My friend Susanne's daughter (click for more of her pictures)
Iranian Shahab 3, a.k.a.
Pakistani Ghuari, a.k.a.
N. Korean No-Dong 1
Reading Numerical Thoughts
From Brain Images
Evelyn Eger et al.
By analyzing brain activity, scientists can tell what number a person has
just seen, or how many dots a person was seeing. Researchers in France used
multivariate pattern recognition on high-resolution functional imaging data
to decode the signals in parietal and intraparietal cortex evoked in
volunteers watching either numerals or dots on a screen. For small numbers
of dots, cortical activity patterns changed gradually with the size of the
numbers. For the numerals, no such gradual change was detected. The findings
suggest the brain uses more numerous but more broadly tuned neural
populations for nonsymbolic than for symbolic numbers. The results
illustrate the potential of functional MRI pattern recognition to understand
the detailed format of semantic representations.
Colin Barras, New Scientist
A team in the Hewlett-Packard labs in Silicon Valley has upgraded a standard
silicon chip with a layer of memristors to show that memristors work well
with present hardware. Memristors behave like resistors except that they can
also "remember" the last current they passed. Each memristor can replace
several transistors in a circuit and can hold its memory without power. The
team patterned 10 000 memristors on top of an ordinary CMOS chip by printing
a grid of 100 x 100 conducting wires. Each "x" sandwiches a double layer of
semiconducting titanium dioxide to form a memristor.
AR This advance amounts
2 or 3 rounds of Moore's law
China Outdoes West
Martin Wolf, FT
China has emerged as the most significant winner from the global financial
and economic crisis. Cushioned by its more than $2.1 trillion of foreign
currency reserves, huge trade and current account surpluses, and a robust
fiscal position, Beijing has been able to deploy all its levers over the
financial system and the economy. Meanwhile, as one senior Chinese
participant at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting of "the new
champions", in Dalian, noted, "the teachers have made big mistakes". Indeed,
any visitor to Asia will recognize the west's reputation for financial and
economic competence is in tatters, while that of China has soared. The wheel
of fortune is turning.
AR A good turn, I hope
Zardari Rejects AfPak
James Lamont and Farhan Bokhari, Financial Times
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has rejected the Obama administration's
strategy of linking policy on Pakistan and Afghanistan in an "AfPak"
approach: "Afghanistan and Pakistan are distinctly different countries and
cannot be lumped together for any reason." He distinguished Pakistan with
its functioning institutions, a diversified economy and a powerful national
army, from Afghanistan, a state shattered by decades of conflict and ethnic
divisions. Ending the Taliban insurgency raging on both sides of the common
border is only likely to be achieved by concerted military action by NATO
forces fighting in Helmand and Kandahar and Pakistan's army in Waziristan
and other tribal areas.
AR AfPak makes good
military sense even if Zardari dislikes it,
so I say let's do it.
Artists In Exile
Why do so many significant British artists now live and work overseas? For
many of them, their initial uprooting was never meant to be permanent. The
real question is why they have stayed away. The artists I spoke to tended to
feel their artistic identity was bound up in Europe, that Britain could be
The biggest difference is the place the arts occupy in the fabric of
everyday life. One artist said: "There's a quality of seriousness about
being an artist here that is so un-British. These people invest in their
existence as artists rather than apologize for it. They don't doubt that
what they are doing is legitimate."
AR Am I a philosopher in
exile? Hardly: I feel at home here.
Tim Radford, The Guardian
Freeman Dyson was ever one to
contemplate the very long-term potential of science. In 1972, he said that
humankind would one day learn to grow trees on comets. The trees could grow
to immense heights. To call Dyson unworldly is to miss the point. He has
always said it is far better to be wrong than to be vague.
In his book
Imagined Worlds, Freeman Dyson identified in 1997 the central problem
for any intelligent society: the problem of sanity, which he defines as "the
ability to live in harmony with Nature's laws". There's nothing dull about a
universe with people like Dyson in it.
2009 September 29
Intel CTO on Singularity
Jon Brodkin, Network World
Intel CTO and head of Intel Labs Justin Rattner says he tries to sidestep
the question of when the
Singularity might occur but says machine intelligence is constantly
increasing. "There will be a surprising amount of machines that do exhibit
human-like capabilities," he said. "Assuming all kinds of advances and
breakthroughs, it's not inconceivable we'll reach a point that machines do
match human intelligence."
Already, scientists are working on placing neural sensors and chips into the
brain, allowing people to control prosthetic limbs with their own thoughts.
This is likely to become a "relatively routine procedure" in a few years,
Rattner said. "Assuming that interface technology progresses in an
accelerating way, the possibilities of augmenting human intelligence with
machine intelligence become increasingly real and more diverse."
AR This makes more sense
than Ray's sensationalism.
2009 September 28
"Supercomputers will achieve one human brain capacity by 2010, and personal
computers will do so by about 2020."
Ray Kurzweil gets more publicity for
his ideas in the Telegraph
The New Iranian Superpower
2009 September 27
G20 To Reshape Global Economy
Annys Shin and Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post
In Pittsburgh last week, leaders of the world's 20 largest economies
gathered to discuss reforms to guard against the imbalances that contributed
to the global economic downturn. The group officially anointed themselves
the steering committee of the global financial system and reached a series
of agreements aimed at navigating the world out of recession and onto the
path of recovery.
AR At last — a step
toward real governance for the global order.
If an ET ship visits us, this is a basis we
can build upon.
2009 September 24
University of Zurich
Human rights in an era of globalisation
Lecture by Professor Sandra Fredman, Exeter College Oxford
Baur au Lac
Club, Zurich, Switzerland
Dinner with old "Exonians" from Exeter College Oxford
and College Rector Frances Cairncross
Guest of honour and speaker: Professor Sandra Fredman
Sandra Fredman grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa, She took her first
degree in mathematics and philosophy at the University of the Witwatersrand.
She came to Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, and read for the BA and BCL at
Wadham College, obtaining first class degrees in both. After her graduation,
she worked as a trainee solicitor and lectured in labour law at King's
College, London. Four years later she was elected fellow in law at Exeter
College, Oxford. She was awarded the title of professor in 1999. Professor
Fredman specialises in discrimination law, labour law, and human rights law.
2009 September 23
Immortality by 2030
Amy Willis, The Daily Telegraph
Ray Kurzweil, 61, says our understanding of genes and computer technology is
accelerating at an incredible rate. Nanotechnologies capable of replacing
many of our vital organs could be available in 20 years. He said we will be
able to reprogram our bodies to halt, then reverse, ageing. Nanotechnology
will let us live for ever. Nanobots will replace blood cells and work
thousands of times better. We will be able to sprint and swim without
pausing for breath and write books in minutes. Humans will become cyborgs,
with artificial limbs and organs.
AR Ray is almost
parodying half the message of my next book!
2009 September 20
Missile Defense for Europe
Robert M. Gates, New York Times
Last week, President Obama decided to deploy proven, sea-based SM-3
interceptor missiles in the areas where we see the greatest threat to
Europe. All told, every phase of this plan will include scores of SM-3
missiles. The SM-3 has had eight successful tests since 2007, and we will
continue to develop it to give it the capacity to intercept long-range
missiles like ICBMs. It is now more than able to deal with the threat from
multiple short- and medium-range missiles.
