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Andy Ross 2015-03-01
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BLOG 2015
   

2015 March 1

Iran

Lawrence Haas

For more than a decade, US leaders worked to prevent Iran from acquiring or developing nuclear weapons technology. The international community imposed sanctions that would remain in place until we could rest assured that Iran would not develop nuclear weaponry.

President Obama now seems prepared to ink a deal that would put Iran on the cusp of nuclear weaponry. Yet nothing of late suggests that Tehran will change for the better. Iran remains an aggressive state sponsor of terrorism across the region. Its leaders continue to threaten Israel.
 


View from the rooftop of Hotel A La Carte. My Khe beach, Da Nang. Image: Thomas Uhlemann/dpa/Corbis
Vietnam 40 years on


HAR
End UK tax dodging








CBS
Live long and prosper


i
The first Chinese train to Spain completed a 26 Mm round trip on a new cargo line through Kazakhstan, Belarus, Poland, Germany, and France.

Security Challenges
Facing NATO

RUSI video


Russian TV
View from Russian Bear of
RAF Typhoon off Cornwall
this week


visualphilosophy
"Marx to the left of me,
Thatcher to the right,
Here I am,
stuck in the middle
with EU."


IOP Publishing


Photo: Fiona Hanson
Rowan Williams
"I'm preparing for
my final years."

AR He's younger than me!


Deutsche Fotothek
Dresden 70 years ago:
Allied fire-bombing
left 25,000 dead

 

2015 February 28

Islamists Versus Christians

Asra Q. Nomani

For Muslims, shirk is equating any being with God. Various translations define shirk as paganism, idolatry, or polytheism, and people who practice shirk are mushrikun. The Quran says shirk is a major sin. In one hadith, shirk is worse than murder. For most Muslim, Christians and Jews are people of the book, but they are mushrikun for Islamic State extremists.

Wahhabists accuse Muslims of shirk if they are Shi'ites, visit the tombs of saints, or celebrate the birthday of the prophet Muhammad. Islamic theologists regard tombs as shirk. Islamic State has interpreted shirk to put a veneer of ideology and piety on the kidnapping of women from the Yazidi ethnic minority of Iraq and Syria by calling the women mushrikun.

Translations of the Quran by the government of Saudi Arabia feed hatred of Jews and Christians. One translation adds parenthetical phrases: "Guide us on the Straight Way, the Way of those whom You have bestowed Your Grace, not (the way) of those who earned Your Anger (such as the Jews), and not of those who went astray (such as the Christians)."

2015 February 27

Pax Americana

Jessica T. Mathews

Bret Stephens believes that international security is skidding downhill. The evidence suggests otherwise. The number of armed conflicts is down by more than one third since the end of the cold war. Recent years have also been ones of declining threat from weapons of mass destruction. There are now far fewer nuclear weapons in the world and fewer countries with nuclear programs than there were twenty years ago. Stephens urges a US global hegemony.

AR Physicists have so pacified Homo sap with nukes that the US Globocop looks musclebound and Trident like overkill.

Iconoclasts

CNN

An IS militant: "These antiquities and idols behind me were from people in past centuries and were worshiped instead of God. When God Almighty orders to us destroy these statues, idols and antiquities, we must do it, even if they're worth billions of dollars."

AR My psychology of revelation gives such inner compulsion a logical semantics in which "orders" like these arise from brain states.

2015 February 26

Global Warming

Naomi Klein

The economic system that we have created has also created global warming. The system is broken. The lack of restraint on the part of the energy companies is disastrous.

We are going to experience global warming and far more natural disasters. But we still have time to prevent truly catastrophic warming. We also have time to change our economic system.

We have to make some decisions now about what values are important to us and how we really want to live. As long as we have a chance to minimize the damage, we have to continue to fight.

We need a dramatic change both in policy and ideology, because there is a fundamental difference between what the scientists are telling us we need to do and our current political reality.

The system in which we live sees all growth as good. But there are kinds of growth that are clearly not good. Emissions are rising and climate change is here.

We need an economic and political transformation, one based on stronger communities, sustainable jobs, greater regulation, and a departure from this obsession with growth.

2015 February 25

Turkey

Roger Boyes

As the only Muslim-led member of NATO, Turkey has a central role to play in the Mideast. Turks aim to topple Bashar al-Assad in Syria and to ensure that the Kurds do not exploit Mideast chaos to carve out their own state. In both these aims, Islamic State is not so much an enemy as a useful tool.

Turks communicate with IS commanders and help support the IS economy. They do not let NATO jets bomb Islamic State from Incirlik, the US airbase in Turkey. Turkish forces went into Syria only to rescue the holy tomb of Suleyman Shah, grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman empire.

Turkey is playing a double game. For now, we will just have to pretend to be friends.

Well Done, Old Chap!

The Times

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne deserves a "pat on the back" for Britain's economic recovery and should be allowed to "finish the job" of performing a "textbook" recovery, says OECD secretary-general Ángel Gurría: "The UK has made tremendous progress exiting from the worst economic crisis of our lifetime. Job creation is remarkable and growth is strong."

2015 February 24

The New Way of War

Douglas A. Ollivant

Wars today are brutal and manpower intensive. We encounter professionals who intermingle with the population, outside national bounds, in spaces that belong to no state or only tenuously to a state.

The United States must adapt:

1 We need to rethink the way we go about buying our military hardware. The debacles of both the
F-35 aircraft and the US Army DCGS intelligence architecture are well documented.

2 We need forces that work with allied forces in spaces where the state is weak or nonexistent. Special forces teams are the capability most needed for future warfare.

3 We need prepared and ready land power. Indigenous land power supported by US airpower will continue to be the preferred approach, but the United States still needs a reliable ground force.

4 The Pentagon should focus on systems that push power and information to the edge of the system. In our age the force of choice has had access to centralized information. The forces of choice for the future will need to have information pushed out to them.

5 Military personnel management systems have defects in recruiting and development. We need new proposals that increase flexibility and expand the talent pool without degrading the production of leaders who can take young men into combat.

6 Warfare has not changed fundamentally. Wars will continue to be fought by young men over issues of fear, honor and interest, much like today.

2015 February 23

Islamic State

Graeme Wood

Islamic State is very Islamic. Virtually every major decision and law it promulgates adheres to the Prophetic methodology. The Prophet reportedly said the armies of Rome will set up camp in the Syrian city of Dabiq. The armies of Islam will meet them and defeat them there. After that, the caliphate will expand and sack Istanbul. An Antichrist from Iran will kill vast numbers until just a few remain, cornered in Jerusalem. Then Jesus will return to Earth and lead the Muslims to victory.

2015 February 22

Retiring Trident

Toby Fenwick

Shortly after May 2015, the UK government will decide on replacing the Trident SLBM force V-boats with Successor-class SSBNs. A decision to go will lock the UK into capital spending of up to £33 billion by 2032 on the new subs, and this will likely lead to the UK operating Trident beyond 2050 at a total LCC of about £109 billion.

If the UK scraps plans for Successor-class SSBNs and moves to a free-fall nuclear capability based on LM F-35C JSF DCA and US B61-12 PGM, an alternative nuclear force based on 100 B61-12s has a capital cost of less than £17 billion. This includes:

Associated nuclear storage and C2
Conversion of both QE-class aircraft carriers for CATOBAR
5 additional Astute-class SSNs
4 additional Type 26 frigates
6 shipborne AEW&C and 4 COD aircraft
Converting the 14 RAF Voyager for flying boom AAR
8 P-8 class MPA/MMA

All these investments will enhance UK conventional force projection capabilities and precision conventional strike capability.

AR The VfM + LCC argument is convincing. Go for F-35C + B61-12.

2015 February 21

700th Anniversary Lecture by Dr Rowan Williams:
"Secular Churches and Holy Societies"
University Church of St Mary the Virgin, High Street, Oxford
Followed by tea in Exeter College Oxford

The Conscious Web

Stephen Balkam

Kevin Kelly says AI will enliven inert objects in the way that electricity did over 100 years ago. "Everything that we formerly electrified, we will now cognitize."

The internet of things (IoT) will link countless objects and people with embedded wireless identifiers that communicate autonomously, with 50 billion nodes by 2020.

Tim O'Reilly sees the IoT as the biggest online development yet. He thinks we should "expect our devices to anticipate us in all sorts of ways" and points to Google Now.

David Chalmers and others speculate that all things in the universe might be (or potentially be) conscious. If so, could we in the midst of a conscious web?

Teilhard de Chardin envisioned a global sphere of thought called the noosphere. He saw it as the evolutionary step beyond our geosphere and biosphere.

AR This scenario is my Globorg hypothesis — see my books, from Lifeball to Coral.

2015 February 20

NATO Panzeraufrüstung

Allan Mallinson

Germany is not pulling its weight against the Russian threat. UK defense secretary Michael Fallon says the Russians pose a "a real and present danger" to the Baltic members of NATO.

Every euro for the Greeks is one less for the Bundeswehr. German disarmament since the fall of the Berlin wall has been greater than that from the Versailles treaty after World War I. At the end of the Cold War the army had eight Panzer divisions. Now it has some 63,000 active soldiers.

NATO is looking thin. Britain and France have their eyes on other problems. Their armies are being rebuilt around the concept of agility, meaning lightweight. German troops played a minor role in Afghanistan, but in Europe the German army could play to its historic strengths.

German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen will overhaul German strategy in the light of the conflict in Ukraine. A new approach is needed for when diplomacy fails. Germany could reinvigorate NATO by reconstituting six Panzer divisions to build up 150,000 armored troops.

Former Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorsky: "I will probably be the first Polish foreign minister in history to say so, but here it is: I fear German power less than I am beginning to fear German inactivity."

2015 February 19

Evolution of Eukaryotes

David Baum and Buzz Baum

The evolution of the eukaryotic cell was a critical event for life on Earth.

Inside the eukaryotic cell is an intricate meshwork of membranes called the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), interspersed with other structures such as mitochondria. At the core is the nucleus, a large compartment with a double membrane, within which lies the DNA. This type of cellular organization distinguishes eukaryotes from prokaryotes.

Perhaps the eukaryotic cell evolved when a prokaryote folded parts of its outer membrane inwards, pinching off portions to generate internal compartments. Some membranes then wrapped around the DNA to make the nuclear membrane, while others morphed into the ER. Other cells engulfed by the cell went on to become mitochondria.

We propose that eukaryotic cells evolved when a prokaryote extruded blobs of outer membrane through its cell wall. These then fused to form the peripheral parts of the eukaryotic cell that contain the ER and mitochondria. The outer membrane of the eukaryotic cell is new. The nuclear envelope is the boundary of the prokaryotic ancestor.

Our model explains features of the ER and the nuclear membrane.

2015 February 18

Marxist

Yanis Varoufakis

In 2008, capitalism had a global spasm. The financial crisis set off a chain reaction that pushed Europe into a downward spiral that continues to this day.

This crisis of European capitalism is far less likely to give birth to a better alternative to capitalism than it is to unleash dangerously regressive forces that have the capacity to cause a humanitarian bloodbath. We need to arrest the free fall of European capitalism in order to buy the time we need to formulate its alternative.

Karl Marx created a narrative populated by workers and others who struggled to harness reason and science in the context of empowering humanity. Contrary to their intentions, they unleashed demonic forces that usurped and subverted their own freedom and humanity.

This dialectical perspective on the great contradictions of the capitalist era dissolved the paradox of an age that generated the most remarkable wealth and the most conspicuous poverty. Beside the dialectical relation of debts and surpluses, of growth and unemployment, of wealth and poverty, indeed of good and evil, Marx discovered another binary opposition: the contradiction between human labour as a source of value that can never be quantified in advance and labour as a quantity that is for sale and comes at a price.

Economic theory that treats human and other productive inputs as interchangeable assumes that the dehumanization of human labour is complete. But if it could ever be completed, the result would be the end of capitalism as a system of value.

