Andy Ross 2015-08-29
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Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin
wants a master plan to colonize
Mars within 25 years. As a professor and senior faculty
adviser at the Buzz Aldrin Space
Institute, Florida Institute of
Technology, he will shoot for a Mars settlement by 2039
(1969 + 70).

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

Cara Delevingne
is quite good in
Paper Towns


2015 August 29


Martin Wössner

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

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

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

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

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

Machine Math

New Scientist

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

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

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

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

An Intuitive Introduction to Motivic Homotopy Theory
Vladimir Voevodsky

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

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

2015 August 28

Populist Politics

Jeremy Corbyn

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

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

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

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

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

2015 August 27

Islamic State

Paul Berman

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

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

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

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

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

Dark Quark Matter?

Sabine Hossenfelder and Naomi Lubick

Glenn Starkman says dark matter could be quark nuggets.

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

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

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

No one knows whether quarks can form such nuggets.

AR Dark matter seems thus to be solved in principle.

2015 August 26


Martin Wolf

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

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

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

AR Interesting times

2015 August 25


Financial Times

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


David A. Bell

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

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

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


CNN Money

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

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

AR Cheap oil — back to climate change.

2015 August 24

World Markets Plunge

CNN Money, 12:26 AM ET

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

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

Photo: Sally Adams

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

Leopard 2A7+

Joseph LeDoux

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

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


2015 August 23


Jonathan Franzen

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

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

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

2015 August 22

The Caliphate

Jason Burke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015 August 21

Panzer Business

Financial Times

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

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

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

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

The Fall of the USSR

Sputnik News

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

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

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

2015 August 20

HMS Iron Duke

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

German Asylum

Financial Times

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

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

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

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

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

2015 August 19


Martin Sandbu

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

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

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

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

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

AR The EZ narrative promotes economic virtue.

2015 August 18

Russia Looks Weak

John Thornhill

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

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

AR The German approach is wise: Keep calm.

2015 August 17

EU Foreign Policy

Radek Sikorski

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

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


Financial Times

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

Poles Strike

John Zylinski

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

2015 August 16

The Man for Mars

Sue Halpern

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

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

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

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

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

AR Good man.

Zen and the Art of Dying Well

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

Photo: Mario Testino

Photo: Mario Testino
Taylor Swift
Vanity Fair


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


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

Fat Man

Southern Owl Nebula


A dolphin swims in front of
USS John Warner

Woodlice Have
Feelings Too

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

Photo: John Wright

Chrissy Teigen
Women's Health UK

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

AR Looks OK to me.

Photo: Allan Ballard
Cilla Black


2015 August 15

NATO vs Russia

Nancy A. Youssef

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

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

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

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

AR Europe could fall like France in 1940.


Douglas Coupland

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

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

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

AR I like a white box.

2015 August 14

Voting Rights

Barack Obama

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

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

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

2015 August 13

NATO and Poland

Financial Times

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

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

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

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

AR Burning coal is filthy.

Post Capitalism

Gillian Tett

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

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

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

AR A Conservative vision

Holy Cow!

Liel Leibovitz

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

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

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

AR Homo sap = Holy cow!

2015 August 12

Russia vs NATO

European Leadership Network

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

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

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

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

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

2015 August 11

One Party State

Norman Baker

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

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

AR Conservative rule OK: UK democracy needs rethink.

2015 August 10

EZ Money

Martin Sandbu

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

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

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

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

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

EZ Books

Paul Mason

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

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

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

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

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

2015 August 9

29 US Scientists Praise Iran Nuclear Deal

New York Times

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

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

The letter


Gerard DeGroot

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

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

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

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

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

2015 August 8


Steven Pinker

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

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

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

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


New Scientist

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

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

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

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

2015 August 7

Nuclear War

Richard Haass

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

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

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

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

Israel vs Iran

Silvan Shalom

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

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

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

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

2015 August 6

Israel vs Iran

John Kerry

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

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

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

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

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

2015 August 5

USS John Warner


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

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

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


Sam Tanenhaus

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

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

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

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

AR I enjoyed Freedom, must read Purity.