A fixed radar site would be far less adaptable than the airborne, space- and
ground-based sensors we now plan to use. These systems provide much more
accurate data, offer more early warning and tracking options, and have
stronger networking capacity. The new approach provides us with greater
flexibility to adapt as new threats develop and old ones recede. The bottom
line is that we are strengthening missile defense in Europe.
2009 September 19
Israel Missile Defenses
Howard Schneider, Washington Post
Israel is steadily assembling one of the world's most advanced missile
defense systems. The effort has been progressing for two decades but has now
reached a level of maturity that could change the nature of strategic
decisions in the region. Centered on the Arrow antimissile system, the
project will include the David's Sling interceptor for cruise missiles and
the Iron Dome system for Grads,
Katyushas, Qassams, and other shorter-range projectiles.
2009 September 18
New Missile Shield Strategy
David E. Sanger and William J. Broad, The New York Times
The new plan that President Obama laid out for a missile shield against Iran
turns Ronald Reagan's vision of a Star Wars system on its head. Rather than
focusing first on protecting the continental United States, it shifts the
immediate effort to defending Europe and the Middle East. Iran is taking
longer to develop ICBMs than many feared, but its shorter-range missiles are
an imminent threat. The Shahab 3 can reach Israel and parts of Europe, and
Western intelligence services say Iran hopes to fit it with a nuclear
warhead. Obama may face charges of leaving the U.S. East Coast defenseless
if Iran makes progress with long-range missiles.
Andrew Osborn, The Daily Telegraph
Russia has shelved plans to fortify its enclave of Kaliningrad with a rocket
battery and nuclear bombers in response to Barack Obama's U-turn on the
missile defense shield.
Dan Brown on How to Write
Tim Martin, The Daily Telegraph
Long ago, bestselling novelist Dan Brown posted on his website a list of
"Seven Powerful Tips" for writing and selling commercial fiction. These tips
have since gone missing but they explain everything. Readers love to learn,
so choose settings that teach. Engaging characters are always extremes. Have
a sole central conflict. Scenes that drag are the kiss of death. Specifics
increase your novel’s credibility and appeal. Long, dry passages of
description are a turn-off. Revision is absolutely crucial.
Brown's books are written for people who read for information and are less
involved in narrative. He writes basic narratives larded with hardcore
information to readers whose interests do not lie in imagining things. So
every chapter ends with a cliffhanger. Every character operates at an
emotional extreme. We are always told the impression that something created,
rather than being encouraged to imagine it ourselves. If Brown needs an
effect, he starts a new chapter, and if he needs a word, he makes it up.
This is why his novels sell. They are boiled down to the bare bones.
Giving contraceptives to people in developing countries could help fight
climate change by slowing population growth: a study cited in
The Lancet says family
planning is five times cheaper than other ways to reduce carbon dioxide
AR The ungrateful
recipients will say this is another sneaky
attempt to promote third-world genocide!
2009 September 17
Western Women in Muslim Lands
Judy Bachrach, World Affairs
Women who must submit to Sharia law find themselves in a very bad place.
Last year, in a poll of 2,000 Egyptian men, 62 percent admitted harassing
women. Nor is harassment confined to Islamic women in Islamic nations.
Western women in the Middle East come in for their own share of daily
insults, owing to their double deficit as women and foreigners.
My Egyptian experience marked the only time in my life when the acquisition
of the rudiments of a foreign language, far from making life more
comfortable, actually ignited rage. The more Arabic we learned, the more
xenophobic and sexually explicit trash talk we understood.
That’s the way it was in Cairo — and still is. Local women are of such
negligible importance that they can be viewed as prey. On the other hand,
foreign women are invariably treated as prey. The foreigner without a
murderous uncle by her side or a veil over her face is a communal dish.
Most of us, on finding ourselves in a hostile environment, are merely
inconvenienced. We can do what I and so many others did. We leave. But there
are the other Western women who cannot. Western leaders have proven
uncommonly demure on the subject of women in Islamic countries.
AR Forget feminist
activism in Judeo-Christian communities —
Muslim communities are where to target action.
2009 September 16
New Scientist Flash Fiction Competition 2009
"Send us your stories set one hundred years into the future, and a panel of
judges headed by acclaimed science fiction writer Stephen Baxter will pick
the best to be published in a future issue of New Scientist. We'll publish a
selection of the most entertaining and thought-provoking online. Your story
should be no more than 350 words in length ... The closing date is 15
AR A glimmer of
opportunity — to work!
2009 September 14
Adam Kirsch looks at two new
critiques of Rawls's theory of justice
2009 September 13
On a special Newsnight Review, Richard Dawkins, Margaret Atwood, Richard
Coles, and Ruth Padel join Martha Kearney to discuss the legacy of the
seminal work On the Origin of Species
2009 September 12
A new biography of brilliant
but almost autistic physicist Paul Dirac and a new account of the
revealing correspondence between the physicist Wolfgang Pauli and the
psychologist Carl Jung
2009 September 11
Amazon Fast Cloud
Duncan Graham-Rowe, MIT Technology Review
The biggest bottleneck in cloud computing is uploading and downloading data
to and from the cloud. The transmission control protocol (TCP) regulates the
flow of data by breaking it up into small packets of information, sending
each packet, and then waiting for an acknowledgment that the packet has been
received before sending the next one. If a packet does not arrive, TCP
either resends it or assumes that the network is being overloaded and
initiates an aggressive congestion-control strategy, slowing the data rate
down to avoid triggering a network collapse.
To solve this problem, Amazon Web Services has announced that it will use
technology developed by Aspera, based in Emeryville, CA, called the Fast And
Secure Protocol (FASP). Unlike TCP, FASP does not wait for confirmation of
receipt, but simply assumes that all packets have arrived. Only packets that
are confirmed to have been dropped are re-sent. And instead of sending lots
of small packets, it sends fewer large packets, so the available bandwidth
is used more efficiently. FASP also monitors network traffic and alters the
size of packets and the rate and order in which they are sent, according to
available bandwidth and other traffic issues.
AR FASP sounds good: We
could use something like it to speed up service delivery in SAP Business
Islam in Europe
London, June 2009: "This country is rife with social and economic problems
and only Islam has the answer. Muslims are multiplying at a rate eight times
faster than the kaffir. In a couple of generations this will be a Muslim
country, inshallah. We will dominate this country, my brothers, and
implement the beauty and perfection of Islam." —
quoted by Daniel Johnson
2009 September 8
The concept of Google Books is to provide electronic access to the world's
books. Readers welcome the prospect of calling up texts until now only
available in distant libraries. Many authors look forward to seeing their
out-of-print works being reincarnated electronically. Orphaned works will be
given a new home.
But turning concept into reality is controversial. The European Commission
held a hearing on the matter: Germany and France defended Europe's tight
The Copyright Black Hole
James Boyle, Financial Times
Copyright can last for more than 100 years. The world's libraries are full
of books that are still under copyright, commercially unavailable and, in
many cases, orphan works with no known copyright holder. The works remain
trapped in a copyright black hole.
Enter Google. Google began digitizing some of the great libraries, with
their permission. Copyright holders who did not want their work indexed
could opt out. Now those libraries could be searched. Google made the
out-of-copyright books available in full for free. The copyrighted works are
only shown in snippets, with a few pages around the snippets. If the book
was what you wanted you could try to buy it or find it in a library.
