On April 15, 1945, SAS Lieutenant John
Randall was the first British soldier to drive into the Nazi
concentration camp at Belsen. One prisoner he spoke to was
a Hungarian girl called Mady Goldgruber. Six decades later, John
and Mady met again in London and talked for hours.
I believe that the United States should
maintain an overwhelming military edge over all potential
rivals, and that we ought to be willing to use our military
power in defense of our ideals as well as our interests. Global
stability depends on US global leadership. This costs money: US defense spending in 2012 surpassed that of China,
Russia, the UK, Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany,
Italy, and Brazil combined.
Borough of Poole
"People hardly ever give up
their freedom, including their
rights to kill and impoverish each other, unless forced to
do so, and virtually the only
force strong enough to bring
about has been defeat
in war, or fear that such a
Vikings: Life and Legend
2014-03-06 — 2014-06-22
NASA spacecraft Cassini suggests Saturn moon Enceladus
has a subsurface water ocean. Enceladus is about 500 km across
and at the north pole has an ice shell 50 km thick over solid
rock. The south pole ice is thinner, over an ocean 10 km deep.
Mens agitat molem
2014 April 13
Many think Europe and the United
States provoked President Putin into annexing Crimea. But his belligerence stems from problems at home.
Despite recent high global oil prices, he presides over an
economy in reverse. Russia's current account surplus will
disappear this year, capital outflows amounted to $63 billion
last year, and growth is projected to fall in 2014 to 0.6%.
Putin's notion of national security is to surround Russia
with a string of economic black holes (such as Ukraine and
Belarus) and frozen conflicts (as in Transnistria, Abkhazia, and
South Ossetia). These areas depend on Russia for their economic
survival and hinder Russian economic growth. Europe and
the United States should not accept the way Russia threatens
Capitalism Isn't Working
Rising wealth inequality imperils the
future of capitalism. Once the return on capital exceed the real
growth of wages and output, the stock of capital will rise as a
share of output. Inequality of wealth in the West is broadly
twice the inequality of income. Historically, war and depression
arrested the inequality dynamic and progressive taxes kept
social peace. But now the process of capital concentration is
accelerating on a global scale.
Almost no new entrepreneurs can make
enough new money to challenge existing concentrations of wealth.
Property owners will get richer in an era when the returns
exceed those of wages and output. Their incentive is to be a
rentier rather than take risks. The rich can forget frontier
innovation or investment in production. They just need to
harvest their returns and tax breaks, and tax shelters and
compound interest will do the rest.
The rich protect
their wealth from taxation, so the burden of paying for public
goods such as education, health, and housing is increasingly
shouldered by average taxpayers. Wealth inequality thus becomes
a recipe for sluggish rentier economies, tougher working
conditions, and degraded public services. No solution is in
should be as eager as socialists to avert a plunge into the
2014 April 12
Germans understand little about the
Russians. Russophiles say that the West
slighted Russia after the Cold War and that Moscow is now taking
revenge. They say we should be more inclusive of Russia. We did
that in 1996 when, in the midst of a war in Chechnya that had
been launched by Moscow, Russia applied for membership in the
Council of Europe. The appeasers said it would prevent Moscow
from any further acts of military force. The second Chechen war
began three years later.
German finance minister Wolfgang
Schäuble compared the occupation of Crimea with the Nazi
occupation of the ethnic German Sudetenland in the former
Czechoslovakia. Of course it is absurd to compare Putin with
Hitler. But the coverage on Russian television leading up to the
annexation of Crimea, with all its lies and agitation, was
reminiscent of Joseph Goebbels.
Germany needs a new way to deal with Russia.
AR We all do.
2014 April 11
I contend that consciousness is the way
information feels when processed in certain complex ways. Giulio
Tononi argues that for an information processing system to be
conscious, its information must be integrated into a unified
whole. This is his integrated information theory (IIT).
IIT explains why the cerebellum is unconscious. The cerebellum
is mainly a collection of feed-forward neural networks, but
without feedback there is no integration and no consciousness.
For many integrated systems, one can design a functionally
equivalent feed-forward system that IIT says is unconscious. So
zombies that behave like a human yet lack conscious can exist.