If capital ever succeeds in commodifying labour, it will also squeeze that human freedom from within labour that allows for the generation of value. The portrayal of human freedom as an economic category is unique in Marx.

Marx made the greatest contribution any economist has ever made to our understanding of the contradiction buried in capitalism. Capital can never win in its struggle to turn labour into an infinitely elastic input without destroying itself.

Marx argued that wealth is collectively produced and then privately appropriated through social relations of production and property rights that rely on false consciousness.

Neoliberals have convinced a large array of people that markets are not just a useful means to an end but also an end in themselves. The great objective behind liberalism was to separate the economic sphere from the political sphere and to confine politics to the latter, leaving economics to capital.

Margaret Thatcher delivered a shock to the UK. The recession her government engineered destroyed progressive politics and the notion of values that transcended market price.

What good will it do today to call for a dismantling of the eurozone?
We must try to minimize the human toll from this crisis.

AR Varoufakis is the Greek minister of finance.

2015 February 17

SAP S/4 HANA

Helen Arnold

SAP S/4 HANA is the biggest innovation since R/3. SAP is breaking all limitations of the past, with a completely new suite:

Simpler: Complexity is the most intractable business problem that all companies face today. SAP S/4 HANA will remove complexity from core systems and help companies return to standard. CIOs will be able to reduce their company data footprints and show a huge gain in performance. A focus on parallelism without locking improves throughput. Companies get more for less.

Faster: Custom code and modifications hinder innovation. Critical modifications we can host on the SAP HANA cloud platform. By getting back to a standard code line, we open businesses up to a much faster innovation cycle. Without long upgrade cycles or waiting for enhancement packs, businesses can consume innovation frequently. CIOs can become trusted innovation partners.

Flexible: CIOs will guide SAP S/4 HANA deployment either on premise or via the cloud. They will have the option to consume innovation packages delivered either in the public cloud or on the SAP HANA enterprise cloud. On premise customers can consume updates more frequently. Companies with SAP S/4 HANA on premise can easily convert to SAP S/4 HANA on the cloud.

With complexity eliminated and innovation easily adoptable, companies can become faster and better at what they do.

AR I was in the HANA team. We broke new ground.

2015 February 16

Norway

Hugh Eakin

The July 2011, massacre by Anders Breivik was the worst mass killing in Norwegian history. In a long manifesto, Breivik revealed a preoccupation with Islamic colonization abetted by the ruling Labor Party. He had been in the Progress Party, which warned about stealth Islamization. In 2013, the Labor Party was voted out and replaced by the Conservative Party in coalition with the Progress Party.

Thanks to oil, Norway's GDP per capita is now more than $100,000. It has low income inequality and leads the world in gender equality. Its cities are clean, almost every child gets a public education, the prisons are models of rehabilitation, and all tax returns are published online. The Norwegian government sends more humanitarian aid abroad per capita than any country.

After 9/11, opposition to Muslims and Islam entered Norwegian politics. A community of Islamophobes supported the Eurabia theory that there was a conspiracy to Islamize Europe. Young Norwegian Muslims founded Islam Net, an online youth organization with a Salafist ideology, raising suspicions that it was a pathway to radicalization. Hostility to Muslims in Norway is growing.

Blood

Karen Armstrong

Muhammad began to preach to his fellow Meccans in 612 CE. His message was based on the Quran, a new revelation for the people of Arabia. Many believed that their god Allah was identical with the god of the Jews and Christians. The bedrock message of the Quran was simply that it was good to share your wealth with the poor and vulnerable and to treat them with respect.

2015 February 15

Interstellar

Classical and Quantum Gravity

The team responsible for the visual effects in Interstellar developed new code to generate the movie images of the wormhole and black hole Gargantua. When a camera is close up to a rapidly spinning black hole, surfaces known as caustics create multiple images of individual stars and of the plane of the galaxy in which the black hole lives. The images are concentrated along one edge of the black hole shadow and are caused by the black hole dragging space into a whirling motion and stretching the caustics around itself many times. The code mapped the paths of millions of lights beams as they passed through warped spacetime to make an iconic image for the movie.

The black hole focuses a light beam emitted from any point on a caustic surface into a bright cusp of light. All the caustics but one wrap around the sky many times when the camera is close to the black hole. As each caustic passes by a star, it either creates two new images of the star as seen by the camera or annihilates two old images of the star. The simulations showed the caustics creating and annihilating a huge number of stellar images. On the opposite side of the shadow, the multiple images of each star are compressed inward and are not seen in the images.

Kip Thorne: "This new approach to making images will be of great value to astrophysicists like me. We too need smooth images."

2015 February 14

Master of the Universe

The Spectator

Guy Spier read PPE at Brasenose with Dave Cameron. After Oxford and Harvard Business School, Spier headed straight to a toxic New York brokerage firm. Eighteen months later, no one in the financial industry would employ him. He grasped that the secret to making money is first to turn yourself into the kind of person who is good at making money.

He renouncing the excitement of shorting, of bubbles, of vertiginous rises and headlong falls, in favor of value investing. He learned to spot which companies are going to do well and then backed them for the long run, knowing that their value will increase steadily over time.

He realized that the quest for value extends far beyond financial markets into a whole way of life. He quit the buzz of New York for the dull life of Zurich. He located his office well away from the financial center and just ten minutes from home.

His philosophy: the happier you are and the better you are at making others happy, the more easily you generate an environment in which you thrive not just personally but financially.

Lord Green

The Independent

Stephen Green: clergyman, banking executive, then chairman of HSBC from 2003 to 2010, and author of the book Good Value: Reflections on Money, Morality and an Uncertain World.

After his elevation, Lord Green joined the Coalition government as a trade minister. Now he has nothing to say on the aggressive tax avoidance procured by his bank's Swiss subsidiary on his watch, or on allegations of tax evasion.

AR I once chatted with Stephen at a college dinner in Zurich (we are old boys of the same Oxford college). Nice chap, moral and religious. Oops!

2015 February 13

Ukraine

Fred Kaplan

What Putin fears most in this confrontation is not the introduction of some Western tanks or rockets but a thriving, prosperous Ukraine. It would be an example to the rest of the former Soviet republics that a better, richer life can be had under Western styles of governance and economics than under Putin's dream of a resuscitated USSR.

Messages to ETI

The Independent

Douglas Vokoch, of the SETI Institute in California, advocates beaming powerful radio messages to hypothetical alien civilizations advanced enough to read them. Vokoch: "With recent detection of Earth-like planets in the habitable zones of other stars, we have natural targets for such transmission projects. Some would argue that we should avoid powerful transmissions at all costs for fear of an alien invasion. If this mindset became entrenched, it would signal a guarded vision for humankind as isolationist, avoiding exploration, trying to minimize risk at any cost."

2015 February 12

Ukraine Deal?

The Guardian

The leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France may be close to agreement following all-night talks in the Belarus capital Minsk on resolving the Ukraine conflict.

AR Hope it works. We're not ready for war.

2015 February 11

Nuclear Power

MIT Technology Review

Transatomic Power has begun work on a nuclear reactor that would be smaller and safer than a conventional unit. The design uses molten salt as its coolant, making it safe from meltdown, and it can burn nuclear waste without making material for weapons. Based on a reactor developed and tested 50 years ago at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the new design uses zirconium hydride as a moderator, protected from the corrosive molten salts by silicon carbide. Experiments will test whether the new materials perform as expected. The work is supported by Founders Fund.

2015 February 10

Liberalism

Samuel Moyn

Anglo-American liberalism has never been the sole version of the tradition. The French tradition treats modern individualism as a historical product rather than a natural fact.

Renaissance and Enlightenment thinkers appealed to the classical past in order to attack Christian oppression. They encouraged their heirs to skirt the roots of liberalism in the Christianity that flourished in the Middle Ages.

The Middle Ages were much more Christian than liberal. We need to explain the move from a refusal of the relevance of Christian moral beliefs in politics to a revolution in assumptions about the subordination of individuals to hierarchy.

The monotheists made the divine so otherworldly that man was liberated. Christianity severed the monotheist promise from terrestrial fulfillment and inscribed it in the soul. The same revolution that alienated individuals in relation to the world inadvertently prepared their independence from the divine and deprived politics of any sacred meaning.

Axel Honneth: "One of the major weaknesses of contemporary political philosophy is that it has been decoupled from an analysis of society, instead becoming fixated on purely normative principles."

2015 February 9

Destruction

Andrew Keen

The digital economy does not so much disrupt what went before as destroy it. We need to ask what kind of world we want to live in. For most authors, editors, photographers, and musicians, the 25 years since the birth of the web have been a disaster. The winners take all, the rest wither and die. The internet has not been an unmitigated success.
 

The A Team

Andy Garner-Watts
Alvin Gunputh
Andy Ross
Poole Quay, 2015-02-07
 

Below: In front of
Setchfields model shop


Above: With statue of
Lord Baden-Powell,
hero of Mafeking and
former owner of
Brownsea Island
 

Left: In front of the
historic Custom House


pa
East meets West


Juliet Marine Systems

Math And Sex

Mathematics can be as good
as sex. We are drawn to math.
Beauty is part of the process.
Brain scans show that the experience of mathematical
beauty excites the same area of
the brain as music or art. Math
prodigy Paul Erdős claimed that
certain proofs were so perfect
they were divine.


DE
Russian Bear over
Poole Bay last week

 

2015 February 8

India

Patrick French

1911 Presiding over the Delhi Durbar, the Emperor of India King George V and his consort Queen Mary announced that the capital of the Raj was to be shifted from Calcutta to Delhi and laid the foundation stone for the Viceroy's new residence in Coronation Park.

1931 Construction completed, New Delhi inaugurated. Viceroy of India Lord Irwin invited Mohandas Gandhi to his palace for tea. They agreed that the Indian National Congress would call off civil disobedience and the British would release political prisoners and move toward participatory government.

1932 Viceroy Lord Willingdon invoked emergency powers and imprisoned tens of thousands of non-violent protesters, including Gandhi, who promptly went on hunger strike.

1942 Malaya, Singapore, and Burma fell to the Japanese. British power in Asia was finished.
1947 India became independent and Pakistan was created.
1950 India rejected the King Emperor George VI and declared itself a republic.

2015 February 7

East Meets West
A charity evening featuring Indian cuisine and culture
Newtown Conservative Club, Poole

Half of EU Voters Back Reform

The Telegraph

A survey in four major European countries finds that voters want change in the European Union.
About half of the people polled believe the EU should be reformed:

58% in France
46% in Germany
49% in the Netherlands
49% in the UK

GHOST

Juliet Marine Systems

The US Navy is in a revolutionary period of change. Juliet Marine Systems in Portsmouth, NH, has developed a supercavitating surface craft as a testbed for technology it plans to apply in a prototype Unmanned Undersea Vehicle.

The GHOST rides on twin submerged buoyant tubular foils. It is a combination of stealth fighter aircraft and attack helicopter technologies packaged in a marine platform. Systems for integrating its weapons will be capable of engaging multiple targets while GHOST operates at very high speed.

AR Reminds me of Parson's Turbinia, the "ocean greyhound" that dazzled onlookers at Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee Fleet Review in 1897 (and of the "bubbleboat" I designed 55 years ago).

2015 February 6

First Stars

New Scientist

The first stars were born over 100 million years later than we thought, says ESA Planck data.

The CMB is the stretched relic of the "Let there be light" epoch 12 Ts after the big bang. Planck mapped the CMB and the team has analyzed it to find that the cosmic dark ages lasted longer than we thought. The Planck predecessor WMAP put the start of the era at about 420 My ABB. Now Planck sets back the start of reionization to about 550 My ABB.

The Planck data rules out the BICEP2 claim to have detected primordial gravitational waves.

