Romanian labor minister
"Many doctors and nurses and other healthcare
staff are coming to work in the UK and these are
well qualified personnel that will contribute
highly to the welfare of the British people."
Scary Japanese ad
for winter tires
wonder of words
2013 December 5
Cost of Coal
In the UK, 1600 deaths per year and over 350 000
lost workdays can be attributed to air pollution from coal burning,
according to the Health and Environment Alliance
HEAL. Breathing fumes from
coal-fired power stations also causes more than a million cases of
respiratory symptoms a year.
Coal-fired power plants release
pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and fine particulates
of soot in large quantities. These are known to contribute to cardiovascular
and respiratory diseases. HEAL estimates the total cost to EU healthcare of
coal fumes at €43 billion per year.
nuclear power caused even a small fraction of that we'd see mass hysteria.
Genes and Genomes
Gene expression is what makes a gene meaningful. Our
phenotype is human less because we carry different genes from other species
than because our cells read our genomes differently as we develop from
zygote to adult. Genetic accommodation:
A population changes its phenotype by changing gene expression.
2 A gene emerges that helps lock in that change
3 The gene spreads through the
Richard Dawkins says genetic accommodation works because
the gene ends up locking in the change and carrying it forward. But the
genome is in conversation with itself, with other genomes, and with the
environment. Conversations define the organism and drive the evolution of
new traits and species. Not the selfish gene, but the social genome.
AR Windy article, short result.
2013 December 4
Young people in Shanghai are the best in the world at
mathematics, reading, and science.
The findings are part of the 2012
PISA survey of education systems conducted every three years by the
OECD. More than half a million students, aged 15 and 16, sat a 2-hour
exam last year as part of the study. The pupils came from 65 countries
representing 80% of the global economy.
Overall, the United Kingdom
ranked #26, equaling the average score for OECD countries in mathematics and
reading, and performing above average in science. The United States ranked
#36, performing below the OECD average in math and near the average for
reading and science.
Shanghai was #1 in math, with the equivalent of nearly 3
years of schooling above the OECD member country average. Singapore was #2
in math, followed by Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, and Macau.
Shanghai was #1 in reading, with a score equivalent to 18 months more
schooling than the OECD average. Hong Kong was #2, followed by Singapore,
Japan, and South Korea.
Shanghai was #1 in science, with a
score equivalent to nearly 2 more years of schooling. Hong Kong was #2,
followed by Singapore, Japan, and Finland.
Shanghai has been at the
forefront of recent education reforms in China. Its education system invests
in teaching staff, and its culture prioritizes academic achievements over
The 2012 PISA rankings are led by East Asian countries. But
the three "countries" at the top of the PISA rankings are cities — Shanghai,
Singapore, and Hong Kong.
a global financial capital. About 84% of its high school graduates go to
college, compared to 24% nationally. Its per capita GDP is more than twice
that of China as a whole.
The PISA results show that on reading
scores, Massachusetts ranked #4 and Connecticut #5. These results say
nothing about the US education system as a whole.
AR A good maxim in life is: Learn from the best.
Shanghai is doing something right.
2013 December 3
Britain and China
Three ways I believe an open Britain can be an
essential partner for an opening China:
We must continue to develop our bilateral trade and commercial relationship.
2 We can be partners in making the case for
economic openness and free trade across the world.
We have a responsibility to work together on a range of wider international
Male and Female Brains
Women's brains tend to be highly connected across
the left and right hemispheres, whereas men's brains are typically more
connected between the front and back regions.
A study of how brains
are wired in healthy males and females used diffusion tensor imaging to map
neural connections in the brains of 428 males and 521 females aged 8 to 22.
The scans showed greater connectivity between the left and right sides of
the brain in women, while the connections in men were mostly confined to
individual hemispheres. The only region where men had more connections
between the left and right sides of the brain was in the cerebellum, for
Sex differences in the structural connectome
of the human brain
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Studies of the
brain establish that male brains are optimized for intrahemispheric and
female brains for interhemispheric communication. The developmental
trajectories of males and females separate at a young age, demonstrating
wide differences during adolescence and adulthood. The observations suggest
that male brains are structured to facilitate connectivity between
perception and coordinated action, whereas female brains are designed to
facilitate communication between analytical and intuitive processing modes.