But systems with feedback typically require far fewer
computational resources than their zombie equivalents, so
evolution has made us conscious.
IIT says why we are
unconscious during seizures, sedation and deep sleep, but not
REM sleep. Although our neurons work during sedation and deep
sleep, their interactions are weakened, reducing integration and
consciousness. During a seizure, the interactions between
neurons get too strong, reducing their independent information
content. A consciousness index (CI) measured from EEG traces
showed that awake and dreaming people had high CI, and those
sedated or in deep sleep had low CI.
IIT is based on
bits. But there should be a way of identifying consciousness
from the particle motions alone. A conscious system must strike
a balance between too little integration and too much.
our neurons form a Hopfield network, they can only support about
37 bits of integrated information. Viewing them as a quantum
system, I calculate the maximum drops to about 0.25 bits. We
seem to be conscious of more than that.
As Max says, IIT is not fundamental. The feedback
criterion for escaping zombie status would delight Douglas
Hofstadter because it confirms the relevance of strange loops.
It would interest David Chalmers because it lets us prove we are
not zombies. I explored the loop theory in my 2009 book
2014 April 10
How Western Is Germany?
Germans and Russians have a
special relationship. The connection reaches deep into German
history. German families still share stories of cruel, but also
kindhearted and soulful Russians. So for Germany, the Ukraine
crisis goes right to the core of the question of German
Some Germans charge that the EU and NATO
snubbed Moscow with their recent eastward expansion. Germans
have always idealized Russia, and they were thrilled when
glasnost and perestroika brought the end of the Cold War.
Finally it was acceptable to love Russia again.
opposition to Western superficiality is seen as part of the
Russian soul. During the First World War, Thomas Mann sought to
differentiate Germany from the West: "Being German means
culture, soul, freedom, art and not civilization, society, the
right to vote, literature."
War guilt created a link
between Germans and Russians, with the Second World War as an
experience shared on both sides. After 1945, the Eastern way of
thinking was pushed aside in West Germany, but Russia remained a
country of longing for East Germans.
Old questions about
a special role for Germany have resurfaced. No German would
question membership in the EU or NATO, but in the Ukraine crisis
almost half of all Germans want the country to adopt the middle
ground between Russia and the West.
The ultra-Orthodox young men at the
Hebron Yeshiva are holding out against plans to draft them into
the Israeli military and the workforce, and to make them follow
the Zionist ideology of the state. The young men at the yeshiva
say they are fulfilling the divine will by spending their days
poring over sacred texts. But many secular Israelis call them
Secular Israelis face 3 years of mandatory
military service from age 18 and reserve duty for another 20
years. The Israeli Knesset has now passed the Equal Service
Bill, which would draft many yeshiva students and reverse their
Ultra-Orthodox haredim say their
learning and prayers help defend Israel. Yeshiva student Moshe
Saler: "The Torah holds the world together, and because of the
Torah and prayers, the IDF succeeds.''
say they would rather go to jail than serve. Yeshiva student
Yaacov Halevy: "I hope I go to jail. That is my aspiration if
those are the choices. Even if the army provides a framework for
haredim, it will not satisfy us because we have a central goal
in life: studying Torah."
Following the last Israeli elections, the secularist Yesh
Atid party became part of the ruling coalition. Yesh Atid
education minister Shai Peron: ''Military and civilian service
is a symbol. It is one of the symbols of the togetherness, of
the nationalism of Zionism. In dodging and evasion there is a
divorcing from the Israeli public life.''
AR Many of us want to study all day.
I say no legal exceptions on religious grounds.
The Story of the Jews
Simon Schama starts in the early fifth
century BC, moves into the rise of Christianity and the growth
of a rich Jewish tradition of philosophy and law in the Arabic
language, and concludes in 1492 in Spain. For the encounter of
the Jews with Greeks and Romans he relies upon the account of
Jesus of Nazareth is part
of the story of the Jews. The Greeks who listened to Paul had instant access to
Greek versions of the Hebrew Bible. Christians accepted the
Hebrew Bible as sacred scripture.
