Andy Ross 2015-11-30
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BLOG 2015

COP 21

  IMF Top Ten
  GDP per head at PPP
as % of US in 2014
  1 US 100  
  2 Australia 86  
  3 Germany 85  
  4 Canada 83  
  5 France 74  
  6 UK 73  
  7 Japan 69  
  8 South Korea 65  
  9 Italy 65  
  10 Spain 62  

Houses of Parliament
from the South Bank

  Budget deficit  
    % of GDP  
  2015-16 3.9  
  2016-17 2.5  
  2017-18 1.2  
  2018-19 0.2  
  2019-20 surplus 0.5  
  2020-21 surplus 0.6  
  Cash borrowing  
    £ billion  
  2015-16 73.5  
  2016-17 49.9  
  2017-18 24.8  
  2018-19 4.6  
  2019-20 surplus 10.1  
  2020-21 surplus 14.7  
  Public spending  
    £ billion  
  2015-16 756  
  2016-17 773  
  2017-18 787  
  2018-19 801  
  2019-20 821  
  2020-21 857  

The Perfect Theory
Pedro G. Ferreira

Artist and Empire
Tate Britain, London
2015-11-25 — 2016-04-10


2015 November 30

Responsible Development

Narendra Modi

Democratic India is among the world's fastest-growing economies. We are striving to meet the aspirations of 1.25 billion people. The instinct of our culture is to take a sustainable path to development. When a child is born, we plant a tree. Since ancient times, we have seen humanity as part of nature, not superior to it.

The principle of common but differentiated responsibilities should be the bedrock of our collective enterprise. The lifestyles of a few must not crowd out opportunities for the many still on the first steps of the development ladder. Our targets must seek to drive restraint in use of fossil fuel and moderation in our lifestyles.

EU-Turkey Deal

Financial Times

European Union leaders have granted Turkey fast-tracked visa privileges, €3 billion in aid, and a new push for EU membership talks. In return, Turkey will choke off the migrant flow into Europe, offer work rights to 2.2 million Syrians, and take back some asylum seekers who moved on into Europe.

Turkish premier Ahmet Davutoglu called the summit a "new beginning" in EU-Turkey relations but warned: "Nobody can guarantee anything. I wish I could say the numbers will decline but I cannot because we don't know what will happen in Syria."

2015 November 29


The New York Times

German chancellor Angela Merkel has so far rejected requests to limit the influx of newcomers into Germany. But she and other European leaders have tightened asylum policy, restricted family reunions for refugees, and campaigned to keep people from setting out for Europe. Balkan nations on the migrant trail have been encouraged to bar all but Syrian, Iraqi, and Afghan refugees.

The new policy culminates in a summit meeting of the European Union with Turkey today. Turkey seeks €3 billion to help care for the 2.2 million refugees it houses. EU leaders are likely to resume negotiations on Turkish EU membership. Carnegie Europe director Jan Techau: "They urgently need Turkey, and without Turkey, they cannot possibly reduce the pressure on their borders."

2015 November 28

International Security

Department of Politics and International Relations
University of Oxford

The one-day conference International Security: Scholarship and Practice explored the ways Oxford scholars are addressing some of the pressing security concerns of the day, from cybersecurity and violent extremism to the resurgence of authoritarianism and the changing ethics of armed conflict.

AR I found this an excellent opportunity to enjoy stimulating and fruitful exchanges with numerous  leading thinkers on global security issues.

2015 November 27

UK Prosperity

Martin Wolf

George Osborne wants to turn the UK into the most prosperous major economy in the world. According to the IMF, the UK is #6 among the "top ten" major economies (excluding small states such as Switzerland and Singapore). Since 1980, the UK has overtaken Italy, and the IMF forecasts the UK will overtake France by 2020. This depends on rising British productivity.

The fiscal deficit is expected to turn into a surplus by 2020. With net foreign borrowing forecast at 2.1% of GDP in 2021, the UK private sector must go into a deficit of 3.3% of GDP. Household gross debt would rise to 163% of income by 2021. This is almost as high as the peak of 168% in 2008. The UK will not become the most prosperous major economy in the world.

Partners Against Daesh

Jean-Yves Le Drian

France and the UK have celebrated the fifth anniversary of a historic commitment. The Lancaster House treaty affirms that there can be no threat to one of our countries that is not a threat to the other. It is a promise that France and the UK will continue tackling their shared security challenges shoulder to shoulder.

Like France, the UK is working to defeat Daesh. Over Syria, British aircraft are supporting the coalition with intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. It is now crucial to strike Daesh in Syria.


Christoph Reuter

Daesh may have established several cells in Europe. A million refugees have made Europeans vulnerable. Daesh can exploit this.

Former Iraqi military intelligence agency colonel Haji Bakr managed the strategic expansion of Daesh. Now Daesh is dug in and air strikes alone will not root it out.

Western troops could only launch a ground offensive with Russian agreement. If the West sided with Assad, all the rebels would side with Daesh.

The United States is stymied. In Syria, its Kurdish ally is the enemy of NATO ally Turkey. In Iraq, militias backed by Iran are enemies of both Daesh and America.

Daesh pursues realpolitik. To defeat them, we must do the same.

2015 November 26

Re: Autumn Statement

Martin Wolf

Osborne's starting points remain unchanged and questionable. He insists, above all, that the UK should run an overall fiscal surplus in "normal times". In other words, the government should not borrow to invest, however much higher are the expected returns than the cost of borrowing. It is impossible to understand why such a rule makes sense.

AR Debt repayments are hostage to changing global fortunes. Crisis or war can make debt burdens onerous. Also, the temptation for government to pay off troublesome opponents or special interests by incurring new debt is evidently irresistible. If times are good, the opportunity cost of zero debt can be high. But the private sector can step in.

2015 November 25

Autumn Statement

George Osborne

The Autumn Statement I gave today delivers on the promise we made to the British people that we would put their security first by:
Taking the difficult decisions to live within our means and bring our debts down,
Defending our country's interests abroad and keeping our citizens safe at home.

This Spending Review builds on that with:
Full funding for the Five Year Forward View the NHS put forward
The biggest real terms increase to the basic State Pension in 15 years
A doubling of the housing budget to over £2 billion a year
The phasing out entirely of the local government grant
A new apprenticeship levy to deliver 3 million apprenticeships
Real terms protection of schools budget
The largest ever investment in free childcare
The improvement in our finances used to help on tax credits
An average saving of £30 from projected energy bills

Five years ago our job was to rescue Britain. Today our job is to rebuild Britain.

Spending Review

George Osborne

Since 2010, no economy in the G7 has grown faster than Britain. Our economy this year is predicted to grow by 2.4%.

The Office for Budget Responsibility forecast today is that the economy will grow robustly every year, living standards will rise every year, and more than a million extra jobs will be created over the next five years.

The improvement in the nation's finances allows me to:
1 Borrow £8 billion less than we forecast
2 Spend £12 billion more on capital investment
3 Reach the same goal of a surplus while cutting less in the early years

Our approach is to reform and rebuild. The reforms will:
1 Develop a modern, integrated, health and social care system
2 Spread economic power and wealth
3 Extend opportunity
4 Reinforce our national security

In this Spending Review, we choose to build. I am:
1 Doubling the housing budget
2 Extending the Right to Buy to housing association tenants
3 Accelerating housing supply
4 Addressing the housing crisis in London
5 Raising rates of Stamp Duty on purchase of additional properties
For we are the builders.

Today we deliver the Spending Review of a One Nation government.

AR Well done, George!

Quantum Gravity

Don Lincoln

Einstein's theory of general relativity stated that space bends and stretches under the influence of matter and energy. His theory revolutionized our vision of the universe. It explains the behavior of orbiting binary pulsars and the orbit of Mercury. But the beginning of the universe and the region near the center of a black hole are quantum worlds.

Einstein saw the need to understand the quantum realm. General relativity uses differential equations to describe a smooth and differentiable space. In contrast, quantum mechanics describes a quantized world. The mathematics of the two theories are fundamentally at odds. A theory of quantum gravity remains one of the open goals of modern science.

Black Hole Starivores

New Scientist

A fast radio burst (FRB) detected in 2007 released more energy in a few milliseconds than the sun does in a month. Since then, we have found 10 more. A study suggests that when a black hole ingests an inward spiraling neutron star, they interact to generate an FRB.

As a black hole moves within the magnetic field of a neutron star, their orbital and spin motion generates an electric current that flows along the magnetic field lines between them. The power grows as the black hole and neutron star spiral closer. In the few milliseconds before they merge the radiation rises steeply. From a remote galaxy the radio waves appear as an FRB with a distinct fingerprint, with radio emission rising to a double peak in brightness.

Such bursts could help test the theory of general relativity. When two very massive objects collide, the shock should make waves in spacetime. No one has yet seen gravitational waves. But new instruments like LIGO should be able to spot them from an FRB collision.

AR On starivores see a book I edited: The Beginning and the End by Clément Vidal (Springer 2014).

2015 November 24

The Perfect Theory

Pedro G. Ferreira

The theory of general relativity is the scientific equivalent of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel. Both are unique works of genius and each could only have been done by one individual.

Albert Einstein struggled for seven years to get it right. He worked on his ideas and equations exhaustively and then presented his theory in a series of lectures in November 1915, culminating in a final presentation on November 24. He published the theory on December 2.

The European Space Agency mission Lisa Pathfinder is designed to help find the gravitational waves predicted by Einstein's theory, It is scheduled for launch on December 2.

Daesh vs Rest

New Statesman

Islamic State sees itself as a state. It believes it has achieved the Sunni ideal of a caliphate. It believes it must ultimately confront and then defeat the West in a big battle between truth and falsehood. But it would rather be left to consolidate its position for now.

Daesh is dispirited by the mass migration of Syrian refugees into Europe. It has appealed to them to migrate to the caliphate rather than to the lands of the infidel. Smuggling fighters into France who had posed as refugees may have been designed to exploit fears about the security risk posed by accepting Syrian refugees. For Daesh, any Muslim not backing its project is guilty of heresy.

Daesh wants to eradicate the gray zone of coexistence. Its aim is to divide the world into Muslim and infidel, black and white. It believes that by polarizing the world it will hasten the return of the messiah. This may be its undoing. The wider world is waking up to a threat it cannot ignore.

Britain must decide whether it wants to join in the fight against Daesh or whether it is content to sit on the sidelines. We can join France and the United States at the head of a coalition or we can gamble that others will do the work for us. We cannot win a reprieve from the jihadists.

David Cameron will make a final effort to win a parliamentary majority for bombing in Syria. He may be forced to accept a further diminution of UK standing among allies. The United States, France, and Australia are growing tired of our inability to pull our weight. Russia and Iran have their own interests in Syria that do not necessarily converge with our own.

The British position, of joining the coalition in Iraq but stopping at the borders of Syria, is morally indefensible. The UK is not served well by the impression of British decline and retreat. We are still the fifth wealthiest nation in the world. It matters what we do when our friends are under attack.

2015 November 23

We Will Win

David Cameron

Our Strategic Defence and Security Review is a comprehensive plan to back our armed forces, counter-terrorism police, and intelligence agencies with the resources they need to defeat terrorism and to tackle the many other threats we face.

The United Kingdom will meet the NATO target of spending 2% of our GDP on defence and the UN target of spending 0.7% of GNI on development, while also increasing investment in our security and intelligence agencies and in counter-terrorism.

We will tackle the poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism and refocus our aid budget to support fragile and broken states and regions, to prevent conflict and promote the rule of law, good governance, and the growth of democracy.

Our strategy includes deepening our resources and international cooperation on counter-terrorism to detect and foil plots from wherever they emanate in the world. So along with 1,900 new staff for our agencies and increased investment in counter-terrorism police, we will invest in a new generation of surveillance drones.

We will use our renewed economic strength to defeat the terrorist threat and help keep us safe for generations to come.

UK Defense

Financial Times

David Cameron will today pump an extra £12 billion into strengthening UK defenses. The 2015 defense review will include a 30% increase in the counter-terrorism budget, £2 billion on special forces, and a focus on cyber defenses.

The budget increase for defense kit over the next decade will take total spending to £178 billion. The additional spending will maintain defense spending at 2% of GDP, in line with the NATO target.

The budget will include funding for nine Boeing P-8 aircraft to take on the Russian submarine threat. The plan also brings forward the procurement of 24 F-35 aircraft for two new aircraft carriers.

Mistakes were made in the 2010 defense review in 2010, which did not do enough to fight new threats such as cyber attacks or Islamist terrorism and which axed UK maritime surveillance capability. The Boeing P-8 maritime patrol aircraft will fill the gap left by by scrapping Nimrod.

P-8A Poseidon Type 26 Global Combat Ship F-35B Lightning II Scout SV

"The United Nations Security
Council has unanimously backed
action against this evil death
cult in both Syria and Iraq."
David Cameron

ISIL controls an area bigger
than the British Isles

Russians bomb Daesh oil assets

Credit: Shakh Aivazov
Grozny, 1995

Chris Watt Photography
Gordonstoun School in Moray,
Scotland, was founded in 1934
by Kurt Hahn. Princes Philip
and Charles both went there.
Charles described it as
"Colditz in kilts"


2015 November 22


Geert Wilders

Europe has become unsafe as a result of decades of mass immigration from Islamic countries. We should respond to the crisis by voting on crucial national policies in binding referendums.

