Andy Ross 2015-10-04
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A graphic guided tour
of my new apartment

25 Jahre Deutsche Einheit


2015 October 4

Russians in Syria

Sunday Times

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

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

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

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

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

2015 October 3


Tim Flannery

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015 October 2

Theories of Everything

Lawrence M. Krauss

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

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

2015 October 1


Simon Jenkins

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

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

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


Philip Stephens

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

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

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

UK vs EU

Nigel Lawson

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

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

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

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

AR Lawson im Klartext: Resist pan-German hegemonism.


The Martian

Super Blood Moon

Bored with yachts?
Try Kokomo Ailand!

"Numbers and speed of
immigration matter and this is
particularly the case with people
who have very different religious
affiliations. Fundamentalists with
a political agenda ... do pose a
challenge to the creation of an
integrated community."
Daniel Finkelstein

Carl Groll/
Sailing Yacht A
Owner: A.I. Melnichenko

Jews and Muppets
Liel Leibovitz

The Muppets are so Jewish.
Kermit the frog has the same
dialogue with himself that
Moses had with the Israelites.
He knows nothing in life
is granted from above.
If you want it, you have
to work for it.


2015 September 30

The Martian

New Scientist

Ridley Scott's new movie The Martian maroons NASA astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) on Mars for four years. Damon: "Ridley and I agreed The Martian is not one of those existential survival movies. Neither is it just a popcorn kind of ... experience. The key is to have the audience feel the enormity of the stakes without it seeming ponderous."

This tale of the NASA bid to rescue one of their own gives every department a hero. Watney survives because he is smart and knowledgeable, can get by without company and likes the sound of his own voice. The approach favors accuracy over visual bombast. The movie conjures up habitats and space kit that carry the NASA stamp of approval.

How to behave in extreme circumstances: love your job, embrace the little you can do and do it. Like it or not, death is always coming, so to hell with it. This is the real heart of The Martian.

2015 September 29

UN 70, Putin 1, Obama 0


On the 70th anniversary of the UN in New York, Russian president Vladimir Putin left US president Barack Obama struggling to defend his legacy. Putin said US intervention has failed in the Mideast. On US involvement in Iraq and Libya: "Do you realize now what you've done?"

Putin called for a ministerial conference and a UN resolution on strategy against Islamic State militants. Obama responded: "History is littered with the failure of false prophets and fallen empires, who believed that might always makes right."

Senator Marco Rubio says Putin made a case that Obama had failed in the Mideast: "If left with a choice between Russia and nothing, they're going to choose Russia."

British Fudge

Max Hastings

The UK government is conducting a strategic defense and security review. It will be a fudge. The huge commitment to replace Trident has been ruled out of the debate. The government must also pay for its new aircraft carriers.

There is a mismatch between the threats from Russia and the Mideast and the state of our armed forces. We must either bargain with Russia or to help others fight back as the Syrian civil war fuels a mass migration to Europe.

Trident 100 000 000 000

Richard Norton-Taylor

Trident is Britain's most powerful, most expensive, most irrelevant, and most useless weapon. Conservative chairman of the Commons foreign affairs committee Crispin Blunt: "At what point is it no longer value for money for the UK? In my judgment we have reached that point."

Trident will cost an estimated £100 billion over its lifetime. Its credibility depends on whether a rational British prime minister would ever take an independent decision to order Trident submarine commanders to launch a nuclear weapon. That is fantasy.

2015 September 28

Water on Mars


NASA scientists say they believe they have confirmed that water intermittently flows on the surface of Mars. Analysis of imaging from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter shows that seasonal dark streaks on the Martian surface are left when briny water periodically flows across the surface.

Russians in Syria

Financial Times

The Russian intervention in Syria comes when the US strategy for resolving the conflict is wavering between working with Putin to find a political solution or expanding US involvement.

Russian president Vladimir Putin presents himself as a potential solution to the misery of the Syrian civil war, which has left more than 300,000 dead, displaced some 11 million people, and left the Assad regime in control of a quarter of the country. He says the conflict is the product of a decade of irresponsible US policies in the region.

Putin has effectively built up an air force for an Assad regime whose own ability to wield air power has been depleted. Western intelligence officials estimate that Russia now has at least 28 Sukhoi fighters in Syria, plus at least 24 attack helicopters. Moscow will send about 2,000 military personnel to Syria to run its air base near Latakia.

American officials do not know whether Putin is escalating his presence in Syria to save the regime or because he believes Assad is doomed and wants to position himself for a transition.

Evil Empire

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown

Saudi Arabia is degenerate, malignant, pitiless, powerful, and dangerous. The state transmits its sick form of Islam across the globe, instigates and funds hatreds, and crushes human freedoms and aspiration. But the West genuflects to its rulers.

Saudi Arabia executes one person every two days. A blogger who dared to call for democracy was sentenced to 10 years and 1,000 lashes. Last week, 769 faithful Muslim believers were killed in Mecca where they had gone on the Hajj. Initially, the rulers said it was "God’s will" and then they blamed the dead. The Saudis have turned Mecca into the Las Vegas of Islam.

Saudi King Salman has offered to build 200 mosques in Germany for recently arrived refugees. He offered money not for resettlement or basic needs but for Wahhabi mosques. Wahhabism is now a global brand. It makes hearts and minds small and suspicious, turns Muslim against Muslim, and undermines modernists.

Since 9/11, the Saudis have become more aggressive, more determined to win the culture wars. They pour money into Islamist organizations and operations, promote punishing doctrines that subjugate women and children, and damn liberal values and democracy. They are pursuing a cruel bombing campaign in Yemen that has left thousands of civilians dead.

Our ruling establishment collectively sucks up to the Saudi ruling clan. This enemy will not be stopped by Trident. Our leaders will not confront Saudi Arabia, the source of Islamist brainwashing and infection. They want the oil and the profits.

EU Regulations

Matt Ridley

As the Volkswagen scandal has demonstrated, in the European Union we are governed by unelected regulators who are immune to democratic recall, captive chums of the industries they regulate and tools of the pressure groups that infest the corridors of the Berlaymont. Greens obsessed with carbon dioxide combined with German carmakers obsessed with diesel to visit more noxious nitrogen oxides and particulates on us all. This is not an isolated case. EU regulation is not fit for purpose.

2015 September 27

Beautiful Britain

Bill Bryson

The Seven Sisters is one of the great walks of England. From the top of Haven Brow the view is just sensational. Ahead of you stretches a hazy infinity of rolling hills, each ending at the seaward side in a sudden plunge of white chalk. On a sunny day like this one, it is a world of simple, bright elements: green land, white cliffs, deep blue sea, matching sky.

Nothing is more extraordinary in Britain than the beauty of the countryside. Nowhere in the world is there a landscape that has been more intensively utilized and yet remains so comprehensively and reliably lovely over most of its extent. And what a joy it is to walk in it.

I was on the South Downs Way, which runs for 100 miles from Winchester to Eastbourne along the rolling chalk downs of the south coast. I have done most of the trail in chunks over the years, but this is my favorite stretch. To my left were bosomy hills of green and gold, to the right a spangled plane of bright blue sea. Dividing the two were cliffs of brilliant white.

The South Downs Way is not only lovely but getting better. I discovered that the Seven Sisters — which are, namely, Haven Brow, Short Brow, Rough Brow, Brass Point, Flat Hill, Bailey's Hill and Went Hill — don't include Belle Tout or Beachy Head, which meant that I was in the process of climbing nine hills, not seven. No wonder I was tired.

Volkswagen: Poo!

Jeremy Clarkson

Eco-mentalists spent years telling us we must all buy diesel cars. When half of us had done just that, they said: "Diesel cars are the new peril. They produce a blend of nitrogen and oxygen that we shall call NOX because that sounds sinister."

Governments around the world promptly introduced new regulations on how much NOX a car could produce. Car firms had to spend a fortune designing a whole new range of diesel systems that run on a mix of diesel and concentrated urine.

Volkswagen fitted its engines with a clever bit of software that exaggerated their economy and cleanliness when they were being tested. I bought a VW in the summer I am not interested in what comes out of its poo shoot.

2015 September 26

Bournemouth University Freshers Fair

AR Great day out for me.


Istvan Rev

To defend European Christendom, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Romania voted against distributing 120,000 mostly Muslim asylum seekers among EU member states. In January a Hungarian minister said Hungary could easily take 170,000 Hungarian-speaking Ukrainians, who are mostly Christians.

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban is posing as the Christian savior of Europe. Hungary was a bastion of Christianity against the Mongols in C13, against the Ottomans in C16 and C17, and against the Bolsheviks during WW2. Now it is, he says, as the West sinks into moral relativism, multiculturalism, and gay marriage.

Hungary has built a razor-wire fence along the Serbian border and is constructing another along the frontier with Croatia. A new law lets the government introduce a state of emergency, mobilize military reservists, and treat illegal border crossing as a crime punishable by years in prison. Hungary has become a fortress.

Diesel Defeat Devices

Financial Times

EU officials warned of the dangers of defeat devices in a 2013 report that drew attention to devices designed to skew the results of exhaust readings. The technology had been illegal in Europe since 2007 but regulators failed to pursue the issue.

The scandal focused on cars sold by Volkswagen in the US market is widening as Germany says VW cheated in Europe too. Over half of new car sales in the EU are now diesels.

2015 September 25

Osborne in China

Philip Stephens

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne is touring China. He aims to sign financial and investment agreements when President Xi Jinping visits the UK in October.

Osborne seeks Chinese money to take the edge off domestic austerity. But back in London, national security officials are drafting a new national security strategy centered on the alliance with Washington. The defense review foresees a big expansion of British capacity to counter cyber attacks. Many of these are directed from China.

