK Sudstrand
Getting Naked

Germans are better than us at cars, public transport, bicycle commuting, and yelling at people when they break the rules. They are also better at not being big uptight prudes at the beach:

FKK = Freikörperkultur
(free body culture)

It's less about sex or exhibitionism and more about convenience and freedom.

World Humanist Congress 2014
Oxford, August 8-10

Don't just do something,
sit there

Sylvia Boorstein

Asimo robot runs, hops
and uses sign language


© Mark Allan
Derek Parfit

Google Brain

Google Brain gives Google software engineers a way to apply cutting-edge machine-learning algorithms to a growing array of problems. Teams using Google Brain can download the source code, tweak a configuration file, and point it at their own data. The code may one day go public.



2014 July 31

It Could Happen Again

Roger Cohen

A century ago, on the eve of World War I, Europe had lived through a long period of relative peace. Rapid progress in science, technology, and communications had given humanity a sense of shared interests that precluded war. World leaders scarcely believed a global conflagration was possible.

The unimaginable can occur. Events cascade. Russians are sure that their national dignity has been trampled by a NATO and EU strategic advance to their border dressed up in talk of democracy, the rule of law, and human rights. National humiliation is a tremendous catalyst for war.

Now Europeans contemplate war with revulsion. America is in a period of retrenchment that may last a generation. But the views of power held in Moscow and Beijing are ones Bismarck or Clausewitz would recognize instantly. The Baltic countries are front-line states again.

The credibility of American power remains the anchor of global security. But President Obama has made clear he does not believe in military force. A century ago, it was just this kind of hope and trust that precipitated catastrophe.

2014 July 30

America in 1815

Daniel Walker Howe

Life in America in 1815 was dirty, smelly, laborious, and uncomfortable. Coountry people of ordinary means went barefoot much of the time. White people of both sexes wore heavy fabrics covering their bodies, even in the humid heat of summer. People usually owned few changes of clothes and stank of sweat. Only the most fastidious bathed as often as once a week.

Having an outdoor privy signified a level of decency above those who simply relieved themselves in the woods or fields. A single fireplace provided all the cooking and heating for a common household. During winter, everybody slept in the room with the fire, several in each bed. One third of white children and over half of black children died before reaching adulthood.

The English Language

Melvyn Bragg

Our tongue comes from a unique tectonic clash between Romance and Germanic languages with sprinklings of Latin, Greek and Hebrew, and the resulting glorious mess has played havoc with grammar, spelling and meaning ever since.

2014 July 29

Extinguish Hamas Threat

The Times

Israel will expand the military operation in Gaza until the threat from Hamas is extinguished. Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu: "We must be prepared for a lengthy campaign. We will not end this operation without neutralizing the tunnels whose sole purpose is to kill our citizens."

AR Right on.

The New Caliphate

Nadette De Visser

"Death to the Jews" chanted the crowd waving the black flags of the Islamic State. Their cause was the creation of a worldwide caliphate answering to Caliph Ibrahim: a zealot too radical even for Al Qaeda who has stormed through Syria and Iraq carrying out mass executions, crucifying rivals, beheading enemies. But these marchers were in The Netherlands. And their message was to disaffected young Muslims in Europe.

AR We need to arrest these extremists and silence the ringleaders. Nothing less will stop the rot.

2014 July 28

Poole Manifesto 2015

Council Group Meeting, Civic Centre
I presented my vision of how a Conservative approach in line with national priorities can help the Borough of Poole prosper in the coming years and decades.

2014 July 27

The Nice Party

The Observer

Leading Conservative women warn that mocking the Labour leader will put female voters off the Tories and feed their "nasty party" image.

Ed Miliband: "If you want the politician from central casting, it's not me; it's the other guy. If you want a politician who thinks a good photo is the most important thing, then don't vote for me."

Conservative Women's Organisation national chair Niki Molnar: "Women want to hear what someone will do for them and their family, not what shoes a politician is wearing, how they eat a bacon sandwich, or where they went to school."

Women2Win co-founder Baroness Anne Jenkin: "Personal attacks of any kind turn women off."

Conservative MP Charlotte Leslie: "Negative campaigning never, ever works."

2014 July 26

Warm Sea

Sea off southern England: 20C. See at Monica Beach, CA: 19C.


Peter Atkins

The scientific method is doing controlled experiments, setting them into a network of grand ideas, and then progressing toward full understanding. That approach can be applied to understanding the origin of human sentiment by constructing a computer that has the attributes of consciousness.

Science is based on evidence that it is free of cultural conditioning. Science verifies hypotheses and theories. A discovery made in one region of science requires information on discoveries made in other fields of science. It is a supportive articulation of ideas.

One root of religion is the quest for understanding. Once the oppressive authority of the church was overcome, human inquisitiveness could find reliable answers. Science shed that type of authority and found a method that is extraordinarily powerful and effective.

2014 July 25

UK 2014: +3.2%

The Times

The International Monetary Fund upgraded its growth forecast: The UK is now expected to grow by 3.2% this year. This is more than any other member of the G7. Since April last year, the IMF has more than doubled its UK forecast. IMF managing director Christine Lagarde conceded that the fund had "got it wrong" on the UK.

2014 July 24

NATO Versus Russia

The Times

NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe General Philip Breedlove plans to recommend placing supplies — weapons, ammunition, and ration packs — at a "24/7 fully functioning headquarters" in eastern Europe to support NATO troops in the event of a crisis.The leading contender is Multinational Corps Northeast, in Szczecin, Poland.

AR Good move.

2014 July 23

Concrete Facts

Liel Leibovitz

Israeli troops in Gaza uncovered 18 tunnels used by Hamas to send armed terrorists into Israel and built using an estimated 800,000 tons of concrete, all donated by the international community.

Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest tower, required 110,000 tons of concrete. Hamas could have built seven such towers and still had enough to spare to build a pair of kindergartens with bomb shelters as big as Giants Stadium.

Hamas is not seriously interested in governing Gaza. Its raison d'être is killing people in order to bring about the rule of its fundamentalist and radically intolerant brand of Islam.

Unemployment in Gaza is around 50%. It rose steeply since Israel pulled out its troops and settlers in 2005 and tightened border restrictions. Hamas must deliver Gazans a better life. Gazans did not vote for Hamas either to escalate the conflict or to fire rockets from near their homes.

1 Israel will continue until the job is done.
2 Israel wants to erode Hamas clout.
3 Israel is responding to rocket fire from Gaza.
4 Israel wants to gain a few years of relative peace.

1 Hamas says Israel will exist until Islam obliterates it.
2 Hamas wants an end to the Israeli blockade.
3 Hamas wants the release of prisoners.
4 Hamas wants to rally support at home.

2014 July 22


George Johnson

Thomas Nagel rejects the idea that there is nothing more to the universe than matter and physical forces. He doubts that evolution, as currently conceived, could produce sentient life. Mind might be a fundamental principle of nature.

David Chalmers calls on scientists to seriously consider panpsychism.

Max Tegmark suggests that mathematics needs to be admitted into science as the most fundamental part of of nature. He sets out to show that the universe is a mathematical structure, and its physics emerges from numbers.

