BLOG 2011 Q1
Seth Lerer, SF Chronicle
Marjorie Garber argues that
literature is a form of writing that offers unanswered questions. Literary
works have no single meaning, whatever the author intended. Literature
teaches not a set of univocal moral truths but rather a habit of mind: a way
of questioning the world, a way of understanding just how hard it is to make
decisions, fall in love, express desire, worship, rule and serve.
read books often to learn how others do things, or how others failed to do
them. We read books for pleasure, too. All literature is contemporary,
because when we read it, we make it our own. This is the story of history.
Each time we read a book, we see it differently. Each time we read a book,
we see ourselves differently in it.
U.S. Air Force/AP
USAF AC-130U Spooky gunship
has a 25 mm GAU-12 Equalizer rotary cannon, a 40 mm Bofors gun, and a
105 mm M102 howitzer mounted along the fuselage. Two are deployed in Libya.
Bit by Bit
Tim Wu, Slate
Claude Shannon developed a mathematical theory of information. The
inventor of the "bit" realized that information is related to order and
uncertainty, and so to entropy. Shannon introduced the idea that information
Information is resistant to
decay and capable of perfect self-reproduction. It outlasts the organic
beings who create it, and, by replication, the inorganic mediums used to
store it. In the beginning was the word.
In The Information, James Gleick considers Richard Dawkins'
idea that humans can be seen as information carriers. Our bodies are
containers for DNA, which is just a code and a storage format for
information. And the word became flesh.
The Fukushima plant in has been emitting radioactive iodine and cesium
at levels approaching those seen in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident.
The daily release of iodine
131 is 73% and that of cesium 137 around 60% of the amount released from
Chernobyl. At Chernobyl a huge fire released large amounts of many
radioactive materials in smoke. At Fukushima, only the volatile elements,
such as iodine and cesium, are bubbling off the damaged fuel. The Fukushima
plant has around 1760 tons of nuclear fuel on site, but the Chernobyl
reactor had only 180 tons.
The Chernobyl accident emitted much more
radioactivity and a wider diversity of radioactive elements than Fukushima
Daiichi has so far, but iodine and cesium caused the main
health risk because the human body readily absorbs them.
I think what you’ll find,
I think what you’ll
Whatever it is we do substantively,
There will be
As to what it is.
And it will be known,
And it will be known to the Congress,
And it will be known to you,
Probably before we decide it,
But it will be known.
Pragmatism Is King
Shortly after the
G20 meeting in London that marked the turning point of the financial
crisis, President Sarkozy declared that
"the G20 foreshadows the planetary governance of the 21st century."
Progress toward reinvention of the global system took a great leap forward
last week. The $30 billion currency intervention to help to stabilize the
Japanese yen could be as important as the no-fly zone over Libya.
Governments should not define what they want to achieve but try to avoid
unacceptable outcomes. This approach seems better than following unrealistic
and rigid principles.
AR Long live
100 Years of Air Strikes
Ian Patterson, LRB
The world's first aerial bombing mission took place 100 years ago,
against Turks in Libya.
On 1 November 1911, an
Italian Air Fleet
officer dropped four 2 kg bombs,
by hand, over the side of his aeroplane.
In The Grand Design, Stephen Hawking and Leonard
Mlodinow proclaims string theory to be the ultimate account of reality.
In Cycles of Time, Roger Penrose offers a new and improved
version of the old oscillating universe theory.
In The Hidden
Reality, Brian Greene suggests that our universe may be a simulation run
by an alien civilization.
European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger on Japan:
"There is talk of an apocalypse and I think the word is particularly
well chosen. Practically everything is out of control. I cannot exclude
the worst in the hours and days to come."
Latest Nuclear Reactors
MIT Tech Review
The latest nuclear reactor designs would
avoid the overheating and explosions that have occurred at the Fukushima
Daiichi nuclear plant. Newer reactor designs use passive cooling systems
that would not fail after a power outage.
AR People will need more reassurance than this.
International Nuclear Safety Center
Genes 'R' Us — Not!
Our bodies are not our
genomes. The "yuk" response to embryos with non-maternal mitochondrial
genes is a form of genetic narcissism. When scientists in 2009 announced
in Nature that they had achieved mitochondrial transplants in monkeys,
an editorial acknowledged that such unions are unnatural. The word
"unnatural" here enlists moral disapproval. But technology is not
inherently perverting. Our identity lies in how we inhabit the world.
2011 March 31
Ben Macintyre, The Times
BHL is more famous in France than any
pop star. He is hailed as the philosophical driving force behind France's
involvement in Libya. He says of himself: "Criticism of Bernard-Henri Lévy
is, quite honestly, of no importance."
everything about BHL is, from a British point of view, deeply annoying. But
France has a long tradition of intellectual heroes. The latest dictionary of
French intellectuals runs to 1,300 pages. BHL encouraged France to take the
lead in Libya.
BHL on Libya:
Libya was an occupied country. An army of
mercenaries was at war with a civilian population that had no weapons but
was full of hope. This absolute drive for freedom and democracy had taken
hold of the country, in a population that was believed to be doomed to
living in a dictatorship.
They are not
religious fanatics. They believe that Islam is a matter of faith and not a
matter for the government. They want an Islam that is only the business of
the individual, but not one that dictates its laws to society.
Arab League asked us for help, aircraft from Qatar and the United Arab
Emirates are involved in the mission, and the Tunisian and Egyptian people
morally support this intervention. This has nothing to do with a Western
When the Arab League requested that we intervene in Libya,
it was a decisive moment in the history of the modern age. The obligation to
intervene in the affairs of other countries became universal as a result.
2011 March 30
OPEC 2011: $1,000,000,000,000
OPEC, the oil producers' cartel, will reap a
trillion dollars in export revenues this year for the first time if crude
prices remain above $100 a barrel, according to the International Energy
AR At that price the cartelists had better
be damned grateful to beneficent Westerners for the rest of recorded
You Go To War To Win
Charles S. Faddis, CNN
General Carter Ham,
commander of the U.S. forces involved in operations in Libya, stated that he
could see completing the military mission assigned to him and leaving
Gadhafi in power. He added that he had no mission to attack Gadhafi and, in
fact, had very little idea where he was.
Defense Secretary Robert
Gates admitted that there was no clearly defined end to the military action
in Libya and suggested it might drag on for an undetermined period. When
asked what would happen if Gadhafi hunkered down and seemed determined to
remain in power, Gates had no answer.
War is a nasty, brutish
business. We ought to pursue every other possible means for the resolution
of conflict first before we rush to send young men and women to their deaths
and to spend billions of dollars of the taxpayer's money. Once we decide to
go to war, we should act decisively and do all we can to conclude it
AR In a
political mess like the Mideast, defining a win is hard.
Nuclear "No Brainer"
Former British chief scientific adviser Professor
Sir David King says Britain must embrace a nuclear future despite fears
raised by Fukushima. Britain has the largest stockpile of plutonium in the
world from spent nuclear fuel. Because Pu is dangerous and expensive to
process and bury, Sir David said the UK should build a new generation of MOX
plants, run on mixed U and Pu oxides.
AR Let him come and make his "no brainer"
case in Germany.
2011 March 29
Free To Protest?
George Monbiot, The Guardian
The 2011 Protection of Freedoms Bill
is currently in committee in the British parliament. It limits the period of
detention without charge for terrorist suspects, reforms the measures that
allow police to stop and search anyone they please, regulates CCTV and
council snooping, and prevents the police from holding the DNA records of
innocent people indefinitely. All this is welcome, but it scarcely grazes
the mountain of repressive legislation that has piled up since the 1986
Public Order Act.
Arab-style revolt in London might wake people up.
Western Double Standards?
Ömer Taspinar, CNN
In new Mideast, a
combination of repression, unemployment, and deprivation has mobilized Arabs
mass protests. But the West intervenes in Libya and remains silent about the
suppression of dissidents in Bahrain.
Saudi Arabia and the United
Arab Emirates sent troops to Bahrain. These countries are deeply worried
about a spillover of unrest and fear Iran looming on the horizon. Through
its proxies, Iran can support opposition forces in Yemen and Bahrain.
Millions of Arab youth are asking why the UN resolution should apply
only to Libya and leave Bahrain and Yemen out in the cold. The governments
of other Arab lands
appear to have more legitimacy than the regime in Libya.
The West has so
far been lucky to see no Islamists in mass demonstrations in the region.
Soon radical Islamists and enemies of the West will have the upper hand in
Gaddafi is a mad dog who should have gone years ago. The rulers of other
Arab lands are civilized enough to work with. Westerners have to trust Arabs
to sort out their own affairs decently. We intervene only to avert
catastrophe. But if Arabs go for Islamists, more
2011 March 28
Dawkins On Life
S Do you
think religion is something we should move beyond as we enter adulthood?
When I was I child, I spoke as a child. But when I became a man, I put away
S Has religion not
been very successful in an evolutionary sense?
D The thought that human societies gained
strength from religious memes in their competition with others is true to a
certain extent. But it is more like an ecological struggle. So when a tribe
has a war-like god, you see a set of powerful, mutually reinforcing memes at
work. If the rival tribe has a peaceful god who believes in turning the
other cheek, that might not prevail.
S But following a religion that
does not promote the chances for survival seems to contradict evolutionary
D Clearly there
is a conflict between meme and gene survival.
S You argue that the
theory of evolution is on the same level as a mathematical theorem. Are you
not just as dogmatic as the religious fundamentalists?
D There was a
time when people thought the world was flat. Then it became a hypothesis
that the sun was the center of the universe, and then there was the
hypothesis that even the sun was not the center of the universe. There's
never a hard and fast line when something becomes a fact. But evolution is a
S Would you like to be remembered as a scientist or as a critic
D Both really. I don't see any contradiction between the
two aspects. I think they belong together.
A Visit from the
Egan describes the lives of people in and around the rock music business
from the 1970s to 2020. By forgoing
narration, Egan seems to get at a deeper interiority. And by rapidly
shifting scene and voice, she saves herself, and her reader, the tedious
tasks of scene-setting and plot advancement.
2011 March 27
Enjoyed happy afternoon with old
friends in Ladenburg
Ladenburg is on the River Neckar, 10 km east of Mannheim and 10 km
northwest of Heidelberg. It has a medieval heart and its history goes back
to Celtic and Roman times.
Zero degrees of empathy means you have
no awareness of how you come across to others, how to interact with others,
or how to anticipate their feelings or reactions. Three
ways to zero: borderline, psychopathic, and borderline personality
Borderlines cannot tolerate being alone. For them,
aloneness feels like abandonment. They either feel suffocated or abandoned,
with no calm middle ground. Type B brains are different in much of the
empathy circuit, with decreased binding of neurotransmitters to one of the
serotonin receptors and low activity in the orbital frontal cortex and in
the temporal cortex.
People who were abused as children are often
Type B. Such people have abnormalities in the empathy circuit, such as
having a smaller amygdala. Women who were sexually abused later show less
grey matter in their left medial temporal cortex. Smaller hippocampal volume
is also found in people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Early
abuse and neglect change how the brain turns out.
A psychopath has
antisocial personality disorder. The Type P brain shows abnormalities in the
empathy circuitry. Early stress affects the hippocampus and the neural
systems that respond to threat. The amygdala responds to stress or threat by
triggering the hypothalamus to trigger the pituitary gland to release ACTH,
which the blood carries to the adrenal gland where it triggers the release
of cortisol. Receptors for cortisol in the hippocampus allow the animal to
regulate the stress response. Too much stress can damage and shrink your
Empathy is a way of anticipating and resolving
interpersonal problems. Empathy is good for you.
The 2011 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary adds such
acronyms as LOL and OMG. It also includes the word heart used as a verb, as
in "I heart New York"; dot-bomb, used to describe web concepts that fizzle
out and die; and ego-surfing, or searching for your own name online.
2011 March 26
Syria Is Next
The New York Times
Troops opened fire during protests in
Syria and killed peaceful demonstrators. Tens of thousands of demonstrators
in the southern city of Dara'a and in other cities and towns around the
nation took to the streets in protest. It was the most serious challenge to
40 years of rule by the Assad family since 1982.
Human Rights Watch
Middle East and North Africa director Sarah Leah Whitson: "Syria's security
forces are showing the same cruel disregard for protesters' lives as their
counterparts in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain."
minister and adviser to the president, Bouthaina Shaaban, said President
Assad "doesn't want the bloodshed at all, and I witnessed his directives on
not using live bullets whatever the circumstances."
AR There seems to be a
disconnect between the upper levels of government and the security boots on
U.S. State Department acting deputy spokesman
Mark Toner: "I think what we are doing is enforcing a resolution that has a
very clear set of goals, which is protecting the Libyan people, averting a
humanitarian crisis, and setting up a no-fly zone. Obviously that involves
kinetic military action, particularly on the front end."
Room, Spencer Ackerman: "While the president travelled through Latin
America, his aides told sympathetic audiences in Washington that Operation
Odyssey Dawn 'is a limited humanitarian intervention, not war,' in the words
of White House Mideast troubleshooter Dennis Ross."
of State for Defense Donald Rumsfeld: "If you went to Congress and asked for
authorization to do something, you'd have to know what it was you wanted to
do and you had to have decided before the fact with some precision and some
clarity, as to what the mission would be."
AR Humanitarian intervention is a kind of kinetic action
and so is war, but in physics a kinetic theory is less deep and general than
a dynamic theory. OMG, I'm confused!
Martin Amis on the
problems of writing an autobiographical novel:
"I had to abandon it. ...
I just realised that the whole project of writing autobiographically about
the sexual revolution was a complete dead end. And life is dead ... even the
most crude, kitchen-sinky kind of novel is, in fact, very stylised. Our
lives actually have no shape at all and they are just one thing after the
other. There can be lives that have a kind of shape but it's a fluke if they
do. It's the difference between a lady's court shoe and your actual foot.
Life is the foot."
autobiography is not a novel, but it can be better.
2011 March 25
Military Doubts Over Libya
Max Hastings, Financial Times
air power cannot oust Colonel Gaddafi. A stalemate would not be helpful.
Western patience is short. Allied action in the Mideast should not feed
Americans have been bullied into an adventure for
which they must do the heavy lifting because the British and French
cheerleaders lack the firepower. Armed intervention in Libya will be hard to
see through without a ground force commitment.
to a surge of sentiment. Allied governments failed to meet a key test before
launching any military operation: defining clear and attainable objectives.
2011 March 24
Why It's America's War
Stephen L. Carter, The Daily Beast
The Libyan war is very much an
American show. Only the United States can project power over any distance
for any length of time. In the opening salvo of the war, 124 cruise missiles
launched against the Libyan air-defense systems. American warships fired
122, British two. The U.S. has supplied nearly half the aircraft involved in
Odyssey Dawn and flown most of the combat missions.
The U.S. spends more than 40 cents of every defense dollar
spent on the face of the Earth. The Libyan war is likely to cost well in
excess of $1 billion a week. Nobody else can afford it. The U.S. is running
the war, and will continue to do so. If other NATO countries hope ever again
to be equal partners, they will have to increase their defense spending
Royal Navy Reactor Danger
The Royal Navy uses dangerous reactors in its
nuclear submarines. The PWR2 pressurized water reactors are like those at
Fukushima. A Ministry of Defence report says the reactors are "potentially
vulnerable" to accidents.
Naval PWR2 reactors are used in the four Trident submarines and six
Trafalgar-class boats. Like the Fukushima reactors, the PWR2 relies on
back-up power supplies to provide emergency cooling in the event of an
PWR2 reactors are also being fitted in the seven
Astute-class submarines being built. Safer PWR3 reactors use "passive"
cooling and have additional safety features. PWR3 reactors are used in
modern U.S. nuclear submarines.
2011 March 23
President Obama and David Cameron agreed that
NATO should play a key role in policing the no-fly zone and shielding Libyan
civilians. There was uncertainty about who would be in charge of the
mission. NATO cannot be fully in charge because Turkey will block military
action that endangers civilians. Germany is also reluctant. France would
like to take the lead. NATO allies are unhappy that President Sarkozy sent
French warplanes over Libya at the weekend without informing all the allies.
The most likely command headquarters is Allied Joint Force Command Naples.
Fan of Rommel
Muammar Gaddafi is a big fan of Erwin
Rommel, the fabled wartime German commander of the Afrika Korps. But as both
the British and German commanders discovered in 1941-42, fighting in the
Libyan desert is a logistical nightmare. The no-fly zone stops Gaddafi from
moving enough supplies and armour to take the rebel base. The most likely
outcome is a return to a Libya divided between east and west as in ancient
AR Europe needs
an unbroken chain of friendly secular states along North Africa from the
Atlantic to the Nile.
2011 March 22
The Libya Hypocrisies
Leslie H. Gelb, The Daily Beast
No foreign states have vital
interests at stake in Libya. There are far worse humanitarian horrors
elsewhere. Neither President Obama nor his coalition partners in Britain and
France can state a coherent goal for Libya. If the goal is to save
civilians, they must hit all military targets.
