BLOG 2012 Q3
California, September 2012. Photo: LP
rarely had a kind word
to say about his son
A tiny dot in space beyond Jupiter will
shine bright in late 2013. The International Astronomical Union
Minor Planet Center announced a new comet yesterday after
astronomers at the International Scientific Optical Network (ISON)
in Russia discovered it in September.
Comet ISON will be 1.4
Gm from the Sun on 28-29 November 2013. Its orbit suggests it is
fresh from the Oort cloud. Its solar fly-by should vaporize its ice
shell to release dust and give it a bright tail. It will fade in the
Sun's glare but become easier to spot as it heads back toward the
outer solar system. By 9 December it should be about as bright as
Polaris, the North Star.
Sex is better for your happiness than
money. Researchers say increasing sex from once a month to once a
week is equivalent to the happiness generated by an extra $50,000 income for the average American.
The National Bureau of
Economic Research puts dollar amounts on the happiness resulting
from sex and its trappings. The happiest folks are married people,
who report 30% more sex than singles. A lasting marriage equates to
an extra $100,000 each year. Divorce has a happiness cost of $66,000
2012 September 30
Showdown With Iran
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu urges President Obama to
draw a red line for Iran. Without it, the Islamic Republic will likely be
within reach of a nuclear bomb in early 2013. Obama administration officials
say Tehran will need at least a year to gather the enriched uranium, and
even longer to weaponize it. Signs that time is running out:
1 Iran is getting more belligerent. Iranian
Revolutionary Guard troops are now on the ground in Syria.
2 Iran accuses IAEA inspectors of being
infiltrated by "terrorists and saboteurs" who used explosives to knock out
power to a uranium enrichment facility.
The West is gathering an armada in the Persian Gulf. The U.S. Navy and
others are massing warships to secure the oil lanes through the Strait of
4 Diplomacy is going nowhere.
The former U.S. ambassador to Israel: "I am afraid that 2013 is going to be
a year in which we're going to have a military confrontation with Iran."
2012 September 29
Governing The World
Mark Mazower argues that the grand idea of governing
the world as we know it is coming to an end. The United States use of the UN
is subject to veto by Russia and China, mobs riot outside foreign embassies,
and American neoconservatives celebrate the death of the UN. One can hope
that the move to greater internationalism will not stop, because our present
disorganized and disrupted world condition is not sustainable. But world
affairs may have to get even worse before the idea moves forward again.
Israel's Red Line
Benjamin Netanyahu warns that Israel may take
military action against Iran. His government had warned that it could launch
a strike before November. In his speech at the UN, Netanyahu said Iran will
cross a red line next summer. That would trigger a military strike. So the
October surprise is off the menu.
Concerns about a nuclear-armed Iran
are legitimate, but an Israeli attack is not warranted while there is still
time for diplomacy and sanctions. The threat of an air strike in 2012 was
premature. Adopting the new red line now would most likely be
counterproductive. A diplomatic settlement should be our goal.
Israel Versus Iran
has three options for attacking Iran:
Israeli commandos storm Iran's Fordow nuclear facility, remove as much
enriched uranium as they can, and plant explosives to destroy the facility
as they leave.
2 Israel bombs nuclear
sites and strikes with sub-launched cruise missiles and Jericho missiles.
Israel has a single shot at destroying Iran's nuclear infrastructure.
3 Israelis remove the Iranian leadership.
This triggers an Iranian response targeting U.S. military assets in the
region and gets the United States involved.
>>> Further options in detail
2012 September 28
Google Now is Google's vision of how a smartphone
can become a trusted assistant. It doesn't have a pretend personality but
appears as a familiar search box. It can take voice commands or requests for
information and responds with speech. It combines the data it collects on
you with clues about your life sifted from Web searches and e-mails to meet
your needs and even guess them in advance.
Google Now is a feature of
Android. It pulls together everything Google knows about the world, and you,
and hides that power behind a simple, automatic interface. It can
automatically notify you about the weather, traffic, upcoming appointments,
flights, nearby businesses, sports results, public transit and travel
information, and movie show times. It's smart enough to prioritize, and it
will get better as Google refines it. But it won't be given a personality.
That's a design choice.
Former UK Minister of Defence Nick Harvey said
past British nuclear policy with Trident was to be able to "flatten Moscow"
in retaliation for an attack. In fact the point of having one submarine
always at sea (continuous at sea deterrence, CASD) was to insulate British
nukes from a surprise attack by Moscow. Harvey's non-deployed nuclear
arsenal, with the bomb and the delivery system stored separately, ready "for
a rainy day" in a "Tuppeny Trident" approach, would be vulnerable to a first
strike, unlike CASD.
RUSI man Joshi adds
correct clarification and a welcome note of caution.
France is pushing for a bigger government stake
in the proposed European defense and aerospace combo made from EADS and BAE.
Apparently, Paris wants to raise its stake in the combo and is urging Berlin
to follow suit, to form a blocking minority. London says this is
unacceptable. The United States is a major military customer of BAE, and any
government stakes with voting rights would be a problem.
Worst Air Loss Since Vietnam
The Taliban attack on Camp Bastion in Afghanistan
inflicted historic damage. Two Marines were killed and 8 Harrier jump jets
were hit, with 6 destroyed and 2 damaged. The aircraft were the AV-8B+
variant equipped with APG-65 radar and AAQ-28 Litening II targeting
pods. Harriers have been out of production since 1999, so the two damaged
AV-8Bs may never fly again. The nearby Marines at Camp Freedom are now
without effective fixed-wing air support. It was the worst day in U.S.
Marine Corps aviation history since the Tet Offensive of 1968.
Francis Spufford defends his Christian belief by
saying it is not assent to propositions that makes him a believer. He says
that for him the feelings are primary. But:
By prioritizing feelings his claim abdicates reason.
2 His personal feelings need not be shared by
3 He oversteps the bounds of what can
be said clearly.
I teach at NYU. My paycheck depends on my students
going deeply into debt. Unlike most other kinds of debt, student
loans cannot be discharged through bankruptcy, and collection agencies are
granted extraordinary powers to extract payments. Student lending is a
lucrative sector of the financial industry.
In the years since the
financial crash, the debts of banks are still being written off while the
little people are expected to pay back theirs. In the absence of debt
relief, the aggrieved talk about a double standard, and about debt refusal
and debt strikes. Civil disobedience may be the only democratic option.
For many of my students, the price of learning is a form of indenture.
The indentured go into debt to find work, and their wages are used to pay
off the debts. Expecting young people to debt-finance their education —
allowing Wall Street financiers to feed off their future — is immoral.
AR Absolutely. Get the vampires off student
2012 September 27
Rule Of Law Can End Poverty
George Soros and Fazle Hasan Abed
We propose as UN Millennium
Development Goals 2.0 targets:
1 Reduce statelessness and provide universal
2 Ensure that people living
in poverty know their rights.
3 Give everyone
full access to the formal justice system.
A hard road still lies
ahead. A billion people will still be living in extreme poverty in 2015.
Poverty will only be defeated when the law works for everyone.
AR I unwillingly paid Soros a tidy sum when he
earned a pile by speculating against the pound in 1992.
I'm glad to see
he's now using his talents responsibly.
Edward J. Blum and Paul Harvey
When Hollywood first started
portraying Jesus in films, one fundamentalist Christian fumed, "The
picturing of the life and sufferings of our Savior by these institutions
falls nothing short of blasphemy."
More recently, Andres
Serrano's Piss Christ image of Jesus on the cross, submerged in the
piss-artist's own urine, roused a crusade against the National Endowment for
the Arts, and Chris Ofili's painting Holy Virgin Mary of a dark-skinned
Madonna with photographs of vaginas surrounding her enraged New York Mayor Rudolph W.
Images of the sacred in the United States still generate
intense conflict. But Americans have learned to live with it.
AR The outrage only gives free publicity to these
The Casual Vacancy
When I was writing
The Casual Vacancy, I was often
unhappy, but I knew exactly what had to happen to the characters, even if
the scenes were difficult to write. It's a novel about self-deception, which
is why unacknowledged problems and the blind spots in our self-awareness
play a big role in it. But some characters in the novel are also firmly
convinced that they are doing everything right.
Success has taken
many cares out of my life. When I signed the American book contract for
Harry Potter, I came into an enormous amount of money practically overnight.
To this day, I don't take it for granted that I can pay my bills, and that I
can keep my house. It may sound improbable, but even today I take nothing
for granted. I'll never have another success like Harry Potter for the rest
of my life.
Former UK Minister of Defence Sir Nick Harvey says the
government review of the British nuclear deterrent is likely to suggest
British policy had been dictated by the
cold war view that the only way to deter the Soviet Union from a nuclear
attack was to ensure that the UK could "flatten Moscow" in minutes. The UK
deployed Trident, with at least one armed submarine at sea 24/7 ever since.
Harvey: "If you can just break yourself out of that frankly almost
lunatic mindset for a second, all sorts of alternatives start to look
possible, indeed credible."
Alternatives under consideration include
developing a nuclear warhead for a cruise missile that could be launched
from existing submarines, Harvey said, and storing the warheads in a secure
location. They could be mounted on missiles and put to sea when tensions
AR As a former Ministry of Defence
man, I agree that a stored cruise solution should now suffice.
EADS CEO Tom Enders failed to persuade German
parliamentarians to back an EADS tie-up with BAE Systems. The
parliamentarians left with "more questions than answers" and said it was
"not a question of how, but whether" the plan would go ahead. Enders faces
opposition in France too. He wants an end to daily influence from Berlin and
2012 September 26
Germany And The Euro
Germany has accumulated net claims in the eurozone by
running large current account surpluses. The surpluses have exposed Germany
to financial risk. The strategy has been at the expense of its people and
their productivity. German real personal disposable incomes have risen
little, constraining demand.
Curing the eurozone will impose
inflation in Germany, recessions in eurozone markets, and resource transfers
to partners. But a return to the Deutschmark would squeeze profits, raise
productivity, and increase real consumer incomes. Germans could enjoy higher
living standards. Exit is an option.
AR With no
euro, Europe would renationalize and trade would decline.
Notions of honor differ between the West and the
Islamic region. Under Islam, a commitment to defending group honor is a
sacred value that cannot be traded against material things or money. Sacred
values are absolute and brook no compromise.
We think about sacred
values differently to regular preferences. Brain scans show that the idea of
being bribed to disavow a statement such as "I am a Pepsi drinker" produce
activity in brain regions involved in calculating costs and benefits. But
the prospect of selling out on statements such as "I believe in God"
activate areas that play a role in retrieving rules. The brain processes
sacred values as absolute and binding commandments.
empathic creatures who feel the pain of others as if it were our own. Arabs
and Israelis report feeling equal empathy for their own people and less for
the other. But brain imaging shows that regions implicated in thinking about
the emotional states of others are equally active when Arabs and Israelis
think about anyone suffering. People are more likely to feel empathy for
each other when they hear the other's life story.
Religions play a
role in sacralizing values. Religious rituals fuse a sense of self with
group membership. Financial incentives to compromise on sacred values can
cause moral outrage and rejection. People are more willing to compromise
with others who recognize their sacred values.
2012 September 25
Make Rich Pay Tax
One of the issues that I have been preaching
about around the world is collecting taxes in an equitable manner. The
elites of every country are making money. There are rich people everywhere
and yet they do not contribute to the growth of their own countries.
This means leaders telling powerful people things they don't want to hear.
It means being transparent about budgets and revenues, and bringing
corruption to light. And it means putting into place regulations designed to
attract and protect investment.
Animals Are Conscious
Charles Darwin asked whether animals are conscious.
Last July in Cambridge, a group of scientists including David Edelman,
Philip Low, and Christof Koch discussed the question and proclaimed the
Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness:
"Non-human animals have the
neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of
conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors.
Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in
possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness.
Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other
creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates."
We should all stop the abuse of millions upon millions of conscious
animals in the name of science, education, food, clothing, and
entertainment. We owe it to treat them with compassion and empathy.
AR Good. Glad my old conference companions David
and Christof are doing something useful here.
Nick Shakespeare on Salman Rushdie
The 2013 calendar
celebrates the timeless
traditions and cheery charms of the British countryside
Pakistan railway minister
Ghulam Ahmad Bilour
a $100,000 reward for anyone who kills the man who made
Innocence of Muslims: "I am a Muslim first, then a government
The latest wave of Muslim
hysteria and violence has spread worldwide. The walls of our
embassies and consulates have been breached, their precincts
abandoned to triumphant mobs, and many people have been murdered,
all in response to an unwatchable Internet video. The protesters are
demanding that we conform to the strictures of Islamic law.
Here is where the line must be drawn and defended without
apology: we are free to burn the Quran or any other book, and to
criticize Muhammad or any other human being. Muslims must learn that
if they make belligerent and fanatical claims upon the tolerance of
free societies, they will meet the limits of that tolerance. It is
time our government delivered this message without blinking.
AR Right on. Sam is back in good form
"You can't make fun of religion."
Afghan police and army recruiters are
processing 7,000 new applicants a month. Vetting has been tightened
up since the rise in "green on blue" attacks. Now 1 in 35 applicants
is rejected. At least 420 army applicants this year wanted to murder
At a recent meeting of the International
Union (IAU) in Beijing, members voted to redefine the astronomical unit (au):
1 au = 149 597 870 700 m
So near enough 150 Gm to make the mean diameter of Earth's solar orbit 300 Gm
(or 1 ks given relativity)
The Accidental Empire
The B61 Bomb
The oldest weapon in the U.S. nuclear arsenal is the B61 bomb. It is
due for a major upgrade to extend its life by 20 years.
B61 is versatile. Some versions let users dial a yield (DAY) from a few
kilotons up to half a megaton. One version is a ground penetrator for
destroying hardened bunkers.
To ensure that the
upgrades are reliable
and safe, engineers simulate detonations in virtual tests.
A supercomputer running 1.35 petaflops needs 500 hours to simulate a bang.
The upgrades to
the 400 or so B61 bombs in the arsenal will cost $10 billion.
2012 September 24
Charles Darwin once described how a female barnacle
had two pockets in her shell, "in each of which she kept a little husband"
who in turn were little more than bags of sperm.
marsupial antechinus male has a single mating season. When it comes around,
he stops eating and frantically seeks females for sex. His digestive system
breaks down, his stress hormones soar, and his immune system fails. In two
weeks, he is done for and he dies.
male redneck spider flips his body just above the jaws of the female, ready to be eaten during mating. As the female eats him, she mates for
longer and gets more sperm for her eggs.
When a male honeybee mates
with the queen, his penis explodes to become a plug inside her and he drops
dead. The plug is meant to stop other males, but the queen can pop it out
and mate again.
David K. Randall
When people are deprived of artificial light,
they sleep through the night, at least at first. But after a while they
begin to wake up a little after midnight, lie awake for a couple of hours,
and then drift back to sleep again, in a pattern of segmented sleep
referenced in historical records and early works of literature. People who
adopt a split sleep schedule experience nighttime in a new way. They look
forward to the time at night as a chance for some deep thinking.
Gradual acceptance of the notion that sequential sleep hours are not
essential for high-level job performance has led to increased workplace
tolerance for napping and other alternate daily schedules. Most of us are
not fortunate enough to work in office environments that permit napping on
the job, but greater tolerance for altered sleep schedules might be in our
collective interest. Freeing ourselves from old ideas about sleep might help
put many of us to rest.
My Amazon review of Sweet
Tooth by Ian McEwan
2012 September 23
The Global Brain
fascinating connection between the social network and the brain. A human
brain is a process, always in a state of dynamic flux. New connections and
new cells are born. Because the brain processes reality, your personal
The future in the Mideast seems to be a race
between the mullahs and the iPad, between sermons in the mosque and tweets
on a smartphone. After the Bush administration's disastrous invasion of
Iraq, the number of cellphones in that country exploded, even amid social
collapse. Young people desperate to be part of the wider world started
expressing their yearning through social networks.
Tweets and texts
were critical during the Arab Spring. Millions of tweets, texts, emails, and
phone calls are neural signals in the global brain. A new identity is being
formed, a global "we" that can topple the barriers of religion,
tribalism, nationalism, and political oppression. Before the social network,
it was hard to escape the mindset of a repressed culture. Now anyone can
connect to the global brain.
AR This is
not only indirect promotion for Chopra's new book God (blasphemy, anyone?)
but also excellent promo for my GLOBORG views. Thanks, Deepak.
Anton had lunch with Christopher Hitchens and
Warren Beatty at the Beverly Hills Hotel. "Can I say," Warren Beatty said to
him, "that when I saw you at dinner at Mr Chow the other day you were with a
woman so beautiful that it made me want to faint?" He replied, "I'll call
her. Maybe she can join us." Padma did join them, and deliberately did
nothing to doll herself up, arriving in sweatpants and tank top. Warren
Beatty looked faint and said to him, "You’ll excuse me if I make a fool of
myself over your lady for five minutes. After that we can go on having
Rushdie's memoir is more gripping than any spy story. The sections that
describe his family background, the death of his father and his schooldays
are excellent. It is at once a personal history, an account of a butterfly's
wing called The Satanic Verses and an analysis of the catastrophic chaos
that the flapping of those pages unleashed. Rushdie appears to take a gloomy
view about the chaos. His book, as he puts it, was but the prologue and we
are still grappling with the main event.
Imagine (BBC 1) made Salman Rushdie seem
sympathetic. This is a man whose new memoir about the fatwa is written in
the third person. The third person! Alan Yentob's personal and touching
documentary revealed how grim the fatwa really was. Not only did this
documentary inspire feelings of sympathy in the viewer, it made its subject
look noble. It reminded us what an elegant writer Rushdie used to be.
AR As Rushdie might say, WTF is Farndale?
Rushdie: I Insist on the
right to freedom of expression
2012 September 22
PM International Congress
Salma Yaqoob, 41, British mother of three sons,
resigned last week as the
leader of the Respect party. George Galloway, Respect
party MP for Bradford West, prompted her to do so. He had said the Swedish
charges against Julian Assange were not rape "as most people understand it"
but just "bad sexual etiquette". Yaqoob: "I've always admired George's
anti-imperialist stances ... But for me, to have to make a choice between
that and standing up for the rights of women was a false choice."
Respect is an uneasy alliance of far left and
Islamist far right. Gorgeous George seemed to dominate the party, and few
people knew its leader was Yaqoob. "I know that we have fought those very
reactionary forces, we challenged them from within. I get the hate calls. I
get people in the streets saying, 'She is trying to wreck our homes'. I've
had the death threats, that anyone who beheads me will go straight to
heaven. Because I promote democracy, because I have a very clear stance on
AR Galloway is an
ambitious man. But Islam is too much for him.
Sir Salman Rushdie
violent protests yet again convulse the Mideast, Salman Rushdie says, "We
see these storms of birds at the slightest provocation all over the world
... When it happened to The Satanic Verses, it was kind of an early
harbinger of what later became a storm."
Christopher Hitchens: "It seems that rumors of my life have also been
2012 September 21
Germany and Europe
Our portrait of Germany as the accidental empire has
deconstructed the country now thrust into a leadership role in Europe.
Assembling the parts into a whole, we see a country fundamentally unsuited
to the task being asked of it: to lead the euro and with it the European
Union out of the minefield.
German reluctance to
use hard power is well known. It has been cautiously loosening the bonds
that tie its army to constitutional red tape for twenty years now. But if
being German is such a heavy burden that the country can only retreat from
itself by hurling itself into the European project, if Europe in other words
is a refuge, then Germany is uniquely unsuited to leading the charge.
European federalism is not enough. It needs leadership from a power
which is as self-confident culturally and politically as it is economically.
But it is almost as if you have to phone up Germany every day and tell them
how much you love them. The European Union is a long way from a unifying
He married in a kilt, supports Rangers, drinks
Irn-Bru, and speaks English with a Scottish lilt. But David McAllister, 41,
could one day be the chancellor of Germany. He has been a member of the
Christian Democratic Union since his youth and they say he is the crown
prince of Chancellor Angela Merkel. "Some even call me her pet," he sighs.
British Foreign Policy
British foreign policy has been balancing a
special relationship with the United States against reluctant recognition of
its continental neighbors. Washington is turning towards the Pacific, and
Britain can expect a reduced role. Meanwhile the European powers are
deepening integration to save the euro.
The deal between BAE Systems
and EADS illustrates the dilemma. It is more a salvage than a merger.
BAE thought it could strike out on its own in America, but it miscalculated
and now wants to be rescued by Europe. The twin relationships with Europe
and the United States are both essential anchors.
Romney Even Want To Be President?
Maybe all he really wanted was the Republican
nomination. I can think of three good reasons:
Mitt watched as his father George Romney blew his chance at the nomination
in 1968 by saying he had been brainwashed into supporting the Vietnam war.
Mitt beat just the sort of "muttonheads" who had humiliated his dad. By
letting Obama win, Mitt can avoid more gaffes and words "not elegantly stated" and
people prying into his finances.
nomination has already done something for the Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter Day Saints. He helped to put Mormonism into the Republican Party
hierarchy and got Christians to accept his faith.
3 He's not in this as a politician. Back in
January, when Rick Santorum asked him why, if he'd been such a great
governor, he didn't run for re-election, Mitt answered: "I went to
Massachusetts to make a difference ... I was trying to help get the state
into the best shape as I possibly could, left the world of politics, went
back into business."
2012 September 20
Rx to Romney
The slogan "We are the 53%" could be as much as
53 times more popular than "We are the 1%". Try issuing a clarification:
"When I said I didn't care about the 47% I was only talking about the period
of the campaign. As your president I would govern for all Americans, not
just the admirable, hard-working wealth creators, but also the undeserving,
belly-crawling leeches. As your president I will be working actively to
ensure you become a better human being, unless of course, I am forced to let
We see an exciting opportunity to build you up in the public
mind as the living embodiment of a popular plutocrat. For example, would you
be willing to try shouting "Ryan, release the hounds" every time you are
accosted by a poor voter? This might also work as a killer line in the
presidential debates. We also advise ostentatiously washing your hands each
time you are forced to greet someone on welfare.
BAE wants to be taken over by EADS. The company that
sold its stake in Airbus to invest in U.S. defense before the latest
Pentagon cuts is once again dealmaking in haste. Many British MPs would like
BAE to stay British rather than go European. But the EADS merger, in which
it would hold a 40% share and oversee the defense side from London, may be
best. It would take a company with better strategic and dealmaking skills to
François Hollande and Angela Merkel will meet to
discuss the proposed combination of EADS and BAE. Their approval is needed
for the deal. EADS CEO Tom Enders said good governance is the go or no go
for both companies. The deal would cut political meddling in EADS by Paris
and Berlin but leave them as well as Madrid and London with a veto on
decisions affecting their national security.
Frank Wilczek and Alfred Shapere claim to derive a
paradox by combining special relativity with quantum mechanics. Special
relativity states that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light.
But measuring a particle collapses its wave function, instantly affecting
even remote quangled partners.
If two widely separated fireworks go
off at the same, a spectator may see both simultaneously. An observer moving
between them will see one firework exploding first. If you have three
fireworks, you may expect six possible orders in which the events can occur,
depending on your reference frame. But that is not how it works
mathematically. Even if there is some reference frame where all events are
simultaneous, the calculations only work if you swap the order of two at a
Applying special relativity to three quangled photons, you can
have setups where photon A collapses either B or C but not both. All three
photons seem to change instantly, but their wave functions can differ
depending on your reference frame, creating a mathematical paradox.
2012 September 19
Britain And Germany
The German envoy in London, Georg Boomgaarden, has
encountered none of the hostility that blighted previous ambassadorial
stints. But the relationship is one-sided. About 300,000 Germans live in
Britain, more than double the number of Britons in Germany. German tourists
spend almost twice as much time in the UK as vice versa. There are 4 or 5
times more German students studying in British universities than vice versa,
and British academia is packed with German lecturers. The ambassador points
to the flow of British artists to Berlin and the strong interest in German
science and innovation.
