The Dark Knight, starring the late Heath Ledger, has been picked in the
UK as the best movie experience of 2008
I saw the movie last night
and found it excessively grisly in its tones and effects, with too little
Paris Hilton reading
Tolstoy's War and Peace
One of the commonest
complaints by cultural doomsayers is that nobody reads good books any more.
Yet in the past two years, the Oprah Book Club in America recommended
Tolstoy's Anna Karenina and three novels by William Faulkner, and they all
made the bestseller lists. The widespread view that societies are dumbing
down, educational standards are crumbling and people's ability to
concentrate is collapsing cannot be true across the board. A significant
number of people want more intellectually demanding things to see and hear,
Indian Agni missile
2008 December 29
Israel Trying to Prevent Another Hizbullah
Meir Javedanfar, Jerusalem
One reason Israel has targeted Hamas's military infrastructure in
such an overwhelming manner is because Jerusalem does not want the movement
to turn into another Hizbullah. Israel does not want Hamas to develop a
deterrence capability. Fatah probably shares Israel's concerns. Palestinian
Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has been trying for the last two months to
reach a deal with Hamas on the issue of presidential elections after his
term expires on January 9. Had Hamas been able to develop its deterrence
capability and military infrastructure, it would have been much more
difficult for Fatah and Egypt to create some kind of reconciliation in
The Recklessness of Hamas
Seth Freedman, The Guardian
The last time I visited the embattled town of Sderot, I encountered a
furious young resident who spat out his solution for his community's plight.
"We have to kill all the militants [who are launching the Kassams]", he
declared. "It's the only way to bring quiet back to the town. They had the
chance to stop the rockets after we pulled out of Gaza, but they chose to
carry on. I know they're suffering in Gaza too, but that doesn't excuse
helping the terrorists attack us — they bring it on themselves".
2008 December 27
Iraq: Mission Accomplished?
Christians in Iraq face a "bleak
future," said Joseph Kassab, executive director of the Chaldean Federation
of America, a nonprofit group that helps Iraqi Christians. "We are heading
for a demise," he said. "It's getting to the point where it might be an
ethnic cleansing in the future." Daily intimidation has cowed the Christian
community, with crosses removed from churches, priests afraid to wear
clerical garb, the faithful reluctant to attend church, and churches hiring
security guards. Iraq's Christian population has fallen from 1.4 million in
2003 to between 500,000 and 700,000 more recently, according to the U.S.
Commission on International Religious Freedom.
2008 Boxing Day
Muhammad: A Prophet For Our Time
By Karen Armstrong (Harper 2006)
Well judged and sympathetic portrait that makes a statement:
prevailing Arab standards, Muhammad's message was tolerant, open,
enlightened, and friendly to Jews Christians, women, and people of other
backgrounds and opinions. Modern Islamists have utterly misrepresented the
message and the recommendations.
New York Times review
2008 December 19
Einsteins spukhafte Fernwirkung gestern, heute und morgen
Weihnachtskolloquium mit Prof. Anton Zeilinger, Universität Wien und
Österreichische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Großer Hörsaal der Physik,
AR A fine lecture, cultivated and
amusing, though no new physical content for me, the ambitious autodidact.
Still, an excellent way to round off the working year.
At A Distance
Colin Barras, New Scientist
Quantum entanglement offers
a new way to transmit information by linking the quantum properties of two
objects such that a change to one is instantly reflected in the other.
Entanglement has been used to securely share pass phrases for secret
communications, but only over distances of less than 200 kilometers. The
inability of quantum memory to hold onto information for more than a
fraction of a second is to blame. Now a way to have that memory store
quantum information could allow entangled communication over longer
distances. Quantum information is stored in qubits. But reading out the
state of a qubit changes that state. Holding onto a memory even for a
fraction of a second is difficult for qubits. That limits the distance over
which entanglement can be used because the state of one qubit must be copied
to a distant qubit. The message is carried by photons which only travel at
light speed. If the first qubit has forgotten the quantum state it
transmitted by the time the photons reach their destination, entanglement
cannot happen. The first qubit must hold onto its memory long enough for the
second to match it. Scientists have now succeeded in creating quantum
memories that last several milliseconds.