Leaving the European Union would let the Netherlands adopt its own asylum policies. Support is growing for my Party for Freedom in the Netherlands. We do not want to bring in large numbers of people from a less liberal and less secular culture.

Dutch political elites think they know better than the people. In a direct democracy, citizens are sovereign. The Netherlands would benefit from direct democracy.


Tom Holland

Jihadis are engaged in a thousand-year struggle for global supremacy against Christianity.

When Muhammad embarked on his prophetic mission, most people in the Mideast were Christian. Yet by 650 CE, soon after his death, Arab armies had conquered most of the region and many Christians were under their rule. The Byzantine Empire lost huge territories but still held out.

Christendom did not collapse. In the age of the Crusades it began to go on the offensive. Summoned by the Pope in 1096 to defend the holy sites of Jerusalem, Christian armies set for the Holy Land. In 1099, the Crusaders broke into Jerusalem, and the streets of the city flowed with blood.

Jerusalem remained in Christian hands for less than a century. By 1400, a chain of Muslim lands stretched from the Atlantic to the China Sea. In 1453 the Ottomans conquered Constantinople and made it a bastion of Islam. In 1529, and again in 1683, an Ottoman army almost took Vienna.

Then the British Empire arose. Muslims could no longer ignore the sheer scale of their decline. It was they who were now the imperial subjects, and Islam was looked down on as backward. Many in the Muslim world looked to the golden age of the Caliphate for their inspiration.

Today some two-thirds of Muslims worldwide want to see the restoration of a caliphate.


Karen Armstrong

Daesh savagery has roots in the Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia. Members of the Saudi ruling class applaud Wahhabi opposition to Shia and its Salafist adherence to the original practices of Islam.

Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-91 CE) said everyone should study the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet. He opposed Sufism and Shia as heresy. His patron was Muhammad Ibn Saud, a local warlord. Saud enforced Wahhabi Islam with the sword while Wahhab promoted study and debate.

After Wahhab died, Saud's son began the wholesale slaughter of resistant populations. His army sacked Karbala and slaughtered thousands of Shias, and Mecca surrendered to him in 1803. Then the Ottomans defeated him in 1815.

Wahhabism arose again with the help of Lawrence of Arabia. The Saudi chieftain carved out a kingdom with his devout Bedouin army, the Ikhwan, who massacred apostates in their thousands, slaughtered women and children, and slit the throats of all male captives. The Ikhwan continued to raid British protectorates, and even attacked the Saudi king until finally he quashed them in 1930.

The Saudi kingdom abandoned jihad and Wahhabism became a conservative movement. But the oil price rise in 1973 gave the kingdom all the petrodollars it needed to export Wahhabism. Its mosques and madrasas indoctrinated a generation of Muslims with intolerant sectarianism.

Like the Ikhwan, Daesh represents a rebellion against the official Wahhabism of Saudi Arabia. Its caliphate has no support internationally and is derided throughout the Muslim world.


Bernard Jenkin

France has deployed carrier-borne aircraft to bomb Syria. Britain cannot. After the 2010 strategic defense and security review, Sea Harriers jets, the Invincible class carriers, and Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft were all scrapped. Now Russian submarines lurk near Britain undetected. The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan used up most British reserves. Now land vehicles are worn out and Tornados are running out of flying hours. The 2015 review is due tomorrow.

2015 November 21


Ben Rhodes

President Obama believes that ground invasions and occupations of countries in the Mideast are not the most effective way of addressing terrorism. US Special Forces will go into Syria to facilitate operations by Kurds and Sunni Arab forces.

There is a humanitarian challenge. Displaced families need a safe haven. There will have to be continued investment in welcoming Syrian refugees to different countries. President Obama admires what Chancellor Merkel has done.


Helen Lewis

Dabiq is a magazine distributed by Daesh. University of Arizona professor Shahira Fahmy found that Dabiq images promoting the idea of an idealistic caliphate far outnumbered photographs of killings and torture. Overall, only 5% of imagery produced and distributed by Daesh is violent.

A Quilliam Foundation report found that the propaganda Daesh distributes in the Mideast often shows the group "administering its civilian population, cleaning the streets, fitting electricity pylons, fixing sewage systems, purifying water, collecting blood donations, providing health care and education" to reassure people that they are living under a functional authority.

Daesh is media literate. Fahmy points to images showing serenity and repentance "suggesting that any individual will always be embraced by the organization and forgiven for past affiliations upon joining the caliphate" alongside others promoting the idea of victimization by the West.

Saudi Arabia

Kamel Daoud

Black Daesh, white Daesh: Islamic State, Saudi Arabia. Daesh feeds on Wahhabism.

Saudi Arabia exports Wahhabism, which aims to restore a caliphate centered on the holy book and the holy sites. Born in massacre and blood, it manifests itself in a surreal relationship with women, a prohibition against infidels treading on sacred territory, and ferocious religious laws. Saudi Arabia is a Daesh that has made it.

The West salutes the Saudi theocracy as its ally but ignores its global sponsorship of Islamist culture. The Saudi royals are caught in a trap. Their clergy produces Islamism, which both threatens the country and gives legitimacy to the regime. Religious television channels have an immense transformative influence on the society.

Islamist newspapers cast the West as a land of infidels. The Paris attacks were the result of its onslaught against Islam. Muslims and Arabs are the enemies of Crusaders and Jews. The Palestinian question, the rape of Iraq, and the memory of colonial trauma are packaged into a messianic discourse meant to seduce the masses.

Daesh has a mother: the invasion of Iraq. But it also has a father: Saudi Arabia.


Michel Houellebecq

French governments have long failed to protect the population.

Opinion polls reveal that the French population has always:
Maintained its trust in and solidarity with its police officers and armed forces
Disliked the sermonizing from the left on how to treat migrants and refugees
Been suspicious of the foreign military adventures its leaders have chosen

French politics is discredited. The solution is direct democracy.

AR Last time the French tried that they ended up with Napoleon.

2015 November 20


Adam Kirsch

Captivity is a historical novel about the Roman Empire. Jesus, Claudius, Caligula, Pontius Pilate, and Philo of Alexandria all make cameo appearances. György Spiró views them through a Jewish lens.

The first century CE is well documented. Spiró draws on the histories of Tacitus and Suetonius, the writings of Josephus and Philo, the New Testament, and the Talmud. These sources tell us about the politics of imperial Rome, the religious fervor of Jerusalem, and the ethnic strife of commercial Alexandria, all in the decades up to about 70 CE.

The tale begins with Uri, a poor Jew living in a hovel in Roman ghetto. He is brainy but scrawny and lives on Roman welfare. Like Forrest Gump, he blunders through the margins of historical events.

In Rome, we are shown gladiatorial combat, a client's morning visit to his patron, and a public execution. These scenes introduce us to Roman brutality, hierarchy, and corruption. Uri's father is casually asked for a huge loan by a princely Jewish friend of Caligula, and forced deep into debt.

As favor in return, Uri gets permission to go to Jerusalem. There he ends up in jail, in the same cell with Jesus and two thieves on the eve of the crucifixion. Jesus goes unnamed, and Uri finds out only much later who he is, when the Nazarene cult has turned Jesus into the Christian messiah.

When Uri makes it to Alexandria, he settles into an ancient version of New York City. He becomes the confidant of Philo the philosopher and witnesses a pogrom. This violent uprising of Greeks against Jews reminds us of the Holocaust. By the end of the tale, Uri has survived the Jewish War. Christianity appears as a last echo of Judaism.

A deep pessimism or fatalism pervades this novel. It is a profound meditation on what Judaism meant, and means.

2015 November 19


Bashar al-Assad

Daesh does not have its natural social incubator within Syria. Jihadists feed on the support of the Turks and the Saudis and Qatari, and of course the western policy that supported the terrorists in different ways. Daesh started not in Syria but in Iraq, and before that in Afghanistan.

The timetable for elections in Syria starts after defeating terrorism. You cannot achieve anything politically while you have the terrorists taking over many areas in Syria. After that, one year and a half to two years is enough for any transition.

Economics of Terrorism

John Gapper

To judge by Paris, Islamic State prefers to outsource. From its supply chain to its event planning, it is a multinational. Yet the economic impact of Islamist terrorists is usually minimal apart from on tourism and travel.

For this reason alone, talk of war on Daesh is misguided. The Islamists have formed a state within Syria and Iraq by controlling the local oil industry. Their attacks in "the gray zone" aim to foment a clash of civilizations.

The Paris attacks may dent the economies of several European countries if governments respond by reinstating border controls. Citigroup economists warned this week of a growing backlash against a key element of globalization.

The recent pause in globalization was not due to global jihad. Terrorism is a marketing campaign for recruits. Set against natural events and the rhythm of industry and trade, its effects are economically minor.

War of Ideas

David Aaronovitch

A recent conference in London on Muslim integration aimed to get people of different beliefs to debate with Islamic scholars and academics. Participants attacked the idea of deradicalization as an aspect of western prejudice against Muslims.

This is the stuff taught in British colleges and universities. It says Muslims are radicalized because they are victims of Islamophobia, and any attempt to deal with radicalization that does not admit this is Islamophobic.

Many Muslims will use this view to oppose the UK strategy of tackling extremism by banning preachers from the internet, vetting the political views of people working with children, and blacklisting and banning Muslim groups.

The strategy will provoke resistance. Better to fight the ideas of apologists and relativists with better ideas.

2015 November 18

Smash Daesh

The New York Times

There is no consensus on how to defeat Islamic State. But a resolution of the Syrian conflict and a broader reform of Islam must be part of a solution. If the United States decided to remove the Assad government, it would have the support of Saudi Arabia and Turkey but not of Russia or Iran.

Washington Institute fellow Ehud Yaari: "To beat ISIS, you need the enlistment of the Sunni forces. That won't happen as long as Assad remains in power in Damascus. The shortest and most effective way to deal with ISIS is for the United States and Russia to come to an agreement about the removal of Assad, and they will get support from others. Then the Sunni forces, the rebels, can deal with ISIS on the ground."

Russian experts say the wellspring of radical religious ideology is Saudi Arabia and the Sunni states of the Persian Gulf. Gennady V. Gudkov: "The roots are not in Syria. The problem is far more serious. All the world leaders should think of this: A significant part of the Islamic religion is infected with a tumor that is metastasizing."

A military solution is likely to meet brutality with brutality. To tame an Islamist insurgency in Chechnya, Russians destroyed the capital, Grozny, and even held the families of jihadists hostage.

Former Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit: “With this enemy, we have to push aside arguments on law, morality, and comparisons of security and the rights of the individual. That means to do what they did in World War II to Dresden. They wiped it off the map. That is what has to be done to all the territorial enclaves that ISIS is holding."

Finally eradicating all violent jihadi groups will probably require drastic reform of governments in the Mideast: greater accountability, fair justice, better schools, more job prospects.

Reforming Islam

Usama Hasan

Islam is in the middle of a reformation. It needs time to adapt to the modern world. The Ottoman caliphate abolished poll taxes on infidels, gave equal citizenship rights to all Abrahamic monotheists, and scrapped traditional Islamic punishments such as the death penalty for apostates.

Islamic thinkers, theologians, and activists are contributing to the reformation. They are grappling with universal human rights, shared values with other religions and philosophies, gender equality, the status of minorities, the separation of mosque and state, a critique of Islamic scripture, and the promotion of scientific and rational thinking. All agree that Islam needs to be reconciled with the modern world and its interpretations normalized.

Fundamentalist regimes such as those of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, northern Nigeria, and Islamic State have reinstated abhorrent practices from early Islam. Islamic State barbarism has helped show that a future Islam must be based on liberty, equality, and fraternity.

Jihadi Cool

Scott Atran

Islamic State exploits chaos. Its strategy:
1 Hit soft targets. Disperse the efforts of the enemy and drain it.
2 Strike victims when their guard is down. Sow fear, damage economies.
3 Capture the rebelliousness, energy, idealism, and self-sacrifice of youth.
4 Expose the weakness of the West by pushing it to fight directly.

Islamic State spearheads radical Arab Sunni revivalism. This is a dynamic, revolutionary, counter-cultural movement of world-historic proportions. Treating it as terrorism reflects incomprehension of its alluring moral mission to save the world. Its leaders seek to create chaos in the land of the infidel. They see the fact that Europe needs mass immigration to maintain a big workforce as a godsend. European intolerance of immigration makes for chaos they can exploit.

A thrilling cause inspires them. Jihad is fraternal, dynamic, glorious, cool, and persuasive. In 2014 more than 1 in 4 French youth aged 18-24 had a favorable opinion of ISIS, yet fewer than 1 in 12 of the French are Muslim. ISIS recruiters are expert at linking personal grievances into a universal theme of persecution against all Muslims. The ISIS e-zine Dabiq appeals to Muslims caught between the caliphate and the infidel by quoting Osama Bin Laden: "The world today is divided."

AR I was impressed by Atran's 2010 book Talking to the Enemy.

2015 November 17

After the Attacks

The New York Times

Islamic State terrorist attacks are hard to anticipate or prevent. In Europe each one intensifies the xenophobia of nationalists ever ready to demonize Muslims and shut down EU internal borders. Adopting draconian measures of the sort demanded by FN president Marine Le Pen can only further alienate the 5 million Muslims in France.