There is no evidence that kowtowing to China wins favorable treatment. Beijing tends to disdain perceived supplicants. UK prosperity and security rest on the open international system underwritten by what China sees as US hegemony.


Hari Kunzru

Oxford during the Thatcher years provided a layer of protection against the legal consequences of the more boisterous kinds of fun. What happened behind college gates stayed behind college gates.

After a period in which British society seemed to be shaking off its ancient stratifications, the Cameron era has seen the revival of unabashed elitism. In power, he has surrounded himself with ministers of his own class and background. The #piggate tale emerged only because a billionaire was denied a cabinet position to which he felt entitled.

Conservative voters might be expected to take a dim view of Cameron's student activities. But they have always looked on such transgressions with a mixture of jealousy and appalled fascination.

2015 September 24

Europe in Peril

The Times

European Council president Donald Tusk warns "mutual recriminations and misunderstandings" over the migration crisis risk destroying the European Union.

Without a plan to secure frontiers and distribute refugees the "chaos we have witnessed in the last weeks" would recur: "The most urgent question we should ask ourselves tonight is how to regain control of our external borders. Otherwise it doesn't make any sense to even speak about common migration policy. What is at stake is also the future of Schengen, the sense of order in Europe and the common European spirit."

UK prime minister David Cameron: "We need to do more to stabilize the countries and regions from which these people are coming, not least to help them but also to stop people wanting to make or thinking of making this very, very difficult and very dangerous journey to Europe."

Xi in China

Roderick MacFarquhar

In the history of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), general secretary Xi Jinping is only the second leader clearly chosen by his peers. The first was Mao Zedong.

Xi has centralized power under his leadership. He chairs a new national security commission, the Central Military Commission, and groups on reform, foreign affairs, Internet security, and information technology.

Xi will stamp out corruption in the CCP. He has conjured up the "Chinese dream" and lists six alien doctrines to be extirpated: constitutional democracy, universal values, civil society, economic neoliberalism, investigative journalism, and promotion of historical nihilism.

Xi is as concerned as Gorbachev was to transform the Communist Party. The Soviet example proves to him that glasnost is not the way to go. Xi has chosen economic reform as his form of perestroika.

Xi can ease off against corruption or try to divert attention. He can either stoke the fires of nationalism or start a new attack on the degradation of the environment.

Xi in America

David Pilling

Chinese President Xi Jinping understands power. His first call in America was not on the political leaders in Washington but on the business elites in Seattle. He will meet Apple CEO Tim Cook, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and investors Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. With Xi are Alibaba founder Jack Ma, Tencent boss Pony Ma, and Baidu president Zhang Yaqin, who control the most vibrant parts of the Chinese economy.

Xi has unleashed an attack on corruption in the Communist Party and tightened up the People's Liberation Army. He has cracked down on dissidents, lawyers, and academics. He has built runways on artificial islands in the South China Sea and set up new financial institutions. He has shown that he knows how to wield political power. But he must relax his authoritarian tendencies to unleash the full potential of China's private sector.

2015 September 23

Refugee Crisis

Martin Wolf

The desperate human beings landing on European shores pose daunting moral, political and practical difficulties. But a way has to be found to manage them without sacrificing the values on which modern Europe was built.

The EU must distinguish between refugees and immigrants. Countries have legal and moral obligations to refugees. They do not have such obligations to other immigrants.

Europe will receive up to a million asylum applications this year. Of these, less than a half are likely to be granted refugee status. The number would still amount to only a thousandth of the EU population. Given the size and prosperity of the EU, the task it faces is relatively trivial.

Solidarity is needed to help refugees integrate successfully. They will need assistance with learning the language and housing. Richer countries will have to assist poorer ones. Vulnerable states on the front lines of the refugee crisis need far more assistance.

The EU needs to find a way to cope, other than by becoming a fortress.

E-Book vs Print

Alexandra Alter

E-book sales exploded after 2008. Print sales dwindled and bookstores struggled to stay open. But the digital apocalypse has not arrived. Digital sales have instead slowed sharply.

E-book sales fell by 10% in the first 5 months of this year, say to the AAP. Digital books accounted last year for around 20% of the market, roughly the same as a few years ago.

Publishers are investing in print infrastructure and distribution. Booksellers see a reverse migration to print. Independent bookstores are showing strong signs of resurgence.

2015 September 22

Volkswagen Blunder

Financial Times

Volkswagen cheated on US air pollution results. US authorities may impose fines of up to $18 billion.

VW fitted half a million diesel cars with code that tricked regulators into under-recording noxious emissions. Nitrous oxide (Nox) and small particulate matter account for tens of thousands of early deaths a year. Diesel engines are cleaner in terms of lower CO2 emissions, but dirtier in terms of emissions of Nox and fine particulate matter. VW's "defeat" software activated controls over Nox emissions only when the software detected that the engine was being tested.

The German carmaker may be accused of deliberately thwarting the EPA.


Matthew J. Goodwin

Before the end of 2017, Britain is due to vote in a referendum on continuing its membership in the European Union. A Brexit looks more likely now than for years.

The British never fell in love with the European project. As their neighbors moved toward closer union, they became skeptical. Winston Churchill in 1953: "We are with them, but not of them."

The EU enlargement in 2004 brought in a band of former Eastern Bloc states. Surveys of British public opinion found disquiet at the arrival of workers from them.

Europhiles long assumed that the merits of the single market and economic integration would appeal to the head over the heart to win the vote. But now voters contrast stagnation and instability in the eurozone with British economic recovery.

The refugee crisis has pushed public anxiety about immigration to a new peak. Nearly twice as many voters now voice concern over immigration as the economy.

2015 September 21

Europe Lost Control of Borders

Financial Times

Europe has lost control of its external borders, said European Council president Donald Tusk ahead of an emergency summit on the refugee crisis in Brussels. Leaders must face the "brutal reality" of the situation in border countries such as Greece.

Leaders are expected to demand the EU steps in to shore up Greek borders. This would mark another transfer of sovereignty from Athens to Brussels. In exchange for greater EU control, officials say Brussels will give Greece financial aid.

Ambassadors from all EU governments discussed a plan to share out 120,000 refugees. Berlin backs the plan but Eastern officials say they want a voluntary scheme. A Warsaw diplomat: "The first priority must be to seal EU borders. Only by doing so will we be able to avoid further chaos and brutal skirmishes on the frontiers."

2015 September 20

Mideast Exodus

Patrick Cockburn

The EU refugee crisis will get worse. The civil war destroying Iraq and Syria has caused a huge exodus of people in the Mideast. A bloody stalemate in Iraq leaves the country divided by heavily defended military fronts. Accusations fly over ethnic or sectarian cleansing. Islamic State jihadists pump up communal hatred by daily bombings of civilian targets.

Nationalism once brought peace and security to the Mideast, but national loyalties are disintegrating. Governments have abandoned efforts to provide economic security for their people. Ruling elites have turned capitalism into crony capitalism and state machinery into money machines. This looting of states has opened the door to a monstrous caliphate.

American Inequality

James Surowiecki

Joseph Stiglitz decries the costs of US income inequality. In his Nobel Prize work he showed how imperfections and asymmetries of information regularly lead markets to results that do not maximize welfare. He argued that government interventions could help correct these market failures.

Stiglitz says the enormous riches at the top of the income ladder are largely the result of the ability of the top 1% to manipulate markets and the political process to their own benefit. American capitalism has gone wrong. People at the top get paid much more for their work than they once did, while everyone else gets paid about the same, or less.

The economy suffers when more efforts go into getting a larger slice of the pie than into enlarging the pie. This hurts society and does serious damage to economic growth. It hurts demand because rich people consume less of their incomes. It leads to excessive debt because people feel the need to borrow to make up for their stagnant incomes. Central banks try to make up for stagnant incomes by inflating bubbles, which burst.

Stiglitz wants much tighter regulation of the financial sector. He wants to loosen intellectual property restrictions and have the government aggressively enforce antitrust laws. He wants to reform corporate governance and to limit tax breaks that encourage the use of stock options. He wants to raise taxes on the highest earners and on capital gains, institute a carbon tax and a financial transactions tax, and cut corporate subsidies. He also wants more investment in schools, infrastructure, and basic research.

Something like this worked after WW2. Stiglitz: "Just because you've heard it before doesn't mean we shouldn't try it again."

Ferguson on Kissinger

Chris Patten

Niall Ferguson shows that the views of Henry Kissinger were shaped more by Spinoza and Kant than by Machiavelli.

Kissinger grew up in Germany and moved to New York. 1939: "Alongside excessive wealth, unspeakable poverty. And then this individualism! You stand completely on your own, no one cares about you, you have to make your own way upwards."

As a US conscript in Germany he helped clean up after the war and saw what Nazis had done to Jews and others. But he retained his sense of the centrality of Germany to European civilization. He then went to Harvard, majored in government, and wrote a long thesis on the meaning of history.

He gained fame for his views on nuclear warfare. Wrestling with the problem that any threat to NATO interests would lead to nuclear retaliation, he proposed an escalation ladder that started with small nukes. In fact the cold war was contained by accepting mutually assured destruction: MAD.

Kissinger saw the significance of Mao Zedong for China. But Richard Nixon saw the economic significance of China. The odd couple focused on getting out of Vietnam and into China.

Kissinger: "It is the dilemma of conservatism that it must fight revolution anonymously, by what it is, not by what it says."

2015 September 19

The Conservative Case for the European Union

Dalibor Rohac

The European Union is sometimes compared to the Soviet Union. Critics of its overregulation, its moral hazard, its currency, its structural funds, or its agricultural policy make valid points. But conservatives should appreciate its successes too.

