Eugene Richards/ The New York Times
Freeman Dyson at home
Shilpa Shetty was born in 1975
in Karnatka, India, and made her name in Bollywood. Her parents were models
and her younger sister is also a movie actress. She is 178 cm tall and has a
black belt in karate.
Brain on a Chip
MIT Technology Review
A new silicon chip designed to function like a human brain can simulate
human learning better than any other machine. It has 200,000 neurons linked
up by 50 million synaptic connections. The chip was developed as part of the
Fast Analog Computing with Emergent Transient States project (FACETS).
FACETS has been tapping data from the
Blue Brain project, which has
been using vast databases of neurological data to create a hugely complex
and realistic simulation of the brain on an IBM supercomputer. bases. FACETS
researchers model the neurons and synapses as circuits of transistors and
The hardwired approach allows researchers to recreate the brain-like
structure in a parallel way. The current prototype can operate about 100,000
times faster than a real human brain. The synapses use a distributed
algorithm called spike-timing dependent plasticity to learn and adapt to new
situations. The FACETS group now plans a superchip with a billion neurons
and 10 trillion synapses.
Richard Dawkins (right) posing with a young beauty in front of one of the
"No God" buses
Robo-model is a fashion flop
Hadley Freeman, The Guardian
Image: John Templeton Foundation
Explaining Belief in God
Andy Coghlan, New Scientist
Religious belief relies on the same recently evolved brain regions that
divine the feelings and intentions of other people. Researchers found that
such beliefs activate brain areas involved in imagination, memory, and
theory of mind. Functional MRI brain scans were made of 40
religious volunteers as they responded to statements about their beliefs.
The statements activated parts of the neocortex that give humans more
insight than other animals.
David Albert in the movie
What the bleep do we
Image: All Things Digital
Founder and CEO
The next new
voice of Britpop?
2009 March 30
The Civil Heretic
Nicholas Dawidoff, The New York Times
Freeman Dyson lives near the
Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Dyson had proposed that whatever
inflammations the climate was experiencing might be a good thing because
carbon dioxide helps plants of all kinds grow. Then he added that if carbon
dioxide levels soared too high, they could be soothed by the mass
cultivation of specially bred trees. Despite the 21 honorary degrees Dyson
has been awarded, there is the fact that he is 85.
Dyson is a scientist whose intelligence is revered by other scientists, a
mathematics prodigy who came to the USA at 23 and right away contributed
seminal work to physics by unifying quantum and electrodynamic theory,
thinking alongside such figures as Einstein, Richard Feynman, Niels Bohr,
Enrico Fermi, Hans Bethe, Edward Teller, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Edward
As a boy, Dyson sketched plans for rocket ships that could explore the
stars, and then, in midlife, he helped design a spacecraft to be powered by
exploding atomic bombs. Dyson remains an armchair astronaut who speculates
about the coming of cheap space travel, when families can leave the earth to
homestead on asteroids and comets, swooping around via solar sail craft.
Dyson is convinced that our current age of computers will soon give way to
the age of domesticated biotechnology.
Dyson's dissension from the orthodoxy of global warming is significant
because of his stature and his devotion to the integrity of science. When
Dyson expresses concern about the "enormous gaps in our knowledge, the
sparseness of our observations and the superficiality of our theories,"
these reservations come from a place of experience. Dyson is a good
2009 March 29
The narcissists did it. Some commentators are fingering them as the culprits
of the financial meltdown.
Narcissism Epidemic says we went on a national binge of I-deserve-it
consumption that's now resulting in our economic purging.
Narcissistic personality disorder has been officially recognized by the
American Psychiatric Association since 1980, but descriptions of this
syndrome go back to ancient times. In the Greek myth, Narcissus was a
beautiful boy who was unable to love until he saw his own reflection in the
water and died pining away at his image. Elsa Ronningstam, a psychologist at
Harvard Medical School who specializes in NPD, points out the myth is not
really about self-love but the inability to love. Empathy, the ability to
instinctively understand how another person is feeling, is a crucial human
attribute, part of what makes us a social species. A chilling lack of
empathy is a hallmark of NPD. People with NPD act as if they are special
beings who are exceptionally intelligent, accomplished, beautiful, or sexy,
to whom lesser people must bow. According to the APA, about 1 percent of the
general population has NPD.
If our economic troubles result from a mass case of narcissism, from
consumers who thought they should have the house of their dreams financed on
bad debt to bankers who thought they deserved eight-figure bonuses for
packaging that bad debt, then perhaps we are about to be cured.
AR: Amen to that. But curing
the syndrome may be hard. The self is a neurocognitive construct — on which
I heartily recommend the new book by
2009 March 28
Anti-missile systems like Aegis,
Patriot, and Iron Dome are maturing fast
2009 March 26
Thermonuclear Fusion with Lasers
Kevin Bullis, MIT Technology Review
The National Ignition Facility (NIF), at the U.S. Department of Energy's
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), is designed to study nuclear
weapons. NIF will produce tiny thermonuclear explosions that give scientists
insight into what happens when a nuclear bomb goes off.
To initiate fusion, 192 lasers generate TW pulses that will all be focused
at once onto a target fuel pellet 2 mm in diameter. The fuel is deuterium
and tritium. The laser beams will create the megakelvin temperature and
gigapascal pressure needed to ignite a fusion reaction. If all goes well,
some of the nuclei should form helium, releasing a nanosecond burst of
NIF could also become a proof of concept for a fusion power plant. Fusion
poses no danger of nuclear proliferation, produces little waste, and uses
abundant hydrogen and lithium as feedstock, so it could provide plenty of
clean power for many thousands of years.
Competing fusion power plants based on the
International Thermonuclear Experimental
Reactor (ITER) system in France are decades away. ITER will use magnetic
confinement of hot plasma to initiate fusion in a continuous burn.
2009 March 25
David Strahan, New Scientist
Continent-wide high-voltage direct current (HVDC) supergrids may soon help
smooth out the variable levels of power created by large numbers of
scattered renewable-energy generators to make a fully dependable supply.
The supergrid concept is now gaining support in Europe and North America. A
proposed €1.2 billion subsidy could help create such links across Europe.
Meanwhile, the US $150 billion energy plan includes a target of 25 per cent
renewable electricity by 2025, including investment in HVDC lines.
remote electricity generation based largely on concentrating solar power
(CSP) in North Africa and the Middle East. Heat captured during the day can
be stored in molten salts and used to generate electricity overnight.
Desertec says this technology could supply 17 per cent of Europe's power by
2050, imported via HVDC lines.
DC is far more efficient than AC. At the same voltage, it suffers much lower
transmission losses than AC. Huge amounts of power can be transmitted along
single lines. In future, superconducting HVDC cables could even act as
mammoth energy stores to buffer power supplies against variations.
Youssef Ziedan of Egypt wins the International Prize for Arabic Fiction for
his novel Azazeel, English title Beelzebub. Set among early Christians in
Roman Egypt, the novel echoes today with its tale of religious fanaticism
and mob violence.