2013 December 2
Ray Kurzweil thinks he has a good chance of living forever.
His day job at Google is as engineering director, but "solving death" is a
pet project of CEO and co-founder Larry Page. Kurzweil advises on the
company's new Calico venture, which is focused on finding a cure for aging.
Kurzweil believes in the Singularity. Already our smartphones are
extensions of our minds, and soon we'll be implanting computers and nanobots
in our bodies and brains to enhance their natural functions. By 2045, our
machines will enable us in effect to back up our minds to the cloud.
Kurzweil says technological advances come exponentially faster. Each year
brings more change than the last. He says not only that information
technology is growing exponentially but also that that all technology is
becoming applied information technology. So progress is speeding up.
On aging, Kurzweil says progress is coming. He's 65, so it may be too late
for him, but he lives in hope: "We'll get to the point where we dramatically
extend human life expectancy because we will have wiped out major diseases,
and ultimately all disease as well as the aging process."
2013 December 1
Some Oxford graduates still believe in a society
where only the strong shall prosper and any weakness shall be ruthlessly
punished. Having gone to a public school, I thought I knew about posh
people, but I didn't know anything until I went to Oxford. I imagine it's
changed a little bit in the 18 years or so since I was there, but not
enormously. However democratic and egalitarian we kid ourselves into
thinking society might be, I think that sense of entitlement operates as
basically and viciously as it always did.
I guess it's changed in the 33 years since I was there too.
Image: NASA, ESA, C.R. O'Dell, Vanderbilt U, D.
Data from the Hubble Space Telescope and the Large
Binocular Telescope, Arizona, are combined in this view of the Ring Nebula.
UV radiation from the white dwarf relic star (center of image) illuminates
the ring, which is about a light year across.
Image: Pete Lawrence
AR What we might
2013-11-30 — 2013-12-01
Saudis are Sunni, Iranians are
Shiite. The new US deal with Iran has touched a raw nerve.
Saudis fear the United States will anoint Iran as the central
American ally in the region.
Former US Mideast diplomat
Richard W. Murphy: "It's a hard state of mind to deal with, a
rivalry with ancient roots."
The partial nuclear
agreement between Iran and the world's six most important powers
brings a victory for the Shia in their growing conflict with the
Sunni Mideast, hope for the Assad regime in Syria, isolation for
Israel, and infuriation for Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Gulf states.
Animated map (90 s) giving a brief geographic history of the
main world religions
2013 November 30
Left Brain/Right Brain
Stephen M. Kosslyn and G. Wayne Miller
The popular left
brain/right brain story is wrong. One two half of the brain is not logical
and the other intuitive, one analytical and the other creative. The left and
right halves of the brain function in different ways that are more subtle
than is popularly believed. And the halves of the brain always work together
as a system.
Over 40 years ago, Caltech scientist Roger W. Sperry cured
severe epilepsy in 16 patients by cutting their corpus callosum. Each
patient developed two distinct personalities. In 1973, The New York Times
Magazine announced: "Two very different persons inhabit our heads ... One of
them is verbal, analytic, dominant. The other is artistic." A myth was born.
We have developed a new theory built on the anatomical division of the
brain into its top and bottom parts. The top part sets up plans and revises
those plans when expected events do not occur. The bottom part classifies
and interprets what we perceive. Depending on how a person uses the top and
bottom parts, four possible cognitive modes emerge. These modes reflect the
amount that a person likes to devise complex and detailed plans and to
understand events in depth.
2013 November 29
Flew north in a Boeing 737-800 over Britain
to Shetland, flew 3 highly elliptical orbits to allow passengers to enjoy 6
sessions of 300 s each viewing northward, then flew back to base. All flying
from Scottish border north was in total cabin darkness to allow optimal
night vision. The aurora borealis was extremely dim but the stars were as
spectacular as ever.