Google argues that the scanning is fair use, allowed by law. A pretrial
agreement with a group of publishers and with the Authors Guild allows
copyright holders to opt out of the index. The indexed works will be
available for digital reading online for a fee. A portion of the returns
will be put into a central fund and distributed to authors and publishers
Objections: Google would have a monopoly over the index and over
commercially unavailable works. Google would hold the keys to your library
and could monitor your reading. And the promised privacy protections do not
Robert McCrum, The Guardian
You can see the Google Books project in one of two ways. Either it is a
noble and public-spirited program to make accessible to anyone the treasures
of the world's libraries, a quasi-philanthropic liberation of some
priceless, and wrongly sequestered, content for the common good. Or you can
describe what's happened as the greatest act of piracy in the western
intellectual tradition. It is too soon to judge which of these verdicts will
2009 September 7
"We must reveal economics as the artificial construction it really is.
Although it may be subjected to the scientific method and mathematical
scrutiny, it is not a natural science."
2009 September 6
Hijacked Ship Carried Russian Arms for Iran
Mark Franchetti and Uzi Mahnaimi, The Sunday Times
A cargo ship that vanished in the Channel was carrying arms to Iran and was
being tracked by Mossad, the Israeli security service, according to sources
in both Russia and Israel. The Arctic Sea, officially carrying a cargo of
timber, disappeared en route from Finland to Algeria on July 24 and was
recovered off west Africa on August 17. The Kremlin had denied that the
vessel was carrying a secret cargo. But sources in Tel Aviv and Moscow
claimed the ship had been loaded with S-300 anti-aircraft missiles bound for
Iran. Military officials believe a cover story was concocted.
AR It had to be something
like this. We must persuade Russia not to sell S-300 SAMs to Iran.
The Holocaust: Irving Interviewed
Elizabeth Nash, The Independent
Eminent historians have condemned a Spanish newspaper's decision to
interview historian David Irving as part of a feature on the 70th
anniversary of the Second World War. In the interview, published September
5, Irving once again played down the slaughter of millions of Jews during
the Second World War. He said Hitler was merely the dupe: Goebbels and
Himmler were more to blame. As for Churchill: "He pushed the UK into the war
and destroyed the British empire. Churchill was in the hands of the Jews."
So should he have made a pact with Hitler? "Of course. We were very close to
ending the war in 1940."
AR Churchill good, Hitler
bad, Irving idiot.
2009 September 4
Part 2 of Michael Massey on
the newspaper crisis
2009 September 3
Dream On, Obama
Barack Obama dreams of Zero. A world without nuclear weapons. But there have
been recent indications of pushback against Obama by generals in the nuclear
chain of command. Obama's Zero will sink into a bureaucratic swamp of
inertia, inanition, and passive- aggressive neglect from entrenched
The Pentagon talking points for the Nuclear Posture Review, due in December,
begin with lip service to Zero but quickly move on to a long list of
desiderata for maintaining, updating, modernizing, and improving the nuclear
deterrence system. Obama needs to let the nuclear establishment know who's
2009 September 1
President Carter and Ayatollah Khomeini
Benyamin Solomon, Socyberty
Jimmy Carter: The Liberal Left and World Chaos
By Mike Evans
Time Worthy Books, 592 pages
Mike Evans reports that in 1979 Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev warned Jimmy
Carter not to assist in overthrowing the Shah of Iran. He told Carter that
if he did that, Brezhnev would invade Afghanistan.
During his Presidency, Jimmy Carter not only abandoned support for the Shah
for his human rights violations but also gave support to Ayatollah Khomeini.
A former CIA agent told Evans that the Carter administration paid Khomeini
large checks via the CIA during Khomeini's stay in France.
Carter administration officials also expressed support for Khomeini. William
Sullivan, Carter's ambassador to Iran, said "Khomeini is a Gandhi-like
figure." Andrew Young, Carter's ambassador to the UN, said "Khomeini will
eventually be hailed as a saint."
Carter and his administration were duped by Khomeini and helped put him in
power. A few months later, Khomeini and his radical Islamic supporters
kidnapped American embassy workers and held them until Reagan became
president. Weeks after the kidnap, Brezhnev invaded Afghanistan.
AR This is shocking —
Carter bungled his big play!
Blitzkrieg gegen Polen
Am 1. September 1939 um 4.45 Uhr eröffnet das Schulschiff
"Schleswig-Holstein" das Feuer auf die Westerplatte. Mit Hilfe die
Artillerie greifen der Marine Stoßtrupp "Hennigsen" und die SS-Sturmkompanie
"Danziger Heimwehr", die in Danzig gebildet worden ist, die Westerplatte an.
Der polnischen Besatzung gelang es mit nur 218 schwachbewaffneten Männern
den ersten Angriff abzuwehren.
Jetzt beginnt auch die deutsche Luftwaffe mit Angriffe, um die
strategischwichtige Weichselbrücke bei Dirschau, die für den Nachschub nach
Ostpreußen benötigt wird, vor einer geplanten Zerstörungdurch polnische
Pioniere zu bewahren. Die 3. Staffel des Stuka-Geschwaders 1 bombardierten
die Zündstellen, die sich in einem Schuppen des Dirschauer Bahnhofs
befanden, um sie zu vernichten. Der Angriff gelang zwar, aber die Polen
schafften es die zerrissen Kabel zu reparieren und danach die Brücke zu
Der 2. Weltkrieg hat begonnen.
Jung's Red Book out soon
Soviet Scud, later scaled up
(volume x2, range x3) as
N. Korean No-Dong 1
Monkeys See Red
Singer, MIT Tech Review
Squirrel monkeys, which are naturally red-green color-blind, can get
tricolor vision when injected with the gene for a human photoreceptor. The
research, performed in adult animals, suggests that the visual system is
more flexible than previously thought. Scientists from the University of
Washington in Seattle injected the human gene for the red photopigment
directly into the animals' eyes. The gene is engineered to be expressed in
some green photoreceptors and is delivered inside a harmless virus. It
starts working a few months after injection.
AR This advance upends a
of philosophical stuff on color
European Digital Library
Jacco Hupkens, Handelsblad
Europeana, the online database for Europe's cultural heritage, is less than
a year old, but already the EU commissioner for the information society and
the media Viviane Reding has complained twice about its slow progress:
"Member states must stop envying progress made in other continents and
finally do their homework." Europeana marketing manager Jon Purday says:
"Our collection has grown from two million objects to nearly five million
this year. The plan is to double in size each year." Europeana's collection
so far consists only of rights-free material. But 90% of the books in
Europe's libraries are still under copyright. Reding suggests a
collaboration with Google.
AR Let's go with Google
Thatcher Did Not Want
Michael Binyon, The Times
Two months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Margaret Thatcher told
President Gorbachev that neither Britain nor Western Europe wanted the
reunification of Germany and made clear that she wanted the Soviet leader to
do what he could to stop it. In a meeting with Gorbachev in Moscow in 1989,
Thatcher said the destabilization of Eastern Europe and the breakdown of the
Warsaw Pact were also not in the West's interests. She insisted that the
West would not push for ending communism or risk the security of the Soviet
Union. She admitted that what she said was quite different from the West's
public pronouncements and official NATO communiqués. She knew that her
remarks would cause a row if revealed.
AR Thatcher feared a united
Germany more than communism — this is intriguing.