President Obama erred
initially by saying that Gaddafi "must go." Then he waited upon Arab League
and UN resolutions, and upon agreements from his French and British allies
on their assuming major responsibility. Pray that he sticks to that course.
Fukushima: The Good News
George Monbiot, The Guardian
A crappy old plant with inadequate
safety features was hit by a monster earthquake and a vast tsunami. The
electricity supply failed, knocking out the cooling system. The reactors
began to explode and melt down. The disaster exposed a familiar legacy of
poor design and corner-cutting. Yet, as far as we know, no one has yet
received a lethal dose of radiation.
I favor a major expansion of
renewables. But the impacts and costs of renewables rise with the proportion
of power they supply. At high latitudes like ours, most small-scale ambient
power production is a dead loss. Generating solar power in the UK involves a
spectacular waste of scarce resources. Wind power in populated areas is
Deep green energy production is far more damaging
to humanity than nuclear meltdown. On every measure (even radioactive
discharges) coal is 100 times worse than nuclear power. The crisis at
Fukushima has converted me to the cause of nuclear power.
2011 March 21
B-2 landing after the mission
Three USAF B-2 Spirit bombers
flew a 25-hour,
11,500-mile round trip from an airbase in Missouri to drop 45 bombs, each weighing 2000 lbs,
onto an airbase in Libya.
Barbary War III
Yoni Appelbaum, The Atlantic
The First and Second Barbary Wars were waged intermittently from 1801
until 1815. The Anglo-Dutch expedition of 1816 employed overwhelming
firepower to achieve humanitarian aims. The issue was piracy by the city
states of the Barbary Coast — Tunis, Algiers, and Tripoli — plundering
ships, enslaving their crews and passengers, and extorting tribute in
exchange for safe passage. The Third Barbary War is ongoing.
2011 March 20
Allies Hit Libya
French aircraft bombed tanks threatening Benghazi,
the stronghold of Libyan rebels fighting to depose Gadhafi.
American and British ships and submarines
stationed off Libya fired 112 Tomahawk cruise missiles at about 20 Libyan
air and missile defense targets. An American stealth bomber dropped 40 bombs
on an airbase.
British Tornado GR4 jets from RAF Marham attacked
radar sites around Tripoli with Storm Shadow missiles. Eight RAF Typhoon
jets are set to patrol over Libya.
Allied aircraft continue to arrive
at Mediterranean bases from countries including Canada, Denmark, and Spain.
Qatar and the UAE are expected to join the military effort.
assets including the USS Enterprise carrier strike group and the USS
Kearsarge Expeditionary Strike Group are in the region. More NATO ships
including two Royal Navy frigates will converge on Libya to enforce a naval
Failures At Fukushima
The Sunday Times
Fukushima will join Chernobyl and Three Mile
Island in the annals of nuclear ignominy. Japanese emergency crews were
little better prepared, and no better resourced, than their Soviet
counterparts 25 years ago.
Hydrogen explosions resulting
from the pumping in of seawater caused unknown damage. Even if the pumps are
restarted, it is too late to save the cores in three reactors from partial
meltdown. Radioactive emissions have entered the local food chain.
Experts have identified four main failures:
— Diesel generators that
should have provided back-up when power was cut were at sea level and were
swamped by the tsunami.
— Antiquated boiling-water reactors needed
huge amounts of cooling using electric pumps to avoid overheating, even
after they were shut down.
— Four of the reactors at the plant were
built close together, so fire or explosion at one plant affected the others
and made it dangerous for workers to attend to them.
— The cooling
ponds containing spent fuel were built high off the ground, where they were
at risk of losing all their water in the event of leakage.
2011 March 19
Steve Coll, The New York Review of Books
Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton: "Egypt isn't inspiring people because they communicated
using Twitter. It is inspiring because people came together and persisted in
demanding a better future. Iran isn't awful because the authorities used
Facebook to shadow and capture members of the opposition. Iran is awful
because it is a government that routinely violates the rights of its
people." She argues that social media have become a public space akin to the
public squares of the past. To enlarge this new public space, "we need to
have a serious conversation about the principles that will guide us, what
rules exist and should not exist and why."
The Net Delusion:
The Dark Side of Internet Freedom
By Evgeny Morozov
Morozov used the Internet to promote democracy and media reform in the
former Soviet bloc. He criticizes the Western reaction during the failed
uprising in Iran in 2009. He maps the malevolent use of Facebook to enhance
surveillance in Iran, the funding of pro-government bloggers to promote
authoritarian regimes and drain off dissent in China and Russia, and the
rise of Hugo Chavez as a tweeter. Morozov fears that there is no good
blueprint for dealing with modern authoritarianism.
Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires
By Tim Wu
Wu is a law professor and coined the phrase "net neutrality." He is
concerned that large corporations may be on the verge of carving the
Internet into an oligopoly. He shows that if corporations take control of
the American Internet, and use tolls and technical rules to build a new
hierarchy of access, then authoritarian states like Russia and China will be
sure to follow. He asks whether the Internet will yield to the consolidating
patterns of monopoly and state control that shaped radio and television or
whether the Internet will remain a radically open system.
Garry Wills, The New York Review of Books
Shining: Reading the Western Classics
to Find Meaning in a Secular
By Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly
Kelly propose that one can get glimpses of the sacred from "whoosh" moments.
They glimpse the sacred by "reading the Western classics." They begin with
David Foster Wallace and Elizabeth Gilbert. They praise Wallace for uniting
the two main sources of whoosh, celebrity and sports, and Gilbert for her
openness to surface whooshiness, her sacred impulsiveness.
Dreyfus and Kelly say
the fall from Homer's sublime superficiality occurred when Augustine of Hippo
invented interiority. He did this by merging the specific time and space of
Jesus with the timeless essences of Greek philosophy. But they face the
problem that whoosh moments can sweep people along in a Hitler rally. They
argue for the joys of making the proper cup of coffee.
AR Whoosh that book into the
2011 March 18
Libya: Too Late
Max Hastings, Financial Times
Once Muammer Gaddafi decided to
fight, only direct ground intervention by the United States and its allies
would have helped the rebels.
know almost nothing either about the Libyan insurgents or about what is
happening on the ground. It would be madness to commit U.S. and allied
forces to destroy Colonel Gaddafi, with no notion of what would follow.
Local goodwill for western assistance in supplanting the Libyan tyranny
would quickly dissipate. The Muslim world is bitter about America's
continuing support for Israel. This core political reality deprives the west
of moral authority throughout the region.
Grown-up governments do not
commit warplanes as if sending a donation to Oxfam. We have no interest in a
Maybe we still have time to take out some of the toys of
"Mad Max" Gaddafi.
2011 March 17
Japan's Leadership Flaws
The New York Times
Never has postwar Japan needed strong
leadership more — and never has its weak system of governing been so clearly
Politicians are almost completely
reliant on Tokyo Electric Power, known as Tepco, for information. At a Tepco
briefing on Wednesday, tempers ran high among reporters. Headlines shouted
that the Fukushima Daiichi plant was being abandoned. But it emerged that
the plant's staff members had not abandoned it.
Postwar Japan flourished under a system in which political
leaders left domestic affairs to powerful bureaucrats. But over the past
decade or so, the bureaucrats' authority has been greatly reduced.
Responsibility for the rolling residential blackouts in the Tokyo region has
been left to Tepco.
"There's a clear lack of command authority in
the current government in Tokyo," said Ronald Morse, who has worked in
government departments in the United States and Japan.
AR Sad truths I see no way to
2011 March 16
Japan "level 6"
The Times, 0418 GMT
A Washington think tank has backed French
claims that the situation at the Fukushima nuclear plant is now close to a
level 6, just one notch below the 1986 Chernobyl disaster at level 7.
2011 March 15
Japan Disaster News
The Times, 0516 GMT
Fresh explosion at nuclear plant, fourth reactor on fire
Radiation "high enough to damage health"
Residents within 30 km of nuclear plant warned to stay indoors
IAEA called in to help avert nuclear disaster
More than 10,000 feared dead in tsunami
AR As the Times editors
say, the fact remains that nuclear power is one of the safest and most
highly regulated forms of power generation. Reactors are designed to contain
Saudis in Bahrain
Bahrain was hit by fresh pro-democracy clashes as tens of thousands
marched to protest deployment of troops from Saudi Arabia. King Hamad bin
Isa Al-Khalifa declared martial law.
Saudi King Abdullah is popular amongst his
subjects. Saudi Arabia has the political and economic problems associated
with a youth bulge. But it has the resources and strategies to stave off a
serious threat in the short term. Saudi Arabia has 25 percent of the world's
proven petroleum reserves and produces around 9 million barrels of oil a
day. The kingdom is in a category by itself with respect to energy markets
and its role in the global economy.
2011 March 13
Japanese Nuclear Crisis
The New York Times
Japanese officials struggled on Sunday to
contain a widening nuclear crisis in the aftermath of a devastating
earthquake and tsunami. They presume partial meltdowns have occurred at two
crippled reactors and are facing cooling problems at three more.
developments prompted the evacuation of more than 200,000 people. Officials
have ordered the largest mobilization of the Self-Defense Forces since World
War II to assist in the relief effort.
On Saturday, Japanese
officials flooded the crippled No. 1 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi
nuclear power station with seawater in a last-ditch effort to avoid a
On Sunday, cooling failed at No. 3 reactor.
Meltdown is presumed at both cores, said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio
Edano. Cooling has also failed at three reactors in the Fukushima Daini
The emergency appears to be the worst involving a nuclear
plant since the Chernobyl disaster 25 years ago.
AR This will set back the push
for green nuclear power.
2011 March 12
The wave of political upheaval in the Arab world is
very different from the wave of political change that swept Central and
Eastern Europe in 1989. Middle East regimes are hunkering down. The regimes
are much more diverse than were those in Central and Eastern Europe.
The diversity of the Arab world will have a big impact on democratic
success. Factors include the level of economic development, the
concentration of national wealth, the coherence and capability of the state,
the presence of identity-based divisions, and experience with political
Expanding the political choices of Arab citizens could
open the floodgates to a cascade of Islamist electoral landslides. Islamist
victories cannot be ruled out. But never in the Arab world have any Islamist
election gains resulted in a theocracy.
There are lessons from
history. Opposition unity is crucial. Constitutional reform should be
inclusive. Elections should not be hurried. Banning large swaths of the
former ruling elite from political life is a mistake. Putting the military
back in the box should be gradual. Rapid delivery of tangible economic
benefits is critical. But the lessons are only suggestive.
be a major player in the region's political evolution. European leaders fear
refugee flows heading north, disruption in oil supplies, and radical
Islamist activity. The European Union played a big role in Central and
Eastern Europe after 1989.
David Aaronovitch, The Times
A recent UN
report on the 1986 Chernobyl disaster estimated that perhaps 2,000 people
developed thyroid cancer, having drunk contaminated milk, of whom a score or
so died from it. Apart from those killed in the explosion or on site, the
report found no evidence of other fatalities or adverse health effects. The
report argues that the psychological effects of the disaster were very
German Chancellor Angela Merkel took a sudden decision
before state elections last week to close down seven reactors. She also
pandered to the panic by appointing a commission to look at the ethics of
nuclear energy, the membership to include the Cardinal Archbishop of Munich.
I don't imagine a similar commission exists for other forms of energy.
U.S. Air Force
USAF A-10 Thunderbolt or
Warthog has a GAU-8 Avenger 30 mm rotary cannon and wingfuls of bombs and
rockets. The type is deployed in Libya.
AR I followed the career of
from its cradle in
the sixties at Fairchild.
SAP Follows The Sun
MIT Technology Review
When SAP needs to complete a project
quickly, it uses its global reach. At the end of the workday in Germany,
developers hand off work to colleagues in California. Eight hours later, the
California teams hand over to Asia.
SAP followed the sun
to help customers deal with the Japanese triple crisis of earthquake,
tsunami, and nuclear disaster. Big companies using SAP software needed SAP
to help out. The SAP team got started and the work followed the sun.
SAP uses Streamwork software to manage the process. When project workers
complete their workday, they connect with their colleagues via
videoconferences and instant messages. Streamwork tracks their work to help
the next team ramp up.
The Sunday Times
In his new book Out of the Darkness, Steve
Taylor looks at people who hit rock bottom and then experience a seismic
shift within to become happier, calmer and better than ever before. They
gain a new sense of well-being and a new appreciation for life.
Spiritual guru Eckhart Tolle contemplated suicide following
years of extreme anxiety and existential despair, until, mid-breakdown, he
experienced a transformation: "All I knew was that I was peaceful. My noisy
mind, which had covered up the deeper dimension within me, had subsided. I
no longer had to prove anything, I was much more aware of beauty, and the
world no longer seemed threatening."
Taylor says these
transformations are a leap to a higher level of being and compares them to
the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly.
The Arab Spring
British Foreign Secretary
We are only in the early stages of what is happening in North Africa and
the Middle East, but it is already set to overtake 9/11 as the most
important development of the early 21st century.
The Robot Rule
William Saletan, Slate
Monday morning, the
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission met to discuss what we can learn from
the nuclear crisis in Japan.
Here's the first thing to learn: Get
some robots that can help us in a serious nuclear accident.
Japan Crisis Rating 5
CNN, 1849 GMT
The Japanese Nuclear and Industrial Safety
Agency raised its rating for the Fukushima crisis from 4 to 5, equal to
that for the 1979 incident at Three Mile Island.
"Impact as Great as 9/11"
earthquake of March 11 was no terrorist attack. But its political and
psychological consequences will be as great as 9/11 because it has shown
what a terrorist attack on nuclear plants would look like.
Japan Quake Earth Impact
9.0 earthquake in Japan may have shortened the length of each Earth day
and shifted its axis. A preliminary calculation indicates that by
changing the distribution of Earth's mass, the earthquake has shortened
the length of the day by about 1.8 microseconds and shifted the position
of Earth's figure axis by about 17 cm toward 133 degrees E longitude.
The shift will cause Earth to wobble differently as it rotates.
English Libel Law
British Members of Parliament and Peers responded to
the LRC blueprint for reform in advance of the publication of the
government's defamation bill to say this is a "once in a lifetime
chance" to reform the law.
Do it now.
Libya: Air Strike Talks
France is talking to its allies about
targeted air strikes on Libyan airfields. The French government
suggested its international partners should consider more flexible and
rapid military responses to the escalating violence. President Nicolas
Sarkozy met leaders of the Libyan National Council as if the group
represented the Libyan people. Sarkozy is ahead of his partners in
Europe and Washington.
Sex And Children
Evangelical Christians at the
Christian Institute are attacking books cleared for use in schools. Sex
education is a compulsory component of the national curriculum. People
with weird, punitive attitudes to sex shouldn't be allowed to influence
sex education. Sex lessons provide the skills kids need to enjoy sex as
The King James Bible
Times Literary Supplement
King James commissioned a new Bible
translation in 1604 and the first edition appeared in 1611. The modern
KJB incorporates revisions from 1743 and 1769. Oxford University Press
still sells over 250,000 copies a year.
Nuclear Weapons And Israel
Israel is operating five modern German-built
Dolphin-class submarines. Reports indicate that these submarines are
equipped with Popeye Turbo cruise missiles that can deliver nuclear
warheads with extremely high accuracy. Israel is reported to possess a
200 kg nuclear warhead, containing 6 kg of plutonium, that can fit on
cruise missiles. Israel purchased two additional type 212 submarines
from Germany in 2006, to be delivered in 2011.
A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, embalmed and
treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.
Libyan rebels are urging Western allies to bomb
mercenary forces supporting Muammer Gaddafi and to impose a no-fly zone over
U.S. Secretary of State
"I think we are a long way from making that decision."
"A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to
destroy the air defenses [and] requires more airplanes than you would find
on a single aircraft carrier."
2011 March 11
SKYLON is an unpiloted, reusable spaceplane intended to
provide inexpensive and reliable access to space. Ten years from now, Skylon
may transport 12 tons of cargo per flight into orbit.
bearing structure is made from carbon fiber reinforced plastic, with
aluminium propellant tanks suspended freely. The aeroshell is made from a
fiber reinforced ceramic. The payload bay is 4.6 m in diameter and 12.3 m
At take-off the vehicle weighs 275 tons, including 66 tons of
liquid hydrogen and 150 tons of liquid oxygen. Maximum landing weight is 55
tons. The vehicle takes off and lands using
retractable undercarriage on a reinforced runway.
Skylon employs two Sabre hybrid
air-breathing/rocket engines. These engines burn LH2 with atmospheric air up
to Mach 5.5 and on-board LO2 beyond that to orbital velocities.
Sabre engine synthesizes elements from rocket and gas turbine technology. In
rocket mode, the engine operates as a closed cycle LO2/LH2 high specific
impulse rocket engine. In air-breathing mode, the liquid oxygen flow is
replaced by atmospheric air, increasing the installed specific impulse.
