THE ROSS BLOG
Andy Ross 2014-07-25
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BLOG 2014


FKK Sudstrand
Getting Naked

Germans are better than us at cars, public transport, bicycle commuting, and yelling at people when they break the rules. They are also better at not being big uptight prudes at the beach:

FKK = Freikörperkultur
(free body culture)

It's less about sex or exhibitionism and more about convenience and freedom.

World Humanist Congress 2014
Oxford, August 8-10


Bitstrips
My philosophy:
Think global, act local

Don't just do something,
sit there

Sylvia Boorstein


Asimo robot runs, hops
and uses sign language

(1:45)


© Mark Allan
Derek Parfit

Google Brain

Google Brain gives Google software engineers a way to apply cutting-edge machine-learning algorithms to a growing array of problems. Teams using Google Brain can download the source code, tweak a configuration file, and point it at their own data. The code may one day go public.


Bitstrips

 

2014 July 25

UK 2014: +3.2%

The Times

The International Monetary Fund upgraded its growth forecast: The UK is now expected to grow by 3.2% this year. This is more than any other member of the G7. Since April last year, the IMF has more than doubled its UK forecast. IMF managing director Christine Lagarde conceded that the fund had "got it wrong" on the UK.

2014 July 24

NATO Versus Russia

The Times

NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe General Philip Breedlove plans to recommend placing supplies — weapons, ammunition, and ration packs — at a "24/7 fully functioning headquarters" in eastern Europe to support NATO troops in the event of a crisis.The leading contender is Multinational Corps Northeast, in Szczecin, Poland.

AR Good move.

2014 July 23

Concrete Facts

Liel Leibovitz

Israeli troops in Gaza uncovered 18 tunnels used by Hamas to send armed terrorists into Israel and built using an estimated 800,000 tons of concrete, all donated by the international community.

Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest tower, required 110,000 tons of concrete. Hamas could have built seven such towers and still had enough to spare to build a pair of kindergartens with bomb shelters as big as Giants Stadium.

Hamas is not seriously interested in governing Gaza. Its raison d'être is killing people in order to bring about the rule of its fundamentalist and radically intolerant brand of Islam.

Gaza
Unemployment in Gaza is around 50%. It rose steeply since Israel pulled out its troops and settlers in 2005 and tightened border restrictions. Hamas must deliver Gazans a better life. Gazans did not vote for Hamas either to escalate the conflict or to fire rockets from near their homes.

Israel
1 Israel will continue until the job is done.
2 Israel wants to erode Hamas clout.
3 Israel is responding to rocket fire from Gaza.
4 Israel wants to gain a few years of relative peace.

Hamas
1 Hamas says Israel will exist until Islam obliterates it.
2 Hamas wants an end to the Israeli blockade.
3 Hamas wants the release of prisoners.
4 Hamas wants to rally support at home.

2014 July 22

Beyond

George Johnson

Thomas Nagel rejects the idea that there is nothing more to the universe than matter and physical forces. He doubts that evolution, as currently conceived, could produce sentient life. Mind might be a fundamental principle of nature.

David Chalmers calls on scientists to seriously consider panpsychism.

Max Tegmark suggests that mathematics needs to be admitted into science as the most fundamental part of of nature. He sets out to show that the universe is a mathematical structure, and its physics emerges from numbers.

Edward Frenkel notes that most of mathematics seems to be about nothing other than itself.

AR My philosophical works discuss these ideas in some depth. I favor a variant of panpsychism in which the foundations of mathematics are the foundations of mind too.

2014 July 21

Europe

The Guardian

UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond: "If there is no change at all in the way Europe is governed, no change in the balance of competences between the nation states and the European Union, no resolution of the challenge of how the eurozone can succeed and co-exist with the non-eurozone, that is not a Europe that can work for Britain in the future. ... There has to be a repatriation of powers to the nation states."

Human Rights

The Times

Former UK attorney-general Dominic Grieve had advised David Cameron not to pull Britain out of the European Convention on Human Rights. Grieve: "If we are not meeting European convention norms, then the chances are that the European Court of Justice — a completely separate body — will step in and will actually enforce those norms on us. Unlike the court in Strasbourg — where a judgment is just an international obligation — that has direct effect and has to be applied here."

Religion

Matt Ridley

There was deliberate and sustained action to introduce an intolerant and aggressive Islamist ethos into some schools in Birmingham. Whistleblowers first approached the British Humanist Association with allegations and the BHA passed them on to the Department for Education.

Much of what went on in the schools would have been permissible if the schools had been designated faith schools. Britain is one of only four countries in the world to allow religious selection in admissions to state-funded schools. The others are Estonia, Ireland, and Israel.

Anglicanism is a mild and attenuated form of the faith virus. It may even act as a vaccine against more virulent infections. But Christianity is becoming more evangelical in response to its global competition with Islam. Anglicans should make common cause with humanists in defense of tolerance.

2014 July 20

Global Chaos

Janet Daley

Few politicians in the great Western capitals have any idea of how to get a grip on the current global chaos.

It is safe to assume that Vladimir Putin did not personally order the missile launch that killed hundreds of innocent foreign civilians. What he did do was provide sophisticated missile systems and heavy artillery to a motley assortment of trigger-happy cowboys whose antics have greatly increased his popularity with the folks at home.

In the Mideast, US Secretary of State John Kerry once talked of brokering a peace deal. The Obama administration now looks determined to stay out of international trouble. Israel is on its own.

Britain has no foreign policy worthy of the name. When the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary go on their diplomatic jaunts abroad, they are scarcely more than sales reps for British industry and trade.

UK Defence

Michael Fallon

As a leading member of NATO, the UK is playing a central role in providing reassurance to our allies. Thanks to four years of hard work of my predecessors, we now have the defence budget under control.

Over the next 10 years we will spend over £160 billion on new equipment and equipment support. HMS Queen Elizabeth marks a new era in British maritime power. We are spending £10 billion on seven new submarines, £13 billion on new land equipment including armoured vehicles and tanks, and £3 billion on new fighter aircraft. We are buying the best and most modern kit to deal with the threats of the future.

2014 July 19

Gaza

The New York Times

Israeli troops are again in the Gaza Strip. Israel is targeting tunnels dug to store weapons or stage attacks. The troops operated mainly within about a mile of Gaza's edges and quickly announced they had uncovered more than 20 tunnel exit points.

The IDF uncovered 10 tunnels, struck 240 targets, killed 17 militants, and detained 21 others in the first 24 hours of the ground operations. One Israeli soldier was killed. The IDF counted 135 rockets in the same period, 40 of them blocked from hitting cities by Iron Dome.

Former Israeli advisor Yaakov Amidror: "If nothing bad will happen, we will identify the locations of the tunnels, we will blow them up, and we will retreat. How to finish the whole operation in terms of stopping the rockets and the missiles, this is much more complicated."

2014 July 18

Derek Parfit

David Edmonds

Oxford philosopher Derek Parfit is considered by many of his peers to be the world's most important living moral philosopher. His first book, Reasons and Persons, published in 1984, is routinely described as a work of genius.

Parfit's "repugnant" conclusion: "For any possible population of at least 10 billion people, all with a very high quality of life, there must be some much larger imaginable population whose existence, if other things are equal, would be better even though its members have lives that are barely worth living."

Parfit is now 71. His former student Jeff McMahan, who will soon become the White's Professor of Moral Philosophy at Oxford, says Parfit's writings, especially on population ethics, have "forced a rethink on almost everything in ethics, including the value of life itself."

AR I recall Derek from Oxford in the 1970s.

2014 July 17

Science

Carlo Rovelli

Science is about constructing visions of the world. It has nothing to do with the assembling of data and the ways of organizing the assembly of data. It has everything to do with our mental vision of the world. Science is a process in which we keep exploring ways of thinking.

Science is not about certainty. Nothing is scientifically proven. The core of science is the deep awareness that we have wrong ideas. In our conceptual structure for grasping reality, there might be something we have to revise. We have a vision of reality that is the best we have found so far.

Science is not about the data. The data suggest the theory. What interests us is what the theory says about the world. General relativity is interesting not because of its data but because it tells us that there can be black holes and a Big Bang. Science is about continually going beyond common sense.

In quantum gravity, there are two major research directions. String theory is a beautiful theory, but it's not sufficiently grounded in general relativity. Loop quantum gravity is an attempt to take general relativity and quantum mechanics seriously and bring them together. Quantum spacetime requires some change in the way we think.

Scientists who say they don't care about philosophy have a philosophy. They have a headful of ideas.

2014 July 16

UK Cabinet Reshuffle

The Times

The new foreign secretary is Philip Hammond, a hardline Eurosceptic. He is replaced at defence by Michael Fallon. Former education secretary Michael Gove is now chief whip. Nicky Morgan moves from the Treasury to replace him. She is 41.

Liam Fox was offered a junior role at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office but turned it down. Owen Paterson is replaced as environment secretary by Liz Truss, 38.

Cameron: "This is a fresh team with the ideas, the energy, the policy, and the ability to take this country forward, to complete the long-term economic plan and secure our future. I think it is a team that reflects modern Britain."

AR World Cup team? Poor joke. Fox will pray for life after Dave.

2015: Tory Win

Rafael Behr

David Cameron's reshuffle leaves ministerial ranks looking more feminine, youthful, and skewed to the right. Young Tories are devoted to free markets, hostile to the European Union, and unsentimental about the welfare state. There is a changing of the guard on Europe. The task is to win, and to destroy Labour as a force for government.

Europe

Michael Fallon

I think the country is pretty Eurosceptic now. We all want reform in Europe, a different kind of Europe. That's the agenda that's going to be pursued now to get those reforms and then to give people a choice as to whether to continue to be members or not.

AR My EU line: reform or out.

2014 July 15

William Hague

The Times

William Hague is standing down as UK foreign secretary and is to leave politics next year. Defence secretary Philip Hammond replaces Hague today as foreign secretary. Hammond said last year that he would vote to leave the EU if it remained in its present form.

David Cameron: "William Hague has been one of the leading lights of the Conservative Party for a generation, leading the party and serving in two cabinets. Not only has he been a first-class foreign secretary, he has also been a close confidant, a wise counsellor and a great friend."

Hague: "From May 2015, after such a long period in politics, I want to embark on many other things I have always wanted to do."

2014 July 14

Germany

Stewart Wood

We can learn from them Germany. Out of the ruins of the second world war, and the grotesque atrocities of Nazism, the Federal Republic emerged within a decade as the paragon of a stable, inclusive liberal democracy. The German economic miracle was no less extraordinary. Germany has become the productivity powerhouse of Europe.

Britain's economy is characterized by low productivity, a poor record in technical skills, low levels of savings and investment, and relatively weak performance in R&D. We cannot copy the German economy, or transplant the culture in which it is embedded. But we can learn much.

Germany is committed to a free market economy in which capitalism is organized and responsible. Its social market encourages long-term thinking, promotes collaboration in the workplace, incentivizes employers to invest in the skills and productivity of their workers, tries to spread prosperity to Germans in all regions, and supports a welfare system based on the principles of need and contribution.

Britain cannot become Germany. But surely it is time for us to learn lessons from Germany. We may learn how to win another World Cup.

AR This is a central pillar of my new political career (not the World Cup).