2009 March 23
Wheel Motors for Buses
Kevin Bullis, MIT Technology Review
A company based in the Netherlands called e-Traction has developed a bus
that uses in-wheel electric motors to improve efficiency and GPS to reduce
pollution in congested areas of a city. The bus is a series hybrid: a diesel
generator charges a battery, which powers two motors, one in each rear
wheel. The bus can travel twice as far as a conventional bus on a liter of
The new system eliminates the need for a transmission, differential, and
related mechanical parts. That reduces both the overall weight of the bus
and energy losses due to friction. The motors also capture energy from
braking and can improve traction by allowing precise control over each
An electronic control system coordinates the motors, which have no
mechanical connection to each other, and the bus includes a GPS input to the
control system. In ordinary operation, the generator cycles on and off, but
when the GPS says the bus is in a city center, the generator switches off to
reduce emissions. The battery can propel the bus for an hour without
The key innovation is in the design of the wheel motors. Typically, electric
motors are designed to spin much faster than the wheels. But such motors
require gears, which add complexity and decrease efficiency. The e-Traction
motor has a large diameter and can deliver high torque at low speeds.
AR: For years I have been of
the firm opinion that this is the future for cars: 4-wheel-drive hybrids
with electric motors in the hubs. The electronic control is the hardest
2009 March 22
The New Humanism
Roger Scruton, American Spectator
A new humanism is now beginning to announce itself in Britain. This humanism
has its own journal, the New Humanist, and its own sages, the most prominent
of whom is Richard Dawkins, vice-president of the British Humanist
Association. But the vision is not that of my parents. Instead of idealizing
man, the new humanism denigrates God.
The British Humanist Association is currently running a campaign against
religious faith. It has bought advertising space on our city buses, which
now patrol the streets declaring: "There's probably no God, now stop
worrying and enjoy your life." My parents would have been appalled at such a
The old humanism was not about deconstructing God. It was a positive
movement, devoted to seeking things worthy of emulation and sacrifice, even
if there is no God to promote them. It was not a pleasure-seeking
philosophy. It was a serious attempt to retain the belief in nobility
without the theological vision on which that belief had once depended.
AR: Roger has always liked that
old noble stoic idea.
2009 March 21
The Ego Tunnel
Thomas Metzinger finally presents the philosophical and psychological view
of the self that he expounded at length in his heavy work Being No One in a
short and popular new book.
Reviews and videos
2009 March 17
P. W. Singer reflects on robot
2009 March 16
Old Age Begins at 27
Urmee Khan, Daily Telegraph
Researchers have found that peoples' mental abilities peak at the age of 22.
Performance is significantly lower than the peak at 27. Memory declines from
an average age of 37 and other abilities are poorer by the age of 42.
However, abilities based on accumulated knowledge, such as performance on
tests of vocabulary or general information, increase until the age of 60.
AR: Maybe my brain is ripe at
last for a writing career.
Templeton Prize 2009
Amanda Gefter, New Scientist
The 2009 Templeton Prize goes to French physicist and philosopher of science
Bernard d'Espagnat for his "studies into the concept of reality".
D'Espagnat, 87, is a professor emeritus of theoretical physics at the
University of Paris-Sud, and is known for his work on quantum mechanics, in
particular on experimental tests of Bell's theorem. D'Espagnat's thesis
advisor was Louis de Broglie, he served as a research assistant to Enrico
Fermi, and he worked in Copenhagen under the direction of Niels Bohr.
D'Espagnat also taught at the University of Texas, Austin, at the invitation
of John Wheeler. The prize is worth £1 million.
AR: D'Espagnat published with
Springer-Verlag and I read one or two of his books some 20 years ago.
2009 March 15
China Worried About U.S. Debt
Anthony Faiola, Washington Post
As the U.S. government's largest creditor, China is worried about its $1
trillion in American bonds. Chinese Premier Wen Jinbao called on the United
States to "maintain its good credit, to honor its promises and to guarantee
the safety of China's assets."
AR: The beginning of the end
for Anglo-Saxon world hegemony
Evolution versus religion: my cut of an
Edge Reality Club debate
2009 March 12
Dan Farber, Cnet
Wolfram has a track record. He received his Ph.D. in theoretical physics
from Caltech in 1979 when he was 20 and has focused most of his career on
probing complex systems. In 1988 he launched
Mathematica, powerful computational software that has become the gold
standard in its field. In 2002, Wolfram produced a 1,280-page tome,
A New Kind of Science.
In May, Wolfram will unveil his latest creation, Wolfram Alpha. It applies
his work to Web search. "All one needs to be able to do is to take questions
people ask in natural language, and represent them in a precise form that
fits into the computations one can do," Wolfram said in a recent blog post.
"I'm happy to say that with a mixture of many clever algorithms and
heuristics, lots of linguistic discovery and linguistic curation, and what
probably amount to some serious theoretical breakthroughs, we're actually
managing to make it work."
Wolfram Alpha is a system for computing the answers to questions. To
accomplish this it uses built-in models of fields of knowledge. You can ask
it scientific questions and it can compute the answers for you. It also has
a natural language interface for asking it questions. The vision seems to be
to create a system which can do for formal knowledge what search engines
have done for informal knowledge. We'll have to wait until May to see
whether it is a breakthrough.
2009 March 11
One World, Under God
Robert Wright, The Atlantic
In all three Abrahamic religions, amity and tolerance cross national or
ethnic bounds when people feel they can gain more through peaceful
interaction than through conflict. Globalization is the culmination of this
trend. None of this guarantees moral progress. If there is some overarching
purpose to history, it is to give our species the choice of either making
moral progress or paying the price.
2009 March 10
Money as Debt (video, 47 min)
2009 March 9
The Killer Formula
Felix Salmon, Wired Magazine
A year ago, David X. Li's formula, known as a Gaussian copula function,
looked like a breakthrough. It was a piece of financial technology that
allowed hugely complex risks to be modeled with more ease and accuracy than
ever before. With his brilliant mathematics, Li enabled traders to expand
financial markets to unprecedented levels.
In statistics, a copula is a way of formulating a multivariate distribution
to represent various general types of dependence. The idea is to transform
each marginal variable to give it a uniform distribution. The copula then
expresses the dependence structure as a multivariate distribution on the
Copulas are used in the pricing of collateralized debt obligations.
Dependence modeling with copula functions is widely used in applications of
financial risk assessment and actuarial analysis. David X. Li developed the
methodology of applying the Gaussian copula to credit derivatives.
2009 March 8
Star Trek — the
A Quantum Threat to Special Relativity
David Z. Albert and Rivka Galchen, Scientific American
The combination of quantum mechanics and special relativity contradicts a
primordial intuition. We believe that everything there is to say about the
world can in principle be put into the form of a narrative sequence of
propositions about spatial configurations of the world at specific times.
But entanglement and special relativity together imply that the physical
history of the world is far too rich for that.
My cut of the article
in 2006, Roderich Tumulka
showed that a reasonable relativistic model of wavefunction collapse was
nonlocal and violated Bell's inequality though it had no way to synchronize
spacelike separated points. The model implies temporal entanglements.