Edward Frenkel notes that most of mathematics seems to be about nothing other than itself.

AR My philosophical works discuss these ideas in some depth. I favor a variant of panpsychism in which the foundations of mathematics are the foundations of mind too.

2014 July 21


The Guardian

UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond: "If there is no change at all in the way Europe is governed, no change in the balance of competences between the nation states and the European Union, no resolution of the challenge of how the eurozone can succeed and co-exist with the non-eurozone, that is not a Europe that can work for Britain in the future. ... There has to be a repatriation of powers to the nation states."

Human Rights

The Times

Former UK attorney-general Dominic Grieve had advised David Cameron not to pull Britain out of the European Convention on Human Rights. Grieve: "If we are not meeting European convention norms, then the chances are that the European Court of Justice — a completely separate body — will step in and will actually enforce those norms on us. Unlike the court in Strasbourg — where a judgment is just an international obligation — that has direct effect and has to be applied here."


Matt Ridley

There was deliberate and sustained action to introduce an intolerant and aggressive Islamist ethos into some schools in Birmingham. Whistleblowers first approached the British Humanist Association with allegations and the BHA passed them on to the Department for Education.

Much of what went on in the schools would have been permissible if the schools had been designated faith schools. Britain is one of only four countries in the world to allow religious selection in admissions to state-funded schools. The others are Estonia, Ireland, and Israel.

Anglicanism is a mild and attenuated form of the faith virus. It may even act as a vaccine against more virulent infections. But Christianity is becoming more evangelical in response to its global competition with Islam. Anglicans should make common cause with humanists in defense of tolerance.

2014 July 20

Global Chaos

Janet Daley

Few politicians in the great Western capitals have any idea of how to get a grip on the current global chaos.

It is safe to assume that Vladimir Putin did not personally order the missile launch that killed hundreds of innocent foreign civilians. What he did do was provide sophisticated missile systems and heavy artillery to a motley assortment of trigger-happy cowboys whose antics have greatly increased his popularity with the folks at home.

In the Mideast, US Secretary of State John Kerry once talked of brokering a peace deal. The Obama administration now looks determined to stay out of international trouble. Israel is on its own.

Britain has no foreign policy worthy of the name. When the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary go on their diplomatic jaunts abroad, they are scarcely more than sales reps for British industry and trade.

UK Defence

Michael Fallon

As a leading member of NATO, the UK is playing a central role in providing reassurance to our allies. Thanks to four years of hard work of my predecessors, we now have the defence budget under control.

Over the next 10 years we will spend over £160 billion on new equipment and equipment support. HMS Queen Elizabeth marks a new era in British maritime power. We are spending £10 billion on seven new submarines, £13 billion on new land equipment including armoured vehicles and tanks, and £3 billion on new fighter aircraft. We are buying the best and most modern kit to deal with the threats of the future.

2014 July 19


The New York Times

Israeli troops are again in the Gaza Strip. Israel is targeting tunnels dug to store weapons or stage attacks. The troops operated mainly within about a mile of Gaza's edges and quickly announced they had uncovered more than 20 tunnel exit points.

The IDF uncovered 10 tunnels, struck 240 targets, killed 17 militants, and detained 21 others in the first 24 hours of the ground operations. One Israeli soldier was killed. The IDF counted 135 rockets in the same period, 40 of them blocked from hitting cities by Iron Dome.

Former Israeli advisor Yaakov Amidror: "If nothing bad will happen, we will identify the locations of the tunnels, we will blow them up, and we will retreat. How to finish the whole operation in terms of stopping the rockets and the missiles, this is much more complicated."

2014 July 18

Derek Parfit

David Edmonds

Oxford philosopher Derek Parfit is considered by many of his peers to be the world's most important living moral philosopher. His first book, Reasons and Persons, published in 1984, is routinely described as a work of genius.

Parfit's "repugnant" conclusion: "For any possible population of at least 10 billion people, all with a very high quality of life, there must be some much larger imaginable population whose existence, if other things are equal, would be better even though its members have lives that are barely worth living."

Parfit is now 71. His former student Jeff McMahan, who will soon become the White's Professor of Moral Philosophy at Oxford, says Parfit's writings, especially on population ethics, have "forced a rethink on almost everything in ethics, including the value of life itself."

AR I recall Derek from Oxford in the 1970s.

2014 July 17


Carlo Rovelli

Science is about constructing visions of the world. It has nothing to do with the assembling of data and the ways of organizing the assembly of data. It has everything to do with our mental vision of the world. Science is a process in which we keep exploring ways of thinking.

Science is not about certainty. Nothing is scientifically proven. The core of science is the deep awareness that we have wrong ideas. In our conceptual structure for grasping reality, there might be something we have to revise. We have a vision of reality that is the best we have found so far.

Science is not about the data. The data suggest the theory. What interests us is what the theory says about the world. General relativity is interesting not because of its data but because it tells us that there can be black holes and a Big Bang. Science is about continually going beyond common sense.

In quantum gravity, there are two major research directions. String theory is a beautiful theory, but it's not sufficiently grounded in general relativity. Loop quantum gravity is an attempt to take general relativity and quantum mechanics seriously and bring them together. Quantum spacetime requires some change in the way we think.

Scientists who say they don't care about philosophy have a philosophy. They have a headful of ideas.

2014 July 16

UK Cabinet Reshuffle

The Times

The new foreign secretary is Philip Hammond, a hardline Eurosceptic. He is replaced at defence by Michael Fallon. Former education secretary Michael Gove is now chief whip. Nicky Morgan moves from the Treasury to replace him. She is 41.

Liam Fox was offered a junior role at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office but turned it down. Owen Paterson is replaced as environment secretary by Liz Truss, 38.

Cameron: "This is a fresh team with the ideas, the energy, the policy, and the ability to take this country forward, to complete the long-term economic plan and secure our future. I think it is a team that reflects modern Britain."

AR World Cup team? Poor joke. Fox will pray for life after Dave.

2015: Tory Win

Rafael Behr

David Cameron's reshuffle leaves ministerial ranks looking more feminine, youthful, and skewed to the right. Young Tories are devoted to free markets, hostile to the European Union, and unsentimental about the welfare state. There is a changing of the guard on Europe. The task is to win, and to destroy Labour as a force for government.


Michael Fallon

I think the country is pretty Eurosceptic now. We all want reform in Europe, a different kind of Europe. That's the agenda that's going to be pursued now to get those reforms and then to give people a choice as to whether to continue to be members or not.

AR My EU line: reform or out.

2014 July 15

William Hague

The Times

William Hague is standing down as UK foreign secretary and is to leave politics next year. Defence secretary Philip Hammond replaces Hague today as foreign secretary. Hammond said last year that he would vote to leave the EU if it remained in its present form.

David Cameron: "William Hague has been one of the leading lights of the Conservative Party for a generation, leading the party and serving in two cabinets. Not only has he been a first-class foreign secretary, he has also been a close confidant, a wise counsellor and a great friend."

Hague: "From May 2015, after such a long period in politics, I want to embark on many other things I have always wanted to do."

