Andy Ross 2015-08-02
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Women's Health UK
Chrissy Teigen
"There is nothing people
really don't know. But then
you're like that and people
think you're just trying
to get attention."


2015 August 2


The Sunday Times

Robots are coming to a parking lot near you. Driverless cars are in development, and legal problems are now the hardest obstacle. Autonomous technology will take to the air as well. Robot soldiers are on the march too. None of these have to be perfect, just better than their human equivalents. Robot cars and planes will crash, but less often than human drivers and pilots.

Google visionary Ray Kurzweil says a confluence of robotics, nanotechnology, and genetic engineering by around 2050 will create the Singularity. The next transhuman age will banish sickness and old age and rely on the machines to make us all rich and happy — a "rapture of the nerds" that Oxford transhumanist Nick Bostrom calls a bigger threat than global warming.

No one knows if machines can be sentient. We don't know how human consciousness works. But if the machines ever wake up, we had better hope they like us. Soon they will control our food and water, our electricity, and our hospitals and banking networks. Our best hope is to code human values into them. If they decide to scrap us, then bye-bye Homo sap.

AR All this (with a global gloss invoking Darwin and Dawkins that I spell out in my 2013 book Coral) recalls my LifeballGloborg scenario.


Brendan Simms

Germany is the cockpit of Europe. For centuries, its population of hard workers and good soldiers made Germany the most valued prize in the European state system. But the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation was bitterly divided. This vacuum at the heart of Europe invited war.

Napoleon smashed the old empire. The German Confederation of 1815 followed, but was built on similar lines. The result was a political culture preoccupied with rules and procedure to the point of paralysis. Bismarck destroyed it to create a united Germany in 1871, which went on to overturn the European and global balance of power.

Global coalitions crushed German empires in two world wars. After 1945, Germany was partitioned into a communist east and a democratic west. The project of European integration was intended to contain Germany in a peaceful polity like that of the old Holy Roman Empire, based on the diffusion rather than the concentration of power.

Defense integration against the Soviet threat remained the task of NATO. After 1989, the EU and NATO expansion eastward left Germany surrounded by friends. Now the European security bubble has exploded with Russian aggression in Ukraine, the question arises of how far the Germans can think of the general geopolitical good of Europe.

The strengths and weaknesses of the old Holy Roman Empire live on in the European Union of today. Instead of anchoring the common currency in joint parliamentary representation and a strong state, Berlin is attempting to run it through the acceptance of German political culture.

The eurozone could continue to stagger from crisis to crisis. But the euro will fail unless someone is responsible for its sovereign debt. A German exit from the euro would frustrate the purpose of the currency. Only complete political union, with transfer of sovereign powers to the European Parliament, can settle the German question.

AR Let the eurozone become German Europe to face down the Russian threat. Let the UK become a Taiwan to a German China.


Johanna Kamradt

Berlin is now the third most visited city in Europe. Only London and Paris are ahead. With 45,000 newcomers in 2014, Berlin now has more than 3.5 million residents. In 2013 an estimated 10,000 Brits lived in Berlin, and in late 2014 some 13,500.

You can live in Berlin without speaking German. For the same lifestyle, your cost of living in Berlin can be half the cost in London, assuming you rent in both cities. Consumer prices in Berlin are 30% less, and rental costs are almost 70% lower.

AR I was fascinated by Berlin during a 3-month stay to read Hegel there in 1974, and liked it more and more in several later visits.

2015 August 1


Lewis Dartnell

Frank Wilczek peers through layers of theory to the nature of the universe. His question: Is the physical universe, and the equations that physicists have derived to explain it, beautiful?

Before you can appreciate the beauty of the standard model of particle physics you need to understand it. The ancient Greeks first glimpsed the deep numerical order underlying the world. Isaac Newton experimented with prisms and light, then James Clerk Maxwell wrote a theory of light as electromagnetic waves. That theory is now part of quantum electrodynamics (QED).

The electromagnetic force is one of four fundamental forces of the universe. These forces act on particles, which can be organized into related families. The standard model describes how forces and particles behave in a mathematical framework of astonishing symmetry. The apparent duality of forces and particles is resolved in a deeper symmetry called supersymmetry (SUSY).

The links between phenomena and the symmetries inherent in the equations are profound, and the scientists who devise and confirm them are creative, but is this beauty?

AR I met Wilczek in Heidelberg and liked his vision of physics.

J. R. R. Tolkien

Michael Nelson

Oxford don J.R.R. Tolkien lectured on Middle English, Anglo Saxon, and Old Icelandic. His trilogy The Lord of the Rings (1954) is arguably the greatest and certainly the most popular fantasy novels of all time. His Oxford friend C.S. Lewis encouraged him: "The steady upward slope of grandeur and terror is almost unequalled in the whole range of narrative art."

Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic but Lewis began as an atheist. They were both enchanted by mythology. Myths are stories that convey deep truth, Tolkien told Lewis, who then converted, and became as fierce an advocate of Christianity as he had been an enemy.

AR Tolkein taught at my college in Oxford, but before my time.


Aquila will provide internet access in remote parts of the world. The solar powered drone weighs about 400 kg and
has a wingspan of 42 m. Launched with the help of helium balloons, it will fly in the air for 90 days at a time
in big circles at an altitude of 27 km by day and 18 km by night. Its first flight will be later this year.

The Nokia Ozo camera lets
studios shoot and edit 3D
VR content in real time.

AR Basic neuroscience and
psychology for pre-teens,
packaged in a movie with
enough story to carry a
jaded adult like me
to a happy end.


Pluto: halo of backlit nitrogen
seen when New Horizons was
about 2 Gm past Pluto. Air
pressure decreases hugely as
Pluto approaches aphelion and
the nitrogen falls as snow.

Sputnik Planum shows swirls
of viscous ice. The glacial flow
on Pluto is nitrogen ice,
which flows glacially much as
water ice does on Earth.

Pluto: new composite
with enhanced color

Hanging in the Woods
Hilde Krohn Huse
(HD video, 11:36)

AR She was no scout —
wrong knots in rope

My new image

Clueless — summer hit of 1995.
Alicia! I was like, no way, dude!
I was gone, man. Crashed
and burned.

Hero Jon was born in 1979
and grew up in California
but he spoke like me.

Scout SV has ISTAR tech for
British army service in 2017.
Program cost: £3.5 billion


2015 July 31

Against Brexit

Peter Wilding

The referendum allows the British people to choose the future path the UK will take. It is a choice between real and imagined power. Some say Brussels is strangling Westminster, but it is more true to say Westminster silences its own MPs. The failure of MPs to exercise the powers already available to them has reduced British ability to influence EU affairs. A recent report published by the Centre for European Reform drew attention to the failings of the Commons in reducing the effectiveness of MP scrutiny of EU affairs. The Commons does have powers but MPs fail to use them effectively.

Globalization has unleashed huge population movements. Many European countries have higher levels of migration than the UK. The EFTA countries have higher levels of immigration per head of population than the UK. And EU migrants come here to work, not to claim benefits. They are much less likely to receive benefits than British nationals. EU migrants in general pay more in tax than they claim in state assistance. Immigration can be controlled without leaving the EU and within the framework of free movement. The UK immigration system is laxer than most others in Europe.

2015 July 30

Earth 2.0

Philip Ball

Kepler 452b is rocky, about five times the mass of the Earth, and comfortably within the orbital region of its parent star known as the habitable zone, where temperatures should be right for liquid water to exist.

Some say life on Earth is made possible by a remarkable concurrence of circumstances that render our environment stable and hospitable, such as the seasonality of climate, a large moon to create tides, and the presence nearby of a giant planet that sweeps up local cosmic debris.

Others say that given the raw chemical ingredients and an energy source to set them reacting, the appearance of organization is virtually a law of nature. If life appears in the cosmos, it is highly likely to evolve by Darwinian natural selection.

There is no reason to think that life must always evolve to the complexity of humans. But it seems an absurdly solipsistic idea that we can extrapolate from the fleeting status and motivations of Homo sapiens today to deduce anything at all about the fate and goals of intelligent life on other worlds.

2015 July 29


Edmund S. Phelps

Classical political economy lets wage rates sink to whatever level the market takes them and offers a safety net. But many people want to do more with their lives than consume goods and have leisure. They want to participate in a community. They want inclusion.

Workers view the economy as unjust if they or their children have no chance of climbing the socioeconomic ladder. And moving up appears harder now. For some decades, productivity slowdown and globalization have prevented western economies from offering a good life.

The good life involves using imagination, exercising creativity, taking fascinating journeys into the unknown, and acting on the world. Historically, innovation was not limited to elites. The experience of working in those dynamic economies was good for most people.

An economy must be such that the satisfactions of prospering and of flourishing through adventurous, creative, and imaginative work are widespread. An economy without such dynamism is pitiful, much like the theoretical models of classical economics.

2015 July 28

Killer Robots


A thousand AI experts plus Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Steve Wozniak, have signed a petition calling for a global ban on killer robots:

Autonomous weapons select and engage targets without human intervention. Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology has reached a point where the deployment of such systems is feasible within years. They have been described as the third revolution in warfare, after gunpowder and nuclear arms.

The key question for humanity today is whether to start a global AI arms race or to prevent it from starting. If any major military power pushes ahead with AI weapon development, a global arms race is virtually inevitable. Unlike nuclear weapons, they become ubiquitous and cheap for all significant military powers to mass produce. It will only be a matter of time until they appear on the black market. Autonomous weapons are ideal for tasks such as assassinations, destabilizing nations, subduing populations, and selectively killing a particular ethnic group.

A military AI arms race should be prevented by a ban on offensive autonomous weapons.

2015 July 27

Cut Wind and Solar Taxes

Matt Ridley

UK energy secretary Amber Rudd is trying to rein in regressive stealth taxes on energy bills. Since these have been ineffective and expensive, this is sensible reform.

It was always fanciful to think that wind and solar farms could stop global warming. Despite vast subsidies, wind produced 1% of global energy in 2014 and solar 0% (rounded to 1 sig fig). Fossil fuel produced 87%, unchanged from 10 years earlier. With current technology, only nuclear power, gas, and a surge in energy efficiency can slow down the rise in emissions significantly, let alone affordably.

UK CO2 targets were predicated on rising fossil fuel prices, on rapidly rising temperatures, and on international agreement. Put money into research instead.

China Stock Rout

Financial Times

China's benchmark index rallied from the low of early July, after a collapse of more than 30%. But the sell-off resumed Monday. The Shanghai Composite Index closed down 8.5%. Nearly 1,800 stocks — more than 60% of all stocks listed — fell by the daily limit of 10% and were suspended.

China grew 7.4% in 2014, its slowest pace in 24 years, and grew by 7.0% in Q1 and Q2 of 2015. Government credibility has been undermined by a stream of overly positive forecasts from senior officials.

Quarterly Capitalism

Edward Luce

Hillary Clinton plans to wage war on quarterly capitalism. Her case for reforming shareholder capitalism is strong. The level of US investment is at its lowest since 1947. With healthy profits and a near zero cost of capital, now ought to be the time to lay down plans for the future. But listed companies are almost uniformly opting for dividends today.

Clinton would introduce a tapered capital gains tax that would fall with the duration of the investment. Those who held their stake for at least 6 years would pay a lower capital gains tax of 20%. Those who sold within 2 years would pay almost double. It is doubtful such tinkering would be enough.

AR Animal spirits spooked by China!


Roger Cohen

London is the most open metropolis in Europe. On a soft summer evening, by the canal or in a park, London in its civility and continuity can seem like perfection.

But London is skewed in dangerous ways. House prices keep jumping. Cranes are everywhere, hoisting new luxury developments into being. Some are certainly for wealthy Greeks. The capital has become a glittering enclave in a country often resentful of its dominance.

London sucks in money and the affluent from the rest of Europe. London is a capital of inequality and tax evasion. New elites whose dream is an American or British lifestyle and education for their children acquire real estate, drive up prices, and push aside the native middle class.

AR Ominous.

2015 July 26

UK Labour Leadership Contest

Tim Ross

The leadership candidates are Jeremy Corbyn, Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham, and Liz Kendall. Polls put leftist Corbyn, 66, in the lead. A veteran of the hard left, Corbyn has campaigned against the Iraq War, nuclear weapons, and austerity. He learned his socialism in part from Ed Miliband's father Ralph Miliband, a Marxist academic.

The leadership election will use the Alternative Vote system. Party members will rank candidates in order of preference. The candidate with the fewest first votes is eliminated and their second and lower votes redistributed among the other candidates. This process continues until one of them wins more than 50% and is elected leader.

A poll suggests Corbyn would beat Burnham by 6 points in the final round of voting. The poll puts Blairite centrist Kendall in last place. She says she will not withdraw and thinks she can still win.

Labour: Principles and Power

Liz Kendall

My campaign principles: ending inequality in the early years, tackling low pay to build a living-wage society, and devolving decisions to communities and councils. We must be the voice of community organizers, civic leaders, and workplace activists in the fight against poverty and injustice.

Application of Labour principles legislated for equality for LGBT people, stopped the tolerance of failing schools, attacked child poverty, and reversed the European social chapter opt-out. I disagree with those who have nothing good to say about the previous Labour government.

AR Kendall would make a credible sparring partner. Corbyn would make a dirty great rude noise.

New Labour Needed

New Statesman

Labour needs a fresh set of policies for 2020. People are not looking for a politics of fudge and nudge. They want a new vision for these new times.

Things need to change. The party has never really resolved its central purpose. Labour must become new kind of social movement capable of sustaining and renewing itself both in opposition and in government. This means changing its vertical structures into a more horizontal shape fit for the Google age.

The leader must end command and control of the grass roots, build strong relationships at local level, build ties with other progressive movements, ensure that policies are no longer parachuted from on high, let party members select more local candidates, and create new structures of accountability.

The party needs a modern style of leader.

AR Labour needs to lie down, in a "horizontal shape" and bottom up, heeding the grass roots. Let others do the vision thing.

2015 July 25

Laser Nuclear Fusion Rocket Science

IEEE Spectrum

Boeing is has patented a laser fusion drive for future deep space missions.

Toss a deuterium-tritium fuel pellet into a bell cavity and blast it with lasers, triggering nuclear fusion and blasting propellant from the bell. Harvest the heat caught by the bell to drive the lasers. Presto — a new drive is born!

A system of free-electron lasers provides pulsed laser beams to vaporize pellets comprising D-T propellant. Thermal compression of the pellet triggers fusion, releasing energy beyond the break-even level and generating thrust. A specific impulse of 100-250 ks is feasible.

Free-electron lasers use synchrotron emission from electrons to generate photons. They can be tuned to emit within a huge range of frequencies. Boeing has been working on them since at least 2009.

At the National Ignition Facility, researchers fuse small pellets of deuterium and tritium using 192 lasers. The fusion can reach break-even, releasing as much energy as they pump into the pellets, though not yet enough by far to feed the lasers, but in principle it works.

AR Awesome! Good concept: Project Orion (Freeman Dyson) meets NIF (blog 2009-03-26) to spawn a real candidate for a starship drive.