Einstein would have been perplexed.
2009 March 6
British art bubble before the crisis: British artist Marc Quinn's 50 kg
solid gold sculpture of British supermodel Kate Moss cost more than £1.5
million to make and was unveiled at the British Museum, London, in October
Yet another review of
2009 March 3
Wald, MIT Technology Review
have designed a nuclear reactor that requires only a small amount of
enriched fuel. The new reactor gradually converts depleted uranium into the
fuel it needs. Nuclear reactors based on such designs could run for many
decades without refueling.
Conventional reactors use enriched uranium containing an increased
proportion of uranium 235. At most every 2 years, the reactor must be opened
and the fuel rods replaced and reshuffled for the next run. But an
enrichment plant can just as easily make highly enriched material for a
The new traveling-wave reactor needs only a very small amount of enriched
uranium. Most of the core is U 238, thousands of tons of which are
stockpiled as depleted leftovers from natural uranium after the U 235 has
The reactor converts the uranium 238 into plutonium 239. Conventional
reactors also produce Pu 239, but using it requires removing the spent fuel,
chopping it up, and chemically extracting the plutonium, a task that is also
a major step toward building an atomic bomb. The new reactor both breeds and
burns plutonium at once as a burn wave less than a meter thick travels
slowly through the core, breeding new plutonium in front of it.
AR: Thank you, Nathan — at last
a "green" breeder reactor.
2009 March 2
The Special Relationship
Gordon Brown, The Times
Historians will look back and say this was a defining moment. Rebuilding
global financial stability is a global challenge that needs global
solutions. Globalisation is not an option, it is a fact.
President Obama and I will discuss this week a global new deal.
This includes six elements:
1. Universal action to prevent
the crisis spreading, to stimulate
the global economy and to help reduce the severity and length
of the global recession.
2. Action to kick-start lending
so that families and businesses
can borrow again.
3. All countries renouncing
protectionism, with a transparent
mechanism to monitor commitments.
4. Reform of international
regulation to close regulatory gaps so
shadow banking systems have nowhere to hide.
5. Reform of our international
financial institutions and the
creation of an international early warning system.
6. Coordinated international
action to put the world economy on
a sustainable path towards future growth and recovery.
Winston Churchill described the joint inheritance of Britain and America as
not just a shared history but a shared belief in the great principles of
freedom and the rights of man — what Barack Obama has described as the
enduring power of our ideals — democracy, liberty, opportunity and
AR: Flash Gordon saving the
world again — good luck!
Dennis Howlett, AccMan
SAP mentors are super bright and capable of moving needles. They could help
SAP do extraordinary things. They live in the trenches and know what's what.
They could genuinely amp the game and so provide an essential first step in
sorting out SAP's uncontrolled ecosystem.
SAP needs to do a lot more than simply adopt the default position of
freezing hires, freezing salary increments, slashing expenses. That's
business as usual. Go from a transactional relationship to an emotional
relationship with your customers.
AR: SAP can save companies. We
could be expanding. Promise to save a company within three years for a
million down now — risky for us but a great spur to mentor creativity.
Eugene Richards / The New York Times
Freeman Dyson at work
The tokamak concept of ITER: Hot plasma (yellow) circles in a containment
torus (blue) and is compressed by superconducting magnets (red). The plasma
is controlled by a neuronet with nanosecond reaction times.
Déjà vu may soon be explained.
Psychologist Anne Cleary says déjà vu may be based on a memory fragment that
comes from something subtle, such as similarity between the configuration of
Chris Moulin and Akira O'Connor think erroneous activity in the brain
may lead to misplaced feelings of familiarity, perhaps as a dissociation
between familiarity and recall.
John Aggleton and Malcolm Brown review brain imaging studies to show that
different parts of the medial temporal lobe handle different aspects of
memory recall. While the hippocampus mediates recollection, the feeling of
familiarity may come from the parahippocampus.
Cognitive neuroscientist Stefan Köhler emphasizes the role of emotion in
generating the sense of weirdness in déjà vu. Inappropriate emotional
arousal may make us believe incorrectly that something is familiar.
Do your humanist duty and
buy a "No God" teeshirt immediately!
Image: John Templeton Foundation
Sir John Templeton
Rachel Zoll, AP
The percentage of Christians in the U.S.A. has declined and more people, 15
percent, say they have no religion at all, according to the American
Religious Identification Survey. Vermont reported the highest share of those
claiming no religion, at 34 percent, but the number of Americans declaring
no religion rose in every state.
Selfless Genes: Groups,
Species, and Ecosystems
Sir Michael Dummett in 2004
Schock laureate 1995
Image: Bryan Christie Design
The traveling-wave reactor uses natural or depleted uranium fuel (green block).
In a wave that moves through the core at a centimeter per year, this fuel is
transmuted into plutonium (yellow), which then undergoes fission (red) to leave
relatively harmless waste (black). The reactor uses liquid sodium (tank below fuel
block) as a coolant and runs at about 800 K.
scene from the movie
Murad Ahmed,The Times
The front line in the wars of the future will be machines. A massive,
unmanned air force will scour the skies over a city, while robots will
patrol the streets. Only then will human beings arrive, protected by fast
armored vehicles half the weight of today's tanks and ground troops with
robot mules carrying equipment.
This was the vision of the future set out by the Ministry of Defence as it
launched its Defence Technology Plan. Launching the plan, Quentin Davies,
Minister for Defence Equipment and Support, said new technology would never
replace the need for real soldiers out on the battlefield.
Kate Winslet, best actress
Avigdor Lieberman, Kingmaker
Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz
Yisrael Beiteinu's declaration that loyalty should be a condition for
citizenship was not the party's only flagship issue. A glance at the party's
platform reveals that Yisrael Beiteinu "vehemently opposes a separation of
religion and state, and not only because this is liable to cause enormous
internal tensions that could completely split society. The uniqueness of the
Jewish people is that there is no separation between religion and state."
Party boss Avigdor Lieberman declares that the state should be religious,
but the rabbis should not be the ones who determine what this means. In his
mind's eye, he sees a relationship between the government and the rabbinate
very similar to the one between Vladimir Putin's Kremlin and the Russian
Orthodox Church. Judaism according to Lieberman is a nationalist and
chauvinist religion, a tool in the service of the state and the strongman
who heads it.
AR: What a Bolshie!
At the Brit Awards, Duffy was named best female solo artist and best
breakthrough artist, and won the award for best album with her soulful debut
Rockferry. Blinking back tears, the 24-year-old said: "I travelled this
whole country from Wales to London and back again a thousand times, playing
my songs to old ladies. Thank you to the British public, I can't tell you
what this means after five years."
Britain: HMS Vanguard
Waseda University: Robot Twenty-One
Richard Dawkins presents the genius of Charles Darwin, available now
on DVD, voted
Best Documentary Series 2009
Ray: Live long enough to
Israeli president Shimon Peres, Monday: "If we bring down Hamas, we will
find ourselves responsible for Gaza, and for its reconstruction, development
AR: Indeed, but this must be
better than turning Gaza into a Palestinian cemetery.