Prevention of further attacks will require threatened states to find a way to end the Syrian civil war. In Vienna, US and Russian delegates agreed on a draft plan for a phased transition to an interim government and elections in Syria. At the G20 meeting in Turkey, US President Obama talked privately with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Clash of Civilizations

Gideon Rachman

Samuel Huntington predicted in 1993 that international politics would be dominated in this century by a clash of civilizations. Hardline Islamism is on the rise worldwide as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have used oil money to spread intolerant forms of Islam around the world.

Malaysia has a Muslim Malay majority and an ethnic Chinese minority, but Arab influences have eroded the Malay variant of Islam and replaced it with a more austere and exclusive interpretation.

In Bangladesh, radical Islamists are behind a spate of recent murders and attacks on Christians, Hindus, and Shia Muslims.

Indian prime minister Narendra Modi is accused of tolerating anti-Islamic prejudice and violence, and in recent months his Hindu nationalist BJP has ramped up anti-secular and anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has let religion become much more central to Turkish politics and identity.

In Europe, the migrant crisis had helped to fuel the rise of anti-Muslim parties and social movements.

In the United States, anti-Muslim rhetoric is also rising.

2015 November 16


David Cameron

I am determined to prioritize the resources we need to combat the terrorist threat. This is a generational struggle that demands we provide more manpower to combat those who would destroy us and our values.

AR Count me in.


Philip Stephens

The murders in Paris were an act of war and a gift to xenophobes. Islamic State wants to provoke an anti-Islamic backlash.

The far right will draw false connections between migration and terror. The French National Front makes scant distinction between violent jihadis and peaceful Islam. For them every Muslim refugee is a potential terrorist. Marine Le Pen is seen as a credible candidate in the contest for the French presidency in 2017.

Destruction of Islamic State strongholds in Iraq and Syria will not wipe it out. Ending the war requires a political agreement.

AR Ending it requires military victory first.


Edward Lucas

The security order that protects our civilization has become fragile. It cannot cope with the influx of migrants from failed and failing states. Nor is it managing to deal with the presence of alienated religious and ethnic minorities inside our borders. On current form, defeat looms.

To recover we must want to win. We can only argue convincingly with jihadists if we believe in our ideas as strongly as they believe in theirs. International law, diplomacy and institutions are good ways of settling differences with people who accept the rules of the game. Faced with jihadists who will ruthlessly use force and take risks in pursuit of victory, seeking compromise is a guarantee of defeat, not of peace.

To win, we must accept a few sacrifices. Business and finance are the servants of our civilization, not its masters. Our business people must disentangle themselves from the people who want to destroy us. The European Union needs to start behaving like a great power. No one country can win alone. Together we can win.

AR Without victory, there is no survival.

2015 November 15


Michael Burleigh

The mindless, random violence of Beirut, Benghazi, or Baghdad has come to a European capital. This new assault may well be the beginning of a long wave of assaults. We must grasp this, fast.

Chaotic migration is one consequence as the Mideast unravels. But a campaign of destruction by Islamist fanatics who hate our way of life is more. This is war, said François Hollande. This is total war, added Nicolas Sarkozy.

AR What the fanatics want is a single global polity. The Islamist rhetoric is utter rot. The reality will be Big Brother writ large — GLOBORG


Niall Ferguson

Edward Gibbon described the decline and fall of the Roman Empire in six volumes between 1776 and 1788. He covered more than 1,400 years of history: Decline shaded into fall, with monotheism acting as a kind of imperial dry rot.

Bryan Ward-Perkins writes in The Fall of Rome (2005) that what happened was "violent seizure ... by barbarian invaders" with "horrors and dislocation" marking the "end of civilization" within a single generation.

Peter Heather writes in The Fall of the Roman Empire (2005) of the disastrous effects of mass migration and organized violence: "For the adventurous, the Roman empire ... presented an unprecedented opportunity to prosper ... the Roman state became its own worst enemy."

Like the Roman Empire before it, the European Union has allowed its defenses to crumble. The great migration of 2015 brought millions, most hoping only for a better life. But as Gibbon saw, convinced monotheists pose a grave threat to a secular empire.

Ward-Perkins: "Romans before the fall were as certain as we are today that their world would continue for ever substantially unchanged. They were wrong."

AR History is not destiny. GLOBORG changes everything.

My political friends in
Poole Park, shot by:

Me today

Margaret Thatcher's
blunder corrected


Ice volcano on Pluto

Amedeo Modigliani
A Chinese collector just paid
$170 million in New York
for this 1918 painting

"Modigliani painted Nu couché
in a world at war ... This is a
beautiful act of defiance."
Jonathan Jones

"The climate problem has to
be solved in the rich countries.
China and the US and Europe
have to solve CO2 emissions,
and when they do, hopefully
they'll make it cheap enough
for everyone else."
Bill Gates



2015 November 14


Marine Le Pen

Nous vivons l’horreur. Nous vivons une tragédie nationale.

Hier soir la capitale de la France a subi des attaques d’une barbarie inouïe qui montrent une nouvelle escalade dans la violence du terrorisme islamiste. Pour la sixième fois en 2015, il a frappé notre pays.

La France et les Français ne sont plus en sécurité.

Le président de la République a annoncé l'état d'urgence et le contrôle temporaire aux frontières, c'est bien. Mais quoi qu'en dise l'Union européenne, il est indispensable que la France retrouve la maîtrise de ses frontières nationales définitivement.

La France doit enfin déterminer quels sont ses alliés et quels sont ses ennemis. Ses ennemis, ce sont ces pays qui entretiennent des relations bienveillantes avec l'islamisme radical, ce sont aussi ces pays qui ont une attitude ambiguë avec les entreprises terroristes.

Enfin, le fondamentalisme islamiste doit être anéanti.

AR Laissez Frontex de contrôle des frontières extérieures de l'UE, laissez OTAN mènent des attaques sur Daesh


Spiegel Online

Chancellor Angela Merkel denied on TV that she had lost control of the refugee crisis: "The chancellor has the situation under control, also the entire government."

On finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble describing the refugee crisis as an avalanche, she said: "I say we should show a friendly face of Germany."

On whether her claim "We can do it" still held, she said: "I believe we must nevertheless work toward doing it, and I have no doubt that we can do it."

AR I fear she's lost it.


Benjamin R. Teitelbaum

The Swedish government has announced that Sweden is reintroducing border controls. Across Europe, states like Austria and Germany too are calling for Europe to reinforce its external borders. Swedish efforts have turned to repatriating migrants or relocating them to neighboring states.

Danish migration minister Inger Stojberg said her country would not accept them: "Sweden has had an irresponsible refugee policy for years. They have put themselves in this situation."

Sweden has a population of less than 10 million, but it has been absorbing 10,000 asylum seekers a week, and expects the total number this year to reach 190,000. Municipalities complain that they lack housing, teachers, and doctors for them.

The Sweden Democrats have grown fast since entering Parliament in 2010. Prime minister Stefan Lofven called them neo-fascists. When they criticized his policy months ago for its blindness to logistical and economic pitfalls, he dismissed them. Now they call the tune.

AR Europe faces an existential problem. The crisis will kill the union unless EU leaders rise to the occasion. I say: FESTUNG EUROPA

2015 November 13

Lawrence of Arabia

Bethan Staton

Artists deconstruct the legacy of Lawrence of Arabia this month in an exhibition in Amman, Jordan, organized by Tom Hunter. Lawrence fought alongside Arab forces in the 1916-18 revolt against the Ottoman empire. Lawrence's memoir Seven Pillars of Wisdom created a mystique. His whole life seems an orientalist fantasy.

The classic movie Lawrence of Arabia is omnipresent in the exhibition. The film defined the story of Lawrence and the Arab revolt. The narrative it depicts casts a white male adventurer as the leading protagonist of an Arab struggle.

Photographer Lubna Anani: "It's such a horrible movie. It puts Lawrence as the hero. Those people that sacrificed their lives for their freedom, in the movie they show them like thieves, like savages."

Hunter: "You're selling an idea. You're selling a beautiful white man with blue eyes. And he becomes the Madonna of the Desert, and everyone else are his understudies."

Anani: "We're very aggressively putting ourselves in the picture."

AR Is nothing sacred? Lawrence is the Prophet of Anglo-Arab friendship, the movie a supreme classic. Colonialism be damned — the historical truth is clear. David Cameron loves the movie. I do too.

Blood Pressure

The New York Times

Researchers find that driving systolic blood pressure to levels far below what current guidelines recommend — less than 120 instead of 140 or 150 mm Hg (1 mm Hg = 133 Pa) — can save lives and prevent heart disease and strokes.

In a study of over 9,000 patients aged 50 and older with high blood pressure and at least one other risk factor for heart disease, half were assigned to a systolic pressure target below 140 and half were assigned a target pressure of less than 120. After an average of 3.2 years, there were 26% fewer deaths and 38% fewer cases of heart failure among patients who hit a target of 120 rather than 140. To get down to 120, patients took an average of one additional blood pressure pill a day.

Dr. Marc Alan Pfeffer said that previously if a patient over 50 years old with a risk factor for heart disease came into his office with systolic pressure of 136 he would pat the patient on the back, but now he would wish to prescribe more drugs.

Dr. Michael Alderman says the study results mean 6 people per 1,000 annually would avoid a heart attack, stroke, or heart failure: "If there were no, or minimal, harms like a safe one-time vaccination, it would be a no-brainer. But if it means decades-long pill taking by generally healthy folks, the decision gets more difficult."

AR Moral: Keep fit and eat and drink healthily. Don't do drugs.

2015 November 12

Asteroid Rights

The Times

The world's first trillionaires could grow rich by mining asteroids. US Congress has passed legislation granting US companies "finders keepers" rights to natural resources claimed in space. That might includes terabuck quantities of precious and rare metals and water.

AR Or will a Bill Gates of robotics get there first?

Twin Venus

The Independent

The nearby red dwarf star Gliese 1132 has a Venus-like planet in orbit around it. GJ 1132b is slightly larger than the Earth and and has a surface temperature of 500 K, too hot for life as we know it but cool enough to keep an atmosphere. Gliese 1132 is 39 light years away, so this is the nearest rocky exoplanet yet discovered.

AR Twin Earth must be nearby too.

2015 November 11


Patrick Cordingley

We in the UK need to face up to the folly of our huge investment in nuclear weapons. We are bound by our mutual defense agreement with the United States. Our Trident system relies heavily on American expertise and is effectively part of the US fleet. We should explain to the Americans and NATO that the money we spend on our nuclear deterrent would be better spent elsewhere.

AR Investing in the US fleet is money well spent.


Brendan Simms, Timothy Less

The problem with the European Union is its ideology.

The ruling elites transferred power from national capitals to the central European institutions too quickly for most electorates. The EU is reneging on its commitment to democracy. Unless Europeans can solve this problem, the union will be on a glide path to collapse. States will resort to unilateral solutions to urgent problems, member states will start to fragment, Germany will assert its power more forcefully over the rest, and then concessions will loosen the union.

If Britain chose to leave the EU, the states that remained would face the prospect of remaining in a German empire writ large, or leaving. The first to go would probably be states such as Denmark, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. With each departure, the rump union would become ever more dominated by Germany, and others would bail out rapidly. Germany would soon be alone.

Imagine that in 2016 or early 2017, Geert Wilders wins the Dutch elections and forms a rejectionist coalition. Germany unilaterally grants Britain a new deal on membership and Britain votes to stay. Then Marine Le Pen wins the French election in 2017 and demands more concessions. Germany refuses. This triggers French exit. The Netherlands is the next to go. Within weeks, most other states decide to go too, including the UK, and by 2018 the EU is dead.

A collapse would send shock waves around the world.


Walter Laqueur

Timothy Snyder set the Holocaust in the frame of brutal Nazi rule over the lands between Germany and Soviet Russia and the horrific toll in lives taken by the two battling powers. Now he interprets the Holocaust as arising when Hitler faced what he took to be looming ecological crisis and national starvation.

Holocaust researchers have long debated the motive. Some say Hitler aimed from the beginning to rid Europe of the Jews. Others say his aim was less clear and the decision process was driven by unfolding events.

One dispute concerns the date of the decision to destroy European Jewry. At issue is whether it was made because the war in the East was not going well for Germany (December 1941) or because a German victory appeared close at hand (July 1941) and the Nazis were riding a wave of triumphalism.

Snyder offers a maddening combination of right and wrong, imagination and fantasy, good sense and absurdity. His "discoveries" about the Holocaust do further harm to a field of study already disfigured by misguided work.

AR In CORAL I say Hitler was moved by ambition to be an Antichrist.

2015 November 10

UK vs EU

Financial Times

UK prime minister David Cameron writes to EC president Donald Tusk to set out four objectives of his EU reform plan:

1 Protect the single market for Britain and for others outside the eurozone.

2 Write competitiveness "into the DNA" of the European Union.

3 Change the EU treaty to exclude the UK from "ever closer union" and strengthen the role of
    national parliaments.

4 Restrict access to welfare payments for migrant workers.

AR No big problem there, we presume.


Paul Krugman

Mortality among middle-aged white Americans has been rising since 1999. Suicide is way up, and so are deaths from drug poisoning and the chronic liver disease that excessive drinking can cause. A number of studies have shown that life expectancy for less-educated whites is falling across much of the nation.

America has both a much weaker welfare state and a much stronger role for traditional religion and values than any other advanced country. Life expectancy is high and rising in the Northeast and California, where social benefits are highest and traditional values weakest. Low and stagnant or declining life expectancy is concentrated in the Bible Belt.

