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Andy Ross 2015-05-03
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BLOG 2015


The Times
VOTE TORY

"If you want me to carry on
leading the country, making
sure we have that stability
and security in our economy,
vote accordingly."
David Cameron

ELECTION 2015
BBC

David Cameron: "It takes a
long time to fix the mess that
I was left. We are half way
through a building job."

Ed Miliband: "There was a
global financial crisis, there
was a high deficit."

 

2015 May 3

Interstellar

Priyamvada Natarajan

Astronomy is a science that relies on images. NASA satellite photographs have helped make the human impact on climate change more visible. Failing to confront the danger of climate change will no doubt get our species to the brink, as in the sci-fi movie Interstellar by Christopher Nolan.

One of the film's executive producers is Caltech astrophysics professor Kip Thorne. General relativity predicts some weird phenomena in the vicinity of strong gravitational fields, such as time dilation near a black hole, and bending of light rays close to black holes and wormholes. Everything you see in the film is scientifically possible.

The movie team processed 800 TB of data to render the bending of light by a black hole and a wormhole portal with unprecedented accuracy. The images showed scientists something they have never seen before in the equations. Thorne is now writing up the new discoveries.

2015 May 2

Election Statistics

The Times

The closest election in decades leaves it impossible to predict who will be the next prime minister. Most projections expect the Conservatives to win more seats, but Labour may have a better chance of forming a minority government. The SNP is predicted to win about 50 of the 59 seats in Scotland.

Conservatives could end up with about 40 fewer seats than Labour and the SNP combined, despite winning as many votes. The latest forecast predicts that the Tories will win 290 seats but finish 33 short of a majority, with a 49% chance of Ed Miliband becoming prime minister and a 51% chance of David Cameron keeping the job.

A record £1 billion was pulled out of funds investing in UK shares last month. Analysts say the biggest cause of instability from the election would be the prospect of a quick second election.

British Politics

CNN

The British electorate has united in contempt for its leaders. Voters distrust their political institutions and other traditional centers of power, including parliament, print media, and the police.

The unity of the nation is in peril from Scots and support is in doubt for continued EU membership. Britain was slow to recover from the global economic crisis and austerity has depressed people.

A survey in January showed that only 1 in 10 Britons think UK politicians want to do what is best for the country, while 7 in 10 think they are just protecting the rich and powerful.

AR Politicians emerge from the people, who get the leaders they deserve.

2015 May 1

My Vision of Life

Richard Dawkins

Everything extends from replicators, which are in practice DNA molecules on this planet. The replicators reach out into the world to influence their own probability of being passed on. Mostly they don't reach further than the individual body in which they sit, but that's a matter of practice, not a matter of principle. The individual organism can be defined as that set of phenotypic products which have a single route of exit of the genes into the future. The organism is a unit of selection in the sense that I call a vehicle.

There are two kinds of unit of selection. One is the replicator, and what it does is get itself copied. So more and more copies of itself go into the world. The other kind of unit is the vehicle. It doesn't get itself copied. What it does is work to copy the replicators which have come down to it through the generations, and which it's going to pass on to future generations. Individuals and replicators are both units of selection, but in different senses.

Alien Minds

Susan Schneider

Our best empirical theory of the brain holds that the mind is an information processing system and that all mental functions are computations. So humans and superintelligent artificial intelligence share a common feature: their thinking is essentially computational. Our best scientific theories of consciousness hold that consciousness is closely related to information processing.

A biologically inspired superintelligent alien (BISA) will have descended from creatures that had biologically evolved motivations. Yet it may be so advanced that we cannot understand any of its computations whatsoever. As Arthur C. Clarke said, a truly advanced civilization will have technologies we cannot distinguish from magic.

AR I toyed with such ideas in my 1996 novel LIFEBALL.
 


SMH
Presidential Palace, Saigon, April 30, 1975

BU

 

2015 April 30

Baltimore

The Daily Beast

President Barack Obama: "In those environments, if we think that we're just gonna send the police to do the dirty work of containing the problems that arise there, without as a nation and as a society saying what can we do to change those communities, to help lift up those communities and give those kids opportunity, then we're not gonna solve this problem."

2015 April 29

TRIDENT

Lord Robertson of Port Ellen
Lord Hutton of Furness
Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield
Lord Moonie of Benochy
General Lord Richards of Herstmonceux
Admiral of the Fleet Lord Boyce
Marshal of the RAF Lord Stirrup of Marylebone
Admiral Lord West of Spithead
Admiral Sir Jonathon Band
Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope
General Sir Mike Jackson
Sir David Omand
Sir Kevin Tebbit
Sir Keith O'Nions et al.


Britain’s independent nuclear deterrent exists not as a military weapon but a political one whose very purpose is for it never to be used in anger. It is there to deter aggression against this country and our allies and to counter any nuclear blackmail which would threaten Britain's essential interests or survival. It is committed to NATO.

The next Prime Minister will be responsible for the decision next year whether or not to go ahead with the Main Gate decision on triggering the building of 4 new submarines necessary to continue the deterrent. A decision not to go ahead would effectively end Britain's nuclear deterrent.

NATO is committed to the goal of creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons. But as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, NATO will remain a nuclear alliance.

The Trident Alternatives Report concluded that the highest level of assurance the UK can attain with a single deterrent system is provided by SSBN CASD.

The BASIC Trident Commission concluded that Trident meets the criteria of credibility, scale, survivability, reach, and readiness. It opposed proposals to develop alternative platforms and delivery systems, with new warheads, simply on the basis of possible but speculative cost savings.

Q1 Trident Successor will stimulate proliferation?
Deep reductions in Britain's deterrent made by successive governments have produced no reciprocation from other nuclear weapon or aspiring nuclear weapon powers.

Q2 Only the USA, France, and the UK have CASD?
Both Russia and China are moving to CASD.

Q3 Renewing Trident would frustrate NPT negotiations?
BASIC Trident Commission: "It is doubtful that the UK would retain continuing influence on the thinking or process of nuclear negotiations if it ceased all its nuclear weapon activities."

Q4 Trident expenditure is crippling at a time of austerity?
The total cost up to 2060 would be an average of around £2 billion a year. The NHS costs £2.5 billion a week.

Q5 The nuclear deterrent does not address new threats such as terrorism?
Correct, but irrelevant.

Q6 Abandoning Trident would save a lot of money?
Cancellation is not a cost-free option. Decommissioning deterrent submarines and their infrastructure would produce substantial costs.

The decision on Main Gate will be important. It is impossible to tell what threats may emerge over more than thirty years. To abandon Trident now and for good in the hope that no threat will emerge over that period would be an enormous gamble.

The UK has made reductions in its nuclear arsenal proportionately greater than any other nuclear weapons power. That has represented a huge contribution toward nuclear disarmament. It would be irresponsible folly to abandon Britain's independent deterrent.

2015 April 28

BU Rank Rises

Bournemouth Echo

Bournemouth University has jumped 11 places in a national university league table. BU vice-chancellor Professor John Vinney: "I am absolutely delighted that Bournemouth University has rocketed 11 places in this year's Complete University Guide rankings to 54th in the UK."

AR Last night I attended a BU political hustings event with parliamentary candidates. I spoke out on the need to retain Trident, citing Steven Pinker, Ian Morris, and the report Retiring Trident, and got a strong round of applause.

2015 April 27

Conservatives

The Times

In 1992 John Major led the Conservatives to victory. He won over 14 million votes in total, more than either Margaret Thatcher before him or Tony Blair after him. Five years later, the Tories slumped to defeat.

Conservatives dominated electoral politics in the 20th century. But they need to catch up quickly with the 21st century. They need discipline and resolve in the next 10 days to win a parliamentary majority again.

Conservatives need a broader understanding of what prosperity and the good life mean. Tory policies cannot just be about helping people to climb economic and social ladders. Conservatives must help to provide security as well as freedom. They must focus on providing a strong safety net and creating world-class public services.

Conservatives must also strike a better balance between protecting the natural environment and building more homes. Unless they can increase housebuilding many families will never have a home of their own.

David Cameron promises that any re-elected Tory government would start by cutting income tax for the lowest-paid, creating two million jobs, extending childcare, and building 200,000 starter homes.

AR

Hard Problem

Dan Dennett says explaining
how the brain works might
explain consciousness.
How software animates
hardware is no mystery.
Wrong analogy?

AR Mindworlds

100 years on:
Gallipoli


NASA
Hubble
is 25 today


Peter Lang
Food and the Internet
V. Krawczyk-Wasilewska
and P. Lysaght (eds.)
University of Łodź

 

2015 April 26

UK Billionaires

The Sunday Times

There are now 117 sterling billionaires based in Britain. That is more per head of population than in any other country in the G20.

Their total wealth is £325 billion. The top 3 alone are worth £37 billion. London hosts 80 billionaires. The other 37 outside London are together worth £67 billion.