The democratic deficit is vastly overstated. Conservatives are no fans of giving unelected international bureaucracies powers that belong to democratic states and their citizens. But decision making in the EU under the 2001 Treaty of Nice required that practically all EU decisions be reached by consensus of member states represented by their leaders in the Council of the European Union.

The European Commission is only as powerful as politicians want it to be. It can issue legislation only in a small number of mostly technical areas, such as competition policy, expressly delegated to it by the council. All other EU legislation is adopted through a democratic process by elected European parliamentarians and ministers from member states.

Europe has a history of violence. Only after 1945 did democracy in Europe start to flourish. Central European states became liberal democracies because political elites saw the prospect of EU and NATO membership. If conservatives want democracy and free enterprise to triumph not just in the West, but also in republics of the former Soviet Union and beyond, they should see the EU as an ally.

The fall of the Soviet empire liberated some 100 million people in central and eastern Europe from the shackles of communism. Today their embrace of markets and democracy is under threat again from Moscow. Collapse of the EU would drive its more vulnerable member states toward Russia.

Conservative critics are right to say the introduction of the common currency was driven by political motives. Countries that keep the euro as their currency must move toward closer political union, with tighter fiscal rules and scrutiny. They will also need deregulation and safeguards against new red tape. Conservatives should applaud.

The European Union is a work in progress. Generations of democratically elected European politicians have presided over a historically unprecedented period of peace, economic openness, and prosperity. There is no guarantee that dismantling it would preserve these achievements.

To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949

Ian Kershaw

For a generation Germany hosted an explosion of nationalism, aggression, conflict, crisis, and racism. Millions were terrorized, starved, tortured, raped, bombed, burned, and gassed.

The First World War unleashed the demons. The Second World War was the culmination of this time of terror. The postwar years saw hunger, revenge killing, mass rape, and ethnic cleansing.

The period saw Soviet Communism transform society and cause famines that killed millions and cowed the rest. Nazi Germany waged a genocidal war until defeat stared the country in the face.

Yet Europe went on to enjoy generations of peace, stability and prosperity, policed by the Cold War superpowers with nuclear weapons.

AR German militarism forced the evolution of a global nuclear clampdown.

Photo: Ira Nowinski

Danke vielmals,
Mutti Merkel

Wham Bam,
Thank You Cam

RAF drone zaps Brits in Syria
to foil queen death plot, says
David Cameron. RAF Reapers
made 29 strikes in August and
16 in July against IS nuts.

Eric Ray Davidson/Netflix/Rex/Allstar
Daryl Hannah, 54, was diagnosed
early in life as borderline autistic

DF-21D carrier-killer missile,
Tiananmen Square, 2015-09-03
(see also blog 2010-12-29)

Island Nation
The Times

CDU spokesman on home affairs
Stephan Mayer: "I have always
had sympathy and understanding
for the British role in the EU and
the demands for renegotiation.
But we are now in such a huge
humanitarian catastrophe, I
do not have any sympathy or understanding for one-country
orientated positions."

AR Wir sollen endlich Schluss
machen mit der britischen


2015 September 18


Timothy Snyder

Hitler described humans as members of races doomed to eternal and bloody struggle for finite resources. He called ethics a Jewish invention. Races needed ever more Lebensraum in order to feed and breed. Nature demanded that the higher races overmaster and starve the lower.

German politics was a means to restore the state of nature. The mass murder began in a zone of double state destruction. In 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union invaded Poland and the Soviets occupied the Baltic states. Germans invading in 1941 encountered stateless populations.

When Hitler called for the total eradication of global Jewry, mass murder extended through Belarus and Ukraine into Russia. In 1942 the policy of total killing then spread back west into Europe. German Jews were deported to eastern zones and killed. The Holocaust spread in stateless zones.

An alternative to ecological panic and state destruction was the pursuit of agricultural technology. Scientists were already preparing the green revolution. Within decades Europe faced not food shortage but surpluses. The green revolution has removed fear of hunger from politics.

After the final German defeat in 1945, the green revolution met demand in Europe and elsewhere. Yet no scientific solution is eternal. The green revolution might be reaching its limits. Rich elites could again face the choice of how to define the relationship between politics and science.

The planet is changing in ways that make an ecological apocalypse seem possible. A 4 K increase of global temperatures this century would transform human life. A looming crisis can trigger drastic measures. Climate denial might hasten disasters that collapse politics into ecological panic.

The state guarantees and protects rights. When states are absent, rights are unsustained. Political thought is the historically informed imagination of plural structures that can preserve life and decency. States should invest in science so that the future can be contemplated calmly.

2015 September 17


Maajid Nawaz and Sam Harris

Islamism is the desire to impose a version of Islam on the rest of society. Political Islamists generally do not believe in resorting to violence, though there are different attitudes among them toward democratic participation.

Political Islam is an offshoot of religious Islam. It highlights the problems of religious literalism, dogmatism, and pious intolerance. Most Saudis agree that the Islamic State caliphate conforms to the values of Islam and Islamic law.

Many liberals consider any discussion of the problem posed by Islamism to be a sign of bigotry. Holding Islam up to scrutiny, rationally and ethically, must not be confused with bigotry. In an open society, no idea can be above scrutiny.

Mind Uploads: Bunk

Michael Hendricks

Futurists say a detailed map of neural connections could be enough to restore a person's mind by uploading it into a computer simulation. But a map of connections is not sufficient. Many signals that regulate behavior are mediated by chemical cues in networks with unknown anatomy. Brain activity cannot be inferred from the connectome.

The problem of simulating a brain is colossally hard. But it is far easier than replicating a particular brain, as required for the promised personal immortality of uploading. The features of your neurons and synapses that make you "you" are not generic. And they are what engrams (the physical constituents of memories) are made of.

We can imagine simulating a brain down to the synaptic or molecular or even quantum level. But the idea that you can be conscious in two places at once defies intuition. Replication or simulation would result in a new person with distinct conscious experience. Any suggestion that you can come back to life is bunk.

2015 September 15

Mama Merkel versetzt die Vergangenheit

Jonathan Freedland

Es gab einmal eine Zeit in der Flüchtlinge verzweifelt versuchten, per Eisenbahn aus Deutschland zu entkommen. Heute sehnen sie sich danach, per Zug einzureisen. In Zukunft wird der Anblick einer riesigen deutschen Menschenmenge nicht nur an Nürnberg erinnern, sondern auch an die Plakate mit der Aufschrift „Refugees welcome“.

Im Verlauf der Eurokrise wurde Deutschland in Teilen des Kontinents als gefühlloser Schurke dargestellt, der dem nichtsahnenden Volk der Griechen einschneidende Sparmaßnahmen aufzwang. Die herzliche Aufnahme syrischer Flüchtlinge in Deutschland sollte das strenge Bild durch ein freundlicheres, sanfteres zu ersetzen. Die Deutschen werden nicht gern als Tyrannen des Kontinents gesehen.

Deutschland hat auch die niedrigste Geburtenrate der Welt. Sie reicht nicht aus, um die Arbeitskräfte zu produzieren, die für die Zukunft benötigt werden könnten. Das Land müsste mehr als 500.000 Einwanderer pro Jahr aufnehmen, nur um das Gleichgewicht zu halten. Es ist schon aus Eigeninteresse sinnvoll, dass Deutschland syrische Ingenieure, Ärzte und Hochschulabsolventen willkommen heißt.


2015 September 12

Jeremy Corbyn wins Labour leadership contest


Ein linker Utopist, untauglich für die Realität
Die Welt

AR Absolut: Spass, ne?


2015 September 11

Moved House


A hectic and exhausting  performance

2015 September 10

UK Drone Strikes

Liam Fox

The UK government ordered the killing of two IS terrorists. It did so on the basis of available intelligence about their activities and the threats they posed, as well as military advice.

These were not a couple of British tourists. They were part of a barbaric organisation involved in systematic gang rape, torture and beheadings. They were enemy combatants who took up arms against the armed forces of their own country and plotted to murder and maim their fellow citizens at home.

There is ample legal justification for this action under international law. This was an example of accountable and responsible government acting in line with its duty to defend our national security. The transparency of the political decision making process has been on full view in Parliament this week.

The behavior of these young men was a conscious choice. In this case the consequences were fatal. The safety of our people is the first duty of Government.

2015 September 9

Moving House


Limited connectivity until further notice

2015 September 8

New Stealth Bomber

Daily Beast

The Pentagon is about to pick a new bomber. The contest pits Northrop Grumman against a consortium of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. The winner gets to build 100 new bombers.

Twenty years ago, the Pentagon switched from B-2 bomber development to work on stealth fighter jets such as the F-22 and F-35. The F-35 has been a disaster, yet the Pentagon is buying about 2,300 of them to fill the front lines for the next three decades. Now planners see they need the Long Range Strike Bomber to help out.

The LRS-B has a budget capped at $550 million per plane, perhaps $1 billion including R&D, about half what a B-2 cost. It will be "optionally manned" so it can be flown as a drone for missions too dangerous or dull for a human pilot, and stealthy enough to outpace efforts by Russia, China and others to develop new sensors.

The USAF wants the first LRS-B squadron to be ready in a decade or less.

Genetic Engineering

Matt Ridley

Leading British medical researchers support the careful use of a new gene editing technique on human cells. Six genetic engineering scares:

1 Forty years ago, the discovery of how to do genetic engineering in bacteria led to debates about the risks. Scientists imposed a moratorium and held a conference to devise rules. Today the technique is routinely used and has saved or improved the lives of millions.

2 The discovery of how to fertilize human eggs in test tubes led to debates about what this might do to human reproduction. The technology has largely cured infertility and made millions happy.