Perhaps middle-aged whites have lost the narrative of their lives. They were raised to believe in the American Dream, and are coping badly with its failure to come true. Universal health care, higher minimum wages, aid to education, and so on would do a lot to help Americans in trouble. But they may not be enough to cure existential despair.

2015 November 9

Science Spending

The Times

The UK spends far less on science than any other leading country. Taxpayer funding is 0.49% of GDP for research compared with 0.9% in Germany and the US.

House of Commons science and technology committee chair Nicola Blackwood: "Spending on science and innovation is not a state subsidy. It is a strategic investment that creates jobs, increases productivity and attracts inward investment."

Professor Brian Cox: "Anything less than a long-term commitment to increased investment in science will be grossly negligent and damage our country, perhaps irreparably."

False Economy

The science committee report calls for a steady increase in research funding to nearly double its present level. Pure research is essential for the new industries that generate future growth, and private sector R&D cannot be relied on to fill gaps left by public cuts.

Overall spending on R&D in the UK is 1.6% of GDP, compared with a US 2.8%, the German 2.9%, and an OECD target of 3%. British private sector R&D spending slumped in 2008-09 and has yet to return to previous levels. UK government spending on research has been cut under austerity.

A recent study put the ROI on scientific research at 20% pa. Few investments can match R&D for impact on competitiveness and productivity, and none comes close in terms of social spillover.


Oliver Morton

Geoengineering might be a way to soften the blow of human-created climate change with technology. At present, over 80% of the world's energy comes from fossil fuels. The world uses a lot of energy, and will be using even more energy soon.

France and Sweden both transitioned very well onto nuclear. If you want to cut 30-40% of your fossil fuel budget, you can transition to nuclear. Cutting it all the way back to zero is really hard.

The real challenge of geoengineering is developing the institutions that might use it in a just and responsible way. These are notional technologies. Implementing them might be quite difficult.

2015 November 8

Islamic State Global Threat

James Rubin

Islamic State has always had the potential to become a global terrorist organization. With its tens of thousands of motivated fighters, many willing to conduct suicide missions, its control of extensive territory in which terrorist acts can be planned and terrorists trained, and its financial wherewithal, this organization has far more capability than al-Qaeda ever did. Islamic State also has thousands of adherents with European and American passports.

After 9/11, we in the West pledged never again to allow a global terrorist organization the freedom to fund, plan and train for terrorism from its home base the way al-Qaeda did in Afghanistan. If Islamic State goes global, then our governments will have broken that pledge. It's not too late to start fighting the fire before it goes global. But doing so means a lot more than modest airstrikes and a small contingent of special forces.

The Rise of the Robots

The Observer

Artificial intelligence and new robots will wipe away entire swaths of work and radically reshape society. A new report from Bank of America Merrill Lynch looks at the likely effects: Jobs wiped out will be up to 35% of all workers in the UK and 47% of those in the US.

Human workers this century may go the way of horses in the last. There were 21 million horses in the US in 1900. By 1960, there were just 3 million.

Carl Benedikt Frey: "There will be people who own the AI, and therefore own everything else ... Homo sapiens will be split into a handful of gods, and then the rest of us. I think our best hope going forward is figuring out how to live in an economy of radical abundance, where machines do all the work, and we basically play ... You have to think about a universal income."

Productivity is the key to economic growth. The latest round of innovation in robots and AI is likely to power its continued rise. But unless it is carefully managed, the gains may be captured by shareholders and highly educated knowledge workers, leaving most people out in the cold.

AR Time for a new ethic: Every human citizen on Earth has a right to basic economic security. What are the criteria for citizenship — submission to Allah?




Die Experimentieranlage Wendelstein 7-X im IPP-Teilinstitut Greifswald soll die Kraftwerkstauglichkeit
von Fusionsanlagen des Typs "Stellarator" demonstrieren. A: Konzept. B: Magnete. C: Bau.


Vishal Mangalwadi

New Scientist

Redefining banking to survive
and thrive in a digital world

V-class sub


2015 November 7


Michael Brooks

Nuclear fusion: The Wendelstein 7-X stellarator in Greifswald, Germany, is about to fire up. The €1 billion WX-7 is a toroidal chamber 16 m in diameter containing hot (100 MK) plasma. Extra twists and turns in its donut shape optimize the magnetic fields that contain and compress the circulating plasma. If the fusion reactions can be stabilized, the design will point the way to building a commercially viable fusion reactor. If the W7-X works well, work on ITER could be abandoned.

Nuclear fission: The aging set of UK nuclear reactors was not optimized for electricity generation but compromised so that they could also produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. The new generation of fission reactors is much better. The European Pressurised Reactor is not only more efficient but also more complicated and expensive.

Renewables: Improvements in technology, coupled with taxes on carbon emissions, will make energy from wind and solar comparable in price with fossil electricity within a few years.

Chunks and Precedence

Corey S. Powell

Physicists have two rulebooks for nature. General relativity accounts for gravity and big things. Quantum mechanics handles the other forces and small things. Think of the two as smooth versus chunky. If you try to interpret smooth relativistic laws in a chunky quantum style, or vice versa, things go wrong. Perhaps string theory can do better.

Craig Hogan asks whether there is a quantum of space. If there is, string theory is in trouble. Chunks would be a new way to understand space and time. Hogan recalls how depth emerges in a TV picture made of flat pixels and suggests spacetime might emerge from the chunks.

Hogan and his collaborators have built a chunk detector, a holometer. This consists of a laser beam, a beam splitter, and two mirrors to bounce the split beams back along an orthogonal pair of long tunnels. If space is chunky, the locations of the mirrors will jitter. When the two beams are recombined, any discrepancy will reveal the chunk size. Hogan expects first results this year.

Lee Smolin thinks the parts of the universe may be linked not only across space but also across time. His principle of precedence explains the emergence of laws. If you do an experiment that has been done before, you expect the same outcome. Consistent outcomes suggest a fixed natural law. Smolin says the laws may emerge over time, as quantum systems copy previous systems.

One way to test this is to do a new experiment with no precedent for it to copy. If the principle of precedence is correct, the initial results of the experiment will look random. But as the experiment is repeated, precedence builds up and the results become predictable. Precedence would reach up to cosmic scales.

AR Hogan and his holometer are repurposing LIGO kit from the graviton hunters, Smolin is sailing very close to the deeply unfashionable theory of morphic resonance.

2015 November 6

US vs China

Geoff Dyer

USS Theodore Roosevelt sailed 400 km south of the Spratly Islands. US defense secretary Ashton Carter visited the aircraft carrier and said: "Many countries in the region are coming to the United States and asking us to do more with them so that we can keep the peace out here."

Over the past two years, the United States has agreed to closer military co-operation with Japan, the Philippines, and Australia. Next in line is Malaysia. China has reacted angrily to recent US operations in the South China Sea, accusing Washington of violating its sovereignty.

Gunships vs Jihadis

The Times

US commanders retook a big patch of ground in northern Syria from Islamic State by using feared ground-attack aircraft for the first time.

An AC-130H Specter gunship and A-10 Thunderbolt II Warthog tank-busters flew in support of Kurdish and allied Arab forces, who recaptured the ground.

The Specter and Warthogs flew from an airbase in Turkey and devastated the jihadis. The operation is a possible template for future advances.

The Warthog was feared by insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan and beloved by US troops. The Specter was originally used in Vietnam.


Anil Ananthaswamy

A popular theory of consciousness is that in unconscious perception information is processed locally in the brain, and in conscious perception the information is broadcast over the entire cortex.

When volunteers view stimuli that may or may not enter conscious awareness, their brains show identical EEG activity for the first 270 ms. If perception is subliminal, the brain activity peters out, but when volunteers become conscious of the stimuli, there is a sudden burst of widespread brain activity 300 ms after the stimulus. This burst has an EEG signal called P3b, and has been called a neural correlate of consciousness.

Now a team has detected P3b during unconscious processing of stimuli. This suggests that P3b is not a neural correlate of consciousness, contradicting the popular theory.


Matthieu Ricard et al.

Meditation techniques for training the mind hold great potential for supplying cognitive and emotional benefits.

When we meditate, nothing changes in the surrounding environment, but the meditator regulates mental states to achieve a form of inner enrichment. This experience affects brain functioning and its physical structure. Meditation can rewire brain circuits to produce salutary effects not just on the mind and the brain but on the entire body.

In open presence or pure awareness, the mind is calm and relaxed, not focused on anything in particular yet vividly clear.


Jenny Hendrix

Our view of reality, our structures of meaning, and our sense of identity are all touched and transformed by our technologies. The digital mind uses information as a means to an end, but for Sven Birkerts contemplation is the "alpha and omega" of thinking.

Transcendentalists found meaning in and through unmediated attention to the natural world. A new transcendentalism would bring digital technology to the same kind of transformative attention that they brought to the natural world.

2015 November 5

Internet Privacy

Financial Times

UK prime minister David Cameron says the Investigatory Powers Bill is one of the most important pieces of legislation his government will implement. The new draft bill seeks to reconcile the need for citizens to keep their data private with the role of the security services for public safety.

UK intelligence agencies need to retain strong surveillance powers, but the bill introduces judicial oversight over how they operate. At present, ministers sign interception warrants allowing the agencies to see the content of communications. The bill proposes a double lock: warrants will be approved by not only a minister but also a senior judge.

The extra safeguard will boost public trust. It will reassure US companies asked to hand over data to UK authorities. But the bill requires that internet and phone companies keep internet connection records for up to 12 months. The police argue that accessing these records is increasingly important for their work, such as tracing child abusers.

UK home secretary Theresa May should rethink the proposal to retain the web browsing records of British citizens. In our age, a person's browsing history offers a detailed insight into their life. Yet the bill suggests that police officers may access such data without ministerial or judicial warrant.

2015 November 4


Steve Silberman

Neurotribes is the most personal thing I've ever written. I wanted to look at autism as a human community, instead of a condition or a disorder. One of the things I do is frame autism not purely in a clinical or self-help context, but in a social justice context. I came to it thinking I was going to study a disorder. But what I ended up finding was a civil rights movement being born.

It used to be that all discussion of autism was, in a sense, behind the backs of autistic adults, as if they were children, as if these adults were invisible. In fact, they're all around us.

Der Westen hat die Wahrheit verloren

Vishal Mangalwadi

Heute sagt an den Universitäten niemand mehr, dass es die Wahrheit gibt oder dass sie erkennbar ist. Jeder, der behauptet, es gebe eine Wahrheit oder er kenne sie, gilt als Fundamentalist. Der Islam ist nicht euer Problem: Ihr habt die Wahrheit verloren, deshalb werdet ihr die Freiheit verlieren. Wenn die Zeit der freien Debatte vorbei ist, werden diejenigen, die Macht haben, über andere bestimmen.

Europa und der Westen fallen auseinander, weil sie ihr christliches Markenzeichen, die Kategorie der Wahrheit verloren haben. Es wird heidnisch, weil es um Geschichten und Mythen geht. Es geht um Meinungen, um eigene Überzeugungen. Reformen beginnen mit einer Person, die etwas verstanden hat und dafür gerade steht.

AR Die Wahrheit wird durch rigoroses Denken anhand der Fakten erkannt. Wissenschaftler und manche Philosophen (auch ich) verstehen dies schon.

Stress at Work

Joan Kingsley

A little bit of stress is part of normal life, but feeling dread, or fretting over things out of work hours, is a sure sign that you are overly stressed. Signs include:

Feeling panicky
Being unable to focus
Feeling like you can't cope
Having difficulty staying in the moment
Feeling overwhelmed
Having a dry mouth
Getting butterflies
A racing heartbeat

It you have these symptoms for too long, you could be at risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, and a low immune system.

Avoiding stress is very simple: Take more breaks.

2015 November 3

UK vs EU

Financial Times

German chancellor Angela Merkel has given qualified backing to proposals by UK chancellor George Osborne for EU reform and for a two-speed Europe.

Merkel told the BDI conference in Berlin that Germany would support some of the British demands for EU reform: "Where there are justified concerns, whether competitiveness or better functioning of the EU, the British concerns are our concerns."

BDI president Ulrich Grillo: "Not all countries want a closer union. We must respect this ... Germany needs the UK."


Lawrence Krauss

Humanism offers one of the most important drivers of change that can improve our future.

It is possible to imagine a future without the tyranny of religious myth and superstition. The most important goal in educating our children should be to encourage them to question everything. Encouraging skeptical thinking helps create lifelong learners and citizens who can responsibly address the demands of a democratic society.

Many of the specific claims of the sacred books of the world's major religions are not valid. There may be places in the world where one risks decapitation for questioning certain religious claims, but in a rational world it is hard to argue that questioning these, or a host of others of dubious repute, should be viewed as inappropriate.

Education is inseparable from teaching doubt. Informed doubt is the essence of science.

2015 November 2

Blockchain Technology

The Economist

Bitcoin is a currency based on cryptography, but its blockchain technology has wider applications. The blockchain enables people who neither know nor trust each other to pay bills correctly without trusted third parties such as banks. It can work for other transactions too.

The blockchain is a database that contains the payment history of every bitcoin in circulation. This distributed ledger is openly replicated on thousands of nodes around the world. Its security is guaranteed by the mathematics of the consensus mechanism for updating it.