Only 62 of the billionaires in the UK are British. The Queen is worth a mere £340 million and has dropped out of the top 300.

Drone War

Der Spiegel

The Ramstein air base in Germany hosts the United States Air Force in Europe (USAFE) headquarters. But the German government claims not to know that Ramstein is a key node in the global drone war against Islamist terror.

Beside USAFE HQ Ramstein, the other key node is Creech, a town in the Nevada desert. Creech hosts a relay hub for USAF bases in ten US states. Optical fibers transmit data to the NSA and to Ramstein.

A drone pilot in Creech begins a mission by logging into the Air and Space Operation Center (AOC) in Ramstein. Pilot commands go via the AOC link to an orbiting satellite and then to the drone. The AOC node is key because no satellite can link Pakistan and the United States directly, and a second satellite in the chain would add too much latency.

The German government has contracted for US use of the Ramstein base provided nothing illegal is done there. German law says war crimes and other violations of international law, even if they are committed by foreigners in other countries, can all be tried in Germany.

AR I visited the Ramstein base in 1987.

2015 April 25

Islamic State

Shashank Joshi

Islamic State (IS) evolved from such jihadi groups as al Qaeda in Iraq after 2003. It resembles them in its ideology, brutality, methods of war, and aspirations to control territory. Differences:

1 Its use of takfir, or excommunication of Muslims, and its willingness to take on Muslim targets
2 Its targeting of Shia Muslims to provoke a response and force vulnerable Sunnis into its arms
3 Its prioritization of the near enemy, apostate Mideast regimes, over attacks on the far enemy

IS has been helped by incorporating remnants of the Baathist Iraqi state. The US decision to disband the Iraqi Army in 2003 was calamitous. Today around a third of the deputies to Caliph Ibrahim are former Iraqi military officers.

IS is defined not by warped Islamic theology but by millenarianism. Extreme religious observance is an identity marker for who will survive the apocalypse and who will perish. IS propaganda is deliberately traumatizing an entire generation. Cult practices plus mass mobilization make IS totalitarian.

AR Crusaders for a clash of civilizations: George W. Bush and Tony Blair

2015 April 24

Digital Democracy

Niall Firth

For some, the birth of the internet spelled the end for politicians.

The most radical answer is liquid democracy. Every voter has a mandate to use as they see fit. The mandate is transferable and voters can decide to pass it on to someone they trust. If you feel strongly about an issue later on you can take back your mandate and vote directly. But because the system does not differentiate between voters and representatives, every vote has to be recorded, open and transparent. So a secret ballot is impossible.

Deliberative democracy focuses on how we can become more involved in deciding the way our lives are run, rather than changing the way we vote. A form of deliberative democracy known as participatory budgeting gives people a direct say in how a percentage of their council budget is spent. This is one of the most widespread and fastest growing democratic practices. It is moving online as new software streamlines the process.

But populism does not necessarily lead to workable outcomes.

2015 St. George's Day

EU on GM Food and Feed

Julie Girling

The EU Commission proposes to allow member states more freedom to restrict or prohibit the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). It sees a need to reflect public views on the use of GMOs "for animal (feed) or human (food) consumption".

GMOs authorized at EU level by food safety watchdog EFSA are already deemed safe. The Commission is ignoring the scientific advice its taxpayers are paying for. It lacks the backbone to stand by the advice.

The EU imports over 70% of its animal feed. The proposal will prevent imports of the animal feed many farmers rely on to feed their livestock. The free movement of people in the EU is sacrosanct but not the free movement of goods.

2015 Earth Day

Climate Change

The Guardian

The Earth League urges world leaders to follow up on their commitments to avoid dangerous global warming. Three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves must be kept in the ground if humanity is to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Progress Eagle

Oscar Vinals

The AWWA·QG Progress Eagle is a design for improving the physical characteristics of commercial aircraft and reducing their environmental impact. Progress Eagle is based on the technology beyond 2030 with ideas from quantum mechanics: engines with zero contaminant emissions and the ability to clean the atmosphere of pollutant particles; innovative configuration including a lifting-body fuselage with three passenger decks and a cockpit with panoramic views; wings with smart and self-repairing skin made from carbon nanotubes and fibers; airframe with a hexagonal structure and a hollow endoskeleton made of titanium and graphene; and triple winglets to enhance aerodynamic efficiency. With six engines, the plane is big enough for up to 800 passengers to fly in hotel luxury.

Pictures
 


Bournemouth Echo
L to R: Vikki Slade, Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Mid Dorset & North Poole; Adrian Oliver, Green Party parliamentary candidate for Poole; Richard Turner, UKIP parliamentary candidate for Mid Dorset & North Poole; Andy Ross, Conservative councillor candidate for Poole Town ward, Borough of Poole; Helen Rosser, Labour parliamentary candidate for Poole
Welfare Benefits
Bournemouth Echo

A hustings event in Poole on Monday featured a Q&A session at the Salvation Army Hall organized by Mencap. On supporting people with learning difficulties to feel confident claiming benefits:

Vikki Slade: "Everyone needs to be treated with dignity and respect."

Adrian Oliver: "The government has a key role in setting the culture in our society."

Richard Turner: "It is important to make sure those people who use the welfare state do need it."

Andy Ross: "Benefits are a right in our society. Those who need them will get them, should get them."


Helen Rosser: "They are needed by some of the most vulnerable people in this country and are extremely important."

Genocide

The extermination of the
Armenians in 1915 has been
marked by an assault by the
Turkish government on its
historical truth. The Israeli government has not been able
to pass an Armenian genocide
resolution. This might be a
time for Israel to rethink.

Threat

Scottish Nationalists threaten to
block the UK military budget until
the renewal of Trident is halted.

AR SNP tail will wag Labour dog.
Vote Conservative.

 

2015 April 21

Scottish Nationalists

John Major

If Labour were to accept an offer of support from the SNP, it could put the UK on course to a government held to ransom on a vote-by-vote basis. Labour would be in hock to a party that slowly but surely will push them ever further to the left. We would pay the SNP ransom in our daily lives, through higher taxes, fewer jobs, and more and more debt. That is no way to run a country.

AR Vote Conservative.

2015 April 20

Einstein

Freeman Dyson

Albert Einstein was deeply involved with the Zionist movement promoting the settlement of Jews in Palestine. He tried to stop the Jewish people from becoming another nationalistic culture glorifying military strength. But he continued to support Israel while criticizing it.

Einstein also spoke out against the militarization of America: "The arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union, initiated originally as a preventive measure, assumes hysterical proportions. On both sides, means of mass destruction are being perfected with feverish haste and behind walls of secrecy. ... And at the end, looming ever clearer, lies general annihilation."

In 1955, Einstein joined with Bertrand Russell to make a public statement: "In view of the fact that in any future world war nuclear weapons will certainly be employed, and that such weapons threaten the continued existence of mankind, we urge the Governments of the world to realize, and to acknowledge publicly, that their purposes cannot be furthered by a world war, and we urge them, consequently, to find peaceful means for the settlement of all matters of dispute between them."

Is Zionism Racist?

Anne Roiphe

Zionism is a nationalism. It makes a claim for the Jewish people that they are a folk like other folk and entitled to a land of their own just like the French have France and the English have England.

The dream of return existed long before the Holocaust. It existed before Herzl and the Zionists. This vision of an end to exile kept the Jews together and brought them hope through the years spent in Babylon millennia ago.

Jews are not racists to want a land of their own. The Zionism of the Jewish people is just a bid to be a nation. It was hoped that Israel would not enslave anyone. It was hoped that Israel would treat the strangers who lived among its people with justice and equality. Zionism is not racist.

AR Nationalism is better than racism, but not always by much. Samuel Johnson: "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel."

2015 April 19

Politics

Ed Miliband

I am positioned where the mainstream of politics is positioned. I want to reach out to voters who worry about our place in the European Union, who really think we can do a lot better as a country.

Who is going to stand up to tax avoidance? Who is going to stand up to energy companies? Who is going to stand up to banks? That is absolutely something I think will appeal to Tory voters.

AR David Cameron already appeals to Tory voters. Former Labour home secretary Alan Johnson on Labour's economic failure: "There is no soundbite that we have got to equal the claim that we maxed out on your credit card."

Philosophy of Economics

Brian Leiter

Marx thought technological innovation under capitalism would produce a falling rate of profit for capitalist enterprises, but he thought this because he accepted the labor theory of value, which is false. Yet at the limit technological innovation under capitalism will produce a falling rate of profit because the elimination of human labor will reduce the total pool of consumers. Is there a good discussion of this in the economic literature?