2008 December 16
"When The Satanic Verses was published in September 1988, it had been
expected to set the world alight. Salman Rushdie was then perhaps the most
celebrated British novelist of his generation. Almost five years in the
making, there was something mythical about the novel even before it had been
published. Within a month The Satanic Verses had been banned in Rushdie's
native India. And then on 14 February 1989 came the Ayatollah Khomeini's
Kenan Malik, Spiked
AR I bought and read The Satanic Verses
20 years ago. Judged in literary terms, it is an excellent piece of work.
For what it's worth,
I didn't find it blasphemous.
2008 December 15
Hitler's personal library reveals more than words
2008 December 14
My cut of a Giles Fraser blog commenting on Friedrich Nietzsche
philosophizing on the genealogy of morals
2008 December 12
Robots Everywhere by 2020?
Spanish researchers have
carried out a study looking into the potential future impact of robots on
society. They interviewed international experts working on inventing and
adapting cutting edge robots for practical use. All agreed on 2020 as a
technological inflection point. This will follow a revolution in robotics
that will make us see robots as everyday tools. New areas of robot use will
open up. In a medical context, exoskeletons will help disabled people move.
Robots will be inserted into our bodies, for example as intelligent implants
in the brain. Robots will replace people working in the areas of security
and defense. Robots will be intelligent machines to be incorporated into
both domestic and industrial life. Robots will replace workers exposed to
dangerous or unhealthy environments. People will have emotional and even
intimate interactions with social robots. New services will arise to design
and maintain the robots. Incorporating robots into society will result in a
divide between companies and people who can afford to buy robots and those
2008 December 10
Milky Way's Big Black Hole Really Exists
Astronomers say they have
discovered conclusive proof of the supermassive black hole called
Sagittarius A* at the heart of the galaxy. The 16-year study involved
tracking the movement of 28 stars at the center of the Milky Way using
telescopes at the European Southern Observatory in Chile. The astronomers
were able to calculate several properties of the black hole. Professor
Reinhard Genzel, who led the study at the German Max Planck Institute for
Extraterrestrial Physics, said the data collected proved the existence of
the black hole beyond any reasonable doubt.
AR Now we can give black
hole theorist Stephen Hawking his well deserved Nobel Prize.
Quantum Spacetime Delay Gamma Rays?
NASA's Fermi Gamma
Ray Telescope has unveiled the activity of celestial objects that emit
powerful gamma rays. Peter Michelson and Aurelien Bouvier presented some of
the discoveries on December 8. Some of the new findings focus on gamma-ray
bursts, the ephemeral flashes of light that signal the most powerful
explosions in the universe since the Big Bang. A time delay of 5 s between
the onset of high- and low-energy emissions in a burst discovered on
September 19 suggests that the high-energy gamma rays from bursts might have
a different origin than the lower-energy radiation. A speculative theory of
quantum gravity could explain at least part of the delay, Bouvier said. The
highest energy (13 GeV) photons from the September 19 event arrived 16.5 s
later than the lowest energy emissions. Spectra of the visible-light
afterglow of the burst reveal an origin 12.2 billion light-years from Earth.
Some theories of quantum gravity predict that because spacetime is like a
foamy sea on its tiniest scale, not all photons would travel at the same
speed. Those with higher frequencies would travel more slowly. The effect
would be tiny, but over billions of light-years it might be detectable.