3 Twenty years ago, scientists began to modify the genes of plants. GM crops have cut insecticide use, raised yields, and delivered healthier foods.

4 Around the millennium, scientists developed techniques to clone mammals. Cloning has proved helpful in only a very few laboratory settings, but has not been used for frivolous purposes.

5 Scientists sequenced the human genome, identified disease-causing mutations and began to offer pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to avoid bringing people into the world with problem conditions. Demand for positive selection has proved minimal.

6 Scientists discovered how to use viruses to insert new genes into living tissues to cure fatal diseases. Early trials in human beings using retroviruses triggered cancer and were abandoned. But safer lentivirus gene therapy is being used in trials.

Score 6-0 to the optimists. The latest gene-editing technique is much more precise and effective than previous ways of altering genes.

2015 September 7


Galen Strawson

Daniel Dennett: "We are all virtuoso novelists ... We try to make all of our material cohere into a single good story. And that story is our autobiography. The chief fictional character at the center of that autobiography is one's self."

These are not universal human truths. The deliverances of memory are hopelessly piecemeal and disordered. A great shambles seems a much better characterization of human existence.

The tendency to attribute control to self is a personality trait. It divides human beings who feel they are authors of their thoughts from those who feel their thoughts are things that just happen.

Virginia Woolf: "Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end."

2015 September 6

China #1

Niall Ferguson

China aspires to be a superpower. In 1980 its share of total world output was less than 2.3%. Today, with an $11 trillion GDP at PPP, it is just under 17% — more than the US share (16%) and more than the combined shares of Brazil, India, and Russia (13%), making China the world's #1 economy.

Chinese president Xi Jinping wants to: shift the economy from manufacturing to services, shift from external to domestic demand, shift from a state-controlled to a market-based financial system, crack down on corruption, increase the international use of the renminbi, and grow at around 7%.

Refugees: UK Response

Sunday Times

UK prime minister David Cameron is prepared to accept 15,000 refugees from Syria. A review of aid spending across Whitehall will divert money to the refugee crisis from African aid.

Cameron also wants airstrikes against IS militants in Syria soon. Former defense secretary Liam Fox: "The policy of attacking ISIS in Iraq but not in Syria is patently absurd."

Rescue Christians

George Carey

A new dimension to this refugee crisis is just how impotent Europe is proving itself to be. If the EU is not resilient in face of this disaster, it could be torn apart.

For years, our warm-hearted land has consistently accepted more asylum seekers than Germany. It would be a mistake to give way to bullying calls to immediately open our doors to tens of thousands of refugees. We are a small island and recent immigration figures are highly disturbing. Alas, Germany opening its doors to this influx will make Europe into an even more attractive magnet for floods of economic migrants.

A hundred years after the Armenian and Assyrian genocide, in which over a million Christians are estimated to have been killed by Ottoman Muslims, the same is happening today in the form of an ethnic cleansing of Christians in the region. Christians have been crucified, beheaded, raped, and subjected to forced conversion. Islamic State and other radical groups are openly glorifying the slaughter of Christians.

There has been too much Muslim mass immigration to Europe. This has resulted in ghettos of Muslim communities following their own customs and laws.

2015 September 5

Chinese Defense


China is becoming a leading missile producer. Where local capability falls short, China buys from Russia and hopes quantity will trump quality.

The Chinese defense industry still has a long way to go to close the gap with the US and European military manufacturers. New policies aim to help defense corporations break remaining technological barriers. China still lacks an overarching body to integrate companies with national procurement and geopolitical strategies. Other obstacles include the evolution of monopolies in the defense sector.

But the advances over the past decade have been extraordinary. China remains on course to become a leading military manufacturer.

Safe Nuclear Reactors

MIT Technology Review

A European consortium has begun a program to show the safety benefits of molten salt reactors. These nuclear power plants run on thorium, which is cleaner, safer, and more abundant than uranium.

Their safety advantages include a bathtub design with a freeze plug in the bottom, so they drain if things go wrong and the plug melts. The reactors run hot enough to burn existing nuclear waste.

A UK government report on technologies from potential molten salt reactor developers sees promising signs for the next decade. The most advanced program for such reactors is in China.

2015 September 4

Germany 1: Britain 0

Philip Stephens

For the most part, the refugee crisis has shown Europe at its worst: lofty rhetoric about collective action betrayed by a fearful retreat into the narrowest of nationalisms. The victims of war could stay in camps in Jordan and Turkey.

Angela Merkel is getting it right. She understands that solidarity in such circumstances is not merely a sentimental or dutiful response to misery but the only practical answer. A rich and aging continent can easily absorb such newcomers. Over time it will profit from their energy and enterprise.

2015 September 3

Quantum Reality

New Scientist

Experimenters have refuted local realism again.

Using the Bell inequality that limits the correlations between the properties of two particles under local realism, the new experiment closes a number of potential loopholes.

A typical Bell test begins with a source of photons, which spits out two at the same time in different directions to two detectors, operated by Alice and Bob, who choose their detector property settings independently. If the photons are quangled, repeated tests violate the inequality to refute local realism.

But unless the detectors are far enough apart to leave no time for a light signal between them, you cannot trust the correlations. This is the locality loophole.

The detectors must pick up a lot of photons. But the further you separate the detectors, the more photons get lost on the way. This is the detection loophole.

In the new test, Alice and Bob sit in two labs 1.3 km apart. Light takes 4.3 μs to travel this distance and their measurement takes only 3.7 μs, closing the locality loophole.

Each lab has a diamond containing an electron with spin. The team hits the diamonds with microwave pulses so they each emit a photon quangled with the electron spin. These photons fly to a location C between A and B, where a detector times them. For those with the same arrival time, any correlations in the quangled spins are nonlocal. The spins are constantly monitored and the detectors are good, closing the detector loophole.

The results refute local realism. We live in a quantum world.

2015 September 2

The Refugee Crisis

The Guardian

Chancellor Angela Merkel has taken the lead: All Syrian refugees will be eligible to claim asylum in Germany. "If Europe fails on the question of refugees, its close connection with universal civil rights will be destroyed."

EU nations need to act together in face of an ongoing tragedy. The task is to manage a crisis of unprecedented dimensions. Drawing up a common European asylum policy is urgent, and so is finding the resources to back it up.

Cllr Merkel has reminded Europe that it was built on values. Special reasons why Germany is proving more willing than others to open up to refugees include an aging population. But Europe must agree on this strategic issue.


David Auerbach

Ludwig Wittgenstein developed two philosophies. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921) made a huge impact on the logical positivists. In it he tried to chart the relationship between language and the world. Later he rejected his premise that our linguistic statements depict true or false states of affairs and that formal logic regulates these statements.

Wittgenstein changed his mind. Language did not have a fixed and logical relation to reality. The process of measuring the truth of a statement against reality was neither objective nor cleanly delineated. The meaning of what we say cannot be abstracted away from the context in which we say it. Our speech acts are grounded in social practices.

Artificial intelligence was slow to learn this lesson. Google succeeded by ignoring semantics as much as possible and by sticking to finding patterns without trying to understand the meaning of words or sentences. Google could count the popularity of a word and see which people, where, use which words, without deciding what was right or wrong.

AR Wittgenstein and Heidegger led the two main diverging streams in post-Hegelian philosophy.

2015 September 1


Martin Wolf

If China became as rich per head as South Korea, its economy would be bigger than those of the United States and Europe combined.

But in emerging economies growth tends to be marked by discontinuities. Chinese growth might suffer a discontinuity. The current pattern is unsustainable, the debt overhang is large, and dealing with these challenges risks a sharp collapse in demand.

Chinese growth depends on investment as a source of supply and demand. Since 2011 additional capital has been the sole source of extra output, with productivity growth near zero. The incremental capital output ratio has soared as returns on investment have tumbled.

The ratio of capital to output in China is on an explosive path. If the ratio is to stabilize at current levels, and the economy is to grow at about 6%, the investment share in GDP needs to fall by about 10%. If that were to happen suddenly, it would cause a slump.

The Chinese economy could slow much faster than almost anybody now expects. A discontinuity is now more likely than for decades.

Dreadnought 2050

Birth of the Space Age
Science Museum, London
Opens 2015-09-18


Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin
wants a master plan to colonize
Mars within 25 years. As a professor and senior faculty
adviser at the Buzz Aldrin Space
Institute, Florida Institute of
Technology, he will shoot for a Mars settlement by 2039
(1969 + 70).

Quilliam founder Maajid Nawaz
on Islamists: "Treat them like
racists. The only way you can
challenge bigotry is by being
consistent against it."

Cara Delevingne
is quite good in
Paper Towns


2015 August 31


Space News

Northrop Grumman is developing an inflatable, propeller-powered aircraft to cruise for months in the sulfurous skies of Venus and wants to enter the concept for $1 billion of NASA funding in the New Frontiers planetary science competition.

Northrop Grumman

The Venus Atmospheric Maneuverable Platform (VAMP) air vehicle is a hypersonic entry vehicle that transitions to a semi-buoyant, maneuverable, solar powered aircraft for flight in the skies of Venus. VAMP is transported to Venus orbit by a carrier spacecraft, then deployed and released to float down into the clouds. There it flies, transmitting science data to Earth. VAMP holds over 40 kg of instruments and can fly around the planet for up to a year. VAMP is the first of the Lifting Entry Atmospheric Flight (LEAF) family of atmospheric rover vehicles.