AR Try this: Innovative deployment of robot labor will raise productivity and hence profits so long as disemployed workers get paid enough by the state to keep spending. Circulation of money: capitalists concentrate money in profits and governments spread it again in welfare, just like a fountain powered by a pump from the pond below. Those in the money cycle act as selectors, voting with their spending for things that go to make up a "good" society. Income inequalities will skew spending toward elite goods. Politics will focus on "optimizing" the level of equality.

2015 April 18

Philosophy of Politics and Economics

New Statesman

All elections are uncertain but this one is more so. Look to the transformation of society and the world of work over the past 60 years and their relationship with the political establishment. The absorption of UK democratic institutions by transnational financial power is the result of a long national decline and the circumstances of the financial crisis.

Political thought has not kept up with the new reality. Socialism was discredited worldwide as an economic system by the collapse of the Soviet Union. British socialism failed by turning its back on the psychology of productive business and by selling out to casino capitalism.

Neoliberalism was discredited worldwide as an economic system by the financial crisis in 2008. The gap widened between the rich and the rest in the ownership of wealth.

Both socialist and neoliberal economic thinking favored big organizations. The cost argument too often ignored the need for competition and choice or the dangers of concentrated power.

Advanced technology accelerated the spirit of individualism. Each individual had to look into his own abilities and life choices in forming a career best suited to his personal interests. Socialist collectivism became obsolete. Authoritarian right wing politics became equally repulsive.

As business ownership and control became a game of musical chairs, enterprises were managed not to maximize market share or serve consumer interests but to maximize quarterly profit. As national assets were mortgaged to transnational interests, house prices rose beyond the reach of the young.

Personal property is a human right. Widening business ownership will encourage a more innovative and productive economy. For big companies, company law should be amended to give employees a say and a financial stake in them. Capitalism based on high wages and a more equal distribution of wealth will outperform the Anglo-American model.

2015 April 17

Scot-Lab Disgrace

The Times

In the BBC TV election debate last night SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon warned Labour leader Ed Miliband that he would never be forgiven if he turned his back on a deal with her to keep the Tories out of power. Sturgeon called the prime minister's absence a disgrace: "I want Ed to replace the Tories with something better."

AR Do we want to let this self-opinionated Scots ingenue call the shots for England, wreck the recovery with spending and borrowing, and break up the UK to boot? Hell no! Vote Tory!

Global News

Foreign Policy

Supported by Google Ideas, the GDELT project monitors the world's broadcast, print, and web news in over 100 languages. It deploys streaming machine translation to translate the news into English in real time. For some languages GDELT achieves the accuracy level of Google Translate. For others it can robustly recognize key themes and flag an article for a human analyst.

AR We studied this application area for our SAP engine.

2015 April 16

Iran

Foreign Policy

We are witnessing a struggle for regional dominance between a coalition grouped around Saudi Arabia and one around Iran. Sunni-Shiite enmity is not the best explanation. This is a naked struggle for power.

The regimes are all reactionary survivors of the Arab Spring. The Iranians mercilessly crushed the Green Revolution in 2009, and have backed authoritarian partners in Iraq and Syria. On the other side, the Arab monarchs from the Gulf have extended their writ through payoffs and violence.

The Saudi bloc wants to turn back the clock. The Iranian bloc wants to alter the regional balance of power. Both factions are run by opaque, secretive, repressive, and violent leaders. Neither side is interested in popular accountability, better governance, or the rights of citizens.

Tehran has extended its influence carefully, hedging its bets by supporting multiple groups in every conflict zone and always maintaining a degree of remove. This blueprint has served Iran well. Saudi Arabia has entered the Yemen war directly, with no cover.

The regime in Tehran positions itself as the regional champion of pluralism and minorities. The Saudi grouping has a philosophy dangerously close to the nihilism of al Qaeda and the Islamic State. The trend points in favor of Iran.

2015 April 15

EU Leaders Oppose Changes

The Times

European leaders are said to oppose David Cameron's call for European Union treaty change in the run-up to a British referendum because of the danger of copycat popular votes spreading across Europe.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker ruled out changes to the EU treaty until late 2019 and European Parliament president Martin Schulz said treaty change was too risky in the present political climate. President Hollande of France and others worry that a new treaty would generate calls for popular votes in France or the Netherlands.

Lib Dem and UKIP Manifestos

The Guardian

If the opinion polls are right, UKIP will get more votes than the Liberal Democrats in the general election on 7 May, but most observers think Lib Dems will end up with more MPs than UKIP.

The UKIP manifesto is a populist pitch for the protest vote and a ragbag of prejudices against the modern world. The Lib Dem manifesto is a carefully calibrated and costed job application for partnership in government, with a focus on balancing the budget, on education funding, raising personal allowances, NHS spending, and the green agenda.

UKIP and Lib Dems agree that the British electoral system is bust. Both say Britain must have a more proportional system if politics and government are to regain credibility.
 


USAF
On April 7, a USAF RC-135U
Combat Sent SIGINT aircraft
was intercepted over the Baltic Sea by a Russian Air Force
Su 27 Flanker in an "unsafe
and unprofessional manner"
says US EUCOM

AR War with Russia would
go nuclear. Does Trident
make the UK safer?

 

2015 April 14

Conservative Manifesto

David Cameron

We are the party of working people, offering you security at every stage of your life.

Our manifesto sets out how we will make this a country where those who work hard and do the right thing can enjoy a good life:

The personal tax-free allowance raised to £12,500
No 40p tax until you're earning £50,000
The family home taken out of Inheritance Tax
£8 billion more a year for our NHS
Rail fares frozen for five years
Welfare controlled to reward work
Multinationals pursued so they pay their tax
The Right to Buy extended to 1.3 million extra families
30 hours of free childcare a week for working families with 3 and 4 year-olds
Everyone earning the Minimum Wage lifted out of income tax altogether

We have come this far together. Let's build on the progress we have made.

2015 April 13

Two Monsters

John Lukacs

Stalin and Hitler were allies for 22 months. The Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 1939 included a Secret Protocol defining a division of Eastern Europe. In September Poland was invaded by the Nazis from the west and the Soviets from the east. In 1940 the German armies conquered Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium, and France. Churchill and Britain stood alone, for more than a year to come.

In Poland the Soviet occupation in the east was at least as brutal and murderous as the Nazi occupation in the west. Hitler decided to exterminate the Jews in September 1941 and the work started in January 1942, but their fate had been foreshadowed by the Nazi-Soviet Pact.

The German attack in June 1941 shocked Stalin into silence at first. In September he wrote to Churchill that the Soviet Union was in mortal danger. By 1942 he recognized that he would gain more from his alliance with Britain and the United States than with Germany.

In December 1941, Churchill sent his foreign secretary Anthony Eden to Moscow. Stalin to Eden: "Hitler's problem was that he does not know where to stop." Eden: "Does anyone?" Stalin: "I do."

AR UK survival in a world with such monsters needs Trident.

2015 April 12

Time to move on from Trident

The Guardian

Pinning our security on a nuclear deterrent encourages others to do the same. The UK should become the first permanent member of the UN Security Council to give up all its nuclear weapons. Instead of protecting us, hosting nuclear weapons makes us a target. Having nuclear weapons diverts resources and attention from tackling our most urgent security problems.

Peter Higgs, Michael Atiyah, and others

AR These are men whose work in physics and mathematics I admire.

Trident Alternatives Review

HM Government, 2013

Nuclear deterrence has a unique role in deterring extreme threats to UK vital interests which cannot be countered by other means. A potential aggressor needs to believe that the UK has the capability and resolve to deliver unacceptable loss in response to an actual or imminent attack.

This review aims to establish if other postures or weapons systems might deliver a credible alternative. The different systems and postures differ in the level of assurance of second strike capability. The highest level of assurance the UK can attain with a single deterrent system is SSBN CASD.

Design and delivery of a new BM thermonuclear warhead is likely to take 17 years. Delivering one for an alternative system would take longer. This warhead timescale is longer than the V-class SSBN can safely be operated.

The costs of credible options that could meet a 2040 date were compared against the cost of procuring 3 or 4 Successor SSBN. Cost estimates cover the development, procurement and in-service support of a new system, as well as transitioning from the current system.

The cost driver for the Trident options is SSBN construction. The cost driver for all non-Trident options is the warhead. The delay requires 2 new Successor SSBN to fill the gap before a CM deterrent is available.

Alternatives to Trident could enable the UK to deter most potential adversaries. Alternative non-continuous postures could offer reduced readiness when the UK assesses the threat to be low. None of the alternatives reviewed offers the same degree of resilience as CASD.

The costs of delivering an alternative system could have been cheaper were it not for timing and the fact that the UK deterrent infrastructure is finely tuned to support Trident. Bridging the time it would take to develop a new warhead would involve procuring 2 x Successor SSBN so that a Trident-based deterrent remains available until at least 2040. That makes transitioning to any of the realistic alternative systems more expensive than a Successor SSBN fleet.