2015 February 5

Drinks and talk with UK transport minister Claire Perry MP
The Old Vicarage, Bere Regis, Dorset

Cosmic Inflation

New Scientist

Last March, cosmologists found apparent evidence that spacetime rippled during the big bang. Astronomers at the BICEP2 observatory reported signs of gravitational waves in the CMB consistent with inflation. Later researchers using ESA Planck data suggested that the BICEP2 signal could be due to dust in the galaxy. Now another study shows that the dust can explain the BICEP2 results.

2015 February 4

Convert Railways to Busways

Institute of Economic Affairs

Commuters could pay 40% less to travel and more passengers could get a seat if some commuter railways in London were converted into busways:

Capacity: Commuter railways move a quarter of a million passengers into London during the morning peak hour, many of whom have to stand, when 150 express coaches could seat them all using one seventh of the capacity of a one-lane busway.

Journey time: Express coaches would deliver similar travel speeds but operate more frequently. Door-to-door time savings for coaches operating from suburbs and villages would be greater.

Cost: Converting commuter railways into busways would reduce fares for passengers. Conversion costs would be high but adding new rail capacity and rail subsidies would be worse.

The government spends £6 billion a year on the rail network. It funds about 40% of spending on the heavy rail network. Although 90% of passengers and 70% of freight traffic go by road, state spending on railways is only 30% lower than that on roads.

Policy decisions on rail have reflected political priorities rather than economic logic.

2015 February 3

Biker Deaths

Foreign Policy

The global #1 public health crisis is a soaring number of motorcycle fatalities. Across Asia, 2 and 3 wheeled vehicles account for about a third of all highway deaths, with the highest numbers in SE Asia. Road crashes cost SE Asian economies some 3% of GDP. Governments talk of making roads safer but see accidents as the price of progress.

2015 February 1

Russia Versus NATO

James Rubin

Western policies have failed to deter Moscow. President Vladimir Putin has not been dissuaded from his goals in Ukraine. Sanctions imposed by the European Union and Washington have imposed a price, but not one high enough to deter Russia from continuing to carve out a large chunk of Ukraine.

Beyond Ukraine, NATO steps to reassure its members in eastern Europe, primarily Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, are woefully inadequate. NATO needs a new approach to ensure that deterrence is restored for the Baltics and eastern Europe, a few hundred miles from the heart of Europe.

To strengthen NATO, the main step was a contingency fund to allow increased military exercises. But to bolster the defense of Poland, instead of the new military base that the Polish government had offered to host, the United States sent in a unit of 200 soldiers to rotate in and out of the country during exercises.

Western leaders need to take dramatic steps to show solidarity with new NATO members in the east. The time to worry about Russian sensibilities is past. Moscow has charted a path of war. The West must chart a wiser path to peace.


NASA
Chandra X-ray observatory image of Large Magellanic Cloud star remnant SNR 0519-69.0


Bundesarchiv
"Der 8. Mai war ein
Tag der Befreiung."

Richard von Weizsäcker
Bundespräsident
1984-1994


MS
Globall goes virtual

Big Bazooka



EZ €1.1T QE


DPA
Demo in Hannover


Reuters
Demo in London


MOD

PEGIDA
Der Spiegel

Monday marches by PEGIDA activists have transformed Dresden into a Mecca for Islamophobes.


CH
Vraiment?

 

2015 January 31

Terror

Yuval Noah Harari

Terror is a military strategy that hopes to change the political situation by spreading fear rather than by causing material damage. This strategy is almost always adopted by very weak parties.

Terrorists aim to beat the rival with the rival's own power. They leave all the important decisions in the hands of the enemy. People turn to terrorism because they know they cannot wage war, so they opt instead to produce a theatrical spectacle.

Like terrorists, those combating terrorism should also think more like theater producers and less like army generals. To fight terrorism effectively we must realize that nothing the terrorists do can defeat us. We are the only ones who can defeat ourselves, if we overreact in a misguided way to terrorist provocations.

The legitimacy of the modern state is based on its promise to keep the public sphere free of political violence. This is what makes the theater of terrorism so successful. A huge space empty of political violence acts as a sounding board.

The most efficient answer to terrorism might be good intelligence and clandestine action against the networks of money that feed terrorism. But this is not something citizens can see on television.

Spirituality

Sam Harris

I came into science from the philosophical side of wanting to understand consciousness and subjectivity. Then I had to know more about the brain in order to be able to talk about the mind.

When you have certain experiences in meditation, or with psychedelics, that show you a very different possibility for your experiences, moment to moment, those don't tell you anything about the nature of the cosmos. These experiences do entitle you to say something about the nature of human experience and its possibilities. We can then understand them further by understanding what's happening in the brain when we have them.

The self is an idea which we know doesn't actually make sense in terms of what's going on at the level of the brain. And it also doesn't make sense if you pay close attention to your conscious experience. I think the good life question is the most important question.

2015 January 30

Engineering

Prince Philip

Great engineers have a passion to improve life. What drives them is the conviction that they can find a better way to do things. Instead of complaining, they think of ways to make things better. Engineering has made a greater positive difference to human life than almost any other human endeavor.

AI Threat

Bill Gates

I am concerned about super intelligence. First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern.

One project I am working on with Microsoft is the Personal Agent which will remember everything and help you go back and find things and help you pick what things to pay attention to. The agent will work across all your devices.

AR Ah yes, absent-minded middle age.

2015 January 29

Virtual Reality

Molly Wood

Gaming was the focus of the original Oculus Rift VR headset. Oculus was bought by Facebook last year for $2 billion. The $200 Samsung Gear VR headset is built in partnership with Oculus.

Augmented reality lays virtual elements on top of the real world instead of taking you into an entirely contained experience. Google has invested more than $500 million in AR company Magic Leap.

2015 January 28

HoloLens

Wired

A team of Microsoft engineers, designers, and researchers has toiled to create an augmented reality headset called HoloLens. The device weaves digital elements into the real world in a magical merging of the virtual and physical.

I used it to install a light switch. I put on a headset and looked at a hole in the wall and a row of tools. An engineer Skyped in on my screen, introduced himself, and drew a holographic circle around a voltage tester. Then he walked me through the process of installing the switch, sketching quick arrows and diagrams that glowed on the wall in front of me. Five minutes later, I flipped the switch and turned the light on.

This is the next computing interface. In this new reality, sensors will be everywhere, producing copious amounts of data, a layer of ambient intelligence coating every physical object. The technology will offer a visual computing platform controlled by speech and gesture that is so intuitive it fades into the background.

HoloLens has three controls, to adjust volume, to adjust the contrast of the hologram, and to power on or off, all powered by Windows 10. When it comes to market toward the end of this year, it will weigh about the same as a bike helmet.

NASA saw its potential to help space explorers collaborate more closely and to provide presence. A team built a Mars simulation that works so well that NASA plans to deploy the technology on a mission by this summer.

AR This is right for now. Google Glass was a step too far.

2015 January 27

The Moral Arc

Michael Shermer

When I talk about a moral arc of progress, I mean an improvement in the survival and flourishing of individual sentient beings. My argument is one for natural rights.

Social problems such as homicide and violence ought to be treated as public health issues. If you agree that millions of lives have been saved over the past couple of centuries by a reduction in violence due to improved technologies and policies, then you might well concur that applying the methods of the social sciences to solving problems such as crime and violence is also something we ought to do.

The survival and flourishing of sentient beings is our moral starting point. Most people act in what they consider to be moral ways. When we can clearly see that they are in fact behaving in ways that lead to the suffering or death of sentient beings, it is probably more accurate to say that they are mistaken in their beliefs than that they are simply immoral or evil. And the solution is that we need to correct their mistaken beliefs. Science and reason are the best tools we have for doing that. Ultimately moral progress comes about from generating better ideas rather than better morality.

The moral arc is not a smooth curve, but the moral progress we have made is real and lasting. The trends are encouraging. We have good reasons for optimism about the future of humanity.

Auschwitz 70 years on

2015 January 25

Ex Machina

Dir. Alex Garland

AR Excellent: a better cinematic introduction to Chalmers' Hard Problem and the AGI issue would be hard to imagine.

2015 January 24

Consciousness

Oliver Burkeman

In Tucson, Arizona, in 1994, David Chalmers gave a talk on consciousness. Stuart Hameroff, the Arizona professor responsible for the event, recalls: "He comes on stage, hair down to his butt, he's prancing around like Mick Jagger. But then he speaks. And that's when everyone wakes up."

Chalmers introduced the Hard Problem of Consciousness: Why should brain processes feel like anything from the inside? Two decades later, the field of artificial intelligence has advanced stupendously. But the Hard Problem remains.

René Descartes identified the dilemma that would tie scholars in knots for years to come. You are conscious. But this most certain and familiar of phenomena obeys none of the usual rules of science. The mind must be made of some special stuff. Cartesian dualism remained the governing assumption into the early days of modern brain study.

David Chalmers: "Evolution could have produced zombies instead of conscious creatures ... I can see how you're behaving, I could do a brain scan, and find out exactly what's going on in your brain, yet it seems it could be consistent with all that evidence that you have no consciousness at all."

Chalmers is fond of clambering on stage to sing The Zombie Blues, a lament about the miseries of having no consciousness. It would be satisfying if a theory were to vanquish the Hard Problem. Chalmers has no particular confidence that a consensus will emerge in the next century.

AR Chalmers' work inspired my book Mindworlds.

2015 January 23

Drinks reception with Liam Fox
St Nicolas Church, Corfe Mullen

Augmented Reality

The New York Times

The HoloLens is wondrous. It suggests that interacting with holograms could become an important part of how we use machines in the future. Microsoft has clearly put a great deal of engineering work into this project. When you put on the device, which looks like ski goggles, you see 3D digital controls as well as images from a video game superimposed on the world around you. The holograms do not have very high resolution, but they are crisp enough to create the illusion of reality.

HoloLens will draw comparisons with Google Glass. Both devices mix digital images and daily life, and both make you look silly when you wear them. But Glass mostly keeps the digital images out of your field of vision and is thus more suited to be used in public. The HoloLens immerses you more deeply in a digital environment. Glass is meant to be more like a replacement for your phone while the HoloLens seems more like a substitute for the personal computer. It's meant to be useful.

AR See chapter 0001 of my 2010 book G.O.D. Is Great.

2015 January 22

Davos

The Guardian

The billionaires and corporate oligarchs meeting in Davos this week are getting worried about inequality.

For 35 years, market fundamentalism has ruled. Inequality in income and wealth has ballooned both between and within the large majority of countries. Under this regime of privatization, deregulation, and low taxes on the rich, finance has sucked wealth from the public realm into the hands of a small minority and laid waste the rest of the economy. Not only is such appropriation of wealth a moral and social outrage, but it is fueling social and climate conflict, wars, mass migration, and political corruption, stunting health and life chances, increasing poverty, and widening gender and ethnic divides.

Escalating inequality has been a crucial factor in the economic crisis of the past 7 years.

2015 January 21

Wilders

Winston Ross

Geert Wilders could become the next prime minister of Holland. Ten years ago, his proposals were mostly seen as the ravings of an extremist. Now reporters call him a populist and no longer dismiss his xenophobic rants.

Europeans are becoming increasingly hostile to Muslims and immigrants. Islamophobes are burning mosques in Sweden and marching by the tens of thousands in Germany. Wilders: "This is war."

Wilders says he hates Islam, not Muslims: "The biggest disease we have faced in the last decades in Europe is cultural relativism, the idea by liberals and leftist politicians that all cultures are equal. They are not. Our culture, based on Christianity, humanism and Judaism, is a better culture."

He abjures violence: "We should be tolerant to people who are tolerant to us. We should be intolerant to people who are intolerant to us."

Houellebecq

Adam Gopnik

Michel Houellebecq is a satirist. The principal target of his new satire is not French Islam but the spinelessness of the French intellectual class. The portrait of the Islamic regime is quite fond. The reform of education, the reinforcement of the family, even the re-domestication of women are all held up for admiration.