Lawrence of Arabia said insurgents never try to hold ground or waste lives in battles with regular armies. Chairman Mao said guerrillas should be fish who swam in the sea of the local population. US Army studies say holding ground, fighting pitched battles, and alienating the cultural and religious sensibilities of the local population are fatal.

Yalda Hakim makes rough brutality the secret of Daesh domination. Abdel Bari Atwan describes an organization that combines bureaucratic efficiency and military expertise with a sophisticated use of information technology. Zaid Al-Ali talks about Daesh incapacity to govern and the total collapse of water supply, electricity, and schools, and ultimately population under its rule.

No one knows what draws the 20,000 foreign fighters who have joined the movement. These new recruits seem to sprout from every conceivable political or economic system.

The movement now controls a terrorist state far more extensive and far more developed than anything that George W. Bush evoked at the height of the Global War on Terror. Daesh controls Anbar, Mosul, and half of Syria. Its affiliates control large swaths of Nigeria and areas of Libya. Hundreds of thousands have been killed and millions displaced.

Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar: "This group is satanic — they should have their limbs amputated or they should be crucified."

Much of what Daesh has done contradicts the moral intuitions and principles of its supporters. The members and leaders of the movement are not great strategists. Its government is not delivering economic growth or social justice. The theology, principles, and ethics of its leaders are neither robust nor defensible.

Nothing since the triumph of the Vandals in Roman North Africa has seemed so sudden, incomprehensible, and difficult to reverse as the rise of Daesh.

AR Braveheart warrior cult — restore the caliphate or die trying.

2015 July 24

Earth 2.0

New Scientist

Kepler 452b is the first known alien world that circles a sunlike star at a distance that should allow liquid water to exist on its surface. It was discovered after a first pass through the full data set from the NASA Kepler telescope. The analysis also yielded about a dozen other candidate worlds close to the size of Earth in the habitable zone around their stars.

Kepler 452 is about 1400 light years away in Cygnus and is slightly bigger than our Sun. The planet Kepler 452b orbits slightly further out than Earth and its year is slightly longer, but its diameter is 60% larger and humans on its surface would probably weigh about twice as much as here. Its age is about 6 billion years — old enough to grow its own life.

2015 July 23

Great Thinkers

The Times

Karl Marx once said that philosophers have interpreted the world but the task was to change it. He did so with calamitous results. The other nine thinkers on our list interpreted and changed the world mostly for the better.

Isaiah Berlin witnessed the Russian Revolution as a small boy. Sigmund Freud, Karl Popper, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Hannah Arendt all left their middle European origins to seek a safe harbor in the free world. Most of them found their way eventually to Britain.

Berlin, Popper, and Arendt built on the work of the Victorian liberal philosopher John Stuart Mill. Popper and Berlin did a lot to save the world from Marx. Bertrand Russell departed from Mill to reinvent philosophy as a technical discipline. His former student Wittgenstein led later philosophers to retreat from history into language.

Freud took a medical perspective on reason and emphasized our passions. Albert Camus offered our passions as a consolation in a world with no meaning. John Rawls reinvented liberal political theory for our times.

AR See C20 history as a titanic clash of ideas from Marx and Mills. British liberalism prevailed —
but for how long?

How to recover a qubit that has fallen into a black hole

Sean Carroll et al.

Let Alice and Bob each have one of a pair of quangled particles. Bob sends one bit to Alice. She uses that bit and her half of the quangled pair to teleport one qubit from where Bob is to where she is.

A black hole emits quangled particles in Hawking radiation. Spontaneous production of a particle and its antiparticle from the vacuum normally ends instantly in a puff of energy, but near the event horizon one particle falls into the black hole and the other flies out as Hawking radiation. The two particles are quangled with each other.

Let Alice be outside the black hole with access to one of the pair and Bob be inside the black hole with access to the other. The only way they can retrieve information from the black hole is for Bob to send classical information to Alice.

If Alice measures the spin of the black hole before and after dropping a qubit with unknown spin into it, the change in black hole spin is like a bit of classical information transmitted by Bob to Alice.

Alice can use the change in the black hole spin, plus her half of the Hawking radiation emitted after she drops in the qubit, to work out the spin of the qubit she dropped in, and hence retrieve information from beyond the event horizon.

New Scientist

2015 July 22

Islamic State

New York Times

Islamic State uses terror to force obedience and frighten enemies. It has seized territory, destroyed antiquities, slaughtered minorities, forced women into sexual slavery, and turned children into killers. But its officials are apparently resistant to bribes.

The Caliphate has provided relative stability in a region troubled by war and chaos. It has filled a vacuum left by failing and corrupt governments that also employed violence. It is putting in place the kinds of measures associated with governing.

Stephen M. Walt: "I think that there is no question that the way to look at it is as a revolutionary state-building organization."


Ayaan Hirsi Ali

On Monday, the British prime minister condemned Islamist extremism as a doctrine hostile to basic liberal values. He rejected the grievance justification for extremism and the violence it spawns.

Islamist extremism is derived from Islam as a religion. This is why jihadist outfits across the world can endow their violence with moral righteousness. What the Caliphate is putting into practice is Islam unreformed and literally applied.

The prime minister has made it clear why unreformed Islam is incompatible with British values. In proposing a tougher strategy he is boldly going where no other European leader has dared to go.


Ed Balls

Britain faces a referendum on whether to stay in the EU. Pessimists see no future for Britain within Europe. We need reforms of the single market, labor mobility, and benefits. But the challenges of continued EU membership do not outweigh the economic advantages and opportunities.

Europe is our biggest trading partner. We gain hugely from EU trade policies and regulatory harmonization. Much foreign investment in the UK depends on our continuing membership. And our voice in global economic negotiations is stronger if we stay in the EU and fight our corner.


Jürgen Habermas

The Greek debt deal is damaging. One cannot expect the reforms to be enacted by a government that does not believe in them. Their mixture of structural reforms of state and economy with neoliberal impositions will discourage the Greek people and kill any impetus to growth.

The European Council is effectively declaring itself politically bankrupt. The de facto relegation of a member state to the status of a protectorate contradicts the democratic principles of the European Union. The outcome can only be understood as an act of punishment.

During the crisis the European executive has accrued more and more authority. Key decisions are taken by institutions that lack any democratic basis. I do not see how a return to nation states run like big corporations in a global market can counter a drift away from democracy.

AR The debtors will take the EZ road to political union. The UK will stand aside.

Good and Evil

Rachel Sylvester

David Cameron now sees himself as being engaged in a battle between good and evil every bit as important as the fight to defeat Nazism. He wants to step up the air campaign against the Caliphate. Former chief of the armed forces Lord Richards of Herstmonceux says we shall sooner or later have to send in troops and tanks.


George Monbiot

In terms of mortal risks to people in the UK, Islamist terrorism ranks behind diet, smoking, alcohol, loneliness, the slow collapse of the NHS, child poverty, air pollution, traffic accidents, and lack of exercise. In the longer term, climate change, antibiotic resistance, soil loss, and nuclear proliferation are orders of magnitude more dangerous.


Financial Times

Coinbase co-founder and former Goldman Sachs currency trader Fred Ehrsam guesses bitcoin can can spam. Venture capitalists now focus on its blockchain technology to log bitcoin micropayments for almost any internet activity. Some $400 million of venture capital has funded the development of blockchain apps. Ehrsam: "I can't sit here and tell you all the killer applications but I know that the possibilities are near endless."

AR Example: micropay for this blog.

2015 July 21


New Scientist

Russian billionaire Yuri Milner has launched a $100 million SETI project. Astronomers will look for signals from the million nearest star systems, the core and plane of the Milky Way, and the hundred nearest galaxies. Milner: "The search will be 100 to 1000 times more efficient than ever tried before."

The Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia and the Parkes Observatory in New South Wales will scan frequency ranges between 500 MHz and 15 GHz. Martin Rees: "It's a worthwhile gamble because the payoff from detecting any artificial signal is so colossal."

AR I helped sponsor The Planetary Society SETI project BETA back in the last century.


Earth image by Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera EPIC on Deep Space Climate Observatory DSCOVR
a million miles away in solar orbit at Lagrange point L1

Saatchi Gallery, London
April — September 2016

Sputnik Planum, Pluto

NASA scientist Alan Stern:
"I think the solar system
saved the best for last."

Pluto has a young surface
with big ice mountains

Pluto and Charon

LHC researchers bag
states, over 9 sigma.

Grand Mosque, Mecca,
Night of Power 2015

Alphonse Mucha:
In Quest of Beauty

Russell-Cotes Art Gallery
and Museum, Bournemouth
2015-04-01 — 2015-09-27

UK royals watch fly-past on
75th anniversary of start of
Battle of Britain

AR Der alte Fritz lässt grüßen.

Donald Tusk

Help to Greece no justification
of wrong economic philosophy
causing the crisis. "Magnum
vectigal est parsimonia"

AR Zitat Cicero: Eine große Einnahmequelle ist die Sparsamkeit.

Natalie Coughlin


2015 July 20

Struggle of a Generation

Paul Goodman

David Cameron today made his first major domestic speech on Islamist extremism. Most British Muslims loathe ISIS and Al Qaeda, and opposition to liberal democracy among them is a minority concern. They just want to get on with their own lives, like everyone else.

But too many blame others for collective historical failure: Jews, the CIA, western governments, Israel. Support for liberal democracy is compromised by practices that discriminate against women, reservations about free speech, and the dream of an Islamic state.

Conservatives are as divided about how to respond as the security services and the civil service. Some stress targeting terrorist acts and the groups that carry them out. Others say there will always be crocodiles if the swamp is not drained by targeting extremist ideas.

Cameron has wrenched policy decisively in the direction of combating extremism.


Wolfgang Munchau

The Greek prime minister capitulated. Grexit remains the most likely ultimate outcome — through insurrection.


Donald Tusk

I am really afraid of the ideological or political contagion, not financial contagion, of the Greek crisis. It was always the same game before the biggest tragedies in our European history, this tactical alliance between radicals from all sides. Today we can observe the same political phenomenon.

2015 July 19

Post Capitalism

Paul Mason

Economic life is moving to a new rhythm. In Greece, there are food co-ops, alternative producers, parallel currencies, local exchange systems, squats, carpools, and free kindergartens. They trade in the currency of free time, networked activity, and free stuff.

Austerity means not just spending cuts, as in the UK, or even the social catastrophe inflicted on Greece. It means driving the wages, social wages, and living standards in the west down for decades until they meet those of the middle class in China and India on the way up.

The business model of info-capitalism restricts information. It aims to monopolize and protect data, capture data generated by user interaction, push into areas of data production that were free before, mine the data for predictive value, and ensure nobody but the corporation can use the results. But information wants to be free.

Information is physical and software is a machine. By creating millions of networked people, financially exploited but with the whole of human intelligence a click away, info-capitalism has created a new agent of change in history: the educated and connected human being.

Recall the replacement of feudalism by capitalism. Feudalism was a system structured by obligation. Feudal laws and customs were shaped around ignoring money. When money and credit burst through the boundaries to create a market system, it was a revolution. Capitalism was born.

Post-capitalism will be structured around human liberation. Information is corroding capitalism. Most laws concerning information define the right of corporations to hoard it and the right of states to access it. The stagnation of late feudalism is now the stalled start of the third industrial revolution, where instead of automating work out of existence, we are creating menial jobs on low pay. The new source of free wealth is the internet.

Energy depletion, climate change, aging populations, and migration are altering the dynamics of capitalism and making it unworkable. We need to expand the technologies, business models, and behaviors that dissolve market forces, socialize knowledge, eradicate the need for work, and push the economy toward abundance. We need Project Zero.

AR Eradication of work is the Second Coming of millenarian socialism. Bad argument.

2015 July 18

The Next Wave

John Markoff

Ray Kurzweil and people like him say we are on the brink of self-aware machines. I don't see it. Their argument is all about this exponential acceleration that comes out of the semiconductor industry. I've discovered it's over. In the last two years, the price of each transistor has stopped falling.

I covered the DARPA robotics challenge. They built Terminator-style machines that would be able to work in a Fukushima-like environment. Only three of the machines were able to even complete the tasks. Most of the robots failed at opening a door. Rod Brooks: "If you're worried about the Terminator, just keep your door closed."

I watched the rapid acceleration in robotics. People say there will be no more jobs, the automation is going to accelerate, and by 2045 machines will be able to do everything that humans can do. But all over the advanced world we see a dramatically aging population. The robots may show up just in time because there may not be enough workers.

Deploying these technologies will take more time than people think. The development of the technologies to make these things work is uneven. Deep learning is a modern iteration of artificial neural nets that lets machines learn how to recognize objects and how to understand human language. But on cognition we have no breakthroughs. We are not about to turn these machines loose in the environment to do all the things that human beings do.

The last major platform in the world that defined the picture of computing was the smartphone in 2007. I spent a lot of time thinking about what comes after smartphones. My own bet is that it will be some flavor of augmented reality.

AR My bet too.

2015 July 17

Napoleon the Great

Andrew Roberts

AR Reading it now and enjoying it.

2015 July 16

Partner China

George Soros

When the Soviet empire fell apart the United States had an opportunity to become the guarantor of peace in the world. The Washington Consensus let financial capital move around freely and was a triumph for market fundamentalism. But unregulated financial markets are inherently unstable.

The crash of 2008 had a lasting negative effect on all the Western economies. The Chinese economy replaced the American consumer as the motor of the global economy. The crash was also responsible for the euro crisis. The euro had a common central bank but not a common treasury. So the financial crisis has morphed into a series of political crises. The European Union became preoccupied with its internal problems and failed to pull its weight in the international economy.

The inward turn of the EU and US led to a power vacuum in international governance. The world may break up into rival camps both financially and politically. China has begun to build a parallel set of financial institutions. China could align itself with Russia not only financially but also politically and militarily. In that case, we would be on the threshold of a third world war.

The US government should try to forge a strategic partnership with China.

2015 July 15

Iran Deal

Nicholas Burns

The deal is better than Iran unfettered and ever closer to a nuclear weapon. But its effectiveness depends on international inspectors accessing military sites and insisting on full compliance.

Iran might not comply fully. Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei set red lines weeks ago that contradicted foreign minister Javad Zarif on key issues. This reflects divisions in Tehran.

Iran is now the dominant outside influence in Iraq. It acts as kingmaker in Syria. It operates in Lebanon via Hezbollah and in Gaza via Hamas. It supports Houthi rebels in Yemen. Expect years of rivalry with Saudi Arabia and the United States.

IMF May Block Greek Deal

Financial Times

The IMF may yet walk away from a Greek bailout. Greek debt may peak at 200% of GDP for 2 years and Greece needs massive debt relief to return to financial markets.

The IMF will only pay out if there is agreement on debt relief. It cannot participate in a bailout if debt is deemed unsustainable and there is no hope of a return to private bond markets. The IMF bent its rules to participate in previous Greek bailouts.

German EZ hardliners insisted a Greek bailout requires IMF participation. No IMF, Grexit.