AR A good preliminary for the Venus sky city idea (blog 2014-12-23)

Conscious Intent

Pierre R. Blanquet

A new conception of intentionality is proposed. Visuomotor neural pathways accompanied by quantum transitions might self-organize to control intentionality in the brain. In the models of Giuseppe Vitiello and Gordon Globus, a dissipative system governs the dynamic dialog of dual quantum modes between environment and brain. Based on this conception of mind-world interactions, intentionality might be a fundamental force that draws us irreversibly toward the future.

AR I proposed a similar idea in Mindworlds (2002, PDF, 7 MB; see slides 120-132): virtual futures might be realized when input photons entangle with retinal molecules and lock the viewer into the landscape. Intentionality arises in the adoption of VR brain models based on the locking. The "fundamental force" idea is bunk — a poor echo of Schopenhauer.

2015 August 30


Oliver Sacks

Freud spoke of all psychoses as narcissistic disorders: one becomes the most important person in the world, chosen for a unique role, whether it is to be a messiah, a redeemer of souls, or to be the focus of universal persecution and accusation, or derision and degradation.

Mania is by no means all pleasure. When one ascends to the exorbitant heights of mania, one becomes very isolated from ordinary human relationships. There is much evidence to suggest a possible relationship between mania and creativity.

Where Am I?

Anil Ananthaswamy

The sense of self is grounded in the body, its feelings, and our brain maps of them. Errors can occur. For example, sit at a table and rest one hand on it, with a rubber hand nearby and a screen hiding your view of your own hand, and let an experimenter stroke both the real hand and the fake one. Before long, you feel the stroking sensation transfer to the location of the rubber hand. Your brain assigns the rubber hand to you. Similar illusions can shift your sense of where you are to elsewhere.

AR A familiar feeling for me from immersion in books or movies.

2015 August 29


Martin Wössner

Martin Heidegger once confessed: "Nietzsche hat mich kaputt gemacht."

Heidegger said he who thinks greatly must err greatly. Unlike Nietzsche, Heidegger never abandoned his academic post. He aimed instead to connect the dots between the history of being from the Ancient Greeks to the poetry of Friedrich Hölderlin and Third Reich politics.

For Heidegger, Greek tragedy pointed to the inescapability of fate and destiny. History was tragedy and Heidegger thought he knew what roles he and the German people were to play in it.

Hegel had enough hubris to think that he stood at the end of history. Heidegger likewise considered himself the first true philosopher since Heraclitus. In the black notebooks he noted that the names Heraclitus, Hegel, and Hölderlin each began with the letter "H" (so did Heidegger and Hitler).

Freedom to Fail is a lament for a philosophical epoch. True thinking means never having to say you're sorry. Peter Trawny: "For Heidegger, evil belongs to thinking. Insofar as it elucidates being, it elucidates evil. For even evil belongs to the world-narrative."

Machine Math

New Scientist

A mathematical proof is an exhaustive sequence of logical steps leading from an established starting point to an undeniable conclusion. But some mathematicians think math is reaching a limit. Real breakthroughs can be too complicated for others to check.

Computers can help. When humans write out proofs, they skip a lot of the boring details. Computers must account for every logical step, but a program known as a proof assistant can help verify that each step of a proof is valid.

Vladimir Voevodsky splits math into four quadrants. Applied math involves high complexity but low abstraction. Pure math involves low complexity but high abstraction. School math involves neither. Q4 math involves both. Humans may need computers to access Q4.

Voevodsky wants to help the computers. Math is currently defined in terms of set theory, but there are many ways to define math in terms of sets. If two computer proofs use different definitions for the same thing, they will be incompatible. Voevodsky swaps sets for types, a way of defining mathematical objects in which every concept has exactly one definition. Proofs built with types can also form types themselves. So mathematicians can formulate their ideas directly with a proof assistant.

An Intuitive Introduction to Motivic Homotopy Theory
Vladimir Voevodsky

We start with topological spaces. We invent something about this geometrical world using our visual intuition. We abstract it and rewrite it in terms of category theory, which provides a connecting language. And then we apply it in the new situation of algebraic equations. So what we get is a fantastic way to translate geometric intuition into results about algebraic objects. And that is from my point of view the main fun of doing mathematics.

AR Hegel and set theory — my twin obsessions 40 years ago.

2015 August 28

Populist Politics

Jeremy Corbyn

My campaign is for a strategic approach in which business, the state, and the population work cooperatively to create wealth, and for that wealth to reach all sections of society and all regions and nations of our country.

If elected leader, I will appoint a shadow cabinet of all talents within the parliamentary Labour party. Our party has been reinvigorated and we will use the surge in excitement to focus our energies on campaigning politics.

Revolutions in all the key industries of the future have been dependent on strategic public-sector investment. Stable capital must be provided through a public investment bank to support our most innovative sectors.

My vision is of a country in which people are secure in their work, secure in their home, and able to better themselves, in which people are supported by strong public services, and with a more balanced economy.

AR Labour talents lack the wisdom to pick winners among industries of the future. The public investment bank would waste billions and run up more debt.

2015 August 27

Islamic State

Paul Berman

Islamic State rules vast portions of Syria and Iraq, and enjoys a following among Sunni Arabs in certain pockets. The ordinary Sunnis in those pockets may dislike the crucifixions, beheadings, lashings, and amputations, and may recoil at the mass slaughters. But they have been terrified by the rise of Shiite power, and they see in Islamic State a force that is willing to protect them.

Islamic State inherits much from the old Arab Baath Socialist Party of Saddam Hussein. Baathism is an extremist movement that is also adaptive. Over the decades the Baathists have basked in the secular sun and also dipped into the seas of Islam. Saddam started out with an Islamic orientation, veered in communist directions during his years of glory, and later inscribed "Allahu Akbar" on his flag.

The Baathist officers began by allying with the Sunni Islamist cause in occupied Iraq. They ended by sailing the seas of jihad, where they remain. Islamic State acquired an officer corps, administrative skills, and a security apparatus. The Arab Baath Socialist Party turns out to be the worst affliction the Arab people has ever endured. Each new adaptation has proved to be expert at slaughter.

Islamic State slaughters for religious reasons. Its piety requires the efficiently organized jihadis to slaughter the Yazidi minority in Iraq, to slaughter the Shia, and to slaughter Christians. It would surely require them to slaughter the Jews, if only the Israeli Defense Force would let them. Given the opportunity, Islamic State would slaughter most of the world.

AR Italian fascism bred Nazis, Iraqi fascism bred IS jihadis.

Dark Quark Matter?

Sabine Hossenfelder and Naomi Lubick

Glenn Starkman says dark matter could be quark nuggets.

Dark matter accounts for 85% of the mass in the universe, yet is invisible and seems to interact only weakly with other matter. Edward Witten suggested long ago that quarks of different flavors could combine to form what he called quark nuggets, which would be massive, tiny, and well nigh invisible.

Constraints on Starkman's hypothesis:
1 If dark matter nuggets were about as massive as our sun, they would be common enough to cause frequent gravitational lensing, contrary to observation.
2 If they were much smaller and spread out through space in a thin fog, they would interact with normal matter and hinder the formation of galaxies as we know them.

The nuggets would have to be light enough not to cause frequent gravitational lensing and yet heavy enough to be sparse, so as to interact only rarely with normal matter. Starkman found that nuggets compatible with observational data would have masses in the range 50 grams to 50 gigatons.

No one knows whether quarks can form such nuggets.

AR Dark matter could thus be solved in principle.

2015 August 26


Martin Wolf

The Chinese market is not a normal one. The Chinese authorities decided to stake substantial resources on an effort to stop the collapse of a bubble. They also decided to devalue the renminbi. They must have been driven to do so by concern over the economy, so we should worry too.

A deeper concern is whether China can shift from an investment-led economy to a consumption-led one, while sustaining aggregate demand. If it can, the economy will also sustain growth of 6-7%. Gross fixed investment was 44% of GDP in 2014, which for an economy growing at only 5% means low or negative marginal returns. Investment could fall sharply, causing a collapse in demand.

The Chinese authorities face three challenges:
1 Cleaning up the legacy of past financial excesses while avoiding a financial crisis
2 Reshaping the economy to depend more on consumption and less on investment
3 Achieving all that while sustaining dynamic growth of aggregate demand

AR Interesting times

2015 August 25


Financial Times

China's central bank cut interest rates and said it would pump liquidity into the banking sector in a bid to boost the slowing economy and stem the slump in share prices.


David A. Bell

Timothy Snyder suggested in Bloodlands that Hitler depended on Stalin not only for a model of terror and murder but also for destroying civil institutions to cast the Holocaust as part of a larger pattern of mass death.

Black Earth is a meditation on the Holocaust. Hitler saw the world in social Darwinist terms as a death struggle between races. The German race would exterminate the Slavs and expropriate their rich farmlands. Standing in the way were the Jews. Snyder claims that Hitler only decided on genocide in reaction to his failure to make the USSR collapse like a house of cards. But this is implausible.

Snyder argues that Communists bore responsibility for assisting the Nazis. He identifies the Soviet Union far more with mass murder and the destruction of states than with the successful struggle to defeat the Nazis.


CNN Money

China stocks opened sharply lower again. The Shanghai Composite has now declined 42% from its June 12 peak, erasing all gains year to date.

Three issues:
1 China's economy is slowing faster than anticipated.
2 Uncertainty over US Federal Reserve interest rate.
3 Cheap oil: crude is now trading below $40.

AR Cheap oil — back to climate change.

2015 August 24

World Markets Plunge

CNN Money, 12:26 AM ET

Shanghai Composite closed down 8.5%
Nikkei closed down 4.6%
Dow plunged 1000 pt, now rallying

JP Morgan strategist David Stubbs: "What we're seeing is not a reasonable correction. We're definitely in the world of psychological downturn and real concern about the future."