British PM David Cameron wants to restrict access to
social benefits for EU citizens in the UK. On January 1, 2014, controls are
lifted on immigrants from Romania and Bulgaria. Cameron fears that populists
in UKIP will gain support in the upcoming EU elections.
Austria, the Netherlands, and the UK together wrote to the EU Commission in
April complaining about the social burden caused by internal EU migrants.
Germany and the UK will increase the pressure in the December 5 meeting of
EU ministers. The Cameron government also wants to cut benefits for EU
migrants and define new rules for future EU members.
German CSU MEP
and deputy EVP faction leader Manfred Weber: "Cameron should stop running
after UKIP. His rhetoric is only making them stronger."
I think Weber is right. Ease back on this issue or it will backfire.
2013 November 28
Comet ISON is due to pass 1 200 000 km from the surface
of the Sun at 18:37 GMT Thursday. The comet will reach temperatures of 3000
K, hot enough to vaporize not just ices but dust and rock as well.
Jodrell Bank Observatory associate director Professor Tim O'Brien: "It's
like throwing a snowball into fire. It's going to be tough for it to
Chinese Defense Zone
USS George Washington is now patrolling waters off the island
of Okinawa as part of AnnualEx 2013. The exercise involves dozens of
warships, submarines, and aircraft from the US Navy and the Japan Maritime
China has a new Air Defense
Identification Zone in the East China Sea. All military aircraft in this
zone must report their flight plans to China, maintain two-way radio, and
clearly mark their aircraft.
Commander of the US
7th fleet Vice Admiral Robert L. Thomas: "We are going to continue with our
operations in international airspace as we always have. It's about
international norms, standards, rules and laws. When anybody makes an
extreme claim it is really an imperative that the international community
can continue to operate in accordance with international law and not be
China's aircraft carrier Liaoning set sail this week for the South China Sea
with four other warships.
2013 November 27
The Joy of the Gospel
I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and
dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is
unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do
not want a Church caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures.
The Church can come to see that certain customs not directly connected to
the heart of the Gospel are no longer properly understood and appreciated.
Some of these customs may be beautiful, but they no longer serve as means of
communicating the Gospel. We should not be afraid to re-examine them.
Everyone can share in some way in the life of the Church. My hope is
that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures
which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh
judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are
I invite everyone to be bold and creative in this task of
rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in
their respective communities. Unbridled consumerism combined with inequality
proves doubly damaging to the social fabric.
If the New Testament is a literary construction designed to support
the Flavian emperors, as the evidence I'm currently reading strongly
suggests, then the Church urgently needs to reinvent itself as a charitable
institution rather than an evangelical one.
2013 November 26
Economic isolation brought Iran's new government to
the negotiating table. In 2012, the Iranian rial plunged and the economy
went into hyper-inflation. With rising import prices and falling real wages,
Iranian industry is in trouble and large numbers of workers were laid off in
Iran sits on about 9% of the world's proven oil reserves. But
its top four customers — China, India, Japan, and South Korea — have cut
back their energy imports due to US and European pressure. The Islamic
republic now produces only about 2.5 million barrels a day (bpd), far off
its 4 Mbpd peak a decade ago. US Secretary of State John Kerry: "During the
six month phase, the oil sanctions that will remain in place will continue
to cause over $25 billion in lost revenues to Iran."
wants to keep the pressure on Tehran. Iraq plans to double production by
2020 to 6 Mbpd, so if Iran resumes its oil exports the Kingdom may have to
export less to defend prices. Iran, a country of nearly 80 million people,
is potentially the Germany of the Mideast.
I'd hedge that and say potentially another Turkey.
2013 November 25
Iran started its nuclear program in 1957 with the help of the
United States. Iran is not the only nation with a nuclear program but faced
scrutiny because it had signed the NPT. India and Pakistan never did. Iran's
nuclear program is considered a threat because a decade ago nuclear
inspectors found traces of highly enriched uranium at a plant in Natanz.
Iran halted enrichment but resumed in 2006.