Pace of Change
and Vishal Sikka
Join SAP CTO Vishal Sikka for an intimate live video conversation with
Ray Kurzweil as they explore timeless software and the days
Ray Kurzweil predicts that technology evolution will lead to a singularity
in the 2020s. At the singularity, machine intelligence will surpass that of
humans. As a result, there will be no clear distinction between human and
machine, real reality and virtual reality. Human aging and illness will be
reversed; pollution will be stopped; world hunger and poverty will be
AR Ray's singularity is a
pretty nonsense idea, thus explained.
My next book will cover similar ground, I hope better.
Save Our Books!
Tom Watson, The Guardian
The European commission is holding a hearing next week to examine the impact
of an agreement between American authors, publishers, and Google to
resuscitate millions of out-of-print, in-copyright books. If all goes well,
American readers will be able to purchase digital copies of these titles.
But Europe's hodgepodge of copyright rules are preventing an American-style
breakthrough to bring the world's lost books back to life.
Authors and copyright holders need to be remunerated for their work. Instead
of seeing the net as a threat, the big rights-holders should grasp a giant
opportunity. Forward-thinking publishers support the American books
agreement, which sets up a new non-profit registry. People will be able to
search, preview, and buy online access to a great number of out-of-print
books. We cannot allow Europe to be left behind.
Time Man of the Year 1979
"Khomeini's importance far transcends the nightmare of the embassy seizure,
transcends indeed the overthrow of the Shah of Iran. The revolution that he
led to triumph threatens to upset the world balance of power more than any
political event since Hitler's conquest of Europe."
Credit: Maxwell Technologies
Ultracapacitor used to capture energy from bus brakes
Ultracaps For Hybrids
Ultracapacitors could lower the cost of the battery packs in plug-in hybrid
vehicles by halving their size, according to researchers at Argonne National
Laboratory. Ultracapacitors could also improve the efficiency of
microhybrids, according to a study from the University of California, Davis.
Battery packs degrade over time and automakers oversize them. Reducing the
size of a car's battery pack by 25 percent could save $2,500. The
ultracapacitors and their electronics could cost less than $1,000.
Ultracapacitors don't degrade when they are charged and discharged in
intense bursts. But they store an order of magnitude less energy than
batteries. Ultracapacitors paired with batteries could protect them from
intense bursts of power.
Ultracapacitors would also allow more efficient batteries. There is
typically a tradeoff between how fast batteries can be charged and
discharged and how much total energy they can store. Paired with
ultracapacitors, batteries wouldn't need to deliver bursts of power, so they
could store much more energy in the same space.
Ultracapacitors could also be used in microhybrids. These vehicles use small
electric motors and batteries to augment a gasoline engine, allowing the
engine to switch off every time the car stops and restart on demand. The
batteries can also capture some of the energy wasted during braking. Because
ultracapacitors can quickly charge and discharge without being damaged,
microhybrids could make much greater use of electric motors to provide short
bursts of power for acceleration. They could also collect more energy from
Ultracapacitors could simply replace batteries in microhybrids. In plug-in
hybrids, ultracapacitors would be paired with batteries, requiring complex
electronics. For ultracapacitors to be practical, their cost must be cut by
To Neuromorphic Architecture
Michael Cooney, Network World
DARPA aims to develop a new paradigm for data processing and understanding
by reverse-engineering the human brain.
The DARPA program Systems of neuromorphic adaptive plastic scalable
electronics (SyNAPSE) is intended to create electronic neuromorphic machine
technology that is scalable to biological levels in order to analyze vast
amounts of data from many sources instantly.
Programmable machines are limited by an architecture requiring algorithms to
process input information. In contrast, biological neural systems
autonomously process data in complex environments by automatically learning
relevant and probabilistically stable features and associations.
Compared to biological systems, today's programmable machines are less
efficient by a factor of one million to one billion in complex environments.
The SyNAPSE program aims to define a new path forward.
A better faith than Islam:
The shrine of Bahái'u'lláh
The Management Myth
Matthew Stewart, The Atlantic
"I have a doctoral degree in philosophy — nineteenth-century German
philosophy, to be precise. Before I took a job telling managers of large
corporations things that they arguably should have known already, my work
experience was limited to part-time gigs tutoring surly undergraduates in
the ways of Hegel and Nietzsche and to a handful of summer jobs, mostly in
the less appetizing ends of the fast-food industry."
2009 August 31
The Red Arrows
When a newspaper reported in 2007 that the Red Arrows had been banned from
displaying at the 2012 London Olympics for being "too British", an outraged
petition at the Number 10 website gathered more than half a million
In response, Gordon Brown declared he'd be "delighted" to see the Red Arrows
over the Olympic Stadium. As a pilot put it: "The Red Arrows are as British
as the Queen and London buses. They're a source of national pride."
One of the biggest crowds to greet the Reds this summer is on the south
coast at the annual Bournemouth Air Festival. Flying in a "V" formation they
call "Big Battle", nine red Hawk jets swoop over the cliffs. Their
Rolls-Royce engines roar as the formation rears up vertically and regroups
into their trademark diamond.
2009 August 28
The plan for my next book — due out in 2010 — is taking shape.
Meanwhile, Mindworlds will be
available soon — RRP £24.95
"Consciousness studies, now halfway through its second decade as a
self-consciously separate field of inquiry, finds a lucid, entertaining
expositor in Andrew Ross. As well as chronicling the developments — and some
of the colorful personality clashes — in the field, Ross has ideas of his
own to contribute, grounded in a thorough acquaintance with physics, math,
psychology, and philosophy, taking Wittgenstein's 'I am my world' for a
keynote. It's a wild ride."
— John Derbyshire, author of
"In Mindworlds, Andrew Ross mixes, in a charming and highly intelligent way,
speculations about consciousness with a very informative account of recent
debates in consciousness studies plus some autobiography. Anyone interested
in consciousness and the people who study it will be fascinated by it, as I
— Paul Snowdon, Grote Professor of Mind and Logic,
University College London
"Andy Ross thinks, and thinks for himself. He can teach things to
mutual-citation circles in the philosophy and science of consciousness."
— Ted Honderich, Grote Professor Emeritus of Mind and Logic,
University College London
2009 August 24
The End Was Nigh
Matthew Price, The National
The Morbid Age: Britain Between the Wars
By Richard Overy
Allen Lane, 544 pages
Richard Overy explores how the paradox of progress and peril consumed
British society between the First and Second World Wars. As America does
today, Britain then considered itself the hub of western civilization.
Overy has gathered a rich harvest of material from a diverse assortment of
English writers and thinkers. If the world was indeed ending, there was as
much eloquence from these figures as there was gloom about their
Historian Arnold Toynbee, for example, said all civilizations hewed to the
same pattern, which Overy describes as "creative expansion, mechanistic
consolidation, internal decay prompted by cultural stagnation, social
division, and a final universal Caesarism."
Overy contends that the prophets of decline were deadly sincere, looking to
science, economics, medicine, and history to construct proofs of the nearing
of the end. The terms used to describe the state of Britain were invariably
apocalyptic and millennial.
2009 August 23
Today I read
The Road by Cormac McCarthy — as mercilessly bleak
a post-apocalyptic novel as you could ever fear to find. Gripping —
I read it in one take, which few novels move me to do.
Google Book Search
Ed Pilkington, The Guardian
Google's ambition to create the largest body of human knowledge on the
internet by scanning millions of library books and turning them into a
massive digital publishing venture is prompting growing opposition.