Like most satirists worth reading, Houellebecq is a conservative. The Muslim warriors are inspired by the austere ideal of submission to authority. But the great majority of Muslim kids will do what kids everywhere do: pursue their own interests within the system. Sharia law is the last thing they want.

2015 January 20

Evolution

Philip Ball

Darwinian evolution takes random variation and sieves it by natural selection. But the landscape that the evolutionary process explores has a remarkable structure.

A computer program can predict the simplest features of an RNA shape from its sequence. RNA molecules with the same shape can vary very widely in sequence. You can go from one sequence to another with the same shape via a succession of small changes called neutral mutations.

Any given sequence in the search space has a huge number of neighboring sequences that have completely different shapes, yet it can still mutate step by step into a different sequence with a similar function. So the search space is navigable: You can change the genotype neutrally, without losing the phenotype. RNA can evolve.

Proteins have this property too. Different organisms often possess proteins with the same shape and function, yet typically these will share no more than a fifth of their amino acids in common. It seems evolvability is a fundamental feature of complex networks.

For many organisms, you can obliterate many of their individual genes to no obvious effect. There are plenty of similar gene circuits that do much the same job as the original one. A network that can evolve new features and forms among a vast array of alternatives must be robust against small changes.

A property of biological systems even deeper than evolutionary processes is the landscape of possible shapes. The landscape has a topology in which functionally similar combinations of the component parts are connected into vast webs that stretch throughout a multidimensional space, each intricately woven amid countless others.

The structure of these combinatorial landscapes of biomolecules enables nature to innovate rather than only making incremental variations on what already exists. Evolution can take a random walk along a web of neutral mutations. Through neutral drift, organisms can reach locations in phase space inaccessible by adaptive mutation from their original starting position.

Evolvability and openness to innovation are features of information. Darwinian evolution is a result of how information is organized in complex systems.

AR Evolving now: the AGI God.

Plasticity

Colin Barras

Plasticity may play a key role in evolution. Instead of mutating first and adapting later, animals often adapt first and mutate later.

A physical feature that began as a plastic response to an environmental trigger can become a hereditary feature. Plastic changes occur because an environmental trigger affects a developmental pathway in some way. Random mutations can have similar effects. So in an environment in which a particular plastic response is crucial for survival, only mutations that allow or reinforce this response can spread. The altered developmental pathway becomes a permanent hereditary feature.

Plasticity can determine which mutations spread. Genetic assimilation does not overturn any fundamental principles of evolution.

2015 January 19

Digital Apocalypse

Sam Harris

It seems likely that we will one day build machines that possess superhuman intelligence. A future artificial general intelligence (AGI) will likely exceed human performance on every task to which it is assigned.

A superhuman AGI that behaved exactly as intended would quickly free us from doing most intellectual work. Absent a willingness to immediately put this new capital at the service of all humanity, a few of us would enjoy unimaginable wealth, and the rest would be free to starve. Even in the presence of a truly benign AGI, we could find ourselves slipping back to a state of nature, policed by drones.

Chaos seems a probable outcome even in the case where the AGI remained perfectly obedient. But the control problem appears quite difficult to solve. Imagine that we build a computer that is no more intelligent than the average team of researchers but runs a million times faster than the minds that built it. What are the chances that such an entity would remain content to take direction from us?

The fact that we seem to be hastening toward some sort of digital apocalypse poses ethical challenges. To have any hope that a superintelligent AGI would have values commensurate with our own, we would have to instill those values in it. But whose values should count?

The moment of truth: Picture ten young men in a room — several of them with undiagnosed Asperger's — drinking Red Bull and wondering whether to flip a switch. Should any single company or research group be able to decide the fate of humanity?

And yet the only thing nearly as scary as building an AGI is the prospect of not building one. We seem to be in the process of building a God.

TOP Half

The Guardian

Billionaires and politicians gather in Switzerland this week for the World Economic Forum in Davos. The charity Oxfam at the gathering will demand action to narrow the gap between rich and poor. Oxfam finds that on current trends the richest 1% will own more than 50% of the world's wealth by 2016.

2015 January 18

Afghanistan

James Meek

The British army spent 8 years in Afghanistan. It was a military and political catastrophe. British troops were responsible for the deaths of at least 500 Afghan civilians and the injury of thousands more. From 2001, 453 British forces personnel were killed in Afghanistan and more than 2600 wounded. The British operation cost around £40 billion.

Tony Blair was responsible for the decision to send the army to Helmand in 2006. Senior American officers in Iraq had become weary of British boasting. The British high command realized that their American patrons considered them to have been beaten in Iraq. They decided this disaster made it even more important to persevere in Afghanistan.

Within weeks of their arrival, British troops were fighting for their lives. The initial headline deployment was 3500 British troops. The number of men trained to go out on patrol with weapons was about 700. The soldiers were mostly exultant at having survived their battle initiation. The officers were wary and diplomatic. The corporals and sergeants understood quickly that the people attacking them were locals and that the British army was being forced on the defensive.

In 2008 almost half of all attacks on NATO troops in Afghanistan were in Helmand. Eventually the Americans sent in the Marines, bailing Britain out a second time. This left British troops effectively subordinate to US plans. The Americans were keen to implement an aggressive surge in Afghanistan. The British were obliged to go along with it.

The British were hated in Helmand. The British army had a history of invading Afghanistan and the reaction to the British arrival was astonishment. The British were fighting local men led by local barons. The Taliban provided money, via their sponsors in the Gulf, and ideas the barons could franchise. The British and Americans got played.

Charlie Hebdo

Slavoj Žižek

Friedrich Nietzsche saw Western civilization moving in the direction of the Last Man, an apathetic creature with no great passion or commitment. We are the Last Men, immersed in stupid daily pleasures, while the Muslim radicals are ready to risk everything, engaged in struggle up to self-destruction.

The passionate intensity of the terrorists bears witness to a lack of true conviction. A belief is fragile if it is threatened by a stupid caricature in a weekly satirical newspaper. The problem with fundamentalists is not that we consider them inferior to us, but rather that they themselves secretly consider themselves inferior.

The rise of radical Islamism is exactly correlative to the disappearance of the secular Left in Muslim countries. Liberalism is not strong enough to save its core values against the fundamentalist onslaught. Fundamentalism is a reaction against a real flaw of liberalism. The only thing that can save its core values is a renewed Left.

Max Horkheimer said about fascism and capitalism that those who do not want to talk critically about capitalism should also keep quiet about fascism. Today those who do not want to talk critically about liberal democracy should also keep quiet about religious fundamentalism.

2015 January 15

Freedom

David Cameron and Barack Obama

Progress and prosperity are never guaranteed. As we meet today at the White House, we reaffirm our belief that our ability to defend our freedoms is rooted in our economic strength and the values that we cherish — freedom of expression, the rule of law and strong democratic institutions.

We need strong and determined leadership to meet the challenges of our time:

1 We must do all we can to bolster our economies against another global economic downturn.
2 We will continue to stand together against those who threaten our values and our way of life.
3 We will continue to stand up to Russia's aggressive actions in Ukraine.

European Right

Joerg Forbrig

European extremists are getting a boost from the French tragedy. Most Europeans like mobility and migration within the European Union but dislike immigration from outside the EU. Most view Islam as incompatible with the Western world and many see Islam as a threat.

Populist and extreme right parties are tapping these sentiments:

Nigel Farage of UKIP blames a "fifth column" in Europe.
Geert Wilders of the Freedom Party says it is time to "de-Islamize" the Netherlands.
Marine Le Pen of the Front National says the time is up for denial and hypocrisy.
Alexander Gauland of the AfD sees proof it was wrong to ignore the Islamist threat.

This puts pressure on Europeans:

European Muslims are at risk of being marginalized in European societies.
European politicians will push to restrict immigration and increase security.
Fortress Europe will become even more of a reality.

KÖGIDA

Der Spiegel

Köln, Mittwochabend: Einer Demonstration von 150 "Kölnern gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes" (Kögida) standen laut Angaben der Polizei 6500 Gegendemonstranten gegenüber. Unter die wenigen Kögida-Anhänger hätten sich auch Hogesa-Anhänger ("Hooligans gegen Salafisten") gemischt.

2015 January 14

Wagner and the Jews

Nathan Shields

The Wagner question concerns the morality of art and of music. Wagner understood that a myth is also a vehicle of deeper truths. To Wagner, the Gesamtkunstwerk is a drama of collective salvation.

The God of the Jews, Wagner wrote in Religion and Art, is doomed by art. Art is the true creation, before which His false one pales. The end of salvation is to become music, to dissolve into pure sound, all life's dissonances resolving into the absolute.

>> more

2015 January 11

PEGIDA

Lucian Kim

In her New Year address, Chancellor Angela Merkel gave some motherly advice to German citizens, telling them to stay away from rallies in Dresden organized by PEGIDA.

Germany is divided on immigration. A recent poll found that while most of its 4 million Muslims like democracy, half of all Germans view Islam as a threat, 60% believe Islam is incompatible with modern life, and 1 in 4 would end Muslim immigration.

The poll found that older people feel more threatened than younger ones, and that Islamophobia is greatest where there are the fewest Muslims. In Saxony, where PEGIDA was born and less than 1 in 1000 is Muslim, 70% feel threatened.

Alternative for Germany, AfD, founded in 2013, opposes the euro and criticizes Merkel for moving too far to the center. The AfD caucus in Saxony is talking with PEGIDA.

AR European opinion is mobilizing fast.


All communities can do more to help deal with terrorists. But there is a special burden on
Muslim communities because whether we like it or not these terrorists call themselves Muslims.
They try to take a great peaceful religion and warp it for their own means. To say that this has got
nothing to do with Islam and Muslims would be wrong. These people are taking a peaceful religion of
a billion people around the world and using it as their tool to carry out their horrible activities.
Sajid Javid
 


Photo: Tim Woodcock
VW Käfer

 

2015 January 11

Germany: A Force For Good

Will Hutton

Chancellor Merkel arrived in London last week as the leader of Europe's most successful liberal democracy. Germany is quietly attempting to anchor Europe in the same successful combination of liberal democracy, social solidarity, and productive capitalism that it enjoys. Germany is not living in the past like today's Britain, hankering to restore lost certainties.

Neil MacGregor says Germany can only face its historical crimes, genocide, and millions of war dead with a resolve to never again make the same mistakes. Germany is now freed of imprisoning and destructive myths. It has become a force for good, too little recognized in Britain because we still define ourselves as a victor over Germany when it was evil.

For Germany, the nation state has been an interlude between the Holy Roman Empire and the European Union. The union is the only way to conceive of the future and create a peaceful and productive Europe. Senior German officials talk privately in these terms, categories that bewilder the British still locked in fundamentally traditional political categories.

Germans want to see the atrocities in Paris as the acts of a murderous cult fueled by marginalization rather than join in any putative clash of civilizations. They would love Britain to recall that at different times it has fought alongside Germans, to drop its fixation with old wars and make common cause to build a great future. Europe could be so much stronger.

2015 January 10

Now

New Scientist

Now is a trick of the mind. We experience a succession of nows as time passing. Neuroscientists and psychologists say now lasts on average between 2 and 3 seconds. This is the window within which the brain fuses experience into a psychological present. The property of flow emerges from a hierarchy of nows.

A functional moment is the timescale at which a person can distinguish one event from another. This varies for different senses. The auditory system can distinguish two sounds 2 ms apart, whereas the visual system requires much longer. For the brain to detect the order of stimuli, two events must be at least 50 ms apart. Even if the asynchrony between audio and visual streams is up to 200 ms, the brain can adjust the signals to synchronize them.

Our brains integrate stimuli into a cohesive whole within a window of up to 2.5 s. This is the subjective present. Our sense of now is a psychological illusion based on the past and a predicted future. We combine the experienced moments to feel a sense of continuity. This mental presence underpins the sense of self.

AR This was the key theme in chapter 13 of my 2009 book Mindworlds.