Say Alice wants to pay Bob. Their bitcoin wallets access the blockchain rather as a browser accesses the web. The transaction starts when wallet A proposes writing a block to decrement wallet A and increment wallet B. The proposal propagates over the network and nodes check the ledger to see if wallet A has the bitcoin Alice wants to spend. If it does, nodes called miners bundle the proposal with other transactions to create a new block for the blockchain.

To make a block, a hash function converts the data into a string of digits of fixed length. The hashing is one-way and the hash is unique. It goes into the header of the proposed block. Header and hash function define a mathematical puzzle that can only be solved by trial and error. Across the network, miners grind through trillions of trials until a miner finds a solution. Other nodes quickly check it (solving is hard but checking is easy), and each node that confirms it updates the blockchain. The hash of the header identifies the new block, which is now in the ledger. Alice pays Bob.

The puzzle adds security. Since you cannot predict which miner will solve a puzzle, you cannot predict who will update the blockchain, so cheating is hard. Each new header contains a hash of the previous block header, and so on all the way back, concatenating the blocks into a chain. From the ledger you can check the new block header, but any change in the chain changes all the later blocks and triggers rejection of the ledger.

Alice could cheat Bob by erasing her payment history, solving the puzzle, and producing a new version of the blockchain. But nodes always work on the longest version of the blockchain, and in the time she needed, the rest of the network would have lengthened the original blockchain. If two miners both solve a puzzle they only cause a temporary fork in the chain. The puzzle also adds incentive: Making a new block mines new bitcoin, so the winning miner earns money.

The blockchain is an open platform and it can be a registry of anything worth tracking closely. But it may not scale. To authenticate miners, the bitcoin architecture forces them to work on puzzles. This adds up to a lot of wasted energy. And bitcoin blocks are far too small for bank workflows. New code will handle large numbers of smaller transactions outside the blockchain and support much bigger blocks. But the improvements require community agreement.

Blockchain Banking

Financial Times

Banks are racing to harness blockchain technology. They think it can cut costs by $20 billion and transform the industry by letting them overhaul banking infrastructure, speed settlements, and streamline stock exchanges. Applications include storing client identities, handling cross-border payments, clearing and settling bond or equity trades, and self-executing contracts.

At first the lack of a central authority provoked consternation among financial institutions. But now the technology is heralded as the ultimate back office makeover for banks. Ironically, libertarians had conceived the idea of the blockchain to circumvent the global banking system.

Blockchain holds revolutionary promise. Banks can use its unforgeable record of identity. Insurers can use its full records of personal transactions. Governments are investigating its potential for medical records and electoral voting systems.

A similar open source technology will write smart contracts that execute trades automatically. An effort is on to build a standardized technology platform.

AR If I were still at SAP, I would work on this platform.

2015 November 1


Jonathan Leader Maynard

Britain faces a choice: Full replacement of the Vanguard-class submarines that launch Trident missiles or complete nuclear disarmament, or something in between.

The UK cannot carry on using the existing submarines much longer, and designing nuclear cruise missiles for its attack submarines would not save money. But Britain could end the present continuous at-sea deterrent (CASD) and build fewer new submarines, or work with France to provide a joint CASD rather than two separate ones.

Unilateral nuclear disarmament is not an option:

1 Nuclear crises and stand-offs look unlikely now. But when only one state in a dispute has nuclear weapons, the nuclear power can always threaten escalation until its opponent has no defense.

2 Full disarmament leaves the UK dependent on the United States for security. We cannot assume the US president will always be willing to risk US citizens to retaliate against a UK aggressor.

3 If one is willing to disarm, one may as well use the chance to elicit some multilateral disarmament measures from other states, rather than going it alone.

4 A world free from the risk of nuclear conflict will only be achieved by a massive multilateral effort to internationalize the ownership of nuclear technology and a dense global regulatory framework.

The British deterrent does close to nothing to protect national security today. CASD is designed to protect the UK against a Cold War threat. That scenario has vanished. Alternatives to CASD include a force capable of CASD but not always active, or a lesser force that would be deployed only when the risk of crisis rises.

The UK should buy the smallest and cheapest nuclear deterrent that maintains strategic flexibility. A new plan could save billions.

AR I say go for joint CASD with France to form a European deterrent with an EU fund to pay for it.


Niall Ferguson

The presidency of the United States is still the top job. The commander-in-chief of the world's strongest military is the chief executive officer of the world's biggest economy. POTUS is potent.

Americans choose their next president a year from now. Among the people who currently seem most likely to get the job are several who are not remotely qualified to wield such power.

With Donald Trump it is not what he says but the way that he says it. He is a throwback to a bygone era when white Americans felt superior to everyone else, and were happy to let them know it.

The American people give the top job to whichever candidate best reflects their mood. Right now, that mood is ugly. And so is the Donald.



Asteroids can contain water, oxygen, metals, and so on that astronauts could use at a much lower cost than hauling stuff from Earth. There are hundreds of thousands of asteroids.

Planetary Resources co-founder Eric Anderson estimates a megaton-size asteroid could contain more than $100 billion worth of materials for use in space and on Earth.

Two years ago, NASA planned to grab an asteroid and tow it into lunar orbit. The agency now plans to send a robotic spacecraft to retrieve a boulder from the surface of an asteroid in 2020.

NASA planetary science director Jim Green: "Asteroids are a hot topic, a stepping stone to Mars."

Schlossplatz IX

2015 All Hallows Day

Hallo an Alle am Schlossplatz IX zum Allerheiligen!

NYT/Carter Center
Syria: Who's where

Missions to the Moon
(HD, 3 min)


Henry Kissinger could stare
at the abyss with aplomb.

He applied his mind to the
problem of making the world
safe for limited nuclear war.
In his fantasy, after battlefield
nuclear weapons had reduced
Central Europe to a smoking
radioactive ruin, the United
States would pause to chat
with the Kremlin about
what to do next.

His next abyss was carpet
bombing in Vietnam.

M.C. Escher

WHO puts bacon, sausages
and hot dogs in the same
carcinogen league as Pu

China Daily
Queen Elizabeth II and
President Xi Jinping ride
to Buckingham Palace


2015 Halloween


New York Times

The Vienna summit on the Syrian war includes Iran, along with the United States, Russia, Britain, France, Germany, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. The war began in 2011, has killed a quarter-million people, is causing the biggest refugee crisis since WW2, and is a breeding ground for Islamic State.

A few weeks ago, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said any new talks with the United States were forbidden. He described the United States as a persistent enemy of the Islamic revolution, and said that despite the nuclear agreement, it needed to be kept at a distance.

But the Supreme Leader may be giving more room to President Hassan Rouhani, who advocates more open engagement with the rest of the world. There is already tacit cooperation between Iran and the United States in Iraq, where both are fighting Islamic State.

Iran claims to be the most influential power in the region. Former Iranian diplomat and nuclear negotiator Seyed Hossein Mousavian: "Following the nuclear agreement, Iran is now ready to cooperate on crisis management in the Middle East."

2015 October 30

UK vs EU

Financial Times

David Cameron and George Osborne want to smooth coexistence of the EU single market with the EZ. Their demands include:
An emergency brake for non-euro countries to delay a vote threatening the single market
A ban on discrimination against financial groups on the basis of their location
Recognition of the EU as a multicurrency union
Open up the process of EZ policymaking
A guarantee that non-euro countries will not be saddled with EZ bailout costs
Affirmation that non-euro countries need not follow initiatives driven by EZ integration

Better Li Battery

Clive Cookson

Cambridge University chemistry professor Clare Grey and her team have made a breakthrough in the development of lithium-air batteries. If their technology can be commercialized, it will give electric cars batteries that cost and weigh 5 times less than today's lithium-ion cells. Lithium-air cells have an energy density potentially 10 times greater than that of lithium-ion cells.

A lithium-air cell generates electricity by combining lithium with oxygen to form lithium peroxide. It is then recharged by applying a current to reverse the reaction. Running these reactions reliably over many cycles is the challenge.

The Cambridge scientists adjusted the chemistry to make it more controllable. Their demonstration system is 90% efficient and can be recharged 2,000 times. But it will need at least another decade of development.

2015 October 29


Financial Times

US trade representative Mike Froman says a British exit from the EU would leave it facing the same tariffs and other restrictions as emerging economies such as Brazil, China, and India. Brexit fans say the UK could negotiate its own trade agreements with the US and others.

The US is now focusing on regional trade negotiations such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and on negotiations with the EU. Froman: "I think it is absolutely clear that Britain has a greater voice at the trade table being part of the EU, being part of a larger economic entity."

Norway No Way

The Times

Norway is no model for a future British relationship with the European Union. David Cameron used the platform of the Nordic summit to say so.

Both Norway and Switzerland are outside the EU and both make uncomfortable compromises. Norway opted to stay in the European Economic Area, but must accept the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital. It makes big payments to Brussels but has no vote there.

Britain cannot settle for that.

Work and Pay, Have No Say

Espen Barth Eide

EFTA members Finland, Sweden, Austria, Switzerland, Iceland, and Norway negotiated with the European Community to form the EEA in 1992. Austria, Finland, and Sweden all joined the EU in 1995. Norway voted to stay out.

We do not help make decisions in Brussels but we loyally abide by them. We incorporate about three quarters of all EU legislative acts into Norwegian legislation. We have accepted the free movement of people, goods, services, and capital. We follow EU product standards, and financial and employment regulations, and make substantial contributions to the EU budget. Choosing this track would leave the UK committed to the four freedoms, but with no say over EU policies.

Switzerland has an array of bilateral agreements with the EU. This is an even more cumbersome way of integrating into Europe. Every western European country has chosen to take part in the European integration process.

2015 October 28

A Plan for Climate

Martin Wolf

The climate conference in Paris in December is unlikely to mark a decisive turn in global efforts to curb catastrophic climate change. But it might mark the end of the beginning.

Our overriding goals for this century should be the elimination of mass poverty and risk of catastrophic climate change. The case for early action is overwhelming. Any investments in energy, transport, and urban infrastructure will lock in the carbon intensity of our economies.

The climate risks are large and the costs of addressing them bearable. But the path for emissions needed to deliver a 50-50 chance of limiting the increase in temperature to 2 K is radically new. On anything like our present path the cuts in emissions will not occur. Fortunately, new technology can spur a revolution in energy generation and storage, in energy savings, in transport, and in carbon capture and storage.

This revolution needs state support. New technologies and lifestyles can benefit national economies without taking account of the impact on the climate. Rapid dissemination of innovation and assistance to poorer countries is needed for new energy and transport systems.

A relatively pragmatic approach combined with accelerating technological change can avert disaster. The effort must begin with a good agreement in Paris.

A Plan for Syria

Jimmy Carter

In 2011, when protesters in Syria demanded political reforms, President Assad saw this as an effort to overthrow his regime and decided to stamp it out. Earlier this year I questioned President Putin about his support for Assad. He said the only real chance of ending the conflict was for the United States, Russia, Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia to prepare a comprehensive peace proposal.

The decision by Russia to support the Assad regime with military forces has helped clarify the choice between a political process and more war. Assad will not end the war by accepting concessions imposed by the West, but is likely to do so if urged by his allies. An acceptable government could then be established in Syria and a concerted effort made to stamp out Islamic State.

2015 October 27

Conservative Poland

Timothy Garton Ash

Poland is the biggest success story of post-communist Europe and the leading regional power between an overstretched Germany and a rampant Russia. As Spain and Italy struggle with the effects of the eurozone crisis, and Britain has marginalized itself until its referendum on EU membership, the rest of Europe needs Poland more than ever.

The Law and Justice (PiS) party won because the Civic Platform government looked tired. This was clear earlier this year when the incumbent president Bronisław Komorowski was unexpectedly defeated by the younger PiS candidate Andrzej Duda.

Cosmological Principle

New Scientist

The cosmological principle: Zoom out far enough and the universe should exhibit a drab homogeneity. But a giant void in the universe almost 2 billion light years wide seems to contradict it. Another enormous structure strung out over 4 billion light years is too crowded: The Huge Large Quasar Group contains 73 quasars. And a colossal group of gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) appears to form a ring 5.6 billion light years across.

Rainer Dick regards the huge structures as evidence of other dimensions intruding into our own. M theory suggests we live in an 11D universe, and brane theory suggests that our universe is a 4D membrane floating in a sea of similar branes in extra dimensions. Looking into a region where another brane is overlapping with our own might skew our redshift measurements.

In Big Bang cosmology, the further away an object, the faster it appears to recede and the bigger its redshift. Astronomers regard objects with the same redshift as a structure, like the GRB ring or the huge quasar group. A homogeneous universe could appear to contain massive structures and enormous voids, yet still obey the cosmological principle.

2015 October 26

Lords Turn Bolshy


UK tax credit cut legislation is delayed as the House of Lords defies the government. At least Baroness Manzoor's "fatal motion" was rejected.

Poland Turns Right

Financial Times

Law and Justice party (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski celebrated with new prime minister Beata Szydlo as Poland turned right in an election that erased leftist parties from the political map.

Mistrustful of Brussels, suspicious of foreign capital, and espousing a social agenda rooted in conservative Catholicism, the right won back control after 8 years of centrist rule.

Kaczynski is expected to be the supreme authority behind the scenes. A fierce critic of Moscow, he has said that in power his party would oppose any proposals for Poland to accept more refugees.

David Cameron will see PiS as a key ally in blocking future transfers of power to Brussels. But he will get no support from them to discriminate against the Polish community in the UK.