The Sabre engine is essentially a closed cycle rocket engine with an
additional pre-cooled turbo-compressor to provide a high pressure air supply
to the combustion chamber. This allows operation from a standing start up to
Mach 5.5 in air-breathing mode during ascent. As the air density falls with
altitude, the engine becomes a pure rocket for acceleration up to orbital
2011 March 10
Britain And Israel
Benedict Brogan, The Telegraph
Relations between Jerusalem and London are getting
worse. Israelis increasingly see Britain as a gullible host for the global
campaign to rebrand Israel as an oppressive colonial power. The BBC
broadcasts the message that Israel is the obstacle to peace and prosperity
in the Arab world. The London School of Economics offers courses on Israeli
colonialism. London hosts the brains of the Muslim Brotherhood. Foreign
Secretary William Hague last year backed a UN resolution critical of Israel.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown addressed the Knesset: "Britain is your true friend.
A friend in difficult times as well as in good times; a friend who will
stand beside you whenever your peace, your stability and your existence are
under threat; a friend who shares an unbreakable partnership based on shared
values of liberty, democracy and justice. And to those who mistakenly and
outrageously call for the end of Israel, let the message be: Britain will
always stand firmly by Israel's side."
AR Let Cameron and Hague learn from Brown.
2011 March 9
My Amazon review of Iain McGilchrist's psychology book
The Master and His Emissary
Iain McGilchrist has poured his life's work into the
capacious frame of this book. Only a thinker who first spent some twenty
years getting his case together could have produced so massively buttressed
an argument for greater awareness of hemispheric differences between the two
halves of our cerebral cortexes.
>> (much) more
Philosophy as Confession
Stanley Cavell's book Little Did I Know makes a link between philosophy
and autobiography. It is pervaded by psychoanalytic insights. Cavell's
account of his early life has an almost agonizingly Freudian colouring — the
violent rages of the father he feared and hated, his decision to change his
name, and the adored mother whose outstanding musical gifts he aspired to
Part of the appeal of the psychoanalytic outlook is its
alertness to multiple nuances and deeper layers of meaning beneath our
surface utterances. It is this dimension that much analytic philosophy
appears to miss. Cavell comments at length on how his writing has wrestled
with the problems of finding the right voice. The vision that emerges in
this lengthy autobiography is a sombre one.
2011 March 7
How The End Begins
Ron Rosenbaum, Tablet
A single megaton bomb detonated in Tel Aviv
could destroy Israel. Israel has purchased and put into operation at least
three German-made submarines capable of firing nuclear weapons. Most
analysts seem to believe they are cruising within range of likely targets,
armed with nuclear-tipped Harpoon cruise missiles.
Jerusalem Post, July 3, 2009: "After a long hiatus the Israeli Navy has
returned to sail through the Suez Canal, recently sending one of its
advanced Dolphin class submarines through the waterway to participate in
naval maneuvers off the Eilat Coast in the Red Sea."
Moshe Halbertal teaches ethics and the international law of war
at NYU Law School and at Hebrew University, Jerusalem. He is a Talmudic
scholar and a widely respected thinker on the moral and ethical dilemmas of
modern warfare. He argues that a preemptive nuclear strike might be morally
justifiable under certain conditions in supreme emergencies. He acknowledges
that nuclear weapons present new challenges.
AR The Egyptian revolution makes Suez passage
2011 March 6
Lynn Barber, The Sunday Times
Christopher Hitchens, 61, has inoperable
esophageal cancer. He is thinking of doing a short book on it. He was wary
of writing about his cancer at first: "I didn't exactly think, whoopee, I've
got a whole new subject! But there seems no point in not writing about it.
And so I have done, and will do, if I am spared."
Carol Blue, his wife, explains how they met: "He was only 39
years old. And then he took me to Romania — he was so clever — just as
Ceausescu was being shot, and it was really wonderful, because it was like
being in a scene from Potemkin or something."
Hitch barely mentions
Carol in his autobiography, nor his first wife, nor his three children. He
gushes away about Martin Amis, James Fenton, Ian McEwan, and Salman Rushdie
>> A letter from
George W. Bush
2011 March 5
Ball der Vampire, Heidelberg
2011 March 4
Memory And Creativity
Jim Holt, The London Review of
book culture superseded oral culture, human reasoning became clearer and
more complex. Now, in digital culture, speed trumps depth and pensive
stillness gives way to a cataract of sensation.
Socrates warned that
books would lead to the atrophy of human memory. But books have enriched
memory. Now, thanks to Google, not only do you not have to remember a fact,
you don't even have to remember where to look it up.
of creative genius is a mystery. But conscious manipulation of external
information is not enough to yield deep creative breakthroughs. Human memory
discovers novel patterns and analogies. Google threatens to subvert this
process. The web may be an enemy of creativity.
"The bond between
book reader and book writer has always been a tightly symbiotic one."
2011 March 3
Water Kite Power Turbines
An underwater kite turbine developed by Swedish
company Minesto will trial in Northern Ireland this summer. The kite carries
a turbine below it and is tethered by a cable to the sea floor. It swoops
round in an "8" shape to make the water flow faster through the turbine in
slow tidal streams. It has neutral buoyancy and the turbine mouth is
screened to protect fish. With a wingspan of about 10 m to work at depths of
50 to 300 m in flows of about 2 m/s, each kite will generate hundreds of kW.
David Aaronovitch, The Times
Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg (a.k.a.
zu Googleberg in Germany) has admitted to a few infelicities in the
dissertation for his doctorate at the University of Bayreuth. He found his
dissertation being re-examined not just by a law professor and a university
ombudsman, but by an online wiki group. Another wiki group is hard at work
on Saif al-Islam Gaddafi's doctoral thesis for the LSE.
Rebecca Moore Howard: "Representations of student plagiarism seldom
acknowledge the heterogenous definitions of authorship in contemporary
Ralph E. Luker on Dr Martin Luther King Jr:
"We expect students to learn what the authorities have to say about a
subject. He worked the authorities' words into a seamless construct of his
own creation and told his professors almost exactly what they themselves
believed about a subject. To be candid, aren't we most likely to reward
students with good grades when they say what we believe, in our heart of
hearts, about a subject?"
in the world is online, a play-checker will mark your unattributed
borrowings with purple crinkly lines and the message: "Do you want to Saif
is theft. Information wants to be free. Can you own strings of words? Or are
claims of intellectual ownership merely quixotic attempts to reap the wind?
Authors should be consoled that imitation is the sincerest attribution. Only
a pedant would insist on citing names. Except in a doctoral thesis, where
pedantry is the name of the game.
2011 March 2
Raymond Tallis, New Statesman
Dust: the Magic of Consciousness, Nicholas Humphrey elaborates his
theory of mind with the assistance of the ipsundrum. This is the seed of the
self, analogous to illusory or impossible objects such as the Penrose
triangle, which generates the illusion of a world out there corresponding to
a me in here. It is a "complex pattern of dynamic activity in neural
Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain, Antonio Damasio
emphasizes the importance of the emotions and the body outside of the brain.
He describes what the brain and body do to make consciousness, rather than
how. He tells us that the cerebral cortex and the brain stem generate
"feedback loops" in the brain. Consciousness is turned back on itself until
it becomes self-conscious. But why should feedback loops do this?
Neither Humphrey nor Damasio deals with the hard problem of consciousness.
They are confident that consciousness must be biological and arose because
it conferred selective advantage. The atrophy of philosophy is something
that should concern us.
2011 March 1
Britain and Libya
Britain and its NATO allies are making plans to send
warplanes in to Libya and arm rebels as the West determines to force out
Colonel Gaddafi and prevent a humanitarian disaster.
Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday
that he had ordered General Sir David Richards, the Chief of the Defence
Staff, to work on how to impose a no-fly zone in Libyan airspace.
Regimes in major oil producing countries are
crumbling, disrupting production. Speculation then pushes prices up. The
world is increasingly reliant on oil supplies from authoritarian regimes.
The United States, Europe, Japan, China, and India are reliant on oil
imports. Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Russia, Venezuela, Nigeria, Angola,
Canada, Brazil and a few central Asian republics export oil. Only Canada and
Brazil have stable democracies.
AR The West should use its
armed forces to secure oil supplies.
Libya: "regime will prevail"
Colonel Gaddafi's superior military forces
mean his "regime will prevail" in the longer term, said U.S. director of
national intelligence James Clapper. Gaddafi has two brigades that are
loyal, disciplined, and equipped with Russian heavy equipment. Clapper
said Gaddafi "intentionally designed the military so that those select
units loyal to him are the most luxuriously equipped and the best
Every great philosophy is a personal confession of its author and a
kind of involuntary and unconscious memoir
Countdown To Nuclear War
The New York Times
Rosenbaum on Israel:
"The Jews have been compelled by the
Holocaust and history to, in effect, round themselves up and may feel
compelled by history to inflict an attack with genocidal consequences on
others that could well precede a second one for them."
Perlmutter, University of Iowa: "What would serve the Jew-hating world
better in repayment for thousands of years of massacres but a nuclear
Neurology has all the fascination of a horror story. There is something
uncanny and creepy about the way the brain intrudes on the mind.
Colin McGinn, 2011
Protests in the sultanate of Oman and in the
kingdoms of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, and Morocco have shown that
monarchies are not immune to the winds of change.
Perhaps the divine right of kings will protect King Mohammed VI from
popular outrage at economic injustice and the absence of real democracy in
The king is said to be descended from the Prophet Mohammed and styles
himself commander of the faithful.
SAS In Daring Rescue
RAF planes backed by a unit of SAS forces flew under the radar in Libyan
airspace to pull out foreigners from deep in the desert. One of two Hercules
transport aircraft used in the operation took off hurriedly amid gunfire.
Simultaneous rescue missions to two airstrips rescued 150 Britons and
AR Perhaps "daring" is right.
LSE Degree For Money
London School of Economics awarded Libyan leader Gaddafi's son Saif
al-Islam a doctorate in 2008 and is now investigating allegations that his
LSE thesis may have been ghost-written. In 2009, Saif al-Islam made a
donation of £1.5 million to the LSE from his Gaddafi International Charity
and Development Foundation.
I saw Saif on CNN recently:
he didn't seem too smart.
Boeing has won the U.S. Air Force contract to
build the next-generation aerial refueling tanker aircraft. Boeing will
deliver 18 combat-ready tankers by 2017. The Boeing KC-46A is an American
aircraft based on the Boeing 767. It will be built by a U.S. work force and
support 50,000 jobs. The tanker is updated with technology
including a digital flight deck with Boeing 787 displays.
of Saudi Arabia has announced spending worth an estimated $36 billion to
avert popular unrest. The measures include a 15 percent salary rise for
public employees and financial aid for students and the unemployed. The
government has pledged to spend $400 billion by the end of 2014 to improve
education, infrastructure, and healthcare. Saudi unemployment remains above
10 percent. Critics said the sweeteners did not address popular political
aspirations. Protests, political parties, and labour unions are banned in
Length 56 m
Diesel engine, 3120 kW
AIP system, 300 kW
mm torpedo tubes
1524 tons (surfaced)
12 kt (surfaced)
20 kt (submerged)
13,000 km (8 kt, surfaced)
780 km (8 kt, submerged)
2011 February 28
GDP, Food, Waste
John Sulston, AAAS, Washington
I'm pleased that some economists and sociologists
are beginning to talk about, for example, alternative measures of human
well-being — alternative that is to GDP, on which the world runs.
know that our current systems of economics are incomplete. And so we have
for example, when we're considering food, we have huge wastage. An awful lot
of food is thrown away. This you can call a spillover. It doesn't sort of
enter into our economic system because it's a consequence of running things
in a highly competitive way: the free market, global pricing and so on.
Now, you can take the view that this doesn't matter, and that's what
we've done in the past, just as we've been energy profligate we've been food
profligate. It does matter if we're coming up to the limit.
AR GDP is
as dumb a measure of well-being as weight is for a human — fatter is not
better. Waste is bad.
2011 February 27
The Crossan Heresy
John Dominic Crossan, 77, has drawn a "blasphemous" portrait
of Jesus. He entered a monastery at 16, was ordained by 23, and
earned a doctorate at 25. He studied in Rome and Jerusalem and became an
authority on the New Testament. He left the priesthood in 1969, married, and
wrote a series of best-sellers on Jesus.
Crossan challenged some of
Christianity's most cherished beliefs. Jesus didn't bodily rise from the
dead, he says. The first Christians told Jesus' resurrection story as a
parable, not as a fact. Most of the stories of Jesus' miracles were
parables too. Jesus called for nonviolent resistance to Rome and just
distribution of land and food. He was crucified because he threatened Roman
seems to have got the facts about right.
The Sunday Times
Niall Ferguson cites a scholar from the Chinese
Academy of Social Sciences: "We were asked to look into what accounted for
the West all over the world. At first we thought it was because you had more
powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best
political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past
20 years we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion:
Christianity. That is why the West has been so powerful. The Christian moral
foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence
of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics."
Quirin et al.
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience
Awareness of mortality is a threat that triggers a psychological defense. We
examine the neural correlates of cognitions about death. We investigated
patterns of neural activation elicited in 17 males by questions about fear
of death and dying. Controls had questions about fear of dental pain.
Neural responses to mortality threat were greater than to pain threat in
right amygdala, left rostral anterior cingulate cortex, and right caudate
nucleus. These findings have implications for managing existential fear.
2011 February 25
Credit: P. Chung, S. Hampel, J. H. Simpson / HHMI
MIT Technology Review
Brainbow is a technique developed by
Harvard scientists to make mouse neurons glow. By combining genes for
different fluorescent proteins, researchers can make each neuron glow one of
100 different colors. They can then trace the dendrites and axons of
individual neurons through the mouse brain.
Methods called dBrainbow
and Flybow are now available for making fruit fly neurons glow in different
colors. Many neurons are discernible in the above cross-section of a fly
Obama Versus Iran
Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett, Foreign Policy
balance of influence and power has shifted away from the United States and
toward Iran and its allies. The Islamic Republic has continued to deepen its
alliances with Syria and Turkey and expand its influence in Iraq, Lebanon,
The Obama administration
stands by helplessly as new openings for Tehran to reset the regional
balance in its favor emerge in Bahrain, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and perhaps
elsewhere. No new government in Cairo will be willing to keep collaborating
with Israel to enforce the siege of Gaza. Any new order in Bahrain will
oppose the use of its territory for U.S. military action against Iran.
The Green Movement cannot succeed in bringing down the Islamic Republic.
What is left of the Green Movement represents a smaller portion of Iranian
society than it did in 2009. And the effort to restart protests in Iran is
taking place at a moment of strategic opportunity for Tehran in the Mideast.
The Iranian people are not likely to recognize as their political champions
those they perceive as working against the national interest.
The Obama administration is putting U.S.
interests in jeopardy. It risks losing a chance to deal constructively with
an increasingly influential Islamic Republic in Iran. The United States
needs to figure out how to deal with Islamist political orders.
2011 February 24
The Israel Defense Force is dominant. Its most
immediate foes are Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Israel
fought against Hizbollah in 2006 and against Hamas in 2008-09. The IDF has
deterred them both.
Israel's military edge will
increase in the coming years. The air force has ordered 20 American F-35
fighter jets. The navy will receive two new German submarines. Israel is
pouring money into missile defense systems. Military men are sprucing up the
The IDF has long been the most admired institution in the
country. Israelis want their political leaders to have a thorough grounding
in military and security matters. But not everyone is impressed by the
military expertise among politicians. Both the 2006 Lebanon war and the
2008-09 war in the Gaza Strip lacked clear war aims.
military is hemmed in by the country’s growing isolation. Its enemies have
shifted their strategy to a war of attrition. The approach combines
political and military elements and draws on international frustration with
Israel. The IDF face growing threats from new weapons, conventional armies,
missiles and rockets, and terrorism. Hizbollah has built up a vast arsenal
of projectiles, some of which can reach deep into Israel.
Israeli leaders praise the armed forces. But what use is
overwhelming firepower when the world prevents its use? And how effective
are new fighter jets and submarines in a political war? Israel will attack
if it faces an existential threat. But the political price of military
action is high and rising.
German Type 212 and 214 Submarines
The Type 212 has an integrated command and
weapons control system that interfaces with sensors, weapons, and a
navigation system. The propulsion system consists of a diesel generator with
lead acid batteries and an air-independent propulsion (AIP) system based on
fuel cells burning stored hydrogen and oxygen.
The German navy runs four Type 212 boats. Two more are under
construction with improved communications, combat system, and sensors. The
Italian navy runs two and has two more on order. Israel has ordered two and
is discussing a third.
The Type 214 is an
improved 212. The diesel generator plant is mounted on a platform with
elastic mounts for noise and vibration isolation. The propeller motor is
directly coupled to the propeller. The diving depth is increased and four of
the torpedo tubes can fire missiles for defense against helicopters. The AIP
system is enhanced to let the boat run underwater for two weeks.