AR Exactly this effect was predicted by loop quantum gravity theorist Lee
2008 December 9
Chris Hitchens fires a heartfelt broadside on Mumbai
2008 December 8
Pakistan's Spies Aided Group Tied to Mumbai Siege
The New York Times
Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistan-based militant group suspected of conducting
the Mumbai attacks, has quietly gained strength in recent years with the
help of Pakistan's main spy service, assistance that has allowed the group
to train and raise money while other militants have been under siege,
American intelligence and counterterrorism officials say. The spy service,
the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, has shared
intelligence with Lashkar and provided protection for it, the officials
Pakistan Spy Head Linked to Terror Groups
The Times of India
Lieutenant-General Hamid Gul, former head of Pakistan's Inter-Services
Intelligence agency said that the United States wants him on a UN list of
people and organizations linked to al-Qaida and the Taliban. The agency is
currently under scrutiny because of its past links with Lashkar-e-Taiba, the
Kashmir jihadi organization that India and US officials suspect supplied the
gunmen who killed more than 160 people in the attack on Mumbai.
2008 December 7
Asma Assad, Syrian First Lady
Margarette Driscoll, The Sunday Times
From the moment she married Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, eight
years ago, British-born Asma Assad caused ripples. The first thing she did
was to disappear from public view for three months to travel around the
country incognito to assess Syria's problems for herself and get to know
people. Now she is 33, and the Assads have three children.
is the daughter of a prominent cardiologist and grew up in London, where she
won a first in computer science at King's College London. She spent two
years at Deutsche Bank, then joined JP Morgan. Her mother was first
secretary at the Syrian embassy in London, and her family home is in western
Her husband was never meant to be president. His father Hafez
seized power in 1970 and the presidency was expected to pass to his oldest
son, Basil. Bashar studied medicine and moved to London to specialize in
ophthalmology. Then Basil was killed in a car crash in 1994, and Bashar
assumed office when his father died in 2000.
Bashar has quietly
liberalized what was a stolid, socialist economy, welcomed private banks and
foreign investment, and begun to open up the internet. Asma talks fluently
of Syria's economic situation and the overhaul of its education system.
The Idea of Pakistan
By Stephen P. Cohen
Brookings Institution Press
Pakistan is close to becoming a failed
state. Anti-American sentiments are on the rise. Its population is growing
by 2.9 percent annually and is set to reach 219 million by 2015. The large
youth bulge will find no economic opportunity in their country. In the last
two decades Pakistan's economy has declined considerably, resulting in a
governmental policy of ignoring issues such as health, education, and other
social services that compete with the military budget. According to Cohen,
Pakistan is run by an establishment comprised of the senior ranks of the
military, the civil service, key members of the judiciary, and other elites.
This group believes that India has to be countered, nuclear weapons have
secured Pakistan, Kashmir is the unfinished part of the partition plan,
major social reforms are unacceptable, vocal Islamic nationalism is
desirable, and Washington should not be trusted.
adapted from a review by Rizwan Zeb
2008 December 6
Robert Gates on US national defense strategy
The British character has
deteriorated, says Theodore Dalrymple
Pakistanis Mistrust India
Candace Rondeaux, Washington Post
As more details emerge about
alleged Pakistani links to the three-day siege in India's financial capital
last week, a rare national unity is coalescing in Pakistan, centered on its
old enemy. Tensions with India have prompted pledges of support for the
government even from the Taliban, the growing insurgent force based on the
tribal agencies of the country's North-West Frontier Province. This week,
several leaders of armed Islamist groups in that region vowed to lay down
their arms against the government and stand with Pakistan's military in the
event of a clash with India. Pakistani intelligence officials said they
welcomed the offers of support.
Since its founding in 1947, Pakistan
has been ruled by a succession of military generals, wavering all the while
between war and tense detente with India. Civilian governments have
historically been short-lived and widely seen as ineffectual against threats
to national security. Overwhelmed by economic crisis and the threat from
insurgents, the new civilian government has failed to mend the country's
divisions and bring the military establishment to heel. Samina Ahmed,
Pakistan director for the International Crisis Group, said conflict with
India will remain imminent until the clash between the military and civilian
cultures is resolved in Pakistan.