The arrival of Islam as
a new monotheist religion in the seventh century was fraught
with consequences for Jews. The new faith was not only
monotheist but recognized that it shared this conviction with
the Jews. The future of the Jews after the Islamic conquests was
tied to the new faith and its language.
Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon wrote with equal facility in Arabic and
Hebrew. He became known in Hebrew as Rambam and in Western
languages as Maimonides. He settled in Cairo, where his
authority made him effectively the Rabbi of all Israel in the
Islamic world. Maimonides made a compendium of written and oral
law known as the Mishneh Torah. Jews and Muslims agreed about
bug is a serious vulnerability in the popular OpenSSL
cryptographic software library. This weakness allows stealing
the information protected, under normal conditions, by the
SSL/TLS encryption used to secure the Internet.
The Heartbleed bug allows anyone on the
Internet to read the memory of the systems protected by the
vulnerable versions of the OpenSSL software. This compromises
the secret keys used to identify the service providers and to
encrypt the traffic, the names and passwords of the users, and
the actual content. This allows attackers to eavesdrop on
communications, steal data directly from the services and users
and to impersonate services and users.
As long as the
vulnerable version of OpenSSL is in use it can be abused. Fixed
OpenSSL has been released and now it has to be deployed.
2014 April 9
British researcher Stuart Parkin has been awarded
the €1 million Millennium Technology Prize for his research into
spintronics in hard drives.
Spintronics uses the magnetic
spin of electrons to store bits, and is "one of the most
successful fields of nanotechnology yet," said award sponsor
Technology Academy Finland (TAF). Parkin's innovations have led
to a huge expansion of data acquisition and storage capacities.
TAF: "Another key spintronics advance is magnetoresistive
random-access memory (MRAM), which Parkin proposed in 1995. This
technology is based on magnetic tunnel junction (MTJ) memory
cells. The MTJ, a close cousin of the GMR spin valve, has become
standard in hard disk drive read heads."
Japanese researchers found a way to use
nonvolatile spin-transfer torque magnetoresistive random access
memory (STT-MRAM) technology to create faster computers back in
2001. Now Japanese researcher Koji Ando says: "STT-MRAM no
longer requires an electromagnetic coil for both writing and
reading information. We're excited by this paradigm shift and
are working on developing a variety of technologies for
next-generation electronics devices."
consume zero power during inactive intervals would find use in
mobile computing and wearable or embedded electronics.
AR From electronics to spintronics
to photonics — physics just keeps on giving.
A spreadsheet is a giant grid of rows and
columns filled with letters and numbers and symbols. It gives
you countless tools for manipulating and reformating this data,
but these are relics of a time when computing was the domain of
engineers and geeks willing to tinker with their software.
Two Stanford dropouts and a former investment banker hope to
change this. Ari Dyckovsky and Ryan Atallah, both 20, quit
Stanford to found Arktos. Dyckovsky had done quantum
entanglement research and then worked as a quantitative
researcher, or quant, at a stock market outfit. Atallah had
interned at Facebook. Andrew Vigneault, 24, brought a college
degree to the mix and experience in the world of venture capital
and investment banking. Arktos has no product and no funding,
just an idea.
The idea is to create a tool that lets you
organize data in what are essentially nested images. Dyckovsky
calls this a data browser. You see no more than you need to
understand the data at hand. Arktos aims to bring data analysis
to our personal devices.
AR My SAP team made such a tool. We
offered a dashboard where CEO types could play around with huge
multidimensional cubes of their business data to get to know it
at the gut level. But we needed some awesome hardware behind the
Dorset millionaire beach peninsula
Sandbanks is now the world's fourth most expensive place to
live. But some of the millionaires are furious.
Robert Syms (Conservative) says constituents are angry at
revelers who hire houses for a weekend and bring extras ranging
from naked butlers and prostitutes to inflatable phalluses and
flying beer bottles. Current laws fail to halt the "party house"
fad plaguing Sandbanks, and homeowners now dread Friday nights
when carloads of rowdies show up for the weekend.