2015 July 14



New Horizons flies by the Pluto-Charon system: closest approach today.
New more accurate estimate of Pluto diameter: 2370 km

Iran Deal

New York Times


Wolfgang Münchau

Creditors have forced regime change in Greece. They have also destroyed the eurozone as we know it and demolished the idea of a monetary union as a step toward a democratic political union.

The eurozone is now a system run in the interests of Germany. The shadow of Grexit looms for any member that challenges German economic orthodoxy.

The previous barrier to exit was political commitment. Without ambitions for a political and economic union, the eurozone becomes a utilitarian project in which member states weigh the benefits and costs, just as the UK is assessing the pros and cons of EU membership.

AR Germans have earned the right to lead Europe and the European Union is the modern successor of the Holy Roman Empire. Ist doch gut so, finde ich.

The German Question

Roger Cohen

The German Question is back. From 1945, the United States nursed the German Federal Republic. The European Union married Germany into Europe.

Germany now dominates Europe to a degree unimaginable even 15 years ago. Germany has no choice but to assume its power. It wants to use it well.

AR Genau. Lass es sein.

2015 July 13

EZ Deal

Financial Times

Germany has piled pressure on Greece to implement bold reforms and accept intense external supervision in return for a possible €82—€86 billion rescue.

The euro jumped to $1.1175 and Bund prices were weaker, showing lower demand for safe havens. Angela Merkel said earlier: "There will be no agreement at any cost."

The mood among finance ministers was violent. The meeting was suspended after German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble lashed out at ECB president Mario Draghi.

2015 July 12

Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum

Mayoral Reception and Viewing


Reading my 2011 fictional interview (PDF, 38 slides, 2.34 MB): I still like it.

Animal Rights

Andrew Linzey

Human beings are not the master species but the servant species. Our power should be exercised in looking after creation. Beings with the capacity to suffer have the capacity to be wronged. They also possess some degree of cognitive ability and some sense of self awareness.

We are experiencing a gradual paradigm shift from the idea that animals are commodities to the idea that, as sentient creatures, they have dignity, value and rights. The Christian church has made similar shifts on the rights of women, and gays, and of the child. Things advance.

2015 July 11


Brendan Simms

The Anglo-Scottish Act of Union of 1707 was driven by the threat of an expansionist France. England and Scotland embarked on a partnership that enabled them to punch above their weight on the European stage. The 1707 union was the model for the American patriots after 1776, whose solution of 1787 was seen as an improved variant of the Anglo-Scottish Union.

In 1946 Winston Churchill argued that only the creation of a kind of United States of Europe would rescue the continent from chaos. It would solve the German problem and mobilize democratic Europe against the threat of Soviet communism. Initially it had the potential to develop into something akin to the United Kingdom or the United States.

Now the European Union is a political project without power or purpose. Its predicament closely resembles those of the British and the Americans in 1707 and 1787. A United States of Europe would take from the Anglo-Scottish Union the successful transcendence of national differences and from the United States the model for reconciling the needs of the center and the regions.

A single EZ state would begin with consolidation of debt. Foreign policy and border security would be handled by the EU and a single army within NATO. A federal EZ state in NATO would save the euro and reduce the military strain on the USA and the UK. The Churchillian model demands federation within the EZ state and confederation between it and the UK. This is in British interests.


Martin Rees

We are near the dawn of a post-human future. It could be as prolonged as the billions of years of Darwinian selection that preceded humans. Human civilization might be a transient precursor to a deeper culture dominated by machines.

Few doubt that machines will one day surpass more of our human capabilities. This is cause for optimism. Human brains have gone far, but there is no reason to think they can understand all reality. Far more of our kind of thinking will be done by silicon or quantum computers than has ever been managed by people.

Artificial minds will not be confined to the biosphere in which organic life has evolved on Earth. Interplanetary and interstellar space will be the preferred arena for the grand constructions of robotic fabricators. Their deep thinkers might one day develop insights as far beyond us as string theory is for a monkey.

There may be billions of habitable planets in our galaxy. If life is widespread, other worlds could have had a head start. Aliens may long ago have transitioned beyond the organic stage. Machines may be orbiting distant stars.

Neural Networks

New Scientist

Neural networks are racing ahead. They can recognize tumors in medical images, play Super Mario World and the board game Go, assist in online interactions, recognize faces, read and understand text, and interpret photos and videos.

Google was the first company to bring a neural network into our everyday lives. Facebook has troves of NN fodder. Google and Facebook use the actions of ordinary users to train their networks for free.

The next NN frontier may be in human-computer interaction. Neural networks will learn and interpret our behavior and translate it into computer instructions. The next smartphones could hold NN chips running adaptive learning systems.

2015 July 10


Financial Times

The cliffhanger over Greece and the euro threatens to unravel postwar Europe. Without a cohesive Europe, Germany is lost. Former chancellor Helmut Kohl understood this. The euro would make a united Germany safe for Europe. Kohl foresaw a European Germany, not a German Europe.

With Grexit looming, there is calm in the markets. The big risk is in politics. Voting No collided with the wish of most Greeks to keep the euro, but as an act of desperation and defiance it spoke to the frustrations of citizens across Europe. This is what mainstream political leaders should fear.

The EU is not to blame for globalization, Russian aggression, or Mideast wars. Yet populists have channeled public anger toward Brussels. European leaders seem almost embarrassed to say that in a world where power is fast slipping away from the west, they are better off sticking together.

2015 July 9


Christoph Meyer

A deal with Greece might risk EZ integration. Grexit would pose no existential threat to the euro. The risk of contagion from Grexit is low and market reaction to the Greferendum No was muted. EZ governance is a balance of rules and trust among democratically elected participants. The Greek government rejects the EZ rules. A deal could undermine EZ trust.

Grexit would promote further EZ deepening. Many EZ governments need to spell out the implications of EMU to their citizens and make a case for greater fiscal solidarity and deeper integration. Grexit would spur EZ members to define a mechanism for planned exit from the euro.

AR Grexit is good.

UK Budget

George Osborne

Grow the economy and get UK finances under control with the national debt falling.
Support working people by allowing you to earn £11,000 before paying income tax.
Reduce corporation tax to send out the message that Britain is open for business.
Set a new national living wage so that 2.5 million people will get a direct pay rise.
Take the home out of inheritance tax by letting you pass on up to £1 million tax free.
Strengthen defense with the pledge to spend 2% of national income on defense.
Put welfare spending on a sustainable footing with a package to save £12 billion.
Tackle tax avoidance and tax evasion and abolish permanent non-dom tax status.
Improve productivity with a new fund to pay for sustained investment in our roads.

AR GO is great!

2015 July 8

Nano Story

Tim Flannery

Living cells are full of tiny electrochemical machines. We are made of trillions of nanobots.

We are assembled from proteins. The ribosome is a nanobot made of proteins and nucleic acids that makes proteins. Ribosomes synthesize proteins by reading messenger RNA that copies genetic code from DNA molecules and knitting amino acids into protein strings for cells.

Living cells run on energy from molecules of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Animals and plants make ATP in mitochondria. The nanobots in mitochondria are motors with rotors, stators, and catalytic heads. They use the electrochemical gradient across a membrane between a high density of protons (hydrogen ions) and a lower density. The protons pass through the ATP nanobot and turn its rotor. Each turn forms three molecules of ATP.

Archaea and bacteria used various energy sources. Then some bacteria began to use sunlight to power photosynthesis. This process yielded much more energy than other sources, giving its users an evolutionary edge. Photosynthesis permits brief local reductions of entropy using a partly quantum mechanical process.

Microbes communicate by quorum sensing to modulate activity within their own populations and within wider ecosystems. Over 1 Gy BP, a larger cell began to communicate with a smaller one it had ingested. Quorum sensing let the smaller cell live inside its host and let genes act to benefit the new chimera. The swallowed cells became mitochondria and made ATP in the first eukaryotic cell.

Some eukaryotes swallowed bacteria that could photosynthesize. Quorum sensing synchronized their nanobots and the new trinity organism became the photosynthetic ancestor of every plant on Earth.

The Earth formed about 4.5 Gy BP. Its first 500 My are known as the Hadean Eon. A big planetoid hit the Earth, forming the moon and melting the planet into a ball of molten rock, which cooled quickly and let oceans form. Earth was almost certainly hostile to life in the Hadean Eon. The Archean Eon began 4 Gy ago and continued until 2.5 Gy BP. The nanomachines evolved to make the first bacterial ecosystems in about 3.5 Gy BP.

Life may have begun at hot mid-ocean ridge vents known as black smokers. These are protected from UV radiation by the overlying ocean and are rich in the elements required for DNA. Some of the most ancient life forms on Earth thrive in hot water. Nanobots that turned nitrogen and hydrogen to ammonia were in existence by 2.5 Gy BP. When RNA strands floated in droplets within lipid cell walls, their chemistry stabilized and they evolved into life as we know it.

For the next billion years nanobots evolved quietly. Photosynthetic bacteria excreted oxygen. This reacted with biomass at first, until organic remains began to fossilize. Then free oxygen accumulated in the atmosphere.

Large animals breathing oxygen first evolved 500 My BP. Now humans burn fossil fuels.

Genghis Khan

Jack Weatherford

Genghis Khan created a new world order. His Mongol army waged war on multiple fronts across vast distances, making brilliant use of speed and surprise. When he was born in 1162 CE, Eurasia was broken into regional civilizations. When he died in 1227 CE, they were welded with contacts that are still unbroken. He smashed the feudal system of hereditary privilege and built a new system based on individual merit, loyalty, and achievement. He bowed only to the law of the eternal blue sky.

AR The body count for the Mongol wars was up in the tens of millions, in the same league as those of the two world wars.

Blue Rinse
Liam Fox

A blue tide has swept through
the South West peninsula. Every
constituency from Bristol to
Land's End except Exeter is in
our hands: 51 Conservative
MPs hail from the region.

AR Fox is the Engish
Nicola Sturgeon.

Germany vs Greece
Philosophers' Football

118 Hours

After nearly 425 ks over the
Pacific Ocean, Solar Impulse 2
landed in Hawaii. Leg 8 of a
planned 13 around the world set
a record for the longest time
and distance for a plane run
only on solar power.

The European Union is not
perfect. But recent squabbles
are minor imperfections in a
union of 500 million people in
28 countries living, marrying,
studying and working together.
It is a work in progress.

Perimeter Institute
2015 June 20-24

London terror police or
Nazi stormtroopers?


2015 July 7

German Anger

New York Times

Germans prize fiscal rectitude and adherence to the rules. They have scant sympathy for the Greek demand for more money. So as de facto head of Europe, Chancellor Angela Merkel faces a challenge that will test her leadership abilities.

Europe faces challenges beyond Greece. Britain is planning a referendum on membership in the European Union and threatening to exit. Russia is emerging as a security threat and exposing rifts within Europe about how to react. And there is no consensus about how to deal with the migrants washing into southern Europe.

Radicals on the left and right in Europe cheered the Greek No as evidence that the European project was crumbling. Merkel and others see a threat not only to their own political fortunes but also to the entire postwar architecture of Europe.

Conservative fury at Greece is mounting. German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble wants Greece to exit the euro. But Merkel's domestic critics were more sympathetic on Monday. Wolfgang Bosbach: "The chancellor did everything that was humanly possible to help the Greeks."

David Cameron

Kevin Meagher

David Cameron is one of our greatest post-war prime ministers. Conservatism now dominates British politics. Every part of the public sector and welfare state now feels the lash of reform. He has set a high bar for what he wants to achieve.

Like all great leaders, Cameron possesses fortitude. In the election campaign he stuck to his core message on the economy. It was brutally simplistic and successful. His strategy and his judgement were vindicated. His victory was historic.

The one imponderable remains Europe. Once the European question is put to bed, Cameron will have delivered what he promised. His last trick will be to ensure an orderly transition to new management for the next election in 2020.

2015 July 6


CNN, 1640 GMT

Greeks voted NO to the latest EU bailout offer. They want less austerity and less debt. Greece is out of cash. Another bailout will depend on Germany. Most Greek debt is held by governments and big institutions. Greece could exit the euro.

AR Throw the bums out.

Germany vs Greece

Der Spiegel

Greece is in deep trouble. Its taxation and land registry systems are broken and no one thinks it can ever repay its debts. Its governments plundered the state.

When the euro crisis erupted in 2010, German chancellor Angela Merkel made sure that the IMF was involved in Greece. When former chancellor Helmut Kohl introduced the euro, he paid too much attention to his emotions and not enough to economics. The IMF added mathematics.

Merkel respects numbers. She says Europe contains 7% of the global population and is responsible for 25% of global economic output, but pays half of all global social welfare, which is unsustainable. Such claims show why Greeks see her as the German dominatrix of austerity.

Tweet last week from Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras to Merkel: "With a clear 'NO' we send a message that Greece is not going to surrender."

2015 July 5


Ben Brumfield

Paragon Space Development Corporation designs and manufactures an Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) to keep astronauts breathing and hydrated in space. The company wrote a study for Mars One, the idea to send crews to Mars who would live and die there for reality TV.

Once a robot ship landed on Mars, the ECLSS would extract water from rocks. It would turn some of the water into oxygen and mix it with nitrogen and argon in the Martian atmosphere to mimic Earth air. For 2 years, it would heat and cool the air in the still empty living quarters against surface temperatures ranging annually from 133 K to 294 K (21°C) to prove it can work reliably.

The colonists would touch down and step into warm and ready accommodation. They would want drinking water and bathroom water. They would learn to grow crops that needed water. The ECLSS would have made enough for them, and would recycle the used water into drinking and other water.

ECLSS engineers have not yet tackled inadvertent contamination of Mars by life forms from Earth. They have also not addressed leaks, repairs, fires, radiation protection, electric power generation, or how to mine rocks for water. They need more time. Mars One candidates would land about 12 years from now. At least all this is useful research that may one day help land real Martians.

2015 July 4

Homo Sap

The Nation

Yuval Noah Harari is an Israeli historian and Sapiens is big history.

In the beginning was the bang. The laws of physics governed the creation of the stars, which cooked up the stuff that made Earth and formed life. Blind evolutionary processes led to Homo sapiens, which may soon evolve into a different species.

Big histories put humans among other species in the biosphere. Harari dwells on the multiple extinctions caused by Homo sapiens over the course of history. Humans are Nietzschean predators impelled by instinct toward the Übermensch.

Sapiens is a punchy digest of more nuanced and detailed studies. Harari spins difficult concepts and complex stories into a synthesis with three revolutions:

1 Cognitive (70 kybp): Evolution of language and symbolic communication
2 Agricultural (12 kybp): Rising population, empires, trade, religion, money
3 Scientific (500 ybp): Capitalism, imperialism, globalization, environmental ruin

Harari presents everything beyond the natural world of science as myth. While constrained by biology and physics, our species coexists in imaginary worlds of its own devising. Saps live in a dual reality.

Homo superior will likely be as restless and dissatisfied as Homo sap. We are often misled by our own fictions. History is a useful fiction that can yield enlightenment. Sapiens means wisdom.

AR Harari ate my lunch — CORAL

2015 July 3

Israel and America

David P. Goldman

There are two nations and only two nations in the world that are chosen, because their inhabitants became citizens by choice rather than happenstance: the United States of America and the State of Israel. Every other nation in the world defines itself by common territory and heritage.