2008 December 1
Heading Off Doomsday
Anatole Kaletsky, The Times
The rally in global
stock markets and the rebound in currencies began within
minutes of a leak that Barack Obama was about to announce his new Treasury
team: Timothy Geithner, Larry Summers, and Paul Volcker. At last the US
economy would be put under adult supervision by competent economists. The
new economic team's decision that the Fed could refinance the US mortgage
and consumer credit market immediately triggered a drop in mortgage rates
and an increase in the supply of new lending. The Obama team may have stopped Henry Paulson's Doomsday Machine.
Richard Garner, The Independent
The big difference between the education system in Sweden and the UK is that
in Sweden parents are given an educational voucher for each child, and they
use that voucher to apply for any school they want to. Bertil Ostoberg, the
Swedish Secretary of State for Education, said the scheme provides freedom
of choice for parents and pupils and that competition has led to higher
quality in the system. The number of schools that are run by private
companies and are allowed to make a profit has increased dramatically.
A German rocket enthusiast
with his model V2 at a meet
in the USA
shows how peaceful
the craft of rocketry can be
The RAF bombed V2
sites mercilessly in 1945, and rightly too, but now I have no problem
befriending German rocketeers
Pakistani Ghauri missile
haven't read this book but
CNN pundit Fareed Zakaria recommended it
The Dalai Lama believes
life of celibacy offers
more peace of mind
forces deserve a "VI Day" to achieve closure on an expensive mess?
Albatross DV, Lt Friedrich Ritter von Roth, Jasta 23B, 1918
NASA Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST):
now the Fermi
2008 November 30
James Gleick, The New York Times
publishers and Google have reached a historic agreement to allow the
scanning and digitizing of the world's books. The class action suit
Authors Guild versus Google was filed in 2005 when Google embarked on a
program of digitizing every book it could get its hands on. Now over
seven million titles have been scanned. Many are in the public domain
and many are still available in bookstores, but millions of them are
protected by copyright yet out of print. The authors have persuaded
Google to bring these millions back to commercial life. Under the
agreement, any money made from these books will go mostly to the
rights-holders. The book world is being resurrected.
The Worst Is
Yet To Come
A Banker, The New York Times
We are bailing out the
banks because of their greedy and deceptive lending practices in the
mortgage industry. As people begin to lose their jobs, they will not be
able to pay their credit card bills either. Over my career, I have seen
thousands of consumers that have credit card lines in excess of their
annual salaries. Some are sinking under their burden. The banks reel in
the consumer and lure them into overextending. This has got to stop.
Default rates are on the rise. If Congress doesn't act today, the
bankers will asking to be bailed out once again with our tax dollars.
Kenneth Branagh is Kurt Wallander
Paul Hoggart, The Times
hello to Inspector Kurt Wallander, the new detective on the TV block.
Dark Scandinavian thrillers are a seething sub-genre within crime
fiction, but Henning Mankell's sleuth is a global phenomenon, translated
into 40 languages. In Germany he outsells Harry Potter.
Wallander's domestic life is a shambles, because his mind seems to be
constantly elsewhere, turning over the details of his cases as he tries
to make small-talk over tea and rye-bread. Kenneth Branagh's performance
is understated, ruminative, warm, sensitive and depressed. Mankell
himself has seen the first episode and said he "liked it enormously".
2008 November 25
Paul Krugman on the crisis and how to survive it
2008 November 23
US Finance Gurus Get Risk All Wrong
Benoit Mandelbrot, Nassim
Fortune Magazine, July 11, 2005
world is driven primarily by random jumps. Yet the common tools of
finance were designed for random walks in which the market always moves
in baby steps. Despite increasing empirical evidence that concentration
and jumps better characterize market reality, the reliance on the random
walk, the bell-shaped curve, and their spawn of alphas and betas is
accelerating, widening a tragic gap between reality and the standard
tools of financial measurement.