Type 214 is an export success. Greece runs three and plans a fourth.
Portugal runs two. South
Korea runs three and has ordered six more. Pakistan has ordered three.
Turkey has ordered six.
In einer geheimen Mission haben Bundeswehr und britische Royal Air Force 132
Europäer aus Libyen gerettet, darunter 22 Deutsche. Die Transall-Maschinen
landeten mitten im Krisengebiet. Trotz des hohen Risikos sah die
Bundesregierung keine Alternative.
Jetzt bin ich verwirrt.
Bundeswehr fliegt Europäer aus
Bundeswehr hat 133 EU-Bürger aus Libyen ausgeflogen, unter den Passagieren
sind auch rund 50 Deutsche. Zwei Transall-Maschinen hoben von einem
Flughafen in der Nähe eines Ölfeldes im Südosten ab.
AR Neutral, sachlich:
Daring SAS Raid
The Sunday Times
Members of the SAS landed in eastern Libya,
assembled 150 oil workers — 50 of them British — from various installations
and moved them to airstrips south of Benghazi, where they were picked up by
two RAF C-130 Hercules aircraft.
Russia will renew its military by 2020. The
plans cover 100 new warships, including 2 more helicopter carriers, 35
corvettes, 15 frigates, 8 nuclear submarines with new Bulava ICBMs, plus 10
divisions equipped with the new S-500 anti-missile system, plus 600 jets
including Su-34 and Su-35 fighters, plus 1000 new Mi-26 transport and Mi-8
gunship helicopters. The price: $650 billion.
President Barack Obama says the United States strongly condemns the use of violence on
protesters in Libya: "The suffering and bloodshed is outrageous and it is unacceptable
... This violence must stop."
Is this enough to save the world and
the price of oil?
Length 65 m
Eight 533 mm torpedo tubes
torpedoes and missiles
1860 tons (submerged)
12 kt (surfaced)
Range 19,000 km
Dive depth 400 m+
Do It Now
Thomas L. Friedman
The New York Times
The smart thing for the
United States to do is to impose a $1-a-gallon gasoline tax, with all the
money going to pay down the deficit. Legislating a higher energy price would
trigger a shift in buying and investment. We could make ourselves more
secure and free ourselves to push for democratic values in the Mideast. The
West has treated the Mideast as a big gas station for too long.
The West and the Rest
By Niall Ferguson
The Obama administration's
a request for funds to develop small modular
nuclear reactors. The reactors would be owned by a utility and would
require $500 million over five years. The goal is to produce small
reactors on an assembly line to reduce costs and meet new federal
emissions requirements. Federal facilities such as military bases and
national laboratories would be the first customers.
The New Republic
contends that human beings are evolutionarily hard-wired for God. Our
theory of mind allows us to trace our sense of cosmic meaning to the
presence of a divine agent that watches over us. Ancestors who lived as
if they were being watched and judged by a supernatural entity, combined
with their imperative to reproduce, predisposed them toward moralistic
religious beliefs. This is evolutionary psychology at its worst. Bering
makes a compelling case for loathing humanity.
Take-off run: 700 m
take-off: 8 s
Go to 10 km high: 150 s
Max speed: Mach 2
Max g: +9 /
Max thrust: 180 kN
Wingspan: 11 m
Length: 16 m
area: 50 sqm
Mass empty: 11 Mg (tons)
Max take-off: 23.5 Mg
Bahrain: two killed in police
assault on Pearl roundabout
Yemen: protests broken up by
Iran: students and academics
arrested at protest
Egypt: protesters plan return
Libya: clashes in the eastern
The Face Of The Revolution
Wael Ghonim has been anointed by the U.S. media
as the face of the Egyptian revolution. Younger than Mohamed ElBaradei, less
scary than the Muslim Brotherhood, articulate in English, married to an
American and an employee of Google, Ghonim made the Facebook page that drew
protesters to Tahrir Square and was imprisoned but then released in time to
speak out. He is the poster boy of the revolution.
Egyptian ex-president Hosni Mubarak, 82, is depressed,
refusing to take medication, and passing out repeatedly. There were family
tensions during his last hours in office. Mubarak told his son Gamal he had
ruined the Mubarak legacy in Egypt. Gamal's elder brother accused Gamal of
miring Egypt in corruption and nepotism.
India Gets Unwanted Aid
Britain is to continue
giving India £300 million a year in aid — even though officials in Delhi say
that they do not need it. The Department for International Development will
continue to focus on the poorer, northern states of India, with improving
maternal and infant welfare and primary-school education as priorities.
AR This aid is a paternalist residue of colonial thinking and should be
terminated. We should seek a relationship of equals with India.
Axe: £12 Billion Cost
The full cost of military
equipment being scrapped as a result of the Government’s defence review will
be more than £12 billion. The £12 billion figure represents the value of
equipment at the time it is scrapped, a far smaller figure than the amount
originally paid for it. The Government sees little chance of recouping much
of the £12 billion by selling equipment.
AR Can't we give some of
this kit to India instead of giving them aid they don't want?
The Egyptian Army
and Police Day
Issandr El Amrani
London Review of Books
The Egyptian army
remained the only institution to preserve any legitimacy in the eyes of the
protesters. Following the Camp David accords of 1978, the army profited from
its role in the Arab-Israeli conflict. With more than 460,000 men, 4000
tanks, and hundreds of fighter jets, with its three-year conscription and
lavish medical facilities and officers' clubs, the army never went short.
The protesters launched their movement on 25 January, the day on which
in 1952 British troops massacred police officers in Ismailiya, a town by the
Suez Canal. It was known as Police Day and from 2009 was a national holiday.
Lessons in Contempt
Boys at an Islamic secondary school are being taught
hatred for British values and contempt for other religions. Secret filming
at the Darul Uloom Islamic High School in Birmingham revealed that pupils
were being instructed to despise non-Muslims. The school belongs to the
Deobandi tradition, which runs up to half of Britain's 1,500 mosques and
produces 80% of British-trained Muslim clerics.
AR Close the
schools and expel the teachers. This is an abomination.
2011 February 23
Libya: What To Do
Senator John Kerry proposed a few actions to help the
Libyan protesters bring down the regime of Muammar Qaddafi:
1 Foreign oil companies in
Libya should suspend operations
until the violence
2 U.S. sanctions
should be resumed
military officers should be prosecuted for war crimes
if they fire on their citizens
The United Nations should remove Libya from its seat on
the Human Rights Council
Stefany Anne Golberg, Drexel University
In their article "The
hallucinations of Frédéric Chopin" in the journal Medical Humanities, Manuel
Vázquez Caruncho and Franciso Brañas Fernández conclude that Chopin's
mysterious genius was due to temporal lobe epilepsy.
Temporal lobe epilepsy has also been diagnosed in Edgar Allan Poe, Gustave
Flaubert, Philip K. Dick, Sylvia Plath, Lewis Carroll, and others. The
Chopin verdict is thus in the tradition of what some call neurotheology, the
attempt to explain spiritual experiences medically. Neurotheologists seek to
secularize genius and to question the distinction between the illness and
For romantics, genius is irrational and beyond our control.
Genius is really a state of being, closer to a state of ecstasy. Chopin's
hallucinations and his music are all one package. Our own bodies can
generate within us a sense of the divine. But Chopin still had to practice
2011 February 22
The Sokal Hoax
Kevin Mattson, Dissent
NYU American studies professor Andrew Ross pounced on Dr. Welles in
1992 for failing
to understand the politics of the toilet. Ross said his opponent failed to
describe "the historical or ideological conditions under which immaculately
white porcelain toilet technology was developed to demarcate squatting from
non-squatting populations, and thereby create, if you will, an international
division of excremental labor."
NYU physicist Alan Sokal wrote a
spoof article, putatively about physics but chock-full of postmodern jargon
and quotes from then-fashionable theorists. Ross took leadership in
obtaining the article. In 1995, he recommended the piece for inclusion in
the journal Social Text. The editors went ahead and accepted the piece as it
was. Ross said he felt "snakebit" by the subsequent scandal.
2011 February 21
CNN, 1849 GMT
The Libyan government cracked down on protests, lost control of Benghazi,
and faces defections from regime officials
AR Libya = Somalia + oil
2011 February 20
William Skidelsky, The Observer
Niall Ferguson looks too smart to be an
academic. On Wednesday afternoon, the Philippe Roman chair in history and
international affairs is sitting in his office at the London School of
Economics. He is dressed like a movie executive or hedge-fund manager. He begins by asking me to wait a few
moments. "I'm afraid I have to write a cheque," he says, reaching for his
Ferguson, 46, is the author of numerous acclaimed books and has presented numerous television series. He is a
professor of history at Harvard, a professor of business administration at
Harvard Business School, and a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution at
Stanford. He gets up at six every day and works.
Ferguson met Ayaan
Hirsi Ali in May 2009. Their affair soon prompted a storm of gossip. Hirsi
Ali lives under constant police protection. Talking about Hirsi Ali,
Ferguson's demeanor changes and he seems almost humble.
Killer apps for world domination
politics led to competition and emigration
Breakthroughs in science led to improvements in weaponry
English law brought
distributed property rights and democracy
Western medical advances increased life expectancies
Britain created an
irresistible model of consumerist society
Protestantism was a form of Christianity encouraging
The British TV series starts in March.
2011 February 19
Libya: Helicopters Fire On Protesters
CNN, 1415 GMT
Helicopters fired at demonstrators Saturday in the
Libyan city of Benghazi, a doctor said, and dozens of injured people were
hospitalized with gunshot wounds. At least 84 people have been killed by
government security forces in three days of protests across Libya. Colonel Moammar Gadhafi has ruled Libya for 41
years, since 1969.
Bahrain: Protesters Retake Roundabout
CNN, 1351 GMT
Bahrainis retook Pearl Roundabout as the Bahrain royal family appealed for
dialog and the crown prince ordered the removal of the military from the
roundabout. Many of the protesters are Shiite Muslims, who have long
harbored grievances against the Sunni ruling family. The week's ferment has
left 10 dead and many injured. Bahrain is a key U.S. ally and home to
the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet.
Iran: Opposition Leaders Condemned
Hundreds of thousands of people across Iran participated in rallies
after Friday prayers to condemn the leaders of seditions. Defeated 2009
presidential election candidates Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hussein Mousavi
called on the people to pour into streets on February 14 to express
solidarity with the revolution in Egypt. Two people died in the clashes and
many were arrested.
Saudi Arabia: Need For Cinemas
Riyadh: A senior state official says it is a "necessity" to
establish movie theaters in Saudi Arabia. 230,000 Saudi citizens visited the
UAE in summer 2010 to see movies.
This is historic change, billions well spent.
2011 February 18
This Is Not Islam
Olivier Roy, New Statesman
Those involved in the popular
uprisings in North Africa and the Mideast are a post-Islamist generation.
They aren't interested in ideology. They make no appeal to Islam. They are
rejecting corrupt dictatorships and calling for democracy. They are
nationalist and individualist. These young people know that Islamist regimes
have become dictatorships. They keep their faith separate from their
political demands. Religious observance has been individualized.
Islamists have changed. The most radical of them have left to wage
international jihad. They have no social or political base. Al Qaeda remains
stuck in the logic of the "propaganda of the deed" and has never bothered to
try to build political structures inside Muslim societies. Islamization —
the wearing of the hijab and niqab, an increase in the number of mosques,
the proliferation of preachers and Muslim television channels — has opened
up a religious space where no one enjoys a monopoly.
trivialized Islam: everything has become Islamic, from fast food to women's
fashion. But the forms and structures of piety have become individualized.
This growing diversity of faith even goes beyond Islam. Traditional clerics
no longer have anything to say about the main social and political questions
of the day. They have nothing to offer a younger generation looking for ways
of living their faith in a more open world.
AR This looks like wishful thinking but it may hold
some truth. For anyone in the flow of modern life, Islam is either a
lifestyle choice or a historic ideology. It cannot be a total mindworld.
126 Jet Fighters: $11 Billion
The U.S. government is weighing corporate
partnership with an Indian state aerospace company in a bid to supply New
Delhi with 126 strike fighters.
The U.S. pitch
for the contracts, worth $11 billion, pits the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet
and Lockheed Martin F-16IN Super Viper against the Eurofighter Typhoon, Saab
Gripen, Dassault Rafale, and MiG-35.
The winning bidder would work
with Bangalore-based Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. HAL has worked with Russian,
British, and French companies and produced some 3,600 aircraft. HAL turnover
in 2010 was $2.5 billion.
Timothy Roemer, U.S. ambassador to Delhi,
wrote in a confidential cable released by WikiLeaks: "The potential for HAL
to successfully partner with US firms on a truly advanced aircraft remains
untested and suspect." After a visit to HAL in 2010, he said the industry in
India was "two to three decades behind the United States and other western
Lockheed Martin F-16IN Super Viper
The F-16IN Super Viper shares
a heritage with the fifth generation F-35 Lightning II and the F-22 Raptor.
Evolutionary integration of fifth generation technologies makes the F-16IN
the most advanced fourth generation fighter in the world today:
Active electronically scanned array radar
— Northrop Grumman APG-80 AESA radar
Net-centric warfare capability
Modern, full-color, all-digital glass cockpit
Advanced survivability features
Enhanced high thrust engine
— General Electric F110-132A with 140 kN thrust
Safety, reliability, and maintainability
Proven combat and operational effectiveness
— Over 400,000 combat hours: kill score 72-0
— Over 100,000 combat missions
— Over 1,000,000 GWOT sorties
2011 February 17
Report: Egypt Blocked Iran Ships
Officials overseeing the strategic waterway that connects the Red Sea to the
Mediterranean say they are told that plans by two Iranian naval vessels to
cross through the canal had been canceled.
The United States is
monitoring two Iranian ships in the Red Sea that Israel said earlier were
set to cross the Suez Canal.
Warships To Cross Suez Canal
A report by Iranian TV denies claims that the
ships had withdrawn their applications to transit into the Mediterranean.
Bahrain In Crisis
The Guardian, 1728 GMT
Bahrain: five killed in
police raid on Pearl roundabout
Libya: reports 14 killed
across several cities
Yemen: protesters clash with
Israel Braces For War
Israeli foreign minister Avigdor
Lieberman: "Tonight two Iranian warships are supposed to cross the Suez
Canal into the Mediterranean Sea on their way to Syria, something that has
not happened in many years. To my regret, the international community is not
showing readiness to deal with the recurring Iranian provocations. The
international community must understand that Israel cannot forever ignore
Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak told troops
that they might soon have to wage war in Lebanon against Hezbollah. A direct
confrontation between Iran and Israel could quickly escalate into a wider
2011 February 16
James Webb Space Telescope
The Webb will be the premier observatory of the next decade. It will
study every phase in the history of our universe, ranging from the fireball
10 Ts after the Big Bang to the evolution of solar systems
with Earthlike planets that may harbor life.
Webb is an international
collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the
Canadian Space Agency (CSA). The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center is
managing the development.
Innovative technologies developed
for Webb include a folding, segmented primary mirror, adjusted to shape
after launch; ultra-lightweight beryllium optics; detectors able to record
extremely weak signals, microshutters that enable programmable object
selection for the spectrograph; and a cryocooler for cooling the mid-IR
detectors to 7 K.
There will be four science instruments on Webb: the
Near InfraRed Camera (NIRCam), the Near InfraRed Spectrograph (NIRSpec), the
Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI), and the Fine Guidance Sensor Tunable Filter
Camera (FGS-TFI). The instruments will work primarily in the infrared
wavelength range 0.6 to 27 µm.
AR Sounds good to me.
2011 February 15
Aviation Week and
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden says the $18.7
billion budget request for fiscal 2012 aims to create a sustainable program
of exploration and innovation that "extends the life of the International
Space Station, supports the growing commercial space industry, and addresses
important scientific challenges while continuing our commitment to robust
human space exploration, science and aeronautics programs."
Efforts to seed private development of commercial crew and
cargo transportation to the International Space Station and other low Earth
orbit destinations would be boosted to $850 million. The James Webb Space
Telescope faces a cost overrun of $1.5 billion. An independent review
suggests that launch will slip to 2016.
AR A logical move would be
to axe the JWST — but this would be much worse for science than axing
support for manned LEO work, where private enterprise can take up the slack.
Art Of Editing
"When a book appears, the author must take the
credit. But if editing disappears, as it seems to be doing, there'll be no
books worth taking the credit for."
Big companies used to have whole departments for copy editing and proof
reading. Now one publisher and one editor can run an entire imprint. Editors
acquire books in a more or less complete state. And while most readers are
enraged when they buy a book and then spot linguistic and factual errors,
some feel that speed and economy take priority.
Many writers pay
tribute to their editors. Commitment and passion still exist among
publishing professionals. Concern about falling standards reflects regret
that the world of letters has faded. Writers must adapt to new realities.
Publishing has changed. Books have been commodified.