Israel Must Grab Corridor
David Eshel, Defense Update
Israel must seize the strategic Philadelphia Corridor along the
Rafah-Egyptian border and establish a line stopping all future weapons
smuggling operations through its tunnels. To be effective, a security line
of about 1000 meters must be established and held by a strong military
force. This area houses over 50,000 Palestinians, mostly refugees, who will
have to be relocated. Hamas must not be allowed to restore its weapons
arsenal, which Iran is already planning to restock with even more lethal
AR: If it is politically
feasible, this may be a good idea.
Israeli Differences on Hamas
Barak Ravid, Haaretz
Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni clashed during
Sunday's cabinet meeting over Israel's response to an Egyptian-brokered deal
for a year-long truce with Hamas in Gaza. Barak spoke in favor of agreeing
to the deal, while Livni held that Israel should reject it. Prime Minister
Ehud Olmert threatened that Israel would issue a "fierce and
disproportionate" response if Gaza militants continued to launch rocket
attacks against southern Israel. "We will act according to new rules that
ensure we will not be dragged into an incessant shootout that prevents us
from living normal lives in the south," he said. Israel holds Hamas
responsible for all attacks emanating from Gaza.
AR: Forget about
proportionality: Israel needs to break Hamas.
2009 February 28
A Fine Pickle
Salman Rushdie, The Guardian
Adaptation, the process by which one thing develops into another thing, by
which one shape or form changes into a different form, is a commonplace
artistic activity. Books are turned into plays and films all the time, plays
are turned into movies and also sometimes into musicals, movies are turned
into Broadway shows and even, by the ugly method known as "novelisation",
into books as well. We live in a world of such transformations and
Slumdog Millionaire, adapted from the novel Q&A by the Indian diplomat Vikas
Swarup and directed by Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan, which won eight
Oscars, including best picture, is a feelgood movie about the dreadful
Bombay slums, an opulently photographed movie about extreme poverty, a
romantic, Bollywoodised look at the harsh, unromantic underbelly of India.
Swarup's novel is a corny potboiler, with a plot that defies belief, a
patently ridiculous conceit. It is faithfully preserved at the heart of the
weirdly renamed Slumdog Millionaire. In an interview, Boyle, when asked why
he had chosen a project so different from his usual material, answered that
he had never been to India and knew nothing about it, so he thought this
project was a great opportunity.
Societies in motion, at a time of rapid change such as the present day,
succeed, as all good adaptations do, by knowing what is essential, what
cannot be compromised, what all their citizens must accept as the price of
membership. For many years now, I'm sorry to say, we have lived through an
era of bad social adaptations, of appeasements and surrenders on the one
hand, of arrogant excesses and coercions on the other.
We can only hope that the worst is over, and that better movies, better
musicals and better times lie ahead.
Rushdie is a great
writer. The full essay behind this outtake is long but well worth reading.
2009 February 27
Barack Obama faces an axis of upheaval. This axis has at least nine members,
and quite possibly more. What unites them is not so much their wicked
intentions as their instability, which the global financial crisis only
makes worse every day. Economic volatility, plus ethnic disintegration, plus
an empire in decline: That combination is about the most lethal in
geopolitics. We now have all three.
Niall Ferguson, Foreign Policy
2009 February 26
Andrew Koppelman, Dissent Magazine
Charles Taylor maintains that secularism and Christianity reveal a common
ancestry in their shared commitment to human rights. The Reformation
inaugurated the priesthood of all believers. An ethos of personal
responsibility and self-discipline became available to everyone.
This became the moral basis of the new scientific method. Technological
control of the world became a way of benefiting the human race. The highest
goal was understood to be human flourishing in a society of mutual benefit.
In this new vision, Christianity is a danger. Religion posits transcendent
goals and is alien to human fulfillment.
A central element of ordinary moral reasoning is strong evaluation: the
"discriminations of right or wrong, better or worse, higher or lower, which
are not rendered valid by our own desires, inclinations, or choices, but
rather stand independent of these and offer standards by which they can be
Secularists are committed to the idea that the commitment to decent
treatment for all human beings is a mandatory criterion for judging our
desires and actions. Knowledge of God's existence has no more secure
epistemic foundation. Taylor endorses a hope directed toward a future
goodness that transcends the current ability to understand what it is.
2009 February 23
Thierry Chervel, Sign and Sight
The Koran is just a story, says
Salman Rushdie in The
Satanic Verses. Ayatollah Khomeini never read the novel, but he was quite
clear about the challenge it contained and he acted accordingly, like the
thunder god he is caricatured as in the novel.
There is a connection between the fatwa and the collapse of the Wall. In
2009, to commemorate only the collapse of the Wall is to tell only half the
story. By threatening to kill Salman Rushdie, Islamism aimed its thunderbolt
directly at the West.
The media reacted in panic. The cultural pages of Europe's newspapers
continue to avoid the subject even now. But the confrontation with Islam and
Islamism is essentially a cultural matter. The fatwa has left a deep imprint
on the West. The fear is rationalized with the word "respect."
Western media failed miserably in the dispute over the Danish Mohammed
cartoons. CNN and BBC pixelated the caricatures, as if they were child
pornography. Yet the drawings were not even insulting to Islam.
The drawings are far more harmless than The Satanic Verses. Rushdie had to
admit he had been mistaken. In the confrontation with Islamism, the Left has
abandoned its principles. The Satanic Verses challenges Europe not to lose
sight of its selfhood.
2009 February 22
Now I'm reading a 1981 history of Zionism and Israel:
The Chariot of Israel by Harold Wilson
Wilson was the British Prime Minister 1964—1970 and 1974—1976. He reports
that in 1921 Winston Churchill ceremonially planted a tree at the site of
the Hebrew University of Jerusalem at Mount Scopus and spoke these words:
"I believe that the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine
will be a blessing to the whole world, a blessing to the Jewish race
scattered all over the world, and a blessing to Great Britain. I firmly
believe that it will be a blessing also to all inhabitants of this country
without distinction of race and religion. This last blessing depends greatly
upon you. ... Every step you take should therefore be also for the moral and
material benefit of all Palestinians. If you do this Palestine will be happy
and prosperous, and peace and concord will always reign ... You Jews of
Palestine have a very great responsibility; you are the representatives of
the Jewish nation all over the world, and your conduct should provide an
example for, and do honour to, Jews in all countries."
Reporting to the Commons in June on his travels, Churchill said:
"I had the opportunity of visiting the colony of Rishon le Zion ... Finally,
when we reached the centre, there were drawn up 300 or 400 of the most
admirable children, of all sizes and sexes, and about an equal number of
white-clothed damsels. We were invited to sample the excellent wines which
the establishment produced, and to inspect the many beauties of the groves.
I defy anybody, after seeing work of this kind, achieved by so much labour,
effort and skill, to say that the British Government, having taken up the
position it has, could cast it all aside and leave it to be rudely and
brutally overturned by the incursion of a fanatical attack by the Arab
population from outside ..."