The showdown on Google Book Search will reach a deadline on 4 September. A
Manhattan court is considering the settlement of a class-action suit that
Google reached last October that would give writers and publishers 63% of
future revenues generated by sales of digital books and other income,
leaving 37% for Google.
But several groups and individuals are continuing to protest about the deal,
saying that it rides roughshod over authors' rights and awards Google a huge
monopoly. Under US class-action law, authors and publishers who do not
specifically opt out of the settlement are deemed to have signed up to it.
A Google spokeswoman said last night: "We're excited about the
groundbreaking agreement we reached with authors and publishers last year.
If approved by the court, this settlement stands to unlock access to
millions of books in the US while giving authors and publishers new ways to
distribute their work.
"Google was founded on the principle of making information more accessible
to more people. From the beginning, we've envisioned a future where
students, researchers, and book lovers could all discover and access the
world's books online. We believe that this agreement represents a giant step
toward realizing that vision."
AR I back Google.
2009 August 21
Cartoons That Shook the World, by Jytte Klausen, professor of politics
at Brandeis University, tells the story of the campaign of "protest" and
boycott orchestrated in late 2005 after the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten
ran a competition for cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. Yale University
Press has announced that it will go ahead with the publication of the book
but will remove from it the 12 caricatures that originated the controversy.
It is also removing other historic illustrations of the Prophet.
AR Shame be upon Yale
2009 August 20
Today's temperature: +37°C — that's blood temperature
— and 52 kelvins higher than in January
A hot new book on Islam in Europe
"How do you tell a communist? Well, it's someone who reads Marx and Lenin.
And how do you tell an anti-Communist? It's someone who understands Marx and
2009 August 19
The Case for Cautious Optimism
Léo Apotheker, Business Week
A recent SAP-sponsored online poll by the Economist Intelligence Unit that
surveyed more than a thousand executives worldwide concludes that global
business conditions are expected to improve within a year.
Times of crisis can also be times of opportunity. We have an opportunity to
change the old ways of business. Given the huge recovery packages provided
by governments, there will be intersecting interests of business,
government, and people. Governments and business leaders have the
responsibility to get it right. This crisis has laid bare the need for more
clarity in business practices, greater transparency in reporting standards,
and the dire need for more sustainable business models.
Smart businesses will trigger a process of innovation as the crisis bottoms
out. Innovative strategies are already being debated in many boardrooms. New
technologies are emerging and early adopters are harnessing them. The
smartest will seize the opportunity to reinvent themselves and come out
stronger. But the recovery should be supported by clarity and
sustainability. I am optimistic that we will come out of this economic
crisis with stronger businesses than before.
2009 August 17
DARPA Falcon HCV
Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
Michael Cooney, Layer 8, Network World
DARPA director Tony Tether recently gave congressional testimony about DARPA
R&D including aviation research.
The Falcon program objectives are to develop and demonstrate hypersonic
technologies that will enable prompt global reach missions. This capability
is envisioned to entail a reusable hypersonic cruise vehicle (HCV) capable
of delivering 12,000 pounds of payload at a distance of 9,000 nautical miles
from CONUS in less than two hours.
The Rapid Eye program is working to deliver a persistent intelligence,
surveillance, and reconnaissance asset anywhere worldwide within one hour.
The program will develop a high- altitude, long-endurance aircraft that can
be put on existing space launch systems, withstand atmosphere re-entry, and
provide efficient propulsion in a low oxygen, low-speed environment.
The Oblique Flying Wing program will demonstrate a design concept for a new
class of efficient supersonic aircraft capable of flying in a swept
configuration with low supersonic wave drag and a non-swept configuration
increasing subsonic efficiency. This flexibility will improve range,
response time, fuel efficiency, and endurance for supersonic strike,
intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and transport missions.
The Heliplane program will develop a vehicle that can take off, land, and
hover vertically like a helicopter and cruise with the speed and efficiency
of a fixed-wing aircraft. Heliplane adapts lifting mechanisms to achieve
high efficiency throughout its flight envelope: a rotor in hover and
slow-speed flight and a fixed wing plus turbofan engines for high-speed
The A160 unmanned helicopter is designed for intelligence, surveillance, and
reconnaissance missions with endurance up to 20 hours and the ability to
hover at high altitudes. The A160 is being evaluated for surveillance and
targeting, communications and data relay, crew recovery, resupply of forces
in the field, and special operations missions.
The Vulture aircraft will be capable of remaining on location for over five
years, without refueling or maintenance. A single Vulture aircraft could
support traditional intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance functions
over country-sized areas. Vulture aircraft will also be able to provide
communications capabilities available today only from geostationary
satellites. Challenges include developing solar cell, energy storage, and
reliability technologies for continuous operation for over five years.
2009 August 13
already, and soon perhaps neutrino measurements too, suggest that spacetime
2009 August 12
Must science declare a holy war on religion?
Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum, Los Angeles Times
Richard Dawkins and the New Atheists want scientists and defenders of reason
to be far more confrontational and blunt.
More moderate scientists still dominate American science. The American
Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of
Sciences take the stance that science and religion can be perfectly
compatible, and are regularly blasted for it by the New Atheists.
A smaller nonprofit organization called the National Center for Science
Education promotes and defends the teaching of evolution in schools across
the country. In this endeavor, it has made frequent alliances with religious
believers who also support the teaching of evolution, seeking to forge a
broad coalition capable of beating back the fundamentalists.
Long under fire from the religious right, the NCSE now must protect its
other flank from the New Atheists. Dawkins denounces the NCSE as
equivocators who defend the science but refuse to engage with what the New
Atheists perceive as the real root of the problem, religious belief.
The New Atheists have chosen confrontation.
AR I am currently reading
The Case for God by Karen Armstrong.
2009 August 11
Bogus Theories, Bad for Business
Philip Delves Broughton. The Wall Street Journal
Matthew Stewart says consulting "contributes to a misunderstand- ing about
the sources of our prosperity, leading us to neglect the social, moral, and
political infrastructure on which our well-being depends." He argues that
the profession is built on a science of management that is both
narrow-minded and intellectually bogus. In its pursuit of single
goals, such as efficiency, it ignores the broader purpose of business.
The business world, according to Stewart, has become so obsessed with its
own perverse value system that workers are regarded as tools for businesses
to use and dispose of at will. Management science also fails to take into
account the broader context in which businesses function, choosing to focus
on the interests of individual businesses at the expense of the rest of
Stewart interweaves the story of his own inglorious consulting career with
his reflections on management's history as a science. Upon graduating from
Oxford with a doctoral degree in philosophy, he drifted into a job with a
small consulting firm. For the next decade, he bounced around the
profession, taking a couple of years off to write an unpublished history of
philosophy, rising to be a partner at a new firm and then getting fired
before it collapsed.
His account of his consulting work leavens what is a serious and valuable
polemic. For an entire year early in his consulting career, Stewart stashed
his belongings with his family and moved from hotel to hotel on assignment:
"Almost all of my interactions with people were connected to work in some
way ... With my overpriced advisory services and profligate spending on
luxury travel, I was a grossly inefficient efficiency expert, a parody of
2009 August 9
Adrian Michaels, The Telegraph
Europe's Muslim population has more than doubled in the past 30 years and
will have doubled again by 2015. Muslims already make up 25 percent of the
population in Marseilles and Rotterdam, 20 percent in Malmo, 15 percent in
Brussels and Birmingham and 10 percent in London, Paris and Copenhagen.