AR This is all about jobs in warhead and submarine construction. Retask the warhead teams to civilian nuclear power systems, retask the shipyards to SSN and surface warship construction, and we could scrap our nuclear deterrent, have a stronger navy, and save money.

Tony Blair

Newsweek

Tony Blair is retiring as Mideast Quartet Representative. He says the Mideast is a prime example of politics "getting in the way" of peace. The negotiators were all politicians and progress was impossible. By the end of 2014 a quarter of all Palestinians and a half of all Gazans lived on $2 a day or less. To fight religious extremism, he has established the Tony Blair Faith Foundation.

Tony Blair hailed "a bright new dawn for Britain" on the morning of his 1997 election victory. As prime minister, he wrote in A Journey: "I had started by buying the notion, and then selling the notion, that to be in touch with opinion was the definition of good leadership."

A decade later: "I was ending by counting such a notion of little value and defining leadership not as knowing what people wanted and trying to satisfy them, but knowing what I thought was in their best interest and trying to do it. Pleasing all of the people all of the time was not possible; but even if it had been, it was a worthless ambition."

His own method in power was to study an issue, canvass opinion, note the debate, come to his own conclusions, and lead. Opposition was the price paid by true leaders.

2015 April 11

A purity principle might banish quantum weirdness

2015 April 10

UK Nuclear Deterrent

The Times

David Cameron: "Only the Conservatives are absolutely guaranteeing a full replacement of Trident with four submarines and continuous at sea deterrence. It is important that in a dangerous, insecure world we have that ultimate insurance policy."

AR I am rethinking my approach to nuclear war. A British deterrent based on F-35C and B61-12 would fail to guarantee massive and unacceptable damage on a potential aggressor. A leader as reckless as President Putin might laugh it off. Only Trident with four boats trumps that. So British taxpayers must shoulder the £100 billion lifetime cost and make cuts elsewhere — or try to get our European NATO allies to share the burden, of course.

2015 April 9

Signs of Alien Life by 2025

Los Angeles Times

NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan: "I believe we are going to have strong indications of life beyond Earth in the next decade and definitive evidence in the next 10 to 20 years. We know where to look, we know how to look, and in most cases we have the technology."

2015 April 8

Earth Systems

Margaret Thatcher (1988)

For generations, we have assumed that the efforts of mankind would leave the fundamental equilibrium of the world's systems and atmosphere stable. But it is possible that with all these enormous changes — population, agricultural, use of fossil fuels — concentrated into such a short period of time, we have unwittingly begun a massive experiment with the system of this planet itself.

Stable prosperity can be achieved throughout the world, provided the environment is nurtured and safeguarded. Protecting this balance of nature is therefore one of the great challenges of the late 20th century.

Fossil Fueled Climate Change

Michael Greenstone

The goal for the international climate talks this December in Paris is a treaty on emissions that will seek to limit the rise in global temperatures to 2 K above preindustrial levels. Beyond 2 K, scientists say, the most catastrophic climate consequences will occur.

Total projected warming from fossil fuels extracted so far and the projected warming capacity of various fossil fuels that can be extracted with present technology using a standard model for the relationship between cumulative carbon emissions and temperature changes: 9 K.

Three solutions:
1 Price carbon emissions to reflect the damages from climate change.
2 Make energy sources like nuclear and solar cheaper than fossil fuels.
3 Continue using fossil fuels but capture and store the carbon.

2015 April 7

Europe

"Leaving Europe would leave Britain diminished in the world, do significant damage to our economy and, less obviously but just as important to our future, would go against the very qualities that mark us out still as a great global nation."
Tony Blair

"I want changes in Europe but then, unlike Tony Blair, I will trust the people in an in-out referendum. We should ask people if they want to stay a member of this organization. You cannot ignore the will of the people."
David Cameron

2015 April 6

Iran and the Obama Doctrine

Thomas L. Friedman interviews President Barack Obama
New York Times video (46:14)

AR Deeply reassuring.
 


CERN
Large Hadron Collider

"Anti-porn feminism recognises
a link between the propaganda of
sexual violence and its practice,
and stopping porn is understood
to be essential in ending the
rapes, killings and torture that
men practice against women."
Sarah Ditum


AP
IRAN
Menschen in Teheran bejubeln

die Einigung im Atomstreit.
Sie hoffen auf einen Wirtschafts
-aufschwung und bessere
Beziehungen
zum Westen.


"I thought this framework
was going to suck. Actually,
it's not bad."
Jeffrey Lewis


ME nations now worry
about the rise of Iran


MiG-35

Kleptocrats

Utility and reward: The most
lucrative jobs tend to cause the
greatest harm, the most useful
workers tend to be paid least.

Most frontline care workers
receive less than the living wage.
But those who own or run a care
company make more profit the
more they cut. The less they
care, the richer they become.

Chief executives in the UK took
60 times as much as the average
worker 20 years ago and 180
times as much today. Theft is
praised as wealth creation.

 

2015 Easter Sunday

CERN LHC Restarts

Press Association

This morning scientists are restarting the Large Hadron Collider after an upgrade. Two years ago the team operating the €5 billion LHC discovered the Higgs boson.

In a few weeks the beam energy level will be raised to 13 TeV. CERN press head Arnaud Marsollier: "We will have collisions at energies we've never had before. If something interesting appears in this new window we will see it."

The first collision experiments should be in June. ATLAS team lead David Charlton: "We're heading for unexplored territory."

CERN live blog

AR I want supersymmetry. A dark matter story would be nice too.

The European Problem

Nick Cohen

Many Conservative party members see the European Union as an aggressive imperial power. Half of them want to leave. Conservatives suppressed a series of civil service reports on alleged EU interference in British life when not one report found that too much power resided in Brussels.

Asking the EU to end the free movement of labour would be asking the EU to abolish itself. Tearing up the social chapter is beyond our powers. The EU does not guarantee strong workers' rights anyway. The Economist: "Britain's workers are a bargain because their pay is so pitiful."

If Britain votes narrowly to stay in, you cannot expect Eurosceptics to accept the result. If Britain votes to leave, many big companies say they will leave Britain. Scotland may join the rush to the door. A UK outside the EU would no longer be the country Scotland voted to stay with in 2014.

After more fiscal consolidation, local government will be unable to provide essential services, the police and armed services will struggle to maintain law and order, and the NHS will crack. The UK would renegotiate trade agreements with the rest of the world from a position of weakness.

AR This Labour man has overstated his case, but there is a lot of truth here.

2015 April 4

Yemen: Saudi Arabia Versus Iran

Der Spiegel

A Saudi Arabia-led, largely Sunni coalition of nine countries seeks to push back Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen. Coalition jets have struck not only military targets but also a refugee camp.

Aside from Israel, no country views the new Iran pact with as much skepticism as Saudi Arabia. Like the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, the conflict in Yemen looks like a proxy war between Riyadh and Tehran.

The Sunni-Shiite struggle has the potential to destroy Yemen and turn into a disaster for Saudi Arabia. Ayatollah Khamenei is popular in Iran and seen as a leader who is negotiating with the West as an equal. His adversary on the Arabian Peninsula is the aging King Salman. The war poses great risks to the House of Saud.

Hard Truth

Roger Scruton

The integration of the Muslim community into our cities is a problem. Our political class transferred to teachers the whole obligation to integrate new immigrant communities.

Our society has gone terribly wrong. People have not been confronting the loss of the Christian faith, the inability to confront Islam, the loss of the sense of the sacredness of the sexual relation, and the exposure of young women both to external predation and to moral decay.

The battle to maintain a proper educational system was lost. The multiculturalists wanted to destroy the old education system as they saw it. At stake is the survival of western civilization.

2015 April 3

IRAN

The White House

Key parameters of a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran's nuclear program that were decided in Lausanne, Switzerland:

Enrichment
Iran has agreed to reduce by approximately two-thirds its installed centrifuges. Iran has agreed to reduce its current stockpile of about 10 Mg of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to 300 kg of 3.67% LEU for 15 years. All excess centrifuges and enrichment infrastructure will be placed in IAEA monitored storage. Iran's breakout timeline will be extended to at least one year, for a duration of at least 10 years.

Inspections and Transparency
The IAEA will have regular access to all of Iran's nuclear facilities. Inspectors will have access to the supply chain that supports Iran's nuclear program. Iran will implement measures to address IAEA concern regarding the Possible Military Dimensions (PMD) of its program.

Reactors and Reprocessing
Iran has agreed to redesign and rebuild a heavy water research reactor in Arak, based on a design agreed by the P5+1. Iran has committed indefinitely to not conduct reprocessing or reprocessing research and development on spent nuclear fuel.

Sanctions
US and EU nuclear-related sanctions will be suspended after the IAEA has verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear-related steps. US sanctions on Iran for terrorism, human rights abuses, and ballistic missiles will remain in place.