Speaking to the Commons in March 1922, Churchill said:
"I do not for a moment pretend that the feeling of irritation, suspicion and
inquietude has disappeared from the minds of the Arab population. The Jewish
immigration has been closely watched and controlled from the point of view
of policy. Every effort has been made to secure only good citizens who will
build up the country. We cannot have a country inundated by Bolshevist
riffraff who would wish to subvert institutions in Palestine as they have
done with success in the land from which they came."
AR: Take that, you Bolshies in
2009 February 19
Reading Thoughts with Brain Imaging
Jocelyn Rice, MIT Technology Review
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) looks more and more like a
window into the mind. In a study published online in Nature, researchers at
Vanderbilt University report that from fMRI data alone, they could
distinguish which of two images subjects were holding in their memory, even
several seconds after the images were removed. The study also pinpointed
where in the brain visual working memory is maintained.
"It's been elusive," says
John-Dylan Haynes, a
neuroscientist at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience,
Berlin. "This is a truly brilliant study that now convincingly demonstrates
that the information about fine-grained contents of visual experience is
held online in the early visual cortex across memory periods."
How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization
Ziauddin Sarda, The Times
When Baghdad opened its gates as the new capital of the Abbasid Caliphate,
the prime site in the city was occupied by the royal library. Both the city
and the library, completed around 765 CE, were built by Caliph al-Mansur,
who was second in a long line of Abbasid caliphs who created, shaped and
developed one of the most rich and fertile periods of science in human
The library, called the House of Wisdom, became a magnet for seekers of
knowledge from across the Muslim empire. A return to the glory days when
Arab culture was suffused with a spirit of scientific inquiry requires
science to reach down and take social roots in Muslim societies. And that
will remain a nostalgic dream as long as Muslim lands are under the tutelage
of dictators and despots.
2009 February 18
Britain and France: Coordinate Nuke Subs?
France and Britain may consider coordinating underwater patrols following a
collision between two of their nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed submarines.
French defense minister Hervé Morin denied the subs had been shadowing each
other when they collided in the Atlantic. He said it was a freak accident
between vessels that "make less noise than a shrimp".
AR: Merge the deterrents, put
them under European command.
2009 February 16
Richard Dawkins, The Times Literary Supplement
Polls in both Britain and the United States show a majority wanting
"intelligent design" to be taught in science classes. In Britain, according
to MORI, only 69 percent want evolution to be taught at all. In America,
more than 40 percent believe that "life on Earth has existed in its present
form since the beginning of time" (Pew) and that "God created human beings
pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years
or so" (Gallup).
The least you can say about evolutionary theory is that it works. All but
pedants would go further and assert that it is true. If evolution is an
unfalsified hypothesis, then so is every fact about the real world. The
molecular genetics revolution provides evidence for the fact of evolution
that is orders of magnitude more solid even than the powerful evidence
Darwin could muster.
Sensitive House Robots
The University of Tokyo with private sector partners and the Information and
Robot Technology Research Technology Initiative are moving closer to
creating robots with the fine motor skills for working as housekeepers and
Humanoid robot: video
Military Killer Robots
Leo Lewis, The Times
Autonomous military robots that will fight future wars must be programmed to
live by a strict warrior code or the world risks untold atrocities at their
steely hands, warns a report prepared for the US Department of Navy, Office
of Naval Research, by the Ethics and Emerging Technologies Group, California
State Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo.
Autonomous Military Robotics: Risk, Ethics, and Design
PDF, 112 pages, 1.85 MB
2009 February 15
has just been appointed maths czar by Tory leader David Cameron. Until last
summer, she did maths for the nation on almost 5,000 episodes of the Channel
4 TV numbers quiz show Countdown. The job gave her fame and a £900,000
salary. "I've never claimed to be the world's greatest mathematician. I am a
competent mathematician to a certain level. But I love it."
2009 February 11
A BBC survey on which country has the most positive
influence on world affairs put Germany at number one.
Netanyahu and Livni Contest Victory
Christoph Schult, Der Spiegel
Tzipi Livni won the most votes in Israel's general election Tuesday, but it
will be easier for Benjamin Netanyahu to form a coalition. Still, his
proposed alliance of Likud and ultra-right parties would be the end of the
Kadima and Labor Must Merge
Aluf Benn, Haaretz
A merger of Kadima and Labor would place a bloc of 40 Members of the Knesset
at the center of the political system and restore some stability to the
system. There is no ideological difference between the parties that need be
an obstacle to a merger.
Wilders Banned From UK
Press Association, The Independent
Dutch politician Geert Wilders has been banned from visiting the UK over his
anti-Islam views but said he would come anyway. He plans to show his
controversial film Fitna
at the House of Lords. The Home Office refused him entry to Britain because
his opinions "threaten community security and therefore public security" in
the UK. Wilders said: "I was very surprised and very saddened that the
freedom of speech that I believe was a very strong point in UK society is
being harassed today." Wilders has warned of a "tsunami" of Islam swamping
2009 February 10
"Soon, if you were to have one of the
future ultra-precise atomic-synchronised clocks in your home, the time it
told would be different according to how far up the wall it was fixed."
Matthew Chalmers, New Scientist
Kindle 2 is less than 1 cm thick, weighs 300 g, turns pages faster than its
predecessor, and uses e-ink displaying 16 shades of gray.
2009 February 9
"When Lehman was allowed to go
bankrupt and AIG was saved at the very last minute the system just froze
Matrix der Welt: SAP und der neue globale Kapitalismus
2009 February 7
Did Flash Gordon just save the world?
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown at Davos (ITN video, 2:40)
2009 February 5
reviews the psychosocial origins of religion
2009 February 3
The Singularity University
Ian Grant, ComputerWeekly
Google and NASA are to back a new school led by Ray Kurzweil that will
explore the predicted
Singularity University will offer courses on biotechnology, robotics,
artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology (BRAIN — my acronym). It will be
sited at the NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley.
AR: A school for
hi-tech execs with $$ to burn — but poor timing
"No wonder the British have changed in
character, their sturdy independence replaced by passivity,
querulousness, or even, at the lower reaches of society, a sullen resentment
... For those at the bottom, such money as they receive is, in effect pocket
money, ... reserved for the satisfaction of whims. As a result they are
infantilized. If they behave irresponsibly ... it is because both the
rewards for behaving responsibly and the penalties for behaving
irresponsibly have vanished. ... People with unusually thick skins ascribe
small insults, humiliations and setbacks consequent upon human existence to
vast and malign political forces ... If all cultures are equal, and none has
the right to impose its standards on any other, what is wrong with the
immigrant ghettoes that have emerged, where the population (that is to say
the male population) enjoys de facto extraterritorial rights?"
Theodore Dalrymple, Not With a Bang But a Whimper
2009 February 2
Israel's Key Election Issue
Griff Witte, Washington Post
Just over a week before Israel holds elections to choose a new government,
the outcome of the war in the Gaza Strip has emerged as a central issue in
the campaign, with the candidates sparring over whether the massive military
operation went far enough. Two of the three Israeli architects of the war,
Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, are candidates
to become the nation's next prime minister.