Coming up, in 2014, is the 75th anniversary
of the start of the second world war, the 100th anniversary of the first,
the 200th anniversary of the battle of Leipzig in which Prussia and Britain
allied against Napoleon, and the 300th anniversary of the accession of the
House of Hanover as the royal family of Great Britain. Boomgaarden: "There
is such a richness and broad basis for our common history."
commentators argue that the Germans are guilty of economic imperialism,
imposing austerity on everyone else while enjoying a high standard of living
at home. Boomgaarden regards the criticism as unfair. "Whenever we don't
lead we are accused of not doing it, whenever we lead we are accused of
imperialism." After the Berlin Wall came down, a united Germany maintained
the doctrine of "never be alone" and is united in its commitment to the
European project and to saving the embattled euro.
is a veteran diplomat. London is likely to be his last assignment before
retirement. What does he like best about Britain? "I love this debating
culture. Prime minister's questions is one of the best things you can see."
And what does he dislike? "I would like to see more symbolic adherence to
Europe. When I go to Ireland there is a European flag on each official
building." His parting joke: "If Britain after the crisis could enter the
euro, that would be wonderful."
French satirical magazine
Charlie Hebdo has ridiculed the
Prophet Mohammad by portraying him naked in cartoons, threatening to explode
Muslims already incensed by the film Innocence of Muslims. The French
government had urged the magazine not to print the images and is shutting
down embassies and schools in 20 countries on Friday. Initial reaction from Muslim
countries was critical.
Thomas L. Friedman
Cairo protester Khaled Ali: "We never insult
any prophet — not Moses, not Jesus — so why can't we demand that Muhammad be
An insult does not entitle people to go
out and attack embassies and kill innocent diplomats. That is shameful. The
Egyptians, Tunisians, Libyans, Yemenis, Pakistanis, Afghans, and Sudanese
who have been taking to the streets might want to look at the chauvinistic
bile that is pumped out by some of their own media — on satellite TV and
websites or sold in bookstores outside mosques — insulting Shiites,
Jews, Christians, Sufis, and anyone else who is not a Sunni or fundamentalist
The Middle East Media Research Institute, MEMRI, was founded
in 1998 in Washington "to bridge the language gap between the Middle East
and the West by monitoring, translating, and studying Arab, Iranian, Urdu
and Pashtu media, schoolbooks, and religious sermons." MEMRI translates both
the ugly stuff and the courageous reformist efforts. You can watch some
hateful videos at MEMRI.
Killer on the Road
In 1980, Ronald Reagan expressed boundless faith in
the American way. He asked: "Are you better off than you were four years
ago? Is it easier for you to go buy things in stores than it was four years
ago?" His redefinition of the national mission was offered in the simplest
terms possible: America is succeeding if its citizens can go buy things. His
landslide victory suggested the message had found its audience. It was a
return to the American dream, defined as unfettered free enterprise,
unabashed consumerism, and unflinching military prowess.
2012 September 18
Romney To Palestine: No
Mitt Romney believes "the Palestinians have no
interest whatsoever in establishing peace" and the Palestinians remain
"committed to the destruction and elimination of Israel" so he endorses a
strategy of maintaining the status quo. "And of course the Iranians would
want to do through the West Bank exactly what they did through Lebanon, what
they did near Gaza, which is that the Iranians would want to bring missiles
and armament into the West Bank and potentially threaten Israel." He
maintains that "President Obama has thrown allies like Israel under the
Obama Not To Blame
Charles Krauthammer: "What we are seeing on the
screen is the meltdown, collapse of the Obama policy on the Muslim world."
Wrong. Barack Obama has pursued policies in the Mideast that leave the
United States better positioned to deal with the violence than it has been
for decades. It was the invasion of Iraq that provoked fury across the
Muslim world. Comparing the position now with that after the invasion of
Iraq, the attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya recalls the attack on the UN
mission in Baghdad in 2003. In both Benghazi and Baghdad, security was too
relaxed. But in Libya there are no American soldiers to act as targets.
Republicans are divided over the Arab spring. Romney blames everything
on Obama. This is laughable.
China Versus Japan
Tension between the world's #2 and #3 economies
China and Japan over a group of disputed islands is escalating: 11 Chinese
patrol boats are headed to the Senkaku archipelago and thousands
demonstrated in Beijing to mark the 81st anniversary of the Japanese
invasion of Manchuria.
AR If I were
rewriting LIFEBALL this is the
political issue I'd build the plot around.
Dawn Of The Dinosaurs
Some 200 million years ago, over half the
species on Earth died off. The dinosaurs first evolved about 25 million
years before the mass extinction, but once their competition was gone they
dominated life on Earth for the next 135 million years.
scientists blame the mass extinction between the Triassic and Jurassic
periods on massive volcanic eruptions. A million cubic kilometers of lava
coated the land and carbon dioxide levels doubled, causing massive global
warming. In the oceans, rising acidity killed marine animals.
Puzzling details abound. Volcanic eruptions also release large amounts of
sulfur compounds that reflect sunlight, causing cooling. A huge meteorite
strike may have played a role. A crater of the right age about 40 km wide
has been found in France.
2012 September 17
British Outlook Bleak
British GDP has not yet returned to its pre-crisis
level. The cumulative 5-year loss from this British downturn exceeds even
that in the 1930s. Forecasts are bleak. But is the right response to double
down on austerity or to change course?
Fiscal consolidation must be reversed soon. The principal factor holding
back the British economy is lack of demand. The way to raise British output
in future is to raise output today. The main concern over British credit is
economic weakness, and the main way to get stronger is to grow. Now is the
time for structural reforms, for measures to promote exports, and for
housing investment. The public sector must stop exacerbating the
Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Islam roared in rage again last week. Muslims who
want to punish blasphemers are in the mainstream of contemporary Islam.
Intolerance has become the defining characteristic of Islam.
ago, I blasphemed by associating terrorist attacks with theology, by
criticizing the treatment of women in Islam, and by leaving the Muslim
faith. Later I gave an interview to a Dutch newspaper that caused a
delegation of ambassadors from Muslim countries to demand my eviction from
the Dutch Parliament for hurting their feelings.
I became a combatant
in the clash of civilizations, condemned to a life cordoned off from the
rest of society. Salman
Rushdie knows the dreary routine. He relates his story movingly in
Islamists in office will be subjected to the test of government. If they
implement their philosophy fully and forcefully, they will strip women of
their rights, murder homosexuals, constrain the freedoms of conscience and
religion of non-Muslims, hunt down dissidents, persecute religious
minorities, and pick fights with foreign powers.
It is foolish to
derive laws for human affairs from gods and prophets. The ideals of the rule
of law and freedom of thought, worship, and expression are more sacred than
Cairo protester Khaled Ali: "We never insult any prophet — not Moses,
not Jesus — so why can't we demand that Muhammad be respected?"
AR No prophet deserves more respect than his doctrines, as revealed in the lives of his
Rushdie, 65, author of The Satanic Verses, on the movie Innocence of
"The film is clearly a malevolent piece of garbage. The
civilized response would be to say of the director: 'Fuck him. Let's get on
with our day.' What's not civilized is to hold America responsible for
everything that happens in its borders. That's crap. Even if that were true,
to respond with physical attacks and believe it's OK to attack people
because you're upset at this thing, that's an improper reaction. The Muslim
world needs to get out of that mindset."
Debating whether to read Rushdie's overlong memoir
Schwetzingen, September 16, 2012
The Horror at Château d'Autet
While the French slobbered
over Kate's breasts, the British media made do with her womb: is
there anything occurring in there yet?
photos were taken where the couple expected privacy, but the public
interest evidently excuses guessing about the couple's family
planning, as well as exhaustive coverage of the duchess's
blow-dries, dresses, make-up, eyebrows, knees and body language.
In exchange for their palaces and prestige, William and Kate
perform, at what would normally be family events, domestic playlets
for the camera.
classic fairy tales are perfect examples of memetic engineering.
They compete for mental space over generations of cultural
evolution, until only the fittest tales survive.
Philip Pullman: "I believe that
every story is attended by its own sprite, whose voice we embody
when we tell the tale, and that we tell it more successfully if we
approach the sprite with a certain degree of respect and courtesy."
2012 September 16
Naval Armada Massing In Gulf
Israel and Iran are moving toward war. Last week
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: "The world tells Israel
wait, there's still time. And I say, wait for what? Wait until when?" A
blockade of Gulf oil trade would be catastrophic for the global economy.
Naval assets from 25 nations are converging on the Gulf for an exercise.
The armada includes three U.S. Nimitz class carrier groups, each supported
by ballistic missile cruisers, frigates, destroyers, and assault ships
carrying thousand of U.S. Marines and special forces.
The main threat
to the armada comes from the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps navy. The
Iranians are expected to attack allied warships and merchant shipping using
mini-subs, fast attack boats, mines, and shore-based anti-ship missiles.
"If we could crack the secrets of the brain, which
is the most amazing biological computer, we could revolutionize every aspect
of human life," said Rafi Gidron, founder and chairman of Israel Brain
Technologies, at the High Tech Industry Association (HTIA) international
conference at the Jerusalem International Convention Center.
The Breakthrough Research And Innovation in Neurotechnology (BRAIN)
prize is a $1 million award to any team or individual for a breakthrough in
brain research with global implications.
Gidron asked what could be
done if the human brain could be connected directly to machines, and listed
a vast range of functions that could be triggered by thought. One in every
four people is affected by brain disease, and brain technologies are
changing our lives and the world. He was confident that the new prize would
usher in a new era of discovery in brain research.
HTIA cochair Yossi
Vardi once asked President Shimon Peres why Israel should push brain
research, and Peres replied: "If you don't have land, better a brain."
Every Love Story is a Ghost Story
David Foster Wallace is one of those novelists
who seem to push along the evolution of the form. He mixed high and low
references, postmodern philosophy and popular television, mathematical
theory and stoner slang. On his novel Infinite Jest his publisher joked:
"Has anyone here actually read this thing?"
Biographer D.T. Max shows
this is a guy who suffered. Wallace hanged himself in 2008, aged 46, after
years of medicated depression. Max mines Wallace's work for sophisticated
expressions of the author's mental states. The technique not only brings
Wallace to life, it brings the work into play as well.
up in Urbana, where his father taught philosophy at the University of
Illinois. He went to Amherst, the liberal arts college in Massachusetts, and
graduated top of his class. He fell in love with technical philosophy and
the foundations of mathematics, then moved on to postmodern fiction.
During one period of self-doubt, Wallace signed up for postgraduate work in
philosophy at Harvard, then checked himself into the psychiatric institute
at McLean Hospital. The four weeks he spent there, Max writes, changed his
life: he got clean and spent the rest of his life as a recovering addict.
Egyptian Islamist Sheikh Khalid Abdullah hosts a
TV show that baits liberals, Christians and Jews. Then he found an obscure,
ill-made film online called the Innocence of Muslims. He broadcast clips
from it last weekend, calling for its makers to be executed.
2012 September 15
Alvin Plantinga is an evangelical
Protestant. He says:
● The scientific
revolution occurred in Christian Europe because its great figures believed
that God had created a law-governed natural order and created humans in his
● Christians can "take modern
science to be a magnificent display of the image of God in us human beings."
● The theistic conception explains why
science is possible: the fit between the natural order and our minds is
produced intentionally by God.
selection is interested, not in truth, but in appropriate behavior.
● Faith is "a special gift from God, not part of
our ordinary epistemic equipment."
Christian faith in the truth of the gospels is not defeated by the secular
evidence against the possibility of resurrection.
I must say if I ever
found myself flooded with the conviction that what the Nicene Creed says is
true, I would think not that I was being granted the gift of faith but that
I was losing my mind.
AR Nagel (what it's
like to be a bat, the view from nowhere) is a better philosopher
Tom Wolfe is back. Next month sees the publication of
Back to Blood, his first novel in eight years. And it threatens to do for
Miami what The Bonfire of the Vanities did for New York in 1987 and A Man in
Full did for Atlanta, Georgia, in 1998.
pages, Wolfe will turn his beady eye on "class, family, wealth, race, crime,
sex, corruption and ambition in Miami," where the super-rich, with their
yachts, Ferraris, and surgically enhanced girlfriends parade and play before
All his books open with crowd scenes. The bigger the
canvas, the better; the richer the protagonist, the greater the target. New
York magazine: "Wolfe may live in a fancy block-long apartment on the Upper
East Side, but he clearly does not stay indoors."
Wolfe defends the
novelist's right to deal in the everyday: "It's important for the novelist
to bring alive what Hegel called the zeitgeist. He thought every era had its
own moral tone, that presses down on everyone living at the time."
The affair began with The Satanic Verses
burning in Bradford. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini fanned the flames into a
global blaze with his fatwa on 14 February 1989. Salman Rushdie will tell us
in his forthcoming memoir what the next decade was like for him. The risk to
Rushdie was not from Islam but from a terrorist state. Iran is still a terrorist state.
Everyone in a free society shares the deepest possible interest in
protecting Muslim minorities, indeed all faith communities, from
discrimination, defamation, violence, or incitement to acts of hate. But no
free society has an interest in protecting their doctrines, beliefs, and
practices from criticism, scorn, ridicule, or belittlement. Faith has no
privilege, and secular reason has none either.
The first few months were the worst. The mobs burned
books in the street. They bayed for blood outside parliament and waved
"Rushdie must die" placards. It was the opening chapter in a new unhappy
book of modern history. The novel as a literary form is among the highest
expressions of mental freedom and must be treasured and defended. A secular
worldview is the best guarantor of religious freedom. But people who are
secure in their God should be above taking physical revenge when offended.
The targeting of the Jaipur Literature Festival
by opponents of Rushdie was a final death twitch of the Satanic Verses
affair. Rushdie had requested we announce his appearance in advance, and as
soon as we did so we were assailed by death threats: "rivers of blood will
flow here if they show Rushdie". Rushdie agreed to appear by videolink. But
we agreed not to play the video address live in front of a festival crowd
that included burly protesters itching for a fight. The risk of violence was
Verses by Salman Rushdie
My home office yesterday:
Image captured on Samsung Galaxy
running Google Android, sent by e-mail to my Apple Airport, thence
by wi-fi to my iMac, there processed with Adobe Photoshop, then
e-mailed to my Lenovo ThinkPad running Microsoft Windows, and there
built into this page using Microsoft Expression Web.
species of monkey known locally as the lesula discovered in the
Democratic Republic of the Congo
"Das ist ein guter Tag für
Deutschland, und es ist ein guter Tag für Europa."
The Primacy Of
YouTube, 70 min
Over 100 000 views
AR Peter Russell wrote
The Global Brain
I liked it so much I cited
it in some of my books.
The story behind
The Satanic Verses
When It Happens To You
Ringwald plays out the
adult life, linking
the narratives of a couple
shelled by infidelity and
infertility with those of
family members and friends
facing their grief and the
challenges of forgiveness.
Her stories ring with
Canberras Over Afghanistan
NASA owns two WB-57F Canberra
research airplanes. Based on a British bomber type that first flew
in 1949 and set a world altitude record of over 20 km in 1957, the
two old birds are now uniquely important warplanes. They are
deployed in relay to Afghanistan carrying a new radio translator
called "bacon" that connects fighters, bombers, spy planes, and
ground radios to each other. With the Battlefield Airborne
Communications Node system, the WB-57s serve as data hubs for
net-centric warfare. The cost per year to keep the two planes flying
is $100 million.
QS World University
University College London
University of Chicago
Oscar Pistorius ran to victory in the men's
400 m T44 race, the final track event of the Paralympic Games in the
Olympic Stadium, with a time of 46.68 s.
in the Red Chair
Russky Bridge, Vladivostok
2012 September 14
Innocence of Muslims portrays the Prophet
Mohammed as a philandering child molester. News about the video has sparked
outrage and mob attacks on American embassies and
consulates in Egypt, Libya, and Yemen. A YouTube trailer for the video was
posted in July, but protests began in Egypt only when versions dubbed in Arabic
appeared online and were broadcast by an Egyptian news channel.
Politicians and the media in the Muslim world play a role in stirring up
violence in the wake of perceived attacks on Islam. When Florida pastor
Terry Jones burned a copy
of the Quran in March 2011, two weeks went by without any
incident. But then President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan made a speech
calling for his arrest. Within 24 hours, protesters stormed a United Nations
compound in northern Afghanistan, killing seven foreign employees, and
demonstrations across the country killed many more people.
Karzai has released a public statement strongly condemning the recent
"criminal act." This was not a reference to the assault on the U.S.
consulate in Libya a day earlier that resulted in the four deaths there but
to the release of the video denigrating the Prophet Mohammed. NATO forces in
Afghanistan are steeling
themselves. With allies like these, who needs enemies?
European Defense Politics
BAE Systems says it will walk away from talks
with EADS unless the combo can run without political interference. BAE also
wants its defense business to be based in the UK. A BAE deal with EADS would
give BAE a strong balance sheet and a diversified portfolio.
EADS CEO Tom Enders wants to use the deal to
reduce the level of political influence of the French and German
governments, which have lost EADS contracts. EADS proposes that the French,
German, and UK governments each have a golden share to let them block
hostile takeovers but no more.
A Defense Dream
Spending by European NATO members fell 7% in
real terms between 2006 and 2010. The fall is set to continue in the UK and
in France. No new European manned aircraft are in prospect after the Typhoon
generation. Projects for unmanned aircraft are likely to be smaller. EADS
and BAE are also big in ships, helicopters, missiles, armored vehicles, and
space. But they can get better global clout by combining.
does big business with the Pentagon, while EADS has a large Airbus customer
base. But the United States is a declining market. American defense
companies seem set for a new wave of mergers. BAE has a key market in Saudi
Arabia, and Asia is forecast to overtake Europe in defense spending this
Two very different
corporate cultures need to agree terms. EADS is a case study in the
pitfalls. The proposed deal could be seen as an EADS takeover of BAE. But
the deal makes structural sense.
deal could sink in politics. Blame France.
2012 September 13
Europe must evolve to a federation of nation
states, said José Manuel Barroso, Europe's top official, in his annual
state of the union address. He said he wants unified banking supervision
in the EU under the auspices of the ECB. His call for a new EU treaty
may cause conflict. Barroso will present a blueprint outlining his new
European aerospace company EADS and British
defense contractor BAE Systems are discussing a deal. The combo would
have a joint market cap of €38 billion, compared with €41 billion for
Boeing. The German and French governments have big stakes in EADS and
the British government has a stake in BAE. The deal would give them all
equal golden shares.
AR Europe is
slowly becoming an entity that can deal as an equal with the United
States and China.
California Sam Fraud
A California Coptic Christian convicted of
financial crimes admitted his role in making the dubbed movie Innocence of
Muslims. Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 55, said he managed the company that
produced the film but denied he directed it and said he knew Sam Bacile.
Nakoula has numerous aliases.
The AP located Bacile via Morris
Sadek, a conservative Coptic Christian who promoted the film. Egypt's
Christian Coptic population claims a long history of discrimination and
violence from the Arab majority.
Florida pastor Terry Jones: "Sam
Bacile, that is not his real name. I just talked to him on the phone. He
is definitely in hiding and does not reveal his identity. He was quite
honestly fairly shook up concerning the events and what is happening. A
lot of people are not supporting him."
The actors in the film
issued a joint statement saying they were misled about the project and
some dialogue was crudely dubbed during post-production. "The entire
cast and crew are extremely upset and feel taken advantage of by the
producer. We are 100% not behind this film and were grossly misled about
its intent and purpose. We are shocked by the drastic rewrites of the
script and lies that were told to all involved. We are deeply saddened
by the tragedies that have occurred."
The "Israeli-American" cover was evidently a sleazy lie.
2012 September 12
Das Bundesverfassungsgericht hat die Eilanträge gegen
den Euro-Rettungsschirm ESM abgelehnt. Die Bundesregierung muss bei der
Ratifizierung der Verträge aber sicherstellen, dass ihre Haftung begrenzt
ist und neue Zahlungen nur nach Zustimmung möglich sind.
The road is clear for the creation of the €500
billion eurozone rescue fund. The Karlsruhe justices have allowed Germany to
sign the treaty setting up the ESM. But there must be no unlimited liability
for Germany and the ceiling of €190 billion can only be increased with the
assent of lawmakers.
German Defense Minister Thomas de Maizière said
the Israeli government should stop talking about attacking Iran: "In terms
of military action against Iran this action is not illegitimate, but not
Thirteenth European-Israeli Dialogue
Axel Springer AG and the
Institute for Strategic Dialogue
Berlin, September 11, 2012
AR Unwise is right: Iran is cornered.
Innocence of Muslims
An abysmally bad movie
The Atlantic: 9/11/2012: Protesters in Cairo gathered at the U.S.
embassy compound, scaled the walls and pulled down the American flag, and
replaced it with a black flag bearing the slogan: "There is no god but Allah
and Mohammed is his messenger." They are protesting an American film that
insults Prophet Mohammed. The artless movie, Innocence of Muslims, was
directed and produced in California.
The Wall Street Journal: Innocence of Muslims was characterized by
its maker as a political effort to call attention to the hypocrisies of
Islam. The movie features an actor portraying the Prophet as a pedophile, a womanizer,
and a buffoon, who rises to advocate child slavery and extramarital sex in the name of religion.
The film was
apparently written, directed, and produced by an Israeli-American real-estate
developer, Sam Bacile, 52, who said he raised $5 million from about 100
Jewish donors and, working with about 60 actors and 45 crew members, made
the 2-hour movie in 3 months last year in California.
Time: Writer and director Sam Bacile says he intends his film to
be a provocative political statement condemning Islam. He says he is an
Israeli Jew, but Israeli officials say they have no record of him. The movie
features an amateur cast performing a wooden dialogue depicting Muhammad as
a feckless philanderer who approved of child sexual abuse, among other
grossly insulting claims.
AR Bacile is guilty
of criminal irresponsibility but the protesters are reacting idiotically.
The ABC Conjecture
Japanese mathematician Shinichi
Mochizuki has apparently proved the ABC conjecture. First posed in 1985 by
Joseph Oesterlé and David Masser, the conjecture concerns the addition of
two integers to get another, a + b = c, and constrains the interactions of
the prime factors of these numbers.
For example, 81 + 64 = 145 breaks
down into 3^4 + 2^6 = 5 × 29. Simplified, the conjecture says that the large
number of smaller primes on the equation's left-hand side is always balanced
by a small number of larger primes on the right: the addition and
multiplication restrict each other.
Last week, Mochizuki posted a
series of papers on his
website, one of which claims to prove the ABC
conjecture, but the logic spreads over 500 pages and probes deep into the
foundations of mathematics. Numbers are now defined in terms of sets, but
Mochizuki translates fundamental mathematical ideas into objects that only
exist in new conceptual universes, where he can "deform" integers and push
such operations as multiplication and addition to the limit.
verified proof of ABC would set off a chain reaction in mathematics.
Fermat's last theorem is that there are no solutions to the equation a^n +
b^n = c^n for n = 3 or more. Andrew Wiles proved it in 1993 using modern
mathematics, but if the ABC conjecture is true then there are no solutions
to the equation for sufficiently large n, which would simplify the proof.
AR I like set-theoretic foundations but
maybe we can use new ideas.
A new experiment shows that measuring a quantum
system does not necessarily introduce uncertainty. Aephraim Steinberg showed
that measuring photons can introduce less uncertainty than stated by the
Heisenberg uncertainty principle, although the total uncertainty remains
above the Heisenberg limit.
The team measured photon polarization
states. Polarization in one plane is intrinsically tied to that in the
other, and the principle sets a limit to the certainty with which both
states can be known. They made a weak measurement of the photon’s
polarization in one plane, then measured the polarization in the second
plane. Then they made an exact or strong measurement of the first
polarization to see if it had been disturbed. They sometimes found less
disturbance to the other state than the principle predicted, as little as
half of that predicted.
AR No big surprise there.
I believe the world will need to rely on nuclear
energy. No renewable energy technology can completely replace fossil fuels,
which provide base-load power all day and night, regardless of whether the
wind is blowing or the sun is shining. There is no carbon-free base-load
power source except nuclear energy.
energy has drawbacks. If you tried to scale conventional nuclear energy to
meet the world's energy needs, you'd run out of uranium. And the enrichment
process is complicated, expensive, and wasteful. In the United States, more
than 700,000 tons of depleted uranium sits in storage.
uses that depleted uranium as fuel, turning the cheap by-product of today's
reactors into enough electricity to power every home in America for a
thousand years. The technology needs virtually no new
enrichment facilities, which is important because enriched uranium is a
TerraPower offers a path to zero-carbon,
proliferation-resistant energy. There are a lot of challenges, but we are
building on decades of research at the U.S. national labs. We're also
working with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and similar agencies in
AR Good work: I say give
Nathan all the support he needs.