Phasing
For 10 years, Iran will limit domestic enrichment capacity and research and development, ensuring a breakout timeline of at least one year. Iran will remain a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

AR Well done, P5+1 (a.k.a. E3/EU+3).

The Anthropocene

Jedediah Purdy

The Holocene epoch lasted 12,000 years. Estimates put the global human population between 1 million and 10 million at the start of the Holocene.

Now we live in the Anthropocene era. The familiar contrast between people and the natural world no longer holds. The world we inhabit is increasingly the world we have made. We cannot avoid responsibility for the world we are making.

Anthropocene inequality has an affinity with neoliberalism, the global extension of market logic. Environmental economics uses the concept of the externality, a harm or benefit that has no price tag, and so is ignored in market decisions.

Ultimately, the question is the value of life. There is no correct technocratic answer. Either the Anthropocene will be democratic or it will be horrible. Your vulnerability to disaster often reflects your standing in a political and economic order.

Anthropocene ideas can prompt people to organize in new ways. The idea of human rights gained much of its force this way.

AR Think Globorg.

2015 April 2

Iran: A Deal!

CNN, 1910 GMT

Baltic Threat

The Times

Russian generals at a meeting in Germany discussed:

Crimea: Any attempt to return it to Ukraine would be met with force, including nuclear force.
East Ukraine: Any NATO supply of weapons to Kiev would prompt a forceful response.
The Baltic States: Conditions are like those in Ukraine, which pushed Russia to act.

NATO members Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are warning the West of Russian ambitions in their territories. NATO is reinforcing them.

Governance

Neil deGrasse Tyson

You base governance on things that are objectively true, regardless of your belief system. The issue is not that there are religious people in the world that have one view over another but that you want to legislate that in a way that affects everyone.

There are religions and belief systems, and objective truths. And if we're going to govern a country, we need to base that governance on objective truths, not your personal belief system.

2015 April 1

America Versus Iran

CNN

Iran is using talks to shield its hegemonic ambitions in the Mideast. Its Revolutionary Guard Corps and a host of proxies are filling the power gap left by the US departure from Iraq and the collapse of authoritarian governments.
 

Iran
Der Spiegel

The United States is currently rethinking the Mideast. Hopes of a nuclear deal with Iran leave relations with Israel at a new low. Fracking liberates America from Gulf oil, so when Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran fight for regional supremacy America may align with Iran.

President Obama sees Islamic State as the danger and Iran as the victor. The most powerful man in Iraq is Iranian general Qasem Soleimani — "Supermani" — who leads the al-Quds Brigades, a private army under the control of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Americans are impressed by his professionalism and see his elite troops as their boots on the ground.

A shift in US-Iranian relations is under way. The nuclear conflict between Tehran and the West is over a decade old. A breakthrough seems possible. The West wants the IAEA to be able to inspect all facilities at any time and without prior notification. But Iran blocks any measures that might limit its national sovereignty. The two sides face a stalemate.

Ayatollah Khamenei: "Just like the Americans, I am of the opinion that no deal is better than a bad deal."

AR Let's befriend Iran.

Poldark
BBC
Poldark — unexpectedly good


DE
CAD image of a proposed tower
at the site of my childhood
houseboat


Canvassing in
Hamworthy

Global Warming

Is the UN target of limiting global warming to 2 K enough? Writing in Climate Change Responses, Petra Tschakert says we need a 1.5 K target. Hans-Otto Pörtner, an IPCC Fifth Assessment Report author, said some species would struggle with 2 K warming but most should cope with 1.5 K.


BM
Defining Beauty
The Body in Ancient Greek Art
British Museum, London
2015-03-26 — 2015-07-05


NS
British politics is broken


Lit Motors
Electric car for one
with gyro stability

AR Like


easyJet
Solar eclipse viewed from easyJet flight EZY1805 from Manchester to Reykjavik on Friday

Inselvolk

Anglo-Saxons in British genes: most white British people now owe almost 30% of their DNA to the ancestors of modern Germans.

 

2015 March 31

America Versus Islamic State

Rolling Stone

"Thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our troops and the determination of our diplomats, we are hopeful about Iraq's future," said Barack Obama in March 2011.

In June 2014, Islamic State militias took Mosul. Its fall triggered a catastrophic collapse of Iraqi forces across the country. Huge areas and millions of citizens fell into the clutches of ISIS, who also captured enormous quantities of US-supplied weapons.

A pageant of savagery included crucifixions, slavery, and beheadings. IS propagandists understood that spectacle was reality, and that this reality could spread virally across the globe, summoning the clash of civilizations they sought.

Since then, the US military commitment in Iraq has steadily escalated. Congress approved a bill to spend $5 billion to fight Islamic State and now Obama has asked Congress to authorize a new war.

2015 March 30

UK Election

David Cameron

Five years ago, Britain was on the brink. Millions of people were unemployed, there was no economic security for our families and there were worries about whether our country could pay its debt.

Five years later, because of our long-term economic plan and the difficult decisions we have taken, we have more people in work than at any time in our history, living standards are on the rise and we are more economically secure.

Britain is back on its feet again: 1000 jobs are being created every single day and 760,000 more businesses have started up. Last year our economy grew faster than any other major advanced economy in the world.

After five years of effort and sacrifice, Britain is on the right track. This election is about moving forward. As prime minister, that is what I will deliver.

Poll Position

Paul Goodman

Sunday Times poll: Conservatives 32%, Labour 36%
Observer poll: Conservatives 34%, Labour 33%

The conventional wisdom is that the Conservatives will overtake Labour in poll share before polling day. One analysis of the polls puts Cameron ahead of Miliband as a leader and as best prime minister. Is this the moment when the polls turned for Cameron and put him on course to beat Miliband?

No. Liam Fox: "Successful political parties don't pick personalities and hope the agenda follows."

Drift To Brexit

The Guardian

UK prime minister David Cameron looks marginalized in the European Union. The Germans, the Scandinavians, the east Europeans, even the French are all keen to keep Britain in the EU, but their readiness for concessions will be tested if he wins a second term and gives Europhobia free rein.

EC president Donald Tusk says he wants to help solve the problem in a "limited and rational way" but rules out a renegotiation of the Lisbon treaty. In 2012, the UK government ordered a review of the costs and benefits of EU membership. It found no case for repatriating powers from Brussels.

2015 March 29

Deep Space

Wired

Humans have not left LEO since 1972, when astronauts last walked on the moon. Robot spacecraft have ventured to almost every corner of the solar system. When it comes to science, robots win:

Rosetta is orbiting a comet, waiting for the Philae lander to wake up.
Dawn is at the icy dwarf planet Ceres, which might have a subsurface ocean.
New Horizons is set to become the first spacecraft to visit Pluto.
Juno is scheduled to arrive at Jupiter next summer.
Cassini has been studying the Saturnian system for more than a decade.
Curiosity continues to rove around on the surface of Mars.
Messenger is wrapping up a mission at Mercury.

The human space program has a purpose. We humans are perpetually in jeopardy if we stay on Earth, whether from nuclear war, climate apocalypse, or a killer asteroid. To survive, we have to spread out.

NASA has started work on a new Orion spacecraft and the space launch system. But it cannot afford to visit Mars. Under existing budget constraints, it never will.

2015 March 28

SETI

Seth Shostak

Astronomers have long known SETI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Now some say we should encourage a response from aliens by transmitting messages. Active SETI is controversial.

Advertising our existence could be a mortal threat to the planet. Stephen Hawking noted that on Earth, when less advanced societies drew the attention of those more advanced, the consequences for the former were seldom agreeable.

I think this concern is overwrought. The nearest intelligent ETs are likely to be many light years away. Simple exchanges would take decades. Maybe we should offer the aliens Big Data. We could transmit the contents of the Internet. A powerful laser could beam the data in a few days.

Some say we should choose caution and forbid powerful transmissions to the skies. But we can do better than to declare that future generations should endlessly tremble at the sight of the stars.

AR I supported passive SETI but I say no to an interstellar WikiLeak.

Iran

John R. Bolton

President Obama’s approach on Iran has brought a bad situation to the brink of catastrophe.

Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear weapons has long been evident. Now the arms race has begun. Saudi Arabia has long been expected to move first. No way would the Sunni Saudis allow the Shiite Persians to outpace them in the quest for dominance within Islam and Mideast geopolitical hegemony. Analysts believe Saudi Arabia has an option to obtain nuclear weapons from Pakistan, allowing it to go nuclear overnight. Egypt and Turkey would be right behind.

Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal: "Whatever comes out of these talks, we will want the same."

2015 March 27

Iran

Myron Magnet

President Barack Obama is about to repeat the mistake of appeasing Iran that President Jimmy Carter made decades ago.

In 1979, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini engineered a revolution in Iran and declared the Islamic Republic of Iran. On November 4, a mob of students invaded and seized the American embassy in Tehran and took its employees hostage. The hostages endured 444 days of captivity.