AR Books that are poorly
written or edited spoil the market. But new technology and the fast pace of
modern life are spoiling it faster. Answer: embrace the change — go for
blogs, where speed and good editing are vital. Unsolved challenge: to
generate an income stream from it.
2011 February 14
Keystone Kops Koup
Amir Taheri, The Times
Egypt, having marched for a revolution,
ends up with a military coup d'état. General Muhammad Hussein Tantawi, the
defense minister, chaired an emergency session of the High National Military
Council, which issued "Communiqué 1", which sounded like a pronunciamiento
after a coup d'état in a banana republic.
Many Egyptians take pride
in their armed forces. Some even describe the military as the saviors of the
nation. But the coup has rendered meaningless the key organs of the State,
including the vice-presidency, the Council of Ministers and the parliament.
The Egyptian state is an adjunct of the army. The
armed forces number around half a million. The army owns hundreds of
companies and is active in virtually every line of business. The army and
its businesses represent over 10% of the population.
soldiers are paid three times as much as their equivalents in the Civil
Service. For the past 30 years, the military has claimed an average of 21%
of the national budget. Egypt receives $1.3 billion in annual U.S. aid for
Much of the corruption in Egypt can be traced back to
the military. The Muslim Brotherhood has been working on influencing
lower-ranked officers and NCOs for years. No one knows how successful the
Brotherhood has been in its policy of infiadh (infiltration). The Egyptian
uprising has been full of surprises.
China: Panama Rail
China is in talks to build an alternative to the
Panama Canal that would link Colombia’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts by rail.
The 220 km "dry canal" would run from the Pacific to a new city near
Cartagena where imported Chinese goods would be assembled for re-export
throughout the Americas. Colombia-sourced raw materials would make the
return journey to China.
Colombia has long
dreamt of building an alternative to the Panama Canal. Bogotá is frustrated
by Washington's stalling over a free-trade agreement signed by both
governments four years ago but yet to be ratified by Congress. Bilateral
Sino-Colombian trade has meanwhile soared to more than $5 billion in 2010.
AR The rail link is a good
idea. China is doing the right things.
2011 February 13
Blogging for Boys
The Sunday Times
A school in Bolton, Lancs, hosted online lessons last December, when
the kids couldn't get to school for snow. A blogging platform was set up on
the school's website. The kids loved it. So the school added blogging to the
curriculum. This led to a huge rise in literacy scores. The school's
proportion of above-average grades in national curriculum test results went
from 9% to 63%.
This is smart. Kids see older people doing
exciting stuff online and want to join in. Nobody likes writing in a vacuum.
By blogging, children get an audience. And they learn to touch-type.
Blogging is good for them.
AR Yes, I agree.
This is how to teach literacy in the web age. Let each schoolkid have a
homepage with links to all his or her works and projects, like this site of
Egypt Refutes Clash of Civilizations
Arun Kundnani, CNN
Conservatives argue that there is a clash between civilizations. Countries
where the majority of the population is Muslim are grouped together as the
Islamic world and seen as culturally prone to fanaticism and violence.
Revolution there means Islamic revolution along the lines of Iran in 1979.
Democracy must be imposed from outside.
Liberals had their own
version of such thinking. They spoke of a dialog between civilizations. But
they shared with conservatives the assumption that culture was the primary
driver of conflict. President Obama's famous 2009 speech in Cairo was
addressed to the Muslim world. Liberals imagined a peaceful co-existence
between Muslims and the West.
In the Mideast, conflict was seen as
rooted in a failure of Islam to adapt to modernity. The Egyptian revolution
has demonstrated that this assumption no longer holds. Popular sovereignty
has been the basis of the revolution. Muslims and Christians have marched
together for rights, dignity, and social justice.
AR I hope that
something like this is true. But I fear that we have a lot of pain to endure
yet — think of Israel's right to exist and the Iran's appetite for the bomb.
Mark your calendar: NASA Stardust-NExT mission will fly by
comet Tempel 1
on February 14, 2011
2011 February 12
RoboEarth will enable robots to upload information
on how they learned a new trick to a database. Any other robot that needs to
use the same trick will then download the data.
Waibel, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich: "The key innovation
of RoboEarth is having robots generate information and knowledge and share
it with other robots."
Brian Gerkey, Willow Garage, California: "It's
a compelling vision, the idea of robots being able to learn from each
other's experience, and mining that experience to improve their behavior."
Heico Sandee, Eindhoven University of Technology, the Netherlands:
"Without a system like RoboEarth, robots will never be able to operate
effectively in the unstructured and highly complex human environment."
Robots with different specifications will download task information that
suits them. A software library will translate action recipes into detailed
instructions for any given robot.
Das Blacktrail ist wohl das spektakulärste
Elektrofahrrad, das derzeit zu finden ist. Gebaut vom Regensburger PG-Bikes,
das Rad fährt fast 100 Sachen. Der Rahmen ist aus Carbon gefertigt. Ganze
zwei Kilogramm trägt er zum Gesamtgewicht von knapp 20 Kilogramm bei. Der
Elektromotor entfaltet eine Kraft von 1,6 PS. Das Rad benimmt sich wie ein
Motorrad. Es wird nur 667 Exemplare geben. Jedes kostet fast 60.000 Euro.
The vision of the future as an infinite playground, with an unending supply
of information, is a glorious vision for scientists.
It is less attractive
to other people, who may not welcome a future spent drowning in an unending
flood of information.
NF life and works
NF on World War 2
NF on Nazi Europe
AHA on Islam
AHA on Islamism
Front Line Nukes
DARPA proposes to fuel wartime Forward Operating Bases
with nuclear power. Then troops or contractors won't need to truck fuel
down roads littered with bombs. Self-sufficiency is the goal. Thorium is
a likely fuel. DARPA wants $10 million for a
This seems good to me.
A Palestinian Gandhi
longing for a Palestinian Gandhi is a desire to be enabled to make peace
by being morally compelled to make peace. Sari Nusseibeh is not a
Palestinian Gandhi. But he comes close to advocating a Gandhian
strategy. He believes that the individual is prior to the collective.
Nusseibeh: "Respect for the preservation of human life, rather than
violation of life in the name of any cause, should be what guides both
Israelis and Palestinians in their pursuit of a just peace."
Oil Above $104
Oil prices surged on the Israeli warning. Brent
crude rose above $104 a barrel, a 29-month high. Mideast clashes in Iran,
Yemen, and Bahrain raised concern about disruption to oil flows.
NASA: Space No Good For Sex
NASA scientists reviewing the feasibility of
colonizing Mars says that astronauts should avoid getting pregnant along the
way because of the radiation that would bombard them in space. Without
effective shielding on spaceships, high-energy proton particles would
probably sterilize any female fetus conceived in deep space and could have a
big effect on male fertility.
Virgins In Paradise
intellectuals are desperately trying to deny that Paradise
is filled with doe-eyed virgins. The idea is driving
adolescents to queue up to become suicide bombers. Saudi scholar
Anwar bin-Majid says Allah knows that human minds cannot grasp the nature of
the pleasures of Paradise, so He made it closer to their understanding by
mentioning dark-eyed beauties, wine, milk, and fruit. In Paradise, he says,
there are no sexual impulses and no sexual organs.
The New York Times
The overwhelming majority of
Pakistani journalists oppose U.S. military operations in their country
and in Afghanistan. But most of them have a favorable view of the American
people and believe that President Obama wants to withdraw troops
from the region.
Over half of the journalists see themselves as
Muslim first and almost half think politicians who do not believe in God
should not hold office. But they say the most important issues are education
and domestic terrorism, followed by the economy and domestic political
"The people of Egypt have spoken, and Egypt will never
be the same"
President Barack Obama
The Human Genome
MIT Technology Review
National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) has published a new plan,
in Nature, for exploring the human genome. NHGRI director Eric Green says
this plan lays out specific domains of research activity, including
understanding the genome, how it works, and how we can use this knowledge to
further the science and practice of medicine.
We can hope to see
spectacular advances in our understanding of how the genome works, how
disease works, and how genomic changes are associated with disease. We want
to understand the genome elements that aren't genes. We need to catalog them
and understand their choreography. We want to sequence and analyze the
genomes of a million people. Some diseases result from rare genes and we
need statistics to understand them.
RoboEarth is a World Wide Web for robots: a giant network and database
repository where robots can share information and learn from each other
about their behavior and their environment. RoboEarth will allow robotic
systems to benefit from the experience of other robots, paving the way for
rapid advances in machine cognition and behavior.
RoboEarth is funded
by the Cognitive Systems and Robotics Initiative from the European Union
Seventh Framework Programme FP7/2007-2013.
AR The EU should be funding
NASA Solar Terrestrial Relations
Observatory (STEREO) probes photographed the Sun from opposite sides to view
solar activity in 3D.
Google in Egypt
A Google executive detained for 12 days in Egypt was
behind the protests. Wael Ghonim, 30, says he is the administrator of the
"We are all Khaled Said" Facebook group.
Speaking on Egyptian Dream
TV, Google's head of marketing for the Middle East and North Africa said:
"This is the revolution of the youth of the internet, and now the revolution
of all Egyptians. This country is ours, not yours, it is ours. We have to
restore dignity to all Egyptians. We have to end corruption and put an end
Google tweet: "Wael Ghonim has been released. Our love to
him and his family."
Will Hosni Mubarak make a graceful exit to
Germany? Plans for a possible hospital stay favor a luxury clinic near
Geert Wilders' lawyers say
they want to call the 2004
murderer of Theo van Gogh
as a witness.
Are You There God?
We are natural psychologists. As a consequence of the
evolution of the human social brain, we sometimes can't help but see
intentions, desires, and beliefs in inanimate things. We kick our cars and
cuss our computers. What if God were a
psychological illusion etched onto your brain by your overactive theory of
Inayat Bunglawala, chair of Muslims4Uk: "The PM's
comments come on a day when the viciously Islamophobic English Defence
League are to stage their biggest demonstration yet on our streets.
Integration works both ways and we would expect Mr Cameron and his
government to be openly challenging these EDL extremists. Instead, he and
his senior ministers have to date remained totally mute. It is disgraceful."
AR Yes, remaining mute in
face of extremism is disgraceful.
2011 February 11
Egypt: Mubarak Steps Down
CNN, 1633 GMT
Go, No Go
CNN, 0318 GMT
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak clung to the
presidency but said he would "delegate powers" to Vice President Omar
Suleiman according to the constitution.
"Get out!" They
Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei warned: "Egypt
will explode. The army must save the country now."
takeover, new elections, weak civilian governments, increasing militancy
from the base — Egypt will resemble Turkey at best, Pakistan at worst.
A Fourth Wave
Richard Wolin, CHE
Sixty percent of the Egyptian population is
under 30. The demonstrators seem aware of the fact that they are struggling
not only for Egypt's future, but also for the entire Arab world. The
protesters seem united in their aversion to political Islam. They have no
interest in exchanging a secular despotism for an equally oppressive Islamic
A wave of democratic transitions
swept Southern Europe, South America, and Eastern Europe a generation ago.
Samuel Huntington dubbed it the Third Wave of democratization. The two
previous waves were the democratic revolutions of the 18th and 19th
centuries, and the post-1919 democratic governments enfranchised by the
Treaty of Versailles.
The political developments now shaking the Arab
world might mark a Fourth Wave of democratization. Arab civil society is, in
Kant's terms, emerging from a condition of tutelage or immaturity and
striving toward political self-determination. In Hegel's terms, history is
the story of progress in the consciousness of freedom.
2011 February 10
Saudi King Threatens Obama
Saudi Arabia has threatened to prop up President
Mubarak if the White House tries to force a swift change of regime in Egypt.
King Abdullah told President Obama not to humiliate Mubarak.
The Egyptian crisis has opened the biggest rift
between U.S. and Saudi interests since the oil price shock of 1973. With
Egypt in chaos, the kingdom is Washington's main ally in the Arab world.
Riyadh is feeling threatened by Iran. The expulsion of the Mubarak
regime would remove not only a key Saudi and American ally in the region but
also a major bulwark against Iranian expansionism.
The existence of rockets big enough to hurl
payloads into orbit was contingent on the following series of events:
1 World's most technically advanced nation under absolute control of
2 Astonishing advent of atomic bombs at
exactly the same time
3 A second great power dominated by secretive,
4 Nuclear strategy militating in favor
of ICBMs as delivery system
5 Geographic situation of adversaries
necessitating that ICBMs must have near-orbital capability
space exploration as propaganda competition, unmoored from realistic
Space travel has one application — unmanned
satellites — that is commercially lucrative:
Biz Dev Guy: We could
make a preposterous amount of money from communications satellites.
Engineer: They'll be expensive to build, but nothing compared to the cost of
building the rockets.
Biz Dev Guy: But our government has already put
$4 trillion into building the rockets. There's only one catch.
Engineer: OK, I'll bite. What's the catch?
Biz Dev Guy: Your
communications satellite has to be the size, shape, and weight of a hydrogen
2011 February 9
Ghonim: "not about me"
CNN, 1642 GMT
Google executive Wael Ghonim is "ready to die" to
bring change to Egypt. He appealed to the Egyptian government: "If you are
true Egyptians, if you are heroic Egyptians, it's time to step down."
Ghonim was cheered by thousands when he spoke
recently at Tahrir Square. He says he is uncomfortable about being the face
of the popular uprising in Egypt: "This is not about me."
Crowds Salute Facebook Dreamer
Wael Ghonim lacks charisma, physical presence or
oratorical power. But the computer technician has turned the mouse and the
keyboard into weapons powerful enough to destroy dictatorships.
extraordinary interview Mr Ghonim had given earlier went viral, and he
received a thunderous reception when he appeared before a vast multitude
packed into Tahrir Square.
Mr Ghonim lives in the United Arab
Emirates and created a Facebook site called "We are all Khaled Said" after
the young Egyptian who was dragged from a café in Alexandria and beaten to
death by the police in June.
Told by the interviewer that more than
300 had been killed, he broke down and wept. The interview was flagged up on
Twitter and Facebook and was watched by millions. It has had an electrifying
impact on the uprising.
Wake up, you Times scribblers! You say "Wael Ghonim lacks charisma"
and call him a "computer technician" and then say he has "turned the mouse
and the keyboard into weapons powerful enough to destroy dictatorships." You
say he lacks "oratorical power" yet concede that he drew a "thunderous
reception" when he appeared before a vast crowd.
Mr Ghonim is a
senior marketing executive in one of the most powerful corporations on the
planet. The corporation has a lot of computers, true, and Mr Ghonim used his
mouse to start a Facebook group, but that hardly makes him a technician. And
any guy who can start a revolution like that has shown that he has charisma,
in my humble opinion.
2011 February 8
All of you
are here because of something Stewart Brand said to
Steve Wozniak in
John Brockman 1
We are now in the Anthropocene
era. We are terraforming.
And that's the green project
for this century.
Stewart Brand 2
Creator and editor,
Whole Earth Catalog
The essence of life is information.
that's the essence of technology.
If you look at what's exciting people here most, it's
Facebook and Google.
George Dyson 4
2011 February 7
I Believe in Zeus
Rabbi Alan Lurie
Complex subjects resist short
explanations. Words are often inadequate or misleading.
First, not all religious people are convinced that they have it right.
Second, I believe in Zeus.
Plato: "In the heaven above the heavens
abides the essence with which true knowledge is concerned, the colorless,
formless, intangible spirit, visible only to mind, the pilot of the soul."
Plato knew that Zeus is a symbolic manifestation of the essence of
creative power. The pantheon of gods were human attempts to describe the
spiritual experience in an anthropomorphic story.
teaches that the true nature of God is without limit, and completely beyond
AR I agree with the mystics — I am one.
Europe and Egypt
Europe can build a better relationship with Arab neighbors whose governments
at long last treat their people with dignity. One model is Turkey, a
thriving democracy which has emerged as a valuable regional partner. Arab
countries face a long period of reconstruction. A business culture stripped
of political corruption and military influence is essential. But the EU
diplomatic corps was slow off the mark in responding to the Arab ferment.
2011 February 6
CNN, 0833 GMT
The Muslim Brotherhood said it will meet with
Egyptian VP Omar Suleiman, days after the group said it would not negotiate
until President Hosni Mubarak leaves office.
MB spokesman Essam
el-Erian: "We decided to take the people's demands to the negotiation
The New York Times
The United States and leading European nations
threw their weight behind Egyptian VP Omar Suleiman, backing his attempt to
defuse a popular uprising without immediately removing President Hosni
Mubarak from power. Suleiman promised an "orderly transition" that would
include constitutional reform and outreach to opposition groups. "That takes
some time," Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton said, speaking at the
Munich Security Conference.
Warsi Versus Khan
Tory co-chairman Baroness Warsi called for an
apology from shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan after he accused Cameron of
"writing propaganda for the EDL": "For Sadiq Khan to smear the prime
minister as a right-wing extremist is outrageous and irresponsible. David
Cameron has made it clear that he wants to unite Britain around our common
values ... extremism and Islam are
not the same thing."