2015 January 9

France First

Marine Le Pen

Islamists have declared war on France. The Charlie Hebdo shooting was a terrorist attack carried out in the name of radical Islam.

Them and Us

Nesrine Malik

The Charlie Hebdo tragedy is not reducible to anything as simple as two cultures clashing over the sanctity of a prophet. Which is not to say that this has nothing to do with religion. There is far too much cowardice and equivocation when it comes to such issues. But to engage in war talk is to give in to the reductionism demanded by terrorists.

Submission

Anjem Choudary

Islam means submission to the commands of Allah. Muslims do not believe in the concept of freedom of expression. Their speech and actions are determined by divine revelation. Muslims consider the honor of the Prophet Muhammad to be dearer to them than that of their parents or even themselves. To defend it is an obligation. The Messenger Muhammad: "Whoever insults a Prophet kill him."

France: Islam Threat

The Times

The number of Muslims in France is up to 6 million, about 10% of the population. But 70% of the inmates of French prisons are Muslims. A recent poll found that 43% of the French see Islam as a threat to the French national identity. Nearly 70% say Muslims have failed to integrate into French society.

2015 January 8

Fossil Fuel Folly

The Guardian

A Nature study reveals the geopolitical and economic implications of tackling global warming for countries and companies that rely on fossil fuel wealth. Trillions of dollars of known and extractable coal, oil and gas cannot be exploited if the global temperature rise is to be kept under the internationally agreed 2C safety limit. Currently, the world is heading for a catastrophic 5C of warming.

Deadline to seal a global climate deal; December, UN summit, Paris

AR We must go nuclear.

The Case for Mocking Religion

Christopher Hitchens (2006)

Islam makes very large claims for itself. In its art, there is a prejudice against representing the human form at all. The prohibition on picturing the prophet is apparently absolute. So is the prohibition on pork or alcohol or, in some Muslim societies, music or dancing. Very well then, let a good Muslim abstain rigorously from all these. But if he claims the right to make me abstain as well, he offers the clearest possible warning and proof of an aggressive intent.

On the question of offensiveness:

1 Suppose that we all agreed to comport ourselves in order to avoid offending the believers. How could we ever be sure that we had taken enough precautions? Those who are determined to be offended will discover a provocation somewhere. We cannot possibly adjust enough to please the fanatics, and it is degrading to make the attempt.

2 Can the discussion be carried on without the threat of violence, or the automatic resort to it? There can be no negotiation under duress or under the threat of blackmail and assassination. And civil society means that free expression trumps the emotions of anyone to whom free expression might be inconvenient.

Charlie Hebdo

Agnès Poirier (2007)

Charlie Hebdo is being sued for racism by the Paris Grand Mosque, the Union of Islamic Organizations of France, and the World Islamic League.

We have to stop mistaking healthy criticism of religion for racism.

Deadly Mutation in the Heart of Islam

Salman Rushdie (2015)

Religion deserves our fearless disrespect.

Europe in Decline

Arthur C. Brooks

Europe's core problems are demographic, not economic. Nearly 1 in 5 Western Europeans was 65 years old or older in 2014. By 2030, this will have risen to 1 in 4. The last time the countries of the European Union were reproducing at replacement levels was some 40 years ago. In 2014, the average number of children per woman was about 1.6.

Europe needs visionary leaders and a social movement to rediscover that people are assets, not liabilities.


NASA
M16 nebula

US Military Aircraft
Approximate unit costs
A-10 Warthog $19 million
MQ-9 Reaper $17 million
V-22 Osprey $72 million
F-22 Raptor $144 million
B-2 Spirit $810 million
F-35 Lightning II $101 million
 
 

2015 January 7

Goldilocks Planet

The Guardian

Planet Kepler 438b is
470 light years away
Slightly larger than Earth
Orbiting an orange dwarf star
In the Goldilocks zone where the temperature is right for water and life.

Astrophysicists announced the discovery at AAS 225, Seattle.

2015 January 6

Submission

Michel Houellebecq

My atheism came to seem unsustainable. I tried to put myself in the place of a Muslim, and I realized that they are in a schizophrenic situation. Their big issues are societal issues. On these issues they are very far from the left. And one doesn't see why they'd vote for the right.

I think there is a real need for God. The return of religion is a reality. Researchers say we are witnessing a progressive secularization of Islam, and that violence and radicalism should be understood as the death throes of Islamism. This is not what I have observed.

For people to convert is a sign of hope, not a threat. On the level of values, Muslims have more in common with the extreme right than with the left. There is a more fundamental opposition between a Muslim and an atheist than between a Muslim and a Catholic.

I would maintain that an alliance between Catholics and Muslims is possible. The Koran turns out to be much better than I thought. The jihadists are bad Muslims. A holy war of aggression is not generally sanctioned. Prayer alone is valid.

2015 January 5

Daesh

John Allen

The components of instability that we face with Daesh are found widely in the region. It's not just about Daesh, Iraq or Syria. There are social difficulties, economic difficulties, governance challenges that created opportunities for extremism to emerge and the radicalization of populations.

We want to deny Daesh safe havens either in Iraq or in Syria, to preclude its capacity to organize an existential threat to those countries. The frontline states of Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon also need assistance. We need not only to expose Daesh for the darkness that it is, but also to celebrate the values within countries that help defeat its attractiveness.

2015 January 4

Time and the Universe

Bryan Appleyard

Roberto Mangabeira Unger and Lee Smolin say:

1 Time is real and therefore there are no unchanging physical laws
2 There is only one universe
3 Mathematics is of strictly limited use in explaining the cosmos

The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time is about the way we live now and the world view we have been sold as scientific. Unger and Smolin urge natural philosophy as a form of investigation in which all is tested against nature and in which history, the account of the cosmos in real time, becomes the queen of the sciences. They say science is about what can be conclusively established on the basis of rational argument from public evidence. Neither the multiverse nor the block universe qualifies and neither does the beginning of time.

Geoengineering Ideas

New Scientist

1 Dam the Straits of Gibraltar and lower the Mediterranean Sea level
2 Build a water pipeline from the Amazon River to the Sahara Desert
3 Flood the Qattara Depression in NW Egypt with seawater
4 Join NE Siberia with Alaska by bridging the Bering Straits
5 Dam the Indian Ocean exits of the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea
6 Create an isthmus over Adam's Bridge linking Sri Lank and India
7 Sink the Isthmus of Panama to relink the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans

2015 January 3

Counterterrorism

David Cole

The US National Security Agency (NSA) and the UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) have conducted an international dragnet surveillance program of unprecedented scope.

Digital technology has radically reduced the practical obstacles that we used to rely on to protect our rights. The government can simply go to the various electronic communications service providers you use and obtain from them detailed information on your every phone call, Web search, e-mail, online chat, or credit card purchase, as well as your physical location whenever you are carrying your cell phone. Under current law, you have no constitutional right to object to the government obtaining the information from the companies that serve you. The government can obtain a detailed, intimate portrait of anyone at low cost, without any basis for suspicion.

Disclosures about NSA spying have changed the actions of Silicon Valley corporations. Their business interests have been hurt, so they are now behind privacy reforms — hope for the future.

Gravity

New Scientist

2015 is the centenary of general relativity. In 1915, Albert Einstein published a set of equations that changed our understanding of the universe. Out went the Newtonian notion of gravity as a force between massive objects, in came the idea that gravity is an effect of the fact that massive objects curve spacetime.

Einstein's general theory of relativity is built upon ten coupled hyperbolic-elliptic nonlinear partial differential equations that take many pages to write down. The equations predict that cataclysmic cosmic events should send ripples through spacetime, but we have yet to observe any. This year will see the resumption of the Caltech gravitational wave experiment LIGO and the launch of the ESA spacecraft LISA Pathfinder.

2015 January 2

The US Military

The Atlantic

The United States will spend more than $1 trillion on national security this year, about as much as the next 10 nations combined. Americans have the best-equipped fighting force in history, yet it is repeatedly defeated by less modern, poorly equipped, barely funded foes. Or it has won skirmishes and battles only to lose or get bogged down in a larger war.

Estimated cost of post-9/11 wars in and around Iraq and Afghanistan: $1.5 trillion

Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II

The F-35 was designed for the Air Force, the Navy, the Marine Corps, and US allies worldwide. It was to be strong enough for Navy carrier landings, light and maneuverable as an Air Force dogfighter, and able to take off and land like a helicopter for the Marines. It is years behind schedule and billions over budget.

Estimated total F-35 program costs: $1.5 trillion

2015 New Year's Day

Cosmic Mathematics

Ian Stewart

In 1687, Isaac Newton published his law of universal gravitation. It paved the way to a rational scientific understanding of nature based on precise mathematical laws.

One of the great tests of Newtonian gravitation was Edmond Halley's prediction about a comet. Halley realised one comet was a repeat visitor, with an elliptical orbit that took it near the Earth every 76 years. His prediction of its next return in 1758 proved correct.

In 2004 the European Space Agency (ESA) launched the Rosetta probe to visit Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. On 12 November 2014 a small capsule, Philae, landed on the comet. Rosetta performed a carefully choreographed cosmic dance, tugged by the combined gravitational forces of the sun, the Earth, Mars and other bodies. Its route was designed for fuel efficiency and took ten years. Each close fly-by with Earth and Mars gave the probe a free boost, governed by Newton's law of gravity.

The early solar system was very different from the sedate one we see today. The planets formed by a chaotic process of accretion. The giants were closer together and millions of planetesimals roamed the outer regions. Jupiter and Saturn wandered into a resonance that pushed Neptune and Uranus outwards, with Neptune overtaking Uranus. The disturbed planetesimals fell toward the Sun. Chaos erupted in the solar system as planetesimals played celestial pinball among the planets. Some planetesimals went into long, thin orbits as comets.

These theories are supported by huge computer calculations of solar system dynamics. Mathematics has illuminated many other cosmic puzzles.

BLOG 2014

NASA
ISS view over Syria and Israel to Egypt, 2014-12-25


ESA
I watched the ISS fly over my garden at 17:21 GMT
on Christmas Eve

"One of the great legacies of our culture is that we have a supremely great poet who keeps reminding us how words make us who we are. This means that having good words around us — an imaginative context that feeds us — is not a luxury but a necessity of life."
Rowan Williams


THE MARS SOCIETY

Angela Merkel is named
The Times Person of the Year
for taking control of western
talks with Vladimir Putin.


ESA
Venus Express
was a Venus weather satellite. Now it is out of gas. Next month it will slip out of orbit and burn out in a fireball. Because Venus has no magnetic field, the solar wind slams into the atmosphere and engulfs the planet in huge explosions. Venus is really sensitive to space weather.

 

2014 December 31

PEGIDA

Melanie McDonagh

The anti-Islamization movement PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident) is causing controversy in Germany. The movement has swelled from a few hundred last October in Dresden to the thousands the Monday meetings attract now in cities around Germany. Its supporters feel that mainstream politicians have not articulated popular concerns about immigration, and notably immigration from outside Europe.

Most immigrants to Germany are from other parts of Europe, and are mostly secular or Christian. The largest group of Muslim migrants has been the Turks, who were formerly guest workers. But events in Iraq, Syria, and the Arab world have added to the numbers coming to Germany. The numbers seeking asylum in Germany, many of them Muslim, were over 77,000 for the first six months of this year, and have grown since. In all, 16 million people living in Germany came from abroad. In 2013, the number of arrivals was 1.2 million, of whom 1.1 million were non-Germans.

The German question underlying concerns about Islam is what constitutes the state or the nation. The immigration has happened by default, not by explicit consent. The Alternative for Deutschland party has failed to make more headway because of the overwhelming popularity of Angela Merkel, the mother of the nation, but German politics will change soon enough. Disquiet over the changing nature of Germany will continue to show through PEGIDA.

2014 December 30

Maritime Patrol

The Times

The UK government needs to shore up its maritime patrol capability. When the government scrapped the Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft in 2010, it left the UK dangerously exposed. Nimrod MRA4 had cost £3.8 billion to develop but was never deployed.