Borough of Poole

L to R: Robert Syms, MP for Poole; Andy Garner-Watts; Peter Adams, Mayor of Poole; Andy Ross,
at the Mayor's Charity Beach Festival, Sandbanks, Poole, Dorset, UK, Sunday, 13 July 2014

Andy Is A Corporatist
(Mindless Violence)

Newtown Neurotics w/
Attila The Stockbroker
(2:50)

 

2014 July 13

Operation Protective Edge

The Independent

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague spoke to Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman:
"I told Minister Lieberman that continuing rocket attacks from Gaza are completely unacceptable. Israel has a right to defend itself against such attacks, but the whole world wanted to see de-escalation."

Hague also spoke to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas:
"I offered my condolences for the loss of civilian lives in Gaza."

2014 July 12

Voices

Israel

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu: "No international pressure will prevent us from acting with full force against a terrorist organization that calls for our destruction. … No country would accept its civilians being fired at without a harsh response."

Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner: "Israel uses its weapons to defend its civilians. Hamas uses its civilians to defend its weapons."

Israeli parliamentarian Ayelet Shaked: "Behind every terrorist stand dozens of men and women, without whom he could not engage in terrorism. They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there."

2014 July 11

Rocket Science

Markus Becker

Iron Dome Tourismus: Menschen, die, anstatt bei Luftalarm Schutz zu suchen, lieber im Freien bleiben und das israelische Raketenabwehrsystem bei der Arbeit bestaunen. Israels Behörden können das als Zeichen werten, dass ihre Meldungen über den Erfolg der Iron Dome Wirkung zeigen.

Ob Iron Dome wirklich eine Trefferquote von 90% erreicht ist ebenso zweitrangig wie die Frage, wie weit genau die Raketen der Hamas reichen. Bedeutender ist, dass der technische Rüstungswettlauf zu einem wichtigen Bestandteil des israelisch-palästinensischen Dauerkonflikts geworden ist.

Ausgelöst wurde die erneute Eskalation durch bestialische Morde. Israel setzt seine Armee zur Vergeltung ein, Hamas reagiert mit Raketenfeuer. Israel schickt Kampfjets und verteidigt sich mit Iron Dome, Hamas beschafft sich Raketen mit höherer Genauigkeit und größerer Reichweite.

2014 July 10

Evolutionary Morality

Michael Ruse

Knowledge interprets experience through human cultural understanding and experience. Metaphor is the key to the whole enterprise. A metaphor puts blinkers on us. The metaphor of the world as a machine rules out an answer to the question of why there is something rather than nothing.

If God is to do everything through unbroken law, and I can think of reasons why this should be so, then pain and suffering are part of it all. As an evolutionist I think that all organisms are the end product of a long, slow process of development thanks to the causal mechanism of natural selection.

I think morality is a collective illusion, genetic in origin, that makes us good cooperators. Being good cooperators makes each of us better off in the struggle for existence. So I don't buy the moral argument for the existence of God. But I grew up surrounded by gentle, loving Christians.

2014 July 9

The Liberal State

Michael Ignatieff

Communism as a model of state domination is very much alive in China and Russia. The new authoritarians offer an alternate route to modern development: growth without democracy and progress without freedom.

America no longer has the power to shape the international order as it once did. When conservatives win elections, corporate interests often take control. When progressives win back power, they make the state more domineering. A continuing dynamic of political alternation leaves the state unreformed.

The fiscal crisis of the liberal state is due to rising income inequality, money power in politics, and systemic tax avoidance by big corporations. The cost of carrying the liberal state falls on the middle class. The institutions of the state have been hijacked by the interests they were created to control.

2014 July 8

Operation Protective Edge

Jerusalem Post

IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz: "We will now activate all of our force and take all the time that is needed in various stages in order to reach victory."

AR V is the answer.

Kant
Michael Rosen

Kant: moral commands are categorical. Act only according to that maxim which you can at the same time will as universal law. Humanity has dignity insofar as it is capable of morality. We have an absolute duty to respect personhood.

Nietzsche
Michael Robbins

Nietzsche is not crowing about the death of God. He realized that the Enlightenment project to reconstruct morality from rational principles retained the character of Christian ethics without providing its foundational authority.

Pleiades
Nobuyuki Hanabusa
(4:24)


IS
Caliph Ibrahim


ESA
ESA has approved plans for the Athena X-ray space telescope. With 100 times more sensitivity than existing X-ray missions, it will launch in 2028.

 

2014 July 7

Islam and Education

Roger Scruton

Children born and raised in Britain must be integrated into British society. Schools and teachers have a duty to ensure that children understand and adhere to the basic principles of the surrounding society.

Our society is governed by a secular law defined over the territory of the United Kingdom. This territory is our home to defend. The Church of England has defined itself in national terms.

Sunni Muslim law is not defined over territory. It is a religious law. Islam provides an experience of identity at variance with the nation state. Muslims find things that repel them in modern Britain.

Islamists want to see Muslims define themselves against their country. Christianity is an institution, but Sunni Islam is an identity. I say when it comes to identity, it is nationality and not religion that counts.

AR Sorry, Roger, but when it comes to identity, I am a rational human being who lives on planet Earth, where a variety of polities, such as British and German, support only superficial distinctions.

2014 July 6

Superintelligence

Nick Bostrom

Superintelligence: An intellect that greatly exceeds the cognitive performance of humans in virtually all domains.

Nobody knows how long it will take, but once AI scientists become more capable than human scientists, progress will be rapid. There is thus the potential for an explosive Singularity.

We can distinguish three forms of superintelligence:

1 A speed superintelligence could do everything a human mind could do, but much faster.

2 A collective superintelligence composed of a large number of human-level intellects organized to outstrip that of any current cognitive system could could drive technological progress much faster.

3 A quality superintelligence would be cleverer than humans in the same sense that we are cleverer than other animals.

Superintelligent machine brains would have many fundamental advantages over biological brains, just as engines have advantages over biological muscles. We cannot hope to compete with such machine brains. We can only hope to design them so that their goals coincide with ours.

AR This was my big concern in G.O.D. Is Great and Globorg.

2014 July 5

The Creative Brain

Nancy Andreasen

For my latest study, I scanned the brains of some illustrious scientists, mathematicians, artists, and writers. I examined 13 creative geniuses and 13 controls. Both groups had an average IQ of about 120. Creative genius is not the same as high IQ. The creative subjects and their relatives have a higher rate of mental illness than the controls and their relatives do. Eureka moments tend to be precipitated by long periods of preparation and incubation, and to strike when the mind is relaxed.

2014 July 4

The New Caliphate

Ahmed Rashid

On the first day of Ramadan, ISIS declared that it was reestablishing the caliphate. ISIS successes are built around military competence that includes excellent command and control, sound intelligence, well prepared logistics support, training, high mobility, and rapid maneuver. ISIS is prepared to play a long game and is appealing for educated and skilled Muslims to join it to rebuild the caliphate.

Western governments continue to view the collapse of Muslim states as something to be countered by military action and counterterrorism operations. The United States and its allies need to get Iran and Saudi Arabia to deal with the crisis in the Muslim world. The Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Arab League should both be acting to bring Iran and the Arab world closer together.

2014 July 3

The Caliphate

Khaled Diab

The Islamic State appears well on the road to restarting the caliphate. But even the earliest caliphs bear little resemblance to jihadist mythology. Muhammad composed a Constitution of Medina stipulating that Muslims, Jews, Christians, and pagans had equal political and cultural rights.

Now Islamists misdiagnose the weakness and underdevelopment of contemporary Arab society as stemming from its deviation from "pure" Islamic morality, as if the proper length of a beard and praying five times a day were a substitute for science and education, or could affect global inequalities.

The Islamist dream of transnational theocratic rule appeals to a dwindling number of Arabs. Rather than a caliphate presided over by arbitrarily appointed caliphs, subjected to a rigid interpretation of Shariah law, millions of Arabs strive simply for peace, stability, dignity, prosperity, and democracy.

2014 July 2

Mideast Redline

David Rothkopf

The soldiers of the new caliphate might cross into Jordan. The Jordanian military would step up in a way that the Iraqi military has not. But how far into Jordan would an ISIS incursion have to go before alarms went off in Washington? How far before Israel felt it must act to defend itself?

If we are to avoid a regional meltdown, the United States, Europe, the Turks, and those from across the region must act. The White House must send a clear message that Jordan is a real red line.

European Federalism

Charles Kennedy

While David Cameron was being defenestrated in Brussels, I was in Strasbourg at the Council of Europe, speaking on a new report into the future of the European Union. The council comprises 47 countries and 800 million citizens, and was formed in the aftermath of WW2 to guard and promote human rights.

Report author Andreas Gross: "Rather than constituting a model for an ever closer political union or a European state, federalism implies a process of balancing power in a differentiated political order which enables unity while guaranteeing diversity."

Most continental politicians would endorse that definition.

2014 July 1

The Caliphate

J.M. Berger

ISIS claims that it had fulfilled all the legal requirements for the caliphate and that all Muslims around the world are religiously obliged to swear loyalty to the new Caliph Ibrahim. Muslims worldwide are likely to react negatively to the pronouncement.

Prior to the pronouncement, ISIS could have fallen back with little loss of face and a huge increase in its warfighting capabilities, thanks to captured weaponry and stolen funds. Now, if ISIS is driven back, the loss would highlight the hubris of ISIS.

ISIS appears to be standing on the edge of a precipice with an adolescent faith in its ability to keep its balance. A US military strike would give ISIS a new line of jihadist argument: The caliphate was restored, but it was destroyed by the United States.

The God Helmet

Julia Llewellyn Smith

The God helmet simulates religious experiences by directing complex magnetic fields to the parts of the brain that include the parietal lobe. More than 80% of those who wore the helmet reported sensing a presence in the room that many took to be their deity.

Oxford University Regius Professor of Divinity Graham Ward: "Religion is at the root both of so many great civilizations and of so many wars, it has so much mythological power, we have to understand how it works and be alert to how dangerous it can be."

Chartered Architects
Planned twin towers in Wuhan, China: 1 km tall, open 2018


November 2014


AR
Tiger 131 rolls again
Tankfest 2014
Bovington


NASA
Curiosity still at work after a Martian year on Mars


Bitstrips
Philosophy:
I did it my way










Shine on you crazy diamond

Astronomers have found a faint white dwarf that has crystallized into a diamond the size of Earth. It is estimated to be 11 billion years old and is a partner to pulsar PSR J2222-0137. The astronomers noticed the dwarf when it regularly obstructed the pulsar signal. They say it is cold for a white dwarf: only 3 kK.



Winston Churchill

British Poverty
The Guardian

The number of UK households falling below minimum living standards has more than doubled in the past 30 years, despite the size of the economy increasing twofold, claims a PSE study on poverty and deprivation
in the UK.

AR This needs action.


Bitstrips
Danke,
Geist der Philosophie.


Heidegger's
Black Notebooks

A betrayal of philosophy


Bitstrips
Terminate ISIS.

 

2014 June 30

The Islamic State

CNN

ISIS now calls itself The Islamic State. ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani al-Shami says Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai, a.k.a. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is the new Caliph.

The Independent quotes Quilliam researcher Charlie Cooper: "There hasn't been a Caliph since the Ottoman Empire outside of the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam, and the Caliph is appointed as the only legitimate successor to Prophet Mohammed."

American Colleges

Kevin Carey

Americans say their K-12 schools are mediocre or worse, while their colleges and universities are world class. Yet a recent study suggests that this view is wrong.