The Warsi elevation is sound Realpolitik.
2011 February 5
EDL in Luton
Thousands of EDL activists descended on
Luton today for the biggest demonstration in EDL history. About 3,000
marchers gathered in St George's Square. Police officers escorted the EDL
marchers from the train station into the square. Some fireworks and bottles
were thrown. Shops and businesses were closed and petrol stations boarded
up. A resident compared Luton to a war zone. EDL leader Stephen Lennon told
the crowd they were part of a "tidal wave of patriotism" that was sweeping
The EDL protesters were joined by Rabbi Nachum Shifrem from
Los Angeles: "I am proud to be part of the EDL. I believe that the EDL is
the leading element of change in Europe."
AR No big
drama — that's good news.
Cameron Contra Multiculti
David Cameron today attacks 30 years of
multiculturalism in Britain. He warns it is fostering extremist ideology and
contributing to home-grown Islamic terrorism. He says Britain must adopt a
policy of "muscular liberalism" to enforce the values of equality, law and
freedom of speech. He warns Muslim groups that if they fail to endorse
women's rights or promote integration, they will lose all government
funding. Immigrants must speak English and schools will teach British
Cameron: Multiculti Has Failed
David Cameron will declare today that multiculturalism
has failed in Britain as he vows to confront Islamists
who reject Western values.
Muslim groups "showered with public money"
for offering a gateway to their communities will see their funding cut
unless they promote democracy, equality before the law and the rights of
women and those of other faiths. They will also be banned from university
campuses and prisons.
"Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive
tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism," Cameron will say
at the annual Munich Security Conference of
The Prime Minister takes care to distinguish between
the religion of Islam and the political ideology of Islamist extremism. "The
ideology of extremism is the problem. Islam, emphatically, is not."
He will argue that the backgrounds of convicted terrorists in Britain show
that many were initially influenced by "non-violent extremists, and then
took those radical beliefs to the next level by embracing violence."
Europe needs to wake up to the threat: "Each of us in our own countries must
be unambiguous and hard-nosed about this defence of our liberty."
English Defence League
The English Defence League (EDL) is opposed to the Islamization of
Britain. About 4,000 members of the EDL will march to Luton town centre at
lunchtime today. The protesters are expected to clash with anti-fascist
groups. Nearly 2,000 officers in riot gear have been drafted in to tackle
the groups. The EDL rally is understood to have agitated Luton's large
David Cameron is doing the right thing at last. But he is still running
months behind Angela Merkel on multi-kulti. Let us hope the Munich Security
Conference will issue a clear statement that all Europeans can rally behind.
To Boldly Sow
We could become the agents of panspermia. We could send micro-organisms
to other worlds. We could send out colony ships filled with microbes and
pulled by solar sails. A seeding mission could put a spacecraft in orbit
within the habitable zone around the host star, from where it could disperse
millions of seed capsules, some of which should end up on the target planet.
But the project seems unlikely to attract vast funds.
AR Mad, bad and dangerous:
Saud family returns from exile and
rules in Riyadh
Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco) pumps
Saudis found Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)
Yom Kippur War prompts
Saudi Arabia to organize
Saudi Arabia seizes full
control of Aramco
Gulf War I:
United States stations troops in Saudi Arabia
contributes 15 terrorists for 9/11 attacks
announces military withdrawal from Saudi Arabia
$60 billion arms deal with
Swiss Oil Trade
Switzerland claims to be the world's leading
trading center for physical oil. Switzerland saw an inflow of Russian
oil traders since the late 1990s. Geneva claims to handle about 75
percent of Russia's oil exports. Russia is the world's top oil producer,
after overtaking Saudi Arabia last year.
AOL is buying the Huffington Post for $315 million. It
is by far the highest price paid to date for a blog or blogging network.
claims 25 million monthly unique visitors.
AR Hey guys, wanna buy
The Ross Blog?
"The world is a dangerous place to live in, not
because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do
anything about it."
Does Egypt Prove Bush Right?
Neocon Bush adviser Elliott Abrams claims that the protests
in Tunisia and Egypt prove that Bush's "freedom agenda" was right. Bush said
that liberty is not America's gift to the world but God's gift to humanity.
But Bush's freedom agenda failed because nobody believed it. Bush pretended
there was no tension between our interests and our ideals.
Mubarak has yet to say why he wants to
stay in office for another six months. Troops stood in Tahrir Square and watched the bloody riots.
The officers say they had warned the demonstrators to go home.
The transition to a new era will not be smooth.
The opposition does not trust Mubarak to
arrange a peaceful transition. The military can opt for repression and
install a military dictatorship. Or it can safeguard the transition.
The Mideast political powder keg is facing dangerous
instability. The Europeans and Americans underestimated the rage of the
people. But Europeans could back the democratic forces. Turkey could serve
Source: Der Spiegel
2011 February 4
The unrest in the Arab world is fueled by massive economic problems. Young
people face a grim future and are venting their anger on the streets.
University of Minnesota economist
Ragui Assaad says there are three main reasons for the economic crisis in
— High birth rates: Since the 1990s, the number of young
people has grown disproportionately.
— Education: The young people in
the richer Arab states are well educated, but not well enough.
— Over-reliance on the state: The regimes employ millions
of people in the public sector, but unprofitably.
Young people in the
Mideast suffer from poor economic policies and poor education. Economics
enforces celibacy: Arab men without a permanent job have next to no chance
of marrying and starting a family. The Mideast needs a market economy, says
Will Islam Befriend Democracy?
Jakob Augstein, Der Spiegel
Few places show Western double standards so harshly as in the Mideast.
To the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, Western words like freedom and
democracy must sound as hollow as Brezhnev's praise of freedom and socialism
did to people in Poland.
No other countries have received as much
foreign aid from the United States as Israel and Egypt. Most of the aid goes
to the military. Egypt has increased Israel's security, kept open the Suez
Canal, and heaped to contain radical Islam. The Mubarak regime has served
the West well over the years.
Western foreign policy is grappling
with the issue of democracy versus stability. The West is concerned about
Islamists. Mubarak has to go. But the transition to a functioning democracy
must be mediated and measured.
Egypt is key in efforts to prevent the
region from descending into chaos and war. Israel has stuck with Mubarak.
Egypt was a stable despotism. No one can say what the Arab revolutions will
Mubarak ruined his chance
of a dignified exit. The scenes in Cairo will remain associated with the
president. All signs point to confrontation.
Source: Der Spiegel
SpaceX Dragon spacecraft delivering cargo
to the International Space Station
Sierra Nevada Space Systems Dream Chaser
built with help from NASA
Orbital Sciences Prometheus behind
the International Space Station
Qatar-based Arabic language news channel al-Jazeera
grips millions of people across the Mideast and beyond with events on the
streets of Cairo. Since al-Jazeera began broadcasting in 1996, Arab despots
have been glued to their televisions. The channel is often first to
broadcast messages from al-Qaeda, including the latest videos by Osama bin
Obama and Cairo
Early in his
presidency, Barack Obama delivered an ambitious foreign policy address at
Cairo University. The speech set forth the outlines of a "new beginning"
between the United States and the Muslim world.
eloquently about democracy. He said the United States would support
"elected, peaceful governments" and endorsed democratic values like free
expression, honest government, and "freedom to live as you choose."
Obama understood that the Mideast's "democracy deficit" contributes to the
problems that feed regional instability and threaten the rest of
the world. His subsequent actions have failed to fulfill the promise of his
Democracy Is Back
In the long run, the emergence of more dynamic
and freer societies on the other side of the Mediterranean could be a huge
boost to Europe. In the short run, the fear of social and political turmoil
For the Chinese leadership, the sight
of pro-democracy demonstrators occupying Tahrir Square in Cairo is
uncomfortably reminiscent of events in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
2011 February 3
NASA Chases Dreams
The New York Times
NASA will let the commercial sector put astronauts
into space. Dream Chaser, designed to take astronauts into orbit,
is among the spacecraft NASA will help to build. Boeing is designing a capsule for 7
crew called CST-100. Space
Exploration Technologies Corporation, SpaceX, says it can add 7 seats to its Dragon capsule for delivering cargo to the space station.
Orbital Sciences Corporation is working on a space plane called
Prometheus. NASA will spend $1 billion on space taxi services in 2012 and 2013.
In the past few years, financial markets have
been complacent about pricing geopolitical risk. The risk of default
assigned to many emerging market sovereign bonds was lower than peripheral
eurozone countries. Some metrics suggested that Egypt was a better place to
invest than Portugal. The events in Egypt took most western investors by
Human Rights Watch has accused President Mubarak of
releasing thousands of criminals from jail and sending his reviled
plainclothes police to spread chaos and looting in the capital.
British PM David Cameron: "If it
turns out that the regime in any way has been sponsoring or tolerating this
violence, that would be completely and utterly unacceptable. These are
despicable scenes that we're seeing."
Well said, David.
2011 February 1
The New York Times
American intelligence assesses that Pakistan:
— has steadily expanded its nuclear arsenal since 2008
— now has a
nuclear arsenal of over 100 deployed weapons
— is building the capacity
to produce plutonium for new weapons
— will overtake Britain as the fifth
largest nuclear weapons power
— has secured its arsenal with $100 million
of U.S. money
— is financing the new weapons from unknown sources
An anoymous official: "The country already has more than enough weapons for
an effective deterrent against India. This is just for the generals to say
they have more than India."
Pakistani officials fear that the United
States has plans to secure the weapons in an emergency. They are furious
that Washington is providing civilian nuclear fuel to India.
Pakistan's National Command Authority "rejects any effort to undermine its
I reject any effort to justify Pakistan's deterrent. Pakistanis
starve and die in floods and the elite build bombs. Madness.
Chancellor Angela Merkel told audience at
Tel Aviv University the situation between Israel and the Palestinians will
get worse if nothing is done. She said the freeze in negotiations is
unacceptable and doesn't serve either party.
AR Israel is flirting
with a nightmare worse than Iran II.
Egypt on the Brink
CNN, 0317 GMT
President Hosni Mubarak continues to throw up
literal and figurative roadblocks in the way of demonstrators calling for
his ouster. A leading opposition figure said the United States needs to "let
go of Mubarak."
The Times, 0001 GMT
An Israeli defence cabinet minister: "Israel
was caught with its pants down. We were completely surprised by what is
happening in Egypt right now. Nobody predicted this."
Hamas MP Sheikh
Fadel Hamden: "Mubarak was an enforcer of Israel. He did not side with his
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood
The Muslim Brotherhood, Ikhwan, is Egypt's largest
opposition movement. Many observers fear that they could transform the
country into a theocracy.
Raschad Al-Bayumi, deputy leader of the Ikhwan: "We support ElBaradei's
demands for Mubarak's overthrow, we support the demand of all opposition."
Bayumi: "Thousands of our members are on the streets. But we also say
that this is not an Islamic revolution, this is a revolution against
Many Egyptians reject the Ikhwan goal of a theocratic
Egypt. Support for Ikhwan in the population hovers at around 30 percent.
But as the first Islamist mass movement of modern times, its charitable
work at the base and its benefits to the poor and sick in the Arab world,
where it has everywhere gained ground and where corrupt and decadent rulers
have failed, give it credibility.
King Fuad II
Ahmed Fuad II lives in a rented house in Switzerland
and watches television. Events could force Hosni Mubarek to join the club of
exiled Egyptian heads of state. One night in July 1952, a yacht from
Alexandria took Fuad and his family into exile. He was six months old. Fuad
had become King of Egypt and Sudan earlier that day when his father, King
Farouk, was forced to abdicate.
Obama and Iran II
The nightmare outcome
for President Obama is called Iran II. President Mubarak flees but America
is seen in Cairo as on the wrong side of history. In the ensuing chaos, the
Muslim Brotherhood forms a government and leaves the Mideast peace process
in tatters. Obama is seen as the president who lost Egypt.
Washington flails, criticisms that this White House has paid court to
Mubarak and only lip service to fostering Egyptian democracy are hitting
home. In March 2009, Hillary Clinton suggested that Egypt's human rights
record was scarcely worse than that of the United States. Obama has
continued to rely on Mubarak as its first line of defense against extremism
Oil Over $100
Oil trader Mercuria CEO Marco Dunand: "We are
extremely concerned about the Middle East situation. This is going to
increase volatility substantially."
J.P. Morgan oil research
head Lawrence Eagles sees a risk that the turmoil may act as a catalyst for
unrest in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab
MOHAMMED ABED/MIGUEL MEDINA/AFP/Getty
Protestors in Cairo, January 31, 2011
WikiLeaks cables show that American diplomats
reported many reasons for the Egyptian uprising: torture of dissidents,
repression and fear, and the role of internet activism. Assange says the
cables are testimony to the professionalism and straight talking of the
U.S. State Department with their "relative honesty and directness."
Assange seems more scientific than journalistic. To the charge that
WikiLeaks will lead to more secrecy, not less, he says organizations can
either "engage in plans that the public will support if they are
revealed" or "spend additional resources to keep those plans secret."
AR He's a hero.
Fawaz Gerges, professor of Middle Eastern
politics and international relations at the London School of Economics:
"This is the Arab world's Berlin moment. The authoritarian wall has fallen —
and that's regardless of whether Mubarak survives or not. It goes beyond
Mubarak. The barrier of fear has been removed."
The Middle East is now showing the potency of fat
tails. Before 2007, developments in the global economy appeared so calm and
predictable the period was dubbed the age of great moderation. Sometimes the
worst case scenario plays out.
Researchers at the German Institute of Robotics and
Mechatronics have built a Terminator hand. The fingers are controlled by 38
tendons, each driven by a motor inside the forearm. Two tendons serve each
joint. When their motors turn the same way, the joint moves. When they turn
in opposite directions, the joint stiffens.
During tests, the
researchers gave the arm a 66 g whack. The hand was unscathed. It can exert a
force of 30 N with its fingers and the joints can spin at 9 rad/s. If it
tenses first and then releases the energy, the joints can move 4 times
faster. Team head Markus Grebenstein says they plan to build a torso with
Video: Terminator hand
Sexy Anchors Distracting
Indiana U researchers report
that emphasis on
the sexual attractiveness of female news anchors distracts male viewers from
remembering the news.
Who'da thunk it? Someone
go tell Hala Gorani at CNN.
Wave and Pay
Apple is expected to install "wave and pay"
technology in iPhone 5. The new phone, due out this year, is likely to
incorporate Near Field Communication technology to handle financial account
data and tie it to specific devices. "I do believe the iPhone 5 will have
NFC embedded," said Bill Gajda, Visa's head of mobile innovation.
AR Apple rides the wave of
the future and we pay.
The King's Army
New York Post
Saudi King Abdullah and his retinue needed a dozen
tractor trailers to load their mountain of luggage and an army of security
guards before flying out of JFK last week. The king, 87, was in town for two
months and booked whole floors of the Plaza and Waldorf Astoria. He and his
entourage left on at least seven private jets. The king flew out in his
Boeing 747 and the two wives who had accompanied him left on their own jets.
time I refuel my car,
I shall think of the profligacy
we're helping to finance.
What is the point of Davos? John Studzinski, a
long-time Davos devotee and investment banking leader: "Being a CEO can be a
lonely existence in terms of trusting ears and advice, so they come to Davos
to meet and talk one-on-one." Davos has become a self-help group. CEOs are
aware that hostility towards elites is rising.
AR Indeed. I'm a
strategic thinker but they haven't invited me. So why should I care about
them and their vanity?
One-Eyed Man Is King
Frank Rich, NY Times
John Wayne won the 1969 Best Actor Oscar
for True Grit. The Coen brothers' new remake of True Grit stars Jeff
Bridges as Rooster Cogburn.
That True Grit still works is a
testament to the beauty of the remake and to the enduring power of the
1968 novel by Charles Portis. The original film opened in 1969. True
Grit has something to say to Americans in 2011.
AR Rooster rocks!
Smart phone malware is getting more
sophisticated. A security researcher has created software that turns a
smart phone into a zombie in a botnet. In 2010, a scam in Russia tricked
users into installing malware on Android phones, and a Chinese virus for
Android devices was used to steal personal data.
AR My phone is
mostly off, and anyway it's pretty dumb.
The Geert Wilders trial
2011 January 30
ElBaradei: 'They stole our freedom'
Opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei tells crowds
"They stole our
freedom, and what we have begun cannot be reversed ... We have a key demand,
for the regime to step down and to start a new era."
Brotherhood throws its support behind ElBaradei, giving him a mandate to
negotiate a unity government.
President Obama can support a fellow Nobel peace laureate.
The stability we have so long embraced in the Arab world
was repression. The dictators we have supported have stayed in power by
preventing economic development and clamping down on free speech.
Egypt has a wealthy and well-armed elite at the top and a fanatical and
well-organized Islamic fundamentalist movement at the bottom. In between
lies a large and unorganized body of people who have never participated in
politics and whose business activities have been limited by corruption and
Our options are now limited. We should speak directly to
the Egyptian public and congratulate them for their courage. In repressive
societies, change is good.