Syria Turns Bad

Charles Glass

Syrians today are enduring a brutal ordeal that reenacts the drama of their ancestors a century ago. Thousands of Russian military advisers are joining the fight on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad, as Iran and Hezbollah have from the beginning. The United States and its regional allies are increasing the flow of arms to the rebels. Neither side has the power to defeat the other.

Last year, the regime seemed to be gaining the upper hand. A year later, the regime is in retreat. Palmyra is in the hands of ISIS militants. The death toll has climbed to at least 320,000. Out of a total population of 22 million before the war, more than 4 million Syrians have fled the country, and another 7.6 million are displaced within it. Masses of Syrians are seeking refuge in Europe.

A consensus among the United States and its allies held that Assad's alliance with Iran was detrimental to their interests. These powers perceived Iran using to its advantage indigenous Shiites in the region along with the Alawite minority in Syria. They sought to eclipse them on the battlefields of Syria. The war is a free-for-all in which everyone pursues his own interests.

2015 October 25


Bill Bryson

Britain has never been so rich and the amount of money and possessions most people have cannot be compared with what people had when I first arrived. And yet the country behaves as if it has never been so poor. It feels like we are permanently in this age of austerity.


Martin Amis

Jeremy Corbyn and I were both born in 1949, and for most of my twenties I was on the staff of the New Statesman. There were identikit Corbyns everywhere. In those years before Margaret Thatcher, everyone was old left.

Corbyn is undereducated. His schooling dried up when he was 18, at which point he had two E-grade A-levels to his name. He seems incurious about anything beyond his immediate sphere.

He is humorless. Arguing for a UK where every house has a garden, Corbyn elaborated as follows: "Anyone who wants to be a beekeeper should be a beekeeper."

He is without the slightest grasp of the national character. His proposal to leave NATO causes only exasperation in London and puzzlement in Washington. His proposal to scrap the army would be a spear through the British soul.

Turning to Corbyn's foreign policies, heed his Churchillian call for "political compromise" with ISIS.

Generously equipped with the encysted dogmas of the old left, Corbyn nonetheless gawkily embodies one of its noblest themes: the search for something a bit better than what exists today.

A slicker Corbyn with a new suit and a new smile is close to inconceivable. It is far easier to imagine a Labour party that in any sane view is undeserving of a single vote.


Tony Blair

I apologize for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong. Even though Saddam had used chemical weapons extensively against his own people, against others, the program in the form that we thought it was did not exist in the way that we thought.

2015 October 24

Schmoozing China

Niall Ferguson

Forty years ago, the US opening to China was a strategic move. Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon transformed the Cold War from a duel into a multiplayer game.

The UK government is making another strategic move. Its reorientation of UK foreign policy is as much about geopolitics as about economics. The UK has been the top destination for Chinese capital in Europe, but since 2010 Britain has fallen behind.

The real economic issue is the potentially vast amount of Chinese money that could flow abroad in future years. The Bank of England estimates that China's gross international investment position could reach 30% of world GDP by 2025, compared with around 5% now.

Forty years ago, the Chinese economy accounted for about 2% of global GDP. By 2020 the Chinese share will be nearly 19%. At PPP the US share will be 15%.

AR This not an alternative but a complement to EU membership.


Der Spiegel

Patriotische Europäer gegen Islamisierung des Abendlandes (PEGIDA) is demonstrating again in Germany. A prominent PEGIDA supporter regrets that concentration camps are unavailable as a solution to the refugee crisis.

Bundesminister des Innern Thomas de Maizière describes PEGIDA leaders as hard-core right-wing extremists but his domestic intelligence service is not even monitoring the movement.

Verfassungsschützer Gordian Meyer-Plath is reluctant to take on PEGIDA, which he calls a populist far-right movement rooted in anger but no threat to German freedom and democracy.

Bundesjustizminister Heiko Maas condemns PEGIDA as a German disgrace.

AR Rather a sign of robust civic engagement.

Spooky Loophole

John Markoff

A group led by Ronald Hanson at Delft University of Technology all but proved quantum nonlocality with a "loophole-free" Bell test: "We have confirmed that there is spooky action at distance."

MIT physicist David Kaiser: "The experiment has closed two of the three major loopholes beautifully, but two out of three isn't three. I believe in my bones that quantum mechanics is the correct description of nature. But to make the strongest statement, frankly we're not there."

The NSF has financed Kaiser and Alan Guth to close the third loophole using light from distant objects on different sides of the galaxy in 2016, and then light from quasars in 2017 and 2018.

AR See blog 2015-09-03.

2015 October 23


George Eaton

The UK unfurled the red carpet for President Xi Jinping. David Cameron pledges that the UK will be China's best partner in the west.

In contrast to France and Germany, Britain had never made a sustained attempt to court China. The government is now hurrying to catch up, betting that the potential gains far outweigh the risks.

Some risks arise from China's offshore military activity, its cyber-attacks on western firms, and its burgeoning alliance with Russia.

Life on Mars

Michael Brooks

We have now seen signs of flowing water on Mars. We have found organic matter on Mars. We know that organic molecules have assembled into microbes in some of the most extreme environments on Earth. It seems possible that the same has happened on Mars.

Such simple life may be scattered through the galaxy. Life on Earth may have been seeded by microbes ejected from the Martian surface as a result of a meteor shower. If this theory is right, we are all Martians.

Science has moved on. The intriguing issue is not whether there is life elsewhere but what it takes to evolve intelligence and consciousness.

AR I agree. This is why I let Apollo go 45 years ago and went on to Mindworlds.

2015 October 22

Nuclear Power

Julie Girling

The Hinkley C nuclear power reactor project in Somerset is important for the future of the South West and UK energy mix. For our region, this news is a welcome boost to jobs and growth.

There is huge scope for our local businesses to work with the Hinkley developers to secure new revenue streams for this and future projects. The Southern Powerhouse has truly arrived.

AR Julie is an excellent MEP.


Technology Review

TerraPower is a spin-off of Intellectual Ventures, which was founded by Nathan Myhrvold. The company pursued a novel technology, the traveling wave nuclear reactor.

TerraPower director of innovation Jeff Latkowski: "The traveling wave reactor was the focus of our early work, and it's still the baseline product of the company. But we are looking at other projects that we believe address the three critical areas for nuclear power: safety, the environment, and costs."

TerraPower is exploring molten salt reactors, which offer safety and economic advantages. The reactions slow as the fuel heats up, and in the event of an accident the fuel drains into a sealed underground chamber and cools off. No fuel fabrication is required, power density and efficiency are high, enriched uranium is needed only for startup, uranium dissolves well in the chloride solution, and the waste can be reused as fuel.

TerraPower is also exploring thorium reactors.

AR Memo to Nathan: Go for thorium.

Green Power

The Guardian

The Committee on Climate Change report due in November will propose carbon budgets more than ten years into the future.

Committee chair Lord Deben: "The 2020s are crucial in setting the direction for UK power generation, and to ensure the UK can meet its 2050 climate change commitments cost-effectively. The key tools are already in place to deliver the investment in low-carbon generation that is required. The government must now urgently clarify the direction of future policy."

The UK green energy industry is now worth £122 billion and employs 460,000 people. But some of its government subsidies are due to expire within this parliament.

The full cost of new gas-fired generation will reach £85 per MWh for new plants coming online in 2020, and £95 per MWh for 2025, including the likely cost of carbon. Wind and solar projects are under contract to deliver electricity at £83 per MWh from 2016-17, but these prices rise by about £10 per MWh if the intermittency of renewables is taken into account.

A carbon price that reflects the full cost of emissions could increase the cost of gas-fired generation to around £100 per MWh.

AR Emissions-free and non-intermittent nuclear power can be much cheaper.

2015 October 21

Russian Med Threat

Financial Times

NATO wargame Trident Juncture in the western Mediterranean will feature 36,000 troops with 140 planes and 60 ships, and continue into November.

Russia has a disruptive presence in the eastern Mediterranean. Russian military assets in Latakia and Tartus open up the southern flank of NATO to provocation and threaten freedom of navigation for NATO forces. New Russian navy berthing rights in Cyprus bring Russian surveillance and EW assets close to the British air base at Akrotiri.

NATO supreme allied commander General Philip Breedlove: "Since Crimea we have worked on assuring our allies and now we have to look at how that assurance lends itself to deterrence."

A senior NATO official: "In Kaliningrad, in occupied Crimea — which they are turning into a fortress — and now in Syria, we see similar concentrations of forces designed to stop NATO's freedom of action and navigation."

NATO supreme commander for transformation General Denis Mercier: "We are exercising in a scenario where NATO does not necessarily have the balance of military power."

AR NATO member Turkey is at risk.

Wilders Warning

Calla Wahlquist

Geert Wilders, speaking near Perth, Australia: "You will have millions of people coming to Australia, like we do in Europe, and you will not be able to handle it. You should be a sovereign country that closes your borders to those kinds of immigrants."

Those kind of immigrants are Muslims. Wilders' Party for Freedom leads the polls in the Netherlands. Wilders flew to Australia to launch the Australian Liberty Alliance: "If you read their manifesto it is clear that they are the freedom fighters of Australia."

AR Not racist but anti-Islamist, and rightly too.

New Realism

Richard Wolin

University of Bonn professor of philosophy and chair of epistemology Markus Gabriel, 29, is a new realist. Why the World Does Not Exist, translated by Gregory Ross, is his attempt to free philosophy from the dead ends of postmodernism and social constructivism.

Gabriel: "If we think about the world, what we grasp is something different than what we want to grasp. We can never grasp the whole. It is in principle too big for any thought."

For Gabriel, to exist means to appear in a Seinfeld: a finite domain of meaningful connections, in contrast to the world as a totality.

AR This has sound formal precedents in the set theory I studied 40 years ago. See Mindworlds
(PDF: 162 slides, 7 MB) slides 45-60.

2015 October 20

Saint Paul

G.W. Bowersock

Saint Paul is the apostle we love to hate. The Jew from Tarsus devoted himself to spreading the message of Jesus. But Paul had never met Jesus.

He had difficulty in launching his evangelical career. He was known as the persecutor who had become an evangelist. He and the apostle Peter divided up the missionary work of the Christians, so that Peter would preach to the Jews and Paul to the gentiles.

Jews had to live by the Torah. But as Paul told the Galatians, the law could be fulfilled by following a single precept: Love your neighbor as yourself. In saying this, he effectively collapsed into one Jesus' two greatest commandments, to love God and to love your neighbor.

Lutheran theologian Adolf von Harnack said Paul delivered the Christian religion from Judaism. Paul said he was the apostle of the nations (in Hebrew "goy"). Paul breaks up the category of nations into Greeks and barbarians. The barbarians are to the Greeks what the Greeks are to the Jews.

Rabbinical scholar Jacob Taubes expounded the view at a Heidelberg seminar in 1987 that Paul was a Jewish zealot. Taubes was being deliberately provocative.

AR I was in Heidelberg in 1987 but I don't recall Taubes. I do recall encountering Shimon Peres at the Heiliggeistkirche with Helmut Kohl.

2015 October 19


David Cameron

Extremists jeopardize our democracy. Our counter-extremism strategy sets out to tackle this poison on every level:

1 This is a generational battle. Defeating our enemies will take time, patience, and adaptability.

2 This is a battle of ideas. Extremists infect public debate, divide our communities, and advance a warped world view.

3 Extremists attempt to justify their views and actions through a perverted, illiberal, and hostile interpretation of Islam.

We must own this problem. But our Muslim communities must own it too. I am confident we will defeat the extremists.

Threatened Europe

Niall Ferguson

Europe looks a mess. The European Union has a monetary union at its core, but not all EU members are EZ members. Countries share a single currency yet run separate fiscal policies. The financial crisis led to much higher unemployment in peripheral countries because they fell behind German labor costs. When the going got tough, the Germans got tougher.

The EU fiscal compact of 2012 requires EZ members to run more or less balanced budgets. Bundesrepublik Europa will speak German on public finances. This can work if the ECB adopts quantitative easing, but it may not produce much growth. Without growth, Europe cannot create new jobs, much less absorb millions of poor refugees.

Seen in a wider perspective, the great shift from the west to the rest goes on. This is the biggest global economic change in 500 years, when Ming China led the world, until living standards began to improve dramatically in western Europe and in places where Europeans settled in large numbers, notably America. European empires soon dominated the world.

Today China and other countries have copied what after 1500 made Europe so successful. Europe and the west now suffer from institutional degeneration and face a new threat. Radical Islam is the ideological epidemic of our time, just as Bolshevism was an ideological epidemic a century ago. Islamic extremism is a global threat to western civilization.

The last mass movement of people into western Europe was in the aftermath of WW2. Millions of ethnic Germans settled in what became the Federal Republic. Today the newcomers to Germany are mostly Muslim in religion. Nothing saved Europe from fascism and communism or from the mass migrations that followed. Europe today is no safer from Islamic extremism.

2015 October 18


Xi Jinping

The UK has stated that it will be the western country that is most open to China. This is a visionary and strategic choice that fully meets Britain's own long-term interest.

AR Xi makes a much better partner than Mideast despots.

Visit Finland

Jupiter (1:01)

Trident D5
Weight: 60 Mg
Range: 8 Mm
CEP: 100 m
Payload: up to 12 x W88

Yield: up to 475 kt
Length: 175 cm
Diameter: 55 cm
Weight: up to 360 kg


2015 October 18


Norman Stone

A terrible shadow is falling over Turkey. The Islamist government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made the fatal mistake of intervening in the formerly Ottoman territory of Syria.