A better theory is needed, and
one exists: the fractal theory of risk, ruin, and return. In this
approach, concentration and random jumps are not belated fudges but the
point of departure. ... In bell-curve finance, the chance of big drops
is vanishingly small and is thus ignored. The 1987 stock market crash
was, according to such models, something that could happen only once in
several billion billion years. In power-law finance, big drops — while
certainly less likely than small ones — remain a real and calculable
Fractal finance, alas, has not yet earned a place in
the MBA curriculum. Until that happy day, what is a person with money at
stake to do? ... Understand that conventional measures of risk severely
underestimate potential losses — and gains. For better or worse, your
exposure is larger than you think.
The Sunday Times
I write to you from a US federal prison. It is a
little like going back to boarding school, which I somewhat enjoyed
nearly 50 years ago and is a sharp change of pace after 16 years as
chairman of The Daily Telegraph. My appeal continues. Given the
putrefaction of the US justice system, it is an honour to fight this
out. The initial allegation against me of a "$500m corporate
kleptocracy" has shrunk to a false finding against me of the
underdocumented receipt of $2.9m. There is no evidence to support this
US federal prosecutors, almost all of whom would be disbarred
for their antics if they were in Britain or Canada, win more than 90% of
their cases thanks to the withering of the constitutional guarantees of
due process. The system is based on the plea bargain: the barefaced
exchange of incriminating testimony for immunity or a reduced sentence.
It is intimidation and suborned or extorted perjury, an outright rape of
any plausible definition of justice.
2008 November 22
The international system will be almost unrecognizable by 2025
2008 November 21
Understanding the genome
2008 November 16
"Use it or lose it. The plasticity of the brain means that it is able,
in the face of injury or decay, to find ways of adapting itself to
preserve strong patterns of activity. Read books, good books — nothing
Bryan Appleyard on buffing the brain
and schizophrenia represent opposite ends of a spectrum that includes
most psychiatric and developmental brain disorders. Emotional problems
like depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder appear with schizophrenia
on Mom's side, while Asperger's syndrome and other social deficits are
Benedict Carey on mental disorders
2008 November 15
"Researchers have settled on what they believe is a magic number for
true expertise: 10,000 hours, which is equivalent to roughly three hours
a day, or 20 hours a week, of practice over 10 years. It seems that it
takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to
achieve true mastery."
Malcolm Gladwell on extreme achievement
2008 November 14
Prince Charles, 60 today, posing as a Ruritanian waxwork
is all permitted?
Paul Bloom, Slate
Psychologists Ara Norenzayan and Azim Shariff say their experimental
finding that religious people are more generous than atheists is the
result of an evolutionary imperative to care about one's reputation. If
you think about God, you believe someone is watching. But the Danes and
the Swedes are probably the most godless people on Earth, yet they're
nice to one another.
The Danes and the Swedes have strong
communities. In fact, most Danes and Swedes identify themselves as
Christian. They just don't believe in God. Scandinavian Christians are a
lot like American Jews, who are also highly secularized in belief and
practice, have strong communal feelings, and tend to be well-behaved.
The sorry state of American atheists may be the result of their outsider
status within a highly religious country.
Norenzayan and Shariff say they found that only in
contexts where the reputations of participants are at stake do religious
folk tend to act more generously than their nonreligious peers. And they
point out that communal solidarity can benefit members while wreaking
havoc on those who fall on the wrong side of group boundaries. The important
part of religion is the people around you, not the gods above.
2008 November 13
Ludwig Wittgenstein began by trying to reduce all mathematics to logic
and ended by finding most metaphysics to be nonsense.
His family was
2008 November 11
Naomi the Novelist
Sarah Birke, The Times
A Borders survey of the
150 bestselling authors found they were evenly distributed across the
zodiac signs ... according to Borders' fiction buyer: "One literary
Gemini who wasn't included is the supermodel Naomi Campbell, whose novel
Swan is considered to be one of the worst books ever written."