AR President Obama must
either support the protesters or see the American investment in Egypt go to
The Sunday Times
Egypt's two most senior security officials
warned President Hosni Mubarak yesterday that he should relinquish power.
General Omar Suleiman, 74, the intelligence chief and new vice-president,
and Field Marshall Mohamed Tantawi, the defense minister, were said to have
raised with Mubarak the idea that he should leave.
fear that the Muslim Brotherhood will make a bid for power if
President Hosni Mubarak's regime topples. The Muslim Brotherhood was founded
in 1928 as an anti-British movement with a strong Muslim identity and a
military wing, but it has since rejected violence. Its ideology remains
The Egyptian Army
embrace that demonstrators gave troops this week illustrated the military's
respected and central role in Egyptian society. This fact makes the armed
forces potentially a kingmaker in the current crisis. The ascendance began
in 1952, when the military helped overthrow Egypt's ruling monarch. Its
support for a constitutional democracy and its performance in various wars
and battles earned it the admiration of many Egyptians. CNN national
security analyst Peter Bergen: "There's a good reason that the Egyptian
military is held in pretty high esteem. The army has done relatively well."
Egypt could soon resemble Turkey. We are seeing a
historic transformation of the Mideast region. Will secular institutions
survive the resurgence of Islamism? Will other autocratic regimes fall? Will the Saudi despots
survive long enough to get their new American arms and fight off the Iranian
threat to their oilfields? Will Israel survive? Will we see the emergence of
a Panislamic power that threatens the survival of Western civilization?
2011 January 29
CNN, 1650 GMT
After the Egyptian cabinet resigned, President Hosni Mubarak appointed his
intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, as his deputy.
was seen as an attempt to restore order. "His loyalty to Mubarak seems rock
solid," said a former U.S. ambassador in a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable.
Suleiman has long been seen as a possible successor to Mubarak. Tapping
him as a deputy might allow Mubarak to make a graceful exit.
2011 January 28
CNN, 1549 GMT
Thousands of angry anti-government demonstrators
took to the streets Friday in several Egyptian cities and clashed with
police who fired tear gas to quell the crowds.
In Cairo, vans packed
with riot police circled neighborhoods before weekly prayers. Protesters
defied security warnings to demand an end to President Hosni Mubarak's
authoritarian rule. Smoke billowed over the Nile River as chaos reigned in
the metropolis. The Muslim Brotherhood urged its followers to protest after
Emile Hokayem of the International Institute for Strategic
Studies in the Middle East: "They're all protesting about growing
inequalities, they're all protesting against growing nepotism. The top of
the pyramid was getting richer and richer."
Opposition leader Mohamed
ElBaradei said people have taken to the streets because they "realize the
regime is not listening, not acting." The regime has placed him under house
AR The Arab world is waking
The Global Muslim Population
The Pew Forum
Muslim population is expected to rise from 1.6 billion in 2010 to 2.2
billion by 2030. Muslims will make up over a quarter of the world's total
If current trends continue, 79 countries will have a
million or more Muslim inhabitants in 2030, and Pakistan will surpass
Indonesia as the country with the single largest Muslim population.
In the eight Muslim-majority countries where girls generally receive the
fewest years of schooling, the average fertility is 5 children per woman,
more than double the average in the countries where girls get most
Fewer than half of married women in Muslim-majority
countries use birth control.
The key elements of a solution
— education and birth control
— are obvious enough, but successful rollout requires a change of mind
among the people who can block its execution. We need to convince Muslim men
that quality, not quantity, is the only hope for their kids to avoid
predation in a fat tail future.
2011 January 27
BAE Nimrod MRA4
Nimrod Destruction Folly
Britain is committed
to the support of the UN, NATO, and the EU. The vulnerability of sea lanes,
unpredictable overseas crises, and traditional surface and submarine
opposition will continue to demand versatile, responsive aircraft. Nimrod
provided long-range reconnaissance, anti-submarine
surveillance, air-sea rescue coordination, and reconnaissance support to
the Navy's Trident submarines. Other options fall short of replacing the
strategic contribution of Nimrod.
— from a letter signed by six senior former military chiefs
The Nimrod MRA4 maritime patrol aircraft has
already been paid for, yet these aircraft will never take to the air. They
are already being scrapped. The gap left by Nimrod will soon have to be
filled by an expensive replacement from the United States, almost certainly
the Boeing P-8A Poseidon. This is a shambolic approach to national defense.
AR Without Nimrod, Britain depends entirely on the United States for
maritime defense. Trident, F-35, next Poseidon: Britain is practically the
51st state of the union.
2011 January 26
The Cultural Elite
Intellectual Situation, n + 1
The cultural elite is a group of
important individuals who have come by their roles through social position
as much as merit, who place their own self-maintenance as an elite and the
interests of the social class they represent above the interests and
judgments of the population at large, and who look down on ordinary people
Access to political,
economic, and military power is today more meritocratic and open than access
to filmmaking, humanistic academia, freelance writing, and so on. Culture is
a last vestige of unearned prestige in an otherwise democratically
constituted society. Goldman Sachs and Google are less elitist than The
Nation or the Yale English department.
Class mobility in the United
States peaked around 1980, and has been going down ever since. Universities
are elitist because going to one costs so much. Overall inflation since 1980
is 179%, while the price of a college education has risen by 827% and income distribution
has skewed radically toward the rich. Higher education went from being the main lever for equality to
being the breeding pool for the cultural elite.
AR A specter is haunting America — the specter of
The rich will inherit health care, education, and life itself.
British Cold Dip
The British Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, blamed the
December snow for the surprise 0.5 percent fall in GDP in the last quarter
The Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, warned
that workers' incomes were falling sharply and that inflation could soon
rise to 5 percent.
AR Forgive me for defying all
this doom and gloom, but if the social order is good, income can fall yet
general welfare can rise. People with too much income often waste it. So the
government is right to see the present climate as an opportunity to organize
more effectively, cut waste, clarify goals, and set new targets. Where do we
all want to go? Just getting richer by itself is not an aim worth fighting
Personally, my income is much lower than it was two years ago.
But I'm content. I thank providence for the chance to do all the
above. I wrote a book about Globorg and recommend that more of us make time
for reflecting more deeply on the meaning of life.
2011 January 25
The Philosophical Novel
James Ryerson, The New York Times
Iris Murdoch argued that
philosophy and literature were contrary pursuits. Philosophy calls on the
analytical mind to solve conceptual problems in an "austere, unselfish,
candid" prose, she said, while literature looks to the imagination to show
us something "mysterious, ambiguous, particular" about the world.
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein treats philosophical questions
with unabashed directness in her fiction. She says that part of her
empathizes with Murdoch's wish to keep the loose subjectivity of the novel
at a safe remove from the philosopher's search for hard truth. But she is
convinced that how we tackle intellectual problems depends critically on who
we are as individuals. Embedding a philosophical debate in richly imagined
human stories conveys a key aspect of intellectual life. You don't just
understand a conceptual problem, you feel the problem.
AR I was heavily into Iris
Murdoch novels in the summer of 1976. Rebecca Goldstein novels are a more
2011 January 24
Quantum theory is a masterpiece. No experiment has ever
disagreed with its predictions, and we can be confident that it is a good
way to describe the universe on the smallest scales.
interpretation says that any attempt to describe a quantum system is
meaningless without making a measurement of it. Only when we interact with
it using a classical device does it become part of reality.
when information about the properties of a set of quantum particles is
shared between all of them. Measuring a property of one particle
instantaneously affects the properties of its entangled partners, no matter
how far apart they are.
Entanglement is the foundation of quantum
computing and quantum cryptography. Quantum information experiments suggest
that quantum information lies at the root of reality.
Anton Zeilinger sees quantum systems as carriers of information.
Measurement updates the information content of a system. This suggests that the universe is a vast quantum computer.
Copenhagen interpretation requires an artificial distinction between quantum
systems and the classical systems that measure them. But if measurement is
fundamental to creating the reality we observe, what created the universe?
Cosmologists are sympathetic to the many worlds interpretation created
by Hugh Everett, which explains quantum strangeness by regarding things as
existing in many parallel universes.
David Deutsch says he can only
think of quantum computation in terms of multiple universes. He thinks that
once we have quantum computers, we will think of these worlds as physically
AR Yawn — I've
known all this for years.
2011 January 23
Annual league tables on school performance published
last week measured the proportion of pupils obtaining the English bac, which
is awarded to teenagers who achieve GCSEs at grade C or above in English,
maths, science, a foreign language and a humanities subject (history or
geography) but not in religious education (RE).
chairman of the Church of England's education board, the Bishop of Oxford,
the Right Rev John Pritchard: "The Church of England is pretty astonished at
the omission of RE. I want to fire a warning salvo that there will be huge
objection from the church and many other parts of society if it is not part
of the core curriculum."
Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board
of Deputies of British Jews: "The multi-disciplinary nature of the subject,
involving textual study, philosophical thinking, ethics, social
understanding and the skills of analysis and reasoning, develops critical
Dr Hojjat Ramzy, vice-chairman of the Muslim Council of
Britain's education committee, said he was "extremely worried" that RE was
not being afforded a higher status, especially given the challenge posed by
AR When I was at school RE was a joke. I take it most kids think so
now too. The only way to teach RE to kids is to reduce it to trivia. Better
use the time to teach them more science. They can learn philosophy later,
when they're old and wise enough, and then — only then — touch the can of
worms called religion.
Minette Marrin, The Sunday Times
As a Yorkshirewoman of Pakistani
ancestry, Baroness Warsi was perfect for the new Conservatism — a woman, a
solicitor, an attractive personality, a good public speaker, a member of an
ethnic minority and a Muslim.
claiming that Islamophobia was now socially acceptable, she has made herself
look an idiot — her party will never wear this. As a prominent citizen she
reveals herself not as the voice of moderate common sense but as a menace.
Islamophobia has become a tool with which to bully people and silence them.
Criticism of Islam is not necessarily irrational or baseless or pathological
from a thinking westerner's point of view.
A study by Policy Exchange
showed that 37% of British-born Muslims aged 16-24 would prefer sharia, 37%
would like to send their children to Islamic state schools, and 36% think
Muslims converting to another faith should be punished by death. The efforts
of the race relations industry and multiculturalism seem to have been
Minette Marrin has better qualifications to sit in the House of Lords than
Sayeeda Warsi, whose elevation to the peerage is as shameful an illustration
of political opportunism and cronyism as any in the history of the British
Parliament. We should abolish the House of Lords in its current form. It
discredits the British political system.
2011 January 21
Do Birds Do Quantum Computing?
Migrating birds navigate by sensing Earth's
magnetic field. Some may rely on a retinal photoelectric effect that depends on the
bird's orientation in the field.
In a process called the radical pair
(RP) mechanism, light excites two electrons on one molecule and shunts one
of them onto a second molecule. The two electrons separate with entangled
spins. The electrons eventually disentangle. But first Earth's magnetic
field can alter the relative alignment of their spins, which alters the
chemical properties of the molecules. A bird could use the effects in its
eye to deduce its orientation.
A team at the University of Oxford
looked at how long the electrons are entangled. They found that a tiny
magnetic field (15 nT) was enough to interfere with a bird's sense of
direction. The field only disrupts the birds' compass while the
electrons remain entangled. The team calculated that the electrons must
remain entangled for at least 100 µs. The RP mechanism has yet to be
AR My quantum
theory of consciousness in
Mindworlds depends on quantum effects in biological substrates. This
work supports the idea that such effects can be significant: 100 µs is a
long time for an entanglement in a biosystem.
single most difficult thing we have to face today — and we face it still —
is the risk of this new type of terrorism and extremism based on an
ideological perversion of the faith of Islam combined with technology that
allows them to kill people on a large scale. Although this is a time where
many people think this extremism can be managed, I personally don't think
that is true. I think it has to be confronted and changed."
2011 January 20
North European Alliance
At a London summit, British PM David Cameron has urged
leaders of Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and
Lithuania to form an alliance of common interests.
Cameron: "When it
comes to some of the big questions that we're grappling with in Britain
today ... so many of the answers have already been found in the Nordic and
Cameron wants to play off the NEA against the EU and stay away from the
profligate states south of France and Germany. Quite right too, if it pushes
them to rein in spending.
Islamophobia has "passed the dinner-table test" and
become widely socially acceptable in Britain, according to Lady Warsi, the
Conservative chairman. Warsi, the first Muslim woman to attend Cabinet, has
pledged to use her position to wage an "ongoing battle against bigotry."
Warsi: "Those who commit criminal acts of terrorism in our country need
to be dealt with not just by the full force of the law. They also should
face social rejection and alienation across society and their acts must not
be used as an opportunity to tar all Muslims."
AR Let's hope she makes progress among Muslims too.
As for me, my bigotry is intolerance grounded on the well founded knowledge
that tolerance of Muslim ways is not always wise.
Programmed for Love
Jeffrey R. Young, The Chronicle of Higher Education
is a professor at MIT. She predicts that companies will soon sell robots
designed to baby-sit children, replace workers in nursing homes, and serve
as companions for people with disabilities. Turkle finds this
"transgressive" and damaging to our collective sense of humanity.
Turkle began her academic career at
MIT in 1976. Her 1995 book, Life on the Screen, looked at how creating alter
egos in virtual worlds helped people shape their identities. Her 2011 book,
Alone Together, covers her studies of robots and looks at information
overload and the effects of social networks and other mainstream
technologies. In Turkle's view, many of us are already cyborgs.
Turkle says her shift in attitude about the influence of digital
technologies grew from hundreds of interviews with children, teenagers,
adults, and the elderly encountering the latest tech gadgets. Again and
again, she saw how even a relatively clumsy robot dog or electronic baby
doll could spark a deep emotional response. Turkle says her earliest work on
computers and networks may have been too optimistic.
these are troubling issues — perhaps my GIG book is too breezy
about this aspect of the future.
2011 January 19
New Rules For Writers
Anis Shivani, The Huffington Post
1. Disobey the system. The
system will never reward originality. The only way to conquer it is to
humiliate it. Confound them. They'll come to your door and beg you for more.
2. Ignore publicity. Publicity puts you in the
public eye. It's how people get to know your work. I say the book will find
its readers. Let the book speak for you. Shut up on its behalf.
Shun crowds. You must get out of the crowd. It's the hardest thing to do.
The crowd searches you out no matter how you hide. And then you'll find
there's nothing to write about.
4. Seek unemployment. Our desperate
impulse to occupy ourselves with practical stuff is the death of writing.
You have to figure out how to turn work into a means to feed your writing.
5. Converse only with the classics. Be swayed by no contemporaries. You
will learn nothing from them. Your job as a writer is to discover something
no one else has yet laid claim on.
6. Refuse recognition. At first
they'll shun you. They'll try to destroy you. You should thrive on absolute
misery and discomfort, the haunting sense that you have failed.
Don't pursue a niche. Be all over the place. Critics don't know what to do
with the new. You must be new to yourself each day, and the universe will be
at your feet.
8. Aim for zero audience. Every audience is stupid
because it takes itself seriously. No great writer ever wrote for the
audience. You don't write for anything outside the story.
failure. Never think of yourself as successful. The better you write, the
more you fail, because now the gap between accomplishment and ideal is
10. Think small. Thinking big is wrong. If you know
the greats, you abase yourself. You find a forlorn patch of ground and you
squish yourself into it, and become nothing.
AR Humorous or just depressing?
The Sunday Times
Classified documents reveal that safety
tests conducted on the first Nimrod MRA4 found several hundred design
flaws, including problems opening and closing the bomb bay doors,
failures of the landing gear to deploy, overheating engines and gaps in
the engine walls, limitations operating in icy conditions, and concerns
that a bird strike could disable the ailerons. Inspectors also found a
hot air pipe running close to an uninsulated fuel line, a flaw widely
blamed for a fatal crash of a Nimrod in 2006.
support defense secretary Liam Fox's claim that the aircraft was not
Another bloody cock-up in
the great British tradition.
The Muslim Brotherhood
Egypt is shaking. The oldest and
strongest opposition movement in the country is the Muslim Brotherhood, a.k.a. Ikhwan.
Founded in 1928, Ikhwan was an Islamic alternative
to weak secular nationalist parties. Now it has an enormous social welfare
infrastructure that provides cheap education and health care. Ikhwan
renounced violence years ago, but its relative moderation has made it the
target of radical Islamists.
Mohamed ElBaradei has formed an
alliance with Ikhwan. Many see it as the reasonable face of Islamic
The story of the Nimrod MRA4
that could go wrong did go wrong.
The Peninsula, Qatar
The Volkswagen XL1 prototype
diesel-electric hybrid features a combined fuel consumption of less than
1 l/100 km and meets the Euro 6 emission standard.
The car features
lightweight construction (795 kg), low aerodynamic drag (Cd 0.186), and a
plug-in hybrid system with 2-cylinder TDI diesel engine (35 kW), electric
motor (20 kW), 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, and lithium-ion battery.