The leader of Israel's Likud party, Binyamin Netanyahu, has maintained a
lead in advance of the country's election that is several points clear of
his main rivals.
2009 February 1
The Northrop Grumman X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) for the US Navy
was unveiled in December 2008. The new aircraft will demonstrate unmanned
combat aircraft operations from the deck of an aircraft carrier. The first
flight is scheduled for fall 2009.
AR: There are plenty of further
optimizations possible in the Navy carrier—UCAS—smart bomb process chain,
both to increase mission effectiveness and to reduce the total cost of
Israel Navy Eyes USS Freedom
Yaakov Katz, Jerusalem Post
Top IDF officers sailed recently on the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) USS
Freedom. Last July, the IDF received permission from the Pentagon to
purchase the LCS, under development by Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics.
The LCS is designed for speed and maneuverability during amphibious
operations in shallow coastal waters. It can carry special forces and
infantry units plus midsize vehicles and two helicopters, and would likely
be fitted with the Barak anti-missile defense system. The price of the LCS
has reportedly soared to $500 million. Navy sources said a procurement
decision would be made soon.
AR: The most likely targets for
littoral operations are Hamas and Hezbollah, for whom this is overkill — but
still a beautiful ship.
protest in Mumbai
Sharon Gaudin, Computerworld
Robots could start building a lunar outpost before humans make their next
trip to the moon. NASA says that the future of space exploration will depend
on humans and robots working hand-in-hand as manned and unmanned missions
head to the moon, to Mars, and beyond.
NASA director of advanced capabilities Carl Walz said we're just starting to
scratch the surface of these concepts and trying to figure out how best to
incorporate human exploration and robots. NASA spokesman Allard Beutel said
that such missions are the first steps in a robotic partnership that will
help humans press further out into the solar system.
Kate Winslet, iconic star
Netanyahu Meets Lieberman
Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu called on his prospective
coalition partners to seek unity: "Unity can be achieved through dialog, and
not through arm-twisting and dictation of terms. An honest attempt is needed
to reach common ground out of mutual respect and true dialog."
Netanyahu met with visiting U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman, who said: "Our
enemies, unfortunately, are as common as the values and the interests that
have united us for all these years. I have no doubt that with Netanyahu's
government here we will have good and positive relations with the Obama
administration in Washington and with members of Congress, and I look
forward to playing my part in contributing to that."
Senator Lieberman also met with Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman.
AR: When Senator Lieberman says
"we" — who?
Image: Stephenie Harrison, Frank Tong
Researchers used fMRI to peer into the visual cortex of a subject and
accurately predict which of two images (circular grating, above) he was
holding in his short-term memory. They calculated subtle patterns in brain
activity (represented here in red and green) to make the call.
France: Le Triomphant
Image: Terminator 2 — Judgment Day
Amazon's Kindle 2 is priced at $359 and ships February
Doug: "The craziest sort of
Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Monday proposed the construction of a 48-km
tunnel connecting the northern Gaza Strip with the southern West Bank.
AR: This would be a good idea
if we could stop the extremists from blowing it up.
Ian McEwan, The Guardian
Cinema was above all, for the young Updike, an exploration of sexual
encounters. It was there from the very beginning, in his writing, that
capacity for fastidious, clinical, visually intense, painfully and
hilariously honest descriptions of men and women making love. In fact,
Updike's level unblinking gaze is not confined to the physical. And there
was never a more fallible and exposed character in modern fiction than Harry
"Rabbit" Angstrom. The Rabbit tetralogy is Updike's masterpiece and will
surely be his monument.
AR: Updike was one of the best
wordsmiths of our time.
Only in America — If Only!
Paul Harris, The Observer
Last week Nadya Suleman gave birth to eight babies. The 33-year-old
Californian already has six children. She is single and has no visible means
of support for her current family, let alone the additional eight babies.
She still lives with her parents and may have serious mental-health
problems. She divorced her husband a year ago. He may not be the father of
her first six children — the divorce filing indicates no children from the
marriage. She has been living with her parents, not her husband, for the
past eight years, at a variety of addresses. Her mother filed for bankruptcy
last year, claiming $1m in liabilities. The case is sending shockwaves
through the medical fertility community.
AR: If this is anything to go
by, we face a Malthusian disaster.
One Sector Grows
Businesses are viewing business intelligence (BI) tools as crucial to
reducing their costs, improving their productivity, managing risk, and
ensuring regulatory compliance. Says Richard Neale, SAP BusinessObjects UK:
"The economic crisis will have a huge impact on the BI market."
Analysts predict that spending on BI in coming years will rise. According to
Gartner, demand for BI software rose 11.2% to $5.8 billion in 2008, with
sales tipped to grow steadily to reach $7.7 billion in 2012. Adoption of a
master data management (MDM) strategy is regarded as crucial. According to
Gartner, revenues from MDM products rose 24% during 2008 to hit $1.3
billion. The analyst firm predicts demand for MDM software will grow
steadily to a value of $2.8 billion in 2012. Most Information Age survey
respondents agreed that business analytics and information insight would
improve their ability to respond to the current financial crisis.
AR: My SAP team makes
BI and MDM engines
A movie I have to see:
Victory in Gaza
Trying to hide a smile and a sense of self-satisfaction Prime Minister Ehud
Olmert faced the cameras at the Defense Ministry and declared to the Israeli
public, "We won." The Israel Defense Forces objectives for its operation in
the Gaza Strip were "obtained in full."
Israeli soldier with an Arab
Jesus the Jew
Judaism is Christianity's guilty secret. Jesus' Jewishness is as essential
to Christianity as it is embarrassing. It is Jewish history that Jesus
fulfils. He was what the entire Old Testament had been leading to.
Messiah does not mean son of God. Nor did Jesus ever claim to be the son of
God. The idea would have been a nonsense to him. Judged messianically, Jesus
is a failure to the Jews. He neither liberates their land from the Romans
nor brings in God's kingdom here on earth.
Jesus as a force within Judaism continued for decades after his death. Jesus
the Jew would have expected nothing less. Christianity triumphed over
Judaism when it abandoned the law and the people to whom it had been given.
CNN: Obama team taps Emory neurosurgeon Dr. Sanjay Gupta for U.S. surgeon
AR: Good pick
Canadian Inst. Theor. Astrophysics
Simulation of Milky Way
colliding with Andromeda
Her secret life
Kate Winslet stars as Hanna in
2009 Merkava Mk 4 BAZ Tzahal with TADIR (SharpShooter) FCS and Aspro-A
Right: Israeli Air Force F-16I
A good weapon for destruction
of rocket sites and their
manufacturing facilities but
not for hostage rescue
F-16I background info
Long Live the Euro
Oliver Kamm, The Times
Ten years ago today monetary union for the euro zone was established. Three
years later the euro was born. Throughout the currency's gestation and
launch, many British politicians confidently predicted failure.