2012 September 11
Battle For Euro
The European Central Bank has fired its magic
bullet. But it has wounded democracy in Europe. Previous European bailouts
by Germany were subject to review by the German courts, but the ECB can only
be checked by the European Court of Justice. At the ECB, Bundesbank
president Jens Weidmann has just one vote, the same as the bankers of Malta
or Slovenia. He cast the sole vote against the plan. Then the Bundesbank
issued a statement that the ECB plans are "tantamount to financing
government by printing banknotes" and could leave German taxpayers paying
the bill. Since 1945, we agreed never again to leave a powerful and
aggrieved Germany isolated at the heart of Europe.
The U.S. economy is in the tank. Manufacturing is
contracting, consumer confidence is sliding, nearly 47 million Americans are
on food stamps, and we're heading for a fiscal cliff. Yet President Obama is
set to win 51% of the popular vote and 311 electoral college votes. He has a
3 in 4 chance of being reelected. When asked to choose between Barack Obama
and Mitt Romney, voters don't seem to be thinking about economics. Many say
Romney just isn't likable. And women dislike Republican views on abortion
and contraception. Maybe this election will split by race and sex.
Saudi Oil Bust
On present trends, Saudi Arabia will
cease to be an oil exporter by 2030. The Saudis already consume all their
gas and a quarter of their crude output of 11 million barrels a day.
Residential use makes up half of consumption, and over two thirds of that is
for air conditioning. Locals consume 250 liters per head per day of water,
most of it from energy-guzzling desalination plants. And the government
subsidizes fuel to placate the poor.
Jews In Germany
The debate over the legality of circumcision has
shocked Jews living in Germany. They see circumcision as an essential ritual
of their faith. Some opponents of the practice seem to suggest that Jews
and Muslims wantonly mutilate and traumatize their children.
Some 104,000 Jews live in Germany. They suffer repeated
attacks, mostly by right-wing extremists but also by Muslims. There were 13
violent attacks in the first half of 2012. There were 16 attacks on Jews and
Jewish establishments in Germany in 2011, compared with 114 in France.
Berlin has Germany's largest Jewish community. Many Jews emigrated there
from the former Soviet bloc after 1990. A Holocaust memorial has been built
right next to the Brandenburg Gate. But the main synagogue in Munich
resembles a fortress. Squad cars guard access to the building around the
clock. Security increases when children travel back and forth to school.
Authorities believe there is a serious threat of attack. Any desire for a
relaxed relationship between Jews and other Germans would appear to be somewhat
AR I think circumcision is a
primitive and ugly tradition and should be discouraged. Let baptism suffice
for Jews and Muslims too.
A Sad Story
The course of Western civilization can be represented as the
glorious erection of a colossal and superhuman Christ figure. But
this millennial idol has a downside. Its human prototype in Jesus of
Nazareth has lost credibility. The Jesus who lived in Galilee and
died in Jerusalem bears no visible relation to the globalized
subject of the modern world.
We have a new human symbol
for our civilization. The history of religion went from Buddhism
through Christianity to Islam. The human drama continued
with science, communism, and globalization. In the modern world, the
Holocaust is replacing the crucifixion as a grim reminder of the
frailty of our dreams and the truth of human mortality.
2012 September 10
Germany And The Eurozone
Lead or leave: this is a legitimate decision for
Germany to make. Either throw in your fate with the rest of Europe, take the
risk of sinking or swimming together, or leave the euro, because if you have
left, the problems of the eurozone would get better.
Jo Nesbo wrote a series of novels set in Oslo
featuring police detective Harry Hole. A typical Hole investigation combines
stomach-churning violence, black humor, and state-of-the-nation addresses.
Nesbo, 52, has sold over 14 million books. Last year the Anders Breivik
tragedy raised his profile. He rose with the boom in Scandinavian crime
fiction and drama that saw Wallander and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
emerge from Sweden, and The Killing and Borgen from Denmark. Nesbo's
Norwegian identity emerged and he was sought out to comment on the state of
Nesbo's parents fought on opposing sides during the
Second World War. Then his father started his own business, but lost
everything when the company folded. "My father was too proud to go bankrupt.
He paid all his debts down to the last cent. I think it was to do with
having fought for the Germans. He didn't want anyone to have anything on
him. I really respected my father for doing that."
Nesbo started as a
footballer but retired at 19 and became a stockbroker. By night, he was a
pop star in in the rock band Di Derre. Now he plays the line between
bestseller entertainment and social critique.
2012 September 9
analyst Anthony Cordesman has put together a
detailed plan for a strike on Iran. His conclusions:
1 Israel does not have the capability to carry
out preventive strikes that could do more than delay Iran for a year or two.
The idea of Israel launching a unilateral attack is almost as bad as
allowing Tehran to continue its nuclear work unchallenged. It would invite
waves of Iranian counterattacks and wreak havoc with the world's oil supply.
2 The United States might be able to delay
the nuclear program for up to ten years. But the initial air strike alone
will require full use of the main bomber force, suppression of enemy air
defense systems, escort aircraft for the protection of the bombers,
electronic warfare for detection and jamming, fighter sweeps and combat air
I Recall Reading
In the world of Total Recall our
fantasies are generated by artificial memory implants. They strap you to a
chair, wire up your head, and reconstruct the architecture of reality so
that it is generated by your own desire. Be careful what you wish for.
The novelist David Foster Wallace, who took his own life four years ago
after struggling with depression, did a brilliant job of exposing the
nightmare of any reality that is determined by our own desire. "There is no
such thing as atheism," he said, because we all worship something. "If you
worship money, you will never have enough. Worship your own body and beauty
and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly. Worship power — you will
feel weak and afraid. Worship your intellect, you will end up feeling
stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out."
loosens the bonds of the me culture and is a passport to freedom. Absorption
in another world, forgetting oneself and the passage of time, enjoying
solitude, delighting in something not constructed by my own wants and fears
— I remember.
The Great Pretender
frontman Freddie Mercury, born Farrokh Bulsara, died in 1991 aged 45. His
mother, Jer Bulsara, who is 90 next month, sparkles when she talks about "my
boy". She is a Parsee, a Zoroastrian, who believes in one invisible God and
the tenets of good thoughts, good words, and good deeds. Freddie's father,
Bomi, was a cashier in the British Colonial Office. Freddie was born in
Zanzibar in 1946.
Freddie went to a boarding school in India, then
moved with the family to the UK in 1964 and went to Ealing Art College. He
had countless male lovers in his life, but the real love of his life was a woman.
Freddie met Mary Austin when he was in his 20s and she was 19. They were
together for seven years and he later called her his common-law wife. He
said she was the only person he truly loved.
In 1999, historian Rachel P. Maines published The Technology Of Orgasm.
She described how in Victorian times "doctors inherited the job of producing
orgasm in women because it was a job nobody else wanted." The vibrator
inherited the job when they too got tired of it. A new film, Hysteria,
released September 21, tells the true story of the vibrator's inception.
Hysteria (YouTube, 1:49)
2012 September 8
APEC Russia 2012
The New York Times
Russian President Vladimir Putin is using the
Asia-Pacific economic conference in Vladivostok to strengthen ties with the
Pacific Rim: "Russian-Chinese relations are
at an unprecedentedly high level, and we have a lot of mutual trust both in
politics and economics."
The Russian government has spent more than
$20 billion to spruce up the city. The Russky Bridge alone cost more than $1
AR I guessed in my 1996 novel
LIFEBALL that Russia and Japan
would fight over the Kuril Islands, a.k.a. the Northern Territories, in
2013. Could still happen.
Astronomer Royal Lord Rees says we will be able to
observe distant planets by 2025 and life beyond our solar system could be
discovered within 40 years: "We know now that stars
are orbited by retinues of planets just as our sun is. We have learned this
in just the last decade, essentially. Within 10 or 20 years we will be able
to image other planets like the earth, orbiting other stars. That will be a
really exciting subject to see if there is evidence for life or not."
He was speaking on the meaning of life for the launch of:
Stephen Hawking's Grand Design
These are exciting times in astronomy, so long as the funding holds out.
The Pakistani nuclear threat to us all
Mars rover Curiosity has driven 112 m from the drop point
now called Bradbury Landing. Its tire tracks were seen from the
Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965)
Nobel Peace Prize (1952)
Life affords me my fundamental principle of morality, namely, that
good consists in maintaining, assisting and enhancing life, and to
destroy, to harm or to hinder life is evil."
The Psychiatric Study of Jesus
Click for more
University of London.
The New York Times
Barack Obama's lead character witness
is the first lady: "Barack knows what it means when a family
struggles. He knows what it means to want something more for your
kids and grandkids. Barack knows the American dream because he's
lived it, and he wants everyone in this country to have that same
opportunity, no matter who we are, or where we're from, or what we
look like, or who we love."
How do organisms assume their
forms? One answer is that it is written in their DNA. By studying
bizarre mutants such as flies with legs in place of antennae, we
have identified many of the genes involved in development. But we
are like a bunch of kids who have got their hands on an alien
spacecraft and managed to work out roughly what the switches do by
playing with them. We still have a long way to go.
Albert Schweitzer's classic
Von Reimarus zu Wrede (1906)
translated by W. Montgomery as
The Quest of the Historical Jesus is well worth while.
President Barack Obama
meets with actor Clint Eastwood on the patio outside the Oval
2012 September 7
ECB Saves Euro
European Central Bank president Mario Draghi says
the ECB will offer to purchase eurozone countries' short-term bonds in the
secondary market in a program dubbed outright monetary transactions, OMT,
to address distortions in financial markets.
José Angel Gurría: "This is your bazooka. This is the muscle and the firepower which is quite awesome because effectively, theoretically, it's
of relief: Let's see if it works.
Siberian hamsters do little to fight an infection
if the lights above their lab cage mimic the short days and long nights of
winter. But changing the lighting pattern to give the impression of summer
causes them to mount a full immune response. Likewise, patients who take
what they think is a drug but is really a placebo can have twice the response of
those who take no pills.
system is so costly to run that a strong and sustained response can drain an
animal's energy reserves. If an infection is not lethal, it pays to wait for
a sign that fighting it will not endanger the animal in other ways. Siberian
hamsters act on a cue that it is summer because food supplies are plentiful
then. We respond to placebo treatment because it says "go" to our immune
Peter Trimmer and colleagues developed a computer model for
the placebo effect. The model showed that in challenging environments
animals live longer and sire more offspring if they endure infections
without mounting an immune response. In more favorable environments, animals
do better to mount an immune response and return to health as soon as
possible. The results show a clear evolutionary benefit to switching the
immune system on and off depending on environmental conditions.
Understanding the placebo effect from an evolutionary perspective
2012 September 6
In Tampa the Republican argument
against the President's re-election was pretty simple: We left him a total
mess, he hasn't finished cleaning it up yet, so fire him and put us back in.
I like the argument for President Obama's re-election a lot better. He
inherited a deeply damaged economy, put a floor under the crash, began the
long hard road to recovery, and laid the foundation for a more modern, more
well-balanced economy that will produce millions of good new jobs, vibrant
new businesses, and lots of new wealth for the innovators.
of country do you want to live in? If you want a you're-on-your-own,
winner-take-all society, you should support the Republican ticket. If you
want a country of shared prosperity and shared responsibility — a
we're-all-in-this-together society — you should vote for Barack Obama and
President Obama started
with a much weaker economy than I did. Republican economic policies
quadrupled the debt before I took office and doubled it after I left. No
president could have repaired all the damage in just four years. But
conditions are improving.
We Democrats think the country works
better with a strong middle class, real opportunities for poor people to
work their way into it, and a relentless focus on the future, with business
and government working together to promote growth and broadly shared
AR Prez 42 was better on both
vision and debt than any recent Republican.
The central dogma of molecular biology is that DNA
consisted of recipes for proteins. The code is transcribed to make RNA
copies of the recipes, and ribosomes read the recipes to make proteins. But
little over 1% of our DNA codes for proteins. Dogmatists said the rest was
The Encyclopedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE)
reveals that some of the "junk" DNA is vital. Transcription involves
proteins binding near the genes to boost or block their activity. The
binding sites act as switches. Four million switches have been found.
Extrapolating, this accounts for 20% of the genome. Nearly every part of the
genome is close to a switch, and most genes are influenced by numerous
switches at the same time. But we don't know how many of the switches work.
Up to 80% of the genome seems to be biochemically active. Much of it is
transcribed into RNA, which does various jobs, but so far the known
functions don't explain all the activity.
We can assess the
importance of a stretch of DNA by seeing whether it accumulates mutations or
is conserved by natural selection. Some of the DNA specific to primates
seems to be conserved in humans. Or we can delete the DNA to see what
happens. In mice huge chunks of DNA have been deleted without any obvious
effect. The enormous variation in genome size between species suggests that
some of their DNA really is junk.
2012 September 5
Good Politics, Bad Economics
In the council of the European Central Bank,
Bundesbank president Jens Weidmann is just one of 23, with one vote, the
same as Greece. He is gnashing his teeth as the ECB gears up to buy the debt
of member states. Goodbye, old ECB. Hello Fed-in-Frankfurt. Instead of
Germanizing Europe, the Germans are about to be Europeanized, if not Club
Medicated. Weidmann has threatened to resign.
Weidmann is being squeezed by the two Marios: Italian prime minister Mario
Monti and ECB president Mario Draghi. Now Angela Merkel wants to buy calm
ahead of federal elections in 2013 and turn the ECB into a money machine, a
lender of last resort. You do not have to be a central banker to predict the
obvious: no market pressure, no reform. It would be back to the future,
Welcome to INDECT
The INDECT project has been initiated by the
for Homeland Security. The Project proposal was submitted by the
international, pan-European consortium of 17 partners, led by the AGH
University of Science and Technology, Krakow, Poland. The consortium
consists of 11 universities, 4 companies and 2 end-users (Police Service of
Northern Ireland and Polish General Headquarters of Police). INDECT is a
research project, allowing involved European scientists to develop new,
advanced and innovative algorithms and methods aiming at combating terrorism
and other criminal activities.
AR Whoah! KGB, here we come!
The origins of Christianity are inseparable from
the apocalyptic spirit described by Albert Schweitzer in
The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1906). Muhammad's original mission
cannot be explained without reference to the apocalyptic admonitions in the
Koran. Apocalyptic rumblings surrounded Luther's call for reforming the
Catholic Church, Sabbatai Zevi's claim to be the Jewish messiah, and the
Babist movement in Persia that evolved into Bahaism.
Church evolved from a doomsday cult. The sense of impending disaster
inspired the Latter Day Saints to make the great migration across the Great
Plains and Rockies. The persecution suffered by the first Saints may be
compared with that experienced by Muhammad's first Muslim converts in Mecca,
while the utopian community forged by Joseph Smith under divine guidance in
Nauvoo corresponds to Muhammad's reign in Medina.
Joseph Smith identified himself with
the patriarchs of ancient Israel. He believed that the Savior's return must
be preceded by an era of doom and destruction leading to the restoration of
Israel. Smith's followers saw themselves as the true Israelites and as the
agents of Jewish conversion. Mormons now emphasize the Jewish return to
Israel and not conversion. This shift facilitates the cozy relationship
between Mitt Romney and Benjamin Netanyahu.
2012 September 4
Presidential elections can turn on trivia.
Republican VP candidate Paul Ryan was introduced as a fearless truth-teller,
yet he lied about having run a marathon in under three hours. Democrats say
he lied about everything from Medicare to the closure of a car plant. They
will have a field day with the marathon man at their convention this week.
Tax Avoider Romney
Conservative politicians in the United States
underestimate the importance of publicly provided education, technology, and
infrastructure. Economies in which government provides these public goods
perform far better than those in which it does not. But public goods must be
If every individual devoted as much energy and resources as
the rich do to avoiding their fair share of taxes, the tax system either
would collapse or would have to become far more intrusive and coercive.
A market economy could not work if every contract had to be enforced through
A system that taxes speculation at a lower rate than
hard work distorts the economy. Those at the top accrue much of their money
as rents, which arise not from making more pie but from grabbing more of the
existing pie. Economic inequality translates into political inequality and
Mitt Romney may not be a tax evader but he
certainly is a tax avoider. Such tax avoidance makes it difficult to finance
the public goods without which a modern economy cannot flourish. More
important, it undermines belief in the system's fairness.
Fatal Feline Attraction
Evidence linking toxoplasma and schizophrenia
came out of the Oxford laboratory of Professor Joanne Webster, while
researching the parasite responsible for fatal feline attraction.
Webster revealed how toxoplasma infection
can change the behavior of rats to make them easy prey for cats. Instead of
freezing at the first whiff of cat urine, infected mice or rats go
exploring. Toxoplasma parasites need to be eaten by a cat to complete the
sexual stage of their life cycle.
Genes in the toxoplasma genome
allow the parasite to make L-dopa, the molecular precursor of the
neuromodulator dopamine. Webster showed that treating infected rats with
haloperidol, an antipsychotic drug known to block dopamine, reverses the
behavioral changes brought about by toxoplasma.
in rodents and possibly humans could interfere with the normal dopamine
processes of the brain. Dopamine is involved in a host of psychological
conditions in humans. Webster: "I think what we are going to see in humans
is going to be similar to what we see in rats."
AR Is this why some people are nuts about cats?
The John Templeton Foundation has been stepping
up its awards for philosophers to study what it calls the big questions:
free will, the universe, evil, hope, consciousness. Last year the foundation
awarded $1 million to scholars at the University of Oxford for the
philosophy of cosmology and gave $3 million to
Biola University in Los Angeles to
support a new Center for Christian Thought. Biola hosts an annual course by
William Lane Craig, the debater who in 2009 famously trounced
2012 September 3
UK Shock Therapy
David Cameron will try to revive Britain's
stagnant economy and fend off growing Tory criticism of his leadership.
George Osborne revealed plans for a small business bank sponsored by the
government. Tories are calling for Cameron and Osborne to apply right-wing
shock therapy to the flatlining economy.
Germans Nix Greece
Only a quarter of Germans think Greece should stay
in the eurozone or get more help for a bailout. But most in Italy and Spain
do not want to cut Athens loose. Angela Merkel is under pressure in Europe
to agree more time or money for Greece. The Greek program has slipped by €20
billion since February.
Das Drama des narzisstisch verwundeten Menschen
ist eine Geschichte der inneren Einsamkeit und der verzweifelten Suche nach
Liebe und Anerkennung. Grundsätzlich beginnt diese Leidensgeschichte mit den
Eltern, die ihrem Kind keine emphatischen Gefühle vermitteln können. Das
Kind fühlt sich nicht geliebt so wie es ist, sondern es lernt, Rollen zu
Spirituell betrachtet hat der narzisstisch verwundete Mensch
den Kontakt zum Sein verloren. Er lebt in einem selbstgeschaffenen Gefängnis
der äußeren Suche nach Anerkennung und Liebe. Gleichzeitig ist er fasziniert
von dem, was er auf der spirituellen Suche in sich findet. Den Höhepunkt
dieser narzisstischen Nabelschau finden wir in der Suche nach Erleuchtung.
Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger will den Kauf von Informationen über deutsche
Steuerschummler per Gesetz verbieten. Erst moderierte Finanzminister
Wolfgang Schäuble den Vorstoß ab, nun verweigert ihr auch die eigene Partei
den Rückhalt: "Die Mehrheit des Präsidiums sieht den Vorstoß skeptisch."
AR Ganz recht: Die Schummler schämen!
Martin Amis: Yobs, Aging, Death
Martin Amis writes not only viciously satiric novels like
Lionel Asbo but also books about
the Holocaust, Stalinism, nuclear annihilation, and post-9/11 Islam.
On yobs: "I've always thought that people that are designated as yobs
actually have quite a lot of native intelligence and wit."
On aging: "Your youth evaporates in
your early 40s ... Then I find that in your 60s, everything begins to look
sort of slightly magical again."
On death: "The way they made the
Jews pay for their tickets in the railway cars to the death camps. Yeah, and
the rates for a third-class ticket, one way. And half price for children."
2012 September 2
Atheism+ "is a safe space for people to discuss how religion affects
everyone and to apply skepticism and critical thinking to everything,
including social issues like sexism, racism, GLBT issues, politics, poverty,
The founders of Atheism+ say divisiveness is not their
aim, but looking through the blogs and comments in the weeks since A+ was
mooted, divisions have emerged. A dissenting tweeter is "full of shit",
while one supporter says daring to disagree with the A+ definition of
progressive issues and not picking their side makes you an "asshole and a
Pope Leo, in his letter
of anathema to the patriarch of Constantinople in 1053 that split the Roman
and Orthodox churches, managed to be more polite.
Fifty years ago, the University of Chicago Press
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by Thomas Kuhn. Before
Kuhn, our view of science was dominated by a heroic narrative of progress.
Kuhn saw paradigm shifts. Sales of his book to date: 1.4 million.
Kuhn was a
physicist and once taught a course on science for humanities students. When
he first encountered Aristotelian physics he thought it was idiotic. He
saw that to understand scientific developments one must understand the
intellectual frameworks within which scientists work.
scientific developments happen in phases. Normal science lets a community of
researchers who share a common intellectual framework or paradigm solve
puzzles thrown up by anomalies between what the paradigm predicts and what
is revealed by observation or experiment.
Over time, unresolved
anomalies accumulate until some scientists begin to question the paradigm.
The discipline enters a period of crisis, which is resolved by a shift from
the old paradigm to a new one. Kuhn brought about a paradigm shift in our
understanding of science.
AR This book
meant a lot to me in the years 1972 to 1974.
2012 September 1
Leading From The Front
A Republican foreign policy under Romney would be
built on the abiding conviction that America's destiny is still in our
hands. Republicans would restore America's leadership
In support of our friends and allies: Our friends and
allies tell me they want more of America. People look to the United States
2 On free trade: The Trans-Pacific Partnership is
a worthy initiative. Trade should become a more strategic component of our
response to the Arab Spring.
On national defense: The
president has consistently gotten it backward, allowing budget arithmetic to
drive military strategy.
4 On human rights: When people risk
everything for their freedom, as they are doing in the Arab world today, our
president should take their side.
Our friends and allies still have
faith in America. Mitt Romney has this faith in America.
AR Military activism in the Arab world? Hmm.
College of the Humanities
We ought to be
funding universities properly through tax. Higher education is an investment
that society is making in itself. Cambridge University says it costs them
£17,500 a year to educate a humanities student. NCH charges £18,000. A
high-class education is fantastically expensive.
Higher education in
the UK is biased toward people who have been to grammar schools and private
schools. But social engineering should be done in primary and secondary
education, not in tertiary education. Tertiary education should be about the
very best and the very brightest.
"There's probably no God. So stop worrying and
enjoy your life."
The atheist slogan implies that enjoyment would be
your natural state if you weren't being worried by hellfire preaching.
What's wrong with this, apart from it being total bollocks, is that it buys
into a picture of human life in which the parts around easy enjoyment are
all you can see.
Suppose you are poor or unemployed, or a drug
addict, or have lost your child. Stop worrying and enjoy your life! Anyone
who isn't enjoying themselves is on their own. The message is a denial of
hope or consolation on any but the most cheery reading of the human
I am a Christian. I assent to the ideas because I have the
feelings. My belief is sustained by emotions. I think the universe is
sustained by love. The argument about whether the ideas are true or not is
secondary for me. Emotions can fool you. Religion is a form of imagining.
The Meaning Of Life
We spend too much of our lives consumed with
minor goals, where achieving these goals doesn't require us to
reflect much on our deep values and desires, or the sense of
personal possibility that we develop in the course of engaging with
challenges and exploring our own capacities. If we approach the
visioning task in the same pragmatic frame of mind that we apply to
everyday tasks, we can dream a life goal that doesn't do justice to
our deep values and desires. We need to get down to existential
ground zero. If we don't break out of our comfort zones before
imagining our destiny, we're always in danger of selling ourselves
Foucault on Heidegger
A record Arctic ice melt in
2012 has already beaten the previous record, set in 2007, three
weeks before the sea ice reaches its usual minimum, suggesting
the global climate is breaking down more rapidly than expected.