In 2013, the OECD published the results of a large international assessment of adult competencies. As with the measures of K-12 education, the United States battles it out for last place. Countries such as Japan and Finland have much higher levels of proficiency and skill among adults. The results for people with different levels of education show America still falls short of most other countries.

American dominance of higher education rests largely on global rankings of top universities. But the rankings focus on universities as research institutions.

Obamacare

Paul Krugman

The enemies of health reform made at least six distinct predictions about how Obamacare would fail, every one of which turned out to be wrong. The great majority of Americans buying insurance through the new exchanges are getting coverage quite cheaply, a lot of people have gained insurance through the program, and the age mix of the new enrollees looks pretty good.

Obamacare was closely modeled on Romneycare, which has been working in Massachusetts since 2006, and it resembles successful systems abroad, for example in Switzerland. Why should it fail?

Rant

Dave Eggers

We just spent five trillion dollars on useless wars. That could have gone to the moon. Or Mars. Or the Shuttle. Or something that would inspire us in some goddamned way.

2014 June 29

EU Debacle

The Times

David Cameron poses a "real and present danger" to the economy as he leads Britain toward an EU exit that could put up to 3 million jobs and thousands of businesses at risk, says Labour leader Ed Miliband.

EU Fundamental

The Observer

CBI director general John Cridland: "The EU is our biggest export market and remains fundamental to our economic future. Our membership supports jobs, drives growth and boosts our international competitiveness. Alternatives to full membership of the EU simply wouldn't work, leaving us beholden to its rules without being able to influence them. We will continue to press the case for the UK remaining in a reformed European Union."

UK Trident

The Independent

A commission including Lord Browne of Ladyton, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Sir Menzies Campbell, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, and Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank considered whether to spend £20 billion on renewing the Trident submarine nuclear deterrent. They argue for doing so if there is "more than a negligible chance that the possession of nuclear weapons might play a decisive future role" in defending the UK.

UK Muslims

Maajid Nawaz

In prison I changed. I am planning to become a Liberal Democrat MP. I was bought up in the bad old days of racism. I hated being attacked by skinheads but when we scared them away by becoming extremists it became more fun.

Only 3% of the population is Muslim, but 20% of the prison population is Muslim. If we send guys who have planned terrorist attacks to prison, do we let them just live out their sentences and then come out and continue on their mission or do we use the time to change them?

Islamism is not a religion. It is an obsessive, outdated ideology. We are still being too multiculturalist and politically correct about it. Islamists are homophobic, antisemitic, and sexist. White males can't be sexist and racist, so brown Muslims shouldn't get away with it either.

Muslim children need to see they can succeed in Britain in conventional ways.

2014 June 28

Brexit

The Times

UK PM David Cameron failed to block Jean-Claude Juncker from heading the European Commission.
Cameron: "I believe the British national interest lies in reforming the EU, holding a referendum and recommending that we stay in a reformed EU. Has that got harder to achieve? Yes."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel: "The idea of an ever-closer union, as it is stated in the treaties, does not mean that there is equal speed among the member countries, but there can be different speeds that member countries adopt to come to ever-closer union."

Israel

Bronwen Maddox

The population of Israel at the end of 2012 was just under 8 million, of whom 6 million were Jewish. But in the whole land controlled by Israel, including the West Bank and Gaza Strip, there are now about 12 million people. Jews now constitute a minority in the lands under Israeli rule — 5.9 million people compared to 6.1 million non-Jews — and the Arab birthrate is higher.

Israel can either shed the West Bank and retain its Jewish majority or it can continue to control the Palestinian territories but undermine its claim to democracy because it does not allow all those people equal civil rights.

International criticism is inflamed above all by the West Bank settlements, which are illegal under international law. The expansion of the settlements is the prime reason why Israel's relations with many other countries are becoming more difficult.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague: "We and our EU partners are clear: systematic, illegal Israeli settlement activity poses the most significant and live threat to the viability of the two-state solution."

Every Israeli government since 2000 has signed up to the principle of the two-state solution. But Israel has never had a negotiating counterpart on the Palestinian side who seemed willing and able to deliver adequate recognition of Israel's right to exist or its need for security.

2014 June 27

Lebenszufriedenheit

Institut der deutschen Wirtschaft Köln

Die Lebenszufriedenheit der Bürger in Deutschland hat einen neuen Höchststand erreicht. Wer einen Job hat und sich gesund fühlt, ist besonders zufrieden. Das geht aus einer jetzt vorgelegten Untersuchung des Instituts der deutschen Wirtschaft Köln (IW) hervor.

Science

Our research is fully conscious of its normative conditionality. We view humans as beings capable of living free and responsible lives and having a corresponding ability to decide and act for themselves.
In our understanding, open, free and democratic societies require a liberal and competitive economic order, whose constitutive elements include this responsibility both for oneself and for society.

AR An excellent Kantian perspective.

Hacking the Soul

Antonio Damasio

Humans make use of fundamental processes of life regulation that include things like emotion and feeling, but we connect them with intellectual processes to create a whole new world around us.

There are certain action programs that are installed in us so that we can survive, flourish, procreate, and die. This is the world of homeostasis, and it covers a wide range of body states. Once the action program is deployed and the brain has the possibility of mapping what has happened in the body, then that leads to the emergence of the mental state.

We must separate the component that comes out of actions from the component that comes out of our perspective on those actions, which is feeling. This is also where the self emerges, and consciousness itself. Mind begins at the level of feeling.

AR Damasio won the Golden Brain Award in 1995. I enjoyed reading his books.

2014 June 26

Cameron and Europe

The New York Times

UK PM David Cameron should make sure that his looming defeat over Jean-Claude Juncker does not turn into a forced march to British exit from the European Union.

Cameron objects that Juncker has been put forward by the European Parliament. He sees a shift of control over the European Union from national governments to Brussels. The European Parliament is the only directly elected EU institution. European Council members are elected in national elections.

But the other European leaders do not want to take on the Parliament. Cameron may have given British Eurosceptics more ammunition for the promised referendum.

The Tremendum

Terence McKenna

The 20th century saw a groping toward an archaic mentality. Psychoanalysis, cubism, surrealism, and national socialism can all be traced back to unconscious nostalgia for the archaic. A society in crisis looks back for a previous model that seemed to work. The breakup of medieval Christian eschatology led to classicism. People looked back to Platonic philosophy, Roman law, and so on.

An inchoate groping for yet another historical paradigm is sweeping over the world. Freudianism, surrealism, and the rise of electronic media are all insufficient. Once you zero in on the archaic mentality, you discover the psychedelic experience. That experience is as much a part of life as birth, death, making love, eating, and so on, except in the western European traditions.

AR Groovy!

2014 June 25

Word War at Ypres

The New York Times

UK PM David Cameron has set himself up for a public failure. Brussels veteran Jean-Claude Juncker is set to head the European Commission.

Cameron is fighting the Eurosceptic wing of his own party and the populist appeal of UKIP in national elections next May. Principled opposition to a Brussels appointment at odds with government hopes of negotiating a new relationship with the European Union may be better than bowing to a power grab by the European Parliament. Cameron: "I will go on thinking it is wrong right up until the end."

At the summit in Ypres, Belgium, in what was meant to be a symbol of European reconciliation, Cameron will defy German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Shia Revival

Vali Nasr

Saddam Hussein compared Baghdad's fall to the Americans in 2003 with its fall to the Mongols in 1258. That earlier conquest is remembered by Sunni Arabs as a calamity, when the rivers of the cultured Abbasid capital are said to have run black with ink from books and red with the blood of the Mongols' massacred victims. Saddam rang a change on a centuries-old Sunni grudge to appeal to sectarian prejudices defined by the feud between Shiites and Sunnis.

AR I guess Sunni Arabia will fight Shiite Iran over Iraq.

2014 June 24

Rights

John Searle

In the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, not all of the rights listed are negative rights like the right to free speech or the right to freedom of religion. The idea that every human being has a right to adequate housing seems to me nonsense. You can make a good case for universal human rights of a negative kind, but you cannot make a comparable case for universal human rights of a positive kind.

One exception is where life and safety are concerned. You have rights of survival. But I think it's a big mistake in contemporary political thinking to suppose that there is a list of universal human rights of a positive kind. As a professor in Berkeley I have certain rights, and certain obligations. But the idea of universal rights is fantastic. Why not extend the idea of universal rights to conscious animals?

2014 June 23

UK National Health Service

The Observer

Conservative health minister Jane Ellison says of running the NHS: "From a political point of view, it is a bit like being on a high wire without a net at times; it can be quite exciting."

Ellison says health secretary Jeremy Hunt has done a "brilliant job" of "turning the narrative round" from one focused on reform of NHS structures to one focusing on patients and patient care.

David Cameron and Nick Clegg said the Health and Social Care Act of 2012 was intended to make the NHS "more accountable to patients" and to free staff from "excessive bureaucracy and top-down control".

Department of Health spokesman: "Giving operational control for the day-to-day running of services to doctors was the right decision, but we have always been clear that ministers are responsible for the NHS, and we are proud of its performance in challenging circumstances."

AR Translation: Disaster narrowly averted.

2014 June 22

Political Islam

Niall Ferguson

Today the Western world faces four main challenges:

1 China will soon have the world's biggest economy.
2 Russia has made a geopolitical comeback.
3 Britain could exit from the European Union.
4 Political Islam is spreading its vision of reordering society.

Imagine Margaret Thatcher's response to these four challenges:

1 On China, she would favor engagement, but not appeasement.
2 On Russia, she would urge us to make more effective use of NATO.
3 On Europe, she would say it was in neither British nor German interests for the UK to leave the EU.
4 On Islam, we have the most to learn from Thatcher:

"The challenge of Islamic terror is unique. ... Perhaps the best parallel is with early communism. Islamic extremism today, like bolshevism in the past, is an armed doctrine. It is an aggressive ideology promoted by fanatical, well-armed devotees. And, like communism, it requires an all-embracing long-term strategy to defeat it."

The Soviet empire collapsed mainly because it lost a battle of ideas. Today secular democratic movements in the Mideast are failing to win the psychological war against the Islamists. Political Islam is the new communism. Freedom will win only if we are prepared to fight for it.

2014 June 21

Islam

Max Hastings

Muslims may justly say that their religion is not inherently violent: I recently read both the Koran and the Bible from cover to cover, and can assure you that the latter is more bloodthirsty. Evangelical Christians are almost as much of a menace to wise American governance as are Muslim jihadis half a world away.

On the whole, however, the Christian religion has adapted to modernity while most Muslim societies have failed to do so, whether by creating an educated mass workforce or producing scientific or technological genius.

The lessons of history are that we Westerners can do little to change the course of events in the Mideast. Here at home we must fight with every weapon in our hands to prevent the curse of Islamist militancy from spreading its pernicious influence within our own societies. There can be no compromise with such warped doctrines here, in the sorry name of multiculturalism.

"How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! ... The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men."
— Winston Churchill, 1899

2014 June 20

School Uniforms

Holly Baxter

Ryde Academy headmaster Rory Fox sent 250 girls home for having skirts that were too short or trousers that were too tight. Boys were also sent home for wearing shoes not made of leather. If we want to enforce uniform policies then we have to apply sanctions equally to boys and girls. School is no place for sexist bullshit.

AR Uniforms are old hat and pants (to mix idioms). But the issue of distracting kids with sexuality at school remains. There was practical wisdom in segregated classes.