President Carter responded by entangling himself in a bewildering web of fruitless negotiations at the UN and the World Court. He should have told the mullahs that they had 48 hours to release our citizens unharmed, or else we would bomb the holy city of Qom.

Anyone who wants to keep his hands clean should stay out of politics. Bombing Iran in 1979 would have given the world proof of US resolve as a global superpower not to be attacked with impunity.

Winston Churchill rebuked Neville Chamberlain when he returned from Munich in 1938: "You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor, and you will have war."

President Obama has chosen dishonor.

AR A hard claim: I hope it proves wrong.

2015 March 26

Heretic

Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Five fundamentals of Islam that need to be removed or significantly diluted:

1 The status of the Koran as the last and immutable word of God
2 The emphasis on the afterlife over the here-and-now
3 The concept of jihad or holy war
4 The writ of sharia law in everyday life
5 The obligation for Muslims to command right and forbid wrong

Muslims need to understand Mohammed as a real man in the context of his times and the Koran as a historically constructed text, not as a divine instruction manual.

2015 March 25

Nukes

John Mecklin

The United States plans to modernize about 200 B61 nuclear bombs hosted at air bases in five NATO countries. The upgrade to B61-12 will make it into a precision guided standoff weapon able to attack the same targets as previous gravity bombs but more accurately and efficiently, using smaller yields that would create less collateral damage and less radioactive fallout.

Under current plans, approximately 480 B61-12s are set to be produced for five different aircraft. In addition to deployment in Europe, the USAF intends to use the B61-12 to arm not only F-35A but also
B-2 and B-52 bombers based in America. Estimated ultimate cost of the B61 modernization program: over $10 billion.

Countries with nuclear weapons have recently embarked on big programs to renew the strategic and tactical weapons in their arsenals. Russia is replacing all its Soviet-era nuclear weapons systems. The proposed US maintenance and modernization program is projected to cost some $355 billion over the next decade and $1 trillion or more over 30 years.

The nuclear investments are designed to make weapons harder to shoot down and more precise and reliable. With about 16,000 nuclear weapons still on the planet, nuclear nations have no intention of giving up their nukes anytime soon.

AR The UK Trident is all or nothing, and could be finessed in a crisis with a skilled opponent. An air-launched PGM based on F-35 and B61-12 makes more sense for realistic European scenarios where collateral damage is an issue.

2015 March 24

Slouching Toward Mecca

Mark Lilla

Michel Houellebecq said a decade ago that whoever created monotheistic religion was a cretin and that of all the faiths Islam was the dumbest. His novel Soumission puts us in 2022, when France elects its first Muslim president.

Over the months, a new social model develops, with the polygamous family at its center. Men have different wives for sex, childbearing, and affection. The wives pass through all these stages as they age, but never have to worry about being abandoned. They are always surrounded by their children, who have lots of siblings and feel loved by their parents, who never divorce.

Houellebecq creates a character, Rediger, who writes sophistical books defending Islamic doctrine. His Islamists idealize the life of piety and despise modern culture. They believe in hierarchy within the family, with wives and children there to serve the father. They hate diversity and see high birthrates as a signs of civilizational health. And they quiver with the eros of violence. But Europe is dying and Islam is flourishing. If Europe is to have a future, it will have to be an Islamic one.

Rediger says the summit of human happiness is to be found in absolute submission: children to parents, women to men, and men to God. And in return, one receives life back in all its splendor. The Koran is an immense mystical poem in praise of the God who created the perfect world we find ourselves in, and teaches us how to achieve happiness in it through obedience.

Soumission is a classic novel of European cultural pessimism. Houellebecq seems to think France has lost its sense of self. Europeans lost their bet that more freedom would make them happier, and now they submit to God.

AR Lilla has interesting views on Europe and God.

2015 March 22

Is There a Market for Peerages?

The Observer

A group of Oxford academics claim there is a significant statistical relationship between political party donations and nominations for UK peerages. The academics examined the 303 Lords nominations between 2005 and the third quarter of 2014 and all donations since 2001. They isolated prominent people who would be expected to be nominated, leaving 92 others, who donated between them 98% of all the donations coming from nominees to the Lords. Among those, 27 donated 95% of the total. The 27 came from a larger pool of 779 big donors who stood out on electoral commission records.

The academics argue that lifetime appointments to the UK House of Lords are in effect being sold. Yet constitutional reform is unlikely to be top of the agenda of any of the major political parties in the general election. The drive for reform must come from within Westminster. Those working there are well aware that something is seriously wrong.

AR Reform Parliament now!

Bad Thinkers

Quassim Cassam

The problem with conspiracy theorists is how they interpret and respond to the relevant information at their disposal. This is fundamentally a question of the way they are.

Intellectual vices are tendencies to think in certain ways. Differences in intellectual character help to explain why people in the same situation end up believing different things.

Like other bad habits, intellectual bad habits can be too deeply entrenched to change. The only remedy is to try to mitigate the harm the vices do to their owners and to others.

2015 March 21

Sustainable Economics

Prince Charles

We face the dual challenges of a world view and an economic system that seem to have enormous shortcomings, together with an environmental crisis which threatens to engulf us all. Our ability to adapt to the effects of climate change depends upon us adapting our pursuit of unlimited economic growth to that of sustainable economic growth. And that depends upon basing our approach on the fundamental resilience of our ecosystems. Ecosystem resilience leads to economic resilience.

2015 March 20

Robot Revolution

Sue Halpern

Year after year, the software that runs computers and other machines and devices becomes more sophisticated and powerful. Machines now account for 10% of all manufacturing tasks and are likely to perform about 25% of them by 2025. Algorithms are writing most corporate reports, analyzing intelligence data, reading mammograms, grading tests, and sniffing out plagiarism. Computers do drug development.

Whenever the workforce is subject to automation, technological unemployment must follow. Technological progress will leave many people behind as it races ahead. Even where automation does not eliminate jobs, it often changes the nature of work. Automation dulls the brain, removing the need to pay attention or master complicated routines or think creatively and react quickly. Google is making us mindless sloths.

We live in a technophilic age. We love our digital devices and all that they can do for us. It is naive to believe that government is competent, let alone in a position, to control the development and deployment of robots, algorithms, and artificial intelligence. Government departments have their own visions of the technological future. Business resists regulation. We, the people, are at risk.

2015 March 19

UK Budget

George Osborne

We have got a plan that is working:
A growing economy
A record number of jobs
Rising living standards
The deficit down
National debt starting to fall as a share of the economy

China

Richard Vague

China is now sitting on top of the greatest accumulation of bad debt and overcapacity in history. More than 1 in 5 homes in urban areas is vacant and millions remain unsold. There are other red flags. Chinese researchers say China has wasted $6.8 trillion in investment.

Good loans result in GDP growth. When private loan growth outstrips GDP growth, much of that excess will be problem loans. China may have $2 trillion to $3 trillion in problem loans. Chinese banks and shadow lenders are not reporting bad loans close to this amount.

2015 March 18

Right On, Bibi

Jerusalem Post

Israel opposition leader Isaac Herzog: "A few minutes ago I spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and congratulated him on his achievement and wished him luck."

2015 March 17

Carbon Politics

Matt Ridley

Carbon dioxide is not the most urgent problem facing humanity. But the next British government will be legally committed to cutting our CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050. About 90% of our total energy still involves emitting CO2. The expansion of nuclear and renewables is not going nearly fast enough, because electricity comprises just one third of our energy use. We will have to switch to electric cars and heating to cut CO2.

With present technology, we cannot decarbonize our power cheaply. We could extract CO2 from power station exhaust by carbon capture and storage (CCS), but CCS reduces the efficiency of the power station from about 35% to maybe 26% and roughly trebles the price to about the same as power from an offshore wind farm. For now, there is no way to meet our decarbonization target without bankrupting the country.
 


Johan Rockström/TED





King John and barons, 1215
Magna Carta
Law — Liberty — Legacy
British Library
2015-03-13 — 2015-09-01

"Give a man a fire and he's
warm for a day, but set fire
to him and he's warm for
the rest of his life."
Terry Pratchett
(1948-2015)


USASC


NASA

Houseboats

AR A little essay
about my childhood
published in Poole
Harbour Times

 

2015 March 16

New US Bomber

Loren Thompson

The new US Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B, probably a.k.a. B-3) is coming soon. The USAF plans to buy 80-100 of them at $550 million each, with initial fielding in 2025. It will:

1 Have an unrefueled range of over 5,000 nautical miles (over 9 Mm)

2 Carry less payload than previous bombers
Even at half the payload of the B-2, the B-3 could still destroy dozens of different targets in a single sortie using lightweight smart bombs.