2016: Obama's America
Rated PG for strong language
"Don't Think, Look!"
Wittgenstein referred to himself as a disciple of Freud. Like Freud,
he took seriously the idea that our dream images reveal the
unconscious parts of our minds. Philosophical confusion, he
maintained, had its roots in pictorial thinking. He suggests we
understand words as picking out not some single thing but a group of
things that need not have anything in common. Like members of a
family, they might have similarities and dissimilarities that
overlap in various ways. Understanding is seeing connections.
"If a lion could talk, we
would not understand him."
The largest 3D map of the
sky ever used to measure large-scale structure shows that if you
zoom out far enough, the universe is smooth and free of clumps. The
universe was born smooth, but then gravity pulled matter together so
that gas formed stars, galaxies, and clusters.
Now a team has
analyzed data from the WiggleZ Dark Energy Survey, for which the
Anglo-Australian Telescope mapped about 220,000 galaxies in a volume
of space equivalent to a cube with 3 billion light years to a side.
They found clustering only up to a scale of about a thousandth of
that volume. The team's work does not rule out clustering at vast
2012 August 31
Romney: Obama "Disappointment"
Mitt Romney: "Every president since the Great
Depression who came before the American people asking for a second term
could look back at the last four years and say with satisfaction: you are
better off today than you were four years ago. Except Jimmy Carter. And
except this president. ... Today, the time has come for us to put the
disappointments of the last four years behind us. To forget about what might
have been and to look ahead to what can be."
AR No soaring rhetoric there. Disappointing,
IAEA: Iran Doubles Nuclear Capacity
Iran has doubled the number of uranium enrichment
machines it has in an underground bunker, says the UN International Atomic
Energy Agency, and cleanup activities at the Parchin military complex would
hamper inspection of any previous nuclear weapons development. The number of
enrichment centrifuges at Fordow, a site deep inside a mountain, doubled to
2,140 from 1,064 in May.
Iran has produced nearly 190 kg of higher-grade enriched uranium since 2010.
It says it needs this material to fuel a medical research reactor. Supreme
Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: "Iran will never pursue nuclear weapons and
will not give up its nation's right to peaceful nuclear energy. Our motto is
nuclear energy for all, and nuclear weapons for none."
AR Time to get real with Iran.
David Foster Wallace
David Foster Wallace didn't think an account of his
life would be much fun. He said that "fiction's about how to be a fucking
human being." But the guy telling us this concluded that life wasn't worth
living. His dealings with women were often pretty grimy. He once wondered
aloud to his friend Jonathan Franzen whether his only purpose on earth was
"to put my penis in as many vaginas as possible".
AR He's no hero, despite his interest in the
foundations of math.
2012 August 30
In his first major address as the Republican VP
nominee, Paul Ryan attacked Barack Obama: "Now all that's left is a
presidency adrift, surviving on slogans that already seem tired, grasping at
a moment that has already passed, like a ship trying to sail on yesterday's
Republicans today see the state of the economy as the biggest
threat to the nation. Ryan: "College graduates should not have to live out
their 20s in their childhood bedrooms, staring up at fading Obama posters
and wondering when they can move out and get going with life."
he won a reputation as a fiscal hawk, Ryan supported many of the policies
that grew the deficit. Obama adviser David Axelrod: "Ryan, who voted for two
wars that weren't paid for, two budget-busting tax cuts, and an unpaid for
Medicare Rx program, moralizing about debt?"
Winning Mate Ryan
So far this
century, the United States has outsourced nearly 50 million jobs while
admitting 20 million unskilled aliens, thrown American lives and $2 trillion
after nation-building in the Mideast, and inundated the world with trillions
of dollars of worthless debt. The Obama administration has generated almost
$20,000 of increased deficit for every person in the country, while net
employment has declined.
Willard Mitt Romney has faced in all four
directions on almost every major issue and has behaved like a consultant
whose answer to everything is to assess the data, assemble the experts,
deluge people with platitudes, and decide later. Until he chose Paul Ryan as
his running mate, Romney was being hammered by the Obama team. For the first
time in history, a VP pick has changed the tenor of a campaign.
AR Do we trust the political judgment of Lord
Black of Crossharbour?
Christ: A Solitary Holocaust
Jesus the Nazarene was an apocalyptic prophet with a taste for
mysticism. After preaching in Palestine he was crucified in Jerusalem.
Either he expired on the cross or he survived and headed east to work under
a new name and die an old sage. But all agree he started something big.
Perhaps Christianity is only a chapter between Buddhism and Islam in a
long historical quest that continues with science, communism, and
globalization. Yet even though the Christian myth led all too readily to the
Holocaust, millions of believers still multiply and spread the faith. Here
Andy Ross presents a new way to feel the force of monotheism.
Let's see how long I can live with this version :-)
2012 August 29
Ann: Trust Mitt
Mitt Romney was formally nominated
by the Republican party to challenge Barack Obama. Chris Christie assailed
Obama as a president who did not have the political courage to tackle big
government: "Our problems are big and the solutions will not be painless. We
all must share in the sacrifice." Romney's wife Ann simply asked voters to
2016: Obama's America
D'Souza is the star and narrator of 2016: Obama's America. The movie is
really too good to get pedantic about. There are no conspiracy theories
about Obama. Instead, there is a deep dive into Barack Obama's known
Communist associates, his late father's avowed socialism, and his mother's
radicalism. We see a world map where America's nuke count drops to zero as
as its enemies build and build. In another scene the Mideast unites into a
swollen Caliphate surrounded by thorns. "A world without nuclear weapons?"
scoffs D'Souza. "Dreamy idea."
2016: Obama's America
The New York
Dinesh D'Souza is no fan of President Obama. This strident
documentary builds on D'Souza's 2010 cover article for Forbes. He argues
that the president has emasculated NASA, refused to take a meaningful step
against Iran's nuclear ambitions, and is willing to let Argentina reclaim
the Falkland Islands from the British. He paints in ominous terms the
president's conciliatory 2009 speech in Cairo and sees a future Mideast
become a United States of Islam.
Islam: The Untold Story
In Islam: The Untold Story (ITV C4), historian Tom Holland
asked, "Can a non-Muslim hope to understand the origins of the Muslim
world?" George Washington University Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr: "No."
There are serious discrepancies between the Koran and the surviving
documentary evidence for the birth of Islam. There is no mention of Mecca in
any dateable text until 100 years after the Prophet Muhammad's death. Dr
Nasr told Holland that what he had discovered was "quite interesting, so
long as you don't try to impose your view on the Muslim world". Holland said
the last thing he wanted was for any Muslim to take him seriously.
Hitch-22, Christopher Hitchens wrote: "I want to stare death in the eye." In
Mortality, he comes close to doing so. The book's power lies in its
simplicity. He talks about his sense of loss, without getting lost in it:
"to the dumb question 'why me?' the cosmos barely bothers to return the
reply: 'why not?' "
The Hitch has done something extraordinary in
this book. He has created yet another style, another mode, on his death bed.
The last section, which is made up of notes, scrawlings, and half-formed
thoughts, is the saddest.
2012 August 28
Economics in Denial
crisis was a serious indictment of the economics profession. The Bank of
England stimulated fresh ideas by organizing a conference earlier this year.
Among its recommendations was that the study of economics should be set in a
broader political context, with greater emphasis on the role of
institutions. Students should be taught that economic models have some
explanatory value, but economic agents may not behave as the models suppose.
The Bank of England is right to issue a call to arms. Economists would be
right to heed it.
The financial system has reached a level of complexity
that only power users can manage. But there are not enough power users to go
around. Financial accidents can quickly extend far and wide.
technology has advanced tremendously in the past century, human cognitive
abilities have remained the same. Technology that leverages human activity
often magnifies both our strengths and our weaknesses. The solution is not
to forswear financial technology but to develop more advanced technology, so
advanced that it becomes foolproof and invisible to the human operator. We
need a version 2.0 of the financial system, one that recognizes the
frailties and foibles of Homo sapiens by addressing Murphy's law as
thoroughly as it exploits Moore's law.
Technology has made us the
dominant species on the planet. But it brings unintended consequences.
Financial technology can facilitate tremendous growth but can also lead to
The Saudi Arabian central bank's net foreign assets
rose to a record $591 billion in June. King Abdullah, 88, has lost two of
his appointed heirs in the Arab awakening. The new heir apparent is Prince
Salman, 76. Reformers last year petitioned the king to establish a
constitutional monarchy. He ignored the calls but announced subsidy packages
worth $130 billion in salary raises for civil servants, and housing and
The country has no political parties, unions,
or any aspects of civil society other than charitable organizations run by
royals. The private sector is dominated by foreign workers, but new
regulations set quotas for the employment of Saudi nationals. Saudis command
higher salaries but lack job skills, so the quota system merely raises costs
as businesses waste time seeking favors. Despite years of petitioning, women
lack basic rights.
AR The thought that my
cash donations for fuel help to finance this colossally dysfunctional waste
of money makes me most unhappy.
Life On Europa
Jupiter's moon Europa hides an ocean of water beneath its icy crust that
might harbor life. But the NASA plan to explore the moon with a spacecraft
called the Jupiter Europa Orbiter would cost about $4.7 billion. Brazilian
astrobiologist Pabulo Henrique Rampelotto now proposes sending three small
spacecraft to Europa. Mission 1 would be an orbiter to measure the thickness
of Europan ice and see how deep its oceans go. Mission 2 would launch a few
years later to map the surface in visible and infrared light from orbit and
determine if any organic chemicals are present. Mission 3 would land on the
moon and use impactors to penetrate between 1 and 10 meters of ice, then
beam data back to Earth.
AR Let the
Saudis finance something worthwhile like exploring the moons of Jupiter. I'd
be happy to see my cash donations go that way.
Rowan Williams on Narnia
The Lion's World can be read
with profit and enjoyment by anyone interested in fundamental questions
about the place of humankind in the scheme of things. Williams argues that
theism can counteract a narrowly anthropocentric viewpoint. Pointing to the
central role of animals in Narnia, he notes that Aslan the lion is
non-human. Narnia's talking beasts free the mind from what Williams
describes as "the passionate campaign against nature itself that is typical
of the most toxic kinds of modernity". Refashioning nature and human
nature to fit ideas of perfection or progress dehumanizes humankind.
Williams: "Humanity can be manipulated into a nightmare caricature of
eternal life, but only by losing what makes it human."
Williams received a copy of my book
G.O.D. Is Great — perhaps this is his reply.
By Ian McEwan
Tooth takes the expectations and tropes of the Cold War thriller and
ratchets up the suspense ... This is his best book since Atonement."
spy charade: this is a book about writing, wordplay, and knowingness."
2012 August 27
Economic history of the world over 2 millennia:
horizontal scale is highly nonlinear.
Brisk and impressive scholarship
My Amazon review of Lost
Christianities by Bart D. Ehrman
Anyone who wants to understand
the emergence of the New Testament as a canonical anthology can profit from
reading this book. The raw texts for the canon were a muddle of assorted
memoirs, tracts, and letters written by people who mostly lacked sufficient
understanding of what they were writing about to express themselves clearly.
The result was a dismaying tangle of confused and competing doctrines that
took time to settle into a stable foundation for an organized church. ...
Bart Ehrman has documented this development superbly. Yet he seems
totally uncritical about the orthodox faith that emerged from the history.
His easy acceptance of orthodoxy means he sees the trees in this study but
not the forest. >>>
2012 August 26
Europe 25 Centuries On
Western civilization began with the Greek city. The
Greeks learned to govern themselves. Imperial Rome brought unity and peace.
The imperial idea was reborn in the Catholic or universal Church. Europeans
lived under the mixed and competing authorities of the city, the empire, and
The Reformation brought a return to scripture. The modern
political project was a response to the demoralizing contrast between what
men said and what they did. The state monopolized authoritative speech. At
first, the state allied itself with religion. At its full strength, it
became the secular state.
The modern project continues.
Representative democracy articulates actions in relation to speech. During
an electoral campaign, everyone proposes all sorts of actions. As soon as
the election is over, those who have won the majority proceed to enact their
proposals. A transfer of power is accomplished.
In Europe, the
political landscape has been leveled. The webs of conviction have unraveled.
Political speech no longer aims to prepare for action. Speech itself is
regarded as action. Offending speech acts are called phobias. Political
correctness measures speech by the standard of invisible intentions.
The popular vote is a matter of indifference for the European political
class. We will soon leave representative government behind and return to
commandments, as regulations. The regulations reflect increasing
globalization. Europe is disarmed in a world armed by Western civilization.
AR We reap what we sow. We arm
them, they grow strong, we grow rich.
on Earth and working beside the Eagle lunar module on the Moon, July
20, 1969, photographed by Buzz Aldrin
Bad Not Mad
Anders Breivik wins 21 years
in jail at the Norwegian
AR A bullet in the brain
2012 August 25
Men, Who Needs Them?
Our genus name Homo reflects an old patriarchal
bias in science. Women are both necessary and sufficient for human
reproduction, but men are neither. From the production of the first cell,
the egg, to the raising of the child, fathers can be absent. Your life as an
egg started in your mother's ovary. You were wrapped in your mother's fetal
body as it developed within your grandmother.
your mother had grown up, you burst forth and glided along her oviduct,
living on stuff she packed for you. Then, at some point, your father spent a
few minutes close by, but then left. A little while later, you met some tiny
cells from him that gave you a few picograms of DNA. Over the next nine
months, you got all you needed from your mother. She bulked you up, and at
birth she swathed you in billions of protective bacteria. If your mother
breast-fed you, you suckled milk from her for many more months.
woman wants to have a baby without a man, she just needs sperm from a donor,
and perhaps a straw. If all the men on earth died tonight, women could get
by on frozen sperm. The children would be fine. Poverty is what hurts them,
not the number or gender of parents. Women live longer, are healthier, and
are far less likely to commit a violent offense. If men were cars, who would
64, Ian McEwan has just published his 13th novel, Sweet Tooth. In the early
1970s, he entered a buoyant literary scene in London. This era forms the
backdrop for Sweet Tooth. He worries that people will dislike it because he
has "put some of my chums in. It's very self-indulgent."
2012 August 24
Vel d’Hiv, Juillet 1942
On July 16, 1942, early in the morning, 13,152
men, women, and children were arrested in their homes. Childless couples and
single people were interned in Drancy, the others were taken to the
Vélodrome d’Hiver. After five days in inhuman conditions and heartrending
separations of parents and children, they departed for Auschwitz-Birkenau.
There they were murdered.
The infamy of the Vel d’Hiv was part of the
Holocaust. In all, 76,000 French Jews were deported to the death camps.
Those people had trusted in France. In Paris in 1791, Jews had become full
citizens for the first time in Europe. They found in France a land of
welcome and a promise of protection. Seventy years ago, this promise and
this trust were trampled underfoot.
The French police undertook to
arrest the thousands of innocent people trapped on July 16, 1942. And the
French gendarmerie escorted them to the internment camps. No German soldiers
were mobilized at any stage of the operation. This crime was committed in
France, by France, and against France, against her values, against her
principles, against her ideal.
The Holocaust is on the school
curriculum. The challenge is to fight tirelessly against not only the insult
of Holocaust denial, but also the temptation of relativism. To pass on the
history of the Shoah is to teach how uniquely appalling it was. By its
nature, its scale, its methods, and the terrifying precision of its
execution, that crime remains an abyss unique in human history.
AR Never forget. The Holocaust now is like the
Crucifixion centuries ago.
The crisis of the European Union is a symptom of
its civilization. It defines itself not by its identity but against its
other. In historical terms, the European Union came together to oppose three
evils: fascism, communism, and colonialism. These three evils gave rise to a
common understanding of democracy. The member states are no longer forming a
united front against external threats in the globalized world. Globalization
brings global chaos. The players may not be keen on war, but everyone is
playing his own game. In this anarchic confusion, Europe has to assert
itself and face up to threats aggressively.
These are tempestuous times in China. Chinese
officials are vexed that the Unites States supplies Taiwan with high-tech
weaponry. A flare-up of the dispute with Japan about a group of islands in
the East China Sea fit a new bellicosity in Beijing. Disputes with Vietnam,
the Philippines, South Korea, and Malaysia over various island outcrops in
the South China Sea challenge the Sino-American relationship. American
policymakers demand more transparency about China's rapid military build-up.
As long as Chinese military capabilities and doctrines remain cloaked in
mystery, U.S. hawks will fear the worst.
reviews for Lionel Asbo, Martin Amis' latest novel, are not pretty:
● The Washington
Post described the novel as "ham-fisted" and "meandering" and suggested that
Amis move back to England.
The Wall Street Journal: "He reads like a university don telling
dirty jokes to astonish the groundlings while never letting them forget how
well he knows his Milton."
The New York Observer: "The most marked characteristic of Lionel Asbo
is its joylessness ... Lionel Asbo is a bad book."
● The New York
Times dismissed Asbo as "weary" and "pallid" and took swipes at two other
Amis novels, Yellow Dog ("dreadful") and the Pregnant Widow ("tedious").
AR Martin should try something completely
Richard Dawkins: the Playboy interview
The US Army chose three companies to develop a
Joint Light Tactical Vehicle to replace today's workhorse Humvee and
heavy MRAP trucks. AM General, Lockheed Martin, and Oshkosh Defense
each won about $30 million to refine their prototypes. The Pentagon
wants up to
50,000 trucks for the Army and another 5,000 for the
Marines, at $250,000 apiece.
Global Combat Ship
The UK Ministry of
Defence unveils the Type 26 Global Combat Ship. The ships will
displace 5400 tons and be 148 m long but have the radar
signature of small fishing boats. Contractor BAE Systems
designed the type with a hangar for a Merlin or Wildcat
helicopter, vertical missile silos, a flexible mission space for
boats or other vehicles, and a medium caliber deck gun. The
Royal Navy will buy 13 of them to replace old Type 23 frigates,
Apple has became the most valuable
company in history. At $665.15 a share, Apple's $623.5 billion
market cap beats Microsoft's record of $620.6 billion, held since December 1999.
Leonardo da Vinci
Mona Lisa + Fibonacci
The first published use of the Hindu numerals in
the Western world was in MCCII (1202 CE), when Leonardo Pisano, a.k.a.
Fibonacci, published Liber Abaci (book of calculation). He began:
"The nine Indian figures are: 987654321. With these nine figures, and
with the sign 0, which the Arabs call zephyr, any number whatsoever is
Too many people
Too few resources
George Church and colleagues
report in Science that they have encoded a book onto DNA. At 53,000
words, 11 images, and a computer program, it is the largest amount of
data written artificially onto DNA molecules.
They say the cost
of DNA coding is dropping so quickly that within a few years it could be
cheaper to store data this way than on ROM media. In theory, 1 g of DNA
can store up to 450 PB of data. DNA is good for data storage because it
can be copied easily and read many years later.
The sun is the most perfectly spherical natural
object known in the universe. Jeffrey Kuhn and colleagues have shown
that the sun's oblateness, scaled to the size of a beachball, is less
than the width of a human hair. Only a silicon ball manufactured as a
fiducial 1 kg mass is known to be more perfectly spherical. The results
reported in Science.
free will is an illusion
From Bernoulli To Maxwell
Equations that rule
New Scientist, video,
The quantum multiverse:
Everett 55 years on
RQ-7 Shadow 600
Farnborough airshow, Raytheon showcased its
Pyros small tactical munition, a 6 kg bomb just 55 cm long designed for
smaller drones, such as the AAI RQ-7 Shadow 600 with its 200 km range and
41 kg payload, including a laser designator to guide the bombs.
2012 August 23
Peter Sloterdijk's Spheres trilogy (Sphären,
1998-2004) philosophizes about spaces of coexistence between human beings.
Volume 1, Bubbles, describes micro-spheres: the womb, love bonds, and the
link between God and man. Volume 2, Globes, deals with the world as a single
macro-sphere. Volume 3, Foams, covers our contemporary network of social
spheres, in which the bubbles keep popping.
Sloterdijk hosted a
German TV show from 2002 until earlier this year. In 1983, his first major
Kritik der zynischen Vernunft, sold more copies than any other philosophy
book since the war. His prolific writings draw both admiration and
accusations of dilettantism.
Sloterdijk rejects individualism. The
individual is created by a division of the self into subject and its own
object, a foundational schizophrenia, which prevents us from understanding
the "ecstatic entwinement of the subject in the shared interior".
Sloterdijk sees his trilogy as companion and continuation of Martin
Heidegger's Sein und Zeit. He says Heidegger's mistake was to insist on our
essential loneliness by trying to answer the who question before the where
question. Before birth, we are in the mother's body, sharing her blood.
Women are links in an intergenerational web of unbroken physical continuity
stretching back into the oceans.
Sloterdijk denies that navel gazing
is a useless and isolating activity. He calls modern individualism placental
nihilism: by denying the significance of the placenta, we deny our
fundamental connection to the world around us.
AR I enjoyed Sloterdijk's lecture on bubbles in Heidelberg 20 years
2012 August 22
Facebook For Free
Facebook has more than 900 million users. It has reams of
the personal information that marketers covet and already brings in $3.7
billion a year. Yet there are growing concerns about the long-term prospects
for companies that are popular but do not charge users for services.
Traditional media companies that depend
mainly on advertising for profits have struggled to maintain profits while
moving their businesses online, where ad rates are lower and content is
often free. Radio and television companies made billions of dollars serving
commercials to captive audiences over many decades. But online the user is
in charge. Off-point messages get tuned out. Newspapers increasingly charge
those who regularly read their stories online. The New York Times reports
more than 500,000 digital subscribers since it started charging readers last
Facebook is trading at more than 40 times its reported
earnings. Buyers are investing more in potential growth than current
profits. Apple trades at 15 times its earnings, General Motors at 7 times.
Investors are pushing Facebook to find new ways to draw profit from its
Can China and the United States escape Thucydides'
trap? A rising power rivals a ruling power, as Athens did in 5th century BCE
and Germany did 100-odd years ago. Most such challenges have ended in war.
Classical Athens was the center of civilization.
This dramatic rise shocked Sparta, the established land power on the
Peloponnese. At the end of 30 years of war, both states had been destroyed.
"It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this inspired in
Sparta that made war inevitable."
The rapid emergence of any new
power disturbs the status quo. Germany after unification overtook Britain as
Europe's largest economy. In 1914 and in 1939, the clash produced world
If leaders in China and the United States do no better,
historians of the 21st century will cite Thucydides in explaining the
catastrophe that follows. The leaders must begin talking to each other more
Cheap Wonder Material
Nanocrystaline cellulose (NCC) is produced by
processing wood pulp. The NSF says it will be a $600 billion industry by
NCC is transparent
and has eight times the tensile strength of stainless steel, weight for
weight, due to its dense array of microscopic crystals.
NCC is made from wood
pulp hydrolyzed in acid. The crystals form a paste that can be applied as a
laminate or processed into strands.
NCC will soon cost a few dollars
a kilogram. It will replace some car parts and could make many plastics
obsolete. And it's nontoxic.
2012 August 21
Jürgen Habermas, Peter Bofinger, Julian Nida-Rümelin
crisis is not a euro crisis. Nor is it a European debt crisis. It is a
crisis of refinancing affecting individual countries within the eurozone,
and its main cause is inadequate institutions.
The solutions tried so
far have failed. A lack of fiscal discipline at the national level would be
solved by a rigorous policy of austerity. But the problem countries have
failed to reduce their refinancing costs despite reforms and cuts that are
unusually severe. A solution cannot be found at the national level.
The crisis is driven by the risk that an individual country might become
insolvent. That risk can only be reduced by collective guarantees for
government bonds in the eurozone. Concerns about disincentives can be
allayed by combining collective guarantees with collective control over
national budgets, overriding national sovereignty.
Only a politically
united core Europe offers any hope of reversing the tragic decline of a true
democracy built on the idea of the social state into a sham democracy
governed by the money market.
We need to move toward political union.
We cannot save the euro without accepting collective responsibility and
redressing the institutional deficit in the eurozone. Without transparency,
this will undermine the democratic foundations of the European Union. A
supranational democracy is needed. A democratic core Europe should represent
all citizens in the eurozone.