Conservative MP Julian Lewis: "The Russian navy is known to be developing the most advanced underwater technologies, and are procuring new, more stealthy submarines."

Conservative MP James Gray: "Nimrod and similar aircraft are not the only way for the UK to maintain a coastal patrol capability. It is also possible to use satellites or other capabilities and technologies owned by our European allies."

The US Navy flies P-8 Poseidon aircraft. Boeing sees the UK as a prime market for Poseidon. The UK government says a decision will be taken after the 2015 general election.

2014 December 29

Life In Space

Charles Fishman

The International Space Station (ISS) is big. It has the length and width of a football field, weighs as much as a fully loaded jumbo jet, and has more interior volume than a jumbo. It soars into a fresh sunrise every 92 minutes.

The ISS is half American, half Russian. Each nation manages its own side of the craft. The US side includes modules or equipment from Canada, Japan, and Europe, and typically a visiting astronaut from one of those places. The role of station commander alternates between a cosmonaut and an astronaut. A total of 216 people have lived there.

Astronaut workdays are scripted by the people on the ground. Every minute of an astronaut workday is mapped out in blocks devoted to specific tasks. A click on a time block expands it to present all the steps necessary to perform the task at hand. Most of the workday is devoted merely to maintaining the station, handling logistics, and staying healthy.

American astronaut Mike Fincke has served 3 missions, 381 days, with 9 space walks totaling 48 hours, at the ISS: "A little push with your big toe will take you halfway across the station. It's like being Superman."

2014 December 28

Life Is Quantum

Johnjoe McFadden

Erwin Schrödinger proposed that life inhabits a border zone between quantum and classical worlds. Genes are too small for the accuracy of their copying to depend on the classical emergence of order from disorder, so he guessed that genes involve aperiodic crystals mutating via quantum jumps and that life reflects a quantum order.

A decade later, Watson and Crick unveiled the double helix. Molecular biology remained largely wedded to the concepts of classical physics, but recent experiments indicate that some life processes depend on quantum weirdness.

The sense of smell seems to work because odor molecules fit odor receptors like keys in a lock. The receptors respond to molecular vibrations that might promote quantum tunneling of electrons to open the lock.

Some birds navigate using the Earth's magnetic field. A robin's compass depends on light and detects the angle of magnetic field lines relative to the Earth's surface. It seems the bird uses photon entanglement to do so.

Enzymes speed up chemical reactions. They might work using quantum tunneling by letting electrons and protons jump from one position in a biochemical process to another via quantum teleportation.

Photosynthesis uses light to assemble living matter. Chlorophyll molecules turn light energy into electrical energy, which turns carbon dioxide into plant matter in a reaction center. Somehow, nearly all the photon energy reaches the reaction center. Apparently, instead of going one way through the system, the photons use quantum coherence to go all ways at once.

Gene mutations could involve quantum jumps as nucleotide bases switch between alternative structures by quantum tunneling. In 1999, Jim Al-Khalili and I suggested that proton tunneling might account for adaptive mutation, which appears to occur more frequently when it provides an advantage.

Quantum Biology
Jim Al-Khalili

In 1998, my colleague Johnjoe McFadden wanted to explain adaptive mutations. Mainstream evolutionary theory holds that mutagenesis occurs randomly. Johnjoe proposed that quantum tunneling of protons in hydrogen bonds in DNA might play a role.

We ended up publishing a speculative paper on adaptive mutations. A new field of research bringing together quantum physics, organic chemistry, and molecular biology has burst into life.

Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology
Jim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe McFadden

AR I was most impressed by McFadden's 2002 sketch of an electromagnetic theory of consciousness (since it so resembled my own photonic theory: see my 2009 book Mindworlds and citations therein). I met Johnjoe at TSC 2003 in Prague and we enjoyed good talks both there and later in London. We considered a collaboration, with me as a quantum expert to complement his biology, but of course he was better off with Jim (whose recent TV series on quantum physics confirmed his expertise).

2014 December 27

Reagan Rx

Fareed Zakaria

The Apollo moon landing triggered all kinds of technological innovations and solutions that then had commercial applications. Apollo needed small computers for its trip and NASA bought integrated circuits, helping the computer revolution take off.

GPS technology was originally developed by the US military. After the Cold War ended, the Clinton administration opened up the technology to commercial applications.

The mapping of the human genome attracted $3.8 billion of federal funding from 1990 to 2003. Its impact on the economy from 1988 to 2010 was estimated by Battelle at almost $800 billion.

The United States has dominated the world of basic science for decades, but its share of global research and development is falling. China is on course to surpass the United States in the percentage of its GDP it spends on R&D in just a few years.

Reagan, 1988: "The remarkable thing is that although basic research does not begin with a particular practical goal, when you look at the results over the years, it ends up being one of the most practical things government does. This is why I've urged Congress to devote more money to research. It is an indispensable investment in America's future."

F-35 Obsolete

Dave Majumdar

The US $400 billion F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is set to replace almost every type of fighter in the US Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps inventory. But its Electro-Optical Targeting System (EOTS) is obsolete. Older US jets carry new sensor pods that are far more advanced. The new pods display clearer HD video in both in the IR and optical spectrum, can beam full-motion video feeds to ground troops, and can mark targets with an IR laser beam to coordinate attacks.

The F-35 EOTS was seen as a replacement for targeting pods to preserve stealth. But stealth forced compromises that hinder upgrades. The EOTS camera does not have the range or HR capability found on the targeting pods now carried by US fighters in action. And it is unable to send live video to ground troops. The IR pointer in current aircraft lets the pilot highlight a target. The ground controller can sees its sparkle and confirm the target. Its absence in the F-35 is a problem.

Brain Science

Philip Ball

This is the Age of the Brain. The US BRAIN Initiative, the EU Human Brain Project, and the Japanese Brain/MINDS initiative will explore how the brain does things. But consciousness and brain activity have a somatic element. Emotions are not so much states of the brain as mental representations of states of the body.

The big brain projects are data-gathering exercises. We lack an understanding of how patterns of neural connectivity and interaction lead to thoughts, emotions, creativity and imagination, psychosis and joy. Collecting vast amounts of data without any notion of what you want to ask of it has never been a good way to do science.

2014 Boxing Day

Global Warming

Slate

Humans are altering the Earth system at every scale, up to and including the global climate. Going forward, how will human ingenuity handle a warming world? Doomsday predictions of more droughts, fires, floods, and economic disaster are familiar, but our species is innovative and adaptive. What opportunities does global climate change present for making our societies more equitable, prosperous, and resilient in the long run?

On 2015-01-15, Future Tense — a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University — will discuss these issues at the New America offices in Washington DC.

2014 Christmas Day

Jesus: Muslim Prophet

Mehdi Hasan

Jesus, or Isa, as he is known in Arabic, is deemed by Islam to be a Muslim prophet rather than the Son of God, or God incarnate. He is referred to by name in 25 different verses of the Quran. Among the prophets recognised by Islam, Jesus is second only to Muhammad.

According to Islamic theology, Christ introduced a new way based on the love of God. Sufi philosopher al-Ghazali described Jesus as the prophet of the soul and Sufi master Ibn Arabi called him the seal of saints.

Muslims see the virgin birth as evidence of Jesus' unique importance as a prophet and a messiah. They reject the Trinity, the crucifixion, and the resurrection. They believe that Jesus was raised bodily to heaven by God. Muslims claim their Jesus is the historical Jesus, as he might have been without St Paul or St Augustine or the Council of Nicaea.

A.N. Wilson: "Islam is a moral and intellectual acknowledgement of the lordship of God without the encumbrance of Christian mythological baggage ... Christianity will decline ... and the religious hunger of the human heart will be answered by the Crescent, not the Cross."

2014 Christmas Eve

Peace On Earth

Steven Pinker and Andrew Mack

In most of the world, the homicide rate is sinking. Among the 88 countries with reliable data, 67 have seen a decline in the past 15 years. The global rate appears to be down from 71 homicides per million people in 2003 to 62 in 2012.

Rates of rape and violence against women have been sinking in America for decades, and are now a quarter or less of their peaks in the past. Many countries are working to reduce such crimes. Children too are safer than in the past.

Genocide and other mass killing of noncombatant civilians has dropped by about three orders of magnitude since the decade after World War II, and by four orders of magnitude since the war itself.

The number of interstate wars has plummeted since 1945. In 7 of the 11 wars that flared since 2010, radical Islamist groups were one side in the struggle. The world is not falling apart.

Fairy Tales

Rowan Williams

Fairy tales are gradually turning into myths. They are just about the only stories we have in common with which to think through deep dilemmas and to keep alive registers of emotion and imagination otherwise being eroded. The fairy tale carries a new burden of significance.

One way of understanding the fairy tale is to see it as dramatizing the human confrontation with nature and destiny. We never know when help is at hand. The conviction underlying all this sort of storytelling is that the world is irrationally generous as well as unfairly hurtful.

Myths provide a framework for imagining our human situation overall. A world of edges, shocks, and possible help or danger from outside may be the mythology we need.

AR Rowan speaks as a Christian watching Islam.


NASA


NASA

To Venus
1
Robotic exploration
2
Crewed mission to orbit
for 30 days
3
Crewed mission to airship
for 30 days
4
Crewed mission to airship
for 1 year
5
Floating cloud city

Decrypted Secrets
Friedrich L. Bauer

AR TU München Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Friedrich L. Bauer and I spent years in the 1990s working on the English translation and update of his modern classic on cryptology. Among other things, it presents full mathematical details of the Enigma crypts and the methods used in Turing's "bombes" to decrypt them.

"The best single book on
cryptology today."
Cryptologia

 

2014 December 23

Venus

IEEE Spectrum

The planet Venus may be nicer than Mars. It's nearer to us and closer in size and it has a density and chemical composition more like Earth. Its surface also much hotter than Earth, at over 700 K, with an atmospheric pressure over 92 times greater, huge volcanoes, and an acidic cloud layer. So the surface is too hostile for humans. But living about 50 km above it could be quite pleasant.

In a High Altitude Venus Operational Concept (HAVOC), NASA scientists propose a city in the clouds, held aloft by balloons like airships. A first mission would send a robot into the Venusian atmosphere to check it out. Then a crewed mission would orbit Venus for 30 days. The next mission would fly a crewed airship for 30 days. Later missions would have a crew spend a year in an airship. Eventually permanent colonists would live in a floating cloud city.

At an altitude of 50 km, Venusian atmospheric pressure is like that at sea level on Earth, and Venus has only slightly lower gravity than Earth. The radiation level in the Venusian atmosphere is about the same as in Canada. By contrast, Mars has has a very thin atmosphere, low gravity, and high radiation. The temperature at 50 km on Venus is 75°C, not too hot for an airship cooled by power from sunlight some 40% brighter than on Earth.

Venus is often much closer to Earth than Mars is. A crewed mission to Venus would take 440 days using existing or planned rockets: 110 days out, 30 days there, and 300 days back, with the option to abort and fly back to Earth immediately after arrival. Getting to Mars and back using the same technology would involve at least 500 days in space and possibly up to 900 days, with no abort option.

For the first crewed missions, a helium-filled airship nearly 130 m long would be covered on top with solar panels and have a gondola slung underneath for a small habitat and an ascent vehicle for the return trip. The airship would be sent in advance (folded up inside a spacecraft) and the crew would dock with it from a transit vehicle in Venus orbit.

The airship would enter the Venusian atmosphere inside an aeroshell at 7200 m/s. The aeroshell would decelerate to 450 m/s and then deploy a parachute. The aeroshell would drop away and the airship would unfurl and inflate until its lift and drag slowed it down. It would then fully inflate and float in the wind. Equatorial winds of about 100 m/s would carry it around the planet in 110 hours. The winds veer north, so to stay on course the airship would use solar power to push south by day and drift north to conserve power at night.