"I really think this needs to be acted upon, otherwise the
situation will get worse and I fear that the anger of my
constituents is such that some of them will take the law into
their own hands, because they spend all their life working for a
home and they find it's being disturbed weekend after weekend
after weekend. It is running people down and they are very angry
AR My jogging trail,
my MP, my sympathies.
2014 April 8
We have not intervened in Syria. The
consequences will be a huge problem not just for the Mideast
region, but for us in the years to come.
You have to
compare the fact and the consequences of intervention with the
fact and the consequences of non-intervention. Supposing you had
left Saddam. Arguably, you would have had the Arab spring come
to Iraq. If it had come to Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria,
it was going to come to Iraq and you would be facing what you
are facing in Syria now in Iraq. When you remove the
dictatorship, that is the beginning not the end.
AR ME horrorshow — keep out.
Stressed? Ask: "What would Liam Neeson
do?" Neeson represents everything decent and honorable about a
man who doesn't fret. One thing that Neeson wouldn’t do if he
were a little stressed at work, say, dealing with an airborne
hostage situation or disarming a nuke, is get in a huddle with
his work colleagues, steep a teabag, and politely begin fielding
Neeson would make an executive
decision. He would trust his fast thinking: your first instinct
is the right one. Like the very best chess players, strong,
silent men succeed. Look at Clint Eastwood. Or James Bond.
Dealing with stress is all about making clear, concise decisions
rather than endless wittering. And, yes, sometimes this means
raising your voice.
Rachel Delia Benaim
The SermonSlam aims to give Jews
an outlet to explore Jewish thought and ideas through spoken
word poetry. The second SermonSlam in New York featured 16
performers. Their given topic was freedom.
Martin, who introduced himself as Mo, was the winner. He gave
a heartfelt sermon that intertwined ideas about the
freedom of the Jews with his own experience at a mental health
SermonSlam is the brainchild of David Zvi Kalman,
26, a graduate student in Jewish and Islamic law at the
University of Pennsylvania.
Another SermonSlam was held
last week in California. Future slams are scheduled in other
cities. Columbia Medical School student Raphy Rosen: "It's
publicizing the word of God."
2014 April 7
My foundation, the Africa Governance
Initiative, has been operating in Rwanda since 2008. Progress
has been extraordinary.
When the new government took
power in 1994, Rwanda was a shell of a nation. Some 800 000
people had been killed in 100 days of genocide, and millions
more displaced from their homes. Security and stability came
first, with humanitarian relief, and then improved health,
education, and incomes.
In little over five years, more
than a million Rwandans have lifted themselves out of poverty.
The proportion of children dying before their fifth birthday has
more than halved, and when they reach seven years old, they can
nearly all go to school. Most of the population is covered by
health insurance, and malaria deaths have fallen. Rwandans are
united in patriotism and belief in the government.
Vikings waged war against the
Anglo-Saxons from the time of their first recorded raid on the
British east coast in 789 CE. These escalated by 865 CE into
invasions by hundreds of ships bent on conquest and settlement.
The kings of East Anglia and Northumbria were defeated and
apparently killed in a ritual known as "the blood-eagle" in
which the victim's lungs were ripped out of his ribcage and
draped on his shoulders like wings. In 1002, the Anglo-Saxon
king Ethelred the Unready ordered the deaths of all Danes in his
kingdom. The Vikings stormed and sacked the city of Canterbury
in 1011. They held the archbishop as a hostage, then beat him to
death at a drunken feast.
Scott A. Sandage
Failure is a gift that keeps on
giving. Sarah Lewis: "Managing the gap between vision and work,
which often looks to others like being swallowed by failure, is
a lifelong process."
Failing well is the best revenge.
Megan McArdle: "Failing well can't be that hard, because America
spent several centuries being really good at it. We're the
descendants of failures who fled to these shores from their
creditors, their failed farms, their disastrous love affairs."
2014 April 6
President François Hollande named a
new government last week. Ségolène Royal, the mother of his four
children, now heads the environment super ministry. In the three
decades of their relationship she was suspected of wearing the
trousers — in those days his nickname was "Monsieur Royal" — and
there is mirthful speculation about whether she will end up back
in the cockpit.