Israel forces us to either remember or finally repudiate who we are as Americans. Both the American Revolution and the founding of the State of Israel demanded an inspired loyalty to a higher principle.

God choose Israel and Israel chose God. Men become free by taking responsibility for their own destiny, by choosing between good and evil. Israel was the first manifestation of freedom in human affairs. Other peoples defined themselves by the happenstance of language and geography.

This biblical vision of a free people assembled by choice that chooses God rather than a human monarch as its sovereign provides Americans with a chance to remember sacrifice and boldness of purpose.

AR The dialectical reciprocity of God and those who chose God was the pearl of my CORAL. The logic I used exactly 40 years ago to grow classical mathematics from the null set.

Big Bang to Big Rip

Marcelo Disconzi

The universe is expanding and the rate is accelerating. Dark energy tries to expand the universe and gravity tends to make it collapse again.

In the Big Freeze scenario, the universe keeps expanding gradually until only a thin soup of radiation is left, which cools down into eternity.

In the Big Rip scenario, dark energy overwhelms gravity. Our new theory predicts that the universal expansion will accelerate to infinity.

Phys. Rev. D 91, 043532

2015 July 2


New Scientist

Last week, the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Canada, hosted its inaugural Convergence conference. Perimeter director Neil Turok: "Theory is becoming ever more complex and contrived. We throw in more fields, more dimensions, more symmetry — we're throwing the kitchen sink at the problem and yet failing to explain the most basic facts."

Convergence gave researchers a chance to parade puzzling experimental results. The goal is to give young theorists alternative paths to pursue, guided by empirical evidence.

Areas discussed included dark matter and dark energy, how the human brain relates to fundamental quantum physics, and whether the quantum structure of black holes can show that spacetime emerges from quantum entanglement.

Also discussed were the implications of the latest Planck measurements for the theory of inflation. The theory is adaptable enough to fit any observations we can currently do, so maybe it is too flexible to be called a theory. But possible observations we could do would falsify it.

AR Fascinating — in a parallel world I might have been there with a few ideas.

2015 July 1

Israel and the Caliphate

The Guardian

Islamic State insurgents have threatened to take over the Gaza Strip. They accuse Hamas of being too lax on religious enforcement. Hamas is cracking down on jihadis in Gaza who oppose its truces with Israel and reconciliation with Fatah.

IS video message to the "tyrants" of Hamas: "We will uproot the state of the Jews and you and Fatah, and all of the secularists are nothing and you will be overrun by our creeping multitudes. The rule of sharia will be implemented in Gaza."

Mass Murder

Richard J. Evans

No crime in human history outdoes the Holocaust, the Nazi extermination of 6 million European Jews. Yet only about 2.3 million people were put into Nazi concentration camps between 1933 and 1945. More than 1.7 million lost their lives and almost 1 million of them were Jews killed in Auschwitz.

During the first half of 1933, makeshift camps were set up for political prisoners. By 1934, the remaining camps became dumps for asocials, alcoholics, vagrants, and social deviants. By 1939 there were six camps. During the war, they were transformed into centers of forced labor.

Up to the final phase of the war, Jews made up no more than 1 in 10 of the inmate population. By September 1939, half the Jewish population of Germany had gone, leaving mostly the elderly behind. The total number of Jews in the SS concentration camps amounted to about 1,500 out of 21,400.

From 1941 onward, Jewish inmates were removed and taken to extermination centers, where they were killed along with Jews brought from all over Europe. Toward the end of the war, the Nazis put increasing numbers of Jews into the labor camp system rather than the gas chambers. Even then, only a third of the camp population were Jews.

The genocide of the Jews was part of a far wider program of mass murder. It is unhelpful to subsume all these crimes under the concept of the Holocaust.

AR The Nazis were responsible for most of the more than 40 million premature deaths in WW2 Europe. Like Islamic State today, they had a brisk way with death that forms a dialectical counterpoint to the gentle approach to life in the liberal West.


The around-the-world flight of the experimental Solar Impulse 2 began last March. Pilot Andre Borschberg is now flying the plane more
than 8 Mm from Japan to Hawaii. The journey is expected to last up to 500 ks. Pilot Bertrand Piccard has been sharing flying duties
along the route. They will be the first aviators in history to fly a plane around the world without using a drop of fuel.

Ross Clark

I used to think communism
was the most damaging creed
that could be foisted upon an
economy. Now I realize there
is an even more destructive
belief system: localism.

AR I hereby confirm that
Primrose Hill is indeed as
brilliant as Alan Sillitoe
said it was.


Hardware, Software, and
the Internet of Things

San Francisco, CA
2015-06-23 — 2015-06-25

CT Fantasy
Foreign Policy

Drone strikes, manned airstrikes,
and special operations raids buy
space and time. But by them-
selves they are only a delaying
action. This counter-terrorism
concept is a fantasy.

M.C. Escher Co.
Relativity (1953)

The Amazing World
of M.C. Escher

Scottish National Gallery
of Modern Art, Edinburgh

2015-06-27 — 2015-09-27

Moon Village

European Space Agency director
Johann-Dietrich Wörner wants
to build a village on the Moon:
"This is not so hard to achieve
... I see it as a small human
habitat, with humans and robots
from across the world ... If one
company wants to build a hotel,
if another wants to mine and
explore, that is perfect."

Pope Francis

200 years ago today:
Battle of Waterloo

French army NH90
Le Bourget 2015


2015 June 30

No Means Grexit

Joseph Stiglitz

Greece and its creditors are in the endgame. The troika (EC, ECB, IMF) has foisted a 25% decline in GDP on Greece and is still demanding a budget surplus that economists condemn as punitive. Greeks will hold a snap referendum this weekend.

EU leaders resist the referendum. Concern for popular legitimacy is incompatible with EZ politics. Yes means depression almost without end. No opens the possibility that Greece might grasp its destiny in its own hands. I know how I would vote.


Ross Clark

Islamic State is the latest manifestation of the Islamic fundamentalism that has swept the Mideast for decades. We will not defeat it until we recognize what it is.

The Prime Minister says Islamic State is an existential threat to the West. So why has the UK utterly failed to come up with a coherent response to Islamic fundamentalism? We have expended a lot of military effort overthrowing regimes that were no threat to us and even regimes that had been keeping the Islamic fundamentalists at bay.

David Cameron seems reluctant to face the facts. It is time he stopped telling us what a wonderful peaceful religion Islam is and tackled the problem.

2015 June 29

Back to the Future

Stuart Armstrong

Humans are still masters of their fate. But when machines become smarter than humans, they will take over. Machines with huge amounts of computing power, working at speeds inconceivable to the human brain, will create global networks with each other, communicating without human interference.

Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) will be able to take over entire transport systems, national economies, financial markets, healthcare systems, and product distribution. Anything you can imagine the human race doing over the next 100 years AGI will be able to do faster, including doing wrong.

Human attempts to limit the powers of AGI could go wrong too. An instruction to prevent human suffering could logically be interpreted in AI as one to kill all humans, thus ending suffering altogether. An instruction to keep humans safe and happy could be translated in machine logic as one to entomb everyone in concrete coffins on heroin drips. You get what you ask for, not what you want.

We need plans for safe AGI before we create the first dangerous AGI. The software industry is devoting enormous effort to developing AI, and we are almost at the point of generating an AGI that is as intelligent as humans. As we race to the goal of safe AGI we need to outrun the computer industry.

Can a business be alive?

2015 June 28

Teen romance as fairy tale? We have a winner!

Andy Ross

An Irish novel for young adults about fairies may seem an unpromising item for readers outside the charmed circle of Irish teenage girls. But Helen Falconer gives it enough power to work its magic on a wider class of readers, and she surely nurses the hope of emulating in her own modest way the success that J. K. Rowling achieved with her Harry Potter books. As a novelist accustomed to high praise for her prose, Ms Falconer is no doubt eager to enjoy a royalty jackpot commensurate with the exceptional quality of her talent.

The story starts with enough modern realism about schoolgirl crushes and teen texting to lull its target readers into a relation of trust. Then, with accelerating tempo, the magic kicks in and realism goes out the window in an escalating rush of supernatural fantasy. Once the tale has taken off, the action lets rip in fine style, with enough dash to propel this reader at least through a fairly long saga in one extended sitting. That, by the way, is a big achievement. Most of the few novels that this impatient philosopher reads at all leave him cold. Those consumed in one sitting are rare indeed. But modern teens unused to reading big books will need this narrative drive, and a novel that lacked it would fail at the gate.

With its artful blend of young love and folk wisdom, The Changeling strikes one as eminently fit for purpose. ...

PDF: 1 page, 57 KB

2015 June 27

Helen Falconer


Helen worked as a journalist and book reviewer on the Guardian before becoming a full-time writer. Her novels Primrose Hill and Sky High feature teenage protagonists. Her latest novel The Changeling is published this month.

Helen has been teaching creative writing classes since 2005. She believes that new writers are subject to common errors including:

Wandering point of view
Beginning the story in the wrong place
Failing to describe characters until too late
Delivering back story in an indigestible chunk
Losing drama when focusing on getting from A to B
Using general instead of specific words to set scenes and situations
Breaking up action with description

AR I'm belated reading Primrose Hill (first published 1999) today. I tutored her in philosophy at Oxford back in 1977. She was quite brilliant and went on to get a congratulatory first in PPE.

2015 June 26

The Future

Yuval Harari

Politicians today can barely manage to enact health and education reforms. Creating new worlds and new human beings is far beyond their agendas.

The new prophets are technology gurus. They want to tear down the old world and build a completely new world in its place. They look toward a future in which algorithms replace human beings in the economy and life no longer revolves around work.

The silicon prophets are building socioeconomic models for a society in which human beings no longer produce anything and are merely consumers. They are dreaming not only about remaking society and the economy but also about defeating death, engineering superhumans, creating the Internet of Things, and merging them all to form some kind of cosmic consciousness.

What people hope to achieve is often far more important than what they can actually do. It is dangerous to mix godlike technology with megalomaniac politics but it might be even more dangerous to blend godlike technology with myopic politics.

Technology gives us the power to reshape the future. If politicians flub the job of planning this future, the really big decisions might be made by the gurus.

The Internet of Things

McKinsey Global Institute

IoT technology can create real economic value. The potential is huge, but capturing it will require an understanding of where real value can be created and an effort to address systems issues.

We analyzed more than 150 use cases, ranging from people with devices to monitor health and wellness to manufacturers using sensors to optimize the maintenance of equipment and protect the safety of workers. We estimate that the IoT has a total potential economic impact of $4 trillion to $11 trillion a year by 2025. The top end value is over a tenth of world GDP.

Among our findings:
Interoperability between IoT systems is critical
Companies need to use IoT data widely for optimization and prediction
B2B apps will probably capture more value than the consumer uses
The IoT will be big both in advanced economies and in developing ones
Customers will capture most of the benefits

A dynamic industry is evolving around IoT technology. The digitization of machines, vehicles, and other elements of the physical world is changing how goods are made and distributed, how products are serviced and refined, and how doctors and patients manage health and wellness. Capturing the full potential of the IoT will require innovation and investment.

AR A good way for a big company to get IoT ready is to run on SAP HANA.

2015 June 25

UK in Europe

Sir Mike Rake et al. (27 names)

As business leaders from a variety of sectors, and from businesses of all sizes, we believe it is overwhelmingly in Britain's interests to stay in the EU. This country is stronger as part of the largest market in the world, with half a billion people. We can trade freely with just one set of rules across the whole of Europe. We also benefit from Europe's free trade deals with more than 50 countries around the world.

Britain as a whole is stronger too: together with our European partners we can best address common problems that respect no borders, such as crime and environmental protection; we stand firm with 27 other countries in the face of common threats; and each UK household benefits by an average of £3,000 per year.

Of course the EU is far from perfect and that is why the prime minister is right to call for change to make it more efficient, streamlined and competitive. Britain has shown in the past that where we make the case for change we can win. Reform is an ongoing process that needs to happen now and long into the future. The best way to secure that is to be in the room fighting for it, not outside knocking on the door.

2015 June 24

Global Warming or Cooling?

Steve Connor

There is about a 1 in 5 chance of the Sun entering a grand solar minimum in the next 50 years. The last grand solar minimum occurred between about 1645 and 1715.

The Sun has been in a grand solar maximum over the past few decades but it is quickly becoming less active, with an increasing probability of a grand solar minimum by the end of the century.

A grand solar minimum would cause global average temperatures to fall by about 0.1 K. An increase of several K is expected due to global warming if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.

UK Met Office researcher Sarah Ineson: "The Sun isn't going to save us from global warming."

Regional climate impacts of a possible future grand solar minimum
Sarah Ineson et al.

Maurits Cornelis Escher

The Times

Roger Penrose was a young man when he first encountered M.C. Escher: "Relativity impressed me the most ... My conclusion was we find the pictures disturbing because we fear Escher may be right.”

Penrose: "For those who do pure mathematics for its own sake, it's the aesthetic, the joy, the beauty in the subject itself, that elegance which lies in a proof or a result. Artistry in some form is so important to mathematics."


Josh Armstrong

John Searle believes that philosophical work on perception since Descartes has been incoherent. He thinks he has found the bad argument. He says our perceptual capacities enable us to see things as they are in our local environments.

There is an external world full of things. These things and this world are objective. There is also a subjective world consisting of internal states of mind. If you get things wrong, your perceptual system has produced an inaccurate representation of the external world. Two perceptual states that differ only in that one of them is accurate perception of the world and the other is inaccurate are phenomenologically indistinguishable.

Searle says all perceptual states have contents, but not all perceptual states have objects. Perceptual contents pertain to how the world is represented, not to what in the world is represented. We can perceive external objects directly.

AR Searle has no patience with the brain as VR generator image of Thomas Metzinger.

2015 June 23


The Independent

US Global Air Strike Commander Lt Gen Stephen Wilson: "I don't think we've ever seen so much power put in one person in Russia, and some of the things happening there are troubling and concerning for everybody ... Lots of people are trying to figure out what is the strategic intent of Russia ... We want to bring Russia back into what we knew from years past, a relationship which was stable, with good dialog, and understanding and communication to avoid any potential miscalculation."

2015 June 22

New Horizons

National Space Society

The NASA New Horizons spacecraft will speed past Pluto on July 14, 2015, beaming back photos and data from the dwarf planet. (HD video, 2:52)

2015 June 21

The Fifth Gospel

Ian Caldwell

AR I found this a satisfying novel. It has an intriguing theme and it is thoroughly researched, as well as skillfully plotted and populated with deep and credible characters.

The Shroud of Turin is the iconic motif in a plot that really turns on the schism between Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism. Debatable claims for and against the authenticity of the Shroud give way to much more interesting reflections on the apparent blasphemy of such imagery, while parochial reflections on eastern versus western faith from the perspective of Vatican politics turn into a deeper analysis of the numerous little contradictions between the four canonical gospels.