Many years ago at the Frankfurt Book Fair, I was in search of a
publisher for my blockbuster sci-fi novel
Lifeball. As I summoned the
courage to approach the booth of a major British publisher, I was
ungraciously crowded out by an excited throng surrounding Naomi
Campbell, who there and then signed the contract for her novel Swan.
Mitchell J. Feigenbaum, Rockefeller
The Lorentz transformations and the kinematic content and
dynamical framework of special relativity are an extension of Galileo's
thoughts. The theories of relativity are logically independent of any
properties of light. The thoughts of Galileo are fully realized in a
system of Lorentz transformations with a parameter 1/c2 as a universal
constant of nature.
AR As a teenager, I read about relativity many
times as I tried to get my head around it. Later it began to seem much
less strange. Still, I thought, Galileo almost had it and maybe photons
travel at slightly less than speed c. So I guess Feigenbaum is right,
but now I have to find time to read his paper and check the details.
2008 November 9
Billionaire George Soros explains the financial crisis
2008 November 7
Light on Dark Matter
Steve Connor, The Independent
A team of
cosmologists believes it has found a way of discovering what the
universe is made of. About 85 per cent is neither stars nor planets but
some form of dark matter. Now the problem may soon be solved, thanks to
the results of a vast computer simulation of the Milky Way galaxy that
has provided the first cosmic map of where dark matter can be found. The
results, published in Nature, took 3.5 million hours of computer
processing time to calculate. They predict that there are regions near
the center of the Milky Way where dark matter will emit a glow of gamma
radiation that could be detected by the Fermi telescope launched by NASA
earlier this year.
2008 November 6
Michael Eisenstadt asserts that Obama will be a wartime president
2008 November 5
The Next President
The New York Times
Showing extraordinary focus
and quiet certainty, Mr. Obama swept away one political presumption
after another. His triumph was decisive and sweeping, because he saw
what is wrong with this country: the utter failure of government to
protect its citizens. He offered a government that does not try to solve
every problem but will do those things beyond the power of individual
citizens: to regulate the economy fairly, keep the air clean and the
food safe, ensure that the sick have access to health care, and educate
children to compete in a globalized world. Mr. Obama spoke candidly of
the failure of Republican economic policies that promised to lift all
Americans but left so many millions far behind. He committed himself to
ending a bloody and pointless war. He promised to restore Americans’
civil liberties and their tattered reputation around the world.
Does Obama have a Jewish soul?
Yaakov Katz, The Jerusalem Post
Abner Mikva, 82, is an elder statesman on Chicago's South Side. Mikva
went to the University of Chicago's Law School and served in the
Illinois House of Representatives and in the US Congress from 1969 until
1979. He was something of a mentor to Obama as the Illinois state
senator made his first move into national politics in 2000. They became
close friends earlier on the University of Chicago campus where they
were both teaching law. Regarding concern in Israel about an Obama
presidency, Mikva said: "Barack will be the first Jewish president in
the US. He has a yiddishe nishama [Jewish soul]. He is committed to
Israel and its security concerns and understands that democratization
does not happen by force but by example, and there is no better example
in the Middle East than Israel."
2008 November 4
Manned mission to Mars boost after British breakthrough
Alleyne, Daily Telegraph
A manned mission to Mars is a step closer to
reality after British scientists overcame one of its biggest obstacles —
shielding astronauts from deadly solar storms. British researchers
believe they have come up with a practical solution by mimicking the
Earth's own protection — a magnetic field that deflects the fatal
particles. Professor Bob Bingham, a theoretical physicist at the
University of Strathclyde, said the team were currently patenting their
technology and could have a working prototype within five years. "This
system creates a Magnetic Field Bubble that would deflect the dangerous
radiation away from the spacecraft."
2008 November 3
Is Richard Dawkins a recruiter for creationism?