Photo: Sally Adams

Vulcan XH558: From the deck of a cruise boat in Poole Bay I watched her final exit after 55 years of flying. The last flying example
of a total of 136 Vulcan nuclear bombers in RAF service from 1956 to 1984 flew back and forth along the beach and then
pumped up the power to her four Olympus jets and thundered up and away into the heavens.

Leopard 2A7+

Joseph LeDoux

When you breathe in the proper
way it calms the conscious mind.
The PNS reduces the flood of
chemicals that keeps the brain
wired for danger and allows
the mind to be more peaceful.
This is why meditation is
so important.

AR Professor LeDoux hosted
The Self: From Soul to Brain
(New York, 2002)


2015 August 23


Jonathan Franzen

A novelist is someone who takes years trying to get it right. I care about the novel. People who write them, people who read them. That is who I consider my clan, my kin. I like the kind of people who give sustained attention to something, let themselves have a full experience and then respond to it thoughtfully.

I was already trying to do something with this book in the early 1990s, the idea of a dissident poet from East Germany. They had the most exhaustively complete system of totalitarian rule ever seen outside North Korea. Several things came together. German thoroughness and love of bureaucracy and love of order, and also the guilt that communist Germany had. They did it really more thoroughly than Russia did. Russia was sloppy.

I believe success is not merely a matter of hard work and determination. There's a discomfort that comes with privilege. And there's been a discomfort for me that comes with success and with the level of attention that my books have gotten. Remaining in that state of discomfort is a way to try to keep myself honest.

2015 August 22

The Caliphate

Jason Burke

Islam spread with the early Arab armies. The black flags under which extremists now fight recall what are imagined to be the battle banners of the earliest Muslim forces. The faith emerged at a time when Byzantine Rome and the Persians had exhausted themselves in centuries of conflict.

Mohammed built a utopian community during his lifetime. That community then transformed much of the known world. While the earliest Jews suffered exile and early Christians persecution, Sunni Muslims enjoyed one of the most successful military and political campaigns in history.

Across much of the world, for two thirds of the last 1,300 years, the power, the glory and the wealth was, broadly speaking, Islamic. The story of the caliphate lives within the context of this overarching narrative.

When Mohammed died, he left no clear instructions as to the "caliph" who should succeed him. The split over the first succession became the division between the Shia and the Sunnis. The title eventually ended up with the Ottoman sultans, until Kemal Atatürk abolished the caliphate in 1924.

In 2014, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi took the unilateral decision to appoint himself as the new caliph. His caliphate would allow Muslims to heal the damage done by centuries of western dominance. An apocalyptic tone in his rhetoric is undoubtedly present, but the historical element is just as powerful.

For most Muslims, the new caliph is simply the latest of a long line of religious revivalist leaders. His claim to the title is dismissed by all major Islamic religious authorities. But none would dispute his dream of resurrecting the power and the glory of Muslim rulers from the Golden Age of Islam.

A new vision of the extent of the caliphate is emerging, no longer constrained by the boundaries of earlier Islamic empires. Some speak of flying the black flag of Islam over the White House.

2015 August 21

Panzer Business

Financial Times

Leopard tank maker KMW chief executive Frank Haun: "In the eastern EU and NATO countries, there is very concrete interest in the establishment or upgrading of specific capabilities. NATO is aware of the deficiencies in its conventional deterrent capability."

Ukraine has prompted Germany and other NATO countries to review their land forces. Haun: "Simply put, what would deter a potential aggressor from risking a conventional war? It's combat tanks and armored personnel carriers, heavy artillery, and heavily armored wheeled vehicles."

In Germany, Bundesverteidigungsministerin Ursula von der Leyen is raising the number of Leopard 2 Kampfpanzer in Bundeswehr service from 225 to 328. The ministry is spending €620 million on a further 131 Boxer GTK and is considering more Puma Schützenpanzer.

RUSI researcher Henrik Heidenkamp: "What Ukraine, and basically Russian policy behavior, has done is to highlight to German policymakers that there is a need to think more constructively about how to strengthen the German defense industry."

The Fall of the USSR

Sputnik News

Zbigniew Brzezinski, 1990: "The crisis of the Soviet Union is a historic crisis like the crisis of the Ottoman Empire, for example. It is a crisis of stagnation, of attrition, of demoralization, of fragmentation, and of intensified potential for violence."

Wassily Leontief compared the Soviet economy to a yacht that was unable to catch the wind. It was held back by government interference and regulation, but he praised its achievements before and after WW2. When the Kremlin invited him to analyze it he said structural changes could fix it.

In 1992, Leontief said Communist leaders seeking to join the global capitalist world had ruined the system. It was burned to ashes and had to be rebuilt from scratch. Today Russia is a source of raw materials for the global economy.

2015 August 20

HMS Iron Duke

Poole Bay
Reception and Capability Demonstration
Dress uniform 1C or equivalent

German Asylum

Financial Times

Germany (pop. 80 million) expects to receive a record 800,000 asylum seekers this year, more than the entire EU in 2014. This is the biggest refugee crisis to face Europe since WW2.

The EU border control agency said the number of people entering Europe by irregular means rose to nearly 110,000 in July, the highest monthly total on record and treble the number for July 2014. The "Dublin rule" requires refugees to claim asylum in the first EU member state they enter. But some EU border states allow large numbers of refugees to head north.

Interior minister Thomas de Maizière: "In the long run, there won't be any Schengen without Dublin. Control-free borders cannot exist in the long term without a real European asylum policy."

Chancellor Angela Merkel says the refugee crisis is of far more concern than the stability of the euro.

AR Solche Zahlen sind unerträglich. Mit so vielen Einwanderer werden wir Probleme ohne Ende einführen. Wir brauchen dringend eine neue Politik — Festung Europa.

2015 August 19


Martin Sandbu

The narrative about what went wrong with the euro is based on dubious claims:

1 Export competitiveness
Claim: The euro damaged weaker EZ economies by pushing up wages and preventing currency devaluations.
Fact: The peripheral economies did not price themselves out of markets. Most held on to their market share and most of their wage inflation was in domestic sectors.
Massive capital flows from the core to the periphery fueled an import boom and wage inflation, but less so in sectors that trade internationally.

2 Sovereign bailouts
Claim: There was no alternative to offering rescue loans to the crisis-hit EZ governments. Sovereign defaults would have had devastating consequences.
Fact : Sovereign defaults are almost always followed by faster growth and better creditworthiness. Research suggests that they encourage investment by bringing certainty.
Market panic across the periphery may have owed more to inherent risks than to contagion.

3 Fiscal union
Claim: A monetary union must put enough fiscal resources in common to help its members absorb shocks. The logic leads from monetary union to fiscal union.
Fact: The case for sharing risk applies regardless of monetary union. The US and German monetary unions absorb most local shocks in private financial markets: US fiscal insurance absorbs 15% of local downturns and German 10%.
Fiscal union would marginally help EZ countries, but the real prize is more private financial integration.

4 Structural reform
Claim: Peripheral EZ nations must reform their economic structures to make their debts sustainable and to catch up with the core EZ economies.
Fact: IMF research finds only a small positive effect of structural reforms on productivity and output. After 5 years of product and labor reforms, output would be 3.7% higher than without them. In the long term, product market reform boosts GDP by 8.6%, labor market liberalization by 2.2%.
The benefit is too small to make much difference.

AR The EZ narrative promotes economic virtue.

2015 August 18

Russia Looks Weak

John Thornhill

Vladimir Putin has consolidated Kremlin power. But both the Russian political model and its economy look threadbare. The economy contracted 4.6% in Q2 of 2015 year on year. Now US GDP at PPP is 5 times larger than Russia's. The Russian population has fallen to 142 million.

The west is right to sanction the Putin regime for trampling over Ukrainian sovereignty. It is right to bolster NATO defenses bordering Russia. But it would be rash to declare a new cold war. The west should leave the Russian door ajar for a future leader.

AR The German approach is wise: Keep calm.

2015 August 17

EU Foreign Policy

Radek Sikorski

European countries are small and can only exert real influence by acting together. To represent the interests of the European Union as a whole, the Lisbon treaty established the office of EU council president (now Donald Tusk) as well as an office of high representative for foreign policy. These offices were intended to aggregate the interests of the member states, to direct EU diplomacy, and to conduct foreign policy on issues where there was consensus.

Recently some EU member states have taken center stage in foreign policy crises. On Ukraine, Germany and France have taken it upon themselves to manage Russian aggression, with only partial success. If foreign policy is about helping to manage the free world, member states should calculate whether a given issue is better resolved by them alone or by the EU as a whole. If they decide upon the latter, they had better get behind EU policy. If Ukraine goes wrong, Germany will be blamed. EU member states should lead behind their jointly chosen leaders.


Financial Times

Eastern European NATO members will join forces to increase pressure for permanent bases in their countries. Leaders from Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania will meet in November to lobby for a larger NATO presence on the eastern front. Poland and the Baltic states say NATO must respond more robustly to the Russian annexation of Crimea. Berlin says any permanent NATO bases in the eastern states would contravene a 1997 agreement with Russia. Warsaw says the agreement is now moot.

Poles Strike

John Zylinski

Polish workers in London will go on a one-day strike Thursday to protest against the lack of appreciation for their huge input into the British economy. Without the efforts of the Polish community London could grind to a halt within hours.

2015 August 16

The Man for Mars

Sue Halpern

Elon Musk parlayed the $165 million he made from PayPal into the more than $11 billion behind Musk Industries today. He built the electric car company Tesla Motors, he founded and runs the aeronautics company SpaceX, and he chairs SolarCity.