We must regulate the financial markets
and correct the structural imbalances within the eurozone. For the first
time in the history of capitalism, a crisis triggered by banks had to be
resolved by governments forcing their citizens, as taxpayers, to pay for the
losses incurred. Citizens are rightly outraged.
Obama's Gotta Go
In his inaugural address, Barack Obama promised
"not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth."
Unfortunately the scorecard on his bold pledges is pitiful.
Unemployment has averaged over 8% this year. Real household income has
dropped more than 5% since June 2009. Nearly 110 million individuals
received a welfare benefit in 2011. The ratio of public debt to revenue has
risen from 165% in 2008 to 262% this year.
It is five years since the
financial crisis began, but the central problems — excessive financial
concentration and excessive financial leverage — have not been addressed.
Today 10 big financial institutions are responsible for three quarters of
total financial assets under management in the United States, and the
largest banks are at least $50 billion short of meeting new capital
By 2017, the IMF predicts the GDP of China will
overtake that of the United States. Already 46% of Americans and 63% of
Chinese believe that China is or will soon be the world's leading
In November, Obama will go head-to-head with his nemesis.
Paul Ryan has a plan — as opposed to a narrative — for this country. Voters
can let Obama's rambling, solipsistic narrative continue until they find
themselves living in some American version of Europe, or they can opt for
Iceland's economy melted down in 2008. Its
banking sector collapsed in a week. The krona plunged 40% against the euro.
Inflation, interest rates, and the unemployment rate rose. Debt piled up,
revenues shrank, and expenditure soared.
Now the fiscal deficit is
below 2% of GDP and Iceland sells bonds in the international market. The
2011 growth rate was over 3% and the outlook for 2012 is similar, driven
increasingly by business investment.
The Icelandic government pursued
policies of social and economic inclusion. Those on higher incomes
contributed more and those on lower incomes were sheltered. Welfare services
were cut less than other areas of public spending.
2012 August 20
U.S. State Will Expand
The central issue in the presidential election
will be how to manage the federal government share of the overall
economy. Preserving existing services will raise the public sector
change will expand federal outlays unless politicians degrade the
protection of the elderly. About a third of the U.S. federal budget goes
to supporting those aged over 65.
Rising debt and interest rates will raise the share of federal spending
devoted to interest payments. In 2007, federal debt held by the public
was about a third of GDP, but it will double by 2020.
3 Increases in the price of what the federal
government buys relative to what the private sector buys will raise
state costs, reflecting long term trends in globalization and
4 Deferral of pension
liabilities and infrastructure spending are unsustainable. Fewer tax
returns are audited and tax evasion is rising, reflecting unsustainable
cuts in spending.
The Ryan Plan
The Ryan plan follows a consistent line of
Republican fiscal policy: tax cuts for the rich and cuts in spending on
the poor. The idea that Republicans care about the deficit does not pass
the laugh test. The Ryan plan offers upfront tax cuts plus cuts of a
trillion dollars that would slash tax breaks for health insurance,
mortgage interest, and the like. Federal debt would rise by $6 trillion
over the next decade, but federal revenue and spending would be reduced
by a few percent of GDP. The plan is not credible.
Like a Virgin
The ultimate solo parent of the future is a
woman. She can use her own stem cells and an artificial Y chromosome to
produce new eggs and sperm at any age. And she can let the embryo
gestate in an artificial womb. If you grow a baby in a box you can
manipulate the influences on it. The signals that make a mother happy
are due to chemicals in the brain. You can replicate them.
2012 August 19
The Lion's World
Rowan Williams sees a need to "rinse out what is
stale in our thinking about Christianity — which is almost everything".
He reflects on the nature of mercy and portrays it as facing up to the truth
about what you have done and who you are. The theistic insight is that this
truth can only be seen when you are confronted by the divine. To be unmasked
as God sees you is like the transformation that occurs when someone falls in
2012 August 18
The Social Conquest of Earth
Edward O. Wilson
The evolution of eusociality has thrown
defenders of kin selection into disarray. I think this debate moves the
study of social behavior into the same league as similar controversies in
the rest of science.
Individual selection is
responsible for much of what we call sin, while group selection is
responsible for the greater part of virtue. Together they have created the
conflict between the poorer and better angels of our nature. We have created
a Star Wars civilization with stone-age emotions, medieval institutions, and
god-like technology. We are confused by the mere fact of our existence, and
a danger to ourselves and to the rest of life. If we can understand who we
really are, then we can reach a much better world.
The evolution of
M.A. Nowak, C.E. Tarnita, E.O. Wilson
Eusociality, in which some individuals reduce their own lifetime
reproductive potential to raise the offspring of others, underlies the most
advanced forms of social organization and the ecologically dominant role of
social insects and humans. Kin selection theory, based on the concept of
inclusive fitness, has been the major theoretical attempt to explain the
evolution of eusociality. We show the limitations of this approach.
2012 August 17
A punk group plays rude, subversive music in a
cathedral. When Vladimir Putin first came to power, he was a genuinely
popular hero, bringing back services, prosperity and pride and many were
willing to overlook the negatives. But each term of office has exposed more
of what is rotten and seen the erosion of more and more human rights. The
clampdown continues and so does the fall from grace. And yet there are brave young people willing to risk their freedom for a better, freer and
more open Russia.
France and Germany
French historian Max Gallo sees a parallel between
the buildup to war in August 1914 and the current crisis in Europe.
Peter Sloterdijk says Europeans "have forsworn the
military gods and completed a conversion from heroism to consumerism".
Jean-Pierre Chevènement sees the euro as an instrument of German
domination in Europe.
Jacques-Pierre Gougeon says the French fear of
being left behind reinforces the German aim to be the role model in Europe.
Pascal Bruckner says France and Germany are too closely intertwined to
disengage. They are Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
Continued British aid to India is absurd.
India has announced that it will send a space probe to Mars, something
Britain cannot do. Indian president Pranab Mukherjee, when he was finance
minister, said India didn't need British aid, which was "peanuts" anyway.
The British government forgets that it required an Indian takeover of Land
Rover and Jaguar to make a go of them.
Karl Jasper's Axial Age — the lifetimes of
Pythagoras, Confucius, and the Buddha — corresponds almost exactly to the
period in which coinage was invented. The three parts of the world where
coins were first invented became the epicenters of Axial Age religious and
The Axial Age saw the first emergence of
large professional armies. Coins emerged to pay these armies. Large numbers
of slaves were needed to mine gold and silver for the coins. The resulting
system of armies and slaves brought moral crises that led to the emergence
of the great religions.
AR Karl Marx
would have liked this story. Money crystalizes a concept of value within a
social order. The moral crises reflected a need for higher values to keep
the social order inflated. Without more sacred values to give life meaning
and purpose, money grubbing is just killing and dying.
2012 August 16
Paul Ryan's budget is heartless in the face of the
crisis facing America's poor. It is also reckless, guaranteed to leave
millions of children without the education and skills they will need as
adults. The Democrats offer no progressive alternative. Both parties are
accomplices to the premeditated asphyxiation of the state.
Total U.S. government revenues in 2011 came in at about a third of GDP.
This compares with an average of a half of GDP in northern Europe. Germany,
the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden get great value for
their tax revenues: lower budget deficits, lower unemployment rates, lower
public debt-to-GDP ratios, lower poverty rates, greater social mobility,
better job training, longer life expectancy, lower greenhouse gas emissions,
higher reported life satisfaction, and greater macroeconomic stability.
2012 August 15
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched a major
review of the country's defense strategy following the Arab Spring. Events
in Egypt have destabilized Israel's southern border and the civil war in
Syria could affect its northern border. Retired officer Uzi Dayan said the
Muslim Brotherhood is forming a ring around Israel, with the Sinai as a new
front and Syria as a Sunni Muslim state.
French President François Hollande interrupted his
holiday as rioting ghetto youths in the city of Amiens torched cars and
razed buildings. Blogger 8Z said the rioters suffer "oppression by fascist
police" and described them as "the opposition" from former French colonies:
"Algerians, Tunisians, Moroccans, Gabonese, Malians and Cameroonians."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is back at her desk to
face threats to the euro from Greece and Spain. On September 12, the
constitutional court will rule whether the European Stability Mechanism is
compatible with the German constitution. The German economy is more
competitive than other European countries but it is exposed to global risks.
Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras is expected
to ask for a two-year extension of the Greek austerity program in talks with
Angela Merkel and François Hollande. Greece is struggling to find another
€11.5 billion of spending cuts to be made by 2014 under the current bailout
deal. The extension plan calls for the cuts to be made by 2016.
The Spanish government is in talks with Brussels
to allow tens of thousands of retail clients who bought risky savings
products from now nationalized lenders to avoid losing their investments as
part of Spain's bank bailout. In the proposed compromise, they will suffer
an instant haircut, and then be repaid in full over time by their banks.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation toilet challenge
1 California Institute of
Technology wins $100,000 for its idea of a solar-powered toilet that
generates hydrogen and electricity.
Loughborough University, UK, wins $60,000 for a toilet that produces
biological charcoal, minerals, and clean water.
3 The University of Toronto, Canada, wins $40,000 for a toilet that
sanitizes feces and urine and recovers resources and clean water.
AR I'm beginning to like how Bill is spending
our Microsoft donations.
At the conference
2012, CERN LHC physicists report that they have cooked up the hottest
ever quark soup. Colliding heavy ions momentarily created a quark-gluon
plasma with a temperature of some 5.5 trillion K.
2012 August 14
Banks and investors are bracing themselves for a
possible breakup of the eurozone. Cross-border lending among eurozone banks
has reached its lowest level since 2007. Banks are even severing connections
to their own subsidiaries abroad, preparing for the day that southern
European countries reintroduce national currencies and devalue them.
Investors are looking for ways to protect their money. Capital is flowing
northward from southern Europe, German real estate prices are rising
rapidly, and large amounts of money are flowing into German sovereign bonds
that pay zero interest. The stock market rally of the past weeks reflects a
flight of capital into real assets. Speculators such as John Paulson and
George Soros say they would bet on a collapse of the euro.
New Legal Challenge
A new challenge to the European Stability
Mechanism has been filed in the German constitutional court, seeking to
delay ratification by Germany until it has sought the opinion of the
European Court of Justice. If the challenge is accepted, it could delay
creation of the ESM by several months. The German court had promised to rule
on previous challenges by September 12.
New Atheists say religion poisons everything and we would be better off without it. But
scientists are applying evolutionary
theory to the study of religion. Their research suggests that religion or
religious ideas can elicit such behavior as fairness, generosity, and
David Sloan Wilson sees religion as "the groupiest thing
around" because it knits believers together. He claims to explain this by a
theory of group selection. He sees
New Atheist militancy as equivalent to religious fundamentalism.
Scott Atran calls religion an evolutionary byproduct or a cognitive accident
but sees the upside of faith. He sees no need
for group selection to explain the evolution of religion. Atran
believes that "attacking obscurantist, cruel, lunatic ideas is always a good
idea" but describes New Atheism as moronic.
Among the New Atheists,
Daniel Dennett has analyzed religion most
Breaking the Spell, he compares religion to a type of parasite that invades the brains of ants. "One of the good
reasons for studying religion is that it does so much harm, and it's worth
trying to figure out how to control it."
Dan's book makes the best scientific contribution to NA.
2012 August 13
R and R
Introducing his running mate against the backdrop
of the USS Wisconsin on Saturday, Mitt Romney flubbed his easiest line:
"Join me in welcoming the next president of the United States." There is no
way to avoid reading this as a Freudian slip. Romney's chief problem as a
candidate has been his substantive vacuity, his failure to stand for much
beyond flexibility itself. In choosing Paul Ryan, he opted to outsource the
content of his campaign to his opposite: a principled, conservative ideas
man. Ryan is now the head of the Republican ticket, Romney the body.
AR As Tom Clancy might say, mission
Some people had their doubts. They were worried
that the transport network would not hold up. As things turned out, the
network ran so smoothly that the International Olympic Committee, the
hierarchs who were supposed to be in the Zil lanes, were on the Tube,
because it was the fastest and most convenient way to get around. Then
people worried about the security, and as things turned out the Armed Forces
personnel worked with great smoothness and efficiency. And then people
doubted that we could put on a Games to rival Beijing in 2008. Well, I
reckon we've knocked Beijing into a cocked hat. For the first time since the
end of the empire, London feels like the capital of the world.
AR BoJo has his epiphany.
London Olympics 2012
The Times Verdict
The Games ended last night
with the greatest party in the history of the world. Looks
like we got away with it. We don't really go in for boasting in this
country, but it looks like London 2012 was, shall we say, not bad.
Really quite good, in fact.
AR Yes, indeed. Well done, chaps.
Photo: B.J. Holmes
Molly Ringwald, 44, starred in three classic coming-of-age films. Her
second book, a novel, is out now. Next year she's releasing a new collection
of jazz songs.
"I'm sort of a cultural icon."
2012 August 12
The New York Times
Mitt Romney has been criticized for not saying
how he would reduce the national debt. Tapping Paul Ryan as his running mate
Ryan is chairman of the House Budget
Committee. The Ryan budget would shrink the government and largely undo the
social safety net. It would cut about $6 trillion from projected spending in
the first 10 years and cut $4 trillion in revenues by slashing individual
and corporate income taxes. When Ryan pushed ahead with his budget plan,
Democrats saw it as a political windfall. Now the plan is part of the
Romney wants a 20% cut in all rates without adding
to annual budget deficits, to leave wealthy taxpayers with a large tax cut
but 95% of Americans with a net tax increase. Romney and Ryan would extend
the Bush-era tax cuts due to expire at year’s end. Ryan would also make
Medicare a voucher program and Medicaid a block grant to states.
Ryan: "If we don't reform spending on government health and retirement
programs, we have zero hope of getting our spending — and as a result out
debt crisis — under control."
Rejoice! It's Ryan!
The Ryan pick is thrilling. That's a first for
Romney's campaign. Throughout the primaries, a segment of conservatives were
lukewarm about him. Now conservatives have something to vote for. Paul Ryan
is a revered figure in conservative circles. He is a conservative evangelist
for the free market and lower taxes. Ryan is not a complement to Mitt
Romney. He's an injection of energy.
AR Obama should have
it easier now. For 99% of voters the choice is clear.
2012 August 11
Psychiatrists use simplistic diagnoses and loose criteria to transform
normal problems into diseases. Thirty years ago they said less than 1 in 20
of Americans had an anxiety disorder, now they say 1 in 2 do. They call
depression the common cold of psychiatry and diagnose hugely more cases of
ADHD, juvenile bipolar disorder, autism, social phobia, PTSD, SAD, and a
variety of other disorders. Psychiatry has lost its way.
AR We still lack a scientific theory of the
mind. This will take time: see my book
Advertisers are wasting far too many dollars on digital
display ads. The one true branding mechanism online is content marketing.
Content marketing enables brands to share their story in long form and in
their own words. For the first time ever, any brand can create its own
content affordably and at scale. The story can come in the form of
blogs, articles, reviews, ebooks, or videos. Interesting content delivers
informational or entertainment value.
In content marketing, content
means the creation of original content or the curation of content for the
benefit of your audience. Marketing means getting people to discover and
engage with your content. You need to get your content discovered in a
subtle way, without pushing it at people. Content marketing should be a pull
strategy. Just like search was a decade ago and social was five years ago,
content marketing is the next digital media revolution.
can do that. Marketing managers of the world unite, and pay me!
Curiosity does a 360° scan of its landing site
Authors by income last year:
Patterson: $94 million
Stephen King: $39 million
Evanovich: $33 million
John Grisham: $26 million
Kinney: $25 million
Bill O'Reilly: $24 million
Roberts: $23 million
Danielle Steel: $23 million
Collins: $20 million
Dean Koontz: $19 million
The Harry Potter wave
J.K. Rowling: $17 million
The Shades of Grey wave
has yet to peak.
Fifty Shades of Grey has become the bestselling book in British history.
The erotic novel has sold over 5.3 million copies in print and e-book.
Combined UK sales for the trilogy are in excess of 12 million copies.
Author E.L. James started to write Fifty Shades of Grey in January 2009 and
published the first volume in June 2011: "This is my midlife crisis, writ
LRB reviewer Andrew O'Hagan called it "terrible writing about sex".
Subdues His Brothers
by Arnold Friberg
Are quantum states real?
Consider theories in which reality is described
by some underlying variables, each of whose values represents an ontic
state. A quantum state corresponds to a distribution over the ontic states.
Given three basic assumptions, we show that the distributions over ontic
states corresponding to distinct pure states do not overlap. So we can
deduce the quantum state from a knowledge of the ontic state. One assumption
is that quantum transformations that do not affect a given pure quantum
state can be implemented so as not to affect the ontic states in the support
of that state. We prove that this assumption is violated in any model
reproducing quantum theory in which the quantum state is not ontic.
Curiosity sent this image of its shadow
on the Martian surface
2012 August 10
Fog Of War
The military in the United States means the active
duty Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines, plus the reserves and the National
Guard. It is a specialized, hierarchically structured organization that's
legally authorized to use lethal force to protect the state and advance its
Military analysts call the ratio of combat versus
non-combat troops the tooth to tail ratio (T3R). A 2007 study found that the
U.S. military's T3R has declined substantially since World War I. The study
defined combat troops as all "company size and above units of infantry,
armor, cavalry, field artillery, air defense, artillery, attack and assault
aviation, and combat engineers ... special operations forces" and so on. But
in Iraq and Afghanistan, those combat troops spent a great deal of their
time on everything from building schools to helping women join the
Our troops will spend more and more time on activities
that don't much resemble traditional combat. They'll control drones from a
safe distance, they'll mount offensive actions in cyberspace, and they'll
engage in covert and clandestine activities more traditionally viewed as the
work of secret agents.
Why I Love Mars
Every now and then, I spend time on Mars. I dig my bare
toes into the fine, red-orange soil, watch how it clings to my skin, and
recall how alkaline the iron-rich dust is. The thin air makes me itch.
Pretty soon I'll break out in what they call vacuum rose, as the blood boils
under my skin, because the air on Mars is pretty nearly a vacuum.
evening approaches, the sky is a dusty pink, tending to brown-black in the
east. The sun is a brilliant disk in the west, one-third smaller than it
looks on Earth. Feathery veils of dust hang near it and a few smeared clouds
of ice crystals glint silver, but the rest of the sky is clear, and the
stars above are bright and sharp. It's cold, about minus 40 C. Martians call
this a balmy summer evening.
Of all the planets apart from Earth in
our solar system, Mars is the most hospitable. ...
In America, we Muslims perform our rituals with
stealth to avoid awkward confrontations. It's not easy to find a quiet space
to pray or to explain to others your pre-prayer ablution, wudu, that
requires your to wash your hands and feet five times a day.
is a traditional hand-held vessel that contains water to follow toilet paper
and moist wipes in cleaning up after a dump. We tend to keep the lota hidden
out of shame and fear.
Muslims follow the tradition of the Prophet
Muhammad by performing istinja, the act of washing the private parts with
water, after committing najis, the elimination of "filth". Islam requires
this act to be performed with the left hand, which in South Asia is the hand
used for "other things". Muslims perform most actions, including eating,
with their right hand.
Traditionally, the lota resembled a tea pot
with a spout made of brass or copper. Modern Muslims tend to prefer plastic
watering jugs for booty cleansing.
My roommate in law school was a
white Army recruit who converted to Islam in college. He learned to love the
lota: "Once you wash that crack, you never go back."
2012 August 9
Five Years On
On this day in 2007, the French bank BNP Paribas halted
withdrawals from investment funds linked to the U.S. subprime mortgage
market. The interbank lending market froze. It was the start of a
The credit expansion up to 2007 was founded on the
premise that the business cycle had been tamed. This misconception produced
the eurozone sovereign debt crisis, which has no remedy but austerity.
It seems likely that we are only halfway through this
disaster. There is no easy remedy. Governments lack scope for fiscal
stimulus. Banks need to restructure. The debt crisis will take years to put
Fethullah Gülen is one of the most influential
preachers of Islam today. His followers have founded schools in 140
countries, a bank, media companies, hospitals, an insurance company, and a
university. Some former followers call his movement a sect. Researcher
Ursula Spuler-Stegemann: "It is the most important and most dangerous
Islamist movement in Germany."
Gülen residences, or
"houses of light," exist in many countries, including Turkey, the United
States, and Germany. There are two dozen in Berlin alone. They offer a young
man a home, often free of charge, in return for "hizmet" (service to Islam),
and are run like monasteries. Alcohol and women are prohibited and a
supervisor sets the daily routine. Residents read the Koran and study
Gülen's writings every day. Often they cannot watch TV, listen to music, or
read books that contradict Gülen's ideas.
Gülen portrays himself as
akin to a Turkish Gandhi. One of his mantras is: "Build schools instead of
mosques." But he disputes the theory of evolution and believes that
scientific facts are only true if they agree with the Koran. After advising
his supporters to undermine the Turkish state, he fled from Turkey in 1999.
He now lives in exile in the United States.
2012 August 8
Just Do It
With the London 2012 Olympics, we achieved
something great, something wonderful, because we brooked no compromise. We
spent billions on staging the Games. We took a ludicrous amount of trouble.
We just did it, whatever it took. It has been worth it, even if it has been
a bit mad.
Probability theory is a marvelous tool for games of
chance. But most of the problems we face are not like that. The range of
outcomes is wider than we imagine. Often we do not comprehend what happened
even after the event. The real world is characterized by radical
uncertainty, and we deal with it by constructing simplifying narratives.
Storytelling is the best means of making sense of complexity. The test of
these narratives is whether they are believable. But we are predisposed to
find evidence that confirms our existing beliefs, so we can easily fall for
narratives that offer theories of everything.
The Ruins Of
Shortly before Singapore fell to the Japanese, the
exiled Dutch prime minister Pieter Gerbrandy told Churchill and others that
"Japanese injuries and insults to the White population ... would irreparably
damage white prestige unless severely punished within a short time". The
Japanese were finally bombed into submission, but they had already destroyed
the aura of European invincibility.
God And The Sacred
produce solidarity and sacred causes so powerful that citizens are willing
to kill or die for a common good. But religion can also hinder a society's
ability to work out differences with others. That's the mess we find
ourselves in today. In an age where religious and sacred causes are
resurgent, there is urgent need for scientific effort to understand them.
AR Right. Read my new book
2012 August 7
My government in Italy has ensured a rapid reduction
of the budget deficit, passed structural reforms, and improved growth
potential. Italy has also become more active on decisions facing the union.
It is not about north and south, it is about the currency used by 330
There are signs of a
psychological dissolution of Europe. If the euro becomes a factor promoting
Europe's drifting apart, then the foundation of the European project is
destroyed. National leaders must explain to their people Europe's true
situation and not give in to old prejudices.
In relation to its
economic size, Italy has provided about the same percentage of aid for
Greece, Ireland, Portugal, and Spanish banks as Germany has. Much of what
Germany and France have done to rescue Greece has also helped German and
French banks. Italy has actually given more than France or Germany if you
consider the net return. The high interest rates that Italy is now paying on
its sovereign bonds are subsidizing the low ones that Germany pays.
The Arab Spring has been catastrophic for the
14 million Christians in the Mideast region. In Egypt, the rise of the
Muslim Brotherhood has brought anti-Coptic riots and church-burning. On the
West Bank and in Gaza, the Christians are caught between Israeli settlers
and radicalized Sunni Muslims. In Iraq, two thirds of the Christians have
fled the country since the fall of Saddam. Syria took in many of them.
Syria has long been a refuge for the Christians of
the Mideast. The Assads were Alawite, a syncretic Shia Muslim minority
regarded by Sunni Muslims as heretical, and disparagingly referred to as
Nusayris, or Little Christians. Syria's ancient Christian communities
enjoyed relative security and stability. If a hardline salafist regime takes
over in Syria, the end of Christianity in the Mideast may soon follow.
The Saudi monarchy sees Mecca as a showcase of
national pride. But residents of Mecca are beginning to refer to their city
as Las Vegas. Once a dusty desert town struggling to cope with pilgrims on
the Hajj, the city now boasts a glittering array
of skyscrapers, shopping malls, and luxury hotels.