Migrants to the EU have come increasingly from outside developed economies,
and they have come in accelerating numbers. The EU reports that since 2002
net migration into the EU has roughly tripled to between 1.6 million and 2
million people per year. The EU says employment rates for non-EU nationals
are lower than for nationals. Integration is held back in part by language
In 2004 the EU forecast that its population would decline by 16 million by
2050. Now it thinks it will increase by 10 million by 2060. Britain is
expected to become the most populous EU country by 2060, with 77 million
inhabitants. Right now it has 20 million fewer people than Germany.
Benedict Carey, The New York Times
A small group of brain scientists is investigating misidentification
syndromes for clues to one of the most confounding problems in brain
science: identity. They are finding there is no single "identity spot" in
the brain. Instead, the brain uses several different neural regions to
sustain and update the identities of self and others. Learning what makes
identity will help doctors understand how some people preserve their
identities in the face of creeping dementia.
Todd E. Feinberg, a neurologist and psychiatrist at the Albert Einstein
College of Medicine and Beth Israel Medical Center, sees delusions of
identification as primitive psychological defenses, as a result of injuries
in the right frontal lobes that most such patients are struggling with. Such
defenses include denial of a disability, the projection of the problem onto
others or the fantasy that daily life is somehow unreal. "These defenses are
a positive adaptation. The brain is fighting for survival."
AR I corresponded with
Todd a few years ago following my participation in the
NYAS conference on the self.
Churchill as warlord: two new books
2009 August 8
Army: Afghanistan "30 or 40 years"
Michael Evans, The Times
The next British Amy head insists there is "absolutely no chance" of NATO
pulling out of Afghanistan. General Sir David Richards, who become, Chief of
the General Staff on August 28, said: "The Army's role will evolve, but the
whole process might take as long as 30 to 40 years."
More British defence news
2009 August 5
Kurzweil has been described as a "restless genius" by the Wall Street
Journal and "the ultimate thinking machine" by Forbes Magazine. Ray has
written five books, four of which have been national best sellers.
The Age of Spiritual Machines has been translated into 9 languages and
was the #1 best selling book on Amazon in science.
The Singularity is Near has
been the #1 book on Amazon in both science and philosophy.
"The practice of journalism, far from
being leeched by the Web, is being reinvented there, with a variety of
fascinating experiments in the gathering, presentation, and delivery of news"
2009 August 1-2
Brittany Ferries mv Barfleur
Took ferry Barfleur back to Cherbourg, spent another night in a Cherbourg
hotel, and motored back to base in Germany.
On the ferry, completed my holiday reading:
Allen Lane, 1072 pages
This is a masterful telling of a very sobering story, replete with a level
of detail, objectivity, and balance possible only now, decades later, and
perhaps only from a British historian.
Light intensity around a spaser: the plasmon concentration is highest near
the gold sphere (inner circle) inside the doped silica shell (outer circle)
Surface Plasmon Lasers
Researchers have demonstrated the smallest laser ever. The spaser generates
surface plasmons and could form the basis of photonic computers just as
transistors are the basis of electronics.
Optical devices can operate at hundreds of terahertz but they are difficult
to miniaturize because photons can't be smaller than about half their
wavelength. Devices that interact with light in the form of surface plasmons
can confine it much more tightly. Also, spasers are active and can produce
and amplify the waves.
Mikhail Noginov, professor of physics in the Center for Materials Research
at Norfolk State University, Virginia, co-led the development of the new
spaser with Ulrich Wiesner of Cornell University and Vladimir Shalaev and
Evgenii Narimanov of Purdue University. The work is described in Nature.
Their spaser consists of a nanoparticle 44 nm across, with parts that
perform functions like those in a laser. In a laser, photons bounce between
two mirrors through a gain medium that amplifies the light. In a spaser, the
plasmons bounce around on the surface of a gold sphere in a gain medium.
The team coated the gold with a layer of doped silica as a gain medium.
Light from the spaser can remain as plasmons or it can leave the particle as
visible-range photons. Like a laser, the spaser must be pumped with energy.
The size of a conventional laser is dictated by the wavelength of the light
it uses, and the distance between the mirrors must be at least 200 nm for
visible light. The spaser could be as small as 1 nm, and is about a thousand
times faster than any transistor. Applications are probably years away.
Neutrinos Under Wisconsin
Joel Achenbach, Washington Post
Scientists are playing an exotic game of pitch and catch between Illinois
and Minnesota. Their catcher's mitt is solid iron, weighs 5,500 tons, and is
in northern Minnesota. With millions of dollars from the federal stimulus
package, construction crews are now building a second mitt near the Canadian
Five hundred miles to the south is Fermilab, a U.S. government laboratory
west of Chicago where physicists generate neutrinos. Neutrinos zip right
through solid rock. They have no charge and only a tiny mass.
Nova is back in business thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment
Act of 2009. Forty million dollars are going to the Nova detector and
another $103 million to Fermilab.
Fermilab generates neutrinos by accelerating protons to nearly the speed of
light and smashing them into a target. The collision creates particles that
decay into neutrinos. A magnetic lens then focuses the particles into a
The new detector under construction is part of Nova. There are three
families of neutrinos: muon, electron, and tau. One type can oscillate into
another. Nova will look for evidence of muon neutrinos turning into electron
"At an early stage of their history, Christians and Muslims were both called
'atheists' by their pagan contemporaries ... Classical Western atheism was
developed [as] a response to and dictated by the theological perception of
God that had developed in Europe and the United States ... The more recent
atheism of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris ... has
focused exclusively on the God developed by the fundamentalisms, and all
three insist that fundamentalism constitutes the essence and core of all
religion. This has weakened their critique, because fundamentalism is in
fact a defiantly unorthodox form of faith that frequently misrepresents the
tradition it is trying to defend."
The Case for God, p. 7
The Management Myth
By Matthew Stewart
Norton, 343 pages
All Quiet on the God Front
Simon Blackburn, The Guardian
The Case for God, Karen Armstrong takes the reader through a history of
religious practice in many different cultures, arguing that in the good old
days and purest forms they all come to much the same thing. They use ritual,
mystery, drama, dance and meditation to enable us better to cope with the
vale of tears in which we find ourselves. Religion is therefore properly a
matter of a practice, and may be compared with art or music.
Intellectualizing the practice debases religion into a matter of belief in a
certain number of propositions. This is a perversion of anything valuable in
religious practice, Armstrong writes, and it is only this perverted view
that arouses the scorn of modern militant atheists. So Dawkins, Dennett,
Hitchens and Harris have chosen a straw man as a target. Real religion is
serenely immune to their discovery that it is silly to talk of a divine
So what should the religious adept actually say by way of expressing his or
her faith? Nothing. This is the apophatic tradition, in which nothing about
God can be put into words. Armstrong firmly recommends silence, having
written at least 15 books on the topic.
Leading Clerics Defy Ayatollah
on Disputed Iran Election
Michael Slackman, Nazila Fathi
The New York Times
The Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qum, the most important group
of religious leaders in Iran, have called the disputed presidential election
and the new government illegitimate. The statement is a setback for the
government and especially the authority of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali
Former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani favored the opposition
in last month's disputed elections. As chairman of Iran's Assembly of
Experts, which is responsible for appointing or removing the supreme leader,
he was silent at first but has now spoken.