The XL1 can travel 35 km in pure electric mode and the battery can be
charged from a domestic socket. Body
parts are polymer reinforced with carbon fiber.
accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 11.9 s. Its top speed is governed at
German CESifo Group data
suggests that the German
grow at 2.5%
in 2011, following its 3.6%
growth in 2010.
AR High time for me to
British intelligence helped draw up a secret plan
for the Palestinian Authority to crush Hamas. The plan covered the
internment of leaders and activists, the closure of radio stations, and the
replacement of imams in mosques.
Sounds like a good draft
for a plan we may soon want
The King's Power
Saudi Arabia will be burning most of its oil production
domestically in less than 20 years if current consumption patterns persist.
In response, the authorities plan to cut reliance on fossil fuel and develop
an alternative energy mix, including atomic and solar sources. Otherwise the
world's largest oil exporter will need 8 million barrels a day by 2028,
roughly equivalent to its current production, merely to meet domestic energy
They could try saving,
for example by grounding
the king's Boeing 747.
Suicide bomber kills 35 at Domodedovo airport.
AR Memo to Putin: Order
the secret agents who are licensed to kill potential terrorists on sight
to get cracking and raise their game. Memo to Obama and others:
Introduce passenger profiling and stop those with bad profiles. Forget
about shoes and shampoo and scanners and target the bad guys.
Envisioning Real Utopias
Russell Jacoby, Dissent
Professor Erik Olin Wright,
president-elect of the American Sociological Association, says we need
utopian ideals grounded in reality. If his new book exemplifies
contemporary American academic Marxism, conservatives can rest easy.
AR The full review is quite devastating, more so
McGinn on Honderich.
Sayeeda Warsi is a life peer, Chairman of the Conservative Party,
and a cabinet minister.
L. Ron Hubbard (1911–1986) developed a self-help system
called Dianetics. He developed his ideas into Scientology. His writings are
scripture for the Church of Scientology.
Michael Bywater, New Humanist
L. Ron Hubbard published Dianetics
in 1950. Scientology was born. L. Ron can write. It would take a poor and
paltry imagination to be gripped by his Battlefield Earth saga, but his Ole
Doc Methuselah stories in the Astounding Science Fiction magazine are
excellent pulp SF. In terms of literary competence, L. Ron is streets ahead
of Joseph Smith, author of the lamentable Book of Mormon. Dianetics is
obviously nonsense, but it hits the perfect pitch of laying out mumbo-jumbo
in just clear enough terms for people who aren't that bright to think
they're grasping something important. A new religion has got to be better than a
Hubbard found a need and responded — good for him.
is an SF movie starring John
Travolta. It tells the story of a rebellion against a thousand years of rule
by alien Psychlos.
It was an utter flop.
Vorsprung durch Effizienz
Britain has made its peace with Germany. Since the
Industrial Revolution Britain has measured its success or decline
against German performance. The British forced the Germans to mark their
export goods "Made in Germany" but the Germans boosted quality and
people flocked to the brand.
Now the sparring
match between the British and Germans doesn't look funny or relevant any
more. German comedian Henning Wehn: "We Europeans have to stick together
more. The British know what they've got with the Germans."
David Shulman, NYRB
Occupation of the Territories: Israeli
Soldiers' Testimonies 2000-2010 offers unprecedented first-hand accounts
by over one hundred Israeli soldiers of their experiences while serving
in the territories.
Gary Rosen, WSJ
James Miller offers biographical sketches of
a dozen philosophers to show that philosophers were not always academic
bores. The first philosophers were gurus, and their deepest insights
were available only to disciples who possessed the character to resist
common pleasures. In Miller's selection, the modern era begins with
Montaigne and culminates in Nietzsche. Most of the biographical details
he offers are boring.
AR Alain de Botton did
this job already in his fine little book
The Consolations of Philosophy but he managed to make it
entertaining. I don't see why Miller chose to do it again.
Peter Bergen, Foreign Policy
Experts credit nine years of the
war on terror with making U.S. soil only marginally more secure.
Overwhelmingly, the experts selected Pakistan as the country that posed
the greatest threat to the West today, and a majority also picked it as
the country most likely to have its nukes end up in the hands of
terrorists. Only two experts named Iran as the West's greatest threat.
AR Take out the Paki
Willow Garage Texai
Pankaj Mishra, NY Times
The great realist novelists could not
have written their most mature works without grappling with the
political and moral challenges of their day. Compared with them, most
contemporary fiction writers in America and Britain appear to be
cultivating their own gardens.
has reflected the general writerly retreat from the public sphere. Most
writers as well as readers of literary fiction see it as a refined form
of entertainment or instruction. Deprived of a whole vocabulary of moral
concern, literary criticism turned into a kind of competitive
2011 January 18
Germany and Europe
Christoph Schwennicke, Der Spiegel
Germany's economy is in good
shape because it resisted the fashion of neoliberalism. Europe should show
the same defiance in the face of self-serving predictions that the euro is
doomed. The financial and debt crises have highlighted the need for strong
governments — and for more Europe.
Why the West Rules
Timur Kuran, Foreign Affairs
Ian Morris finds that geography was
the principal determinant of the relative historical performance of East and
West. The West had more plants and animals conducive to domestication. And
it was easier for Westerners to cross the Atlantic than for Easterners to
cross the Pacific.
For Morris, the West started in the fertile
crescent and expanded to include the Mediterranean basin, Europe, the
Americas, and Australia. The East started in China and later grew to cover
Japan and Indochina. For Morris, the Middle East is part of the West.
Morris compared the relative development of the two civilizations across
the centuries, in terms of energy capture, urbanization, war-making
capability, and information technology. He found that the West led the East
from the start. The East jumped ahead in 541 CE and held the lead until about
Since then, the West has sped ahead. Europe had been building
new economic institutions and had the economic infrastructure necessary for
mass production, industrialization, and mass transportation. The regions
that failed to keep up with Europe failed to develop such institutions.
Morris predicts that the East may regain the lead by 2103.
AR Morris has missed the plot.
By the end of the century we shall live in
Globorg, a collective mind
implemented in a global brain with Eastern and Western hemispheres.
2011 January 17
The New York Times
Has the "me generation" spawned a
nation of self-absorbed young people hooked on their own self-esteem? Given
the choice, college students say they’d rather get a boost to their ego —
like a compliment or a good grade on a paper — than eat a favorite food or
engage in sex.
A study published in The Journal of Personality shows
that University of Michigan students have a compulsion to feel good about
themselves that overwhelms and precedes other desires.
AR Reminds me of my
self-focused GLOBORG obsessions.
Greene, The New York Times
Astronomers find that the
expansion rate of space has speeded up over the history of the universe.
They think the push is most likely the repulsive gravity produced by dark
energy. A hundred billion years from now, any galaxy outside our
neighborhood will have been swept away by swelling space for so long that it
will be racing from us at faster than the speed of light. Light emitted by
such galaxies will never reach Earth. Observations will reveal nothing but
an endless stretch of inky black stillness.
AR I look forward to Brian's new book, out soon.
What's the attraction of
Nietzsche for angry nerds?
final trimmings and touches to my
GLOBORG presentation: update your
copy now if you copied it earlier!
2011 January 15
Interviewing Andy Ross
By Ivy Cross
PDF: 38 pages, 2.3 MB
Cars replaced horses last
century, robots replace humans this century. That claim was all I knew about
controversial philosopher Andy Ross and his Globorg ideas before I met him.
Globorg is his name for the global organization — G20 summits and all that.
In G.O.D. Is Great he argues that Globorg dominion — the GOD in the title —
is the biggest news for life on Earth in half a billion years.
AR Planning and writing this interview
has kept me occupied for at least three months. Now, in the throes of
completion, I think of it as an informal introduction to my life's work.
2011 January 11
Sleep improves brain performance by reducing
the unimportant connections between neurons and perhaps by consolidating
memories from the previous day. Researchers at Stanford University recently
studied the transparent larvae of zebrafish. They tagged the larvae neurons
with a dye so that active appeared green and inactive ones black. They found
that the zebrafish had lower overall synapse activity during sleep, to prune
unnecessary synapses. Sleep reduces the activity in the brain and allows it
to recover from past experiences. Learning and memory may benefit from this.
AR There's a lot more to
learn about sleep. Zzzz
2011 January 9
Iain McGilchrist believes that the
mind and brain can be understood only by seeing them in the broadest
possible context, that of the whole of our physical and spiritual existence.
"Novel, compelling, and profoundly consequential ... The erudition is
staggering. The overall arguments are compelling and well handled. I think
the basic thesis is indeed of absolutely crucial cultural and intellectual
2011 January 7
Gideon Rachman, Foreign Policy
challenge to the United States is serious. Although America still has the
world's largest economy, best universities, most powerful military,
technological leadership, and alluring creative industries, the United
States will not soon solve its budgetary problems.
developing new ways to threaten the United States supremacy in the Pacific.
The United States will have to accept that the Asia-Pacific region is
China's backyard. America will never again experience the global dominance
it enjoyed between 1991 and 2008.
The Titanic is sinking and Americans rapture to Facebook.
Greece plans to construct a wall along part of its
border with Turkey to keep out illegal immigrants.
A former member of Chancellor Merkel's Christian
Democrats has formed a party to attract voters enthralled by Thilo Sarrazin
and disappointed by Germany's existing parties. Berlin politician René
Stadkewitz's new Freedom Party aims to leverage fear of Islam for political
ends. At an inaugural meeting in the Hotel Maritim, Berlin, the 52
participants named their party "Die Freiheit". Stadtkewitz:
"If we don't get things right demographically, we'll have Algeria in Berlin
before long. Islam has always been a religion of conquest."
AR The European Union needs to
get its act together on all this.
2011 January 5
For at least 14 years, British police forces have been
investigating gangs of sexual predators in towns and cities across northern
England and the Midlands. Groups of older men groom and abuse vulnerable
girls aged 11 to 16 after befriending them on the street. Most of the
victims are white and most of the convicted offenders are of Pakistani
A senior West Mercia detective said: "These girls are being
passed around and used as meat. To stop this type of crime you need to start
talking about it, but everyone's been too scared to address the ethnicity
Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation,
a British Muslim youth organization, says: "These people think that white
girls have fewer morals and are less valuable than our girls. This is a form
of racism that is abhorrent and totally unacceptable in a society that
prides itself on equality and justice."
AR I congratulate the Times on grasping the nettle
here. The sexual predators are acting out values learned in a variant
of Islamic culture that may have been adaptive in the Middle East a thousand
years ago but is obscenely wrong in the modern world.
Coolpix of my apartment
2011 January 4
Simon Critchley, NY Times
Philosophy is more than a profession.
It is critical reflection by which human beings strive to analyze the world
in which they find themselves, and to question what passes for common sense
or public opinion.
Philosophy must form part of the life of a
culture. It must engage the public and influence how a culture converses
with itself, understands itself, talks to other cultures and seeks to
Hegel says that philosophy can allow us to
comprehend our time in thought. But it can also allow us to resist our time,
to ask untimely and unfashionable questions. Nietzsche wrote that a
philosopher overcomes his time in himself. He combats whatever marks him as
a child of his time.
Philosophy is dialogue. One of the goals of
dialogue is to have our opinions rationally challenged in such a way that we
might change our minds.
2011 January 3
Firms in the United States and Japan
are selling robot avatars that let office workers be in two places at
once. Californian company Willow Garage is developing a telepresence robot
called Texai, while Anybots, also in California, has launched the QB
The Texai is a remote presence system that is still in
development. Two Willow Garage engineers, Dallas Goecker and Curt Meyers,
were frustrated with conference table phones and video conferencing, so they
built the first Texai prototype.
The QB looks like a small Segway
vehicle with a robot head on top. It travels at walking speed and uses a
laser scanner to avoid office clutter. You control it from a web browser and
see through its camera eyes. A small LCD screen on the head enables
your colleagues to see you too.
NY Times video: Texai robot avatar at
AR Way to go, guys! These are early days, but this is my
vision. Think of cars a hundred years ago. In a few decades these avatars
will be everywhere. They'll look better, they'll do more, and they'll begin
to think for themselves. We'll probably
get the feeling we're being pushed gently — or not so gently — aside by the machines. To drink
the real Kool-Aid on all this, buy and read my visionary book
G.O.D. Is Great. Do it today!
2011 January 2
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 Reaper
The U.S. Air Force is set to deploy to
Afghanistan a revolutionary airborne surveillance system called Gorgon
Stare, which will be able to transmit live video images of movements over a
wide area. But the military may be unable to sift through the imagery
quickly enough and the data is of limited value without good humint.
Gorgon Stare is making its combat debut on board
MQ-9 Reaper drones. Two pods contain the Gorgon Stare payload. The pods
replaces GBU-12 laser-guided bombs on the inner underwing weapon racks. One
pod carries a sensor ball containing five EO cameras for daytime and four IR
cameras for nighttime, positioned at different angles for maximum ground
coverage. The cameras shoot motion video at 2 frames per second. The five EO
camera images are stitched together in the pod to create 80-Mpx frames. The
four IR cameras together shoot 32-Mpx frames. The second pod contains a
computer, datalink, antennas, and RF gear.
Gorgon Stare is operated
by a two-member team on the back of a Humvee. The video can be chipped out
and streamed to multiple recipients over a tactical datalink. Any ground or
airborne unit within range and equipped with a receiver can view a chip-out.
Gorgon Stare operates independently of the Reaper's sensor ball, which MQ-9
operators control from U.S. ground control stations.
John J. Mearsheimer, National Interest
The United States is at
war. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost well over a trillion dollars
and resulted in many thousands of American casualties. Things are likely to
There are three regions of the world that are
strategically important to the United States — Europe, Northeast Asia, and
the Persian Gulf. The United States' principal goal should be to make sure
no single state dominates any of these areas.
After 9/11, the Bush
administration embarked on a quest for global dominance. It overestimated
what military force could achieve and underestimated how difficult it would
be to spread democracy in the Middle East. Terrorism is a law-enforcement
problem, not a military one, and we cannot remake the Arab and Muslim world
in America's image.
It is time for the United States to give up on
Mearsheimer advocates a divide-and-conquer strategy, but this is too
negative. A nobler vision is needed to keep order in the three regions. I
propose collective global dominance, achieved by integrating the main actors
in a global organization — Globorg.
2011 January 1
Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life
By Karen Armstrong
The Bodley Head, 224 pages
Men and women
are ruthlessly selfish. The key to a better life is compassion. Armstrong
grapples with complex ideas in the lightest of ways. She sees religion as a
practical system of human conduct. Do unto others as you would have others
do unto you. You cannot love others until you have learnt to love yourself.
Compassion is the highest of human sentiments.
Piers and Oprah
Piers Morgan's first guest on his CNN chat show
Piers Morgan Tonight is Oprah Winfrey. She knew what Morgan was all
about: "I'm not going to cry," she told him at the outset. Crying is
Morgan's currency: "I'm all about tears," he says.
This first edition aired on Martin Luther King Day: how would the
civil rights leader feel looking down on Winfrey and Obama, "arguably
the two most powerful people in America", both black.
"I could weep
on that," said Winfrey, but the dam stayed intact.
Chinese Stealth Aircraft
and Space Technology
The J-20 aircraft looks like the U.S.
F-22 Raptor. It is larger than the F-22, implying long range, a generous
internal fuel capacity and heavy weapons loads. Still unknown is whether
the aircraft is a prototype or a technology demonstrator.
Christian Caryl, NYRB
The murder of Salman Taseer is a
calamity. Pakistan is succumbing to the demands of an exclusionist view
of the world. An imploding Pakistan promises immense pain and turmoil to
itself and the world.
SAP Goes Green
MIT Tech Review
SAP has set the goal of cutting its global
carbon emissions in half by 2020. In 2009, it cut emissions by 15
percent. This is just the beginning. SAP creates and sells analytical
software that lets companies monitor their own carbon footprints and
increase their energy efficiency. According to SAP, the market for
sustainability software will reach $7 billion within five years. Within
SAP, the project with the fastest ROI involved telepresence
communication systems, which cut the need for air travel.
AR What they — we —
need is robotic avatars.
The New York Times
Salman Taseer became the focus of
religious fury for speaking out against Pakistan's blasphemy laws. His
killer was known to have extremist views but was still assigned to a
security force tasked with guarding the victim. The assassin appeared
before a magistrate in Islamabad and was showered by hundreds of
supporters with rose petals and garlands.
AR Pakistan is a lost cause.
Adam Kirsch, NY Times
A serious critic is one who says
something true about life and the world. The critic's will is not to
power, but to self-understanding, self-expression, truth. A critic also
has other responsibilities, as a journalist, a consumer advocate, a
social commentator. The role of the critic can shade into that of the
difficult to recapture the old sense that the study of literature gives
you the best vantage point from which to understand an entire society. I
try to believe that if you seek truth and beauty, all the rest will be
added unto you.