Citizens in Mecca and Medina see the nation's ancient
heritage trampled under a construction mania backed by hardline clerics who
preach against the preservation of their own history. Mecca, where the
Prophet Mohamed once insisted all Muslims would be equal, has become a
playground for the rich.
At over 600 m, the Royal Mecca Clock Tower
soars over the Grand Mosque, the most sacred site in Islam. Work has begun
on a billion-dollar expansion of the Grand Mosque to add 40 hectares for an
extra 1.2 million pilgrims each year. It will make
the mosque the biggest religious structure in the world.
The expansion will obliterate the area's cultural heritage. But Wahhabi
fundamentalists say historical sites encourage "shirq" — the sin of idolatry
— and should be destroyed. When the al-Saud tribes took power, they laid
waste to cemeteries holding many of Islam's important figures. They have
been destroying the country's heritage ever since.
AR Let the Wahhabis pave over the
years ago, in Palmyra, New York, a man named Joseph Smith said that an angel
named Moroni had directed him to a set of buried golden plates, inscribed
with the Book of Mormon. The book is told in a flat first person: all its
opening chapters begin "I, Nephi".
Mormonism was one of countless
sects dating from the Second Great Awakening, which shaped the signature
style of American Christianity. Smith held that God and angels and men were
all members of the same species, so Jesus was conceived by "natural action"
and God had one or more wives.
Mormonism was the great scandal of
American nineteenth-century religion. Forced out of New York by fierce
Protestant hostility, Smith and his followers began years of wandering.
Smith was finally martyred by a mob in Carthage, Illinois, while in the
Brigham Young took the role of the apostle Paul for the
Civil War, Brigham Young sponsored the first Mormon department stores and
commercial franchises. It was a victory of Gilded Age capitalism over Great
Awakening spiritualism. The intensity of the faith got sublimated into
missionary zeal and commerce.
Mormon art produced one camp genius,
the painter Arnold Friberg. His image of Nephi looks exactly like
AR Strange sect
— a Mormon president (in 2013) featured in my 1996 novel
2012 August 6
Erwin Schrödinger published his
equation in 1926. The wave function encodes all the possible behaviors for a
quantum system. If you know the wave function an atom in space, you can work
out the probability of finding the atom at any location you please. But is
the quantum wave function merely a probability distribution or the
manifestation of a real, underlying wave?
London physicists Matthew
Pusey, Terry Rudolph, and Jonathan Barrett imagined a hypothetical theory
that completely describes a single quantum system such as an atom but
without an underlying wave telling the particle what to do. They imagined
bringing two independent atoms together and making a particular measurement
on them. The theory predicted a different outcome than standard quantum
theory. Rudolph: "Since quantum theory is known to be correct, it follows
that nothing like our hypothetical theory can be correct."
concludes that the wave function is more than just a probability
distribution. The wave function has to be a real thing associated with a
quantum system, informing it how to behave. The argument needs three assumptions:
quantum system has its properties before they are measured.
2 The atoms
in the thought experiment are independent of each other.
3 The laws of
cause and effect hold.
Antony Valentini of Clemson University, SC, says the work shows that the wave function cannot be a mere
abstract mathematical device but must be as real as the magnetic field
around a bar magnet.
<<< Lucien Hardy at the Perimeter Institute, Canada,
has obtained a similar result.
The Higgs Idea
The fundamental equations of physics can be written
down on the back of an envelope. The nature of light, the workings of the
sun, the laws of electricity and magnetism, the explanation for atoms,
gravity and much more can all be expressed with breathtaking economy.
Symmetry often leads to elegant and compelling theories.
Peter Higgs and the other physicists who proposed the Higgs boson saw that a
symmetry seems say all the elementary particles should lack mass and so they
figured out an ingenious solution.
The Higgs idea is that empty space
is jammed full of Higgs particles that deflect otherwise massless particles
as they move: the more a particle is jiggled by the Higgs particles the more
it has mass. The equations maintain their symmetry and the particles gain
AR Each explanation makes it
clearer — or not.
Curiosity On Mars
safely on the ground in the Gale Crater, Curiosity can begin its two-year
mission: to find whether Mars has the ingredients for life.
capsule containing the rover and descent vehicle entered the Martian
atmosphere at 5900 m/s. Small charges detonated and ejected two blocks of
tungsten, each of mass 75 kg, tilting the capsule so it could catch air and
fly across the Martian landscape. The capsule steered itself using small
rockets and autonomous navigation software.
At an altitude of 11 km,
the spacecraft dropped six more 25 kg blocks to shift its orientation once
more. Then it deployed a large supersonic parachute that slowed the
spacecraft from 400 m/s to 80 m/s in about 100 s. The capsule dropped its
heat shield and the cameras started looking for the ground.
At 1.6 km
up, the parachute let go, and the descent vehicle plummeted in free fall
until eight retrorockets roared to life. The vehicle slowed to a hover as
the Sky Crane slowly lowered the Curiosity rover on three nylon tethers for
the last 20 m of its trip to the Martian surface. The rover used its own
wheels as landing gear.
The rover will now stretch its robotic arm
and neck. The arm carries a suite of instruments including a camera that
will zoom in on rocks. The neck is a mast carrying high-resolution cameras
that will survey the surroundings, and a laser that will zap rocks from a
distance to help reveal their composition. An onboard chemistry lab will be
used to look for organic molecules and chemical energy sources that could
have supported life.
The final destination is Aeolis Mons, a 5 km
mountain in the middle of Gale Crater. The crater is thought to have been
full of water for hundreds of millions of years.
|The NASA Curiosity rover touched down in Gale Crater
on Mars on August 6 at
07:33 CEST: "Touchdown confirmed. We are safe on Mars!"
Churchill: The Power of Words
The Morgan Library and Museum
225 Madison Avenue, New York
September 23, 2012
The Singularity Is Over
Singularity is the rapture of the geeks. Faster and better machines will
beget even better machines at an exponential rate until they rival human
intelligence. Then we shall upload our consciousness into a computer and
Is Near is a docudrama, co-directed by Ray Kurzweil, that tries to
explain. It is a true story — about the past.
What The Bleep?
Boris for PM?
Johnson's chances of getting to No 10 are, in his
own words, only slightly bigger than "being decapitated by a frisbee,
blinded by a champagne cork, locked in a disused fridge, or reincarnated as an olive".
BoJo's old school chum, David Cameron: “If any other
politician anywhere in the world was stuck on a zip wire, it would be a
disaster. For Boris it's an absolute triumph."
AR So DC can keep No 10.
U.S. Navy prototype Northrop Grumman
X-47B Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike System
(UCLASS, a.k.a. UFO, unmanned flying object)
"Wissenschaft ist die kultivierte und methodisch durchgeführte Form der
alltäglichen Selbst-verdinglichung des Daseins."
interpretiert von Rüdiger Safranski in
Ein Meister aus Deutschland:
Heidegger und seine Zeit
AR Das ist ja eine Phrase!
"Verdinglichung" ein Wort von Georg Lukacs. Heidegger hätte im Zitat
2012 August 5
The design flaw of the euro is that it was a project
driven by politics but expressed in economics.
Without growth, the union faces a downward spiral of rising unemployment,
falling growth, lower tax receipts, and deeper cuts in spending. Without
changes in internal labor markets, welfare provision, and state pension
systems, a growth policy will be unaffordable.
What Europe now needs
is a grand bargain, to put the euro on a sound footing. Germany has to agree
to debt sharing and fiscal stimulus. Debtor nations have to agree to reform.
A plan to clean up bank balance sheets is needed, along with changes to
banking and fiscal policy.
The best thing now is for everyone to
decide together on policies for growth, reform, and unity.
Americans love Sir Winston Churchill. In 1963,
President Kennedy gave him the only honorary U.S. citizenship ever awarded
to a living person. He has a U.S. warship named after him and as many books
are published about him in America as in Britain.
When the Morgan
Library and Museum in New York staged an exhibition about Churchill this
summer, the crowds exceeded all expectations. There were more than 30,000
visitors in the first six weeks. Exhibition co-curator Allen Packwood: "Our
aim was to present Churchill in his own words. ... We wanted to show the
blood, toil, tears and sweat that went into his compositions."
the exhibits are the notes for the speech that Churchill made in the House
of Commons on September 11, 1940, two days after the start of the Blitz, in
which he said that Hitler "hopes by killing large numbers of civilians, and
women and children, that he will terrorize and cow the people of this mighty
imperial city ... Little does he know the spirit of the British nation."
AR If I could, I'd be off to New York to pay
2012 August 4
The Naked and the TED
Parag Khanna and his wife boldly declare that "mastery in the leading
technology sectors of any era determines who leads in geoeconomics and
dominates in geopolitics." The Khannas: "Futurism is a combination of
long-term and long-tail, separating the trends from the trendy and the
shocks from the shifts, and combining data, reportage, and scenarios."
For the Khannas, technology is an autonomous force with its own logic
that does not bend under the wicked pressure of politics or capitalism or
tribalism. Technology is the magic wand that lifts nations from
poverty, cures diseases, redistributes power, and promises immortality to
the human race. The Khannas mean by the Hybrid Age a "new sociotechnical era
that is unfolding as technologies merge with each other and humans merge
To speak of the Hybrid Age makes as much sense as
to speak of the Nature Age. To posit that we are moving into the Hybrid Age
is to believe that human nature changed sometime last year or so. The Hybrid
Age is the preparation for the apotheosis of the
Singularity. Those who believe
in Ray Kurzweil's thesis have already accepted the fact that a few decades
will transpire before it comes to pass, and so the Khannas move in to claim
these decades as their own.
The Khannas are eschatological
consultants. They run a for-profit consulting firm "providing insight into
the implications of emerging technologies" that bears the proud name of the
Hybrid Reality Institute. So far the firm's main accomplishment seems to be
convincing the TED
Conference to print its verbose marketing brochure as a book.
TED mentality in the
context of global affairs offers technological solutions to political
problems. In the TED world,
problems of aid and development are seen not as problems of weak and corrupt
institutions but as problems of inadequate connectivity or too few gadgets.
Nicholas Negroponte, having failed in his One Laptop Per Child quest, now
wants to drop tablets from helicopters.
2012 August 3
My Advice On Syria
Aleppo is under
siege and the prospect of the loss of thousands more civilian lives in Syria
is very high. The UN has condemned the further descent to civil war but the
fighting goes on. Jihadist elements have been drawn into the conflict. While
the Security Council is trapped in stalemate, so too is Syria. Only a
negotiated political transition can avoid a descent into a sectarian war.
It takes leadership to overcome the destructive lure of national
rivalries. Russia, China, and Iran must persuade Syria's leadership to
change course and embrace a political transition. Other countries must press
the opposition to embrace an inclusive political process. The international
community must unite and support a peaceful transition. Syria can still be
saved from the worst calamity.
Religion is situated in the larger context of
evolution. The human capacity to dance to a beat may be very important in
the early phases of religion, language is an enormous increase in capacity
that no other species has, and theory is a new capacity with immense
potential. Definitions of religion too often concern only beliefs. Religion
is not just bad science. It is about action, and faith is about trust. A
religious life is a form of practice.
There is an immense variety of cultures. Yet
all religions share some profound commitments. The great traditions can work
together for a global civil society. The fundamental equality of all human
beings is a Jewish and Christian truth, but that all human beings are
brothers and sisters is a Confucian truth. In China there is a deep concern
for Confucianism because the kind of Marxism they have is so vacuous.
Philosophers avoid talking about sleep. They fear
the sleep their own works may induce. I have dozed off while reading
Heidegger's Being and Time. On other occasions I have woken with a start to
discover that Kant's Critique of Pure Reason has fallen from my hand. There
could be no more profound critique of reason. Nothing is more soporific than
the egocentric tales of someone else's solipsistic dreams.
2012 August 2
More U.S. Air Force crews are being trained to kill
with unmanned aircraft from an office in America than from an armed cockpit
flying over a conflict zone.
The U.S. Air Force has
about 1300 drone pilot officers, most of them operating Predators, Reapers,
and Global Hawks over Afghanistan. The drones take off and land from bases
in Afghanistan but their operators sit in comfort 7000 miles away with a
joystick, a laptop, and several flat-screen monitors that show the altitude
and speed of the drones, maps, and potential targets. Last year 350 drone
pilots were recruited compared with a combined total of 250 fighter and
bomber pilots, and the fleet of Predator, Reaper, and Global Hawk drones has
risen to nearly 300.
Remotely piloted aircraft cost a fraction of the
price of a fully equipped fighter jet. The price of a Reaper is about $40
million. Each new F-35 stealth fighter will cost about $200 million.
Australian Navy Base
A U.S. Navy presence in Australia is mooted in a report
presented to Congress. The report from the
Center for Strategic and
International Studies suggests basing an aircraft carrier strike group
at the HMAS Stirling naval base in Perth, Western Australia.
strike group would consist of a nuclear powered aircraft carrier, an air
wing of up to nine squadrons, at least one guided missile cruiser, up to
three guided missile destroyers, one or two nuclear powered submarines, and
a supply ship.
Last year, an
of Defence review urged an expansion of the Stirling naval base in
Perth, stating that it "could also be used for deployments and operations in
Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean by the U.S. Navy".
Greece's three-party coalition has reached
agreement on €11.5 billion of spending cuts over the next two years. Prime
minister Antonis Samaras set aside demands for renegotiation to ease talks
with the troika of EU and IMF lenders.
Relief for the euro.
Oracle Versus HP
Oracle is facing a damages claim for billions of
dollars following its loss of a breach of contract lawsuit brought by
Hewlett-Packard. Oracle announced last March that it would stop producing
versions of its software to run on Itanium processors, which HP uses. HP has
put its damages at $500 million since the announcement, with a potential
total loss of $4 billion by 2020. The claim is set to be introduced in a
second phase of the trial. Together with punitive damages, the claim may be
for billions of dollars.
Puts Greece in perspective.
Energy For Free
Physics Arxiv Blog
How to extract more energy from entangled
particles than classical thermodynamics allows:
A couple of years
ago, Japanese physicists created an experimental version of Maxwell's demon.
They lowered an energy barrier to allow a high-speed atom to jump up a step
and then raised it to prevent the atom falling back down again. The atom
slowly climbed a staircase even though no energy was added to the system.
The experiment did not violate the second law of thermodynamics because they
had to monitor the position of the atom to know when to raise and lower the
But in quantum theory, when two particles are entangled, a
measurement on one gives you information about both particles. Imagine two
boxes of particles with trap door between them. You want to use the trap
door to guide the faster particles into one box and the slower particles
into the other. If the particles in one box are entangled with the particles
in the other, measurements in one box tell you about both sets of particles.
You get information for free, and you can convert it into energy.
the race is on to do the experiment and see if it really works.
Thermodynamic work gain from entanglement
Ken Funo, Yu
Watanabe, Masahito Ueda
Information heat engine: converting information to energy by
Toyabe, Takahiro Sagawa, Masahito Ueda, Eiro Muneyuki, Masaki Sano
2012 August 1
In 1966, at the International Foundation for Advanced
Study, Menlo Park, California, Dr. James Fadiman watched four psychonauts
sit back and enjoy an LSD trip. The volunteers had primed themselves with
hard technical problems from their respective fields. Fadiman and his team
were trying to determine if a low dose of acid, 100 micrograms, enhanced
Over the preceding year, IFAS
researchers had dosed a series of men for the study. Questioned shortly
after their trips, the psychonauts said their minds had blossomed. They had
beheld geometrical patterns glistening into infinity and said the experience
had helped them solve their problems. A total of 26 men published a series
of well received innovations shortly after their LSD trips.
of California outlawed LSD in 1966, and was soon followed by many other
states and then the federal government. People said psychedelics offered a
psychotic break, a glimpse of God, or a wacky trip, but no help at all for
In 2010, Fadiman published
Explorer's Guide: Safe, Therapeutic, and Sacred Journeys. He advocated use
of LSD and attacked the medical approach to psychedelic drug use that
restricts access to only a few people for personal therapy.
"Why did our drug research frighten the establishment so profoundly? Why
does it still frighten them? Perhaps because we were able to step off (or
were tossed off) the treadmill of daily stuff and saw the whole system of
life-death-life. We had discovered that love is the fundamental energy of
the universe. And we wouldn't shut up about it."
Michael Phelps becomes the greatest-ever Olympian after winning his
19th medal in the 4 x 200 m relay
Corruption, Nepotism, Mafia
Jobs for your friends, contracts for your
relatives, cash handouts for everyone: that's how politics works in Sicily.
Now the island has €21 billion in debts and is on the verge of bankruptcy.
Some 144,000 Sicilians get their salary from the state, many for doing
The mafia is strong in southern
Italy. The Cosa Nostra in Sicily, the Camorra in Naples, and the 'Ndrangheta
in Calabria together generate turnover of well above €100 billion a year,
with an estimated profit of €70 billion in 2011. The mafia is Italy's
AR If the police
can't kill the mafia, send in the Italian Air Force Typhoons.
Americans may be losing interest in religion. A recent poll
showed that just 44% of Americans have much confidence in the church or
The number of agnostics and atheists has doubled
in the last 20 years. That rise is reflected in the popularity of
Christopher Hitchens and
The author argues that thorium is the green fuel
of the future.
Wired editor Chris Anderson:
and important biography of thorium also brings us a commodity that's rare in
discussions of energy and climate change: hope."
2012 July 31
Austerity implements the political doctrine of
neoliberalism. The idea is that we are best served by maximizing market
freedom and minimizing the role of the state. The free market will deliver
efficiency and prosperity. The state and the market unite around the demands
of giant corporations.
When the state cuts regulation and social
provision, business is enriched. Through campaign finance, networking, and
lobbying, big business then recruits the state to champion its interests. In
Britain, corporations lobbied for programs that replaced public monopolies
with private ones and persuaded the government to guarantee state funding.
Big business has persuaded the state to let it dump its environmental
costs on the rest of us. It has vitiated anti-trust laws. It has excluded
new entrants to the market and become too big to fail. If the market
determines how societies evolve, and the market is dominated by giant
corporations, then what big business wants is what we get.
neoliberal doctrine has been disproved. Untrammeled markets were saved from
collapse only by government intervention and massive injections of public
money. Austerity has deepened the crisis while the winners stash their
profits in tax havens. We live under totalitarian capitalism.
Palestinians Denounce Romney
Khaled Abu Toameh
Radical Palestinian groups criticized
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad for meeting with
Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney after Romney said Jerusalem is
the capital of Israel.
A senior Fatah
official also criticized Fayyad and said Romney's refusal to meet with PA
President Mahmoud Abbas during his visit was "unacceptable."
spokesman Fawzi Barhoum accused Romney of insulting the feelings of
Palestinians: "These are racist and extremist statements that deny the
rights of the Palestinian people."
Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front
for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Democratic Front for the Liberation
of Palestine all denounced Romney's remarks and called for a boycott.
AR Romney seems to have an equal-opportunity
Typhoon Versus Raptor
German pilots flying the Eurofighter Typhoon have figured
out how to shoot down the Lockheed Martin
F-22 Raptor in mock combat.
Their tactics are revealed in the magazine
In June, 150 German airmen and eight Typhoons arrived in Alaska for an
American-led Red Flag exercise involving more than 100 aircraft from
Germany, the U.S. Air Force and Army, NATO, Japan, Australia and Poland.
Eight times during the two-week war game, German Typhoons flew one on one
against F-22s in simulated dogfights.
results surprised the Germans. "We were evenly matched," said Major Marc
Gruene. "They didn't expect us to turn so aggressively."
excel at fighting from beyond visual range with their high speed and
altitude, sophisticated radar, and AMRAAM missiles. But in a slower,
close-up tangle called a merge, the bigger and heavier
F-22 is at a
disadvantage. Gruene: "As soon as you get to the merge ... the Typhoon
doesn't necessarily have to fear the F-22."
Former Defense Secretary
Robert Gates called the Raptor "far and away the best air-to-air fighter
ever produced" and predicted "it will ensure U.S. command of the skies for
the next generation."
AR At least the
Luftwaffe and the RAF are flying a good dogfighter.
2012 July 30
Mitt Romney in Jerusalem: "Make no mistake: the
ayatollahs in Tehran are testing our moral defenses. They want to know who
will object, and who will look the other way. My message to the people of
Israel and the leaders of Iran is one and the same: I will not look away,
and neither will my country."
point, but a pity it was Mitt who made it.
Brits On Mitt
The British media have a track record at detecting
bluff. One example was their skepticism about why we invaded Iraq. Another
is Mitt Romney's awfulness as a candidate. Headlines like "Mitt the Twit"
showcase how childish British tabloids can be, but they reflect what many
Republicans say in private.
From a Republican point of view, things
could still get worse. Romney will select a running mate. He could make a
bold choice, such as Condoleezza Rice, or he could choose a zombie. Next is
the convention in Florida. His hints in Israel that he would strike Iran
appealed to the retired Jewish vote. Then he has only the debates to
survive. His Olympic performances in London show he is not quick on his
AR Condie would be good, but Mitt
is not so bold.
2012 July 29
Before 2008, Spain was in good shape. Then the
Spanish housing market bubble burst. Spain is now in recession. It may
have a budget surplus in 2013, but more austerity will only hurt growth
Weighted by GDP, eurozone deficit and debt
levels are lower than those of the UK, the US, and Japan. Yet many
national bond markets in the eurozone have become akin to distressed
European Central Bank president Mario Draghi says
there are no "taboos" for the bank and suggests that he is prepared to
intervene in sovereign spreads. With Spain in trouble, it is time for
Guns Are Fun
Barack Obama knows that asking a
working-class American male to hand in his gun is like asking him to
hand in his penis. Plus the constitution says you can have a gun to
defend yourself from the British.
I once spent a pleasant evening
in the Arizona desert with a squad automatic weapon and shot tracer
rounds into the night sky until the desert caught fire. There’s no
reason, in a civilized world, why a member of the public should have
this gun. And no reason why anyone should cackle and squeal with joy as
they fire it into the void. But I did. And you would too. And that is
AR Arabs say weapons are
the adornments of a man.
Image: Pete Nikolaison
James Cameron's new home
Avatar director James Cameron
has bought 10 sq km of farmland around Lake Pounui, east of
Wellington on the southern tip of North Island, New Zealand. He will
have a glorious view. Toward the south is the open Pacific,
stretching 3000 km to Antarctica. The waters of Cook Strait lie to
the west and the snowcapped mountains of South Island form the
southwest horizon. His new home is a 700 sq m cedar lodge
situated above Lake Pounui, with views of Lake Wairarapa to the
north, Rimutaka Forest Park to the west, and Palliser Bay to the
south. An advance party has already furnished the rooms, stocked the
pantry, and made the beds. Cameron will live here as he works on
continuing the story of Pandora.
The Air Force seems to have solved its
F-22 Raptor mystery. The problem causing Raptor pilots to choke in their
cockpits has been traced to a valve in the pressurized vest pilots wear. The valve inflated the vest, suffocating the pilots.
Once it is replaced, the Air Force will release the flying restrictions on its premiere
Writing For Money
Few novelists believe they will live entirely from
their writing as soon as a first novel is published. The money indicates how
much the publisher is planning to invest in you, how much they will push
your book, and where you stand in relation to other authors. But almost the
worst thing that can happen to writers is to get all the money and
recognition they want right away. Then they drop all other work and rely on
their books, and attract a crowd of people who hope to suck on their success.
I love the working class. When I talk to my lowlife friends and
acquaintances, I'm amazed how brilliant they are.
like class cleansing. It's flushing out the proletariat by pressure and
money. America is becoming more like a plutocracy than a democracy.
They talk about pornography becoming mainstream and accepted. Women will
never assent to it.
United States growth will slow further in the
second half of 2012 and be even lower in 2013. Expectations of the fiscal
cliff and uncertainty about the next president will reduce spending and
growth to the end of 2012. With no growth in real wages, growth in
consumption has been sustained by increasing public debt. In 2013, growth
will be impeded by the eurozone crisis, a hard landing in China, slowed
emerging economies, and higher oil prices. The U.S. economy will slow to
2012 July 28
A Way To Save The Euro
Sahra Wagenknecht, the deputy floor leader for the
Left Party in the Bundestag, has a plan to save the euro. She says we should
just reboot the market economy and then cushion the fall:
1 A radical debt haircut: "The EU member states
should resolve that all sovereign debt above a certain level will not be
paid back." She proposes a cutoff at 60% of GDP. Several European banks and
insurance companies would go bankrupt. "The financial industry has seriously
underestimated the risks associated with sovereign bonds." She says "risk
and liability are linked in a market economy."