UK General and Local Elections 2015

Poole Conservative Association

AR My campaign souvenir

2015 August 4


Steven Pinker

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

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

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

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

2015 August 3

Heinrich Himmler

The Decent One
BBC Four

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

Propaganda War

Liam Fox

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

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

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

2015 August 2


The Sunday Times

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

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

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

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


Brendan Simms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Johanna Kamradt

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

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

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

2015 August 1


Lewis Dartnell

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

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

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

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

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

J. R. R. Tolkien

Michael Nelson

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Pluto: new composite
with enhanced color

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

AR She was no scout —
wrong knots in rope

My new image

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

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

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


2015 July 31

Against Brexit

Peter Wilding

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

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

2015 July 30

Earth 2.0

Philip Ball

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

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

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

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

2015 July 29


Edmund S. Phelps

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

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

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

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

2015 July 28

Killer Robots


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

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

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

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

2015 July 27

Cut Wind and Solar Taxes

Matt Ridley

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

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

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

China Stock Rout

Financial Times

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

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

Quarterly Capitalism

Edward Luce

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

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

AR Animal spirits spooked by China!


Roger Cohen

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

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

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

AR Ominous.

2015 July 26

UK Labour Leadership Contest

Tim Ross

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

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

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

Labour: Principles and Power

Liz Kendall

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

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

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

New Labour Needed

New Statesman

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

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

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

The party needs a modern style of leader.

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

2015 July 25

Laser Nuclear Fusion Rocket Science

IEEE Spectrum

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015 July 24

Earth 2.0

New Scientist

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

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

2015 July 23

Great Thinkers

The Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sean Carroll et al.

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

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

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

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

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

New Scientist

2015 July 22

Islamic State

New York Times

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

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

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


Ayaan Hirsi Ali

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

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

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


Ed Balls

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

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


Jürgen Habermas

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

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

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

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

Good and Evil

Rachel Sylvester

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


George Monbiot

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


Financial Times

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

AR Example: micropay for this blog.

2015 July 21


New Scientist

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

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

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


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

Saatchi Gallery, London
April — September 2016

Sputnik Planum, Pluto

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

Pluto has a young surface
with big ice mountains

Pluto and Charon

LHC researchers bag
states, over 9 sigma.

Grand Mosque, Mecca,
Night of Power 2015

Alphonse Mucha:
In Quest of Beauty

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

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

AR Der alte Fritz lässt grüßen.

Donald Tusk

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

AR Zitat Cicero: Eine große Einnahmequelle ist die Sparsamkeit.

Natalie Coughlin


2015 July 20

Struggle of a Generation

Paul Goodman

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

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

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

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


Wolfgang Munchau

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


Donald Tusk

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

2015 July 19

Post Capitalism

Paul Mason

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015 July 18

The Next Wave

John Markoff

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

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

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

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

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

AR My bet too.

2015 July 17

Napoleon the Great

Andrew Roberts

AR Reading it now and enjoying it.

2015 July 16

Partner China

George Soros

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

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

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

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

2015 July 15

Iran Deal

Nicholas Burns

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

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

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

IMF May Block Greek Deal

Financial Times

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

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

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

2015 July 14



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

Iran Deal

New York Times


Wolfgang Münchau

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

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

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

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

The German Question

Roger Cohen

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

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

AR Genau. Lass es sein.

2015 July 13

EZ Deal

Financial Times

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

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

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

2015 July 12

Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum

Mayoral Reception and Viewing


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

Animal Rights

Andrew Linzey

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

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

2015 July 11


Brendan Simms

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

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

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

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


Martin Rees

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

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

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

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

Neural Networks

New Scientist

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

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

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

2015 July 10


Financial Times

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

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

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

2015 July 9


Christoph Meyer

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

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

AR Grexit is good.

UK Budget

George Osborne

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

AR GO is great!

2015 July 8

Nano Story

Tim Flannery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genghis Khan

Jack Weatherford

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

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

Blue Rinse
Liam Fox

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

AR Fox is the Engish
Nicola Sturgeon.

Germany vs Greece
Philosophers' Football

118 Hours

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

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

Perimeter Institute
2015 June 20-24

London terror police or
Nazi stormtroopers?


2015 July 7

German Anger

New York Times

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

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

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

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

David Cameron

Kevin Meagher

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

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

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

2015 July 6


CNN, 1640 GMT

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

AR Throw the bums out.