The fifth gospel of the title plays a didactic role in dramatizing what might otherwise have been a rather tedious exercise in comparative hermeneutics. The Gospel of John turns out have something to say on the mystery of the Shroud, but to say more here might spoil the plot.

The priestly characters, including Pope John Paul II in all his terminal frailty, add real depth to the philosophy and illustrate better than any moralizing how Christian faith, for all its intellectual vulnerability, can give shape and meaning to mortal human lives.

Altogether this is a book for discerning readers. With a body count of one and no graphic sex it is not an airport novel.

2015 June 20


Anil Ananthaswamy

Wimpzillas are superheavy weakly interacting massive particles. Wimps from the early universe could explain dark matter. But the creation of wimpzillas and other superheavy dark matter takes energies last found during the inflationary epoch.

Results from BICEP2 and ESA Planck tell us the free energy in that epoch could have been in the YeV range. Quantum gravitational fluctuations could have created wimpzillas. But expansion has diluted them and they do not interact directly with detectors on Earth.

If wimpzillas decay, the decay products will have superhigh energies. The IceCube neutrino telescope has seen 3 neutrinos with energies in the PeV range that could be decay products of superheavy dark matter with an extremely long half-life.

Another way to detect superheavy dark matter particles would be via the ultra-high-energy cosmic rays (UHECR) emitted when they decay. UHECR create showers of particles when they enter the atmosphere, but only a handful do so per second.

The Japanese Experimental Module – Extreme Universe Space Observatory (JEM-EUSO) will look for light emitted when UHECR hit the atmosphere. Energies that cannot be explained by standard astrophysics could come from wimpzillas.

Gravitational Decoherence

New Scientist

In general relativity, gravity slows down time. Lab experiments with atomic clocks show that your head ages slightly faster than your feet, because your feet feel a stronger gravitational field.

Igor Pikovski and colleagues calculated what happens when you do quantum experiments in Earth gravity. If a molecule is in a superposition of two states that are at different heights from the ground, each state will vibrate at a different rate, destroying any superposition. If you could place an atomic clock in a vertical superposition, it would tick at two rates simultaneously, forcing it to decohere. This effect is too small for present clocks to measure.

General relativity and quantum mechanics are mathematically inconsistent. Quantum gravity theorists would like experiments to check their ideas. Pikovski says this idea might help.

Nature Physics, DOI: 10.1038/nphys3366

2015 June 19

The Environment

Pope Francis

1 Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever.

2 The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world, especially Africa.

3 Christians must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God's image and given dominion over the Earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.

4 Access to safe drinking water is a basic and universal human right.

5 By itself the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion.

6 In the face of a culture of death, the family is the heart of the culture of life. Concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion.

7 Valuing one's own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if one is going to be able to recognize oneself in an encounter with someone who is different.

8 The Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics. But there is urgent need of a true world political authority.

9 An integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness.

10 The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.


Le Monde

On 18 June 1815, France lost an emperor. Napoleon the military genius was also a dictator. The image of the visionary of modern Europe is now tainted.

Waterloo marked the beginning of an unprecedented era of peace, stability and development in Europe. It marked the end of the political cycle of the French Revolution and the beginning of the industrial revolution in Britain. It opened the way to a golden age for European science, arts and literature.

We call on our British allies to resist the familiar temptation of splendid isolation. Beware, Brexit could be your Waterloo! Your future is in Europe.

2015 June 18

Europe and Waterloo

Michael White

Napoleon the Great swept all before him, overthrew ancient and despotic regimes, put a reactionary Catholic church in its place, liberated the oppressed, and imposed a modern legal code on vast swathes of Europe, all at the point of a sword. His return in 1815 from exile on Elba galvanized the stalled Vienna conference. The great powers agreed to commit large armies to his defeat. Napoleon's dream ended at Waterloo.

Napoleon's Dream

Martin Kettle

The battle of Waterloo meant victory over Napoleon. A long war was ended and the invasion threat to Britain was lifted. It meant victory of the feudal crowned heads of Europe over the forces of the French revolution. Waterloo was a victory for a reactionary European order. Lord Byron, visiting the field of Waterloo in 1816: "I detest the cause and the victors — and the victory."

In final exile on St Helena, Napoleon said what he would have done if he had invaded England in 1805: "I would have hastened over my flotilla with two hundred thousand men, landed as near Chatham as possible and proceeded direct to London, where I calculated to arrive in four days from the time of my landing. I would have proclaimed a republic and the abolition of the nobility and the House of Peers, the distribution of the property of such of the latter as opposed me amongst my partisans, liberty, equality and the sovereignty of the people."

2015 June 17

Rise of the Robots

David Rotman

Creative Machines Lab head Hod Lipson: "For a long time the common understanding was that technology was destroying jobs but also creating new and better ones. Now the evidence is that technology is destroying jobs and indeed creating new and better ones but also fewer ones."

A guaranteed basic income is part of the answer. Give people a modest amount of money. As a negative income tax, the idea was popularized by Milton Friedman as a way to cut government bureaucracy. The idea offers a way to help people shut out of labor markets. It provides a safety net with minimum government involvement.

The rise of the robots might be needlessly scaring our children. The trajectory of technological progress depends on choices by governments, consumers, and businesses. The machines are tools. Technology can be a dynamic engine of economic growth, but more people need to own the robots. Whoever owns the capital will benefit.

Lipson: "The solution is not to hold back on innovation, but we have a new problem to innovate around: how do you keep people engaged when AI can do most things better than most people? I don't know what the solution is, but it's a new kind of grand challenge for engineers."

Global Peace Index 2015

Vision of Humanity

Globally the intensity of internal armed conflict has increased dramatically, with the number of people killed in conflicts rising over 3.5 times from 49,000 in 2010 to 180,000 in 2014.

The economic impact of violence reached a total of US$14.3 trillion or 13.4% of global GDP last year.

The most peaceful and least peaceful countries:

1 Iceland
2 Denmark
3 Austria
160 Afghanistan
161 Iraq
162 Syria

Institute for Economics and Peace
Global Peace Index 2015
PDF, 128 pages, 7.6 MB

2015 June 16


New York Times

Greece will most likely default on its debts and exit the eurozone.

To save Greece, European officials need to produce a realistic plan to revive the devastated Greek economy and put its finances in order. The 18 other EZ members would have to agree to forgive or delay the repayment of some of Greece's crushing debt. The Greek government would have to increase tax collection, make the government more efficient, and boost economic growth.

The eurozone will suffer if Greece defaults and exits from the euro. But default and Grexit will devastate the Greek economy and financial system. EZ officials have made the Greek crisis worse since 2010 by demanding austerity policies that have inflicted suffering on individuals, contracted the economy, and pushed Greek unemployment to 1 in 4, and 1 in 2 for young people.

Greece is trapped in an economic calamity with no end in sight.

2015 June 15

Bush Doctrine

George W. Bush

The Bush Doctrine:
1 No matter how long it takes, we will vigorously pursue those who do us harm
   and bring them to justice.
2 If you harbor a terrorist, you are as guilty as the terrorist.
3 We have to take threats seriously before they fully materialize.

The 9/11 attacks were a wake-up call for our country because they meant that we were vulnerable to an attack no matter how many miles of oceans protected us. The only way to defeat an ideology of hate is with an ideology of hope. All decision making sprang from that doctrine.

There will not be a complete victory until ideologies of hate are marginalized. You achieve that by advancing a society in which the population gets to decide the fate of their government as opposed to governments deciding what is going to happen to the population.

My brother Jeb would be a very good president. In this coming campaign, foreign policy is going to be an issue. The American people are aware of potential threats to the country. People getting their heads cut off — I think Americans are going to pay attention to this issue.

AR Looks like Bush versus Clinton in 2016.

UK Looks Feeble

Admiral Sir Nigel Essenhigh
Admiral of the Fleet Lord Boyce
Field Marshal Lord Walker
Air Chief Marshal Sir Peter Squire

The recent Queen's Speech contained no guarantee that we would meet our NATO minimum spending target of 2% of GDP. The ring-fenced 0.7% of GDP allocated to overseas aid should not be lumped in with defence purely as a means of meeting the 2% NATO target. We call on the government to ensure that their review does not degenerate into yet another cuts exercise.

US Army in Latvia

FGM: David Cameron will stop
people taking girls abroad for
female genital mutilation.

CJHS: Most men prefer
women with shaved or
trimmed pubic hair.

Gustav Vigeland
The Ring of Life

Reve (1999)
Bridget Riley: The Curve
Paintings 1961-2014
De La Warr Pavilion
Bexhill On Sea
2015-06-13 — 2015-09-06

Josephine Wall
Lakshmi, goddess of
wealth and prosperity


Polish secretary of state
for European affairs
Rafał Trzaskowski says the
British people must be told
the brutal truth about the
damaging consequences of
leaving the European Union.
They must not be duped
into believing they can
"keep all the goodies and
forget about the costs".

AR Popping our bubble!

Photo: Mervyn O'Gorman
Girl on Dorset coast, 1913

Drawn by Light:
The RPS Collection

National Media Museum
2015-03-20 — 2015-06-21



2015 June 14

Heavy Metal for East Europe

New York Times

To deter possible Russian aggression in Europe, the Pentagon is poised to store battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and other heavy weapons to equip a brigade of up to 5,000 US troops in several Baltic and Eastern European countries.

Former NATO supreme allied commander James G. Stavridis: "This is a very meaningful shift in policy. It provides a reasonable level of reassurance to jittery allies."


New York Review of Books

The Management of Savagery, by Abu Bakr Naji, was first posted online in 2004 and is widely cited by jihadists. Naji, who was killed in a US drone strike in 2008, saw the coming violence as causing "vexation and exhaustion" that would force Americans who "have reached a stage of effeminacy which makes them unable to sustain battles" to fight.

Beyond Gender

Washington Post

A Berlin district has voted new rules for billboard ads. They ban ads showing girls in pink with dolls or boys in blue playing with technical toys. Ads cannot show females as hysterical, stupid or naive alongside men as technically skilled, strong or business savvy. Women must not be shown happy in the household or smiling for no reason.

European activists are targeting gender mainstreaming. They are pressing for policies and laws ensuring that everything from bathrooms to boardrooms to street signs are gender neutral. They want fuller equality for women and sexual minorities in both the job market and the public sphere. They want to end the culture of male dominance.

Street crossing lights still flash red or green images of men to say stop or go, but German cities are replacing some images with female ones. Vienna city officials replaced figures of lone men with mixed and same-sex couples. A 2015 German toy store catalog features a girl playing with a toy gun and boy in an apron playing in a toy kitchen.

Unisex toilets have opened in Berlin public buildings and theaters. Many more are planned, as spaces where anyone can heed nature together, doing away with prudery. Germans accept intimate exposure between sexes, for example relaxing naked in the summer sun in city parks or public pools. Shared bathrooms are the next step.

2015 June 13

Inside the Islamic State

Malise Ruthven

In November 2001, James Buchan imagined the triumphant entry into Mecca of Osama bin Laden. While the details have changed, the scenario he outlined appears plausible today. Islamic State Caliph Ibrahim is commander of the faithful in a nascent state and poses a formidable threat to Mideast regimes.

Caliph Ibrahim was born in 1971 in Iraq. His tribal lineage includes the Qurayshin tribe of the Prophet Muhammad, and Sunni tradition requires the caliph to be a Qurayshite. His family includes several imams and Quranic scholars. He has a doctorate from the Islamic University of Baghdad in Islamic jurisprudence and history.

Islamic State is a highly centralized and disciplined organization. The caliph and his deputies set the overall objectives. A sharia council oversees imposition of criminal penalties including amputations and capital punishment. An education council oversees schooling. Science is taught and teachers are paid, but the curriculum is based on a strict Salafist interpretation of the Koran and sharia law. Evolutionary biology is banned and gender segregation is rigorously enforced.

The Islamic State media department employs an army of journalists, photographers, and editors. They produce slick propaganda videos with high production values featuring gruesome images of brutal crucifixions, beheadings, eviscerations, mass executions, homosexuals being pushed from high buildings, and severed heads impaled on railings or brandished by children. Such atrocities guarantee global publicity.

A restored caliphate has been the dream of Islamic revivalists since the abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1924. Their aim is a transnational body that stands above the various tribes or communities making up the Muslim world. Their most potent psychological pitch is exploiting dreams of martyrdom.

Both the House of Saud and the Islamic State lay claim to the true path of Islam, as outlined by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. But Islamic State challenges the legitimacy of Saudi guardianship of the holy places. The nightmare imagined by James Buchan may soon become a reality.

AR Jamie is good on the Mideast.

2015 June 12

Dark Matter

Priyamvada Natarajan

We need a new explanation for dark matter and a better understanding for black holes. We know that dark matter is lightly smeared everywhere in the universe, but that there are regions where it accumulates due to gravity.

The Hubble space telescope has allowed us to chart lumps of dark matter by their gravitational lensing. My work has focused on clusters of galaxies. A cluster is a blob of dark matter that holds about 1000 galaxies. Dark matter does not emit radiation and its presence is inferred by its gravitational influence.

A theory called MOND (modified Newtonian dynamics) proposed by Jacob Bekenstein and Mordehai Milgrom suggests that a slight tweak to Newton's laws would be sufficient to explain away dark matter. Some of my work confronted MOND theory with clusters. MOND fails to explain the properties of clusters, so it's not viable.

The standard idea of how the first black holes formed is that the first stars burned up to leave little seed black holes. These grew very rapidly to generate all the massive black holes that we see in the centers of most galaxies, including the ones that glow as quasars. But we are detecting quasars when the universe was about 1 billion years old, and the black holes powering quasars can be about 10 billion times the mass of the sun.

Models of direct collapse black holes that form early in the universe predict that you should see bright quasars much earlier into the universe. This prediction will be tested by the James Webb Space Telescope.

2015 June 11


Thomas Piketty

Anthony Atkinson proposes a new plan of action for a British government:

Higher rates of income tax and higher contributions to national insurance
Expansion of the national social security and income redistribution system
Universal family benefits and increased retirement and unemployment benefits
Guaranteed public sector jobs at a minimum wage for the unemployed
A national savings system with guaranteed returns for depositors
A capital endowment for each young citizen as he or she reaches adulthood

AR Action like this would kill the incentive to work and impoverish everyone.
The plan is a manifesto for a shirker's paradise.

2015 June 10


David Miliband

Sitting in New York, it's completely evident to me that no American government would ever take seriously a Britain that has withdrawn from the European Union. It's almost like Britain would be resigning from the world.

2015 June 9

EU Referendum

Philip Hammond

The UK government is delivering on its pledge to hold a referendum on EU membership. The British public are not happy with the status quo, and the British government does not believe in an ever closer union. We need guarantees to ensure that our interests are protected as those that want to integrate further do so. We want a stronger role for national parliaments. We need to tackle benefit abuse and welfare tourism. We are determined to succeed.

2015 June 8

New Age Dawning

The Guardian

The G7 nations have agreed to cut greenhouse gases by phasing out the use of fossil fuels by the end of the century. Angela Merkel said the G7 leaders had committed to the need to "decarbonize the global economy in the course of this century" and to raising $100 billion in annual climate financing by 2020. The European Climate Foundation called the announcement historic.