Millions of Syrian refugees live in Turkish camps, or beg in Istanbul, or cluster in ports a few miles from Europe. Some of them teach the Koran and segregate boys and girls.

Another problem crosses national borders. Kurds in and around Turkey have long been treated as second class citizens. Now Kurdish militants want a separate Kurdistan.

The Erdogan government worked well for a decade. Turkey should have been celebrating a triumphant Republic Day next week. Instead in Ankara they talk of Turkish civil war.

2015 October 17

President Putin vs Caliph Ibrahim

Mark Leonard

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a.k.a. Caliph Ibrahim of Islamic State, holds no fear for Russian president Vladimir Putin. The rise of the caliphate is an opportunity for him.

By entrenching Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in power, Putin is compelling western countries to engage with Moscow in a different way. US president Barack Obama was forced to meet him at the UN last month. So far German chancellor Angela Merkel refuses to link the situation in Syria to sanctions on Ukraine.

Putin favors authoritarian governments over popular uprisings: "Instead of settling conflicts it [the advancement of democracy] leads to their escalation, instead of sovereign and stable states we see the growing spread of chaos, and instead of democracy there is support for a very dubious public ranging from open neofascists to Islamic radicals."

Putin is executing his war on revolutions both on the practical level and as a battle of ideas. For some time, he has been building links with authoritarian powers in the Mideast. His plans for Syria parallel the long war he fought in Chechnya up to 2009. After 9/11, Putin sold that war to the west as a common struggle with Islamic terrorism.

Russian foreign and defense policy council chairman Fyodor Lukyanov says Putin is trying to build in Syria the de facto equivalent of an Alawite Israel, a defensive secular enclave against an uncontrolled spread of the caliphate.

Putin smells American weakness. If the west goes to war alongside Putin and Assad, it will bury the Arab spring and expose western idealism as hypocrisy.


David Brooks

The American school system was designed over 100 years ago. Its focus is downloading content into student minds, with success measured by standardized tests. It is unsuited for modern work.

You can look up any fact on your phone. Rote tasks can be done better by computers. Today we need to take content off center stage and emphasize the relational skills future workers will need.

Wisdom starts with three steps: basic factual acquisition, pattern formation, and mental reformation. At this point information becomes knowledge. After living with knowledge for years, wisdom dawns.

The cathedrals of knowledge and wisdom are based on the foundations of factual acquisition and cultural literacy. New technology has not changed the stairway from information to knowledge to wisdom. Rules come first.

2015 October 16

Labour Has Lost It

James Steel

The British Labour party is 90 seats short of a functional majority in Parliament and has permanently lost 40 seats to the SNP. After the boundary review in 2018, Conservatives will gain a further 20 to 40 seats.

Labour has to fight the SNP in Scotland, UKIP in the north, and Conservatives in southern England. It was in trouble even before it elected Corbyn, but now it is clearly not a credible party of government. It has retreated into its comfort zone and started thinking with its heart.

Economic changes have left Labour behind. The West is aging and no longer has the growth that previously sustained its standard of living, so austerity is permanent. The old Labour industrial class united in solidarity has gone, replaced by individualist consumers, for whom global brands now mean more than governments.

ESA-Roscosmos Moon Mission

Pallab Ghosh

European Space Agency head Johann-Dietrich Wörner wants international partners to build a lunar base. ESA will partner with Russian space agency Roscosmos to send a lander to the south pole of the Moon looking for water and raw materials to support future astronauts. Roscosmos mission Luna 27 is set for launch in 2020.

ESA head of lunar exploration Bérengère Houdou: "We have an ambition to have European astronauts on the Moon. There are currently discussions at international level going on for broad cooperation on how to go back to the Moon."

ESA lead scientist James Carpenter: "The south pole of the Moon is unlike anywhere we have been before. The environment is completely different, and due to the extreme cold there you could find large amounts of water ice and other chemistry which is on the surface, and which we could access and use as rocket fuel or in life support systems to support future human missions."

ESA is developing a lander that uses cameras and a laser guidance system to sense the terrain and decide during the approach whether the landing site is safe. A drill 2 m long will collect samples for an onboard lab like that on the Philae comet lander.

Mission approval is due in late 2016.

2015 October 15

KIC 8462852

Ross Andersen

The Kepler Space Telescope has found something odd.

Tabetha Boyajian: "We'd never seen anything like this star. It was really weird. We thought it might be bad data or movement on the spacecraft, but everything checked out."

People were looking for tiny dips in the light emitted by stars. Human cognition remains unsurpassed in certain sorts of pattern recognition. Planet Hunters is a program that asked citizen scientists to examine light patterns emitted by the stars, from the comfort of their own homes. They found an "interesting" and "bizarre" light pattern from KIC 8462852.

The pattern suggests there is a big mess of matter circling the star. This mess is in a tight formation big enough to block a substantial number of photons that would have otherwise made it to Kepler.

SETI researchers have long suggested that we might be able to detect distant extraterrestrial civilizations by looking for enormous technological artifacts orbiting other stars.

Jason Wright: "Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien civilization to build."

AR It could be a Dyson swarm.

2015 October 14

Cultural Appropriation

Yo Zushi

The latest round of strictures on how individuals can present themselves comes from those who consider themselves progressives united against the menace of cultural appropriation.

From Katy Perry's adoption of geisha garb at the 2013 American Music Awards to Lena Dunham's cornrows and their supposed flaunting of racial identity theft, all cultural cross-pollination now seems to be fair game for a drubbing at the hands of the new race activists.

This rage against cultural appropriation is understandable. Yet simply to point out instances of appropriation in the assumption that the process is by its nature corrosive serves no end but to essentialize race as the ultimate component of human identity.

None of us can, or should, own hip-hop, cornrows, or the right to wear a kimono. Appropriation herds culture and tradition into the pen of a moral ownership like copyright, which may suit a lawyer but jars with our human impulse to like what we like and create new things out of it.

Appropriation tests imaginary boundaries. It questions them and exposes the performative aspects of our racial and cultural identity. Sometimes we have to let culture do its thing.

AR Is obsession with the Bible an appropriation of Jewish culture?

2015 October 13

UK vs EU

Financial Times

UK prime minister David Cameron has been urged to produce a formal written proposal by early November for EU reform if he is still aiming for a deal at the December EU summit.

French finance minister Michel Sapin: "I understand that they want a better dialogue between those in the eurozone and those that are out. That makes sense. They want to simplify rules. We agree too. But surely this alone can't explain the deep motivations of the UK. We're struggling a bit there. We're not the only one in Europe."

Belgian deputy prime minister Didier Reynders: "We are ready to discuss a lot of things. But the next step is to receive from the UK some proposals. What are the real requests?"

2015 October 12


Lord Rose of Monewden

Those of you who know me will know that I am not an uncritical fan of the European Union. Far from it. That's why I signed a letter arranged by Business for Britain calling for reform of the EU. Wanting reform, however, is not the same as wanting to leave.


Michael Brooks

Carlo Rovelli has struck gold. This book began life as a series of articles in an Italian newspaper. The English edition has 83 pages. Brief but masterful expositions of quantum mechanics, relativity, particle physics, thermodynamics, and other fields, were translated with the help of two poets. This is physics as romantic poetry.

Rovelli admits that he cannot construct a clear, communicable notion of the nature of time, and the intersection of gravity, quantum mechanics and thermodynamics has raised a tangle of problems where we are still in the dark. Rovelli envies the youth of neuroscience, which stands now where physics stood before Einstein.

AR On the deep confluence of physics and neuroscience see my book Mindworlds.

2015 October 11


Peter Hennessy and James Jinks

Operation Relentless covers the UK nuclear weapons firing chain from the prime minister to the V-class submarines armed with Trident missiles.

After becoming PM in 2010, David Cameron had to write his letters of last resort for the four Trident sub commanders. Each of them has a sealed letter from C-in-C Fleet laying down when to open the sealed envelope from the PM.

Cameron: "I asked John Major in and asked for his advice and I talked to him about it. I also talked to the chiefs of staff, I talked to CDS. But then, in the end, it is you in the office on your own. ... It is a very big moment."

In a crisis, if he is still alive, the PM starts Operation Relentless. He needs the right people with him for briefing, together with two officers and the cryptography to send the message to a bunker deep beneath the Ministry of Defence building in Whitehall.

Former Ministry of Defence permanent secretary Sir Frank Cooper said a British PM would never give up Britain's place as a nuclear-weapons state as long as the memory of 1940, standing alone, and the Battle of Britain remained fresh.

Cameron in his Downing Street office: "I obviously feel the 1940 example strongly in a lot of ways. You can't not think that just through those doors there, this amazing decision, correct decision, was made to fight on, and that is an electrifying thought when you're prime minister."

His childhood home was close to the government Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston and to the nearby Ban the Bomb peace camp outside RAF Greenham Common.

Cameron: "I don't think Britain will give up nuclear deterrence altogether. I think that is out. I'd be very surprised if that happened in my lifetime. What I'm saying is that, at the moment, we have a deterrent that is the real thing, that is the genuine article, it's as good as it could be, it is submarine based, it's continuously at sea and all the rest of it."

Any change of policy would affect not only Britain but also the entire NATO alliance. Since 1963 the UK independent nuclear capability has provided NATO members with a nuclear umbrella.

Cameron affirmed last week: "Because our independent nuclear deterrent is our ultimate insurance policy, this government will order four new Trident submarines."


Lawrence M. Krauss

The 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics goes jointly to Takaaki Kajita and Arthur B. McDonald for work on neutrinos.

Astrophysicists detect neutrinos to look deep into stellar interiors, such as the center of the sun or of a supernova. In the standard model, neutrinos are massless. But if they had a tiny mass, this might account for puzzlingly low count rates in solar neutrino detectors.

There are three neutrino flavors (electron, muon, tau), and a quantum theory of flavor oscillations says that if a neutrino has a small mass, it can change from one flavor to another as it travels through space. Each one can convert into a particle (electron, muon, or tau lepton) when it interacts with ordinary matter. The flavor oscillates as time passes, so a solar neutrino changes back and forth as it travels. A detector that counted only electron neutrinos would record low count rates.

Toward the end of the last century, Arthur McDonald led a team in Canada that built a detector capable of counting all three flavors. It contained tons of heavy water, in which some of the hydrogen atoms are replaced by deuterium. All kinds of neutrinos could scatter off the deuterium, breaking it apart into a proton and a neutron, and the neutrons could then be counted. The detector counted the number of neutrinos predicted by the best solar models, suggesting that neutrinos do oscillate.

Around the same time, a team in Japan led by Takaaki Kajita built a detector for neutrinos coming through atmosphere. Cosmic rays collide with air to produce showers of particles including muon neutrinos, which scatter off hydrogen nuclei in the detector to make muons. The detector counted neutrinos coming straight down and neutrinos coming up through the Earth. The rates for the two directions were different, suggesting that neutrinos oscillate for longer on the long route.

Because standard model neutrinos are massless, the discovery of neutrino mass flags new physics, yet to be explored.

2015 October 10

Putin vs Islamic State

Rachel Polonsky

After Vladimir Putin met with Barack Obama at the UN on September 28, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova spoke: "We would prefer not to have been right."

If in the Mideast, she continued, we saw a single example of a developing democratic state with flourishing citizens, perhaps we might trust US proposals. Instead, we see nothing but poverty, ruin and terrorism. It was time to collaborate on a logical strategy to defeat Islamic State.

On September 13, on Russian state TV, Moscow State University faculty of world politics dean Andrei Kokoshin said US policy had reached a dead end because it was guided by "a sacred faith in democracy, and the illusion that all democracies will naturally be US allies".

Islamic State is at least as grave a threat to Russian national security as to the security of Europe. A map of the world as Islamic State would like to see it in 2020 shows swathes of Russia in black, renamed Qoqzaz and Khurasan. If we cannot support Russia in its mission, we should step aside.

Russia Needs Syria

Amy Knight

The Kremlin decision to intervene in Syria was urged on Putin this summer by senior members of his team. With the conflict in Ukraine still unresolved and Putin increasingly isolated by the West, intervention in the Mideast was intended to reassert Russia as a major world power.

Putin stated at the UN in September that Russia was committed to keeping the Assad regime in power. A total collapse of the Syrian state would threaten its strategic position in the Mideast. Russia views Islamic insurgents as not only a threat to Assad but also a potential threat at home.

Russia has a long history with Syria. The Soviet Union signed a secret pact with Syria in 1946. Syria had the largest Communist Party in the Arab world and significant oil and gas reserves. In 1971 the Soviets leased a naval base at Tartus that now hosts a Russian fleet.

Russia has sold arms to Syria for decades. Moscow wrote off much old debt but sales continue. Deputy Russian prime minister Dmitry Rogozin: "Our guys in Syria are suppressing a war against Russia on distant plains. Anyone who does not understand is a fool or an enemy."

Russian Sukhoi Su-34 fighter-bomber, as used in Syria

Apollo 17 astronaut
Harrison Schmitt
December 1972

Apollo 14 commander
Alan Shepard
February 1971

My new apartment

25 Jahre Deutsche Einheit


2015 October 9

Putin's Policy

Edward N. Luttwak

President Vladimir Putin says he is fighting extremism in Syria. His bombing campaign has hit few Islamic State targets. Aircraft have flown and dropped bombs, but the Russians have no more ground intelligence in place to identify targets than the United States has. Putin is certainly guilty of defending the Assad regime.