New prime minister Manuel Valls will
outline a rescue plan for cuts of €50 billion before parliament
next week. The new economy minister is Arnaud Montebourg, a
former criminal lawyer with a taste for oratory and a hatred of
globalization, whose conquests range from TV anchor Audrey
Pulvar to actress Elsa Zylberstein. Finance minister Michel
Sapin worries that Montebourg could derail his job of convincing Brussels that France is
In an admission of socialist failure,
President François Hollande has appointed Manuel Valls as
France's new prime minister. Valls built his reputation as
interior minister by clamping down on undesirables. He said the
Roma should be deported, razed squatter camps, and supports
anti-Muslim measures such as the ban on women wearing veils and
restrictions on the sale of halal meat.
Ségolène Royal, the mother of his four children, as new
environment and energy minister. Royal was rejected in
parliamentary elections in 2012 and in the presidential poll
five years earlier.
will turn right and give Muslims a hard time.
2014 April 5
Norway (pop. 5 million), Liechtenstein
(pop. 36 000), and Iceland (pop. 326 000) are members of the
European Economic Area. EEA membership has some of the pros and
most of the cons of being in the European Union.
Norway has had
to implement 75% of EU laws and its total financial contribution
to the EU each year is about €340 million. Norway pays more per
capita to the EU than the UK does. Unlike the UK, Norway is also
a signatory of the Schengen Agreement, which scrapped internal
Switzerland (pop. 8 million) makes its own
bilateral deals with the EU. It is under no obligation to
implement all EU internal market legislation. It has a free
trade agreement in goods with the EU but no agreement on
services, including financial services. And it contributes about
€450 million a year to the EU budget.
Inside the EU or
out, the UK will have to follow EU rules and regulations.
Eurosceptics say they like the single market but not the EU
regulations. There is no single market without regulations. EU
members can change them.
2014 April 4
After the recent Dutch election,
Geert Wilders took to the stage when his Party for Freedom (PVV)
won seven seats: "Do you want more or fewer Moroccans in this
city and in the Netherlands?" His supporters: "Fewer! Fewer!
Fewer!" Wilders: "We'll take care of that."
Wilders won over
voters with promises of a European alliance of right-wing MEPs
who would bring down the European Union. The alliance includes
PVV, Vlaams Belang in Belgium, and the National Front in France.
Parties in Italy, Austria, and Sweden may join too. UKIP leader
Nigel Farage has declined. A quarter of the vote at the European
Parliament elections in May could go to protest parties.
Arun Kundnani sees two dominant
security approaches to Muslim citizens: culturalist and
reformist. Culturalists see Islam as a totalitarian culture or
ideology incompatible with democratic modernity. Reformists see
the problem as a perversion of Islamic doctrine and categorize
Muslims as extremists or moderates. Both culturalism and
reformism neglect the basic political question. British Muslims
were ghettoized as a result of industrial collapse,
discriminatory housing policies, and fear of racist violence.
The new European far right embraces Zionism and Islamophobia.
The Turin Shroud is a piece of linen
cloth imprinted with the faint image of a naked man with what
appear to be streams of blood running down his arms, and other
wounds. Some believe it wrapped the body of Jesus after
crucifixion. Carbon dating suggests the shroud is a medieval
Researchers have found that the marks on the shroud correspond
to a crucifixion only if the arms hung above the head in a Y and
not a T pose. Someone crucified in this way would die from
asphyxiation. Similar positions were used during medieval
torture. A forger making the shroud must have been skilled to
create the correct blood spatter for a crucifixion.
2014 April 3
Farage Versus Clegg
UK deputy prime minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg
faced UKIP leader Nigel Farage for a second BBC TV debate.
Farage won the debate on personality and sound bites but took a
position with many weak points. Clegg floundered and was often
reduced to rhetorical hyperbole defending a reasonable and
potentially strong case. Outtakes:
"You were absolutely hellbent on getting involved militarily in
the war in Syria, and I personally am delighted we didn't go to
war in Syria, and we're not going to get involved, I hope, in
military conflict in the Ukraine. The British people have had
enough of endless foreign military interventions."