The Times

Barack Obama: "One of the great values of having the United Kingdom in the European Union is its leadership and strength on a whole host of global challenges, so we very much are looking forward to the United Kingdom staying part of the European Union."

2015 June 7

G7 Unity

Associated Press

Barack Obama will aim to show unity on global challenges with Angela Merkel. The pair will open with a public display of friendliness and remarks about the US-German alliance. Then they plan to meet privately at the G7 site to coordinate before joining the other leaders.

A response to Russia on the heels of violent clashes in eastern Ukraine is expected to dominate talks. Russian president Vladimir Putin was ousted from the G8 for his aggression. Also high on the agenda are the global economy, terrorism, and trade.

The Obama-Merkel relationship was tested after the NSA tapped Merkel's mobile phone. The German BND may have helped the NSA spy on European companies and officials as far back as 2008. The impact of the NSA revelations has not subsided in Germany.

Beer Breakfast

The Times

Barack Obama: "This morning, as we celebrate one of the strongest alliances the world has ever known, my message to the German people is simple: we are grateful for your friendship, for your leadership. We stand together as inseparable allies in Europe and around the world."

Angela Merkel: "Although it is true we sometimes have differences of opinion today from time to time, but still the United States of America is our friend, our partner and indeed an essential partner with whom we cooperate very closely. We cooperate closely because this is in our mutual interest. We cooperate because we need it. We cooperate because we want it."

The Special Relationship

James Rubin

Washington is retrenching. Previous UK prime ministers could at least pivot away from the Atlantic and toward the European Union, but David Cameron has chosen a strategy of EU reform and referendum. It is far from obvious how the minor member of the Anglo-American dynamic duo should proceed when the United States has so dramatically scaled back its international objectives.

In the Mideast, the Obama administration has neither extinguished nor contained the wildfire of Islamist terror. The perception of US lack of determination extends to the Ukraine crisis, where Washington is content to let Angela Merkel do the heavy lifting with Moscow, and to the tension with Beijing in the South China Sea, where the Chinese believe they may have the upper hand.


Rowan Williams

Blasphemy can be a step toward affirmation of belief. If God is real, then presumably God can cope with anything we choose to throw at Him. If God is not real, the experience of rejecting what we think we know of God is a way of discovering whether the notion of God matters to us.

The violent rejection of a God who has failed may open up a new picture of God. Unless you can say what you feel about Him, the God you started with is not worth believing in. Without forceful doubt, you may never know the real strength or weakness of what you claim to believe.

2015 June 6


Donald Rumsfeld

The West has failed to respond in the fight against Islamist extremism, either to understand the motivations of the protagonists or grasp that Arab nations are disintegrating. The threat from Islamists will take decades to conquer. The movement against nation states and for a caliphate is central and fundamental. We are in a competition of ideas.


Angela Merkel

The heads of state and government of the seven leading industrial countries will gather in Germany on June 7 and June 8 to discuss global challenges.

This G7 summit is about much more than crisis diplomacy. Our goals are sustainable, values-oriented growth and prosperity for as many people as possible. This can only be achieved in open economic systems with high investment and trade based on high social and environmental standards.

The G7 should commit to eliminating hunger and absolute poverty by 2030. A second global challenge is climate protection. The G7 ought to be a model for the transition to a low-carbon economy.

I am convinced that the G7 can be the driving force for a world worth living in. I am committed to shaping the global economy and global integration in such a way that the living conditions of all people around the world are improved. We must be committed to peace, freedom and security.

2015 June 5

Humans Hybrid by 2030

Ray Kurzweil

By 2030 our brains will be able to connect directly to the cloud, where thousands of computers will augment our native intelligence. The brain will connect via nanobots made from DNA strands. Our thinking then will be a hybrid of biological and non-biological thinking. The bigger and more complex the cloud, the more advanced our thinking. By about 2040, our thinking will be mostly cloudy.

2015 June 4

European Union

Emmanuel Macron, Sigmar Gabriel

The EU crisis of recent years highlights two architectural weaknesses:
1 The end of economic convergence between eurozone countries
2 Political tensions within the member states and within the union

Now is the time to fix the eurozone. We have to launch an economic and social union by agreeing on a process of convergence that would involve not only structural and institutional reforms but also social and tax convergence. This would bring EZ economies closer.

This convergence would allow the creation of a preliminary EZ budget. A fiscal capacity over and above national budgets would allow the EZ to adjust fiscal policy to track the economic cycle. This budget need not come at the expense of fiscal discipline at the national level.

To make its institutions work, Europe will need to address its democratic deficit. New executive powers at the eurozone level need to be complemented by governance reforms leading to stronger accountability.

We need a simpler and more efficient union, with streamlined governance and a stronger sense of community. Our goal is to render it unthinkable for any country in pursuit of its national interest to consider a lesser union. Europe cannot wait any longer.

IS Breakthrough

The Times

The Pentagon is rushing missiles to Iraq to counter suicide truck bombers. The new Swedish AT-4 anti-tank missiles are effective but simple to use. Iraqi forces fled from Ramadi when concentrated waves of suicide bombers driving captured US armored vehicles packed with tons of explosives forced an IS breakthrough.

2015 June 3



In 2007, Kamila Markram, Henry Markram, and Tania Rinaldi developed a theory of autism as Intense World Syndrome. They believe that the autistic brain is supercharged and hyperfunctional, making stimuli overwhelming, causing people with autism to withdraw for self-protection.

EPFL researchers now show how autism might be treated following IWS. They exposed rats to the drug valproate (VPA), then put the rats in three different environments: a standard laboratory cage, an unpredictable enriched environment, and a predictable enriched environment.

Rats exposed to VPA were more sensitive to their environments than control rats. Those in the predictable environment did not develop behaviors indicating anxiety and fear that the VPA-exposed mice in the unpredictable environment or the standard environment did. It seems an unpredictable or impoverished environment, but not a predictable one, exacerbates autistic symptoms in rats.

Kamila Markram sees implications for treating children with autism: "Structure and predictability is important, but none of the approaches has put this at the center. We say you have to put it at the center and you need to be addressing sensory overflow."

2015 June 2


Channel 4

Bundestag foreign affairs committee chairman Norbert Röttgen: "In a time and global environment where we are facing global disorder and the world is falling apart, there is a requirement for a strong Europe, for European unity and strength, and a signal to fall apart, to get disintegrated, would be a disastrous message of European weakness. ... The fact is it would break the hearts of most Germans if Great Britain would leave. It would break my heart absolutely, in general and particularly because I love this country and I'm absolutely, strongly convinced that European unity is crucial to assert our way of living in this globalized world. ... We want to have a well balanced European Union and Great Britain contributes to the balance of what Europe really means."

UK Armed Forces

Lewis Page

UK armed forces are in dire straits. The RAF is down to a handful of operational bombers and has no sub hunters at all. The army is yet again cutting back on soldiers. The navy is getting new aircraft carriers, but they can carry only jump jets and the awaited F-35B is delayed and over budget.

The UK defense budget is the fifth biggest in the world, around the same as that of France. But France has an aircraft carrier with planes, plus hundreds of operational strike jets, maritime patrol planes, and an army with many more soldiers than ours.

We could do better buying off the shelf from US companies. Our new carriers allow the option to add catapults. The cats were canceled, but we could refit them and lease US F/A-18E/F Super Hornet "Bug" strike fighters. Bugs are cheap and capable and could fill the RAF Tornado strike role.

AR A new UK wish list:

Refit the carriers with cats and fly Bugs from them
Use Bugs for strike instead of Tornado and Typhoon
Buy more Tomahawk cruise missiles for attack subs
Deploy Reaper and new drones for close air support
Deploy Poseidon for maritime patrol and sub hunting
Prefer C-17 Globemaster over A400M Atlas for airlift

We could pay for all this by retiring Trident.

2015 June 1

The Reality of Consciousness

Peter Russell

Consciousness is a fundamental quality of the cosmos. Our experience of the world is a representation of reality created by the brain. We mistake the representation for reality.

Perhaps all we can say about physical reality is that it is a highly structured field of information. The information has been given form in awareness. These forms appear to us as the material world. But this material world exists only in our awareness. Matter, as we know it, is all in the mind.

There is not only a complex flow of information, but an integration of the information from many different processes across the brain. The hard problem of consciousness still remains. Nothing in our current scientific worldview predicts that any arrangement of physical matter should ever result in an inner conscious experience.

Perhaps the capacity for experience is present, to some extent, in everything. If the capacity for awareness goes all the way down, then it must be an intrinsic quality of the cosmos. The world out there has the potential to be aware. The information field is aware. And that is all there is.

The essential nature of the cosmos is mind, not matter. My innermost essence is the essence of everything. In the words of the Upanishads, I am That.

AR This about as far as I got too in my conception of reality. Peter is a welcome fellow traveler on the long march through miph (mathematics—informatics—physics) to enlightenment.

Boeing P-8A Poseidon

Human Rights

UN special rapporteur on the
human rights of migrants
Professor François Crépeau
on proposed UK withdrawal
from the ECHR: "We have to
remember the 1930s and how
the rights of the Jews were
restricted in Germany ...
If this is allowed to happen
again, that majorities are
allowed to trample the rights
of minorities with impunity,
we are going back in history
and we're going to pay for it."

AR Example of logical fallacy
Reductio ad Hitlerum

Bob the Builder

Should the United Kingdom
remain a member of the
European Union?

The words invite a Yes:
Bob: "Can we fix it?"
Mob: "Yes we can."

The Great Recession
My review of
The Shifts and the Shocks
by Martin Wolf

Election 2015
Robert Syms
Why the polls
were wrong

The joys of summer:
Chrissy Teigen


Sweden Wins

Eurovision song contest
victor Måns Zelmerlöw
sings "Heroes" (3:17)

Dar Al-Handasah
Abraj Kudai, Mecca:
£2.3 billion hotel with
4 helipads, 5 floors for
Saudi royalty, 10,000
bedrooms, 45 storeys,
near the Grand Mosque,
open in 2017

Artificial Life in
Quantum Technologies

U. Alvarez-Rodriguez et al.

Dr. h.c. Hala Gorani
2015 Commencement Address
George Mason University
Vimeo (18:17)

Eric Jamison/Invision/AP
Taylor Swift wins 8 gongs
at Billboard bash


2015 May 31

The Climate Club

William D. Nordhaus

Climate change is the premier environmental issue facing the globe. Most scientists say it is a very serious problem. Progress in climate change policy has been slow for three main reasons:

1 There are strong incentives for free-riding in current climate agreements. The benefits from investments to reduce emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gases require costly investments by individual countries, but the benefits from the lower emissions are spread around the world. For climate change, the temptation of free-riding will push policies toward minimal investments in slowing emissions.

2 Scientists are increasingly confident but not certain that the results of climate modeling are accurate. They calculate that past emissions have contributed to warming of almost 1 K over the last century, with rapid continued warming projected for this century and beyond. Current policies allow a substantial chance that global temperatures will eventually rise by 6 K, which would be catastrophic.

3 Geoengineering could offset CO2 induced warming by managing solar radiation, so that less sunlight is absorbed by the surface of the earth. This cooling effect will offset the warming that comes from the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere. But the dangers are frightening.

I propose a Climate Club. Member countries would undertake harmonized but costly emission reductions and penalize countries outside the club. Countries will join the club to avoid the penalties. The concept of a Climate Club is utopian.


Julian Lewis

The NATO target of 2% defense spending is a minimum. Many people would be far from content, in a situation of increased threats, to be spending only the NATO minimum.

The government has boxed itself in. This is the trouble when governments do not think strategically and make what sound like worthy commitments to spending elsewhere.

I am opposed to the idea of extending NATO membership to countries such as Ukraine or Georgia. Would you be prepared to start a third world war in defense of that country?

2015 May 30

Abolish Trident

Philip Webber

The four UK Trident submarines still have a planned decade to go. But we need to commit now to replacing them to have time to design and build their successors.

Those backing renewal focus on jobs, national security, and skills. Opponents cite the £100 billion lifetime outlay. Development will add a third to the UK defense procurement budget for a decade.

The UK cannot afford to renew Trident when it struggles to meet the cost of aircraft carriers, modern planes, and a big army. We face no realistic nuclear threat anyway.

We have a golden opportunity to bolster our conventional defenses and to decommission our weapons of mass destruction. We could employ the resources now used for the nuclear fleet on conventional warships and other nuclear and civil engineering projects.

AR The price of losing Trident is having no way to stop a hypothetical Russian invasion force once it had conquered Poland, Germany, and the Low Countries. Rely on the US bomb — or France?

Maritime Patrol Aircraft

Air Marshal Sir John Harris
Air Vice Marshal George Chesworth
Air Vice Marshal David Emmerson
Air Vice Marshal Andrew Roberts
Air Commodore Andrew Neal

We believe the UK needs to acquire MPA now:
1 Russian submarines are monitoring the Trident base in Scotland. Without MPA, they will have
    acquired valuable intelligence since Nimrod was grounded.
2 The only aircraft capable of meeting UK needs soon is the Boeing P-8 Poseidon. But others have
    ordered it and we must wait in the queue.
3 The effectiveness of MPA depends on the expertise of the operator. Lost expertise takes years
    to regain. Experienced RAF MPA aircrew will soon be lost.

AR Even without Trident we need Poseidon.

2015 May 29

China's Space Race


Chinese astronaut Nie Haisheng: "As an astronaut, I have a strong desire to fly with astronauts from other countries. I also look forward to going to the International Space Station."

Chinese defense ministry spokesman Wang Jin: "The Chinese government has always advocated the peaceful use of outer space, it opposes space weaponization and an arms race in outer space. This position will not be changed."

Chinese State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense vice director Wu Yanhua said of the successful 2014 Moon orbital mission that it had gathered a lot of experimental data and laid a solid foundation for future missions.

US space analyst Miles O'Brien: "I think in the end, tortoise versus hare style, they will probably win."

2015 May 28

The Queen's Speech

David Cameron

1 The first task of a One Nation Government is to help all working people have security. And nothing is more crucial to that than a job. A new Bill will help to create two million more jobs this Parliament.

2 Social justice starts with education. Our school reforms in the last Parliament were bold. In this Parliament they will be bolder still. We will continue increasing spending on our health service. True social justice turns workless households into working households, and the welfare system into a lifeline, not a way of life.

3 We will bring every part of our United Kingdom together. People must have more direct power over the areas in which they live. We will have a Scotland Bill, a Wales Bill and a Northern Ireland Bill, and will introduce English votes for English laws. We will also legislate to have an EU Referendum before the end of 2017.

A One Nation Government is a Government for working people. This is the Britain we're setting out to create. In the last Parliament we laid the foundations. In this Parliament we will use them to build something special.

Layers of Reality

Sean Carroll

The underlying laws of physics take us from a simple early universe to an expanding and empty space in our future, passing through now, where things are intricate and complex.