The new deal is an
interim agreement before a more formal agreement is worked out. For years
Iran and Western powers had left negotiating tables in disagreement,
frustration and open animosity. The deal requires Iran to dilute its
stockpile of uranium that had been enriched to 20% and mandates Iran halt
all enrichment above 5% and dismantle the equipment required to do that.
Iran is not required to ship out their highly enriched uranium to be
Iran says it's enriching uranium and building
nuclear reactors for civilian energy needs. Nuclear power plants use uranium
that is enriched to 5%. Iran will also have to cut back on constructing new
centrifuges and enrichment facilities, and freeze essential work on its
heavy-water reactor under development at Arak. Iran is also expected to
provide daily access to inspectors from the IAEA. If Iran doesn't fulfill
its commitment, the international community will add pressure and more
Seven years ago, the U.N. Security Council passed
sanctions against Iran for failing to suspend its nuclear program. Sanctions
that initially targeted Iran's nuclear capability expanded to include bans
on arms sales, Iranian oil and certain financial institutions, including the
country's central bank. Iran stands to gain billions of dollars from relaxed
Israel says it has the most to lose if Iran develops a
nuclear bomb. The 1979 Islamic revolution that overthrew the Shah marked a
turning point in Israeli relations with Iran. The Islamic republic saw
Israel as an illegitimate state with no right to exist amid Muslim nations.
AR The Islamic republic has yet to repudiate
2013 November 24
An "initial, six-month" deal between Iran and the United
States, France, Germany, Britain, China, and Russia over Tehran's nuclear
program slows the program in exchange for lifting some sanctions while a
more formal agreement is worked out. The deal addresses Iran's ability to
enrich uranium, what to do about its existing enriched uranium stockpiles,
the number and potential of its centrifuges, the ability to produce
plutonium using the Arak reactor, and measures to increase transparency and
allow intrusive monitoring of its nuclear program.
Israeli finance minister and security cabinet
member Yair Lapid: "A diplomatic accord is certainly better than war, a
diplomatic accord is better than a situation of permanent confrontation -
just not this agreement."
Israeli economic minister and security cabinet member
Naftali Bennett: "Israel does not see itself as bound by this bad, this very
bad agreement that has been signed."
2013 November 23
Doctor Who, 7.50 pm, BBC One, Saturday November 23, 2013
is an alien: the last of the powerful Time Lords, an intrepid traveller, a
wanderer through space and time. Armed with only his intelligence, charm,
and trusty sonic screwdriver, he has pitted himself against the deadliest
creatures in the universe.
He chooses traveling companions from those
he befriends, briefly sharing his life with them and showing them the
astonishing wonders of the universe. He travels in his extraordinary ship,
the TARDIS, a time machine that is bigger on the inside than the outside.
Doctor Who was first broadcast on BBC One at 5.15 pm on Saturday
November 23, 1963.
AR I watched it then
and now. Bookends to a life in sci fi.
2013 November 22
Silent Conquest is a documentary that "offers a frightening insight into
the extent to which Europe, Canada and the United Nations have already
succumbed to the restrictions of sharia blasphemy laws".
details how writers and politicians have been persecuted by the courts as
much as by jihadis. When presented with men who will murder to protect the
supposed honor of their religion, the state in Europe, Canada, and Australia
notes the intensity of Islamist feeling and appeases it.
Less than 200 years ago, German scholars began to reveal
how the New Testament was a textual mess. The revelation that Christ did not
appear in the historical record destroyed Christianity. But Islamists say:
"Use textual criticism, scholarship, satire, and mockery against Islam and
we will kill you."
sees Muslims as outsiders who have sneaked in and torn up our rights. Its
makers cannot acknowledge that the first victims of radical Islam are the
Muslims it claims to own.
AR The trailer
is depressing. I have no desire to see the video. The revelation "destroyed"
Christianity? I think the truth is more interesting than that. Cue for my
National Science Foundation
The IceCube Neutrino Observatory is
comprised of 5160 digital optical modules suspended along 86 strings
embedded in 1 km^3 of ice beneath the South Pole. The observatory
detects neutrinos by the tiny flashes of blue light produced when
they interact in the ice.