A "technical moment of insolvency": The state would inject fresh capital
into the banks so that they can continue serving those sectors that are
required for them to manage customer accounts and extend loans to companies
in the real economy. Much of the investment banking sector would be
liquidated. The state would guarantee no more than €1 million per person for
savings and life insurance.
3 Direct ECB
finance for insolvent countries, up to 4% of GDP: "At the moment, the ECB is
pouring money into the banks in the hope that they will invest a small
percentage of it in sovereign bonds. It would be much more efficient to give
this small percentage directly to the states."
Wagenknecht, now 43,
wrote a university thesis on Hegel and Marx, joined the East German
communist party SED in 1989, and according to her
"will finish shortly her doctorate in economics."
In Praise of Idleness
Bertrand Russell suggested cutting the working day by
half. His injunction should be embraced by managers and others who are
trying to get the best out of their charges.
hard work is counterproductive. You cannot work all day, at least not at a
high level. When you are performing near your limits, you use up your
psychological resources very quickly. Stopping at the right moment is a
vital form of self-discipline. And yet people condemn the optimal working
day as contemptibly slack.
Workaholism is not correlated with
success. If it was, Britain's two best prime ministers would have been
Gordon Brown and Margaret Thatcher. Brown's exhausted rants are legendary.
And though Thatcher boasted about hating holidays and needing only four
hours' sleep a night, she burned herself out and her judgement slipped.
What some people call idleness is often the best investment. If we
really want to be good at something, we should stop wasting time exhausting
From his 2010 book: "England is just a small island. Its
roads and houses are small. With few exceptions, it doesn't make things that
people in the rest of the world want to buy. And if it hadn't been separated
from the continent by water, it almost certainly would have been lost to
AR Up yours, Mitt!
2012 July 27
"In Frankfurt we think the euro is irreversible"
European Central Bank President Mario Draghi praised
the speed eurozone reforms and said the ECB would do "whatever it takes" to
support the single currency. "Believe me, it will be enough," he said
emphatically. "Within our mandate the ECB is ready to do whatever it takes
to preserve the euro."
AR What else could
he say? If this is enough to rally markets, we're in trouble.
Barack Obama describes Turkish Prime Minister Recep
Tayyip Erdogan as one of the five foreign leaders with whom he is the
friendliest. The two leaders speak often by telephone and President Obama
regards him as an "outstanding partner". Vice President Joe Biden: "The way
we look at Turkey is, it's the gateway, it's the hinge between the East and
West. It has inordinate influence."
Turkey is the most promising power to put the Mideast in order.
If Americans want to make the world a better
place, the United States must stand up and promote the power and promise of
free markets and free peoples.
Strength begins at home. Global
leadership rests upon a strong economy built on fiscal discipline and robust
private sector growth. But when a child's zip code determines whether she
will get a good education, we are losing generations to poverty and despair.
The crisis in education is the greatest single threat to our national
strength and cohesion.
The American people have to be inspired to
lead again. The United States is exceptional in the clarity of our
conviction that free markets and free peoples hold the key to the future.
AR She wants a job under Mitt Romney.
2012 July 26
UK Losing AAA Rating
The UK will lose its AAA credit rating, leading
bond investors warned after output fell 0.7% in Q2.
Chancellor of the
Exchequer George Osborne admits the country has "deep-rooted economic
problems" but says the coalition is "dealing with our debts at home and the
debt crisis abroad".
A House of Lords Science and Technology
Committee reported that England is unusual in having so few children
continuing maths after the age of 16. We lag behind 21 countries in that
respect, including the United States, Japan, Germany, Russia, and Scotland.
The report also shows that many students choose computer science, chemistry,
medicine, even engineering, without having done maths at A level.
know that maths is the language of science, and that it underpins many of
the inventions that are now big business. Yet for me the practical
contribution of maths to Google, to mobile phone apps, or to a brilliant
animated film, remains opaque.
AR Decades ago I taught A-level
maths and physics at a private college in London. The maths was fun but the
problems were like philosophical conundrums, free of all obvious relevance
to the practical problems of daily life. Solving them was like solving
crossword puzzles or playing solitaire, and the art was to feel the buzz as
you got the knack and sped through them with increasing skill. Physics was
more practical. There you could use the math skills to calculate amazing
facts that gave you new insights into the architecture of the natural world
and to feel the awesome power and exhilarating clarity of that enhanced
perception. The two subjects went well together.
thinking can be encouraged in many ways. For many years here in Germany I
have seen how computer engineering and software development reward the same
thinking. Learning maths the old way is like learning Latin. We cannot
expect that approach to improve our economic dynamism. But learning
mathematical skills in the context of software engineering, or of any other
challenging practical task, such as financial accounting, can make the
discipline come alive.
Meaning of Nothing
In A Universe From Nothing, Lawrence Krauss doesn't
seem to realize that a vacuum is not nothing. He and his colleagues haven't
discovered anything at all about the nature of nothing changing. He has just
revealed that he and his colleagues know nothing about nothing.
2012 July 25
Let The Euro Fall
The declining value of the euro holds the key to
the eurozone's survival. The euro has fallen in the past year by 15%
relative to the US dollar. If it fell another 15% it would reach near parity
with the dollar and would still be about 20% above its historic low of 84
cents. This would reduce the prices of eurozone exports and raise the cost
of imports, easing the current account deficits of the Club Med countries,
since much of their trade is outside the eurozone. The weaker euro would
also boost German exports, raise German wages and prices, and balance trade
within the eurozone.
SAP Earns Billions In Record Q2
Software license revenue rose in Q2 2012 by 26% to just over €1 billion,
driven by double-digit growth in all regions. Service revenues rose by 21%
to €3 billion. SAP HANA earned €85 million in Q2 and is expected to earn at
least €320 million in 2012.
AR HANA — the
Hanalyzer — is what I worked on.
Work makes people happy. The harder and more
physical the work, the happier we are. The most satisfied people are those
who toil in farming, forestry, and fishing. The most miserable people are
those without jobs. More than 45% of unemployed people rate their life
satisfaction as low or very low compared with only 20% among the employed.
Many people say they want to work more rather than fewer hours. Work should
be everyone's goal, whether in the fields, manufacturing, offices, or
bringing up children. No job is a bad job. If only more of us worked, we
would be physically and mentally better off.
UK Office for National Statistics
Professor Hassnain in search of
the historical Jesus:
combination of speculation and scholarship
2012 July 24
New World Order
After September 11, George W. Bush went
nation-building in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now American influence in the
Mideast is at a nadir. Our alliances with Turkey and Saudi Arabia are
frayed. Pakistan bristles. Israel impatiently dismisses our pathetic pleas
for it to stop building settlements. And as the Muslim Brotherhood rose when
Hosni Mubarak fell in Cairo, so it looks likely to rise again when Bashar
al-Assad falls in Damascus. Turkish PM Recep Erdogan tells us that in his
region democracy is a bus you get off when it reaches your stop. In the
Islamic world, stronger than all our armies is the power of an idea whose
time has come.
AR The idea is to mix
religion and politics to break the capitalist world hegemony.
Make Math Mandatory
Lord Rees, the Astronomer Royal and master of
Trinity College, Cambridge: "We need to ensure that fewer people are
bewildered and bamboozled by numbers." Lord Winston, the television
presenter and professor of science and society at Imperial College London,
says mathematics lies at the heart of rational decision making and everyone
should aspire to understand its basic principles.
Lordly advice well taken. Cue for a new book: Make math sexy!
Atheists: Pick the Best of Religion, Leave the Rest
Alain de Botton
2012 July 23
Stephen M. Barr
Materialists say we are meat machines. They say
physics has reduced the material world, including our minds and thoughts, to
a closed system of cause and effect. But quantum mechanics spoils this view
of things. If we say we can give a complete physical description of what
goes on during a measurement, including the mind of the person doing the
measuring, we get into trouble.
In quantum mechanics, even if you
have complete information about the state of a physical system, the laws
only give you probabilities of future outcomes. These probabilities are
encoded in the wavefunction of the system. A probability only makes sense if
it is the probability of something definite. When definite events occur,
some probabilities should jump to 0 or 1. But the wavefunction does not
The traditional view is that the definite events are the
outcomes of measurements or observations. The observer must get a definite
yes or no. The probabilities assigned to events refer only to prior states
of knowledge. The wavefunction encodes states of knowledge, which jump after
measurement. We can describe any physical device performing a measurement in
a bigger wavefunction. If only physical entities are involved, there are no
jumps. But there are jumps.
We can insist that only physical entities
exist and that all observers and their minds are described by the equations.
Then the quantum probabilities remain in limbo. They never collapse to 0 or
1. We get the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, in which
reality divides into innumerable branches corresponding to all the possible
outcomes of all physical situations. In the Many Worlds picture, you exist
in a virtually infinite number of versions. It sounds crazy.
AR Sure. Blows your mind, does it not? This is
where holding fast to one goal or god (in both an ancient and a more
modern sense) in one world that keeps on growing can
save a thinker from dissolving into a mess of horrible math.
Max Planck Institute for Astronomy on
Königstuhl near Heidelberg
Open Day, 2012-07-22
Together with partners
from Germany, Italy, and the United States, the MPIA is involved in the
construction of the
Large Binocular Telescope on Mount Graham near Tucson, AZ
AR A good afternoon out it was too.
First British Lightning
The UK Ministry of Defence has taken delivery
of the first F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter from Lockheed Martin. Britain has initially ordered
three fighters for test and evaluation, at an estimated cost of more than
American Mideast Partners
conspiracy theory in Cairo says that Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's Islamist president,
won the election thanks to backing from Washington.
America has picked the Muslim Brotherhood as its new allies in the Mideast.
Hillary Clinton's trip to Egypt was part of the American adaptation to
change in the Mideast. In both Egypt and Tunisia, Washington has
learned to deal with the emerging political forces, and
Islamists have seen the need for western assistance.
must be ready to use its financial leverage with the Egyptian generals more
forcefully if they obstruct the democratic transition.
Cassini photo animation
HD video (3:19)
If your willpower is weak,
help. Scientists tested subjects' self-control by asking them to endure
discomfort to earn a reward, or to delay a payment to earn a larger one.
Before the test, half of the participants were exposed to words with
religious themes and half were tested without the religious primes. Those
who saw the primes were willing to endure greater discomfort and delay
gratification longer than those who did not.
It seems self-control
depends on a limited energy source that can be depleted. Overdo it, and
self-control will fatigue and fail. Subjects who had just resisted
temptation showed reduced self-control when faced with another test compared
with others who had been more indulgent. When adults who reported hourly on
their cravings and desires were tested, those who had repeatedly denied
their impulses that day were more likely to give in to temptations later.
Marissa Mayer at
New York, May 2012
Google executive Marissa Mayer has been appointed CEO of
AR It will be
hard to turn
Obama gets an F
2012 July 22
The leaders of Internet companies can either hijack
neuroscience to gain market share or they can let competitors do so.
Achieving a goal or anticipating the reward for completing a task can excite
neurons in the midbrain, which releases the neurotransmitter dopamine into
the brain's pleasure centers. The release of dopamine forms the basis for
nicotine, cocaine, and gambling addictions.
Concern over obsessive-compulsive behavior associated with computer
games and the Internet is growing. Internet gaming companies now openly
discuss compulsion loops that directly result in obsessions, and the goal of
other applications is the same. When compulsive behavior undermines our
ability to function normally, it enters the realm of obsessive-compulsive
Perhaps one in ten Internet users have become so obsessed
with the Internet that its use is undermining their social relationships,
their family life and marriage, and their effectiveness at work. Many
Internet companies are learning that addiction is good for business. By
applying current neuroscience techniques we will be able to create ever more
compelling obsessions in the virtual world.
Maybe I should go to rehab.
The Sunday Times
The wave of eros triggered by the Fifty Shades
of Grey earthquake (UK sales currently 6.5 million) is spreading.
Clandestine Press announces that it will release erotic versions of Jane
Austen's Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey; Charlotte Bronte's Jane
Eyre, in which Jane will have "explosive sex" with Rochester; Emily Bronte's
Wuthering Heights, in which Cathy will enjoy "bondage sessions" with
Heathcliff; and even Arthur Conan Doyle's Holmes stories, in which Sherlock
and Watson will form a closer partnership.
owner, Pearson plc, has just paid £74m to buy the self-publishing platform
Author Solutions Inc. Fifty Shades of Grey came to the publishing world's
attention because it had sold so staggeringly as a piece of self-published
fan fiction. Last year, more than 200,000 books were self-published. Pearson
has seen the value on the horizon of self-publishing as a huge, parallel
AR So I should
self-publish an erotic history of philosophy.
2012 July 21
British Olympic Spirit
The New York Times
A Londoner: "It's as if someone else is
throwing a party in our house, with a huge entry fee, and we're all locked
in the basement. They're telling businesses to stockpile goods, advising
people to stay at home, don't go anywhere, don't travel on the tube, stay on
your sofa, like it's for your own safety. We have an army on the streets."
The Daily Mail reports that hundreds of thousands of tickets are still
unsold, that no one wants to watch women play soccer, that some of the paths
for the mountain bike competition will not be finished in time, that the
security shambles could cause chaos for spectators, and that London's
transport system has failed again.
The security company hired by the
government at huge expense proved to be wildly incompetent. The Olympic
brand managers say only official sponsors are allowed to appear to
capitalize on the Games. Lawyers warned a company that wanted to start a
social media campaign that it would be prosecuted if it used the word
Amid the wettest summer since records began, with deluges
and floods, officials say they hope the rain will go away before the Games
begin. The Olympic Stadium has no roof. Games chairman Sebastian Coe says
some Olympic sites outside London are waterlogged and urges spectators to
wear raincoats and rubber boots.
CHRIST reprint changes:
In the axiom on page 18, the second "and" now reads "are" to make a
In Plato's allegory of the cave on page 29, a fire casts the shadows,
not the sun.
On the cover, the spinal colophon is now smaller, hence no longer
Orwell's diaries, from the years 1931 to 1949, can greatly enrich our
understanding of how Orwell transmuted the raw material of everyday
experience into his novels and polemics.
His study of unemployment
and housing for the poor in the North of England stands comparison with
Condition of the Working Class in England. But with its
additional information and commentary about the reading and recreational
habits of the workers, the attitudes of the men to their wives, and the
mixtures of expectation and aspiration that lent nuance and distinction to
the concept of the proletariat, we can see the debt that
later authors and analysts owed to Orwell.
By his determination to
seek elusive but verifiable truth, he showed how much can be accomplished by
an individual who unites the qualities of intellectual honesty and moral
2012 July 20
HSBC "is one of
the world's largest banking and financial services organisations. With
around 7,200 offices in both established and faster-growing markets, we aim
to be where the growth is, connecting customers to opportunities, enabling
businesses to thrive and economies to prosper and, ultimately, helping
people to fulfil their hopes and realise their ambitions."
British Bank Scandal Minister
British Trade Minister Lord Green, is under
mounting pressure to reveal what he knew about the money laundering scandal
at HSBC when he was its CEO and chairman. The bank is also implicated in the
interest rate fixing scandal rocking the City of London.
The scandals raise questions about the tenure of Lord
Green as the head of the HSBC investment bank. A Labour source: "His
submarine strategy of staying below the surface won't work." Labour leader
Ed Miliband: "I think the very least he needs to do is come and answer
questions about it."
Lord Green is not your everyday banker. Unfailingly courteous, cerebral
and deeply religious, the tall, thin peer seems like the civil servant he
was for years at the Ministry of Overseas Development. Then he joined
McKinsey, the management consultancy, for a while. He joined HSBC in 1982
and became CEO in 2003 and chairman in 2006. Green is a minister of the
Church of England and has written two books:
Serving God? Serving Mammon?
Good Value: Choosing a Better Life in Business
Green too busy writing books?
Lord Green's two books are on reconciling a deep and
abiding faith in God with a life spent in servitude to mammon and on the
morality of money after the economic crisis. He wrote them while running
HSBC, where he spent a lot of time in airports and on airplanes. He did his
writing then, when most bankers might have been reading company reports and
No one need question Green's
integrity. The cerebral businessman and part-time preacher turned minister
isn't the type to play silly games with regulators. But he does have
questions to answer.
AR God and mammon
don't go well together, it seems.
2012 July 19
Israel Versus Iran
"We are on the same page at this moment," said
Hillary Clinton to Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem. Tensions between the
United States and Iran are rising as talks stall over Iran's nuclear
Federal Reserve can increase the money supply without looking for gold or
printing more dollars.
Only about $1 trillion of the roughly $10 trillion
money supply exists in the form of paper cash and coins.
The Fed buys and
sells government bonds and treasury bills on the open market.
crisis should remind us of the dangers of runaway credit. But it's a mistake
to yearn for a more solid foundation for the monetary system. Money is a
social creation, just like language. What matters is not what it is, but
what it does. Successful currencies lubricate commerce and help people work
A brief history
No Bunny Should Suffer For Beauty
all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and
zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals
involved. Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for
entertainment, or abuse in any way.
2012 July 18
Angela Merkel is more of a Neville Chamberlain
than a Margaret Thatcher. But this time the French are threatening the
Germans. In 2010, Merkel suggested Greece leave the eurozone, but Nicolas
Sarkozy baulked, so she gave in and helped Greece. That turned out to be a
bailout of French banks. Now Merkel has even adopted the French idea of a
European economic government.
France can expect further concessions
by Germany. A debt brake designed to stop politicians piling up debts is now
part of the German constitution, but François Hollande refuses to adopt it.
Under President Hollande, the risk of France becoming a bailout candidate is
growing rapidly. There is no austerity program in France.
Thatcher always wanted her money back, but Merkel spends her money to save
the euro. She is all over Europe telling others what to do. Germans see her
as a ruthless defender of German interests but forget who is paying the
bill. The German constitutional court has asked President Joachim Gauck to
refuse to sign the ESM deal. Perhaps this marks the end of appeasement.
AR Risky metaphor there.
The Avatar Economy
MIT Technology Review
Avatar robots remotely controlled by
low-wage foreign workers could soon do low-status jobs profitably. Companies
now sell robots that let users navigate in a remote working environment and
interact through a screen. These systems are mostly used for high-end work
by experts. But the next wave promises much more capability per dollar.
Progress toward the "avatarization" of the economy is limited by the
speed and latency of Internet connections. A good connection to a robotic
telepresence system needs a bandwidth of 160 Mbps. And if the distance
between robot and worker is more than 3 Mm, the operator faces a 20 ms
feedback lag. This need not be fatal: The U.S. military's drone control
facility in Italy is over 4 Mm from Afghanistan.
Users in major U.S.
and European cities will get 160 Mbps by 2015. Avatar workers are not far
behind. Telepresence lets a thousand times as many workers compete virtually
for the same work. No matter how low the pay, an avatar worker somewhere
will do the job. Avatarization could begin on a mass scale within a decade.
AR Read my books and blogs: I've been
predicting this for years.
HSBC Money Laundry
British bank HSBC stands accused of money laundering
drug cartels and terrorists around the world. The U.S. Department of Justice
accuses the bank of allowing clients linked to Mexican drug gangs, al-Qaeda,
and rogue regimes to move money around the world with little or no scrutiny.
The HSBC money laundering occurred when Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint, the
Trade Minister, was its CEO.
HSBC allegedly supplied nearly $1
billion to the Al Rajhi Bank, Saudi Arabia, founded by Sulaiman bin Abdul
Azis al-Rajhi, an early backer of al-Qaeda; supplied dollars to Islami Bank
Bangladesh and Social Islami Bank in Pakistan, both linked to terrorist
financing; cleared more than $290 million for a group of Russian "used-car
salesmen"; and laundered money for a "pharmaceutical company" in Mexico. The
bank could be fined more than $1 billion.
Wasn't HSBC originally founded on opium-war money? Lord Green is a
respected senior member of my old Oxford college (I called him a "good man"
in my blog for 2011-09-23).
2012 July 17
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the Sinai desert
between Israel and Egypt could become an "operational base" for jihadists if
security is not maintained. Clinton: "We think this is a dangerous situation
for both Egypt and Israel. It is also dangerous for Americans."
Clinton says Egypt's new president Mohamed Morsy
recognizes the danger: "I think he is concerned about any part of the
country that might cause problems for Egyptians and for others beyond his
border." Egyptian protestors hurled tomatoes, shoes, and shouts of abuse.
AR Egypt is going down the tubes.
Hewlett-Packard says commercial memristor hardware will be
available by the end of 2014 at the earliest. HP spokesman: "The science and
technology are the easy part. Development costs at least 10 times as much as
research, and commercialization costs 10 times as much as development."
Historically, electrical circuits were crafted with three basic building
blocks: the capacitor, the resistor, and the inductor. But in 1971,
University of California at Berkeley professor Leon Chua defined a fourth:
memristor. When current flows in one direction through a memristor, the
electrical resistance increases. When current flows in the opposite
direction, the resistance decreases. When the current is stopped, the
memristor retains its last resistance, and when the flow of charge starts
again, the resistance is retained. This property lets it store information,
hence serve as computer memory.
In May 2008, HP announced that it had
built a memristor. According to HP, it will significantly outperform flash
memory: "It holds its memory longer, it's simpler, it's easier to make —
which means it's cheaper — and it can be switched a lot faster, with less
AR Getting this right could save
2012 July 16
The German Federal Constitutional Court says it
will announce on September 12 its decision on whether to impose a temporary
injunction against laws setting up the permanent bailout fund and the fiscal
pact for the euro. So Europe hangs in limbo through August.
2012 July 15
The New York Times
The Obama administration needs to cut defense
costs. Problems with two new jets show how poorly Pentagon procurement
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter was supposed to prove that the
Pentagon could build a major new weapon system within budget, without
delays. The Air Force, the Navy, and the Marines plan to buy more than 2 400
F-35s through 2037. But the project turned into the Pentagon's biggest
A new report by the Government Accountability Office
estimates the total cost of acquisition at nearly $400 billion. The price
per plane has doubled since project development began in 2001. The plane
will not be in full production until 2019, a delay of six years, and the
planes made so far are being delivered late. There are problems integrating
24 million lines of software code in its computer systems.
the F-22 Raptor, the most advanced stealth fighter jet in the world, is also
mired in performance problems. Late last year, the Air Force stopped flying
the planes, which cost $400 million each. Flights have since resumed, but
are limited to within 30 minutes of a landing field.
defense contractors alike need to reform the acquisition system and rein in
escalating costs. Billions are being wasted.
Greek leaders say they need more time to hit
austerity targets demanded by their creditors. Greece has committed itself
to saving an additional €11.5 billion over the two-year period from 2013 to
2014, but is having difficulties coming up with new cuts in addition to the
present austerity measures. One idea is to cut by half the amount the state
pays for the salaries of priests and bishops in Greece. At present, the
state pays the entire salary of the 10 368 clerics in the country. If Athens
made the Orthodox Church responsible for half of their salaries, it could
save the taxpayer some €100 billion annually.
If Greece pays each average cleric €20 million a year, no wonder
Greece is broke!
Her 2003 debut album
Sessions made her one of the UK's richest musicians.
singer Joss Stone, 25, once thought to be worth £10 million, says:
"I don't have that kind of money. It all went when I left EMI. I
was flat even, down to nothing.
I wasn't even down to a million in
the bank. What I had left was my house and three flats in Exeter
that was it."
The Soul Sessions Volume 2
Interview in Daily Mail
Image: NASA/ESA/SETI Institute
Pluto and its
five known moons:
new moon P5 is 10-25 km across
Seven Minutes Of Terror
Curiosity down onto Mars
Vermes is familiar with Jewish thinking in the age of Jesus and Paul. If he
is right, claims about the revealed authority of the traditional Christian
faith enshrined in the Nicene Creed are dubious.
1856-07-10 — 1943-01-07
AR Thanks to
2012 July 14
Egypt has experienced an Islamist sweep. The
Muslim Brotherhood won the presidency and nearly half the seats in
parliament, while more openly radical Islamists won a quarter. In Syria the
Brotherhood will almost certainly inherit power. Jordan could well be next.