2014 June 19

Don't Save Iraq

William Saletan

People take responsibility only if they must. The more we intervene to prop them up, the less they do for themselves. We can't save them from their bad choices. They have to face the consequences and adjust their behavior accordingly.

Wolf Blitzer: "The US left behind a ton of equipment for the Iraqi military, spent billions of dollars training these guys, and gave them all the help that they possibly could for nearly a decade. The first semblance of a little tension, they take off their uniforms, they run away."

President Obama: "The United States is not simply going to involve itself in a military action in the absence of a political plan by the Iraqis that gives us some assurance that they're prepared to work together."

AR Right. Let them struggle.

Brainwaves

New Scientist

Our cognitive powers may lie in the musical hum of our brainwaves. MIT researchers used EEG to observe patterns of electrical activity in the brains of monkeys as they taught the animals to categorize patterns of dots.

At first, the monkeys memorized which dots went where, but as the task became harder, they shifted to learning the rules that defined the categories. Initially, brainwaves were forming independently in the prefrontal cortex and the striatum. But as the monkeys made sense of the game, the waves began to synchronize and hum at the same frequency, with each category of dots having its own frequency.

The synchronized brainwaves indicate the formation of a connection between the two brain regions. This may occur before the growth of new synapses, giving us time to reflect before our brains wire a memory. The study is the first to show specific patterns of synchrony linked to specific thoughts.

AR In my books I called such humming the music of the hemispheres.

2014 June 18

Irak

Jürgen Todenhöfer

ISIS spielt nur scheinbar in Irak die alles überragende Rolle. Der Aufstand wird in Wirklichkeit überwiegend vom FNPI getragen, dem "Nationalen, Panarabischen und Islamischen Widerstand" des Irak. Das ist eine säkulare Koalition mehrerer Gruppen, die schon gegen die US-Armee gekämpft haben.

Ich habe in den letzten Tagen mehrfach mit Führern des FNPI gesprochen. Nach ihrer Auffassung spielt ISIS als Juniorpartner des Aufstands zwar militärisch eine wichtige Rolle. Diese Dschihadisten aus aller Welt verbreiten wegen ihres Todesmuts und ihrer Härte Furcht und Schrecken. Das hat große psychologische Wirkung. Aber mit ihren etwa tausend Mann vor Mossul hätten sie keine Chance. Der Nationale Widerstand hingegen ist in Mossul mit über 20.000 Mann präsent und wird von der Bevölkerung getragen.

Der FNPI rekrutiert viele Leute aus der ehemaligen irakischen Elite. Es sind Leute, die nach dem 2003 US-Einmarsch entlassen wurden. Das militärische Zweckbündnis zwischen ISIS und dem FNPI im Irak ist allerdings sehr labil. ISIS will einen Gottesstaat, der FNPI eine säkulare Demokratie.


AR A good analysis.

Neuroscience

Stephen S. Hall

Optogenetics had its origins at Stanford in 2004. Researchers in David J. Anderson’s laboratory at Caltech inserted a genetically modified light-sensitive gene into specific cells at particular locations in the brain of a living male mouse. Using a fiber-optic thread inserted into that brain, they turned the neurons in the hypothalamus on and off with a burst of light to activated aggressive behavior.

Anderson: "The ability of optogenetics to turn a largely correlational field of science into one that tests causation has been transformative."

2014 June 17

ISIS

Fred Kaplan

The United States and Iran have a common interest in keeping Sunni radicals from taking over Iraq. Forming an alliance with Iran to beat back ISIS would leave Iran stronger. We have to decide which prospect we dislike less: an Islamist state in Iraq and Syria or a strengthened expansionary Iran.

Consider an analogy. Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill teamed up with Stalin to defeat Hitler. One outcome of this grand alliance was that, at the end of World War II, the Soviet Union controlled all of Eastern Europe. But the alternative would have been for Nazi Germany to control all of Europe.

Iran is not the only possible ally. Turkey has a deep interest in staving off an ISIS triumph. Nor can the rise of ISIS be pleasing to the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, or Egypt. The United States can coordinate action. The opportunities are there, with Iran, Turkey, and others to do something smart.

2014 June 16

UK—China

The Guardian

UK PM David Cameron believes that Britain must forge a strong political and economic relationship with China. But Chinese ambassador Liu Xiaoming says Britain now ranks behind Germany and France among the powers in Europe.

AR Take note, Brits: The EU leaders outrank us.

The BBC

The Times

The BBC TV licence fee of £145.50 per year is "a large amount for many families up and down the country," said UK culture secretary Sajid Javid, in a TV interview.

AR Quite large enough, thank you. Cut BBC fat cat perks.


Bitstrips
To boldly rise above war


NYT
Iraq
Darker tan shows Sunni areas;
red dots cities, from top down: Mosul, Tikrit, Samarra, Baghdad

Simplify Everything.
Do Anything.

SAP
(2:00)

ISIS
ISIS

Titan
VIMS/ESA/NASA
Titan

Fly-by Titan: Saturn's
moon of mythical oceans
New Scientist (1:26)

New Battle for Europe
Jean-Claude Juncker

It is wrong if we give in to the British here. I am more confident than ever that I will be the next European Commission President.

 

2014 June 15

China: Ecological Civilization

New Scientist

China is considering limiting its greenhouse gas emissions so that they peak in 2030, then fall. Premier Li Keqiang has declared war on pollution and his government has drawn up a philosophical framework called ecological civilization. Chinese carbon trading schemes will form the world's second largest carbon trading initiative after Europe's. China has set targets to make more wealth using less energy.

AR A good precedent if it works.

No War, Low Growth

Tyler Cowen

The world has not had much warfare lately. Today's casualties pale in light of the tens of millions of people killed in the two world wars. The greater peacefulness of the world may make the attainment of higher rates of economic growth less urgent and thus less likely. War focuses attention.

Nuclear power, the computer, and jet aircraft were all pushed along by Americans eager to defeat the Axis powers and win the Cold War. The Internet was initially designed to withstand nuclear war. The Soviet launch of Sputnik spurred American science and technology, and later growth.

Ian Morris has revived the hypothesis that war is a significant factor behind economic growth. But today a big war would be a big disaster. Living in a largely peaceful world with 2% GDP growth has advantages you don't get with 4% growth and many more war deaths.

Intervene in Iraq

Tony Blair

It is in our interests for ISIS to be stopped in its tracks. It is vitally important that we realize what is at stake here and act. The fundamental cause of the crisis lies within the region, not outside it. We have to act now to save the future.

Where the extremists are fighting, they have to be countered hard, with force. 9/11 happened for a reason. That reason and the ideology behind it have not disappeared. This is, in part, our struggle, whether we like it or not.

AR The next big war?

Earth: Ocean Water

New Scientist

A reservoir of water three times the volume of all the Earth's oceans has been discovered deep beneath the Earth's surface. The finding could help explain where the oceans came from. The water is hidden in rock called ringwoodite 700 km underground in the mantle.

Steven Jacobsen: "It's good evidence the Earth's water came from within."

2014 June 14

Iraq

Benjamin Wallace-Wells, Laura Smith-Spark and Arwa Damon

ISIS has captured much of the Sunni homeland in Iraq and is now threatening Samarra. Iraqi Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani called Friday for volunteers to fight back. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki: "Samarra will be the starting point, the gathering station of our troops to cleanse every inch that was desecrated by footsteps of those traitors."

The United States is considering intervention. But the Iraqi state is Shiite. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds force is moving in to support it. Americans would be on the same side as Iran. Events may be birthing a sectarian split into states for the Kurds, the Shiites, and the Sunni, baptized in a bloodbath.

Iraqi military spokesman General Qassim Atta: "The security in Baghdad is 100% stable ... The morale of the security forces is very high."

AR Reminds me of the "Baghdad Bob" bombast in 2003.

From AQI to ISIS

Peter Bergen

The 2003 Iraq war precipitated the arrival of al Qaeda into Iraq. In 2004, its brutal leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi launched Iraq down the road to civil war. By 2007, Al Qaeda in Iraq, or AQI, had become the de facto government of the western Iraqi province of Anbar and controlled a good chunk around Baghdad, the "Triangle of Death" to its south, and many of the towns up to the Syrian border. A Sunni backlash fought AQI down to a rump. Then the Syrian civil war transformed AQI into the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS. Now ISIS has marched back into western and northern Iraq.

2014 June 13

Quantum Gravity

Michael Brooks

Theories of quantum gravity seem to reach a primal instant when spacetime is disconnected. Space was split into discrete chunks in the first 10^-43 seconds of the universe, each separate from the others.

In causal dynamical triangulation (CDT), the universe is composed of tetrahedral grains of spacetime. The way they fit together gives spacetime its curvature. The grains can all be different, and computer simulations combine them in billions of different ways. The scenarios that appear most often are the most likely histories of the universe.

Renate Loll: "We hope that our simulations will give us an indication of how the universe wants to behave near the initial singularity without arranging things by hand."

In loop quantum cosmology (LQC), spacetime is a woven fabric of braids and knots and the cosmos grew from a point where light could not travel, so spacetime was disconnected here too. It will be a long time before we can properly test these models against reality.

2014 June 12

Google

Wired

Google has built a business that generates tens of billions of dollars a year. With the $500 million purchase of Skybox, a startup that shoots high-res photos and video with low-cost satellites, Google can extend its reach far across the offline world. Thanks to its knack for transforming mass quantities of unstructured data into revenue-generating insights, the unprecedented stream of aerial imagery to which the company is gaining access could spark a whole new category of high-altitude insights into the workings of economies, nations, and nature.

AR Google is great!

2014 June 11

Merkel Versus Cameron

The New York Times

The European People's Party headed by Jean-Claude Juncker won the European Parliament elections last month. Blocking the EPP candidate for the presidency of the European Commission would undermine the parliament and its elections.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned UK PM David Cameron: "I am for Jean-Claude Juncker ... But when I made that statement in Germany, I also made the point that we act in a European spirit ... Threats do not belong in that spirit."

Merkel: "Britain is really no cozy partner."

ISIS

Slate

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is coming closer to statehood. ISIS began only about a year ago as the Syrian offshoot of al-Qaida in Iraq but now effectively governs a nation-size tract of territory that stretches from the Syrian city of Aleppo to Fallujah in western Iraq. Now it also includes Mosul.

ISIS is focused less on the overthrow of the Assad regime than on enforcing its harsh and austere brand of Islamic law. Its brutal brand of Shariah law including beheadings and amputations seems to be provoking resentment among the people who live under its black flag. Opposition to ISIS is a rare cause that the leaders of United States, Iran, and even al-Qaida can agree on.

US Department of State spokewoman Jen Psaki: "The United States is deeply concerned about the events that have transpired in Mosul."

AR ISIS is Jihadistan. It symbolizes the heralded Shariah Caliphate. It must be terminated.

Ganz oben Ganz unten

Christian Wulff

Bild ist niemals der ganze Skandal, aber ohne Bild ist der ganze Skandal nichts. Muss ich wirklich das Privateste preisgeben, um politisch überleben zu können? Es war schamlos und entwürdigend. Der politisch motivierte fehlerhafte Beginn der Ermittlungen erklärt für mich die Maßlosigkeit und die mangelnde Objektivität der Staatsanwälte.

2014 June 10

Being British

The Times

UK education secretary Michael Gove pledged to act as Ofsted found evidence that several Birmingham schools had been targeted by Muslims in an organized campaign to impose Islamic ideology.