Decca Aitkenhead, The
In 2006, Richard Dawkins published The God Delusion, a
scorching manifesto for secularism. Even by the standards of Dawkins'
1976 bestseller, The Selfish Gene, it was a spectacular success, with
sales exceeding 1.5 million.
When I ask Dawkins, now 67, if he feels
that public understanding of science has improved during his career, he
looks doubtful. In his view, there is a battle taking place in Britain
between the forces of reason and religious fundamentalism, and it is far
from won. In fact, Dawkins has been described as "the biggest recruiter
for creationism in this country". Critics accuse him of an imaginative
failure when it comes to human nature's susceptibility to the comfort of
Dawkins has a theory about this. "We've all been
brought up with the view that religion has some kind of special
privileged status. You're not allowed to criticise it. And therefore, if
you offer even a fairly mild criticism, it really does sound strident,
because it violates this expectation that religion is out of bounds."
Like most rationalists, Dawkins tends to invoke people's innate
intelligence, and attribute their flawed ways of thinking to ignorance
rather than stupidity. "But I don't have any evidence," he concedes.
2008 November 2
Kenneth Branagh stars in BBC series of Kurt Wallander stories
Rampton, Sunday Telegraph
Ystad, on the southern tip of Sweden, is a
quiet seaside town. But in the bestselling detective fiction of Henning
Mankell, there is a crime rate to match Los Angeles. Standing between
Ystad and anarchy is detective Kurt Wallander. The BBC has snapped up
the rights to Mankell's novels and turned them into a gripping series
starring Kenneth Branagh. Branagh brings real depth to the character, a
troubled man profoundly affected by the crimes he witnesses. When I
arrive in Ystad, the 60-year-old Mankell is on set. "I have seen some of
the footage and I'm enormously impressed," he says. The books, which go
under the umbrella title of The Kurt Wallander Mysteries, are a global
phenomenon, selling 25 million copies.
2008 November 1
Kant believes that punishment must be retributive. We should punish
wrongdoers to the degree that matches the gravity of their crime, including
the death penalty for murderers. For Kant, what matters above all is
respecting the inner core of moral personhood we all carry within us. And
justice means holding moral agents responsible for their actions.
Rosen on Allen Wood on Immanuel Kant
Wall Street collapse
"The software models [that
triggered the financial crisis] estimate the level of financial risk of a
portfolio for a set period at a certain confidence level. As Benoit
Mandelbrot, the fractal pioneer who is a longtime critic of mainstream
financial theory, wrote in Scientific American in 1999, established modeling
techniques presume falsely that radically large market shifts are unlikely
and that all price changes are statistically independent; today's
fluctuations have nothing to do with tomorrow's - and one bank's portfolio
is unrelated to the next's. Here is where reality and rocket science
Mandelbrot agrees with Soros
Standard Model seems OK
A team of European researchers undertook the task
of calculating the mass of hadrons, such as protons and neutrons, from the
bottom up, using the basic assumptions of quantum chromodynamics, the theory
of how gluons bind quarks together via the strong nuclear force. Physicist
Stephan Dürr of the John von Neumann Institute for Computing in Jülich,
Germany, and his collaborators broke down space and time into a
four-dimensional lattice, then extrapolated what the subatomic world would
look like, virtual particles and all, as the spacing of the lattice spacing
shrank to zero. The masses Dürr and his co-authors found via their
supercomputer aligned closely with experimental observation, helping to
confirm that the Standard Model is on the right track.
Spad XIII, Eddie Rickenbacker, 94th Pursuit Squadron, 1918
NASA/DOE/International LAT Team
sky revealed by GLAST, now Fermi
2008 October 28
Chris Hitchens on Sarah Palin's ignorance
2008 October 27
Brains unveiled — stunning images
2008 October 26
Irwin Stelzer, The Sunday Times
The world of finance
capitalism will change. Rating agencies will become more parsimonious about
issuing triple-A ratings. Mortgage originators will retain some of the
default risk associated with the loans they write. Banks will have more
shareholder capital behind the loans they make. And throughout capital
markets, transparency will be the watchword.