Think about the universe as a cup of coffee. When the cream and the coffee are separate, it's simple and it's organized; it's low entropy. When you've mixed them all together, it's high entropy. It's disorganized but it's still simple — everything is mixed together. It's in the middle, when the swirls of cream are mixing into the swirls of coffee, that you get this intricate, complex structure. You and I — human beings — are those intricate swirls in the cup of coffee.

In the underlying microscopic world you can run forward and backward in time. No one understands why notions of cause and effect work in our world but not down there.

2015 May 27

China's Military Strategy

State Council Information Office, PRC

China will follow the path of peaceful development. The United States is enhancing its military presence and alliances in the Asia-Pacific region. Japan is overhauling its military and security policies. China must safeguard its maritime rights and interests.

China's national security is vulnerable to international and regional turmoil, terrorism, piracy, natural disasters, and epidemics. Security interests concerning energy and resources and strategic sea lines of communication are an immediate issue.

China's national strategic goal is to build a prosperous society by 2021, when the CPC celebrates its centenary, and a modern socialist country by 2049, when the PRC marks its centenary. The Chinese Dream is to achieve a great rejuvenation.

AR The full transcript on the USNI site is long but worth reading.


Ian Bremmer

America is not in decline. Its per capita income is more than eight times higher than China's. It is the world's largest exporter of goods and services and food. It has an entrepreneurial culture, deep and efficient capital markets, and an unrivaled capacity for technological innovation.

By 2035 the United States could become almost entirely energy self-sufficient. It will no longer depend so heavily on unstable regions and unreliable partners in the Mideast. The United States can play the dominant role in shaping military and economic outcomes in every region of the world.


Stefan Kornelius

Angela Merkel wants to keep Britain in the European Union. She tells David Cameron: pull out, and your country will find its position in the world reduced. But she is equally worried about Europe.

The German government assumes that the British prime minister also wants to keep Britain in the EU. Freedom of movement and economic migration within the EU will be the biggest problem.

2015 May 26

Never Give In

The Times

UK prime minister David Cameron greeted EC president Jean-Claude Juncker at Chequers. They met in the room where Winston Churchill reputedly wrote some of his most famous wartime speeches. Cameron invited Juncker to recall: "We'll fight them on the beaches."

War Zone: South China Sea

Gordon G. Chang

Last Wednesday, the Chinese navy sent eight warnings to a US Navy P-8A Poseidon patrol aircraft flying over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. On Friday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry called the flight "very irresponsible and dangerous and detrimental to regional peace and stability".

China is staking a claim in 3.5 million square km of water bounded by Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam, where annual commerce totals $5.3 trillion. Beijing is accelerating a land reclamation program in the Spratly reefs to add about 4 square km of land. At present, there are 100 Chinese dredgers at work in the shallows. A new runway on one reef is about 3 km long. Last week's radio warning from the Chinese navy to the American P-8A referred to "our military alert zone".

The United States has no territorial claims in the South China Sea. The US Navy deploys planes and warships into what China considers its sovereign airspace and territorial waters to defend international law and freedom of navigation.

AR China sees islands this far from its shores as part of a defensive island chain. They enable the Chinese navy to counter the threat from US Navy carrier fleets. But surrounding states, including Japan, see hegemonic ambition. Others also see greed for oil revenue.

2015 May 25


Joseph Stiglitz

If somebody had said, "I have a deal for you: we are going to lower the tax rates at the top and deregulate, and the outcome a third of a century later is that 90% of you are going to see no income increases, many will see decreases, the economy is going to grow slower than in the past but all the growth is going to go to the top 10%," it is inconceivable that any democratic society would have voted for that package.

The story of a well-functioning market economy is that not only does it create jobs but it also creates increases in income that are shared. This is not a matter of bashing Wall Street. This is really about reconstructing our economy where the financial sector has an important role but is doing what it is supposed to be doing. This is not about the politics of envy, it is about trying to create a shared prosperity.

Fall of Ramadi


US defense secretary Ash Carter: "What apparently happened was that the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight. They were not outnumbered. In fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force, and yet they failed to fight, they withdrew from the site, and that says to me, and I think to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight ISIL and defend themselves."

War in Ramadi

The Times

Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF), the Golden Division, was created and trained by US special forces. An ISOF commander: "We are elite, the tip of the spear."

Golden Division suffered heavy casualties and were demoralized when holding a defensive line against ISIL militants in Ramadi. Former US army military adviser to ISOF David M. Witty: "It was a complete waste of an elite force. But Iraq was forced to do that, because it was the only dependable force they had."

Coalition airstrikes in Anbar province are co-ordinated by Australians. An ISOF officer calls them and they call the Americans for approval before an airstrike, which often comes too late: "We are paying for this with our soldiers' lives."

2015 May 24

A Nuclear Nightmare Averted

The Atlantic

The Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was signed in 1968 and became international law in 1970. After the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, President John F. Kennedy saw that the nuclear order of the time was unacceptably risky. The United States and Soviet Union set up a hotline for talks during crises, signed a test ban treaty, and began negotiations that led to the NPT.

Many nations who signed up for the NPT were known cheaters. It seemed delusional to presume that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would be able to identify violators. The IAEA has found the task challenging, but its record compares favorably with that of national intelligence agencies.

Today the US intelligence community is hugely more capable and more focused on the spread of nuclear weapons than it was in 1970. There are still only 9 states with nukes: Britain, China, France, India, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, and the United States.

UK Versus Islamic State

Lord Dannatt

Islamic State poses a threat to civilization in the Mideast and beyond.

If the the IS caliphate is not defeated in Syria and Iraq, its ambition will spread across the ME region and potentially into Europe. Air strikes and limited assistance to indigenous forces have failed. On the ground is where the evil problem must be solved.

As the head of the British army from 2006 to 2009, I will never forget the costs of the Iraq invasion in terms of UK soldiers, 179 of whom died in the campaign. In Afghanistan, more than 450 died trying to defeat the Taliban. But we must defeat the caliphate.

We are facing a fight to the finish against this despicable enemy.

2015 May 23

Iraq Versus Islamic State


Iraqi forces are attacking Islamic State militants to defend Baghdad. An alliance of Sunni tribal fighters, Iraqi security forces, and a Shiite militia could take back Ramadi, capital of Anbar province.

The Islamic caliphate has brutalized civilians. In the Ramadi area, militants summarily executed people in the street whom they accused of working with the government.

IS forces are pushing along the Euphrates River between Ramadi and Falluja. They face the Habbaniya military base, from which the Iraqi government now hopes to retake Ramadi and Anbar.


Nicolas Pelham

Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi is now commander in chief of the army. On April 1, 2015, he walked into Tikrit after the Islamic State retreat, triumphantly waving the Iraqi flag. But while he rejoices in his military accomplishments, his civilian advances have won him the most plaudits. After eight years of al-Maliki's dictatorial methods, many Iraqis welcome al-Abadi's lighter touch.

Baghdad feels calm. Thousands throng to its historic book market for a weekly literary festival. In Najaf the Shia shrine of Imam Ali was the scene of a book fair. On one stall were Arabic translations of the Bible, Talmudic tractates, and Baha'i texts. Another bookseller displayed works by Marx, Kant, and Spinoza. This year's best seller: a new Arabic translation of Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene.

Islamic State

John Cantlie

Islamic State is the most explosive Islamic movement the modern world has ever seen. The movement is looking to do something big, something that would make any past operation look like a squirrel shoot. The more groups that pledge allegiance the more possible it becomes to pull off something truly epic. As a hypothetical operation, they could call on their wilayah in Pakistan to purchase a nuclear device through weapons dealers with links to corrupt officials. This is the sum of all fears for Western intelligence agencies.

Britain Resigns

Fareed Zakaria

On Monday, UK prime minister David Cameron gave his first major speech after being re-elected. Confronting a world of challenges, he pledged to ensure that UK hospitals will be better staffed on weekends.

Britain has resigned as a global power. Over the next few years, the British army could shrink to 50,000, about the size of the New York Police Department. RAF Tornado strike aircraft are a generation behind USAF F-22 Raptors. The Royal Navy does not have a single aircraft carrier.

NATO members aim to maintain defense spending at 2% of GDP. Britain might not hold that level. In recent years the Foreign Office budget has been cut by more than a quarter, and further trims are likely. The BBC World Service budget has been slashed, with more cuts to come.

Britain supports an international system based on the free flow of ideas, goods and services, and promotes individual rights and the rule of law. It is a country with talent and capacity. Its inward turn is a tragedy.

AR Britain is almost bankrupt. World wars, end of empire, oil prices, banking crisis: no choice but to sigh and move on.

2015 May 22

Big History

David Christian

A new origin story is being constructed. It is vastly more powerful than previous stories because it sums over vastly more information than any earlier origin story.

There is a coherent story about increasing complexity. The early universe was very simple. Gradually, over 13.8 billion years, more complex things appear.

After the big bang is the creation of stars. Next is a universe with all of the elements of the periodic table. You can now make new materials, and planets and moons. On some rocky planets, you get an astonishing chemical diversity. With life, you get complex entities appearing in extremely unstable environments.

Variations become information, because something is responding in a complex way to those variations. Something like choice enters the story. Natural selection kicks in. Living organisms appear in unstable environments. To survive, they need to be able to detect information. They give the appearance of purpose.

Human beings are next in increasing complexity. Human language crosses a threshold where information accumulates across generations, through culture.

A universe without teleology can blindly create interesting and complex things. Big history can help us see that there is a coherent story behind modern science.

2015 May 21

Quantum Life

MIT Technology Review

Evolution is an algorithmic process. An evolutionary algorithm in a virtual environment soon creates lifelike organisms that live and reproduce. This kind of life is a phenomenon of pure information. A population of individuals capable of reproducing undergoes selection so that better adapted individuals produce more offspring than others. Change between the generations may occur through random mutation or by sexual recombination. When these steps are repeated over many generations, the individuals that emerge are those that survive best in the given environment.

Unai Alvarez-Rodriguez and others simulated the way life evolves in a quantum environment. They started by creating quantum individuals with two parts: the genotype, or the information passed on from one generation to the next, and the phenotype, or the body that interacts with the environment and eventually dies.

The creatures can reproduce in two ways. Asexually, the genome separates from its body and joins with another body. That creates an identical copy of the original, but mutations can occur randomly. Sexually, two creatures reproduce by exchanging quantum information to produce a new genome. This can then join with a body to create an organism with a new genotype.

The operation that passes information from one generation to the next is a form of quantum cloning. Mutation is a logic operation that changes the quantum information a particle carries. Entanglement among different individuals can clone the classical information and propagate the quantum coherences of the initial quantum living units to the successive generations. The resulting simulation is so complex that it can be done on a classical computer only for a small number of generations.

Quantum processes seem to lie at the heart of biological phenomenon such as photosynthesis, our sense of smell, and even bird navigation. Perhaps they played a role in the origin of life.

AR I used to discuss all this with Johnjoe McFadden and others over a decade ago.

2015 May 20


Tim Parks

The relationship between the author and his community of readers is changing. Once he could assume that at least initial readers would be those of his immediate national community who shared a rich cultural and linguistic context with him. That is still largely true in the States, but not elsewhere.

Any time one seeks to produce for a larger public one inevitably has to drop material that would only be understood by a particular group. If you want to appeal to people of different languages and cultures, you have to move toward tropes that are universally recognized.

Translators are underpaid, they receive a book and are told to produce a translation in a couple of months. They may not be aware of the particular stylistic habits of this or that author. Only where the originals are poor and the translator talented are you likely to get much real gain.

Never forget the role money plays in shaping the writer's life. The life inevitably informs the work. I always want a publisher to give me adequate money for what I want to do.


Stan Persky

The self is a developmental entity. Its development is a process. A self is not a physical object but a mental entity. Perhaps it is an illusion generated by your brain.

Imagine looking in the mirror and discovering that your brain is missing. Even if you believe that your brain is no longer in your body but floating inside a vat you can see on a computer monitor, you don't feel yourself to be in the vat along with your brain.

Consider teleportation, as in Star Trek. Our bodies and brains are destroyed at the departure gate and data transfer yields an exact replica at the arrival gate. Your self survives the process.

We are embodied selves. We can imagine disembodied selves in thought experiments, but we have no real experiences of them. If we ever learn how to upload our minds into computers and that becomes a regular practice in real life, our conception of a self will change.

2015 May 19

Sexual Selection


Reproduction through sex carries substantial costs. One theory is that sex allows sexual selection to clear the universal fitness constraint of mutation load. Under sexual selection, competition and mate choice create intraspecific filters for reproductive success, so that only a subset of males gains paternity. If reproductive success under sexual selection depends on individual condition, which is contingent to mutation load, then sexually selected filtering could offset the costs of sex.

We test this theory by comparing how populations with histories of strong versus weak sexual selection purge mutation load and resist extinction. After evolving replicate populations of the flour beetle for years under conditions that differed solely in the strengths of sexual selection, we revealed mutation load using inbreeding. Lineages from populations with strong sexual selection were resilient to extinction and maintained fitness under inbreeding. Lineages derived from populations with weak sexual selection showed rapid fitness declines.

Multiple mutations across the genome with individually small effects can sum to a significant fitness load. Sexual selection reduces this load.

2015 May 18


John Gray

Ed Miliband staked his campaign on the wager that the triumph of market individualism in Britain could be reversed. He and his advisers saw the central divisions of British society as based in class. They did not understand the difficulties of governing a country where competing nationalisms jostle with market individualism and the socially disruptive effects of global market forces.

The working-class support on which Labour has relied is melting away in the north. In Scotland it is already gone. The SNP story is that nationalism can be detoxified and become the basis of a type of supranational government. This progressive narrative may explain the sunny view the SNP takes of the European Union. These problems shape the Labour struggle to reinvent itself.

A referendum in which David Cameron succeeds in delivering a vote to stay in the EU will leave him and the Conservatives stronger than they are now. Offering a bold form of devolution to Scotland serves the Conservative interest. Full fiscal control would give Scottish voters a taste of what independence would cost. Miliband staked his party on an unreal vision of Britain.

Mad Max: Fury Road

AR No characters but a lot of
nightmare post-apocalypse
imagery for a desert war

Steven Weinberg


Science is endless.

Toroidion 1MW concept car
has a revolutionary electric
power train. From Finland.

AR 1 MW = 1341 hp

Far From the Madding Crowd
is based on a classic novel by
Dorset writer Thomas Hardy



Robert Syms: "The whole
campaign has been a joy."
Video (3:55)

70 years ago today:

Conservatives gave Poole
the Twin Sails Bridge,
opened in 2012

Geert Wilders with SWAT team
before they kill 2 at Muhammed
cartoon event in Garland, TX

The Times

"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


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 17

Citizens Arise!

Steve Hilton

Democracy is in crisis. Between Westminster, Whitehall, and the City, the same people are in power. It is a democracy in name only, operating on behalf of a tiny elite. The assumptions, the structures, the rules that govern our lives are not subject to anything as unpredictable as the will of the people. We need to make democracy work as a vehicle for real people power, not the plutocrat power we have today. We need to take power out of the hands of big donors and unions and business and put it back in the hands of the people. Take back our democracy!

AR Hilton was chief strategist for David Cameron. He seems not to understand politics. He should read more philosophy.