Putin believes that the president of a country should give a high priority to the enhancement of its own power. He has two aims in Syria: Keep the Tartus naval base that makes Russia a Mediterranean power at low cost, and demonstrate that it really pays to serve Russia. He has already won the credibility competition.

Putin differs from President Barack Obama in his understanding of diplomacy. The Obama version is that the practicalities of a transaction are less important than their decoration with fashionably modish principles and procedures. Everything has to go through an indecision machine that delays actions inordinately.

When Netanyahu heard that Putin was sending fighter-bombers to Syria, over which Israeli fighter-bombers also operate, he asked Putin for a meeting. Putin invited him to Moscow, where they agreed that the Russians would telephone Yossi Cohen before taking off to bomb, while Israel would announce flights to Nikolai Patrushev.

Putin played no games with Netanyahu and simply conceded Israel's right to bomb in Syria. Israeli radar can see aircraft from the moment they take off from the Russian base. The operating rule is that when one side does any bombing, the other side must stay on the ground. Both Putin and Netanyahu hit their targets hard.

Brain Breakthrough

New Scientist

A computer model of a tiny piece of rat brain fires like the real thing. The model simulates 30 micrograms of tissue with 31,000 neurons and their 37 million synapses.

Henry Markram: "The digital piece of tissue behaved very similarly to what we see in the brain. We see the same patterns of firing, with the same delay."

Anil Seth: "As one of the first concrete outputs from the billion-euro Human Brain Project this had to be a substantial piece of work, and it is."

2015 October 8

Russia Gets Tough


Syrian ambassador to Russia Riad Haddad said around 40% of Islamic State infrastructure in Syria has been destroyed since Russia began its military operation in the country.

AR At last someone has the balls to go in there and kill the wackos before they do any more damage. Unfortunately it will probably lead to more chaos in the short term, not less.

Europe Gets Stronger

Ulrich Speck

Three crises threaten the European Union: the euro, Ukraine, and refugees. But the union is tackling them together. With the possible exception of Britain, no country wants to leave.

Berlin is the power center. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has set up an informal system of governance with partners President François Hollande of France, European Council president Donald Tusk, and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

The euro crisis emerged five years ago. Pessimists said it exposed a fundamental flaw in the currency union architecture. Now Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and Spain are recovering, while Greece is out of critical condition. The currency is all the stronger for it.

The Ukraine conflict has moved from the military to the diplomatic arena. The United States has put its weight behind the Minsk agreement. Russia has been checked, giving Ukraine the opportunity to build a stronger state. The union was tested and it became stronger.

The refugee crisis is a challenge for Europe as a whole. Member states have taken a contentious but successful vote to spread the burden of accepting the refugees.

The new European Union is built around cooperation among nation states. The German chancellor is the power broker. Members get a framework to tackle the challenges of globalization.

AR Very Nietzschean.

Britain Gets Greater

David Cameron

I believe we're on the brink
Of something special in our country.
This year, we've seen more people in work
Than at any time in our history;
More of our children starting university
Than ever before;
More British entrepreneurs setting up shop
Than anywhere else in Europe.

Wages are rising.
Hope is returning.
We're moving into the light.
But we’re not there yet.
We're only halfway through.
We can make this
A defining decade for our country:
The turnaround decade.

And our goal is
A Greater Britain.
With strong defence
And a strong economy.
A National Health Service
That's there for everybody,
And schools
That stretch our children.

And over the next five years we will show
That the deep problems in our society are not inevitable.
That a childhood in care
Doesn't have to mean a life of struggle.
That a stint in prison
Doesn't mean you'll get out and do the same thing all over again.
That being black, or Asian, or female, or gay
Doesn't mean you'll be treated differently.

A Greater Britain,
Made of greater expectations.
Where renters become homeowners,
Employees become employers,
A small island becomes an even bigger economy,
And where extremism is defeated once and for all.
A country raising its sights,
Its people reaching new heights.

A Greater Britain,
Made of greater hope,
Greater chances,
Greater security.
So let's get out
And make it happen.
Together we can build
That Greater Britain.

AR Dave is a great prime minister.

2015 October 7

Deport Migrants

The Times

UK home secretary Theresa May called yesterday for a new deportation system to eject failed asylum seekers who do not have passports. She was accused of irresponsible rhetoric after her hardline conference speech on cutting migrant numbers.

Failed asylum seekers will be deported from Europe within weeks under an EU plan. More than 400,000 people who entered the EU in the first half of this year are expected to have their asylum claims rejected. EU border guard agency Frontex will help with deportations.

May speech headlines

Phree Markets

Cass R. Sunstein

George Akerlof and Robert Shiller believe that once we understand human psychology, we will be less keen on free markets. In their view, companies exploit human weaknesses because the market makes them do it. Those who fail to exploit people will lose out to those who do.

Akerlof and Shiller say phishermen (such as banks, drug companies, real estate agents, and cigarette companies) get phools (such as investors, sick people, homeowners, and smokers) to behave in the interest of the phisherman but not of the phool. In their view, phishing for phools is the leading cause of the worst financial crises. A lot of people run serious health risks from overeating, tobacco, and alcohol. The resulting premature deaths are not a product of rational decisions. Many people face debilitating financial insecurity, largely as a result of their own mistaken decisions. Even bad government is a product of phishing and phoolishness.

The idea that free markets work, and that government is the problem, is itself a phish for phools that does not capture reality. The United States has suffered from the fact that free markets make people free not only to choose but also free to phish, and free to be phished.

AR Even phishers are phools.

2015 October 6

Building Britain

George Osborne

What the British people said to us in May couldn't have been clearer. We elect you to do a job, so take decisions, don't duck them. We’ve had our instructions from the British people and today I announced:

A devolution revolution. We're going to allow local government to keep the rates they collect from business. All £26 billion of business rates will be kept by councils instead of being sent up to Whitehall. This is the biggest transfer of power to our local government in living memory.

Building the share owning democracy. Next Spring we will make Lloyds shares available to every member of the public, at a discount. Small shareholders will get priority and long-term investors will get a bonus.

A major plan to get Britain building. I'm not prepared to turn around to my children and say I'm sorry we didn't build for you. So we will set up an independent National Infrastructure Commission, sweep away planning rules on brownfield sites, and create British Wealth Funds to invest billions in British infrastructure.

Future favors the bold. So we've got to be the builders, the people with the new ideas. The people open to the new thinking. Accept when others have got it right. The people with the plan for the future.

Some stand on the sidelines. Some want to knock things down. But we are the builders, building for the working people of Britain.

AR A (Stalinist?) Five Year Plan from GO, heir apparent for the top job.

2015 October 5

Russia vs America

Zbigniew Brzezinski

Russia has chosen to intervene militarily in Syria without cooperation with the United States. American credibility in the Mideast is at stake. US officials must convey to Moscow the demand that it cease and desist from military actions that affect American assets.

The Russian naval and air assets in Syria are vulnerable, isolated from their homeland. They could be neutralized. Or Russia might be persuaded to cooperate in seeking a wider accommodation to a regional problem that transcends the interests of a single state.

France and Britain can no longer play a decisive role in the Mideast. The region is split on religious, political, ethnic, and territorial lines, and slipping into more violence. This calls for outside assistance but not for neocolonial domination. US power is needed.

AR No, NATO power is needed. We can tame Russian power with NATO.

UK vs EU

The Independent

Governments use the European Union to bypass national democracy and pass laws that national parliaments would reject. Home Office minister Karen Bradley said at the Conservative party conference that representatives of other EU member states sometimes ask British MEPs to push legislation through the European Parliament to prevent their home legislatures from blocking it. UKIP MEP Gerard Batten: "This is hard evidence that this government uses the EU to undermine national democracy."

AR Surprise! Politicians misuse EU institutions!

Art vs Design

Alva Noë

We cannot use neuroscience to explain art and its place in our lives. Rather, art can help us frame a better picture of our human nature.

Artists make stuff. They sometimes make stuff that works, but its value as art never boils down to its working. I guess artists make stuff because making stuff is special for us. Making activities constitute us as a species.

Human beings are designers by nature. We are makers and consumers of technologies. Tools and technologies organize us both individually and collectively. They organize us insofar as they are embedded in our lives.

Art begins when we are unable to take the background of our familiar technologies and activities for granted. Art makes things strange. Art disrupts plain looking to disclose what plain looking conceals.

A work of art is a strange tool. It affords us the opportunity to bring into view everything that was hidden in the background. Art is a way of investigating the world and ourselves.

AR I recall Alva from Tucson. He's a fine philosopher.

2015 October 4

Russians in Syria

Sunday Times

President Vladimir Putin's government asked America to clear air space over northern Syria. Moscow would commence airstrikes against terrorist targets at the request of President Bashar al-Assad.

President Barack Obama had protested about Russian forces in Syria. Putin had said his only intention was to neutralize Islamic State. The US military in Baghdad agreed to hold deconfliction sessions with the Russians to avoid mid-air collisions.

Russia is fighting to shore up Assad. The Homs and Hama regions where Russia carried out its first airstrikes are of vital strategic importance to the regime. They link Damascus to the coastal area including Latakia and Tartus, where Russia operates a naval facility.

Meanwhile hundreds of Iranian troops arrived in apparent preparation for a ground offensive. The Iranian soldiers include members of the elite Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and may fight alongside Hezbollah guerrillas and Assad's forces.

Senator John McCain blames "a total lack of American leadership" for allowing "a Russian autocrat to join with an Iranian theocrat to prop up a Syrian dictator".

2015 October 3


Tim Flannery

An evolutionary understanding of the emotions helps us to see other animals as individuals.

Elephants are intelligent, social, emotional, playful, and compassionate. But their societies differ from our own. Clans of females led by matriarchs periodically associate in larger groups. Elephants can recognize up to a thousand individuals. Sometimes they even bury their dead.

Dogs behave much like wolves. The best wolves are brilliant leaders that pursue lifelong strategies in order to lead their families to success. The similarities between wolves and humans are arguably more extensive than those between humans and any other animal.

Sperm whales live in clans with distinctive dialects of sonar clicks. These are learned and act as markers of clan identity. Clan members spend extended periods nuzzling one another or staying in body contact. Presumably they can memorize large social networks.

Killer whales have a different social organization. They have a long period of lactation and females experience menopause. Killer whales also observe food taboos and are strongly xenophobic. Clans of salmon eaters never mix with mammal eaters. Each clan has its own vocalizations.

Prior to the domestication of plants and the invention of writing, the differences between human societies and those of elephants, dogs, killer whales, and dolphins were a matter of degree, not kind. We are not alone on Earth.

2015 October 2

Theories of Everything

Lawrence M. Krauss

When quantum mechanics is combined with relativity, the laws that govern matter and energy depend on the scale at which you measure them. On small scales, for short times, there is an uncertainty in the energy and momenta of elementary particles. Virtual particles can pop briefly in and out of the vacuum, and to calculate the force between two particles, you need to consider them all. There is a way to calculate the resulting force so that it does not become infinite.

Scaling arguments reveal connections between theories. In quantum chromodynamics the strong force between quarks gets weaker as the quarks are brought closer together. Since the electroweak force gets stronger at small distances, at sufficiently small scales they may become a single force. String theorists say even gravity merges at sufficiently small scales with the other forces. Superstring theory may get rid of the infinities. Some call it a theory of everything.

2015 October 1


Simon Jenkins

I can recall no head of the army and no serious academic strategist with any time for the Trident missile. It is merely a token of support for an American nuclear response. No modern danger, such as from terrorism, is deterred by Trident.

Trident missiles come from America and their use without American permission is inconceivable. The decision on the related submarine replacement program will have nothing to do with national defense. Trident is about diplomatic clout, global posturing, domestic grandstanding, and huge sums of public expenditure.

AR Not "merely" a token of support but precisely that. We buy into US deterrence. This is priceless (or rather worth a hundred billion, which comes close).


Philip Stephens

Angela Merkel held out a hand of welcome. But Syrians fleeing barrel bombs and beheading did not need her permission to climb into boats. The forces driving the movement of people are heedless also of the discord between European capitals.

The challenge is immense. Populists have seized the opportunity. No one can be surprised at their appeal to fearful Europeans. However well the inflow is handled, stresses and dislocation are inevitable. But you cannot build a wall around Europe.

The European Union stands for cooperation. Its founding insight was that states can best achieve their national goals by pooling sovereignty. The logic of cooperation is as compelling as ever. But the EU political elites have lost the trust of their citizens.

UK vs EU

Nigel Lawson

I have decided to accept the position of president of Conservatives for Britain. We will be campaigning for the UK to leave the European Union unless there is real reform.

The EU is slow to react and resists change. Its democratic deficit has a counterpart in a bureaucratic surplus boosted by a belief in regulation. Creation of the United States of Europe has no democratic mandate anywhere in Europe and is wholly unacceptable to the UK.

The integration never stops. The founding right for people to be able to live and work freely in other EU countries now requires integrated solutions to issues such as vetting refugees and manning borders. Monetary union will require full fiscal and political union.

I would set out some red lines:
1 End the automatic supremacy of EU law over UK law.
2 Let the UK negotiate its own free trade deals with countries worldwide.
3 Let the UK control immigration from other EU countries.
4 Renounce the absolute commitment to ever closer union.

AR Lawson im Klartext: Resist pan-German hegemonism.

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