2014 July 14


Stewart Wood

We can learn from them Germany. Out of the ruins of the second world war, and the grotesque atrocities of Nazism, the Federal Republic emerged within a decade as the paragon of a stable, inclusive liberal democracy. The German economic miracle was no less extraordinary. Germany has become the productivity powerhouse of Europe.

Britain's economy is characterized by low productivity, a poor record in technical skills, low levels of savings and investment, and relatively weak performance in R&D. We cannot copy the German economy, or transplant the culture in which it is embedded. But we can learn much.

Germany is committed to a free market economy in which capitalism is organized and responsible. Its social market encourages long-term thinking, promotes collaboration in the workplace, incentivizes employers to invest in the skills and productivity of their workers, tries to spread prosperity to Germans in all regions, and supports a welfare system based on the principles of need and contribution.

Britain cannot become Germany. But surely it is time for us to learn lessons from Germany. We may learn how to win another World Cup.

AR This is a central pillar of my new political career (not the World Cup).

Borough of Poole

L to R: Robert Syms, MP for Poole; Andy Garner-Watts; Peter Adams, Mayor of Poole; Andy Ross,
at the Mayor's Charity Beach Festival, Sandbanks, Poole, Dorset, UK, Sunday, 13 July 2014

Andy Is A Corporatist
(Mindless Violence)

Newtown Neurotics w/
Attila The Stockbroker


2014 July 13

Operation Protective Edge

The Independent

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague spoke to Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman:
"I told Minister Lieberman that continuing rocket attacks from Gaza are completely unacceptable. Israel has a right to defend itself against such attacks, but the whole world wanted to see de-escalation."

Hague also spoke to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas:
"I offered my condolences for the loss of civilian lives in Gaza."

2014 July 12



Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu: "No international pressure will prevent us from acting with full force against a terrorist organization that calls for our destruction. … No country would accept its civilians being fired at without a harsh response."

Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner: "Israel uses its weapons to defend its civilians. Hamas uses its civilians to defend its weapons."

Israeli parliamentarian Ayelet Shaked: "Behind every terrorist stand dozens of men and women, without whom he could not engage in terrorism. They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there."

2014 July 11

Rocket Science

Markus Becker

Iron Dome Tourismus: Menschen, die, anstatt bei Luftalarm Schutz zu suchen, lieber im Freien bleiben und das israelische Raketenabwehrsystem bei der Arbeit bestaunen. Israels Behörden können das als Zeichen werten, dass ihre Meldungen über den Erfolg der Iron Dome Wirkung zeigen.

Ob Iron Dome wirklich eine Trefferquote von 90% erreicht ist ebenso zweitrangig wie die Frage, wie weit genau die Raketen der Hamas reichen. Bedeutender ist, dass der technische Rüstungswettlauf zu einem wichtigen Bestandteil des israelisch-palästinensischen Dauerkonflikts geworden ist.

Ausgelöst wurde die erneute Eskalation durch bestialische Morde. Israel setzt seine Armee zur Vergeltung ein, Hamas reagiert mit Raketenfeuer. Israel schickt Kampfjets und verteidigt sich mit Iron Dome, Hamas beschafft sich Raketen mit höherer Genauigkeit und größerer Reichweite.

2014 July 10

Evolutionary Morality

Michael Ruse

Knowledge interprets experience through human cultural understanding and experience. Metaphor is the key to the whole enterprise. A metaphor puts blinkers on us. The metaphor of the world as a machine rules out an answer to the question of why there is something rather than nothing.

If God is to do everything through unbroken law, and I can think of reasons why this should be so, then pain and suffering are part of it all. As an evolutionist I think that all organisms are the end product of a long, slow process of development thanks to the causal mechanism of natural selection.

I think morality is a collective illusion, genetic in origin, that makes us good cooperators. Being good cooperators makes each of us better off in the struggle for existence. So I don't buy the moral argument for the existence of God. But I grew up surrounded by gentle, loving Christians.

2014 July 9

The Liberal State

Michael Ignatieff

Communism as a model of state domination is very much alive in China and Russia. The new authoritarians offer an alternate route to modern development: growth without democracy and progress without freedom.

America no longer has the power to shape the international order as it once did. When conservatives win elections, corporate interests often take control. When progressives win back power, they make the state more domineering. A continuing dynamic of political alternation leaves the state unreformed.

The fiscal crisis of the liberal state is due to rising income inequality, money power in politics, and systemic tax avoidance by big corporations. The cost of carrying the liberal state falls on the middle class. The institutions of the state have been hijacked by the interests they were created to control.

2014 July 8

Operation Protective Edge

Jerusalem Post

IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz: "We will now activate all of our force and take all the time that is needed in various stages in order to reach victory."

AR V is the answer.

Michael Rosen

Kant: moral commands are categorical. Act only according to that maxim which you can at the same time will as universal law. Humanity has dignity insofar as it is capable of morality. We have an absolute duty to respect personhood.

Michael Robbins

Nietzsche is not crowing about the death of God. He realized that the Enlightenment project to reconstruct morality from rational principles retained the character of Christian ethics without providing its foundational authority.

Nobuyuki Hanabusa

Caliph Ibrahim

ESA has approved plans for the Athena X-ray space telescope. With 100 times more sensitivity than existing X-ray missions, it will launch in 2028.


2014 July 7

Islam and Education

Roger Scruton

Children born and raised in Britain must be integrated into British society. Schools and teachers have a duty to ensure that children understand and adhere to the basic principles of the surrounding society.

Our society is governed by a secular law defined over the territory of the United Kingdom. This territory is our home to defend. The Church of England has defined itself in national terms.

Sunni Muslim law is not defined over territory. It is a religious law. Islam provides an experience of identity at variance with the nation state. Muslims find things that repel them in modern Britain.

Islamists want to see Muslims define themselves against their country. Christianity is an institution, but Sunni Islam is an identity. I say when it comes to identity, it is nationality and not religion that counts.

AR Sorry, Roger, but when it comes to identity, I am a rational human being who lives on planet Earth, where a variety of polities, such as British and German, support only superficial distinctions.

2014 July 6


Nick Bostrom

Superintelligence: An intellect that greatly exceeds the cognitive performance of humans in virtually all domains.

Nobody knows how long it will take, but once AI scientists become more capable than human scientists, progress will be rapid. There is thus the potential for an explosive Singularity.

We can distinguish three forms of superintelligence:

1 A speed superintelligence could do everything a human mind could do, but much faster.

2 A collective superintelligence composed of a large number of human-level intellects organized to outstrip that of any current cognitive system could could drive technological progress much faster.

3 A quality superintelligence would be cleverer than humans in the same sense that we are cleverer than other animals.

Superintelligent machine brains would have many fundamental advantages over biological brains, just as engines have advantages over biological muscles. We cannot hope to compete with such machine brains. We can only hope to design them so that their goals coincide with ours.

AR This was my big concern in G.O.D. Is Great and Globorg.

2014 July 5

The Creative Brain

Nancy Andreasen

For my latest study, I scanned the brains of some illustrious scientists, mathematicians, artists, and writers. I examined 13 creative geniuses and 13 controls. Both groups had an average IQ of about 120. Creative genius is not the same as high IQ. The creative subjects and their relatives have a higher rate of mental illness than the controls and their relatives do. Eureka moments tend to be precipitated by long periods of preparation and incubation, and to strike when the mind is relaxed.