NC "I just think if your hatred of all things
to do with the European Union leads to such a morally perverse
conclusion — that you admire the one leader in the world who
could have reined in President Assad — it really shows quite how
extreme his views have become."
British people have had enough of endless foreign military
interventions. I don't admire Putin. What I said was he had
outwitted and outclassed you all over Syria."
"Nigel Farage doesn't want to work with the Americans, to work
with the EU, he only wants to work with Vladimir Putin."
NF "Let's take back control of our our borders.
Let's stop giving £55 million a day as a membership fee of a
club we don't need to be part of. Let's free ourselves up. I
know the people are behind this. Come and join the People's
Army. Let's topple the establishment that led us into this
NC "What next? Are
you going to say we should return to the gold standard or a
pre-decimal currency, or maybe get W.G. Grace to open the
batting for England again?"
NF "I want
the EU to end but I want it to end democratically. If it doesn't
end democratically, I am afraid it will end very unpleasantly.
We are already, in some countries, beginning to see the rise of
worrying political extremism. If you take away from people their
ability through the ballot box to change their futures because
they have given away control of everything to somebody else,
then I'm afraid they tend to resort to unpleasant means."
NC "I think a referendum now would put the
economic recovery at risk."
The Conservative coalition covers the left but leaves an exposed right
Last week astronomers reported the
discovery of 2012 VP113, nicknamed Biden after the US VP. This
potential dwarf planet was spotted in the inner Oort cloud. Days
later, the same team reported two more potential dwarfs: 2013
FY27 and 2013 FZ27. Both are in the Kuiper belt, which is also
home to Pluto and three other known dwarf planets. FZ27 is 50 AU
from the sun and about 600 km wide. FY27 is probably about 1000
km across and 80 AU from the sun. Astronomers suspect the Kuiper
belt is littered with dwarfs.
In the story of
Darren Aronofsky has found the quintessential thought
experiment: If God asked you to save the world, but lose your
soul, would you do it? What kind of person is able to save the
animal kingdom and his own family, but leave the rest of
humanity to drown?
Noah makes a decision that turns him
into the villain for a good bit of the film. The Ark is
basically a giant wood box. There's something heartbreaking
about watching it tumble about in the waves. During the Flood,
there are a couple of shots of the wreckage that gave me
In addition to the Bible, Aronofsky
and his co-writer Ari Handel consulted the Dead Sea Scrolls, the
Book of Enoch, and the Book of Jubilee, as well as modern
scholarly analysis. God is always referred to as the Creator.
Aronofsky insists that he is just trying to make blockbuster
2014 April 2
UK Nuclear Warheads
The UK SLBM force is based on US
Trident D5 missiles and their nuclear warheads. The reliability
of the warheads will decline, but replacing the UK warheads
would take about 17 years and cost around £4 billion at 2012
prices. After 2015, the next government may have to decide on a
The Trident entered service in Vanguard submarines in 1995.
The UK has an estimated 225 Trident warheads, now being cut to
180. Up to 120 warheads are kept operational for the Vanguard
submarines. Each submarine on patrol carries 8 active Trident
missiles and a total of 40 warheads.
The UK Atomic
Weapons Establishment (AWE) occasionally removes warheads from
the stockpile for maintenance. About once a year, a warhead is
removed for breakdown and examination. The results update an AWE
virtual warhead, which is detonated in various ways for
2014 April 1
I used to be a scientist and did a lot
of calculations. It was a competitive world, and when I got
older, I decided I wouldn't compete with the bright young people
anymore, so I write books instead.
I was trained as a
mathematician, and I remain a mathematician. That’s really my
skill, just doing calculations and applying mathematics to all
kinds of problems. I look for interesting problems that I can
solve. I translated Feynman's ideas into mathematics, and as a
result I became famous.
The next exciting thing I did was
to work with a company in California called General Atomics for
a couple of years building a spaceship. We decided we would go
around the solar system with a spaceship driven by nuclear
bombs. We were very disappointed when the Orion never flew.
I have strong views about climate. I think the majority is
wrong. We don't understand climate. The majority don't
understand what they're seeing. It will take a lot of hard work
before that question is settled.