Rafsanjani was quoted by the Iranian Labor News Agency as saying: "People
from across the country participated in the elections, with excitement, but
unfortunately the events that occurred after that and the difficulties
created for some, left a bitter taste, and I don't think that any wakened
consciousness would be satisfied with the resulting situation."
The recent disturbances reflect a power struggle "at the highest levels of
the system," he said.
"We must think about safe- guarding the long term interests and benefits of
This Iran story is becoming a thrilling cliff-hanger!
Holy Shiite Speaks Out
Sydney Morning Herald
The head of Iran's Guardians Council, Ayatollah Jannati, said at Friday
prayers that British embassy local staff arrested for allegedly stoking
post-election unrest will be put on trial. Jannati, who is close to Iran's
supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and a strong Ahmadinejad supporter,
said the country's "enemies" had been plotting a "velvet revolution" in the
Israel Faces Iran Dilemma
Bronwen Maddox, The Times
Is the threat of Iran getting a nuclear weapon so great that Israel should
contemplate military action? And should the United States encourage Israel?
The dilemma gets worse as Iran's nuclear program advances. Strikes look like
a horrible option, even for those who feel that an Iranian bomb is
2009 July 19-20
Brittany Ferries fast catamaran Vitesse
After motoring through France to Cherbourg and overnighting in a Cherbourg
hotel, took the fast ferry Vitesse to Poole.
Vitesse is a 40-kt catamaran built in Australia and registered in
2009 July 18
Toward the Nöosphere
2009 July 17
Iran back story by
2009 July 16
The Internet is Self-Organizing
The Internet of the future will favor even greater interaction between
users. It has developed like a Darwinian system, sprouting offshoots like the
evolutionary tree of life. There is little overall planning in the development
of the web. We are witnessing the self-organization of a collective
The term 'cybionte' describes a living organism that is a global
meta-organism. With the cybionte we arrive at a new level of complexity, a
global super-organism of which we are in a sense the neurons. I see the merging
of Gaia, which is the planet's metabolism, with cybionte, which is the nervous
system in the process of organizing itself.
Blue Brain update
2009 July 12
Labour Clash With Army
Jonathan Oliver and Michael Smith, The Sunday Times
Senior Labour figures accused the head of the army last night of playing
politics as he said that there were too few troops and helicopters in the Afghan
war zone. General Sir Richard Dannatt, the
Chief of the General Staff, suggests an extra 2,000 troops were needed in
What We Want
Michael Clarke, The Sunday Times
The soldiers, UK troops in the north and US marines a few miles to the
south, are on the offensive. They have pushed out from their bases to establish
better control in the Sangin and Helmand valleys. This is designed to keep
Taliban forces on the run and to create in the minds of the Afghan people a
sense, ahead of next month's elections, that the Kabul government and NATO
troops are a firm presence in Helmand.
Brown's Secret Plan
Brian Brady and Jonathan Owen, The Independent
Gordon Brown wants to bring up to 1,500 service personnel home from the
war-torn country after its elections next month, seemingly on grounds of cost.
Astonished former military chiefs condemned the "disastrous" move.
2009 July 11
More Brits Killed in Afghanistan Than in Iraq
The total number of British military dead in Afghanistan is now 184,
compared with 179 soldiers in Iraq. The British Chief of the Defense Staff, Air
Sir Jock Stirrup: "The mission in Afghanistan
is about supporting the delivery of governance in order to reduce the
opportunities for extremist terrorist groups who are a direct threat to the
Battle for "the Future of Britain"
Patrick Sawer, Daily Telegraph
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband insists that troops fighting in
Afghanistan are engaged in a battle for "the future of Britain."
Taliban Have Learned Modern Warfare
Jason Burke, The Guardian
For months, military planners in Afghanistan have been readying themselves
for a bloody summer. Soldiers say they now show vastly improved ability to
co-ordinate fire. Through the winter, the insurgents worked at stiffening
Terry Eagleton prefers Aquinas to
2009 July 9
Google Chrome OS Bomb
In the second half of 2010, Google plans to launch the Google Chrome OS, an
operating system designed from the ground up to run the Chrome web browser on
netbooks. This is Google dropping the mother of bombs on its chief rival,
Many people are buying netbooks right now, but are running Windows XP on
them. Windows XP is 8 years old. It was built to run on Pentium IIIs and Pentium
4s. Google Chrome OS is built to run on both x86 architecture chips and ARM
chips, like the ones increasingly found in netbooks. Google is working with
multiple OEMs to get the new OS up and running next year.
Chrome OS will be lightweight and fast just like the browser itself. And it
will be open-sourced. Google says the software architecture will basically be
the current Chrome browser running inside a new windowing system on top of a
Linux kernel. App developers will develop for it just as they would on the web.
Chrome OS will be all about the web apps.
2009 July 8
Best British Walks
Nicholas Roe, The Daily Telegraph
Photo: Hilary Stock
A view on the coastal walk between Mousehole and Lamorna, about 2 km south
of Penzance, Cornwall
Google Chrome OS is an open source, lightweight operating system that
will initially be targeted at netbooks. The software architecture is simple —
Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel.
AR This is the most
convincing first step to date on the long road to making Microsoft Windows
obsolete for personal computing. The Microsoft monster is slow, fat and
complicated, and dismayingly insecure, whereas Google Chrome OS is fast, slim
and simple, and apparently secure. For anyone impressed by the infinite promise
of cloud computing, as I am, this is no contest. But Microsoft can fight back by
developing an all-purpose home OS that runs a houseful of utilities and
appliances, household budgeting and banking, and communications and
entertainment as well. That is surely one of the biggest untapped markets for
the next decade, beside smart green power and online electric cars.
2009 July 6
Iraq and Iran
Public discontent with the Iranian outrages of the last few weeks must be
deep and widespread. If the Shiite scholars of Qum are willing to go public and
call the Ahmadinejad regime illegitimate, they must be impressed with the
feeling at the grass roots.
Among the best-known of those who think it is profane for the clergy to
degrade and compromise themselves with political power is Grand Ayatollah
Sistani, spiritual leader of neighboring Iraq. Many Iranians go as religious
pilgrims to the holy sites of Najaf and Kerbala in southern Iraq. They have seen
the way in which national and local elections have been held in Iraq. They have
seen an often turbulent Iraqi Parliament holding genuine debates that are
reported in the media.
Iran is a country undergoing very rapid urbanization of a formerly rural
population. Marxists know that this has always been a process pregnant with
revolutionary discontent. The mullahs in Iran cannot enforce their own ban on
informal media and unofficial transmission. And yet they keep on trying.
2009 July 5
Doctoring the Mind
Melanie McGrath, Sunday Telegraph
Doctoring the Mind, Richard Bentall, a professor of clinical psychology,
indicts a Western psychiatric tradition that "has been profoundly unscientific
and ... unsuccessful at helping some of the most distressed and vulnerable
people in society."