The crew would do science from inside a small (21 cubic m) habitat based on the NASA Space Exploration Vehicle. From the airship payload of 70 tons, nearly 60 tons is the ascent vehicle, a winged rocket slung below the airship. To head home, the crew would get into a capsule at the front of the rocket, drop from the airship, and blast back into orbit. They would dock with their transit vehicle, fly back to Earth orbit, and dock with a final capsule for touchdown.

NASA could put a crewed mission to Venus ahead of one to Mars.

Nuclear UK

John Lindberg

Our use of fossil fuels is not sustainable. We must act now to make the world safer and cleaner. We need to adopt nuclear fission with thorium as reactor fuel and then to develop fusion reactors.

Thorium nuclear power is not new. Uranium was chosen instead of thorium because it can help make nuclear weapons. Now the Indians and Chinese are investing in thorium as a nuclear fuel.

Thorium is much more abundant than uranium but is just as potent as fuel. Proposed reactor designs for thorium feature passive safety and a much reduced waste disposal problem. The reactors can recycle highly radioactive waste from uranium power plants to leave no waste that requires 100,000 years or more of storage. We have the expertise for thorium power. What we need is political will.

Fusion is clean and safe. A first generation of fusion reactors would burn lithium to provide power for thousands of years and the second generation would burn deuterium. G2 fusion reactors would have enough fuel to last until the end of mankind.

The UK must take the lead in research and development. Renewable sources will never provide base load. Only nuclear can do that. We must show faith in our scientists. Seize the day!

2014 December 22

Islamic State

Frederik Pleitgen

Juergen Todenhoefer traveled deep into the caliphate and visited Mosul. Islamic State fighter: "We hit their front lines hard, also using suicide attacks. Then the others fled very quickly. We fight for Allah, they fight for money and other things that they do not really believe in."

Todenhoefer: "When we stayed at their recruitment house, there were 50 new fighters who came every day. And I just could not believe the glow in their eyes. They felt like they were coming to a promised land, like they were fighting for the right thing. ... I think the Islamic State is a lot more dangerous than Western leaders realize. They believe in what they are fighting for and are preparing the largest religious cleansing campaign the world has ever seen."

Alan Turing

Christian Caryl

British computer science pioneer Alan Turing made an enormous contribution to Allied victory in the second world war. Anyone trying to turn his story into a movie must either embrace the richness of Turing as a character, and trust the audience to follow, or simply capitulate by reducing him to a caricature of the tortured genius.

The Imitation Game takes the latter path. Director Morten Tyldum and screenwriter Graham Moore are determined to suggest maximum dramatic tension between their tragic outsider and a blinkered society. This not only fatally miscasts Turing as a character, it also completely destroys any coherent telling of what he and his colleagues were trying to do.

In reality, Turing was an entirely willing participant in a collective enterprise that featured a host of other outstanding intellects. Three Polish experts had already spent years figuring out how to attack the German Enigma cipher machine and provided the template for the machines Turing later created. Turing and his colleagues were encouraged in their work by a military leadership that had a pretty sound understanding of cryptological principles and operational security.

In the movie version of events, Turing and his small group spend the first two years of the war in fruitless isolation, and only in 1941 does his crazy machine finally show any results. This is a highly stylized version of the epic struggle to crack the German navy cipher. In fact, Turing's "bombes" were helping to decipher German army and air force codes from early on. The movie presents a bizarre departure from the historical record.

The film also ladles in extra doses of intrigue where none existed. Even if you believe that Turing was driven to his death, the movie treatment of his fate borders on the ridiculous. There is no basis for any of this in the historical record. Bad faith underlies the whole enterprise.

2014 Winter Solstice

Elf On The Shelf

Washington Post

The Elf on the Shelf is a scout elf sent from the North Pole to help Santa Claus manage his naughty and nice lists. The doll comes with a popular Xmas book.

Laura Pinto and Selena Nemorin say this is a capillary form of power that normalizes the voluntary surrender of privacy, teaching young people to blindly accept panoptic surveillance and reify hegemonic power.

When children enter the play world of The Elf on the Shelf, they may not touch the doll and they must accept that the doll watches them at all times with the purpose of reporting to Santa Claus. They are taught to accept or even seek out external observation of their actions outside of their caregivers and familial structures.

The Elf on the Shelf contributes to the shaping of children as governable subjects.

AR Starter pack for a Jesus doll that reports to God.

Good As Gold

Michael Sandel

If I ruled the world, I would rewrite the economics textbooks. This would be a big step toward a better civic life. Today, we often confuse market reasoning for moral reasoning. We fall into thinking that economic efficiency defines the common good. But this is a mistake.

Economics presents itself as a value-neutral science of human behavior. Increasingly, we accept this way of thinking and apply it to all manner of public policies and social relations. But the economistic view of the world makes for an impoverished public discourse, and a managerial, technocratic politics.

I would reconnect economics with its origins in moral and political philosophy. Consider the growing use of cash incentives to solve social problems. The NHS is experimenting with cash rewards to people for losing weight, quitting smoking, or taking medications. I would ask whether the cash incentive might drive out attitudes worth caring about.

Market reasoning must answer to moral reasoning.

Michael Sandel
Michael Sandel


AR
Collecting for the Mayor's
charities, Dolphin Centre


CUBA


REUTERS
Dresden: Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes


The Sunday Times
Brits Back
Hundreds of British troops from the Parachute Regiment and the Royal Armoured Corps will deploy to Iraq in early 2015. A fleet of Foxhound, Ridgeback and Mastiff vehicles is being prepared in Dubai, where they are stored after airlift from Afghanistan.

Poole 2014-12-12: me

John Sellwood
JS
My New Zealand nephew Commander John Sellwood won the top award for the Advanced Command and Staff Course
(Joint) 2014



NASA
Top: Mount Sharp,
Gale Crater, Mars
Bottom: As the
crater once was?

 

2014 December 20

Juden hinter Muslime

Der Spiegel

Die Pegida-Bewegung stellt sich gegen eine angebliche Islamisierung in Deutschland. Nun stellt sich der Zentralrat der Juden hinter die Muslime.

Zentralratsvorsitzende Josef Schuster: "Wir dürfen die Pegida-Leute auf keinen Fall unterschätzen. Die Bewegung ist brandgefährlich."

2014 December 19

Xmas Dinner
With the Mayor of Poole, Borough of Poole Councillors, the MP for Poole, and others
Royal Motor Yacht Club
Sandbanks, Poole

A man not preoccupied with the excellence of his dinner should be suspected of inaccuracy in other things.
Samuel Johnson

Mideast Strategy

Vali R. Nasr

The Mideast is in turmoil. Islamic State is carving out a new Sunni realm in Iraq and Syria. Arab governments tremble at popular demands for change. America needs Sunni partners and Shiite partners, and President Obama has suggested that the United States and Iran should collaborate against Islamic State, but a resolution of the nuclear standoff is necessary for broader strategic cooperation to develop. An investment in grand strategy would be the surest way for America to free itself of Mideast problems.

2014 December 18

Methane On Mars

The Guardian

NASA says Curiosity has detected methane at about 1 part per billion in the Martian atmosphere. Life might be the source. On Earth, animals burp or fart methane as a waste gas. On Mars, underground microbes could be putting out the gas.

Other processes can make methane. Rocks bearing olivine on Mars can react with water to produce methane. Subsurface clathrates can release it in bursts over time. And it can be made in reactions between cosmic dust and UV sunlight.

NASA is planning a Mars 2020 mission as part of a campaign to bring back Martian rock samples. A joint European-Russian mission will launch the ExoMars rover and a Mars trace gas orbiter in 2018 with the goal of looking for life.

2014 December 17

Islamist Turkey

Newsweek

Hundreds of schools in Turkey are caught up in an education overhaul that threatens to roll back the country's secular foundation. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government led by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan says it is responding to demand, but parents and teachers from affected schools say that the conversions are being pushed through against their wishes.

The government plans to build mosques in 80 different state universities and to convert one Istanbul university into a center for Islamic learning. Almost a million pupils are enrolled in imam-hatip religious schools, in which around a quarter of class hours are dedicated to Sunni Islamic study. Parents and teachers say administrators are restricting optional classes so pupils are forced to take religious ones.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk established the Republic of Turkey on the ruins of the Ottoman empire in 1923. Over 15 years, he set about rooting out the influence of Islam from Turkish society. He banned sharia courts, closed all madrasas, shut down private Islamic orders, and banished religious education from state schools. Turbans and the fez were banned, and the hijab was outlawed in public offices. Atatürk abolished the caliphate.

Since Atatürk's death in 1938, resistance to his reforms within Turkey has steadily eroded them. Some even contend that the entire Republican project was a mistake. The present government's religious agenda could expose Turkey to the turmoil roiling Iraq and Syria.

Mideast Christians

Douglas Murray

Across what was Nineveh, Iraqi Christians spent this year fleeing from village to village, hoping to find safety somewhere. Now in Acton, London, a beleaguered congregation of Iraqi Christians sing hymns in Syriac, hear sermons in Arabic, and pray for the dead in Aramaic.

Everybody in this London congregation has a story. They tell of Muslim neighbors stealing their houses. Some of their relatives were taken to the mosques and forcibly converted to Islam. Others were martyred. A woman: "It is the end."

2014 December 16

PEGIDA

Der Spiegel

PEGIDA - Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes - bringt immer mehr Bürger auf die Straße. An diesem Montagabend sind in Dresden 15.000 Menschen gekommen, so viele wie noch nie. PEGIDA vereint sie alle: die Frustrierten, die Ängstlichen, die Wütenden.

Gegen "die Zuwanderungsschwemme, irgendwann ist mal Schluss", wie ein 48-Jähriger ruft. Gegen die "Wirtschaftsflüchtlinge, die sich in der sozialen Hängematte Deutschlands" ausruhen, wie es ein 51-Jähriger ausdrückt. Gegen "die obere Klasse, die Politik, die sich abschottet", wie ein etwa 60-Jähriger sagt.

PEGIDA-Frontmann Lutz Bachmann: "Wir sprechen nicht mit der Presse, dabei bleibt es. Vorhin habe ich aber mit Al-Jazeera ein Interview gemacht."

PEGIDA

Al Jazeera

German police have noted a significant rise in far-right extremism and attacks targeting foreigners. The trend is seen as a backlash against a sharp increase in refugees arriving in Germany.

Dresden has seen a rise in anti-Islam "Monday marches" under the slogan PEGIDA, "Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident", which drew over 10,000 people a week ago.

A poll for Spiegel found a majority of Germans were open to some of the views voiced by PEGIDA. A third of those polled believed Germany was undergoing a process of Islamization, while two thirds said the German government was not taking current record levels of immigration and asylum seekers seriously enough.

Germany has an estimated 4 million Muslims, in a total population of about 80 million.

2014 December 15

Britain


UK prime minister David Cameron visited Poole today. He spoke on the economy at Magna Academy and visited a housing development in Hamworthy.

Photo

2014 December 14

The Russian Military

Jonathan Masters

Russian conventional forces dwarf those of its Eastern European and Central Asian neighbors. As part of defense reforms, most Russian ground forces are to be professionalized and reorganized, but for the foreseeable future many will remain conscripts with limited training.

Moscow is intent on remilitarizing its Arctic territory and is restoring its airfields and ports to help protect hydrocarbon resources and shipping lanes. But much military equipment remains decades old. The Russian navy is little more than a coastal protection force. All of its large vessels are holdovers from the Cold War.

Russian air power is also limited. Most of the air force dates from the Cold War, but modernization of air and space defenses is a top priority of the rearmament program. A consolidated Aerospace Defense Command will deploy a SAM system near Moscow and along the Russian border.

The Russian nuclear arsenal remains on par with the United States. Moscow has about 1,500 strategic warheads on deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarines, and heavy bombers. There are also believed to be some 2,000 nonstrategic nuclear warheads. Moscow appeared to lower its nuclear threshold in 2000, permitting the use of such weapons in response to major conventional attacks.