Jacking into the brain
Gary Stix, Scientific American
We do not yet understand the mechanisms of
neural functioning needed to feed information into the brain. This may
require inserting electrodes directly into tissue. Unraveling the neural
code is difficult. Writing to the brain may remain a dream lost in
2008 October 22
Algis Budrys wrote wonderful stories about identity and alienation
2008 October 21
Keynes is not enough, Mr Darling
Dominic Lawson, The Independent
Public debt in the UK is no less than 127 per cent of GDP. Since a dramatic
increase in public expenditure above these levels would lead to a run on the
pound, the Chancellor is casting around for someone other than the
Government to do the pump-priming. His eyes have lit on the humiliated
commercial banks. Alistair Darling believed that he had no choice but to
help recapitalise the banks, but he needed an undertaking by the banks to be
nice. The new Business Secretary, Lord Mandelson of Foy, has the right idea.
2008 October 20
MIT chemist Daniel Nocera finds a new way to make hydrogen:
Sun + Water =
A sentimental review of American outlaws living high on hogs:
2008 October 16
Were quants responsible for the financial crisis?
Sean Dodson, The
The people who write the software that drove the
derivatives markets that drove the financial collapse are called quantities
analysts. These "quants" are generally physics and mathematics graduates
working in risk management and derivatives pricing, which entails putting a
figure on trades that bet on other trades.
As Richard Dooling wrote
in the New York Times: "Somehow the genius quants — the best and brightest
geeks Wall Street firms could buy — fed $1 trillion in subprime mortgage
debt into their supercomputers, added some derivatives, massaged the
arrangements with computer algorithms and — poof! — created
in imaginary wealth."
As George Dyson (son of the quantum physicist
Freeman) wrote in Edge: "The problem starts, as the current crisis
demonstrates, when unregulated replication is applied to money itself.
Highly complex computer-generated financial instruments (known as
derivatives) are being produced, not from natural factors of production or
other goods, but purely from other financial instruments."
Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT, above) is planned to be built over the next
decade. Its optics system will use about six lasers to measure atmospheric
turbulence. An array of lasers can provide a 3D picture of distortions over
a wide area and at different heights in the atmosphere. The wave-front
sensors will have small apertures for precise measurements, and thousands of
actuators will control a large number of tiny adaptive mirrors.
2008 October 14
Einstein never quite grokked the quantum boys' physics
2008 October 12
Peter Berkowitz offers a careful study of Hobbes' Leviathan
2008 October 9
Still no TV channels or web connectivity in my new apartment
The 21st century will be an era in which the very nature of what it
means to be human will be both enriched and challenged as our species breaks
the shackles of its genetic legacy and achieves inconceivable heights of
intelligence, material progress, and longevity. The ramifications of these
changes will be profound, and the threats they pose considerable.
this forthcoming movie, futurist Ray Kurzweil presents a view of the coming
age that is both a dramatic culmination of centuries of technological
ingenuity and an inspiring vision of our ultimate destiny.
SAP has place in clouds
Panelists at the Cloud Summit Executive
conference at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, say
cloud computing is coming. SAP CTO Vishal Sikka said large enterprise
software makers like SAP have a place in clouds. Cloud computing has the
following core characteristics: transparent scalability, usage-based
billing, and off-premises operation.
Is Religion Prosocial?
A. Norenzayan, A.F. Shariff
Religion encourages people to sacrifice their individual fitness for the
benefit of unrelated individuals or for their group. Being watched by a
Big-Brother-in-the-Sky tends to make believers nervous about being selfish.
The larger a society, the more likely its members believe in deities that
are concerned about human morality. A Big-Brother-in-the-Sky can watch how
your fellow citizens behave when you can't. But the modern world is headed
toward a transparent society in which social monitoring will be omnipresent.
Sky Big Brother is being outsourced to the Web.