3 Cost more than $550 million per plane
The target price of $550 million per bomber is expressed in fiscal 2010 dollars. It covers the cost of manufacture, not amortization of a $20 billion R&D program. The total bill may look more like $900 million per plane.

4 Not contain breakthrough technologies
The B-2 bomber was designed for penetration of hostile airspace during a nuclear war. The B-3 is likely to adapt technology from other programs.

5 Not be supersonic
The USAF will probably opt for more on-board EW gear rather than a supersonic dash capability.

6 Not be unmanned
The fiscal 2016 budget summary describes the LRS-B as nuclear capable and optionally manned. The combination sounds so controversial the USAF is likely to skip it.

7 Look different from the B-2
Experts speculate the B-3 will be another flying-wing design like the B-2. But the B-2 was conceived decades ago and stealth has moved on.

8 Rely more on off-board capabilities
The B-3 will be the first information-age USAF bomber. All the legacy bombers in the current fleet were designed before networking became central to warfare. The B-3 will need to stay connected.

9 More than a hundred strong
The USAF says it wants 80-100 B-3s, but by the time they are produced, all its current bombers will be facing retirement. If the B-3 works, the USAF will likely replace the whole fleet.

10 Built by Boeing.

AR Another $100 billion. RAF planners may want a few.

2015 March 15

Violence and War

John Gray

Some say human beings are becoming less violent and more altruistic. This has come about largely through the increasing power of the state. Nuclear weapons keep the peace, and fear of their use prevents conflict between great powers.

But advances in ethics and politics are erratic, discontinuous, and easily lost. Amid the general drift, peace and freedom alternate with war and tyranny, eras of increasing wealth with periods of economic collapse. Civilization remains inherently fragile.

2015 March 14

Pi Day

Manil Suri

March 14 is Pi Day — 3.14.15. Pi is irrational and absurd. It opens a window into the universe of transcendental numbers, which exclude surds. Out of the totality of numbers, almost all are transcendental.

AR Decades ago I got deeply into all this in transfinite set theory.

2015 March 13

Atheism

John Gray

Christianity follows changing moral fashions. The same might be said of atheism. Evangelical atheists today view liberal values as part of an emerging global civilization. In modern western contexts, roughly speaking, an atheist is anyone who has no use for the concept of God.

Sam Harris wants a scientific morality. He takes for granted that a science of good and evil cannot be other than liberal in content. His militancy in asserting these values seems to be largely a reaction to Islamist terrorism. But the ongoing reversal in secularization is not a peculiarly Islamic phenomenon. The resurgence of religion is a worldwide development. For secular thinkers, the continuing vitality of religion calls into question the belief that history underpins their values. So secular thinkers look to science for a foundation for their values.

Friedrich Nietzsche exposed the problem atheism has with morality. He understood that modern liberalism was a secular incarnation of religious traditions. He was clear that the chief sources of liberalism were in Jewish and Christian theism. He was an atheist in large part because he rejected liberal values.

The conviction that tyranny and persecution are aberrations in human affairs is at the heart of the liberal philosophy that prevails today. The quintessential illusion of the ruling liberalism is the belief that all human beings are born loving freedom and peace and cease to do so only as a result of oppressive conditioning. But in the larger sweep of history, it is peaceful coexistence and the practice of toleration that are exceptional.

2015 March 12

EZ Crisis

Thomas Piketty

Eurozone economic output remains below the 2007 level. The austerity policies have been taken too far. Europeans have used political instruments to turn the financial crisis into a debt crisis and a crisis of confidence across Europe.

Each EZ country has a common currency but a different tax system. Fiscal policy was never harmonized in Europe. In creating the eurozone, we have created a monster. Countries cannot reduce their deficits unless the economy grows. Setting fixed deficit rules for the future cannot work.

We need to invest more money in training and in R&D.
We need a fiscal union and a harmonization of budgets.
We need a common EZ debt repayment fund.

Even Germany and France can no longer manage to tax multinational companies effectively, because the companies are playing countries off against each other. Many major corporations pay less in taxes than small companies. A common EZ corporate tax would help.

UK Defense

Liam Fox

We need to beef up our collective defenses on NATO borders in Poland and the Baltic states.

Russia has been upgrading its nuclear weapons and missile systems. We need to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent to ensure we are able to prevent the threat of the use of such weapons against ourselves and our allies. Our Trident deterrent does not come cheap at around £20 billion but that gives us more than 35 years of protection against nuclear blackmail.

As part of our NATO commitment Britain is expected to spend 2% of UK GDP on defense.

AR The UK Trident force is redundant if the US commitment to NATO is good. The UK should beef up its forces with other US purchases such as F-35C, B61-12, P-8, and BGM-109 to reinforce US solidarity.

2015 March 11

Germany and Israel

Omri Boehm

The philosopher Kant defined enlightenment as a process of growing up and finding the courage to think for oneself. This requires one not only to strive to transcend the perspective of private commitments and attempt to judge from the cosmopolitan standpoint of everybody else but also to think aloud by submitting one's opinions to the judgment of the reading public.

Jürgen Habermas developed discourse ethics in a heroic attempt to salvage enlightenment thinking from the ruins of the Third Reich. He offered Kant's ideal of public reasoning in response to Heidegger's idea of private authenticity.

This return to Kant will not be achieved before German intellectuals find the courage to think and speak about Israel. German intellectuals who do not speak implicitly accept that their history as Germans commits them to the Jews and not to universal humanism. Keeping silent about Israel is not the right way to do justice to the history of the Holocaust.

Gershom Scholem

Shaul Magid

Gershom Scholem emigrated from Berlin to Palestine in 1923 and died in 1982. His life exhibits an intellectual and cultural dual allegiance to Germany. His choice to settle in Palestine/Israel included repeated attempts to repatriate to Europe. He traveled around Europe after WW2 and suffered months of depression as a result.

In the waning decades of his life, Scholem became a strange kind of hero among the German intelligentsia. He wrote his memoir, From Berlin to Jerusalem, in German and published it in Germany in 1977. He is known for groundbreaking studies in Kabbalah and Judaica.

AR Years ago I enjoyed a book by Scholem on Jewish mysticism.

2015 March 10

Europe

Gordon Brown

Anti-Europeans frame the Europe issue as a basic choice: are you for Britain, or are you for Europe?

Pro-Europeans must tell the truth about the 3 million jobs, 25,000 companies, £200 billion of annual exports, and £​450 billion of inward investment linked to Europe. Britzerland would be subject to EU rules but denied a vote in shaping them. The Hong Kong option of leaving Europe to join the world is really the North Korea option.

The true patriotic course for Britain is not just to engage but to lead in Europe. The Britain that championed tolerance, liberty, and social responsibility before any other is ready once again to lead a progressive movement for change. It is a movement to mobilize Europe to tackle the challenge of making a global economy work for people.

We are geographically, historically, economically, and culturally part of Europe.

70 Years On: Tokyo

The Independent

Soon after midnight, 1945-03-10: About 300 US B-29 bombers dropped incendiary bombs filled with jellied gasoline onto Tokyo. The firestorm killed about 100,000 people, most of them old people, women and children. The raid began an orgy of destruction in the final months of WW2 that included dozens of similar raids on Japanese cities, and culminated in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Almost 70 cities were reduced to rubble and perhaps half a million people killed.

AR The British Trident deterrent is capable of committing such a megadeath orgy within hours. British decency would be its first victim.

2015 March 9

Anthropology

Tom McCarthy

The anthropologist is a version of the writer stripped down to its bare structural essentials. You look at the world and you report on it. The writer as vanguard ethnographer is a lovely idea. But it has an almost systematic unworkability inscribed within it.

Universities have become businesses, and not very good ones. Businesses have taken over their former role as prime sites of knowledge generation. The best engineers and so on end up working in business. More than half of all anthropology graduates now work for corporations too.

The rise of corporate capitalism and the astonishing rate of its recent acceleration present a huge challenge to the writer, forcing him or her to rethink their whole role and function.

2015 March 8

Iran

The New York Times

President Obama said that he and other world leaders have offered Iran an "extraordinarily reasonable deal" that will test whether the leadership of the Islamic nation is serious about at last resolving the dispute over its nuclear program.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a joint meeting of Congress to warn that the terms as publicly reported would make it a "bad deal" that would still leave Iran with a nuclear infrastructure that could make bombs.

Senator Dianne Feinstein: "What Prime Minister Netanyahu did here was something that no ally of the United States would have done. I find it humiliating, embarrassing and very arrogant. Because this agreement is not yet finished."

Fading UK

Anne Applebaum

The Conservatives might fail to win a majority in the general election. Britain might turn left, it might turn right, it might leave the European Union, it might break up.

In any case, the British seems to have lost interest in foreign policy. In 2009, the Conservatives withdrew from the Christian Democratic mainstream in the European Parliament, a decision that cut British influence in Germany. Then David Cameron announced his intention to hold a referendum on British EU membership, cutting British credibility in Europe. And in 2013, Parliament voted against supporting US airstrikes in Syria, cutting friends in American too.