The success of EMU does not mean [the UK] should give up the pound and
embrace the euro. But we should. The potential benefits include increased
trade flows, greater price transparency, and lower transactions costs for
consumers and businesses.
The crisis has underscored the importance of international action to
stabilize the economy. Being part of the euro zone would make it easier, by
joining with other countries to get things done that will benefit the UK.
AR: Lose those pounds
2009 January 28
UK Hit Hardest
World economists predicted today that the UK would be hit harder than any
other developed nation by the worst recession in more than 60 years. An
independent body warned £20 billion of tax rises or spending cuts would be
needed to get the national finances back on track.
Danny Lawson/PA Wire
Royal Navy's newest warship HMS Daring, built at a cost of £650 million,
arrives in Portsmouth.
HMS Daring is the world's most advanced destroyer and is the first of a
series of six Type 45 destroyers. The 7,350-tonne ship has a range of about
7,000 miles and features the latest propulsion, weapon, and stealth
technology. The ship is armed with a new hi-tech missile system named Sea
Viper with a Sampson radar system, which can track hundreds of targets as
far as 250 miles away and engage up to ten simultaneously. Daring can
operate various helicopters, including the Chinook.
2009 January 27
Time for Davos man to save the economy and the planet.
AR: If they need my help I'm
just a four-hour drive away
2009 January 24
The New York Review of Books is a treasure beyond compare.
The latest issue features especially fine articles on:
How Pakistan is in mortal peril
from growing Islamic radicalism
How President Obama should make a
new start dealing with Iran
How Google will soon monopolize
access to information in books
2009 January 22
How massive is the Milky Way?
Rachel Courtland, New Scientist
The Milky Way's mass is some 3 trillion times the mass of the Sun, about the
same as that of Andromeda. The new measurements extend to some 10,000 light
years away from the Sun. Researcher Mark Reid and colleagues examined
masers, dense star-forming regions that naturally emit microwaves. Slight
changes in the masers' position reveal their distance from Earth. The team
found that the masers were orbiting the galactic center faster than
expected. Masers can only be used to weigh the Milky Way out to the edge of
its visible disc, some 60,000 light years from the galactic center. But most
of the Milky Way's mass is thought to lie further away. The European
satellite Gaia will measure the speed of many more remote stars and is set
to launch in 2013.
AR: Now the numbers in the Jan
6 blog are about right.
2009 January 21
Assassins of the Mind
Christopher Hitchens, Vanity
Salman Rushdie, raised a Muslim, concluded that the Koran was a book made by
the hands of men and was thus a fit subject for literary criticism and
fictional borrowing. We live now in a climate where every publisher and
editor and politician has to weigh in advance the possibility of violent
2009 January 20
This 'wordle' of
President Obama's inauguration speech shows which terms he used the
2009 January 19
Anglo-German gravity-wave detector inadvertently discovered the quantum
jitters of spacetime in a holographic universe?
2009 January 18
The Natural Order of Things
Matt Ridley, Spectator
Faithful reproduction, occasional random variation and selective survival
can be a surprisingly progressive and cumulative force:
it can gradually build things of immense complexity. Although engineers are
under the fond illusion that they design things, nearly all of what they do
consists of nudging forward descent with modification.
2009 January 17
Robots are on the warpath
Two variants of the Boeing X-45 J-UCAV
2009 January 15
Byrne reviews arguments for God
2009 January 14
Why Israel Can't Make Peace With Hamas
Jeffrey Goldberg, The New York Times
Like Hezbollah, Hamas believes that God is opposed to a Jewish state in
Palestine. A spokesman for Hezbollah, Hassan Izzedine, once told me that the
Jews who survive the Muslim "liberation" of Palestine "can go back to
Germany, or wherever they came from." He went on to argue that the Jews are
a "curse to anyone who lives near them." Nizar Rayyan, a member of the Hamas
ruling elite and a recruiter of suicide bombers until Israel killed him two
weeks ago, expressed much the same sentiment the night we spoke in 2006. The
Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, once, at a rally in Beirut, said: "We
shout in the face of the killers of prophets and the descendants of the apes
and pigs: We hope we will not see you next year. The shout remains, 'Death
to Israel!'" Mr. Rayyan said that, technically, Mr. Nasrallah was mistaken.
"Allah changed disobedient Jews into apes and pigs, it is true, but he
specifically said these apes and pigs did not have the ability to
reproduce," Mr. Rayyan said. "So it is not literally true that Jews today
are descended from pigs and apes, but it is true that some of the ancestors
of Jews were transformed into pigs and apes, and it is true that Allah
continually makes the Jews pay for their crimes in many different ways. They
are a cursed people." I asked him the question I always ask of Hamas
leaders: Could you agree to anything more than a tactical cease-fire with
Israel? Mr. Rayyan answered that a long-term cease-fire would be
unnecessary, because it will not take long for the forces of Islam to
AR: There is an urgent
educational problem to solve in the region.
2009 January 12
Philosophy Resources at Harvard and Beyond
Jason Pannone, September 5, 2008
Ross' article [Hitting on
Consciousness: Honderich Versus McGinn] provides some background to the
feud, along with summaries of the arguments being discussed, reviews of
Honderich's book, and summaries of the exchanges between Honderich and
McGinn. ... It's an interesting article for those who follow such things,
and who are interested in philosophical practice, consciousness, philosophy
of mind, and the like.
My Genome, My Self
Steven Pinker, The New York Times
The Personal Genome Project is an initiative in basic research, yet the
technological advance making it possible will soon open up the era of
We are shaped by our genes in ways that none of us can directly know. Genes
can't pull the levers of our behavior directly but they affect the wiring
and workings of the brain. Behavioral geneticists will point to data showing
that even within a single culture, individuals are shaped by their
environments. Even knowing the totality of genetic predictors, there will be
many things about ourselves that no genome scan will ever reveal.
The Personal Genome Project is beginning with the exome: the 1 percent of
our genome that is translated into strings of amino acids that assemble
themselves into proteins. Proteins make up our physical structure, catalyze
the chemical reactions that keep us alive and regulate the expression of
other genes. The vast majority of heritable diseases that we currently
understand involve tiny differences in one of the exons that collectively
make up the exome.
Assessing risks from genomic data is not easy. But if you are bitten by
curiosity and can think in probabilities, by all means enjoy the fruits of
2009 January 10
Bede Griffiths — was he a heretic?
Ken Wilber — are mystics
2009 January 8
Israel has learnt from 2006
Lawrence Freedman, Financial Times
The current operation in Gaza is a consequence of the 2006 war in southern
Lebanon when the Israelis appeared to have no answer to rockets fired into
Israeli territory. So Hamas believed that it too could mount a regular
rocket barrage against Israel with impunity. Israel knows that if it fails
again, it will have a reduced deterrent against future rocket attacks. The
lessons learnt can be seen in the current campaign. Hamas will see a
ceasefire as a defeat. Israel should respond positively to calls for a
Israel will stop when Jews are safe
Daniel Finkelstein, The Times
The poverty and the death and the despair among the Palestinians in Gaza is
unnecessary. For there can be peace and prosperity at the smallest of
prices. The Palestinians need only say that they will allow Israel to exist
in peace. Yet they will not say it. Maybe Hamas and Hezbollah hate Israel
because they want to kill Jews.