The Russian military budget has more than doubled over the last decade, behind only China and the United States. Russia is about halfway through a $700 billion weapons modernization program.

Russian leaders acknowledge that there is now little threat of a large NATO land invasion but they criticize the eastward expansion of the alliance. NATO members need to prepare for Russian guerilla tactics and Baltic governments should be wary of Russian subversion.

The American Middle

Jim Tankersley

The stock market is soaring and US unemployment is sinking. But all that growth has done nothing to boost average pay. Real household median income is still lower than it was when the recession ended.

The American middle class is in trouble. Over the past 25 years, the economy has grown 83%, after adjusting for inflation, but typical family income has stagnated. Corporate profits have doubled as a share of the economy and workers today produce nearly twice as many goods and services per hour on the job as they did in 1989. Yet in 81% of US counties, the median income is lower today than it was 15 years ago.

A smaller share of Americans enjoy the fruits of an expanding economy. Republicans and Democrats keep promising to help the middle class reclaim its prosperity, but to no avail.

2014 December 13

The Sexual Revolution

Cosmo Landesman

In the battle of ideas, some academics once believed that sexual minorities could subvert the system. The personal was political. The heterosexual penis and oppressive patriarchy went hand in hand and led to rape, nuclear war, and ecological devastation.

Today everyone wants to be like boring white heterosexuals. Sexual outsiders have come in from the margins and bought into the lifestyle of the Great White Males they once despised. It is not the white male heterosexual who is facing a crisis of identity, but members of the gay, lesbian, and transsexual community. They have lost their transgressive edge.

The white heterosexual male can no longer expect everyone to conform to his idea of sexuality or being normal. The sex war is over. We boring white heterosexual males have won.

2014 December 12

No Truth

Peter Pomerantsev

Russians have created a society of simulations, with fake elections, a fake free press, a fake free market, and fake justice. They are led by religious Russian patriots who curse the decadent West while keeping their children and money in London. All cultures split the public and private selves, but in Russia that split is often total.

As the Kremlin plays the West, we see it extend the tactics it uses at home to foreign affairs. At the core of this strategy is the idea that there is no such thing as objective truth. The Kremlin replaces facts with disinformation.

2014 December 11

Mideast War

The New York Times

President Obama is conducting the war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria under an outdated 2001 authorization, without explicit approval by Congress and without the limitations that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has urged. But there are too many red flags about the potential for mission creep to ignore. Obama says he has all the authority he needs under the 2001 authorization. Any action on his authorization must be accompanied by a thorough debate about American policy toward the Islamic State.

Twin Earth

Sarah Scoles

Astronomers now estimate that our galaxy contains at least as many planets as stars. Planets are normal and the sun is an unremarkable star. Our solar system lives in a suburb of the galaxy. Our Milky Way is just one of countless other galaxies. Our collection of known planets contains ever more small orbs that might have rocks and water, in a habitable zone where life as we know it could exist.

Earthlings have made a huge cultural shift, from wanting to be the center of the universe to wanting not to be alone. What disturbs us now is to think Earth is somehow special. Astronomers want to find a twin Earth. Otherwise we might be alone, thrust back toward the philosophical center. The discovery of Earth 2.0 will transform a numbingly cold universe back into a cosmos we can connect with.

2014 December 10

Climate

Jason Mark

Escape is not an option, at least not in a time frame relevant to our current environmental predicament.

"It's a perfect planet," one of the astronauts says in Interstellar, referring to spaceship Earth. "We're not going to find another one like it."

Placards at climate marches: "There Is No Planet B."

Wet Mars

New Scientist

Gale Crater on Mars was once a large lake. The Curiosity rover has found evidence of multiple cycles of water flowing into a lake that could have lasted tens of millions of years. The lake dried out and reappeared several times, laying down the sediments that make up Mount Sharp.

Curiosity encountered conglomerate rocks full of pebbles that were probably deposited by rivers. As it continued, the landscape changed to sandstones that were all tilted toward the mountain.

Caltech project scientist John Grotzinger: "If Mount Sharp had been there and water had been flowing off Mount Sharp, it would be flowing downhill to the north. But the rocks that are exposed show the water flowing to the south."

Water flowed from the crater rim toward the interior, filling up an ancient lake. At the base of the mountain, sandstone layers become thinner and flatter, as if they were laid down more slowly, without currents swirling them around. But how did the Martian atmosphere stay wet enough to prevent the lake from evaporating?

JPL deputy project scientist Ashwin Vasavada: "The climate system must have been loaded with water. The question is, could temporary climate fluctuations form what we see geologically, or do we need longer term warm wet climate?"

2014 December 9

Income Inequality

OECD

Rising inequality in the years after 1985 reduced UK growth. The economy expanded by 40% during the 1990s and 2000s but would have grown by almost 50% had inequality not risen. Reducing income inequality could have increased growth over 25 years, with a cumulated GDP gain of over 7%.

Governments should rejig tax systems to make sure wealthier individuals pay their fair share. Policymakers need to consider those at risk of failing to benefit from the recovery and future growth. Countries that promote equal opportunity for all from an early age will grow and prosper.

2014 December 8

City Loot Haven

The Observer

The City of London is a haven for dishonest officials from overseas to hide stolen money. Conservative MP Stephen Barclay, who worked in senior anti-money-laundering roles at the Financial Services Authority (FSA) and Barclays Bank, says a long-awaited government anti-corruption plan does not address flaws in the British financial system that allow crooked officials from foreign countries to launder their loot in London banks. Barclay says UK government investigators do not have enough time to carry out detailed checks on suspicious transactions in UK banks.

SET for BRITAIN

SET for BRITAIN awards support and promote early-stage and early-career research scientists, engineers, technologists, and mathematicians in the UK.

2014 December 7

Science Fiction

Noah Berlatsky

American capitalism is dedicated to the cult of growth and expansion. The new boss is ever bigger, better, and cooler than the old. The ideology of eternal improvement fits pop sci-fi neatly. Technology advances and humans mutate into X-Men without ever prompting a consideration of alternatives.

Science fiction is everywhere in popular culture. But it has largely jettisoned the future. Star Wars is a fantasy in which tomorrow is just a place to rearrange the robots on a Titanic that never sinks. Progress has conquered the present so thoroughly it no longer even needs to push forward.


RS
Falkland Square, Poole, 2014-12-06: Vishal Gupta, Cllr Carol Evans, Cllr Elaine Atkinson, Robert Syms MP, me



NASA


DB

 

2014 December 6

Christmas Homily

Giles Fraser

Christians make better humanists. Christmas Christianity imagines God as a human infant.

Christians have not always been convincing humanists. In too many cases, religion has stood over and against human flourishing. Denigrations of the human should be an affront to Christian values.

What makes human beings morally distinctive? Darwin was right but evolution hardly encourages us to think of human beings as uniquely valuable. Some may say because we are rational. But are rational people more morally valuable than irrational ones? Surely not. No, it requires a leap of faith.

Atheists are not always at the forefront of defending human life when it comes up against other values such as choice. If by humanism we mean that human being is morally superior to all other categories, many of us find a more robust form of humanism at Christmas.

Christian Humanism

Angus Ritchie and Nick Spencer

Christians ought to be proud of their humanist credentials, rather than seeing humanism as a kind of atheism. Were it not for Christianity, the ideas of humanism would not have developed in Europe.

The Christian faith provides a firmer foundation for humanist beliefs than evolutionary atheism. A commitment to reliable rationality, to moral realism, and to human dignity can only be secured on a theistic basis. The price of humanism is philosophical rigor.

2014 December 5

UK 2020

The Guardian

The National Audit Office recently warned that more than half of councils currently risk financial failure by the end of the decade. The Local Government Association estimates that the current £1.6 billion gap between adult social care demand and available resources will rise to £4.3 billion by 2020. In town and county halls there is talk of existential and financial crisis.

Orion Test Success

NASA

Orion is built to take humans deep into space. Orion will carry a crew to space, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during the trip, and provide safe re-entry to Earth.

NASA launched Orion atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket on a successful flight that tested many systems critical to safety, such as avionics, attitude control, parachutes, and the heat shield.

In the future, Orion will launch on the Space Launch System. The SLS will be capable of sending humans to deep space destinations such as an asteroid and eventually Mars.

Geoengineering

Newsweek

To curb the changing climate, we can:

1 Capture carbon from the air to form limestone.

2 Plant new growth forests to capture carbon from the air.

3 Seed the ocean with iron to feed microalgae that free oxygen from carbon dioxide, then sink
    into the depths, sequestering the carbon.

4 Spray the atmosphere with sulfate aerosols that absorb sunlight and cool the Earth.

2014 December 4

Bet On Growth

The Times

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne cut taxes for most homebuyers yesterday and bet on a growing economy powered by rising property prices. Four years ago Britain had been at the brink. Now it had "higher growth, lower unemployment, falling inflation, and a deficit that is falling too".

Secularism

Phil Zuckerman

To me, someone is secular if hen does not:
1 hold any supernatural beliefs about deities, spirits, or netherworlds
2 engage in any religious rituals or rites
3 identify or affiliate with a religious group, denomination, or tradition.

Secularization is a historical process whereby a given society becomes less religious over time. Whereas secularism implies ideology, social movement, political agenda, how things ought to be.

Jeffersonian secularism is the political position that church and state ought to be separate and that government ought to be as neutral as possible when it comes to religion in the public square. This version of secularism is what used to be called disestablishmentarianism.

Secularism is growing in virtually all nations for which we have data. The vast majority of people who walk away from religion don't miss it.

2014 December 3

Russia

Anne Applebaum

Since 2000, Russia has been ruled by an elite with origins in the old KGB. Horrified by the collapse of the Soviet Union, a group of KGB officers hid state money in offshore banks and used it to take over Russia. They maintain control by issuing contradictory regulations that force everyone to violate one law or another.

Vladimir Putin emerged as king of the thieves. After he became president in 2000, he preserved some of the language of reform in his public statements. He remained open to relationships with NATO and with American and European leaders and he regularly attended meetings of the G8. But he never abandoned his KGB methods. He made no attempt to encourage entrepreneurial capitalism in Russia or to create a legal system that would allow small businesses to grow. People who did not play by his rules were destroyed.

Putin systematically destroyed the nascent institutions of liberal democratic society. He refused to tolerate any real political opposition and eviscerated independent media. In place of a genuine media and a real civil society, Putin and his inner circle set up a system for manufacturing disinformation and mobilizing support.

2014 December 2

Ukraine in NATO? Nein

Christoph Schult

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko says he would like to hold a referendum on NATO membership. NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg confirms the right of every sovereign nation in Europe to apply for NATO membership. Russian President Vladimir Putin sees NATO membership for Ukraine as a red line. Only the Baltic states and Poland currently support Ukrainian accession to NATO.

Bundesaußenminister Frank-Walter Steinmeier: "Für die Bündnisfrage gilt: Ich sehe partnerschaftliche Beziehungen der Ukraine mit der NATO, aber keine Mitgliedschaft."

Islamic State

Ahmed Rashid

Islamic State is determined to reshape the Mideast as a unitary Caliphate. The number of Christians in Iraq has dwindled from a million in 2003 to a quarter that number today. Half a million Assyrians have fled, as have thousands of Armenians and Greeks. Syria is even worse off. Arab states need to convince their populations that the extremism of Islamic State is destroying tolerant Islam.

2014 December 1

French Blue

The Times

Marine Le Pen wins the support of her National Front party for a presidential run: "Messieurs Sarkozy and Hollande, you have failed in everything. You were entrusted with a treasure: France. You were entrusted with a diamond: its people. You damaged one. You abandoned the other."

Le Pen, 46, is polling ahead in the presidential race for May 2017. With her anti-immigrant stance and pledges to leave the euro and the EU, she has set the agenda in a bleak political landscape.

AR Adieu, old EU.

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