Tesla cars are sold with the guarantee of free solar energy from charging stations powered by SolarCity. The lithium battery technology for Tesla cars also covers for cloudy days and dark nights: A home battery called Powerwall stores energy and kicks in for the solar panels.

Musk proposes a hyperloop transportation system to carry passengers in pods from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 30 minutes. He wants to build an Internet service based on 4,000 small LEO satellites launched with SpaceX rockets.

He founded SpaceX because he believes that a future where humanity is out exploring the stars is more exciting than one where we are not. SpaceX is actively developing the technologies to make this possible, with the ultimate goal of enabling human life on Mars.

Musk has all the attributes of a classic narcissist: the grandiosity, the quest to be famous, the lack of empathy, the belief that he is smarter than everyone else, and the messianic plan to save civilization.

AR Good man.

Zen and the Art of Dying Well

The Zen Hospice Project trains
its staff to care mindfully. They
pay scrupulous attention to the
senses that keep people awake
and engaged with the last
moments of their lives.

Photo: Mario Testino

Photo: Mario Testino
Taylor Swift
Vanity Fair


Renminbi falls again with new
1.6% PBC cut: global markets
fear currency devaluations
across Asia


China devalues renminbi 2%
against US dollar in push for
IMF to accept renminbi as a
global reserve currency

Fat Man

Southern Owl Nebula


A dolphin swims in front of
USS John Warner

Woodlice Have
Feelings Too

Porcellio scaber, woodlice, have personalities. Ivan Hadrian Tuf
and colleagues captured some
and observed their responses
to being pushed and handled.
From their ZooKeys paper:
"Porcellio scaber is one of the
first species of terrestrial
isopods with documented
personality traits."

Photo: John Wright

Chrissy Teigen
Women's Health UK

"I would love to have a little fat
on my sides so I can be sexy,
curvy. I'd love a big butt. But
I just can't get there."

AR Looks OK to me.

Photo: Allan Ballard
Cilla Black


2015 August 15

NATO vs Russia

Nancy A. Youssef

Top US military officers have begun to call Russia an existential threat. Moscow has roughly 4,000 nuclear weapons, the world's third largest military budget, and an increasingly bellicose leader. But they can't agree on the threat probability.

Against Russia, US forces cannot rely on air dominance, as they can in the Mideast, and they are ill prepared for a sustained fight. In March, Russia conducted major field exercises, deploying 80,000 personnel, focused on the Arctic and High North, Kaliningrad, Crimea, and the Baltic states. In June, NATO conducted its own exercises called Allied Shield, where 15,000 troops focused on the Baltic states and Poland.

Analysis suggested NATO could not maintain a sustained fight against the Russians. Worse, Russia has learned to blend special forces, local proxies, weaponized propaganda, cyber espionage, and sneak attacks, and says it is ready to go nuclear first. NATO is struggling to figure out how to respond without starting World War III.

The United States spends roughly $600 billion on defense. Russia spends $60 billion. Russian weapons are far less modern, and Putin had to abandon his $400 billion plan to upgrade them earlier this year as the Russian ruble fell. But during the height of the Cold War, there were roughly 250,000 US troops deployed to Europe. That number today: 31,000.

AR Europe could fall like France in 1940.


Douglas Coupland

Retail seems like magic to me. You walk into a space filled with well lit, cunningly arranged, tantalizing objects, you see something you like, you hand over this stuff called money, and they give you what you want. What could be better?

The first thing I do in any new country is go to a hardware store. The Japanese have the best department stores. They are fully immersive lifestyle experiences, and they sell everything. They're so well put together that you feel like you should dress up just to go there.

I was really excited to go to Harrods in London. When I got there everything looked like it was designed by the same guy who did Michael Jackson's wardrobe. I guess I was expecting a whole other level of luxury. Humanity seems to be split down the middle on luxury: those who want gilded leopard-shaped teapots, and those people who want to live in the white box their iPhone came in.

AR I like a white box.

2015 August 14

Voting Rights

Barack Obama

Rosanell Eaton reaffirmed a fundamental truth. What makes our country great is not that we are perfect, but that with time, courage and effort, we can become more perfect.

Nearly three decades after Rosanell testified to her unbroken faith in this country, that faith was vindicated. The Voting Rights Act put an end to literacy tests and other forms of discrimination, helping to close the gap between our promise that all of us are created equal and our long history of denying some of us the right to vote.

I am where I am today only because men and women like Rosanell Eaton refused to accept anything less than a full measure of equality. Their efforts made our country a better place.

2015 August 13

NATO and Poland

Financial Times

Polish president Andrzej Duda criticizes NATO for treating Poland like a buffer zone. He urges the alliance to place permanent bases in Poland and adapt its strategy to Russia's actions in Ukraine and Georgia.

Warsaw will host the NATO biennial summit next year. Discussions over permanent bases in eastern Europe might be a central issue. There are still no NATO combat troops deployed east of Germany.

Duda and his right-wing Law and Justice party cohabit awkwardly with Poland's center-right government. The president heads military and foreign policy and can propose and veto legislation.

Polish prime minister Ewa Kopacz supports the EU initiative to reduce CO2 emissions by 40% between 1990 and 2030, but Duda and his party criticize the proposals. Poland has vast coal reserves and the mining industry employs more than 100,000 people.

AR Burning coal is filthy.

Post Capitalism

Gillian Tett

Paul Mason says capitalism is a complex adaptive system that has reached the limits of its capacity to adapt. His argument:
1 Information technology has reduced the need for work.
2 Information goods can be replicated endlessly, for free.
3 People are collaborating in ways that do not make economic sense.

Mason says technology has turned us all into individualists connected by networks. He wants to use their power to build a world no longer dominated by neoliberalism, where only part of the population would work for cash and the rest would pursue other goals.

His vision is a world where the government provides the framework to enable individuals to flourish and state functions are handed over to citizens. People will be free to write Wikipedia pages. It sounds utopian.

AR A Conservative vision

Holy Cow!

Liel Leibovitz

Jerusalem's Temple Institute hopes to raise $125,000 in order to implant the frozen embryos of Red Angus cattle in Israeli cows, in the hope that the herd produces an unblemished red heifer. Such a holy cow plays a big part in the ancient Jewish ritual of purification.

At our finest universities and hospitals, doctors and scientists are exploring treatments that edge closer to tinkering with the sacred orb of the self. We should prepare for a future in which a slew of undesirable behaviors could be eradicated with a light electrical pulse.

Genesis tells us that when Enoch died he became the angel Metatron, patron of scientific progress. Is his story a cautionary tale against attempting to short-circuit our freedom to choose good from evil? The answer may be harder to come by than a holy cow.

AR Homo sap = Holy cow!

2015 August 12

Russia vs NATO

European Leadership Network

The war in Ukraine has worsened the relationship between Russia and NATO. Russian brinkmanship has resulted in many close military encounters between Russian and NATO forces. Russia and by NATO have also increased the scope and size of their military exercises in the Euro-Atlantic area since the Ukraine crisis began.

We analyzed two recent military exercises:
A Russian exercise in March 2015 with 80,000 military personnel.
The NATO Allied Shield exercise in June 2015 with 15,000 personnel from 22 states.

Each side is training with the other side in mind: Russia is preparing for a conflict with NATO, and NATO is preparing for a possible confrontation with Russia. We need more communication between NATO and Russia on exercises and agreed reciprocal territorial limitations on deployment of certain weapons.

UK defense secretary Michael Fallon: "Russia is continuing to test NATO's resolve, but we have shown we are standing firm. Seven thousand people have already died in the Ukraine, right on the doorstep of Europe, as Ukraine fights for its freedom. This is not a frozen conflict, it's still red hot."

AR See NATO expansion eastward as a cool reprise of the 1941-42 assault on the Soviet Union: the Ukraine conflict becomes our Stalingrad, the limit of our powers. The 1943-45 Red Army rollback was brutal. A new Russian rollback into Europe could do real damage.

2015 August 11

One Party State

Norman Baker

We are now facing a one-party state. In the Commons, the opposition is cowed and aimless. A future Labour majority now looks like a pipe dream. Conservatives are pressing ahead with boundary changes that were blocked in the last parliament and will increase the their majority by 30 or 40. In the Lords, the government will appoint a phalanx of new Tory peers.

At the last election, the Conservatives had more money to spend than all the other parties combined. Now they want to introduce union reforms likely to deplete substantially the funding available to the Labour Party. The BBC is to be eviscerated, legal aid is disappearing, and the Freedom of Information Act will be reviewed. Democrats need to wake up and act.

AR Conservative rule OK: UK democracy needs rethink.

2015 August 10

EZ Money

Martin Sandbu

Pressures on Greek self-determination include:
1 Extraordinary micromanagement of policy by creditors
2 Shameless intervention in Greek elections by EZ leaders
3 Huge efforts made to avoid any upset of the EZ program

Greek opinion polls show most Greeks want to keep the euro but reject the policies imposed by creditor institutions. The EZ political elite has done everything it can to frustrate this preference.

Either EZ leaders believe there is no alternative or they cannot admit they were wrong. But EZ imposition of austerity and monetary tightening was a policy choice. People can say no.

The EZ goal was to smooth trade and investment and prevent a return to past enmities. It was not to remove any choice over economic policy. Denying democracy betrays European values.

AR Lesson to Greece: EZ money is not easy money.

EZ Books

Paul Mason

Digital publishing encourages skim reading. People react to the volume of academic papers by skimming them. They read ebooks on devices they use for other things, such as cellphones, with distraction a thumb swipe away.

Fiction is shorter now. You can look up a word in an ebook by selecting it. If you like a passage in an ebook you can highlight it. Then you can read just the highlighted bits. Wikipedia pages on novels embody crowd wisdom.