2014 July 4

The New Caliphate

Ahmed Rashid

On the first day of Ramadan, ISIS declared that it was reestablishing the caliphate. ISIS successes are built around military competence that includes excellent command and control, sound intelligence, well prepared logistics support, training, high mobility, and rapid maneuver. ISIS is prepared to play a long game and is appealing for educated and skilled Muslims to join it to rebuild the caliphate.

Western governments continue to view the collapse of Muslim states as something to be countered by military action and counterterrorism operations. The United States and its allies need to get Iran and Saudi Arabia to deal with the crisis in the Muslim world. The Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Arab League should both be acting to bring Iran and the Arab world closer together.

2014 July 3

The Caliphate

Khaled Diab

The Islamic State appears well on the road to restarting the caliphate. But even the earliest caliphs bear little resemblance to jihadist mythology. Muhammad composed a Constitution of Medina stipulating that Muslims, Jews, Christians, and pagans had equal political and cultural rights.

Now Islamists misdiagnose the weakness and underdevelopment of contemporary Arab society as stemming from its deviation from "pure" Islamic morality, as if the proper length of a beard and praying five times a day were a substitute for science and education, or could affect global inequalities.

The Islamist dream of transnational theocratic rule appeals to a dwindling number of Arabs. Rather than a caliphate presided over by arbitrarily appointed caliphs, subjected to a rigid interpretation of Shariah law, millions of Arabs strive simply for peace, stability, dignity, prosperity, and democracy.

2014 July 2

Mideast Redline

David Rothkopf

The soldiers of the new caliphate might cross into Jordan. The Jordanian military would step up in a way that the Iraqi military has not. But how far into Jordan would an ISIS incursion have to go before alarms went off in Washington? How far before Israel felt it must act to defend itself?

If we are to avoid a regional meltdown, the United States, Europe, the Turks, and those from across the region must act. The White House must send a clear message that Jordan is a real red line.

European Federalism

Charles Kennedy

While David Cameron was being defenestrated in Brussels, I was in Strasbourg at the Council of Europe, speaking on a new report into the future of the European Union. The council comprises 47 countries and 800 million citizens, and was formed in the aftermath of WW2 to guard and promote human rights.

Report author Andreas Gross: "Rather than constituting a model for an ever closer political union or a European state, federalism implies a process of balancing power in a differentiated political order which enables unity while guaranteeing diversity."

Most continental politicians would endorse that definition.

2014 July 1

The Caliphate

J.M. Berger

ISIS claims that it had fulfilled all the legal requirements for the caliphate and that all Muslims around the world are religiously obliged to swear loyalty to the new Caliph Ibrahim. Muslims worldwide are likely to react negatively to the pronouncement.

Prior to the pronouncement, ISIS could have fallen back with little loss of face and a huge increase in its warfighting capabilities, thanks to captured weaponry and stolen funds. Now, if ISIS is driven back, the loss would highlight the hubris of ISIS.

ISIS appears to be standing on the edge of a precipice with an adolescent faith in its ability to keep its balance. A US military strike would give ISIS a new line of jihadist argument: The caliphate was restored, but it was destroyed by the United States.

The God Helmet

Julia Llewellyn Smith

The God helmet simulates religious experiences by directing complex magnetic fields to the parts of the brain that include the parietal lobe. More than 80% of those who wore the helmet reported sensing a presence in the room that many took to be their deity.

Oxford University Regius Professor of Divinity Graham Ward: "Religion is at the root both of so many great civilizations and of so many wars, it has so much mythological power, we have to understand how it works and be alert to how dangerous it can be."

Chartered Architects
Planned twin towers in Wuhan, China: 1 km tall, open 2018

November 2014

Tiger 131 rolls again
Tankfest 2014

Curiosity still at work after a Martian year on Mars

I did it my way

Shine on you crazy diamond

Astronomers have found a faint white dwarf that has crystallized into a diamond the size of Earth. It is estimated to be 11 billion years old and is a partner to pulsar PSR J2222-0137. The astronomers noticed the dwarf when it regularly obstructed the pulsar signal. They say it is cold for a white dwarf: only 3 kK.

Winston Churchill

British Poverty
The Guardian

The number of UK households falling below minimum living standards has more than doubled in the past 30 years, despite the size of the economy increasing twofold, claims a PSE study on poverty and deprivation
in the UK.

AR This needs action.

Geist der Philosophie.

Black Notebooks

A betrayal of philosophy

Terminate ISIS.


2014 June 30

The Islamic State


ISIS now calls itself The Islamic State. ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani al-Shami says Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai, a.k.a. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is the new Caliph.

The Independent quotes Quilliam researcher Charlie Cooper: "There hasn't been a Caliph since the Ottoman Empire outside of the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam, and the Caliph is appointed as the only legitimate successor to Prophet Mohammed."

American Colleges

Kevin Carey

Americans say their K-12 schools are mediocre or worse, while their colleges and universities are world class. Yet a recent study suggests that this view is wrong.

In 2013, the OECD published the results of a large international assessment of adult competencies. As with the measures of K-12 education, the United States battles it out for last place. Countries such as Japan and Finland have much higher levels of proficiency and skill among adults. The results for people with different levels of education show America still falls short of most other countries.

American dominance of higher education rests largely on global rankings of top universities. But the rankings focus on universities as research institutions.


Paul Krugman

The enemies of health reform made at least six distinct predictions about how Obamacare would fail, every one of which turned out to be wrong. The great majority of Americans buying insurance through the new exchanges are getting coverage quite cheaply, a lot of people have gained insurance through the program, and the age mix of the new enrollees looks pretty good.

Obamacare was closely modeled on Romneycare, which has been working in Massachusetts since 2006, and it resembles successful systems abroad, for example in Switzerland. Why should it fail?


Dave Eggers

We just spent five trillion dollars on useless wars. That could have gone to the moon. Or Mars. Or the Shuttle. Or something that would inspire us in some goddamned way.

2014 June 29

EU Debacle

The Times

David Cameron poses a "real and present danger" to the economy as he leads Britain toward an EU exit that could put up to 3 million jobs and thousands of businesses at risk, says Labour leader Ed Miliband.

EU Fundamental

The Observer

CBI director general John Cridland: "The EU is our biggest export market and remains fundamental to our economic future. Our membership supports jobs, drives growth and boosts our international competitiveness. Alternatives to full membership of the EU simply wouldn't work, leaving us beholden to its rules without being able to influence them. We will continue to press the case for the UK remaining in a reformed European Union."

UK Trident

The Independent

A commission including Lord Browne of Ladyton, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Sir Menzies Campbell, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, and Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank considered whether to spend £20 billion on renewing the Trident submarine nuclear deterrent. They argue for doing so if there is "more than a negligible chance that the possession of nuclear weapons might play a decisive future role" in defending the UK.