Gove: "We will put the promotion of British values at the heart of what every school has to deliver for children. What we have found was unacceptable. And we will put it right."

2014 June 9

Dawn Raids

The Times

PM David Cameron has ordered education secretary Michael Gove to start "dawn raid" school inspections after officials found evidence of covering up Islamist infiltration in Birmingham schools.

Ofsted found staff at one of the schools involved used the notice period given before an inspection to stage "hastily arranged shows of cultural inclusivity" to include lessons on Christianity.

Cameron: "Protecting our children is one of the first duties of government and that is why the issue of alleged Islamist extremism in Birmingham schools demands a robust response."

Destruction Porn

CNN

Our global neighbors watch our big budget films and see America as a country where scenes of mass destruction are the norm, where carnage is preferred over peace, love, and understanding. Let's call it what it is: destruction porn. Our delight in seeing things blown up should make us worry about the mental health of society.

2014 June 8

Extremist Subversion

The Observer

PM David Cameron ordered education secretary Michael Gove to issue humiliating apologies and told home secretary Theresa May to sack her closest adviser, following their public row over policy on combating extremism in schools.

Islamist Infiltration

Camilla Cavendish

Britain has a long history of underestimating the determination of those bent on subverting the West. After the 2005 bombings, the Labour government created a "preventing violent extremism" strategy, known as Prevent, which funded councils and police to work with community groups. But it focused mainly on preventing acts of terror, not stifling the ideology behind them.

The coalition hardened things up in 2011. David Cameron gave a powerful speech arguing that all forms of extremism can create an atmosphere conducive to terrorism. He intervened in a row between the independent reviewer of Prevent and the Home Office. The reviewer believed it was unacceptable to appease extremism and Cameron backed him.

Hellfire Preaching

Daily Mail

Bombshell reports by EFA and Ofsted claim Muslim radicals conspired to infiltrate governing bodies of Birmingham schools.

Oldknow Academy has around 600 pupils, more than 95% Muslim. It holds Islamic prayers on Friday, teaches Arabic, and organizes trips to Mecca. Extremists allegedly pushed out head teacher Bhupinder Kondal because she opposed Islamization. Teachers used terms such as "white prostitute" and "hellfire" in school assemblies. Teacher Samir Rauf accused Ofsted inspectors of "having an agenda".

Golden Hillock school has been taken over by Islamists and fails to shelter students from extremist views. Inspectors say the school did little to mitigate against cultural isolation, leaving students vulnerable to marginalization from wider British society. Chairman of governors Mohammed Shafique: "Ofsted's views are completely unfounded. We do not practice isolationism or segregation."

2014 June 6

Niedergang der Siegermächte

Sebastian Hammelehle

Am 70. Jahrestag D-Day haben sich die Gewichte entscheidend verschoben. Frankreich und Großbritannien haben den Zweiten Weltkrieg gewonnen, die entscheidende europäische Macht aber ist heute Deutschland. Für die Statik der EU könnte das gefährlich werden.

In Großbritannien zirkulierte während einer Wirtschaftskrise der Spruch, das Land habe zwar den Zweiten Weltkrieg gewonnen, den Frieden aber verloren. Über Deutschland lässt sich 70 Jahre nach dem
D-Day wohl das Gegenteil sagen.

Das Bild von der deutschen Vorherrschaft befeuert den europäischen Populismus. Das D in D-Day, 1944 die Abkürzung für "decision", steht 2014 nicht nur für Deutschland, sondern auch für eine gewisse Demut im Ausgleich der europäischen Interessen.


Wikimedia

The Myth of the Strong Leader
By Archie Brown
Bodley Head, 466 pages


AR I'm reading it now.
Brown was professor of politics
at Oxford for decades.

The Beginning and the End
By Clément Vidal
(1:50)


Wikimedia
Nicaea 2025
Roman Catholics and Eastern
Orthodox Christians may return
to Nicaea, Turkey, in 2025.
Early followers of Jesus met
there in 325 CE to try to
unite Christendom.


Bitstrips
Vote for me!

 

2014 June 5

Memory Implants

New Scientist

Wiring up a rat brain with electronics that replay memories from trained rats into the brain can give it new skills. This research could help many people living with brain damage.

Memories can be lost when damaged parts of the brain fail to pass information from one area to another. An electronic implant that interprets the signals from one area and writes them into a second area can help. But first we have to know what a memory looks like. The neural code that represents a memory is thought to lie in the firing pattern of interconnected neurons.

A technique called multi-input/multi-output, MIMO, can be used to pick out meaningful signals from the noise of millions of neurons firing. A chip containing electrodes in rat hippocampus uses MIMO to isolate and record the neural code as rats recall a memory to act. In rats drugged to forget, the same electrodes deliver the same firing pattern back to the neurons, restoring memory.

MIMO has been used to record the code for a task in a group of rats and replay it in other rats, giving them new memories. DARPA is pushing the research into human trials.

2014 June 4

Government

Roger Scruton

American conservatives say there is too much government. Government is the other side of freedom, and what makes freedom possible. A free relationship grants rights and duties to either party in a mutuality of interests.

The liberal conception of government is that the state exists in order to allocate the social product, and government is the art of seizing and then redistributing the good things to which all citizens have a claim.

But the liberal state no longer embodies the ethos of a nation. As in the EU, public displays of patriotism dwindle to a few desultory spasms, and the political class begins to be looked upon with sarcasm and contempt.

Conservative Americans can still see their government as an expression of their national unity. They need to map out the limits beyond which action by the government is a trespass on the freedom of the citizen.

AR The uncut essay is magnificent — if you like dense prose.

2014 June 3

European Reassurance Initiative

CNN

President Barack Obama wants his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to take steps to rebuild the trust shattered by Russia's actions in Ukraine. Speaking alongside Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, Obama announced that he is asking Congress for a fund of up to $1 billion for a European Reassurance Initiative to bolster the security of NATO allies in Europe.

AR Most reassuring!

Political Islam

Mustapha Tlili

The Obama administration has made a strategic error stemming from a failure to grasp the nature of political Islam. During the decades of dictatorship in the Arab world, political Islamists marketed themselves in the West as "moderate" movements that sought to reconcile Islam with democracy. In reality, they were proponents of a messianic ideology. The Obama administration bought into the fallacy and failed to invest in civil society groups and secular democratic parties in the Muslim world.

2014 June 2

Off to work for the
Poole Conservatives

Europe, Wake Up!

Tony Blair

The election results matter. They are a wake-up call to Europe and to Britain. Our response in Europe as in Britain should be to lead, not follow. We should make the debate about more than the repatriation of certain competences and rules.

There is a keen sense that the moment is right for Europe to think carefully about where it goes from here, how it reconnects with the concerns of its citizens, and how it changes in order better to realize its ideals in a changing world. It has to be a debate elevated to a Europe-wide level, with Britain playing a leading role, not just a negotiation of Britain's terms of membership. It has to be about what is good for Europe as well as what is good for Britain.

2014 June 1

The Soul of Islam

Mona Siddiqui

There is no single Islamist threat. The battle is among Muslims for the soul of Islam. There is a fear of diverse ways of thinking and living in Islamic societies. There is also a propensity among many people in Islamic societies to undermine any kind of intellectualism or critical inquiry.

The radical ideology of "Islam versus the West" is based on a toxic distinction. To make this distinction meaningless, we must engage in conversations in public life. I wonder whether part of the appeal of terrorism lies in boredom and the constant search for a new struggle.

Work

Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath

Employees are more satisfied and productive when four core needs are met:

Physical, through regular opportunities to renew and recharge at work

Emotional, by feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions

Mental, when they can focus on essentials and decide how to tackle them

Spiritual, by doing what they do best and feeling its link to a higher purpose
 

Andy Ross

HR
In the garden at Mottisfont, Romsey, UK, May 31, 2014

Rising Star

"Dr Fox presents an overall composition that melds seamlessly with those of the best minds of his generation. On the evidence presented in this book, he would make an eminently capable foreign secretary in a future Conservative government."

My review of Rising Tides


Google
Google self-driving cars:
coming soon to our streets

Brain Mind Cosmos
Deepak Chopra (ed)

The eyes can detect light.
The mind is aware of thoughts.
The soul can attest to God.
But none of this is good enough.
Science must expand to embrace consciousness. Theorists must plunge into the participatory universe.



Conservative MEP Ashley Fox:
Voters have sent a message
that the EU has to change

 

2014 May 31

Radoslaw Sikorski

Jan Puhl

Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski has a big role in Europe's response to Russian aggression. He studied in Oxford, speaks perfect English, is married to Anne Applebaum, and has led the Polish foreign ministry since 2007. His role has become crucial since the eruption of the crisis in Ukraine.

Sikorski says NATO has neglected its eastern flank and must stand up to Moscow. He grew up under Communism and mistrusts Russia. Anne Applebaum: "The Red Army was deterred by a large number of American soldiers, weapons, tanks, and nuclear weapons. Diplomacy had nothing to do with it."

Sikorski's polished English and intellectual wife are not always appreciated in Poland. He sees his future at the head of an international institution, for example as NATO secretary general. He sees that Europe is becoming less important to the United States and calls on Berlin to show greater leadership.

2014 May 30

Globorg

The Emerging Global Organism

My print copy of the issue of the Kozminiski University journal Transformations with my 2013 article in it arrived yesterday. Rrereading it, I see that it is likely to become the definitive expression of my mature philosophy. The journal version incorporates only minor changes from the preprint and ends with an incorrect e-mail address.
PDF preprint: 16 pages, 175 KB

Transformations 3-4, 2013
PDF, 446 pages, 3.6 MB

2014 May 29

US Foreign Policy

Barack Obama

America has rarely been stronger. Our economy remains the most dynamic on Earth. From Europe to Asia, we are the hub of alliances unrivaled in the history of nations. America must always lead on the world stage. The military is the backbone of that leadership.

America's support for democracy and human rights is a matter of national security. Democracies are our closest friends and are far less likely to go to war. Economies based on free and open markets perform better and become markets for our goods.

American leadership requires us to see the world as it should be: a place where the aspirations of individual human beings really matter, where hopes and not just fears govern, where the truths written into our founding documents can steer the currents of history in the direction of justice.

Brains

Carl Zimmer

Researchers have made a detailed comparison of metabolism in humans and other mammals. Both our brains and our muscles are metabolically unusual. Humans have greedy brains that consume a fifth of our daily energy intake.

Each tissue has a different metabolic fingerprint. In chimpanzees, monkeys and mice, the metabolic fingerprint for a given tissue is usually more similar in more closely related species. Two exceptions:

The human prefrontal cortex uses energy quite differently from other species. Its expansion over the past six million years of our evolution accounts for much of the extra energy demand our brains make.

The metabolic fingerprint of muscle is even more distinct in humans. Chimpanzees and monkeys are far stronger, for their weight, than athletes. Perhaps our ancestors traded strength for endurance, to gather more food for their brains.

2014 May 28

Big Bossy Brussels

The Times

David Cameron opposes the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the European Commission. Cameron: "We need an approach that recognises that Brussels has got too big, too bossy, too interfering."

EU leaders are under pressure to endorse a bid by the European parliament to anoint Juncker as the successor to José Manuel Barroso at the commission. Cameron: "We need people running these organisations that really understand that and can build a Europe that is about openness, competitiveness and flexibility, not about the past."