And Hamas already controls Gaza.
The Arab Spring is a misnomer. This
is an Islamist ascendancy, not a Facebook revolution but the beginning of an
Islamist one. Radical Islam is the answer to nothing. Arab nationalism is
dead and Islamism is its successor.
To figure out why we wear pants, consider the
positioning of men on horses and women on bicycles.
soldiers adopted braccae, or breeches. And the Qin in China continued the
traditions of the cavalry-and-pants warriors they arose from. Mounted
warriors were generally men of relatively high status, so the pants fashion
spread easily in male society.
For women, the rational dress movement
at the end of the nineteenth century coincided with the rising popularity of
the bicycle. Women cast off their corsets and adopted bloomers, which were
baggy pants, cinched at the knee. The rest is history.
and bicycles required new dress codes before they could fit in. And the
2012 July 13
MI6 Foiled Iranian Nukes Bid
Sir John Sawers, the head of the British military
intelligence service MI6, says covert operations by British spies delayed
the Iranian development of nuclear weapons by up to six years. At a meeting
of senior civil servants in London last week, he said that Iran was now "two
years away" from becoming a nuclear weapons state and that without the MI6
work "you'd have Iran as a nuclear weapons state in 2008 rather than still
being two years away in 2012."
Neither Arab Spring Nor Islamist Winter
Whether we face an Arab spring or an Islamic winter
depends on Egypt's president Mohamed Morsi and how the international
community treats him. Two invitations sent to Cairo, one to attend a
conference in Tehran next month, the other to meet Barack Obama, symbolize
the choice Egypt faces.
Israel cannot remain complacent about upheaval in Egypt. Radical jihadist
groups in Sinai aim to push Egypt to direct confrontation with Israel. For
years, the Palestinian issue has been a cloud over relations between Israel
and the Arab world. We need to solve our conflict with the Palestinians.
Predicting The Higgs
The Standard Model features a symmetry between
the electromagnetic force and the weak nuclear force. But if nothing new
were added to the electroweak theory, all elementary particles would be
massless. The electroweak symmetry must be broken. It seems that scalar fields
distinguish the weak force from electromagnetic forces, giving mass to the
particles that carry the weak force and to other particles but leaving
photons with zero mass.
Scalar fields would show up as new particles. Abdus Salam and I found we
needed to put four scalar fields into our electroweak theory. Three of them
gave mass to the W and Z particles that carry the weak force. These
particles were discovered at CERN with the predicted masses. One was left
over: the Higgs particle. The theory did not predict its mass.
2012 July 12
Europe Or Sink
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso says
Britain would be reduced to the status of Norway or Switzerland if it left
the European Union: "From a European perspective, I find it a little bit
ironic that some people are suggesting for Britain a role comparable to that
of, say, Norway or Switzerland ... Britain is expecting a bigger role in the
world than small countries ... When the Prime Minister of Britain meets the
President of the United States, or the President of China, he has much
stronger status and much stronger leverage because everybody knows that
Britain is a country that is very influential in the shaping of Europe."
AR Britain to
Europe is more like Taiwan to China than Japan to China.
The signature of the Higgs boson discovered at CERN
does not exactly match the predictions of the Standard Model. The new
particle may be a member of a more complete model that covers dark matter
and gravity. That would be a cause for even greater celebration than the
discovery of the Higgs.
AR Way to go,
guys. Science never ends.
2012 July 11
Investment bankers and the principals in financial
companies have trousered an increasing share of the returns from the
financial markets. Regulation has failed. Central banks have failed. The
financial system has evolved into a mess. We need to let a better one
Tear down the barriers to the emergence of new clearing banks
● Help supermarkets
and phone companies set up financial services
Make it easier for customers to move between banks
● Make regulation
fall more heavily on the biggest companies
Break up state-owned banks into small units and sell them
● Find ways to
encourage competition between currencies
Since financial turmoil broke out in 2007, only the
United States and Germany are above previous economic peaks. But the
eurozone economy is stagnant and its unemployment rate is over 11%.
A number of economies are struggling with excessive leverage. Private
sectors are running large surpluses of income over spending in all the large
high-income countries. So these countries are running large current account
surpluses or large fiscal deficits. Germany is doing the former. Others are
running fiscal deficits. All this is the painful hangover after the great
The big story is one
of private sector de-leveraging, tempered by easy monetary policy and offset
by the leveraging of government balance sheets. These things prevented a
second great depression.
Melinda Gates, 47, is co-chairman of the Bill &
Melinda Gates Foundation. She and her husband Bill control a foundation
worth almost $34 billion, a sum higher than the GDP of many countries.
Melinda has been dubbed joint president of the United Gates of America.
Bill and Melinda could have
lavished their wealth on symphony orchestras, cultural institutions, or
architecturally daring art galleries. Instead, they fund humanitarian
causes. Melinda: "All lives have an equal value. Unwanted and unplanned
pregnancies result in more than 200,000 women and girls dying in pregnancy
and childbirth, and nearly three million babies dying in their first year of
life. That's a shocking situation, but one that we can change."
Melinda was brought up in modest circumstances as a Catholic, which has led
to criticism of her advocacy of birth control. "I can see what a massive
benefit it represents for women struggling to give their children
opportunities that will lift them out of poverty."
2012 July 10
Protecting The Bankers
The reforms proposed by the UK Independent
Commission on Banking are feckless. It should call for banks to stick to
their core roles: mediating the payments system and connecting lenders
The commission accepts faith-based casino banking
and vast leverage. It advocates ring-fencing "good" banks, which hold
good assets, have only good customers, and do only good things. The
"bad" banks are the investment banks and other shady financial
corporations. Both good and bad banks are asked to retain more capital
against "risky" assets, submit to stress tests, and restructure their
The commission fails to identify the root causes
of the financial crisis: opacity and leverage. Good assets can go bad.
Today, UK gilts are "safe" assets. But the UK's long-term fiscal
position is risky. The commission would allow good banks to borrow £25
for every pound of equity and invest it all in gilts. The banks would
fail if gilt prices dropped by just 4%.
Without trust, creditors
find no comfort in capital ratios. The commission raises the risk of
financial collapse in times of crisis by leaving bad banks to sink or
swim. It protects neither good nor bad banks. Nor does it protect the
public. It protects the bankers.
Is the Web Driving Us
The Internet may be making us more depressed
and anxious, prone to mood disorders, and even psychotic. In a brain
scanner, Web users display fundamentally altered prefrontal cortexes.
Their brains look like the brains of drug and alcohol addicts. Chinese
researchers found significant abnormalities in the brains of video game
Numerous studies have shown that the more a person hangs
out in the global village, the worse they are likely to feel. Web use
often displaces sleep, exercise, and face-to-face exchanges. A recent
study linked time online with mood disorders in young adulthood. The
American Academy of Pediatrics now recognizes what it calls Facebook
Sex Roles Challenged
In his 1948 study of the sex lives of fruit flies,
British biologist Angus Bateman concluded that selection should
universally favor "an undiscriminating eagerness in the males and a
discriminating passivity in the females" to obtain mates. He followed
Charles Darwin in accepting that males benefit by mating frequently and
indiscriminately, with each successful copulation representing an extra
chance to pass on their traits, while females mate infrequently, invest
energy in rearing offspring and generally benefit by being choosy about
mates. From that dynamic emerged the different sex roles.
tested the principle by breeding fruit flies that each contained a
single pronounced trait. By looking for these traits in offspring, he
could identify their parents. The results were codified into what became
known as Bateman's principles, which mathematically described how sex
differences in mating benefits and reproductive fitness could be
A new replication of Bateman's work suggests the
evolutionary dance between sexes is more complicated. UCLA biologist
Patricia Gowaty and her colleagues duplicated Bateman's study design.
They noticed that flies with pronounced traits from two parents were
unfit and died before hatching. Bateman only counted adult flies, but
Gowaty included the deceased juveniles. Her results show that his
approach caused him to overestimate some numbers and underestimate
others. In short, there was no evidence for eager males and finicky
University of Texas biologist Adam Jones has
demonstrated that Bateman-style sexual selection applies to many
species: "This study, while interesting, is not paradigm challenging. We
now have studies from many other systems other than Drosophila (fruit
flies) confirming the main conclusions of Bateman's original study.
Thus, even if Bateman's study was flawed, as it certainly was by today's
standards, the impact of his study on the field of evolutionary biology
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State U
This full-circle scene combines 817 images taken by the
panoramic camera (Pancam) on NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity.
shows the terrain surrounding the rover while it was stationary for four
months of work during its most recent Martian winter.
took the component images between Sol 2811 (2011-12-21) and Sol 2947
(2012-05-08) of its stay on Mars.
The image combines exposures through filters
centered on wavelengths of 753 nm, 535 nm, and 432 nm, here in false
Taliban Shoot Woman
For Being Loved
A shot rings out.
The burka-clad woman on
The man shooting point-blank
at her fires again.
there is no reaction.
He fires a third shot.
Finally the woman slumps
But the man fires another shot.
And another, and another.
Nine shots in all.
AR Fucking barbarians.
Fifty Shades of Grey
In three months, E.L. James
has sold 4 million copies of her
erotic trilogy in the UK, to add
to the 15 million in the United
States and Canada, to make it
the fastest selling adult novel
Why women love it
What men think of it
Ben Machell, Dan Masoliver,
Phil Hilton, John Sutherland,
2012 July 9
The EU has agreed a pathway toward a banking
union. I think it was a step in the wrong direction. The summit made a
concrete crisis resolution decision contingent on a future decision. They
agreed that there shall be no common bank recapitalization until a full
banking union is established. And the Bundesbank says the latter is not
possible without a political union. If so, we won't solve the crisis for the
next twenty years.
Germany will not agree to
mutualized deposit insurance. It cannot even agree to give the ESM a banking
license. If Germany cannot do the minimum necessary now, why should anybody
think it can agree a political union? A narrow majority in Germany is still
in favor of the euro but a majority is against further rescues. A group of
economists led by
Ifo president Hans-Werner Sinn has published a
manifesto against a banking union.
2012 July 8
The Higgs Boson
The Higgs boson is the Higgs field quantum.
The Higgs field pervades the universe and creates drag on particles. Finding
the Higgs boson would confirm that the Higgs field exists. The interaction
between the Higgs field or boson and other particles is the Higgs mechanism.
The precise nature of the mechanism is still being worked out, but it is how
particles acquire mass.
The Higgs boson needs a lot of energy to make
and it decays very quickly, so it was really hard to find. By colliding very
fast protons, a little bit of the Higgs field got chipped off into a boson
that could be measured before decaying. Sort of like throwing a rock really
hard at a wall that threw off a little bit of dust, and then scientists took
a picture of the dust before it blew away. Except in this case the wall is
also continuous and infinite, and invisible, and we all live inside it, and
it gives us mass.
AR The original article
was longer, confusing, and peppered with errors. I rewrote this part to get
a clean intro to the nice metaphor she ended with.
Boson Continues To Not Make Sense
My Atlantic colleague Garance Franke-Ruta has
heroically assembled a layperson's description of what the Higgs boson is. I
now report that I have read her piece and still don't get it. Her exposition
is, so far as I know, without deficiencies. It's not her fault that
subatomic reality is so strange.
enough, quantum reality is really hard to get.
2012 July 7
BlueLine Akademie, Langen bei Frankfurt
To win you need:
* 100% product commitment
* Life changing goal
Particle physicists have long obsessed over the
search for the Higgs because it was predicted by our best theories of
fundamental interactions. Without the Higgs, we wouldn't understand how
other elementary particles like quarks and electrons acquire their mass. In
the real universe, a Higgs field pervades all of space, turning massless
particles moving through it into massive ones. The Higgs boson is a
propagating ripple in the Higgs field. But if you produce a Higgs, it will
decay in about a zeptosecond.
We can now claim a working understanding of all the particles that make
up ordinary matter around us. But we are nowhere near done. Most of the mass
in the universe is not in ordinary matter but in mysterious dark matter. In
many theoretical models, dark matter interacts with ordinary matter via the
Higgs boson. We think there are many particles waiting to be discovered. By
studying how the Higgs behaves, we can take the next steps to understand the
fundamental architecture of reality.
Susy is next, then superstrings.
When should governments make cuts to repair their finances?
Krugman: "Not now."
Austerity should be reserved for the good times, he
says. In the bad times, they should pour money into public spending
Photo: Denis Balibouse/Reuters
Peter Higgs today
In Search of Susy
"We thought that inflation predicted a smooth, flat
universe. Instead, it predicts every possibility an infinite number of
times. We're back to square one."
It logically self-destructed."
2012 July 6
Wolfson Economics Prize MMXII
The Wolfson Economics Prize winner is a team from Capital Economics led
by Roger Bootle.
Leaving The Euro: A Practical Guide centers on the
departure of a weak member:
1 A new
currency is introduced at parity with the Euro on day 1 of an exit.
2 All wages, prices, loans and deposits are
redenominated into it 1 for 1.
notes and coins remain in use for small transactions for up to six months.
4 The exiting country immediately announces
a regime of inflation targeting, adopts a set of tough fiscal rules,
monitored by a body of independent experts, outlaws wage indexation, and
announces the issue of inflation-linked government bonds.
5 The government redenominates its debt in the
new national currency and states its intention to renegotiate the terms of
this debt. This is likely to involve substantial default.
2012 July 5
A Quantum Leap
The idea of the Higgs particle was proposed
nearly 50 years ago. If an otherwise invisible background field exists
permeating empty space throughout the universe, then elementary particles
can interact with this field. They will encounter resistance to their motion
through their interactions with this field, and they will act like they have
This phenomenon could not only explain why elementary particles
like the particles that make up our bodies have the masses they do, but it
could also illuminate why electromagnetism and the weak force are at a
fundamental scale different manifestations of a single electroweak force.
All of the predictions based on these ideas have turned out to be in accord
In particle physics, for every field in nature there
is an elementary particle that can be produced if one has sufficient energy
to create it. So the Higgs field is associated with a Higgs particle. The
CERN discovery represents a quantum leap in our understanding of nature at
its fundamental scale.
Peter Higgs chose his particle over his wife. He
lived a quiet life at the University of Edinburgh and married Jody
Williamson, an American linguistics lecturer. On July 16, 1964, he read some
new research papers: "I looked at one, realized what it meant, and then
jumped up and shouted out loud, 'Oh shit!' " In a fever of excitement Higgs
spent the weekend walking the hills outside Edinburgh. "When I came back to
work on Monday, I sat down and wrote a new paper as fast as I could."
In 1965, Jody was pregnant and Higgs got a job at the University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Jody went back to her family home in Illinois
to have the baby. Freeman Dyson asked Higgs if he would like to come and
present his theory to the Princeton physicists. The institute prided itself
on giving lecturers a hard time, but Higgs survived. He earned a second
invitation, to Harvard. When Higgs headed back to Edinburgh in 1966, his
international reputation was established.
Fame put stress on his
family life and Jody left him. Higgs gave up chasing glory and devoted
himself to teaching. His flat in Edinburgh still looks like it did when she
left some forty years ago. He doesn't have a television, doesn't use a
computer, has someone else check his e-mail, and rarely answers the phone.
He likes his books, his vinyl records, and his physics journals.
Photo by Stuart Wallace, 2012-07-05
Higgs and the math of his field
If you were to scatter weak bosons off one another,
which nobody has yet done, the theoretical account of this would be nonsense
unless the Higgs particle existed. Of the various people who contributed to
that piece of theory I was the only one who pointed to this particle as
something that would be characteristic of that kind of theory and of
interest for experimentalists.
looking at theoretical systems which go far beyond what can be verified
experimentally at the moment — superstring theories, all these things which
seem to be necessary to include gravity in the unification with other
fundamental forces. The problem to me seems to be that the difficulty of
experimentally checking whether such theories are right is getting worse and
Abderrahmane Kheddar, director of the
robotics laboratory, National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and
Technology in Tsukuba, Japan: "The ultimate goal is to create a surrogate,
like in Avatar."
Researchers with the international Virtual
Embodiment and Robotic Re-embodiment project used fMRI to scan the brain of
university student Tirosh Shapira as he imagined moving different parts of
Ori Cohen at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel, and
colleagues trained Shapira and created an algorithm that could distinguish
between each thought of movement. The commands were then sent via the
Internet to a small robot at the Béziers Technology Institute in France.
Shapira controlled the robot in near real time with his thoughts. A camera
on the robot's head let him see from the robot's viewpoint.
step is to improve the surrogate. The researchers are also fine-tuning their
algorithm to look for patterns of brain activity. Cohen presented the
results of the trials at
in All of Us
For those on their way to
greatness, practice makes perfect:
1 Practice changes your body.
Researchers have recorded a constellation of physical changes in those
showing profound increases in skill level in any domain.
2 Skills are
specific. If you become great at one skill, you don't suddenly become great
at other skills. Changes are specific responses to particular requirements.
3 The brain drives the brawn. Even among athletes, changes in the brain
are arguably the most profound, with an increase in precise task knowledge,
a shift from conscious analysis to intuitive thinking, and elaborate
4 Practice style is crucial. Ordinary practice, to
reinforce your current skill level, is not enough. Deliberate practice
involves repeatedly reaching further and accepting failures.
changes need long periods of time. You can't become great overnight. You
need to invest something like 10 000 hours over 10 years, an average of 3
hours per day.
AR So I'm a great editor — hire me!
2012 July 4
O Happy Day:
HIGGS HITS 5 SIGMA!!!!!
CERN: The Higgs boson has been
discovered. The Standard Model of particle physics is now complete. A Higgs
boson with a mass of around 125 to 126 GeV was seen separately by the twin
CMS and ATLAS detectors at the LHC, each with a confidence level of 5 sigma.
The odds against a fluke are better than a million to one. Rapturous
applause, whistles, and cheers filled the auditorium at CERN.
"I think we have it"
LHC Director General Ralph Heuer said
the combined efforts of an international team of thousands of scientists had
found a particle entirely new to physics, which fits with the predicted
properties of the Higgs: "I think we have it. Do you agree?" The answer
was resounding and sustained applause.
Peter Higgs, who is
now a strong contender for the Nobel Prize, said, "I am astounded at the
amazing speed with which these results have emerged. They are a testament to
the expertise of the researchers and the elaborate technologies in place. I
never expected this to happen in my lifetime and shall be asking my family
to put some champagne in the fridge."
Arise Sir Peter
Professor Peter Higgs, the British scientist who first
conjectured the "God particle", should be knighted and
awarded a Nobel prize following the discovery of the Higgs boson, say
AR Hear, hear. Give
him all the honors he can carry.
The Higgs Boson
The Higgs boson, named after the Edinburgh
University physicist Peter Higgs, who proposed it in 1964, has become a
major focus of research at the LHC.
The particle complements an
invisible energy field that fills the vacuum of space. Without it, or
something to do its job, there would be no stuff as we know it in the
universe. The Higgs field switched on a trillionth of a second after the big
bang. Before then, all of the particles in the universe were massless and
zipped around at light speed. When the Higgs field switched on, particles
such as quarks and electrons felt a drag from the field that we call mass.
Photons are not dragged by the field and remain massless.
comes Susy. Supersymmetry predicts the existence of several kinds of Higgs
particles, plus a host of other particles that have yet to be discovered.
New Scientist: Celeste Biever tweets live from the seminar at CERN
09:49 CEST: If you add bottom quark decay channel you get 5.1 sigma!
09:39 CEST: Combine 4.1 sigma
1.25 GeV bump for diphoton decay mode with next decay mode from ZZ
to 4 leptons and you get 5 sigma — rapturous applause.
2012 July 3
Former UK defense secretary Liam
Fox rails against what he calls "diktat from Brussels". He wants Britain to
demand repatriation of powers from the European Union: "Life
outside the EU holds no terror."
There is an ugly element of
blackmail in the Fox strategy. He and his allies know that the eurozone is
fighting for its political and economic life. Even though Britain does not
use the euro, the Foxes want to block agreements on the single currency
unless the other EU countries make concessions on such British bugbears as
fisheries policy, the common European arrest warrant, and the budget. Such
blackmail would infuriate our neighbors and damage British interests.
One German policy maker talks cheerily of "rebuilding Europe from the
rubble" if the euro collapses. If it does, some will blame the Germans, some
will blame Club Med, and some will blame perfidious Albion.
Britain Versus Europe
The European Union is
Britain's biggest export market, with 53% of British goods purchased by
fellow European nations in 2011. If the UK left the EU, we would have no say
on the rules that govern the European single market, but we would still have
to follow the rules to sell there. In 2011, Britain exported £159 billion of
goods to the EU and imported goods worth £202 billion. By one estimate, if
the UK were to leave the EU the British GDP would sink by 2.25%.
UK makes an annual net contribution of €9 billion to the EU budget,
equivalent to 0.6% of GDP, compared with a national budget deficit of 8.3%
of GDP. The annual cost to the UK of EU regulation is £7.4 billion, but the
regulation helps protect customers from big corporations. Between 2007 and
2013, the UK will make a net contribution of £7.1 billion to the European
Common Agricultural Policy, which is wasteful. For what it's worth, British
bankers generally favor staying in Europe.
The Hunt For Susy
CERN LHC physicists are preparing their latest news in the hunt
for the Higgs boson. They need the Higgs to complete the Standard Model.
Although it accounts for all the known forces and subatomic particles in the
universe, the Standard Model is not the final theory of everything.
Supersymmetry goes further. Susy says that for every particle we know about,
there is a corresponding superpartner of higher mass. So the electron is
paired with a selectron and quarks with squarks. Susy was first
developed several decades ago. Large particle accelerators revealed a slew
of new quarks and bosons predicted by the Standard Model, but found no signs
of the lightest superpartner, the stop squark, which is needed to explain
many properties of the Higgs.
For two decades, physicists have tried
explaining the absence of signs of Susy by tweaking the theory. The simplest
versions of Susy have already been ruled out. Over the next few years, the
LHC will run at higher and higher energies. Perhaps it will find signs of
2012 July 2
Best For Britain
It is vital for our country that we get our
relationship with Europe right. We need to be clear about what we want, what
we have, and the best way of getting what is best for Britain.
I am not against referendums on Europe. The single market is at the
heart of the case for staying in the European Union. It also makes sense to
cooperate with our neighbors to maximize our influence in the world and
project our values. But the British people are not happy with what they
have, and neither am I.
For those of us outside the eurozone, far
from there being too little Europe, there is too much of it: too much cost,
too much bureaucracy, too much meddling. The single currency is driving a
process that will see its members take more and more steps towards fuller
I will continue to work for a more
flexible and less onerous position for Britain within the EU. We need to
consider how best to proceed, whether in a general election or in a
David Cameron has finally mentioned a referendum
on the British relationship with the European Union. His MPs are nearly all
Eurosceptics and probably about one hundred are hardliners. The hundred want
Britain to become a fully sovereign democracy again, with parliament
deciding British policies.
should consider a double referendum: first to endorse a position for him to
take to the negotiating table, and second to decide on accepting the deal or
leaving the EU. For Eurosceptics, the idea of two votes will be too messy.
They want out now. They think passion can prevail. It cannot.
AR The island realm will go its own way. Europe
will become a new Byzantium. The accommodation of Britain and Europe may
take a few more decades to sort itself out.
The eponymous Asbo is an
unlovely vulgarian whose presence for 276 pages is frankly wearying. His
counterpoint, the boring arts student Des, lightens the load at the cost of
diluting the savage fun the Asbo saga throws up. As always with Amis,
language gets in the way, and recherché words and phrases distract and
2012 July 1
Today I celebrate 25 years of living in Germany.
The Sunday Times
Physicists from Atlas and CMS, the two key
experiments at CERN LHC, plan to announce on Wednesday that each team has
exceeded the four-sigma confidence level (99.99% certainty) that they
have found the Higgs particle.
CERN physicist John Ellis: "My understanding is that the
Atlas and CMS experiments will each be above the four-sigma level. Their
combined results will probably be above five sigma, but that work will not
be complete by Wednesday."
CERN wants a confidence level of five
sigma (99.99995%). The LHC has generated 1,600 trillion collisions between
protons, but so far has seen fewer than 300 potential Higgs particles. Only
now is it reaching the numbers needed for five sigma.
AR Success at last.