UK Muslims

Maajid Nawaz

In prison I changed. I am planning to become a Liberal Democrat MP. I was bought up in the bad old days of racism. I hated being attacked by skinheads but when we scared them away by becoming extremists it became more fun.

Only 3% of the population is Muslim, but 20% of the prison population is Muslim. If we send guys who have planned terrorist attacks to prison, do we let them just live out their sentences and then come out and continue on their mission or do we use the time to change them?

Islamism is not a religion. It is an obsessive, outdated ideology. We are still being too multiculturalist and politically correct about it. Islamists are homophobic, antisemitic, and sexist. White males can't be sexist and racist, so brown Muslims shouldn't get away with it either.

Muslim children need to see they can succeed in Britain in conventional ways.

2014 June 28


The Times

UK PM David Cameron failed to block Jean-Claude Juncker from heading the European Commission.
Cameron: "I believe the British national interest lies in reforming the EU, holding a referendum and recommending that we stay in a reformed EU. Has that got harder to achieve? Yes."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel: "The idea of an ever-closer union, as it is stated in the treaties, does not mean that there is equal speed among the member countries, but there can be different speeds that member countries adopt to come to ever-closer union."


Bronwen Maddox

The population of Israel at the end of 2012 was just under 8 million, of whom 6 million were Jewish. But in the whole land controlled by Israel, including the West Bank and Gaza Strip, there are now about 12 million people. Jews now constitute a minority in the lands under Israeli rule — 5.9 million people compared to 6.1 million non-Jews — and the Arab birthrate is higher.

Israel can either shed the West Bank and retain its Jewish majority or it can continue to control the Palestinian territories but undermine its claim to democracy because it does not allow all those people equal civil rights.

International criticism is inflamed above all by the West Bank settlements, which are illegal under international law. The expansion of the settlements is the prime reason why Israel's relations with many other countries are becoming more difficult.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague: "We and our EU partners are clear: systematic, illegal Israeli settlement activity poses the most significant and live threat to the viability of the two-state solution."

Every Israeli government since 2000 has signed up to the principle of the two-state solution. But Israel has never had a negotiating counterpart on the Palestinian side who seemed willing and able to deliver adequate recognition of Israel's right to exist or its need for security.

2014 June 27


Institut der deutschen Wirtschaft Köln

Die Lebenszufriedenheit der Bürger in Deutschland hat einen neuen Höchststand erreicht. Wer einen Job hat und sich gesund fühlt, ist besonders zufrieden. Das geht aus einer jetzt vorgelegten Untersuchung des Instituts der deutschen Wirtschaft Köln (IW) hervor.


Our research is fully conscious of its normative conditionality. We view humans as beings capable of living free and responsible lives and having a corresponding ability to decide and act for themselves.
In our understanding, open, free and democratic societies require a liberal and competitive economic order, whose constitutive elements include this responsibility both for oneself and for society.

AR An excellent Kantian perspective.

Hacking the Soul

Antonio Damasio

Humans make use of fundamental processes of life regulation that include things like emotion and feeling, but we connect them with intellectual processes to create a whole new world around us.

There are certain action programs that are installed in us so that we can survive, flourish, procreate, and die. This is the world of homeostasis, and it covers a wide range of body states. Once the action program is deployed and the brain has the possibility of mapping what has happened in the body, then that leads to the emergence of the mental state.

We must separate the component that comes out of actions from the component that comes out of our perspective on those actions, which is feeling. This is also where the self emerges, and consciousness itself. Mind begins at the level of feeling.

AR Damasio won the Golden Brain Award in 1995. I enjoyed reading his books.

2014 June 26

Cameron and Europe

The New York Times

UK PM David Cameron should make sure that his looming defeat over Jean-Claude Juncker does not turn into a forced march to British exit from the European Union.

Cameron objects that Juncker has been put forward by the European Parliament. He sees a shift of control over the European Union from national governments to Brussels. The European Parliament is the only directly elected EU institution. European Council members are elected in national elections.

But the other European leaders do not want to take on the Parliament. Cameron may have given British Eurosceptics more ammunition for the promised referendum.

The Tremendum

Terence McKenna

The 20th century saw a groping toward an archaic mentality. Psychoanalysis, cubism, surrealism, and national socialism can all be traced back to unconscious nostalgia for the archaic. A society in crisis looks back for a previous model that seemed to work. The breakup of medieval Christian eschatology led to classicism. People looked back to Platonic philosophy, Roman law, and so on.

An inchoate groping for yet another historical paradigm is sweeping over the world. Freudianism, surrealism, and the rise of electronic media are all insufficient. Once you zero in on the archaic mentality, you discover the psychedelic experience. That experience is as much a part of life as birth, death, making love, eating, and so on, except in the western European traditions.

AR Groovy!

2014 June 25

Word War at Ypres

The New York Times

UK PM David Cameron has set himself up for a public failure. Brussels veteran Jean-Claude Juncker is set to head the European Commission.

Cameron is fighting the Eurosceptic wing of his own party and the populist appeal of UKIP in national elections next May. Principled opposition to a Brussels appointment at odds with government hopes of negotiating a new relationship with the European Union may be better than bowing to a power grab by the European Parliament. Cameron: "I will go on thinking it is wrong right up until the end."

At the summit in Ypres, Belgium, in what was meant to be a symbol of European reconciliation, Cameron will defy German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Shia Revival

Vali Nasr

Saddam Hussein compared Baghdad's fall to the Americans in 2003 with its fall to the Mongols in 1258. That earlier conquest is remembered by Sunni Arabs as a calamity, when the rivers of the cultured Abbasid capital are said to have run black with ink from books and red with the blood of the Mongols' massacred victims. Saddam rang a change on a centuries-old Sunni grudge to appeal to sectarian prejudices defined by the feud between Shiites and Sunnis.

AR I guess Sunni Arabia will fight Shiite Iran over Iraq.

2014 June 24


John Searle

In the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, not all of the rights listed are negative rights like the right to free speech or the right to freedom of religion. The idea that every human being has a right to adequate housing seems to me nonsense. You can make a good case for universal human rights of a negative kind, but you cannot make a comparable case for universal human rights of a positive kind.

One exception is where life and safety are concerned. You have rights of survival. But I think it's a big mistake in contemporary political thinking to suppose that there is a list of universal human rights of a positive kind. As a professor in Berkeley I have certain rights, and certain obligations. But the idea of universal rights is fantastic. Why not extend the idea of universal rights to conscious animals?

2014 June 23

UK National Health Service

The Observer

Conservative health minister Jane Ellison says of running the NHS: "From a political point of view, it is a bit like being on a high wire without a net at times; it can be quite exciting."

Ellison says health secretary Jeremy Hunt has done a "brilliant job" of "turning the narrative round" from one focused on reform of NHS structures to one focusing on patients and patient care.

David Cameron and Nick Clegg said the Health and Social Care Act of 2012 was intended to make the NHS "more accountable to patients" and to free staff from "excessive bureaucracy and top-down control".

Department of Health spokesman: "Giving operational control for the day-to-day running of services to doctors was the right decision, but we have always been clear that ministers are responsible for the NHS, and we are proud of its performance in challenging circumstances."

AR Translation: Disaster narrowly averted.