2009 January 7
Back to work this morning: temperature –15°C
Posted draft preprint of next book:
Godblogs — From Sam Harris to Bede Griffiths,
the Autophenomenology of Genocentricity
PDF: 272 pages, 1.2 MB
2009 January 6
Milky Way and Andromeda will collide soon
Chris Irvine, Daily Telegraph
Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is set to crash into its neighbor, the Andromeda
galaxy, sooner than we thought. Scientists at the American Astronomical
Society in Long Beach, California, have admitted to grossly underestimating
the mass of the Milky Way, and hence its gravitational pull on Andromeda.
Because the solar system is orbiting the galactic center at about 260 km per
second, it now seems that both galaxies have a similar mass, about 3
trillion solar masses, and will collide less than 2 billion years from now.
Karl Menten, at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany, and
Mark Reid, at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics in
Massachusetts, used the Very Large Baseline Array (VLBA) radio telescope to
make the new measurements. Gerry Gilmore, at the Institute of Astronomy at
Cambridge University in England, said: "The galaxies will be dramatically
stirred up, but they are very squidgy, so they will stick together and
eventually all the stars will die out, and it will become one huge, dead
AR: Now (Jan 22) the numbers
are about right.
2009 January 5
Israel Changing Equation
Speaking at a press conference with European foreign ministers in Jerusalem,
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni vowed that Israel would "change the equation in
the region" and said the days of "Hamas firing rockets and Israel showing
restraint" were over.
Hamas Will Die Fighting
Senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar said Monday that the Gaza leadership
has no intention of stopping its rocket attacks on Israel. "We salute the
resistance men," he said in a televised address from an undisclosed location
"The Islamic Resistance Movement [Hamas] calls on Arab and Islamic nations
to take up the ... struggle against Zionism. ... The Zionist plan is ...
embodied in the
Protocols of the Elders of Zion"
charter, article 32
2009 January 4
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
Much praise has been given to this movie adaptation of Bernhard Schlink's
Der Vorleser. Kate Winslet gives a typically intelligent performance as
Hanna. One rainy day, she chances upon Michael. They end up having a
glorious affair. She loves him to read aloud to her from the classics. Many
years later, Michael is astonished to see her again in the dock. Hanna was
an SS camp guard at Auschwitz. Michael realizes that Hanna is illiterate.
Hanna's condition is by no means a metaphor for the moral illiteracy of
Nazism. The film invites us to see Hanna's secret misery as a species of
victimhood. I can't forgive this film for being so shallow and so obtuse on
such a subject.
Kevin Maher, The Times
The Reader is an intriguing post-Second World War drama starring Ralph
Fiennes as a German lawyer reflecting on a doomed love affair. The story
starts with an erotic relationship between Fiennes's younger screen self
(played by David Kross) and an older, mysterious and illiterate former Nazi,
Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet). Fienne's performance in the film is an
impeccable study of inner turmoil. With his eyes alone, palely plaintive and
wildly expressive, he gives the greatest close-ups in the business.
IDF Merkava Mark 4 main battle tank
I think the mine clearing gear shows it's a Black Mamba 2
2009 January 2
From Moses to Moses there was no-one like Moses
— the Rambam
2009 January 1
Working on my next book — a philosophical blogology
The Economist: New SAP CEO in 2009
Google Finance: SAP AG stock prices
I celebrate 10 years at SAP
The Times: Britain ready to take in Guantánamo prisoners
AR: What if the prisoner ship
goes via Somalia and pirates sink it?
Photo: Kamran Jebreili/AP
Dubai, United Arab Emirates: New Year celebrations
cancelled due to the Israeli bombing of Gaza
AR: Hamas should cancel their
fireworks — forever
The Dignity of Muslims
The Amsterdam Court of Appeal has ruled that a case should be brought
against Dutch parliamentarian
Geert Wilders. As leader of the right-wing Freedom Party, Wilders
has made a number of extreme remarks about Islam and Muslims, such as
calling the Koran the "Islamic Mein Kampf" and referring to "fascist
Islam." The Amsterdam court contends that these and other such
statements "affect the dignity of Muslims."
Wilders may turn the case into a show trial outlining the threat to
Western society. Wilders' lawyers may bring evidence of multiple calls
for genocide intended to encourage the establishment of Islamic rule
over the world as well as fatwas and statements by Muslim religious
authorities supporting suicide attacks, or comparing non-believers to
animals. The court decision has increased Wilders' popularity. Wilders
gained fame with his 2008 documentary
Fitna, which highlights
Islam's radical aspects.
AR: Leave the man in peace!
Another movie I have to see:
Seen the Future
On the eve of Barack Obama’s inauguration, James Delingpole says that
the President-elect is horribly reminiscent of Tony Blair in 1997. He
may be a fantastic guy, and look great, but he will bring a ragbag of
scuzzballs, communists and eco-loons to power with him.
Hamas fighter with rocket
The Satanic Verses
On February 14, 1989, Salman Rushdie was informed of the fatwa issued by
the Iranian leader, Ayatollah Khomeini.
A delegation of mullahs had read a part of the book to Khomeini, which
featured an obvious caricature of Khomeini. It sent the Supreme Leader
The next decade was a dangerous time. There were bombs in numerous
bookshops stocking the Rushdie novel.
On Christmas Eve 1990, Rushdie issued a statement bearing witness that
"there is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his last prophet". That
evening he was so disgusted with himself that he was physically sick.
Years later he said it was the biggest mistake of his life.
Protesters in the Belgian city of Antwerp on December 31, 2008, were
arrested as they headed toward the Jewish neighborhood
Abbot Genser/Revolution Studios
Across the Universe (2007)
1960s lovers take a magical mystery tour to Beatles songs
Conflict in Gaza
NY Times graphic
Reader: the young lovers
in a bathtub
TERM (Tank Extended Range Munitions) 120 mm Top Attack Excalibur Merkava
"I'm guided by the beauty
of our weapons
First we take Manhattan,
then we take Berlin"
I'm Your Man (1988)
Delusion on Both Sides
Robert Fisk, The Independent
Hamas is not Hizbollah. And Israeli soldiers cannot take revenge for
their 2006 defeat in Lebanon by attacking Hamas in Gaza. And Hamas do
not have either the Hizbollah armory of long-range rockets or the
discipline to fight like an army.
Israel has never won a war in a city since 1967 or any war since 1973.
Its 1978 invasion of Lebanon was a failure. Its 1982 invasion ended in
disaster. In the later actions its performance was no more than amateur.
If Israel indefinitely continues its billion dollar blitz on Gaza, there
will be an individual massacre. And Hamas will cynically make profit
from the grief. Saner minds need to rescue both sides from this
disgusting little war.
AR: Kill Hamas to save Gaza