Capitalism

Mark Carney

We cannot take the capitalist system, which produces such plenty and so many solutions, for granted. Prosperity requires not just investment in economic capital, but investment in social capital.

Unchecked market fundamentalism can devour the social capital essential for the long-term dynamism of capitalism itself. To counteract this tendency, individuals and their firms must have a sense of their responsibilities for the broader system. Consideration should be given to developing principles of fair markets, codes of conduct for specific markets, and even regulatory obligations within this framework.

There were scores of too-big-to-fail institutions operating at the heart of finance. Bankers made enormous sums in the run-up to the crisis and were often well compensated after it hit. Taxpayers picked up the tab for their failures.

AR He speaks as the governor of the Bank of England. I agree with him.

2014 May 27

European Democracy

Nikolaus Blome

For the first time in EU history, the major parties in the European Parliament launched top candidates who campaigned for the job of European Commission president. Jean-Claude Juncker won the election. Leaders of EU member states will find it hard to prevent him from becoming the next EC president.

Jean-Claude Juncker
The Times

Former Luxembourg PM Jean-Claude Juncker is now the elected candidate for the presidency of the European Commission: "During the next five years, we will have to find solutions for the political concerns of the UK. We have to do this to keep the UK in the EU. As commission president ... I will be ready to talk to [David Cameron] in a fair and reasonable manner."

AR Juncker has been an ardent EU federalist for too long to bend with the new wind.

Capital

Paul Mason

Thomas Piketty argued that rising inequality is the central contradiction of capitalism. FT critic Chris Giles challenged his data. But the attack does not quite come off. For Sweden and France the FT all but agrees with Piketty, but its UK and US data become incoherent after 1970 — because the rich avoid declaring their wealth, and after 1979 capitalism was restructured to promote wealth accumulation.

Piketty sees a clear upward trend to inequality in the UK since then, but the FT uses official data that shows nothing much. The HMRC currently estimates that the top 10% of the population own 70% of the wealth, while the ONS thinks they own just 44%. Bank data suggests that UK asset wealth grew from £4.7 trillion to £7.8 trillion in the decade to 2013, with most of the rise driven by financial portfolios. The FT data is from government tax data.

If Piketty is right, only taxes on current wealth and an end to opaque "wealth management" trails that end up in tax havens will prevent capitalism generating levels of social inequality that destroy it.

2014 May 26

SW Region EP Election Results

Bournemouth Echo

Number of votes cast for each party in the South West:
 

UK Independence Party 484 184
Conservative Party 433 151
Labour Party 206 124
Green Party 166 447
Liberal Democrats 160 376
An Independence From Europe 23 169
English Democrats Party 15 081
British National Party 10 910

 
Elected Members of the European Parliament:

1 William Dartmouth, UK Independence Party
2 Ashley Peter Fox, Conservative Party
3 Julia Reid, UK Independence Party
4 Julia McCulloch Girling, Conservative Party
5 Claire Miranda Moody, Labour Party
6 Molly Scott Cato, Green Party

Turnout for the South West region was 37%.

2014 May 25

Germany

The Observer

British Museum director Sir Neil MacGregor is to lead a big project on the history and culture of Germany. He will write and present a series of 30 BBC4 radio programs, launching in September. The museum will mount an exhibition, Germany: Memories of a Nation, starting in October.

MacGregor studied in Hamburg as a schoolboy and went on to read German at Oxford. He will not shy away from "the unspeakable 12 years" from 1933 to 1945. The aim is to approach German history from the Holy Roman Empire to the present day through a selection of artifacts.

AR
Mr and Mrs Lockhart with their respective daughters: Lizzie and Emma left of Jolyon, Jodie right of Beverley


Bitstrips
Get out and vote!

 

2014 May 24

Marriage of Jolyon and Beverley

European Union

Roman Herzog

The European Union is in a deep crisis. The bigger an institution becomes, the more fragile its inner homogeneity. Political and ideological consensus was present for all the new entrants but economic homogeneity was awry. In a modern economy, he who decides the money decides the politics. We face constitutional issues.

European foreign policy reflects the shared interests and values of EU members. The EU states share the basic foundation of Western political thinking that the state is there for the people, and not vice versa. European values need more resonance in the evolving multipolar world of superpowers and large blocks of states.

The democratic deficit of the EU calls for action. Democracy demands a bond of trust and understanding between EU bodies and EU citizens. But the European Parliament is still relatively weak in the face of the European Council and the European Commission. All three bodies have to win the trust of the citizenry.

2014 May 23

Europe

Roger Cohen

Europe at the centenary of the war that devoured it is at a nadir. There is anger about high unemployment, pessimism over the future, irritation at immigration, and alienation from the EU. Anyone who believes in freedom, democracy, and the rule of law is a warmonger.

Protest parties from right and left have expressed admiration for President Vladimir Putin and his homophobic irredentism. Europe is suddenly full of what Germans call Putinversteher, who understand Putin or are Putin apologists. In France, top NF eurocandidate Aymeric Chauprade declared that Russia had become the hope of the world against new totalitarianism.

Meanwhile, on Kiev's Independence Square, known as the Maidan, "Europe is a promise of liberty," said Nataliya Popovych, an activist in the Maidan movement. "As for Putin's Eurasian Union, we have been in that cage before. Why would we go back?"

Russia

Andrew Kramer

Most years, Russian officials use the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum to woo foreign investment. This year is different. The meeting was largely dominated by officials, policy wonks and executives from Russia, as well as Chinese investors. The debate centered on whether Russia even needs Western finance, hinting at the return of a heavily state-dominated economic system.

Citigroup chief economist Ivan Tchakarov: "The key question now is whether we will see a permanent downward shift in the economic growth."

Lord Mandelson of Foy: "Russia has not only forfeited political trust, but, as seriously, and perhaps more seriously, Russia has forfeited market confidence, and Russia could be frozen out of international markets."

Leviathan

Peter Bradshaw

Andrei Zvagintsev's Leviathan is a sober and compelling tragic drama of corruption and intimidation in contemporary Russia, set in a desolate widescreen panorama.

The movie shows a world governed by drunken, depressed, aggressive men. What counts is money and power. Its hero is Kolia, a car mechanic with a teenage son and a beautiful second wife. He owns a modest property on prime real estate, but a crooked mayor wants the land to build a luxury dacha. Kolia finds himself in a perfect storm of poisoned destiny.

2014 May 22

European Union

Leif Johansson

European elections remind us that the 28 member states of the European Union have much to be proud of. The EU has brought peace to a continent long ravaged by war and become the world's largest economy, generating €12 trillion annually, more than the United States.

The elections represent a huge opportunity for the EU to strengthen its position. There is much the EU could do better. EU researchers estimate that realizing the single market could gain €800 billion annually. And the EU needs a common energy policy. All this can be achieved.

Gas Bill

The Guardian

Russia and China have made a 30 year, $400 billion deal to deliver Russian gas to China. The contract for 38 cu km of gas annually was signed in the presence of presidents Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping in Beijing.

Global Sustainability Institute director Aled Jones: "Russia's new pipeline to China will increase competition for natural gas from 2018 and will most likely increase the cost we pay for natural gas here in the EU."

Google vs Apple

CNET

Apple's brand value has diminished by 20% to $148 billion. Google's has soared by 40% to $159 billion. Apple has phones and tablets, Google has self-driving cars and scary glasses. Millward Brown Global BrandZ director Peter Walshe: "To gain more of our mind space, brands such as Google are making ambitious plays across existing category boundaries."

2014 May 21

Freedom

David Brooks

Freedom House says freedom has been in retreat around the world for the past eight years. Across the Western world, people are disgusted with their governments.

The Guardian State is gaining strength. In places like Singapore and China, the best students are culled for government service. The technocratic elites play a big role in designing economic life. The safety net is small and unforgiving. Work is rewarded. People are expected to look after their own.

Guardian States have some disadvantages compared with Western democracies. They are more corrupt. Because the systems are top-down, local government tends to be worse. But they have advantages. They are better at long-range thinking and can move fast. And they are more innovative.

American politics has become neurotically democratic. Politicians are campaigning all the time and can scarcely think beyond the news cycle. Unrepresentative groups have disproportionate power in primary elections. If the Guardian State has speed at the top, democracy has speed at the bottom.

AR Democracy needs an update.

 

US Navy
Another Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the USS George H.W. Bush

Another Great Day at Sea is the latest book by Geoff Dyer. He describes the world of the ship as a kind of idealized America, "each person indispensable to the workings of the larger enterprise, no friction between the person and the task". But it's also a version of America very different from the one back on the beach. The sailors do very little other than sleep and work long hours at jobs they're proud of.
Many of them are both deeply patriotic and deeply religious, and alcohol and displays of affection are strictly forbidden.
Dyer: "What really surprised me was the lack of leisure."
 
AR Seems OK to me.


Bitstrips
Hardworking voter

Vote!
James Cracknell

 

2014 May 20

NATO

Der Spiegel

NATO has 28 member states. An attack against any member is considered an attack against all. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen: "Our commitment to collective defense is rock solid, now and for the future."

A new draft NATO assessment: "Russia's ability to undertake significant military action with little warning presents a wider threat to the maintenance of security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area. Russia can pose a local or regional military threat at short notice at a place of its choosing. This is both destabilizing and threatening for those allies bordering or in close proximity to Russia."

Military officials say NATO has dangerously forfeited its ability to conduct a ground war with large troop formations in Europe. But if NATO were incapable of resisting Moscow in the event of a Russian incursion into the Baltic countries, the alliance could disintegrate.

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski: "NATO must do in Poland what it has done in other countries. There are bases in Great Britain, Spain, Germany, Italy, Kosovo and Turkey. Those are safe places. But there are no bases where they would be truly necessary."

Central Africa

Graeme Wood

This year, the Central African Republic (CAR) has collapsed in a grisly carnival of factional and religious slaughter that has left it one of the very worst places on Earth.

The CAR is a landlocked former French colony between Chad to the north and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the south. A quarter century ago, Jean-Bédel Bokassa, its self-appointed emperor, faced public trial for, among other crimes, keeping a freezer full of half-eaten human bodies.

Now, most Central Africans would happily trade their problems for a mere outbreak of plague, or some light cannibalism. The current caretaker president, a Christian ex-lawyer named Catherine Samba-Panza, is ineffectual at best, and the countryside towns are fast polarizing, with Muslims being expelled by the thousands. In the capital, Bangui, the expulsion of Muslims is nearly complete.

African Union (AU) peacekeepers zoom around town in APCs or Toyota Land Cruisers with heavy machine guns mounted on the back. If the conflict in CAR were as simple as shooting dead all the people running around with freshly hewn human limbs, the peacekeepers might be able to keep things under control. But the war has a separate front between the AU and the French peacekeepers also in Bangui.

Christians and Muslims in this conflict share a sense of grievance that has curdled into bloodlust. Any ideas that don't start or end with genocide qualify as good ones.

2014 May 19

Vote For Your MEP

Chris Huhne

European parliament elections are held on Thursday. Most EU law is decided by both ministers and MEPs. Each minister in the council casts votes depending on their country's size. But any legislation adopted by this body can then be amended or rejected by a simple majority of MEPs.

EU law is like the secondary legislation that often goes through the UK parliament on the nod, providing that a minister has powers delegated by a full-blown act. It is often mind-bogglingly technical, but it still matters and it still engages fierce arguments about values.