2014 June 22

Political Islam

Niall Ferguson

Today the Western world faces four main challenges:

1 China will soon have the world's biggest economy.
2 Russia has made a geopolitical comeback.
3 Britain could exit from the European Union.
4 Political Islam is spreading its vision of reordering society.

Imagine Margaret Thatcher's response to these four challenges:

1 On China, she would favor engagement, but not appeasement.
2 On Russia, she would urge us to make more effective use of NATO.
3 On Europe, she would say it was in neither British nor German interests for the UK to leave the EU.
4 On Islam, we have the most to learn from Thatcher:

"The challenge of Islamic terror is unique. ... Perhaps the best parallel is with early communism. Islamic extremism today, like bolshevism in the past, is an armed doctrine. It is an aggressive ideology promoted by fanatical, well-armed devotees. And, like communism, it requires an all-embracing long-term strategy to defeat it."

The Soviet empire collapsed mainly because it lost a battle of ideas. Today secular democratic movements in the Mideast are failing to win the psychological war against the Islamists. Political Islam is the new communism. Freedom will win only if we are prepared to fight for it.

2014 June 21


Max Hastings

Muslims may justly say that their religion is not inherently violent: I recently read both the Koran and the Bible from cover to cover, and can assure you that the latter is more bloodthirsty. Evangelical Christians are almost as much of a menace to wise American governance as are Muslim jihadis half a world away.

On the whole, however, the Christian religion has adapted to modernity while most Muslim societies have failed to do so, whether by creating an educated mass workforce or producing scientific or technological genius.

The lessons of history are that we Westerners can do little to change the course of events in the Mideast. Here at home we must fight with every weapon in our hands to prevent the curse of Islamist militancy from spreading its pernicious influence within our own societies. There can be no compromise with such warped doctrines here, in the sorry name of multiculturalism.

"How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! ... The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men."
— Winston Churchill, 1899

2014 June 20

School Uniforms

Holly Baxter

Ryde Academy headmaster Rory Fox sent 250 girls home for having skirts that were too short or trousers that were too tight. Boys were also sent home for wearing shoes not made of leather. If we want to enforce uniform policies then we have to apply sanctions equally to boys and girls. School is no place for sexist bullshit.

AR Uniforms are old hat and pants (to mix idioms). But the issue of distracting kids with sexuality at school remains. There was practical wisdom in segregated classes.

2014 June 19

Don't Save Iraq

William Saletan

People take responsibility only if they must. The more we intervene to prop them up, the less they do for themselves. We can't save them from their bad choices. They have to face the consequences and adjust their behavior accordingly.

Wolf Blitzer: "The US left behind a ton of equipment for the Iraqi military, spent billions of dollars training these guys, and gave them all the help that they possibly could for nearly a decade. The first semblance of a little tension, they take off their uniforms, they run away."

President Obama: "The United States is not simply going to involve itself in a military action in the absence of a political plan by the Iraqis that gives us some assurance that they're prepared to work together."

AR Right. Let them struggle.


New Scientist

Our cognitive powers may lie in the musical hum of our brainwaves. MIT researchers used EEG to observe patterns of electrical activity in the brains of monkeys as they taught the animals to categorize patterns of dots.

At first, the monkeys memorized which dots went where, but as the task became harder, they shifted to learning the rules that defined the categories. Initially, brainwaves were forming independently in the prefrontal cortex and the striatum. But as the monkeys made sense of the game, the waves began to synchronize and hum at the same frequency, with each category of dots having its own frequency.

The synchronized brainwaves indicate the formation of a connection between the two brain regions. This may occur before the growth of new synapses, giving us time to reflect before our brains wire a memory. The study is the first to show specific patterns of synchrony linked to specific thoughts.

AR In my books I called such humming the music of the hemispheres.

2014 June 18


Jürgen Todenhöfer

ISIS spielt nur scheinbar in Irak die alles überragende Rolle. Der Aufstand wird in Wirklichkeit überwiegend vom FNPI getragen, dem "Nationalen, Panarabischen und Islamischen Widerstand" des Irak. Das ist eine säkulare Koalition mehrerer Gruppen, die schon gegen die US-Armee gekämpft haben.

Ich habe in den letzten Tagen mehrfach mit Führern des FNPI gesprochen. Nach ihrer Auffassung spielt ISIS als Juniorpartner des Aufstands zwar militärisch eine wichtige Rolle. Diese Dschihadisten aus aller Welt verbreiten wegen ihres Todesmuts und ihrer Härte Furcht und Schrecken. Das hat große psychologische Wirkung. Aber mit ihren etwa tausend Mann vor Mossul hätten sie keine Chance. Der Nationale Widerstand hingegen ist in Mossul mit über 20.000 Mann präsent und wird von der Bevölkerung getragen.

Der FNPI rekrutiert viele Leute aus der ehemaligen irakischen Elite. Es sind Leute, die nach dem 2003 US-Einmarsch entlassen wurden. Das militärische Zweckbündnis zwischen ISIS und dem FNPI im Irak ist allerdings sehr labil. ISIS will einen Gottesstaat, der FNPI eine säkulare Demokratie.

AR A good analysis.


Stephen S. Hall

Optogenetics had its origins at Stanford in 2004. Researchers in David J. Anderson’s laboratory at Caltech inserted a genetically modified light-sensitive gene into specific cells at particular locations in the brain of a living male mouse. Using a fiber-optic thread inserted into that brain, they turned the neurons in the hypothalamus on and off with a burst of light to activated aggressive behavior.

Anderson: "The ability of optogenetics to turn a largely correlational field of science into one that tests causation has been transformative."

2014 June 17


Fred Kaplan

The United States and Iran have a common interest in keeping Sunni radicals from taking over Iraq. Forming an alliance with Iran to beat back ISIS would leave Iran stronger. We have to decide which prospect we dislike less: an Islamist state in Iraq and Syria or a strengthened expansionary Iran.

Consider an analogy. Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill teamed up with Stalin to defeat Hitler. One outcome of this grand alliance was that, at the end of World War II, the Soviet Union controlled all of Eastern Europe. But the alternative would have been for Nazi Germany to control all of Europe.

Iran is not the only possible ally. Turkey has a deep interest in staving off an ISIS triumph. Nor can the rise of ISIS be pleasing to the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, or Egypt. The United States can coordinate action. The opportunities are there, with Iran, Turkey, and others to do something smart.

2014 June 16


The Guardian

UK PM David Cameron believes that Britain must forge a strong political and economic relationship with China. But Chinese ambassador Liu Xiaoming says Britain now ranks behind Germany and France among the powers in Europe.

AR Take note, Brits: The EU leaders outrank us.


The Times

The BBC TV licence fee of £145.50 per year is "a large amount for many families up and down the country," said UK culture secretary Sajid Javid, in a TV interview.

AR Quite large enough, thank you. Cut BBC fat cat perks.

To boldly rise above war

Darker tan shows Sunni areas;
red dots cities, from top down: Mosul, Tikrit, Samarra, Baghdad

Simplify Everything.
Do Anything.