The Conservatives are not guaranteed re-election and perhaps there are no votes in defense. But the UK will be worse off in a world where it has no influence.

Immigration

Camilla Cavendish

The UK net migration target has been missed by a mile. Mass immigration poses profound questions about the nature of citizenship and rights. Today 16% of the British working age population is foreign born. Pressure on services is straining some local authorities to breaking point.

Money

Armando Iannucci

Money is the root of all politics. Any major political movement needs big money to fund it, and rich business people get access and influence proportionate to their party donation.

Politics now is just accountancy. Politicians feel the need to act as though they run something. So they act like company directors. But the money men pull their puppet strings.

2015 March 7

Turning Poole Blue

Delivery Day for the latest Poole Town In Touch

AR Over the months I've published about a dozen In Touch newsletters for the various Poole wards.

2015 March 6

Blue Mars?

NASA/ESO

About 4 billion years ago, Mars had enough water to cover its surface in an ocean about 140 m deep.

NASA and ESO scientists studied Mars with three IR telescopes (Keck II and the ITF in Hawaii and the ESO VLT in Chile) to map its atmosphere over six years. They measured the ratio of H2O and HDO (in which a hydrogen atom is replaced by heavier deuterium): the greater the water loss from the planet, the greater the ratio of HDO to H2O in the water that remains. Atmospheric water in the near-polar region was enriched in HDO by a factor of 7 relative to Earth ocean water, implying that Mars lost a volume of water 6.5 times larger than the present polar caps.

Lead author Geronimo Villanueva: "Our study provides a solid estimate of how much water Mars once had, by determining how much water was lost to space. With this work, we can better understand the history of water on Mars."

Water isotopic anomalies in martian atmosphere
Science

Maps of atmospheric water and its deuterated form across the martian globe show isotopic anomalies indicative of great water loss. Early Mars (4.5 Gy BP) had a global equivalent water layer at least 137 m deep.

2015 March 5

Life And Death

Yuval Noah Harari

Medicine today is more and more focused on upgrading the healthy. This opens the possibility of creating huge gaps between rich and poor. This century, most humans will likely lose their military and economic value. Then the continuation of mass medicine is not so certain.

The biggest question in economics and politics of the coming decades may be what to do with all these useless people. Events in the Mideast are just a speed bump on the highway of history. People like Ray Kurzweil are creating new religions that will take over the world.

AR Globorg is great!

2015 March 4

Muslims

Daniel Finkelstein

People get together in small groups, and these groups gradually become more extreme. They form an identity that is resilient to argument and the norms of the outside world. They accept a narrative that justifies further extremism and brooks no opposition.

This has happened repeatedly in history. Now it is Muslim identity and Islamic ideas that have been co-opted by these groups. The burden of condemning it and challenging it and exposing it inevitably falls upon Muslims:

Culturally, to ensure greater social integration and prevent these exclusive groups;
Politically, to challenge a Muslim identity based upon victimhood;
Intellectually, to expose the weakness of the jihadist view of Islam.
 

UK Defense

AR I say retire Trident, upgrade QE carriers for CATOBAR ops with
F-35C (not B) and B61-12, build more Astute SSN and upgrade for nuclear Tomahawk SLCM, build more frigates, order P-8 MPA, and so on. Save billions and get more flexible forces with adequate deterrence.

 

Jihadi John
Maajid Nawaz

Islamic State executioner
Jihadi John, Mohammed Emwazi, is a British computer science graduate from the University of Westminster. This university is well known for being a hotbed of extremist activity.

 

2015 March 3

The Iranian Bomb

Binyamin Netanyahu

The foremost sponsor of international terrorism could be weeks away from having enough enriched uranium for an entire arsenal of nuclear weapons.

We must all stand together to stop Iran's march of conquest, subjugation and terror. Iran's regime will always be an enemy of America. Don't be fooled; the battle between Iran and Isis does not turn Iran into a friend of America. When it comes to Iran and Isis, the enemy of your enemy is your enemy.

Iran will become even more aggressive when its economy has been unshackled and it has a clear path to the bomb. This deal will be a farewell to arms control.

The Great Deceiver

Dallas G. Denery II

Saint Augustine said God cannot sin. Everything God does, God does well and justly. So why did God send his only son to redeem mankind? And why did Christ appear on Earth as the man Jesus?

Well, the Devil had deceived Adam and Eve. To undo this tangle of despair, God decided to deal with the Devil much as the Devil had dealt with Adam and Eve. The Devil had disguised himself as a serpent, so God disguised himself as a sinless man. He tempted the Devil to crucify the innocent Jesus and so to lose his grip on humanity. Augustine: "The Lord's cross was the devil's mousetrap."

During the Scientific Revolution, the commitment to rational causes for all events robbed God of the power to deceive or even to interact with the world. God became the source of universal order.

AR Thus the great deception was debunked.

2015 March 2

UK Defense

The Guardian

US Army chief of staff General Raymond Odierno is "very concerned" about British defense cuts.

UK PM David Cameron: "Britain has the fifth largest defense budget of any country in the world and the second largest in NATO. We are a very strong partner for the US."

Truths
Liam Fox

1 Russia poses a threat to some of our NATO allies. Malign Russian activity in the Baltic, the Balkans, and the Caucasus should remind us that under Article 5 of the NATO treaty an attack on one member is an attack on all.

2 Upgrading our nuclear deterrence and increases in capability will include the training and manning for the new carriers as well as provision of F-35 joint strike fighters.

3 British spending cuts in public spending should have been deeper and earlier. Defense took its share of those cuts.

4 For Britain to fall out of the 2% club would not only be a source of anxiety to the United States but would undermine British moral authority.

AR Keep it above 2%, chaps.

Ranking By Truth

New Scientist

Google search currently uses the number of incoming links to a web page as a proxy for quality. A Google research team is adapting that model to measure the trustworthiness of a page by tapping into Knowledge Vault. Facts the web unanimously agrees on are considered a proxy for truth. Web pages that contradict them are bumped down the rankings.

2015 March 1

Iran

Lawrence Haas

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

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


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


HAR
End UK tax dodging









CBS
Live long and prosper


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

Security Challenges
Facing NATO

RUSI video


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


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


IOP Publishing


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

AR He's younger than me!


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

 

2015 February 28

Islamists Versus Christians

Asra Q. Nomani

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

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

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

2015 February 27

Pax Americana

Jessica T. Mathews

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

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

Iconoclasts

CNN

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

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

2015 February 26

Global Warming

Naomi Klein

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015 February 25

Turkey

Roger Boyes

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

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

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

Well Done, Old Chap!

The Times

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

2015 February 24

The New Way of War

Douglas A. Ollivant

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

The United States must adapt:

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015 February 23

Islamic State

Graeme Wood

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

2015 February 22

Retiring Trident

Toby Fenwick

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

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

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

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

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

2015 February 21

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

The Conscious Web

Stephen Balkam

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015 February 20

NATO Panzeraufrüstung

Allan Mallinson

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

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

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

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

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

2015 February 19

Evolution of Eukaryotes

David Baum and Buzz Baum

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

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

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

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

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

2015 February 18

Marxist

Yanis Varoufakis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AR Varoufakis is the Greek minister of finance.

2015 February 17

SAP S/4 HANA

Helen Arnold

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015 February 16

Norway

Hugh Eakin

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

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

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

Blood

Karen Armstrong

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

2015 February 15

Interstellar

Classical and Quantum Gravity

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

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

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

2015 February 14

Master of the Universe

The Spectator

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

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

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

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

Lord Green

The Independent

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

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

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

2015 February 13

Ukraine

Fred Kaplan

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

Messages to ETI

The Independent

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

2015 February 12

Ukraine Deal?

The Guardian

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

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

2015 February 11

Nuclear Power

MIT Technology Review

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

2015 February 10

Liberalism

Samuel Moyn

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

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

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

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

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

2015 February 9

Destruction

Andrew Keen

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

The A Team

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

Below: In front of
Setchfields model shop


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

Left: In front of the
historic Custom House


pa
East meets West


Juliet Marine Systems

Math And Sex

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


DE
Russian Bear over
Poole Bay last week

 

2015 February 8

India

Patrick French

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

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

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

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

2015 February 7

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

Half of EU Voters Back Reform

The Telegraph

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

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

GHOST

Juliet Marine Systems

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

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

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

2015 February 6

First Stars

New Scientist

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

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

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

2015 February 5

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

Cosmic Inflation

New Scientist

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

2015 February 4

Convert Railways to Busways

Institute of Economic Affairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015 February 3

Biker Deaths

Foreign Policy

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

2015 February 1

Russia Versus NATO

James Rubin

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

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

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

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

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