In a globalized world, more and more issues have to be dealt with by international institutions because the national writ no longer runs. You either have institutions like the EU with an explicit capacity for political decision-taking, or you leave it to the bureaucrats and lawyers.

EU spending is less than 1% of GDP, compared with 48% for the 28 national governments. The EU is an important layer of governance, no more. The European parliament is far from perfect, but it is worth your vote.

2014 May 18

Ever Closer Union

The Guardian

Gunther Krichbaum: "I can't imagine that the member states would allow Britain to extricate itself from the 'ever closer union' clause. ... If you want more influence in Europe, then you need closer cooperation. Britain should try to exert more influence in the EU — I for one would welcome it."

Axel Schäfer: "Would Germany allow Britain to wiggle out of the 'ever closer union' clause in the Rome treaty? That's out of the question. ... If Mr Cameron thinks he has Germany and Mrs Merkel on his side on this question, I can assure him that he is wrong."

Elmar Brok: "If Cameron is still concerned about the language, I would be open to discussions. But you can't suddenly question the basic principles."

UK Rich List

The Sunday Times

The wealth gap between Britain’s richest and average households is getting wider. The personal fortunes of the thousand richest Brits have boomed in the past year and now add up some £519 billion, equal to a third of UK GDP. Some 104 billionaires are now based in the UK, with a combined wealth of more than £301 billion. London hosts 72 sterling billionaires, more than any other city in the world.

2014 May 17

India

The New York Times

Discrimination against Muslims in India is so rampant that many barely muster outrage when telling of the withdrawn apartment offers, rejected job applications, and denied loans that are part of living in the country for them. As a group, Muslims have fallen badly behind Hindus in recent decades in education, employment, and economic status.

After the landslide electoral triumph of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, some Indian Muslims say they are worried that their place in India could become even more tenuous.

AR Some Muslims have politicized their religion and poisoned it for the rest. Pakistan discriminates against non-Muslims.

2014 May 16

Living on £1 a Day

Rowan Williams

When Christian Aid asked me to take up the Live Below the Line challenge by living on just £1 a day for five days, I readily accepted. The first thing that hit me was just how expensive fresh fruit and vegetables are. Still, learning that you can live without certain things is a positive experience. Fasting or giving up some of your luxuries can be liberating, which is one of the reasons it is common across many faiths.

2014 May 15

Consciousness Robots?

Anil Ananthaswamy

Giulio Tononi and his colleagues have developed a mathematical framework for consciousness called integrated information theory, IIT. They argue that in conscious minds, integrated information cannot be reduced into smaller components.

Phil Maguire and his colleagues define integration in terms of how difficult information is to edit. Integrating snapshots into memories makes it hard to manipulate single images. Computers can't handle a process that integrates information completely, so if consciousness means total integration then computers aren't conscious.

Is Consciousness Computable?
Phil Maguire et al.

AR Irrelevant to IIT. Of course conscious integration is lossy. Otherwise we'd drown in data as soon as we woke up.

2014 May 14

The Trouble with Europe

Why the EU isn't working, how it can be reformed, what could take its place
By Roger Bootle

"Roger Bootle perceptively analyses what is wrong with the European Union as presently constituted, both politically and economically; what reforms are needed to make it wise for the UK to remain a member; and how we can most sensibly conduct ourselves outside the EU, should those reforms not be undertaken. It is essential background reading for any future in/out referendum."
— Boris Johnson

AR I'm reading this next.


 

 

GRAPHICS:
PEW RESEARCH CENTER

Nuclear Power
The New York Times

Civilian nuclear disasters have not overcome the allure of nuclear power as a source of clean and abundant energy. The dangers of nuclear power are real, but the accidents that have occurred do not compare to the damage to the Earth being inflicted by the burning of fossil fuels. Reducing carbon emissions must be an urgent priority and nuclear energy must be part of the mix.


Bitstrips
Digital immortality:
Autopoietic selfie
20140507

Education Systems
Top Ten

Pearson / EIU

1
South Korea
2
Japan
3
Singapore
4
Hong Kong
5
Finland
6
UK
7
Canada
8
Netherlands
9
Ireland
10
Poland

Walls
Slavoj Žižek

The principal contradiction of the new world order is the impossibility of creating a global political order that would correspond to the global capitalist economy.

What if, for structural reasons, and not only due to empirical limitations, there cannot be a worldwide democracy or a representative world government? What if the global market economy cannot be directly organized as a global liberal democracy with worldwide elections?

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of the global market, new walls have begun emerging everywhere, separating peoples and their cultures.

AR Dialektik vom feinsten.


Bitstrips


NASA
NASA Z-2 suit for
Mars astronauts

Black Holes

Evidence of fractal growth on the surface of a feeding black hole comes from a mathematical duality between the equations of general relativity and fluid dynamics.

Allan Adams and his colleagues modeled a turbulent fluid system and then moved into the black hole regime. They found that the horizon of the black hole appeared to have developed an infinite surface area. If black holes grow fractal skins when they feed, this may show up in their gravitational waves.

 

2014 May 13

EU Support

Pew

Support for the European Union may be rebounding just in time for the European Parliament elections on May 22, according to the Pew Research Center. EU favorability is now on the rise in France, the UK, and Germany. Faith that European economic integration is good for their own country is up in the UK, Poland, and Germany. But Europeans overwhelmingly think their voice is not heard in Brussels. They complain that the EU does not understand their needs and is intrusive and inefficient.

2014 May 12

EU Renegotiations

David Cameron

Others in Europe need change to the European Union. The Eurozone needs change. It needs a banking union, it needs more fiscal union, and so we're perfectly legitimate to ask for our changes.

You've already seen other leaders in Europe, including for instance Chancellor Merkel in Germany, not rejecting out of hand what Britain is saying but saying yes, we can discuss these issues.

We'll be having a referendum, where I'll be recommending: Look I've got these changes, I believe we should stay in this reformed organisation.

I'm tremendously upbeat, bullish, and optimistic about what Britain can achieve in terms of our economy and also about our place in Europe.

2014 May 11

UK vs EU

The New York Times

UK PM David Cameron plans to renegotiate British ties to the European Union. But those plans hit a roadblock when he called for a rewrite of the EU treaty.

A group of Conservative Euroskeptics called the Fresh Start Project now accept that an early treaty change is neither likely nor necessary in order to change UK ties to the EU.

FS member Tim Loughton: "We are not going to get full-blown treaty change on all these things by 2017. What we can do is a whole load of things that do not require treaty change, and there would be an understanding that treaty change will have to come in time."

Are revamped British membership terms possible without a treaty change by 2017?
FS member Chris Heaton-Harris: "Yes."

Mideast Success

Shmuel Rosner

US Secretary of State John Kerry hoped to "achieve that final-status agreement" between Israel and the Palestinians. But they only proved that some things are more important for them than peace.

Israelis and Palestinians want many things. Many Israelis would rather not have peace than relinquish control over the Old City of Jerusalem and surrounding holy sites. Many Palestinians would rather not have peace than be forced to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. And while many Israelis would not accept a peace deal that acknowledges a Palestinian "right of return" for Palestinian refugees of past wars, many Palestinians would not accept peace if it doesn't include this right. Time and again, Israelis and Palestinians have shown they are adamant about these choices.

Whenever the parties negotiate and are required to make a concession, they balk and return to fighting at the negotiating table. They have priorities other than those imagined by the mediator.

2014 May 10

QBism

Matthew Chalmers

Quantum Bayesianism says quantum weirdness is all in the mind. David Mermin: "It really is that simple."

Measurements do not cause things to happen in the external world; they cause things to happen in our heads. The classical world is where acts of measurements are continuous, because we see things with our own eyes. The quantum world is where we need an explicit act of measurement with an appropriate piece of equipment to gain information. For a QBist, the quantum-classical boundary is the split between what is going on in the real world and your subjective experience of it.

By abandoning the idea that nature can be described adequately from the perspective of a detached observer, QBism recalls Immanuel Kant's critique of pure reason, in which even spacetime is a tool we use to categorize the phenomenal manifold.

Mermin: "Why promote space-time from a 4D diagram, which is a useful conceptual device, to a real essence?"

AR I argued for this view in my book Mindworlds.

2014 May 9

No Baggage

Nigel Farage

UKIP proclaims itself a non-racist, non-sectarian party. The offensive and racially prejudiced comments of a handful of idiots were unrepresentative of our party. I have been noticing a surge of support and new members from Britain's ethnic minority communities.

UKIP would have a stringent immigration policy but also a fair one. The Conservative party is a snooty party of and for the establishment, favouring the wealthy, the powerful and the already well connected. UKIP does not carry such baggage.

AR We all deplore racism. But a British party can only flourish if it understands and works with the establishment. Spurning the "baggage" is no way to win.

Ed No PM

Philip Collins

Labour leader Ed Miliband's reach exceeds his grasp. When he decrees that rents must be lower and banking, energy and train fares should all be cheaper, he is wishing the ills of the world away without any idea how a market really works. His combination of a tendency to utopian unreality and natural caution means that, in office, he would likely be a lukewarm version of himself in opposition.

The Tories have no prospect of convincing anyone that Ed Miliband is Hugo Chávez. But they might well persuade people that he is a man with his head in the clouds, if not up his backside.

AR No hope for a British renaissance from Red Ed, then.

Chimerica Line

The Guardian

China has a plan to build a high-speed railway line to the United States. The "China-Russia plus America line" would be 13 000 km long, from northeast China through Siberia, through a 200 km undersea tunnel beneath the Bering Strait, then through Alaska and Canada to Seattle. The trip would take two days at an average speed of 350 km/h.

China plans three other big high-speed rail lines:
1 From north China via Moscow to London
2 From west China via Central Asia and Turkey to Germany
3 From south China to Singapore

AR China rails the globe, Britain chokes on HS2.

2014 May 8

Nuclear Fusion

The Guardian

UKAEA CEO and CCFE director professor Steve Cowley says controlled nuclear fusion is one of the "great quests" in science. Engineering the process that powers the stars means confining hydrogen nuclei at temperatures over 100 MK so that they fuse into helium nuclei, to release more energy than is needed to hold and heat them. Nuclear fusion would be a practically limitless source of energy that is clean, safe, and cheap.

The science is solid but the engineering challenge is enormous. The CCFE JET tokamak used magnetic confinement to generate a world record 16 MW of fusion power. The new ITER tokamak is under construction in the south of France. ITER involves 35 nations and is expected to release 500 MW of power from a 50 MW input and may even achieve ignition.

Cowley: "When ITER gets to self-sustainment that will be one of those moments in science that happen very rarely. I think we will then be able to say it's completely scientifically possible to make a commercial fusion reactor. The real question then is cost and scale."

MOND

Mordehai Milgrom

My theory of modified Newtonian dynamics (MOND) describes the motion of stars in the outer regions of spiral galaxies with a departure from Newtonian dynamics when the acceleration of stars drops below 10 pico-g. With a single parameter, MOND can predict the rotation curves of all galaxies with no need for dark matter.

MOND correctly predicted the velocities of stars in about 30 dwarf satellite galaxies of Andromeda. The main dark matter paradigm has no such predictive power. I asked whether gravitational dynamics changed at a critical acceleration more than 30 years ago, and Jacob Bekenstein made MOND compatible with Einstein's principles of relativity in 2004.

AR Bekenstein also did good work with Stephen Hawking on black hole thermodynamics.