Fly-by Titan: Saturn's
moon of mythical oceans
New Scientist (1:26)

New Battle for Europe
Jean-Claude Juncker

It is wrong if we give in to the British here. I am more confident than ever that I will be the next European Commission President.


2014 June 15

China: Ecological Civilization

New Scientist

China is considering limiting its greenhouse gas emissions so that they peak in 2030, then fall. Premier Li Keqiang has declared war on pollution and his government has drawn up a philosophical framework called ecological civilization. Chinese carbon trading schemes will form the world's second largest carbon trading initiative after Europe's. China has set targets to make more wealth using less energy.

AR A good precedent if it works.

No War, Low Growth

Tyler Cowen

The world has not had much warfare lately. Today's casualties pale in light of the tens of millions of people killed in the two world wars. The greater peacefulness of the world may make the attainment of higher rates of economic growth less urgent and thus less likely. War focuses attention.

Nuclear power, the computer, and jet aircraft were all pushed along by Americans eager to defeat the Axis powers and win the Cold War. The Internet was initially designed to withstand nuclear war. The Soviet launch of Sputnik spurred American science and technology, and later growth.

Ian Morris has revived the hypothesis that war is a significant factor behind economic growth. But today a big war would be a big disaster. Living in a largely peaceful world with 2% GDP growth has advantages you don't get with 4% growth and many more war deaths.

Intervene in Iraq

Tony Blair

It is in our interests for ISIS to be stopped in its tracks. It is vitally important that we realize what is at stake here and act. The fundamental cause of the crisis lies within the region, not outside it. We have to act now to save the future.

Where the extremists are fighting, they have to be countered hard, with force. 9/11 happened for a reason. That reason and the ideology behind it have not disappeared. This is, in part, our struggle, whether we like it or not.

AR The next big war?

Earth: Ocean Water

New Scientist

A reservoir of water three times the volume of all the Earth's oceans has been discovered deep beneath the Earth's surface. The finding could help explain where the oceans came from. The water is hidden in rock called ringwoodite 700 km underground in the mantle.

Steven Jacobsen: "It's good evidence the Earth's water came from within."

2014 June 14


Benjamin Wallace-Wells, Laura Smith-Spark and Arwa Damon

ISIS has captured much of the Sunni homeland in Iraq and is now threatening Samarra. Iraqi Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani called Friday for volunteers to fight back. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki: "Samarra will be the starting point, the gathering station of our troops to cleanse every inch that was desecrated by footsteps of those traitors."

The United States is considering intervention. But the Iraqi state is Shiite. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds force is moving in to support it. Americans would be on the same side as Iran. Events may be birthing a sectarian split into states for the Kurds, the Shiites, and the Sunni, baptized in a bloodbath.

Iraqi military spokesman General Qassim Atta: "The security in Baghdad is 100% stable ... The morale of the security forces is very high."

AR Reminds me of the "Baghdad Bob" bombast in 2003.

From AQI to ISIS

Peter Bergen

The 2003 Iraq war precipitated the arrival of al Qaeda into Iraq. In 2004, its brutal leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi launched Iraq down the road to civil war. By 2007, Al Qaeda in Iraq, or AQI, had become the de facto government of the western Iraqi province of Anbar and controlled a good chunk around Baghdad, the "Triangle of Death" to its south, and many of the towns up to the Syrian border. A Sunni backlash fought AQI down to a rump. Then the Syrian civil war transformed AQI into the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS. Now ISIS has marched back into western and northern Iraq.

2014 June 13

Quantum Gravity

Michael Brooks

Theories of quantum gravity seem to reach a primal instant when spacetime is disconnected. Space was split into discrete chunks in the first 10^-43 seconds of the universe, each separate from the others.

In causal dynamical triangulation (CDT), the universe is composed of tetrahedral grains of spacetime. The way they fit together gives spacetime its curvature. The grains can all be different, and computer simulations combine them in billions of different ways. The scenarios that appear most often are the most likely histories of the universe.

Renate Loll: "We hope that our simulations will give us an indication of how the universe wants to behave near the initial singularity without arranging things by hand."

In loop quantum cosmology (LQC), spacetime is a woven fabric of braids and knots and the cosmos grew from a point where light could not travel, so spacetime was disconnected here too. It will be a long time before we can properly test these models against reality.

2014 June 12



Google has built a business that generates tens of billions of dollars a year. With the $500 million purchase of Skybox, a startup that shoots high-res photos and video with low-cost satellites, Google can extend its reach far across the offline world. Thanks to its knack for transforming mass quantities of unstructured data into revenue-generating insights, the unprecedented stream of aerial imagery to which the company is gaining access could spark a whole new category of high-altitude insights into the workings of economies, nations, and nature.

AR Google is great!

2014 June 11

Merkel Versus Cameron

The New York Times

The European People's Party headed by Jean-Claude Juncker won the European Parliament elections last month. Blocking the EPP candidate for the presidency of the European Commission would undermine the parliament and its elections.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned UK PM David Cameron: "I am for Jean-Claude Juncker ... But when I made that statement in Germany, I also made the point that we act in a European spirit ... Threats do not belong in that spirit."

Merkel: "Britain is really no cozy partner."



The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is coming closer to statehood. ISIS began only about a year ago as the Syrian offshoot of al-Qaida in Iraq but now effectively governs a nation-size tract of territory that stretches from the Syrian city of Aleppo to Fallujah in western Iraq. Now it also includes Mosul.

ISIS is focused less on the overthrow of the Assad regime than on enforcing its harsh and austere brand of Islamic law. Its brutal brand of Shariah law including beheadings and amputations seems to be provoking resentment among the people who live under its black flag. Opposition to ISIS is a rare cause that the leaders of United States, Iran, and even al-Qaida can agree on.

US Department of State spokewoman Jen Psaki: "The United States is deeply concerned about the events that have transpired in Mosul."

AR ISIS is Jihadistan. It symbolizes the heralded Shariah Caliphate. It must be terminated.

Ganz oben Ganz unten

Christian Wulff

Bild ist niemals der ganze Skandal, aber ohne Bild ist der ganze Skandal nichts. Muss ich wirklich das Privateste preisgeben, um politisch überleben zu können? Es war schamlos und entwürdigend. Der politisch motivierte fehlerhafte Beginn der Ermittlungen erklärt für mich die Maßlosigkeit und die mangelnde Objektivität der Staatsanwälte.

2014 June 10

Being British

The Times

UK education secretary Michael Gove pledged to act as Ofsted found evidence that several Birmingham schools had been targeted by Muslims in an organized campaign to impose Islamic ideology.

Gove: "We will put the promotion of British values at the heart of what every school has to deliver for children. What we have found was unacceptable. And we will put it right."

2014 June 9

Dawn Raids

The Times

PM David Cameron has ordered education secretary Michael Gove to start "dawn raid" school inspections after officials found evidence of covering up Islamist infiltration in Birmingham schools.

Ofsted found staff at one of the schools involved used the notice period given before an inspection to stage "hastily arranged shows of cultural inclusivity" to include lessons on Christianity.

Cameron: "Protecting our children is one of the first duties of government and that is why the issue of alleged Islamist extremism in Birmingham schools demands a robust response."