Good beach reads:
1 Literary novels with clear prose and plots
2 Popular novels with a high writerly craft
3 Literary autobiographies, diaries, reportage

Today life is more immersive. Writers are up against it.

AR Zine-like ebooks — EZ books — are the future.

2015 August 9

29 US Scientists Praise Iran Nuclear Deal

New York Times

Top US scientists, including Nobel laureates, veteran makers of nuclear arms, and former White House science advisers, wrote to President Obama on Saturday to praise the Iran deal.

Most of the 29 signatories are physicists, and many of them have held Q clearances granting access to a special category of secret information that bears on the design of nuclear arms.

The letter


Gerard DeGroot

In Greek mythology, the omphalos marks the navel of the world. But where is it? Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan were once crossed by the Silk Roads — for Peter Frankopan the crossroads of civilization.

Ancient Greece and Rome are traditionally seen as the birthplace of European civilization. Yet the Greeks and Romans looked to the East for enlightenment and mystery. Europe was a barbarian place. Roman grandeur was built on riches from the East.

From the East came cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, silk, gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Muslim commentators noted with regret how the advance of Christianity effaced the traces and paths of learning. The Christians were the fundamentalists back then.

The Silk Roads also transmitted a plague to Europe that triggered a change so profound it remade the West. Europeans claimed the mantle of the Greeks and Romans. But today the massive wealth is in the Gulf region. So where is the omphalos?

AR The omphalos is in the great "I am" — the concept of self that exceeds all understanding.

2015 August 8


Steven Pinker

A few years ago, the Four Horsemen of the New Atheism pressed the case that God does not exist and that many aspects of organized religion are pernicious.

The backlash against the New Atheists has led to a new consensus. People will never be disabused of their religious beliefs. Perhaps societies need unifying creeds to promote altruism and social cohesion. Also, science relies on faith in testing and universal laws. If science and religion just stayed on their own sides of the bed we could all just get along. This is faitheism.

Jerry Coyne says science is distinct from religious faith. He defines science as a system of belief grounded by reason and evidence rather than faith. People who appreciate science ought to treat all claims with skepticism, and provisionally accept only those warranted by arguments and evidence that anyone can recognize. They should not accept claims on faith.

The existence of the God of scripture is a testable empirical hypothesis. Religious beliefs are falsifiable. Coyne finds arguments for them false or indefensible.


New Scientist

Are we too intelligent? Thomas Metzinger: "Human beings tend to think being clever is such a good thing, but it might be that from an evolutionary perspective, being stupid is much better."

Humans have evolved a form of intelligence and cognitive complexity unseen in other species. This has let us dominate a planet and develop advanced science. But it has also taken us to the brink of global problems like climate change and a mass extinction. A disaster could wipe us out. Metzinger: "It is cognitive complexity, but without compassion and flexibility in our motivational structure."

We are moved by instincts such as greed and jealousy, and not by global empathy or rationality. Our minds have cognitive biases. We pay less attention to future risk compared with present risk. We also have a bias to prefer to be rather than not to be. Why have we met no intelligent aliens? Metzinger: "They may have come to the conclusion that it's better to terminate their own existence."

AR I first met Thomas in 1997 and stayed in touch until 2012 or so. A true philosopher.

2015 August 7

Nuclear War

Richard Haass

The world is unlikely to go another 70 years without nuclear weapons being used.

The chance of the United States, Russia, China, Britain, or France deliberately using such weapons is minuscule. They have robust arsenals capable of surviving a first strike and intelligence capabilities that give each of them a good picture of what the others are doing. Diplomacy and arms control arrangements further buttress stability.

The risk comes from countries that have acquired these weapons more recently. Pakistan is arguably the most serious concern. North Korea might use nuclear weapons or sell them to others. Israel has a nuclear arsenal. Iran will keep most of the prerequisites of a large nuclear weapons program. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, and Egypt may well follow suit.

Preventing further use of nuclear weapons may be the challenge of the century.

Israel vs Iran

Silvan Shalom

Israel has been at the receiving end of gun and missile fire for decades. The ayatollahs in Tehran would have us believe that they seek a tranquil, stable Mideast, but to understand the regime we must look at what it is doing.

Iran is the world's leading state-sponsor of terrorism, arming and supporting Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Syrian regime, and Houthi rebels in Yemen. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards perpetrate acts of terrorism throughout the world, from Asia to Europe to the United States. The regime also maintains terror cells in Africa and Latin America.

The regime has been working for decades to develop a nuclear weapon. Even today, with the Vienna deal signed, IAEA concerns on the military dimensions of the Iranian nuclear project remain unanswered. President Rouhani boasted of how in previous rounds of negotiations he took advantage of talks in Europe to secretly advance the nuclear military project.

Iran does not conform to western values and has not signed up for peace. Iran is merely using the tools given to it by western democracies. The terror will continue, and the military nuclear project will be close on its heels.

2015 August 6

Israel vs Iran

John Kerry

Israel is besieged. I operate on the presumption that Iran is a fundamental danger, that they are engaged in negative activities throughout the region, and that they consider Israel a fundamental enemy. Everything we have done here is to build a bulwark. Then we can deal with the other things.

We went to negotiations. People agreed to what was happening. If we unilaterally walk away from this process and turn our back on their cooperation, this will be the ultimate screwing. We cut a deal, we stand up, China, Russia, France, Germany, Britain, all sign off. Now the United States Congress will prove the ayatollah's suspicion, and there's no way he's ever coming back.

We did a nuclear deal. We looked at how do you take the most immediate threat away from them in order to protect the region. And if we're going to push back against an Iran that is behaving in these ways, it is better to push back on an Iran that doesn't have a nuclear weapons than one that does.

If Congress rejects the deal, we're back to square one. Suppose they start to dig deeper under a new mountain. They have an ability to get a bomb. The hue and cry will be: "Iran is going to go to a bomb, you better drop the thing on them now to stop them." It's inevitable. Then you have tit-for-tat.

Everybody believes that keeping those six nations together, keeping international law on your side, keeping that option and giving it the opportunity of playing out, is a far smarter way to go.

2015 August 5

USS John Warner


SSN-785 USS John Warner comes in on target and under budget, $2 billion worth of steel and stealth, with war-fighting controls resembling a video game. The new attack sub has no periscope but looks up through a photonic mast with HD and IR video. The video is streamed to big screens in the command center, where a joystick controls the view. Two sailors facing a curved wall of screens drive the boat. Displacing 7,800 tons and 115 m long, the Warner is armed with Tomahawks and torpedos and can also launch UUVs carrying SEALs without breaking surface. Commander Daniel Caldwell: "The shiniest and coolest thing I've ever seen in my military career."

Senator John Warner is a WW2 sailor and marine and a former undersecretary and secretary of the Navy: "This ship embraces every single known bit of high tech that is required to equip it and allow it to maintain the toughest missions."

AR I recall the bluff and bellicose Sen. Warner fondly from his CNN appearances.


Sam Tanenhaus

Jonathan Franzen's novel Purity is about the false idolatry of the digital age, its pretense of truth-telling and revelation, its ideological purity that reduces to monomania and fanaticism.

The opening pages give a bleakly satirical picture of aimlessness in the smudged afterglow of the Occupy protests of 2011–2012. The protagonist, named Purity but in a reference to Dickens called Pip, is a recent college graduate, sexually experienced and conversant in all the current dogmas, but otherwise as lost and alone as her namesake.

Purity is less fluent than The Corrections and Freedom. In places it lacks their propulsive power, in part because it is structured as a scrambled sequence of novellas, and includes long digressions and delays. Among other things, it is a compendium of rabid purities: environmentalism and anti-nuke activism, high-tech entrepreneurialism, old-style feminism.

Franzen allows his prodigious imagination to flow into the crevices of his invented world and give it the texture of lived experience. He convinces us that his vision unmasks the world we live in.

AR I enjoyed Freedom, must read Purity.

UK General and Local Elections 2015

Poole Conservative Association

AR My campaign souvenir

2015 August 4


Steven Pinker

Biomedical research promises vast increases in life, health, and flourishing.

The Global Burden of Disease Project estimated the number of years lost to premature death or compromised by disability in 2010 at 2.5 billion. The past two decades have seen a 35% reduction in the per capita, age-specific, disability adjusted life-years lost to disease worldwide.

Citizens of richer countries live longer and healthier lives. Basic public health measures and medical interventions have largely conquered the disorders that still take a toll in the developing world. As the treatments get cheaper and poor countries get richer, the gains will spread.

Given this, the primary moral goal for bioethics must be: Get out of the way.

2015 August 3

Heinrich Himmler

The Decent One
BBC Four

AR Eine Kurzbiographie durch privaten Filmaufnahmen und Briefe - die Briefe waren in deutscher Sprache ausgelesen. Mir war es ein Vergnügen, kultiviertes Deutsch nochmals zu hören. Nur schade, dass der Anlass dafür so grausam war - immer ein Risiko bei dieser Sprache.

Propaganda War

Liam Fox

The violence waged by Islamic fundamentalists worldwide is toxic. These extremists represent a blasphemous form of Islam that sanctions the killing of anyone who does not agree with them.

The Islamists aim to establish a caliphate. They want to convert the whole world to their brand of Islam. Their views have roots in Wahhabism, the most fundamentalist interpretation of Sunni Islam, which became dominant in Arabia. Wahhabis divide the world into two, the land of Islam and the land of war. The latter they aim to convert and subjugate or destroy. First comes the jihad of the tongue, then that of the purse, and finally that of the sword, which is supreme.

We need to counter all three aspects. We must use our military might. We must encourage prosperity. And we must compete for hearts and minds. We must defend and promote our values.

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.

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