The roots of the problem runs lie in the Western definition of major mental
illness as a disease of brain chemistry. Studies on the connection between
mental illness, brain chemistry, and heritability remain inconclusive. There is
evidence indicating a connection between excess dopamine in the brain and the
onset of psychosis, but the connection between serotonin deficiency and
depression has never been proven. Some studies indicate a weak genetic component
in severe mental illness, but others point to a much stronger correlation with
environmental stress and connect stress with victimization and insecurity in
The relationship between nature and nurture in severe mental illness is
highly complex. This not only shows up the chemical imbalance and genetic
theories of mental illness for the simplistic formulas they are, but renders
umbrella diagnoses, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, at best
unhelpful. Bentall quotes the notorious 1972 experiment led by American
psychologist David Rosenhan when he and seven other researchers presented
themselves anonymously at a number of psychiatric hospitals in a dishevelled
state, claiming to be hearing voices saying "empty", "hollow" and "thud". All
eight were admitted and, despite reporting no further aural hallucinations and
behaving normally, seven were diagnosed schizophrenic and one was kept in
hospital for psychiatric treatment for 52 days.
Bentall advocates the sparing and episodic use of antipsychotic drugs in
conjunction with cognitive and behavioral therapy. In this model, the patient
partly defines his or her own recovery.
Saving God: Religion after Idolatry
Johnston, Princeton University Press
In this book, Mark Johnston argues that God needs to be saved not only from
the distortions of the "undergraduate atheists" (Richard Dawkins, Christopher
Hitchens, and Sam Harris) but, more importantly, from the idolatrous tendencies
of religion itself. Each monotheistic religion has its characteristic ways of
domesticating True Divinity, of taming God's demands so that they do not
radically threaten our self-love and false righteousness. Turning the
monotheistic critique of idolatry on the monotheisms themselves, Johnston shows
that much in these traditions must be condemned as false and spiritually
AR Sounds like a lot of
fun — must read!
Credit: Roy Ritchie / MIT Tech Rev
Fresh from inventing a new kind of
science, Stephen Wolfram hopes to circumvent Web search by computing answers
to users' online queries from his company's databases. He launched his knowledge
engine Wolfram Alpha in May.
Talbot, MIT Technology Review
2009 July 3
Iran Regime Naked Dictatorship
Fareed Zakaria, CNN
Three leading Iranian reformists questioned the legitimacy of President
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government this week.
Presidential candidate Mehdi Karrubi said he would not recognize the
government. Ahmadinejad's rival Mir Hossein Moussavi criticized the government
and its crackdown on the media. Iran's former reformist President Mohammad
Khatami called on Iranians to keep up the struggle.
The situation is fluid. There is an extraordinary level of dissent at the
highest levels of the establishment. Iran has become a naked dictatorship,
losing the facade of the Islamic and democratic political ideals that are
important to it.
We still have a problem with Iran, and we have to have a strategy in dealing
with it. The nuclear program continues to grow, and refusing to negotiate will
not do anything to stop it. But to pretend that nothing has happened in Iran
disregards the reality of a divided leadership.
The five major powers on the U.N. Security Council plus Germany have offered
to restart the nuclear negotiations. Iran has not responded. Until it does, the
West should build support for tougher sanctions and more isolation.
Iran has few options. Its economy is doing badly, the regime is facing its
greatest challenge since its founding, and its proxies in Lebanon, Iraq and
elsewhere are all faring worse than it had expected. Let the supreme leader and
President Ahmadinejad figure out what they should do.
It would be bizarre to bomb Iran now that we have seen the inside of that
country. There are millions of moderates in Iran.
The Invisible Hand of God
Paul Baumann, Washington Monthly
God Is Back, Micklethwait and Wooldridge assure us that Europe was wrong
and America right. Irreligion in Europe is the anomaly, and the "hot religion"
of the United States is the future.
In separating church and state while protecting the free exercise of
religion, the United States has established the ideal setting for religion,
democracy, and capitalism to flourish. And now — praise the Lord! — "the world
is moving in the American direction, where religion and modernity happily
coexist, rather than in the European direction, where secularization
Because religion was divorced from the state in America, religious leaders
and communities had to fend for themselves. This separation of church and state
may explain why religion has flourished in America, in contrast to other
developed nations where the state has had a much heavier hand in the support of
religion. This, in turn, demanded greater innovation and an emphasis on customer
Doubtless there is some truth in the observation that "competition and
choice" are good for religion, as the growth of Evangelical Christianity in
Latin America and Africa and Catholicism in Africa and Asia demonstrates.
Religion is about meaning. But to say that religion is about "the quest for
community in an increasingly atomized world, the desire to counterbalance choice
with a sense of moral certainty" doesn’t tell us what meaning.
The book's bottom line is that American-style Evangelical religion has
finally solved the age-old problem of whether one can serve both God and Mammon.
AR Bottom line? Punch
line for a rich (poor) joke!
2009 July 1
German Lisbon Treaty Ruling
Hans-Jürgen Schlamp, Der Spiegel
The political elite in Brussels are breathing a sigh of relief. Germany's
highest court has set very strict conditions on the ratification of the Lisbon
Treaty but the treaty doesn't have to be reworked again. The guardians of the
German constitution see shortcomings in the Lisbon Treaty and state that any
future "Community law or Union law" deemed to violate the constitution can be
"declared inapplicable in Germany."
Does God Hate Women?
Johann Hari, New Statesman
Does God Hate Women? Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom forensically
dismantle the last respectable misogyny. Every major religion's texts were
written at a time when women were regarded as little better than talking
cattle. Their words and commands reflect this, plainly and bluntly. Every
religion has groups today thumping women down with its Holy Book.
Apologists for religion say that misogynists are simply misinterpreting the
holy texts, which are in fact about love and compassion and kindness. Karen
Armstrong, one of the most egregious defenders of superstition, repeatedly
claims that Muhammad was an emancipator of women. Yet he married a
prepubescent child, and when he was given two slave girls he gave the ugly
one away and kept the beautiful one for sex.
There are people in all religions who have managed to leave behind literal
readings of the text and invent a less foul God to believe in. It is not for
atheists to say that one group of believers is right and the other is wrong.
Anybody not addled by superstition will conclude that bigotry deserves
neither respect nor deference. It deserves contempt and opposition.
Biden: US Will Not Block Israel
The United States will not stand in Israel's way if Israel believes military
action is needed to eliminate Iran's nuclear threat, Vice President Joe
Biden said during an interview on ABC TV. Biden said the U.S. "cannot
dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and
Peter Beaumont, The Observer
Israel said the war was designed to bring a halt to the launching of
home-made missiles out of the Gaza Strip. Its targets suggested wider aims,
not least the dismantling of Palestinian institutions.
I scour Gaza for evidence that anything has changed for the better in the
months since the war ended. But houses and other buildings destroyed during
the conflict remain as hollowed-out and dusty monuments to violence. In
places, some owners have experimented with repairing buildings with an adobe
made of mud and straw baked in the sun.
There are changes in the six months since the war ended. The bodies of dead
animals have been removed and cleared away. The ruins have been sifted for
human remains. The tangled remnants of an orange grove I drove past every
day, tipped over and torn by military bulldozers, has disappeared, razed for
AR No sympathy. They
brought it on themselves with their rockets
EU Nations Warn Iran
Nico Hines and David Charter
European leaders backed Britain today after Iran announced that British
embassy staff would be forced to stand trial in Tehran. In a coordinated
move, EU nations simultaneously summoned Iranian ambassadors across Europe
to explain the arrest of British diplomats for allegedly inciting the recent
violence in Iran.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Iranian Armed
Forces Major General Hassan Firouzabadi said western supporters of the
unrest have no right to negotiate with Iran unless they apologize to the
nation: "The European Union is a defeated political and economic alliance
and in the recent elections for the European Parliament the people of Europe
showed that they do not trust the EU."