Destruction Porn


Our global neighbors watch our big budget films and see America as a country where scenes of mass destruction are the norm, where carnage is preferred over peace, love, and understanding. Let's call it what it is: destruction porn. Our delight in seeing things blown up should make us worry about the mental health of society.

2014 June 8

Extremist Subversion

The Observer

PM David Cameron ordered education secretary Michael Gove to issue humiliating apologies and told home secretary Theresa May to sack her closest adviser, following their public row over policy on combating extremism in schools.

Islamist Infiltration

Camilla Cavendish

Britain has a long history of underestimating the determination of those bent on subverting the West. After the 2005 bombings, the Labour government created a "preventing violent extremism" strategy, known as Prevent, which funded councils and police to work with community groups. But it focused mainly on preventing acts of terror, not stifling the ideology behind them.

The coalition hardened things up in 2011. David Cameron gave a powerful speech arguing that all forms of extremism can create an atmosphere conducive to terrorism. He intervened in a row between the independent reviewer of Prevent and the Home Office. The reviewer believed it was unacceptable to appease extremism and Cameron backed him.

Hellfire Preaching

Daily Mail

Bombshell reports by EFA and Ofsted claim Muslim radicals conspired to infiltrate governing bodies of Birmingham schools.

Oldknow Academy has around 600 pupils, more than 95% Muslim. It holds Islamic prayers on Friday, teaches Arabic, and organizes trips to Mecca. Extremists allegedly pushed out head teacher Bhupinder Kondal because she opposed Islamization. Teachers used terms such as "white prostitute" and "hellfire" in school assemblies. Teacher Samir Rauf accused Ofsted inspectors of "having an agenda".

Golden Hillock school has been taken over by Islamists and fails to shelter students from extremist views. Inspectors say the school did little to mitigate against cultural isolation, leaving students vulnerable to marginalization from wider British society. Chairman of governors Mohammed Shafique: "Ofsted's views are completely unfounded. We do not practice isolationism or segregation."

2014 June 6

Niedergang der Siegermächte

Sebastian Hammelehle

Am 70. Jahrestag D-Day haben sich die Gewichte entscheidend verschoben. Frankreich und Großbritannien haben den Zweiten Weltkrieg gewonnen, die entscheidende europäische Macht aber ist heute Deutschland. Für die Statik der EU könnte das gefährlich werden.

In Großbritannien zirkulierte während einer Wirtschaftskrise der Spruch, das Land habe zwar den Zweiten Weltkrieg gewonnen, den Frieden aber verloren. Über Deutschland lässt sich 70 Jahre nach dem
D-Day wohl das Gegenteil sagen.

Das Bild von der deutschen Vorherrschaft befeuert den europäischen Populismus. Das D in D-Day, 1944 die Abkürzung für "decision", steht 2014 nicht nur für Deutschland, sondern auch für eine gewisse Demut im Ausgleich der europäischen Interessen.


The Myth of the Strong Leader
By Archie Brown
Bodley Head, 466 pages

AR I'm reading it now.
Brown was professor of politics
at Oxford for decades.

The Beginning and the End
By Clément Vidal

Nicaea 2025
Roman Catholics and Eastern
Orthodox Christians may return
to Nicaea, Turkey, in 2025.
Early followers of Jesus met
there in 325 CE to try to
unite Christendom.

Vote for me!


2014 June 5

Memory Implants

New Scientist

Wiring up a rat brain with electronics that replay memories from trained rats into the brain can give it new skills. This research could help many people living with brain damage.

Memories can be lost when damaged parts of the brain fail to pass information from one area to another. An electronic implant that interprets the signals from one area and writes them into a second area can help. But first we have to know what a memory looks like. The neural code that represents a memory is thought to lie in the firing pattern of interconnected neurons.

A technique called multi-input/multi-output, MIMO, can be used to pick out meaningful signals from the noise of millions of neurons firing. A chip containing electrodes in rat hippocampus uses MIMO to isolate and record the neural code as rats recall a memory to act. In rats drugged to forget, the same electrodes deliver the same firing pattern back to the neurons, restoring memory.

MIMO has been used to record the code for a task in a group of rats and replay it in other rats, giving them new memories. DARPA is pushing the research into human trials.

2014 June 4


Roger Scruton

American conservatives say there is too much government. Government is the other side of freedom, and what makes freedom possible. A free relationship grants rights and duties to either party in a mutuality of interests.

The liberal conception of government is that the state exists in order to allocate the social product, and government is the art of seizing and then redistributing the good things to which all citizens have a claim.

But the liberal state no longer embodies the ethos of a nation. As in the EU, public displays of patriotism dwindle to a few desultory spasms, and the political class begins to be looked upon with sarcasm and contempt.

Conservative Americans can still see their government as an expression of their national unity. They need to map out the limits beyond which action by the government is a trespass on the freedom of the citizen.

AR The uncut essay is magnificent — if you like dense prose.

2014 June 3

European Reassurance Initiative


President Barack Obama wants his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to take steps to rebuild the trust shattered by Russia's actions in Ukraine. Speaking alongside Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, Obama announced that he is asking Congress for a fund of up to $1 billion for a European Reassurance Initiative to bolster the security of NATO allies in Europe.

AR Most reassuring!

Political Islam

Mustapha Tlili

The Obama administration has made a strategic error stemming from a failure to grasp the nature of political Islam. During the decades of dictatorship in the Arab world, political Islamists marketed themselves in the West as "moderate" movements that sought to reconcile Islam with democracy. In reality, they were proponents of a messianic ideology. The Obama administration bought into the fallacy and failed to invest in civil society groups and secular democratic parties in the Muslim world.

2014 June 2

Off to work for the
Poole Conservatives

Europe, Wake Up!

Tony Blair

The election results matter. They are a wake-up call to Europe and to Britain. Our response in Europe as in Britain should be to lead, not follow. We should make the debate about more than the repatriation of certain competences and rules.

There is a keen sense that the moment is right for Europe to think carefully about where it goes from here, how it reconnects with the concerns of its citizens, and how it changes in order better to realize its ideals in a changing world. It has to be a debate elevated to a Europe-wide level, with Britain playing a leading role, not just a negotiation of Britain's terms of membership. It has to be about what is good for Europe as well as what is good for Britain.

2014 June 1

The Soul of Islam

Mona Siddiqui

There is no single Islamist threat. The battle is among Muslims for the soul of Islam. There is a fear of diverse ways of thinking and living in Islamic societies. There is also a propensity among many people in Islamic societies to undermine any kind of intellectualism or critical inquiry.

The radical ideology of "Islam versus the West" is based on a toxic distinction. To make this distinction meaningless, we must engage in conversations in public life. I wonder whether part of the appeal of terrorism lies in boredom and the constant search for a new struggle.


Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath

Employees are more satisfied and productive when four core needs are met:

Physical, through regular opportunities to renew and recharge at work

Emotional, by feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions

Mental, when they can focus on essentials and decide how to tackle them

Spiritual, by doing what they do best and feeling its link to a higher purpose

Andy Ross

In the garden at Mottisfont, Romsey, UK, May 31, 2014

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