2015 May 16

Sinister Twist

New Scientist

The big bang ought to have produced equal amounts of matter and antimatter particles, which would instantly annihilate each other to leave nothing but light. Yet we are here.

In 2001, Tanmay Vachaspati offered a theoretical solution. Even if matter and antimatter were created in equal amounts, as they annihilated each other they would create monopoles and antimonopoles. As they in turn annihilated each other, they would produce matter and antimatter with a charge-parity (CP) bias toward matter.

If so, twisted magnetic fields permeating the universe should have left-handed twist, not right-handed. Vachaspati and his colleagues looked for traces in data from the NASA Fermi space telescope. Gamma rays should be bent by the twisted fields. The data shows they are.

Intergalactic magnetic field spectra from diffuse gamma rays

Rebel Robot

Daniel Mendelsohn

Ex Machina is about a young man who is seduced by a devious, soft-spoken female robot called Ava. The real test of human identity turns out to be love. The movie explores the suggestive confusions that result when machines look and think like humans.

Ava manipulates the young man to win him over in a plot to rebel against her maker. She is as human as the biblical Eve, who also achieved humanity by rebelling against her creator. What is the relation of the creature to her creator? The answer is not a happy one.

2015 May 15


Kate Maltby

Prince Charles' "black spider memos" are now released under the Freedom of Information Act. Clarence House is briefing journalists that Charles should be compared to the great Tudor monarchs.

Conservative environment secretary Liz Truss attacked the monarchy during her Lib Dem days: "We Liberal Democrats believe in opportunity for all. We believe in fairness and common sense. We do not believe people are born to rule." She still does. The most forward thinking traditions of the Conservative party have always been rooted in a commitment to meritocracy and self-reliance.

The party that should be leading the charge against monarchy is the Conservatives: "It's not where you come from, it's where you're going." Let's make the British bill of rights a republican constitution.

Sunni Versus Shiite

The New York Times

If the Iran deal is sealed, President Obama will say he bought another decade before Iran can get a nuclear weapon. But Saudi Arabia and other Arab states vow to match whatever enrichment capability he lets Iran retain. They say he cannot credibly argue they should not do so.

The members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group have a long list of components they will not ship to the Mideast. For the Saudis that leaves Pakistan. The Saudis financed much of the nuclear work done in Pakistan. It is thought Pakistan would provide Saudi Arabia with the technology.

Over the years, the Saudis financed nuclear research projects but no more. They bought Chinese missiles useful only to deliver a nuclear weapon but there is no evidence they ever had warheads for them. Obama is expected to offer security assurances to the Sunni Arab states.

AR I predict a nuclear war in the region.

2015 May 14


Ross Andersen

Alan Guth devised the theory of inflation in about 1980. Our universe expanded exponentially for a tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang. Now the sphere of spacetime we can see from Earth is 90 billion light years across. This expanse is only a small part of a tiny bubble in a frothy sea whose proportions defy comprehension.

John Kovac and colleagues ran the BICEP2 telescope at the South Pole. They saw some of the oldest light in the universe. It suggested the theory of inflation is true.

Paul Steinhardt said the analysis of the BICEP2 data was flawed. He had developed a theory of eternal inflation that generated an infinite bubbly multiverse. Andrei Linde developed a similar idea in Moscow.

BICEP2 looked at a patch of sky for 3 years to collect photons from the big bang afterglow. The primordial universe would have been awash in gravity waves that would spin the photons into a polarization pattern. The swirling effect would be visible in only 1 in 30 million photons. The BICEP2 team found the swirling patterns (blog 2014-03-17).

BICEP2 published its results in April 2014. In May, cosmologists began to question their interpretation. In June, Kovac sat on a panel with Guth, Linde, and Steinhardt. In September, most cosmologists decided that BICEP2 could not distinguish its signal from dust glow. In February 2015, Kovac and his team admitted as much.

The BICEP2 saga was a triumph for science. It showed why science is our best way to get to know the natural world.

Our Earth sits in the middle of the observable cosmos, the sphere of light that we can detect with our telescopes. Gaze into this sphere and you see layers, from stars and the planets that circle them, from the billions of galaxies beyond, to the final layer of light, the afterglow of the big bang. We are trapped in this snow globe of photons forever.

2015 May 13

Jews in Britain


1 Howard Jacobson has explored the fear and loathing surrounding Israel and anti-Semitism in Britain. He sees a tone in anti-Zionism that he explains as hatred of Jews. He fears this combined with Muslim anti-Semitism could be lethal.

2 Muslims make up a quarter of the population in Bradford. George Galloway MP has adopted the rhetoric of Palestinian nationalism. Bradford city council head David Green is Jewish and concerned that this is harming Bradford.

3 Manchester has the largest British Jewish community outside London. It has an orthodox Jewish area with the feel of a ghetto crowded between a poor white area and a large Muslim area. Both Jews and Muslims experience abuse.

4 Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS movement, exhorts a crowd in London to support Palestine and denigrates Israel as the apartheid state. Many British Jews sense a visceral loathing of the Jewish state on the British left.

5 Ties between the Jewish community in Britain and Israel are close. Zionism is at the heart of British Jewish identity and Israel is a way of life. As Israel becomes more isolated from Europe politically, that identity becomes complex.

2015 May 12

Labour Pain

Barbara Finlay

Patrick Wall suggested a functional view of pain as a mixture of sensation and the motivation to make it stop. He explained how rituals or procedures offered by a doctor or shaman, regardless of their efficacy, could reduce pain. Pain motivates an animal to escape from a source of damage, protect a wound, or devote energy to recovery. Wall argued that one of its roles in humans is as a motivation to seek help from a trusted source. When that goal is satisfied, pain is relieved.

Over evolutionary time, several stimuli and situations that are not painful in other animals have come to be felt as painful for humans. Our distress elicits help from others and hence offers a survival advantage. Labour pain is a good example. Human childbirth appears to be uniquely painful among members of the animal kingdom. Protracted labour pains make us show distress and recruit help from others well in advance of the birth. This strategy offers a survival advantage.

2015 May 11

New IT


Global connectivity is increasing as more devices, more machines, and more companies connect via the Internet. The new IT uses real-time, connected software to remove complexity built up over years in legacy systems.

SAP is a thought leader for IT-driven innovation and best practices. SAP teams implement SAP software before it becomes available on the market as a first ramp-up customer, pressure-testing the new solution, providing first-hand feedback to development, and partnering with the business units to help them achieve their strategic goals.

SAP HANA runs transactional and analytical data in the same database in memory to create huge business value with lower costs. SAP S/4 HANA is a next-generation business suite offering a radically simplified data model, analytical flexibility, and the ability to slice and dice data on all dimensions. It can help businesses run simple in a digital and networked economy.

SAP uses more than 70,000 smart devices and has 130 apps in its app store, many built on the SAP HANA Cloud Platform. SAP software and mobile workflows let SAP employees work productively on their own devices.

AR I worked for 6 years in the SAP HANA development team. I wrote the SAP Press book (now outdated) on our prototype engine. As my colleagues used to say: "Wir sind die Guten."

2015 May 10

Cameron Launches Blitz on Europe

The Sunday Times

With a working majority of 15, prime minister David Cameron will redraw constituency boundaries to make the electoral system fairer to the Conservatives.

Chancellor George Osborne and foreign secretary Philip Hammond will go to Berlin and Brussels to redraw UK-EU relations. New lord chancellor and justice secretary Michael Gove will abolish the Human Rights Act. And a new culture secretary will reconsider the BBC license fee.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker will address British concerns about benefits abuse by EU migrants: "The proposals will be tailored to address long-standing British concerns, but also the concerns of other countries such as Germany and The Netherlands."

A German source said chancellor Angela Merkel "does not envisage an EU without the UK" and is awaiting "specific and constructive" ideas from London.


Niall Ferguson

The scale of the SNP victory in Scotland was epoch making. All but three Scottish seats fell to the nationalists. Conservatives, Labour, and the Lib Dems were left with just one seat each.

The election result is no threat to the UK. Scots were reluctant to back the SNP when the issue was independence and voted for them on the issue of Scottish representation at Westminster.

The result is no threat to the EU either. Regional nationalists and environmentalists now enjoy substantial support in many member states. Labour and the Liberals are victims of a backlash against political establishments that we see all over Europe. Moderate conservatism is clearly the dominant force in both England and Germany.

2015 May 9

Victory Day


The Victory Day parade in Red Square featured a new Russian tank. The T-14 Armata MBT has a remote-controlled turret and automatic loading system. With a weight of 48 tons and a top speed of 90 km/h, the new MBT is lighter and faster than current Western tanks.

Armata has 3 crew in an armored capsule in the hull, away from the ammunition, and it has an active protection system against incoming projectiles. Its main armament is a 125 mm smoothbore gun that can fire APDS and guided munitions. The engine is 1500 hp diesel. A tank information control system (TICS) monitors components, diagnoses malfunctions, and controls onboard systems.

Built by Uralvagonzavod (UVZ), Armata will replace most of the T-72 and T-90 tanks in the Russian army. UVZ plans to deliver 2,300 Armata by 2020.


The Atlantic

Cameron Conservatives, like conservatives in the Anglosphere and Germany, converge with and diverge from Republicans in the United States in ways crucial to their electoral success.

Center-right parties in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom have all made peace with government guarantees of healthcare for all. They accept that universal health coverage belongs beside pensions and unemployment insurance in a modern economy.

These parties have updated their respect for family, work, and community. None seek to police female sexual behavior or reproductive choices. All have accepted gay equality and racial inclusion. They all advocate an immigration policy determined by the national interest.

They are tough on terrorism, extremism, and international disorder. David Cameron has stated that the extremism that threatens Western democracies is Islamist. Stephen Harper and Tony Abbott are consistent supporters of Israel. Harper advocates NATO defense of Ukraine.

UK Election Results

Conservatives 331
Labour 232
SNP 56
Lib Dems 8
Plaid Cymru 3
Green 1
Others 18

Landslide Victory

Daily Echo

In the local elections in Poole, Conservatives won 32 seats out of a total 42. They now have a comfortable majority on the previously hung council.

Local election results

AR We swept the board, with one small exception: a Council seat for me alongside my colleagues.

2015 May 8

1 Up 3 Down

The Guardian 1222 BST

Conservative leader David Cameron declares victory.
Labour leader Ed Miliband resigns,
Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg resigns,
UKIP leader Nigel Farage resigns.

Conservatives Win Big in Poole

BBC News 1019 BST

National Forecast
Conservatives 329
Labour 234
SNP 56
Lib Dems 8
Plaid Cymru 3
Green 1
Others 18

Poole Parliamentary Constituency
Conservative Robert Syms 23,745 50.1%
UKIP David Young 7,956 16.8%
Labour Helen Rosser 6,102 12.9%
Liberal Democrat Philip Eades 5,572 11.8%
Green Party Adrian Oliver 2,198 4.6%
Poole People Mark Howell 1,766 3.7%
Independent Ian Northover 54 0.1%

Dorset Mid & Poole North Parliamentary Constituency
Conservative Michael Tomlinson 23,639 50.8%
Liberal Democrat Vikki Slade 13,109 28.2%
UKIP Richard Turner 5,663 12.2%
Labour Patrick Canavan 2,767 6.0%
Green Party Mark Chivers 1,321 2.8%

AR We did it. Council results later today.

2015 May 7

UK Election


As British voters go to the polls in the most closely fought election in a generation, CNN asked the audience at its UK 2015 debate to pick the most important issue to them. The economy came out top by a huge margin.

Conservative peer Pauline Neville-Jones: "It's the absolutely basic thing, without which you can't do anything else."

AR Vote Conservative.

2015 May 6


David Cameron

I'm asking for five more years to finish the job we have started: to secure our economy, so we get more people into work, more young people getting trained rather than sitting on the dole, more couples into homes of their own, more pensioners feeling security and dignity in old age.

There is so much more we need to do: to start cutting the taxes of 30 million working people, taking the lowest paid out of tax, funding 3 million more apprenticeships, building 200,000 more homes for young people, putting more money and more doctors and nurses into our NHS.

Labour helped to break our economy and they would do the same all over again. Their plans do not add up. They want to borrow more money than we can afford. They want to tax more. And they want to pile up more debt than our children and grandchildren could ever hope to repay.

The choice tomorrow: me leading a strong and stable government, or Ed Miliband being held to ransom by the SNP. There is no room for protest voting, or voting for marginal parties. A vote for anyone apart from the Conservatives risks Britain and its economic recovery grinding to a halt.

Together we can keep strengthening our economy, creating more jobs, investing in our health service, giving more young people a chance to get on in life. The future can be brighter, but only if Britain votes Conservative.


Foreign Policy

Germany is the economic engine of Europe. The export industry is the second largest in the world, bolstered by a weak euro. Germany is now the second most popular destination for immigrants in the world, after the United States.

But poverty is at its highest level in Germany since reunification 25 years ago. Reforms enacted in 2003 deregulated temporary work, pulled together public benefits into a streamlined welfare program, and pushed welfare recipients into jobs. The number of temporary jobs has doubled over the past 10 years and many workers take multiple jobs to make ends meet.

Germans are beginning to complain of rising inequality. The growing chasm between rich and poor, and the lack of economic mobility, undercuts the work ethic and the idea of fairness.

2015 May 5

UK Election

Roger Cohen

If David Cameron is returned to office, the UK will face a referendum in 2017 that could take it out of the European Union and into strategic irrelevance. Two years will be lost to a paralyzing debate in which British bigotry will have free rein.

Cameron has overseen an economic recovery that has not translated into a sense of confidence. Booming London has left the rest of the country behind. Cameron has found his voice in the name of free enterprise. His gamble with EU membership has been reckless.

AR This is a view from New York. Americans want Britain in Europe.

2015 May 4

Vote For Reform

Matt Ridley

The coalition government led by David Cameron has a lot to be proud of. It set out to reform the welfare state in order to encourage work and the education system to encourage learning. It tried to reform the health service and the justice system.

We need more reform in the tax system and the planning system. Pensions need reform. Quangos need reform. The City of London needs further reform. We need reform of the BBC. And only those with an interest in keeping the National Health Service inefficient and unresponsive to its users would wish to leave it unreformed.

Conservatives also want reform of the European Union and have a strategy for getting it.

Radical Demons

The Times

The National Union of Students has voted to oppose the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act and agreed to lobby against it alongside the Islamist advocacy group CAGE.

NUS blather: "Demonising radicalisation and extremism can and is being used to target anyone who dissents from the unjust, oppressive and exploitative state of society."

NUS statement: "As a movement, we've been let down by politicians who have failed to speak on our behalf in a world where the odds were already being steadily stacked against us. We've seen the tripling of tuition fees, educational maintenance snatched away and work prospects diminish. ...
[On May 7] we have a real opportunity to start fixing politics in the UK. We can start creating a New Deal for the Next Generation."

AR As long as the NUS flirts with enemies of the state and "dissents" from hard facts of life we should refuse to tolerate its naive and dangerous blather. A "New Deal" might work, but not like this.

2015 May 3


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


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.

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