Push Your Kids

The Times

Pearson chief education adviser Sir Michael Barber: "In the Pacific Asian cultures there is a strong belief that effort will be rewarded and if you try harder and work harder you will achieve higher standards. Pressure from parents for students in Pacific Asian systems to achieve well in school, to spend long evenings on their homework, is very, very high, some would argue too high. There is a contrast between those attitudes and here where some parents don't exert that kind of pressure for achievement, don't expect that effort to be rewarded, do think that either their child is really clever or isn't, and sometimes reinforce that in a way that is unhelpful."

Sir Michael was speaking at the launch of an updated global ranking of education systems in which Britain, at #6, trails the top five by a big margin.

Sir Michael: "In the end it is about communicating with people how much the 21st century is going to be different from when they were at school and how that needs different preparation. Basic skills are going to change in a quite dramatic way and only people who are well prepared, knowledgeable, well informed, able to solve problems, take responsibility for themselves, are going to be able to succeed, but if you have got those 21st-century skills it is going to be full of opportunity."

2014 May 7

UK vs EU

Katrin Bennhold

Britain holds European Union elections on May 22.

The UK joined the European Common Market in 1973. When the Labour Party called a referendum on membership in 1975, Margaret Thatcher campaigned in favor. As prime minister, she signed the Single European Act in 1987, a huge surrender of British sovereignty.

German sociologist Ulrich Beck: "The most pro-European voices in Britain today are business and the Obama administration."

AR Brits are in a funk. Vote for Europe and get real.

Race

Charles Murray

A computer given a random sampling of bits of DNA that are known to vary among humans will cluster them into groups that correspond to the known race or ethnicity of the subjects. The clusters identify the five major races: Asians, Caucasians, sub-Saharan Africans, Native Americans, and the original inhabitants of Australia and Papua New Guinea. If the subjects all come from European ancestry, the clusters will instead correspond to Italians, Germans, French, and other European ethnicities.

As yet we know little about the substance of racial and ethnic differences. Humans who left Africa moved into environments that introduced radically new selection pressures. The genes under selection include a wide variety of biological traits affecting everything from bone structure and diet to aspects of the brain and nervous system involving cognition and sensory perception.

Nicholas Wade contrasts the polities and social institutions of China, India, the Islamic world, and Europe. He presents evolutionary explanations for the outsize Jewish contributions to the arts and sciences. Then he incorporates genetics into an explanation of the rise of the West in the past 600 years.

2014 May 6

Why Germans Love Russia

Clemens Wergin

In a recent poll, 49% of Germans said they wanted their country to take a middle position between the West and Russia in the Ukraine crisis, and only 45% wanted to be firmly in the Western camp.

The drift is on both sides of the political spectrum. Part of the left is instinctively anti-American and sides with anyone who challenges the status quo and the US superpower. The populist right agrees with Russian propaganda that Europe has become too gay, too tolerant, too permissive, and unchristian.

What unites them is disregard for the fate of the people in the lands between Germany and Russia. When German public figures dismiss Ukraine as "not a real country anyway" they evoke memories in Eastern Europe of the days when the Nazis and Soviets turned the region into a killing field.

In a more recent poll, 60% of Germans said that their country should stand with the West in the Ukraine crisis. So Russian aggression is having some effect on public opinion.

2014 May 5

Goldilocks

Matt Ridley

The Copernicus principle says that our planet is just an ordinary one of an estimated sextillion similar objects orbiting suns like ours. So there should be enormous numbers of planets old enough to be transmitting interstellar pop music. Yet not a peep.

The anthropic principle says that planets unfit for life don't evolve sentient life forms, so we are bound to wake up on a planet that's just right. This observational bias works against the Copernicus principle. Our case may seem typical, but it might actually be extremely rare.

A long string of coincidences seems to needed for life. Primordial anti-gravity, nuclear and electrical forces, the strength of molecular bonds — all just right for us. The Earth almost froze over several times but recovered each time, unlike Venus or Mars, and for the last half billion years we've had good weather. Catastrophes have set us back but not wiped us out.

David Waltham says there are three possible explanations for all this: God, Gaia, and Goldilocks. God is inscrutable. Gaia says living things somehow control the thermostat. And Goldilocks says it's just dumb luck that Earth is neither too hot nor too cold, but just right.

The Moon seals the case for Goldilocks. It is most unusual for a small planet to have such a huge moon. The Moon stabilized the Earth's spin to give us fairly long days and regular seasons to defrost the poles. Had it been only slightly different, we wouldn't be here.

A Goldilocks moon is unlikely. Earth might be unique in the visible universe. We could be alone.

AR Usually with such "fine-tuning" arguments, we find good reasons later to dispute them. My guess is that the Moon story is far from over. See a book I recently edited: The Beginning and the End by Clément Vidal (Springer 2014).

2014 May 4

Manifesto for Europe

Thomas Piketty and 14 others

The European Union is in crisis. The eurozone countries are mired in distrust and the debt crisis is far from over. The existing EU institutions are dysfunctional and need to be rebuilt. Democracy and the public authorities must regain control of globalized financial capitalism. Our proposals:

1 To bring tax justice and political will into the globalization process, Eurozone countries must share their corporate income tax (CIT). A sovereign European authority needs to establish a common tax base. Each country might then continue to set its own CIT rate on this common base.

2 To approve the tax base for the CIT, we must establish a parliamentary chamber for the eurozone. A new European chamber, based on grouping a portion of the national MPs and representing the states through their national parliaments, would complement the existing European parliament.

3 To put the debt crisis behind us, we need to pool the debts of the eurozone countries. Then the European Central Bank can conduct an effective and responsive monetary policy. The pooling of debt has already begun, but it is time to clarify the democratic legitimacy of these mechanisms.

Debate over Europe's political institutions has all too often been pushed aside, which ultimately means accepting the omnipotence of market forces and competition and abandoning all hope of controlling capitalism. We need to start a debate so that we finally have a social and democratic Europe.

AR A post-communist manifesto!

Rabbi Myer Kripke

The New York Times

Rabbi Myer Kripke and Warren Buffett were neighbors in Omaha. When Rabbi Kripke and his wife Dorothy had saved about $67,000, Dorothy said: "Myer, invest the money with your friend Warren."

When their investment had grown to more than $25 million, they gave most of it away. They stayed in their apartment and Rabbi Kripke remained at his synagogue.

Myer Samuel Kripke was born in 1914, in Ohio. He was ordained in 1937. He met Dorothy in a class taught by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, founder of the Reconstructionist movement, a branch of Judaism that stresses the religion's historical context instead of a supernatural God, and married her in 1937.

Rabbi Kripke died in April 2014, aged 100. Dorothy had died in 2000. They are survived by their two children. Their son Saul Kripke has been called the world's greatest living philosopher.

AR Saul Kripke was my logic guru from 1972 to 1977. I studied his works and was hugely impressed.

2014 May 3

NATO and Russia

Diana Magnay, CNN

Russian President Putin's popularity has soared since the annexation of Crimea. US Secretary of State John Kerry accused Russia of behaving in a 19th century fashion in the 21st century.

NATO had tried to make Russia a "privileged partner" and worked with Russia on a range of issues from counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics to submarine rescue and emergency planning.

Accession of Ukraine to NATO now seems unimaginable. A membership action plan had been discussed for both Ukraine and Georgia at the Bucharest Summit in 2008.

2014 May 2

Artificial Intelligence

Stephen Hawking, Stuart Russell, Max Tegmark, Frank Wilczek

AI research is progressing rapidly. Success in creating AI would be the biggest event in human history. It might also be the last, unless we learn how to avoid the risks:

— Near term: World militaries are considering autonomous weapon systems.
— Medium term: AI may transform our economy to bring both great wealth and great dislocation.
— Longer term: An explosive transition is possible, triggering the Singularity.

Synthetic Biology

Richard C. Lewontin

The J. Craig Venter Institute works with fuel companies and the pharmaceutical industry to create microorganisms to produce new fuels and vaccines. Craig Venter: "There's not a single aspect of human life that doesn't have the potential to be totally transformed by these technologies in the future."

By one estimate, 2% of the US economy at present is derived from genetic engineering and synthetic biology. This proportion is growing at an annual rate of 12%. We see such genetically engineered products as corn and tomatoes, and new microorganisms for detecting toxic environmental pollutants.

By manipulating the genomes of plants and animals we could, in principle, increase the productivity of farms and forests, of lakes, rivers, and seas, which would be of benefit to human existence. The NSF and the NIH depend on scientific experts to decide which research programs should be funded.

Poland

Remi Adekoya

Between 2007 and 2013, Poland received £56 billion in EU development funds. The 2014-20 EU budget earmarks £60 billion more for the Poles. Also, Polish farmers receive billions in EU agricultural subsidies. Poland joined the EU in 2004. In 2003 Polish GDP was £130 billion. By 2013 it was £305 billion. GDP per capita rose from 44% of the EU average to 67% today and may reach 74% by 2020.

Young Poles today travel to study and work all over Europe. After the fall of Communism, times were hard and Poles were often coarse and gruff in their behavior. A decade of EU money has helped to civilize them. Foreigners no longer need fear attack by skinheads. But some Poles say Polish traditions are being eroded by nihilistic western pop culture. Poland is 99.9% white and 95% Roman Catholic.

Radek Sikorski

Michael Weiss

Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski was educated at Oxford and a member of the Bullingdon Club. Now he is seen as a possible successor to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Poland is the only EU country to share a border with both Russia and Ukraine. As a NATO member, it dispatched troops into combat zones in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Now Polish security doctrine envisions an end to foreign wars in favor of homeland defense. Sikorski: "NATO needs to go back to basics because whereas conflict inside the European Union has become unthinkable, conflict on the periphery of the European Union is not just all too thinkable but is rather a very concerning reality."

In 2012, Sikorski delivered a speech near Oxford: "I was making the same argument about the EU as the UK government makes about remaining in Scotland: Together we're stronger."

AR Britain should stay in the EU.

2014 May 1

Life

Barbara J. King

Anthropologist Eduardo Kohn worked among the Runa people in the Upper Amazonian forest: "Tropical forests amplify and thus can make more apparent to us, the ways life thinks."

Kohn invites us to see how forest creatures without language think, represent the world, and make meaning on their own. When we link signs with all of life, we break out beyond "the conflation of representation with language" that characterizes most of anthropology. Thinking goes on in the forest, but not because of human agency: "The world beyond the human is not a meaningless one made meaningful by humans."

This perspective carries with it enormous power for any society that wants to break out of the solipsism of considering linguistic mediation of the world as a sort of evolutionary pinnacle. Kohn stresses his certainty that of all thinking creatures, only humans are moral. This distinction implicates us uniquely in a web of responsibility toward the living world.

AR Forests think on Pandora: see Avatar.

Religion

Graham Lawton

To most of the people who have ever lived, belief in god comes naturally. Certain features of human psychology that evolved for non-religious reasons also create fertile ground for god. So when people encounter religious stories and claims, they find them intuitively appealing and plausible.

Analytical atheism is one route to irreligion. It flourishes in places where people are exposed to science and logic. Apathetic atheism is for people who don't need the comfort of belief in god. Religion thrives on existential angst, and as societies become more prosperous and stable, people don't need it.

Pascal Boyer claims that atheism is psychologically impossible because of the way humans think. Even people who claim to be committed atheists hang on to traces of religion, such as belief in an immortal soul. We need to find new solutions to the perennial problems of life that religion tries to solve.

AR Beliefs can change: see Mindworlds.

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