Germany vs Greece

Der Spiegel

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

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

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

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

2015 July 5


Ben Brumfield

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

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

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

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

2015 July 4

Homo Sap

The Nation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AR Harari ate my lunch — CORAL

2015 July 3

Israel and America

David P. Goldman

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

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

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

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

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

Big Bang to Big Rip

Marcelo Disconzi

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

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

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

Phys. Rev. D 91, 043532

2015 July 2


New Scientist

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

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

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

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

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

2015 July 1

Israel and the Caliphate

The Guardian

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

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

Mass Murder

Richard J. Evans

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Ross Clark

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

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


Hardware, Software, and
the Internet of Things

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

CT Fantasy
Foreign Policy

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

M.C. Escher Co.
Relativity (1953)

The Amazing World
of M.C. Escher

Scottish National Gallery
of Modern Art, Edinburgh

2015-06-27 — 2015-09-27

Moon Village

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

Pope Francis

200 years ago today:
Battle of Waterloo

French army NH90
Le Bourget 2015


2015 June 30

No Means Grexit

Joseph Stiglitz

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

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


Ross Clark

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

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

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

2015 June 29

Back to the Future

Stuart Armstrong

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

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

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

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

Can a business be alive?

2015 June 28

Teen romance as fairy tale? We have a winner!

Andy Ross

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

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

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

PDF: 1 page, 57 KB

2015 June 27

Helen Falconer


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

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

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

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

2015 June 26

The Future

Yuval Harari

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

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

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

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

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

The Internet of Things

McKinsey Global Institute

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

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

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

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

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

2015 June 25

UK in Europe

Sir Mike Rake et al. (27 names)

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

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

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

2015 June 24

Global Warming or Cooling?

Steve Connor

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

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

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

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

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

Maurits Cornelis Escher

The Times

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

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


Josh Armstrong

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

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

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

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

2015 June 23


The Independent

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

2015 June 22

New Horizons

National Space Society

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

2015 June 21

The Fifth Gospel

Ian Caldwell

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

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

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

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

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

2015 June 20


Anil Ananthaswamy

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

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

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

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

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

Gravitational Decoherence

New Scientist

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

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

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

Nature Physics, DOI: 10.1038/nphys3366

2015 June 19

The Environment

Pope Francis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Le Monde

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

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

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

2015 June 18

Europe and Waterloo

Michael White

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

Napoleon's Dream

Martin Kettle

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

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

2015 June 17

Rise of the Robots

David Rotman

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

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

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

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

Global Peace Index 2015

Vision of Humanity

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

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

The most peaceful and least peaceful countries:

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

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

2015 June 16


New York Times

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

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

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

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

2015 June 15

Bush Doctrine

George W. Bush

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

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

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

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

AR Looks like Bush versus Clinton in 2016.

UK Looks Feeble

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

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

US Army in Latvia

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

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

Gustav Vigeland
The Ring of Life

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

Josephine Wall
Lakshmi, goddess of
wealth and prosperity


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

AR Popping our bubble!

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

Drawn by Light:
The RPS Collection

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



2015 June 14

Heavy Metal for East Europe

New York Times

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

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


New York Review of Books

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

Beyond Gender

Washington Post

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

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

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

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

2015 June 13

Inside the Islamic State

Malise Ruthven

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

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

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

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

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

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

AR Jamie is good on the Mideast.

2015 June 12

Dark Matter

Priyamvada Natarajan

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

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

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

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

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

2015 June 11


Thomas Piketty

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

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

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

2015 June 10


David Miliband

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

2015 June 9

EU Referendum

Philip Hammond

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

2015 June 8

New Age Dawning

The Guardian

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


The Times

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

2015 June 7

G7 Unity

Associated Press

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

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

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

Beer Breakfast

The Times

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

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

The Special Relationship

James Rubin

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

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


Rowan Williams

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

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

2015 June 6


Donald Rumsfeld

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


Angela Merkel

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

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

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

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

2015 June 5

Humans Hybrid by 2030

Ray Kurzweil

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

2015 June 4

European Union

Emmanuel Macron, Sigmar Gabriel

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

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

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

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

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

IS Breakthrough

The Times

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

2015 June 3



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

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

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

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

2015 June 2


Channel 4

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

UK Armed Forces

Lewis Page

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

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

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

AR A new UK wish list:

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

We could pay for all this by retiring Trident.

2015 June 1

The Reality of Consciousness

Peter Russell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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