Height 2 m, weight 150 kg
about the cold war is
that we survived it
The Prince of Wales says
we are living off the Earth's
natural capital rather than the income derived from that
capital. We sit by and watch while the bank of nature heads
In 2004, Google launched a project to
digitize every book in the world to make them searchable.
Partners such as New York Public Library and the libraries of
Oxford and Harvard universities signed on. But from 2005 legal
challengers accused the company of copyright infringement and
soon paralyzed the project.
Today the project is back on
track, after a federal judge in New York ruled that the effort
is covered by "fair use" exceptions to copyright restrictions.
The big winner is the belief that the Web should be used to open
up access to the entirety of our civilization's knowledge. The
ruling affects more than just Google.
UK Social Mobility
PM David Cameron concedes there is
insufficient social mobility in British society. Speaking days
after former PM Sir John Major criticized the "truly shocking"
dominance of the affluent and privately educated in public life,
Cameron said he absolutely agreed with the thrust of
Major's comments and accepted that the coalition
must "do far more" to increase diversity in the national elite.
2013 November 22
IceCube announces the first solid evidence for
astrophysical neutrinos from cosmic accelerators. IceCube principal
investigator Francis Halzen: "This is the first indication of very
high-energy neutrinos coming from outside our solar system. It is gratifying
to finally see what we have been looking for. This is the dawn of a new age
Neutrinos can carry information about the workings of
the highest-energy and most distant phenomena in the universe. Billions of
neutrinos pass through every square cm of the Earth every second, but the
vast majority originate either in the Sun or in the Earth's atmosphere.
Extragalactic neutrinos are far rarer, but can provide insights into
supernovas, black holes, pulsars, active galactic nuclei, and other extreme
NSF scientist Vladimir Papitashvili:
"IceCube is a wonderful and unique astrophysical telescope. It is deployed
deep in the Antarctic ice but looks over the entire universe, detecting
neutrinos coming through the Earth from the northern skies, as well as from
around the southern skies."
We conducted an all-sky search for
neutrinos at energies above 30 TeV in the cubic km Antarctic IceCube
observatory between 2010 and 2012. We observed 28 neutrino candidate events
ranging in energy from 30 to 1200 TeV. The data contain a mixture of
neutrino flavors compatible with flavor equipartition and have a hard energy
spectrum compatible with that expected from cosmic ray accelerators.
Although not compatible with an atmospheric explanation, the data match
expectations for an origin in unidentified high-energy galactic or
extragalactic neutrino accelerators.
2013 November 21
Modern universities are hubs in a cash nexus. As well
as disinterested intellectual inquiry, they serve commercial purposes.
Business parks spring up around the best of them to exploit new technology.
Professor Michael Arthur, president and provost of University College London
(UCL), has said that his institution needs to improve its undergraduate
teaching. All the top professors will have their contracts changed so that
their teaching is as important a part of their assessment as their research.
In 1963, UK academics spent 55% of their time teaching and 45% on
research. The split is now 40% teaching and 60% research. But the university
is also for students, and their voice is getting louder.
Hugo Cable and Kavan Modi
Quantum computers use qubits, which can
be entangled. But controlling entanglement is hard, so why not build quantum
devices exploiting entanglement that tolerate noise? A system can be fully
quantum, and hence highly entangled, or it can be only partially quantum,
lacking entangled connections but possessing other features of quantum
theory. Discord in effect measures how quantum a system is.
in discord took off in 2008, when researchers at the University of New
Mexico studied a simplified model of a quantum computer. As more qubits were
added, the computer continued to work efficiently as the number of data
entries grew exponentially, without a large increase in the amount of
entanglement. The model works using only one qubit protected from noise,
while all its remaining qubits are fully noisy.
Mile Gu et al. (Nature 2012)
Quantum discord between bipartite
systems can be consumed to encode information that can only be accessed by
coherent quantum interactions. We experimentally encode information within
the discordant correlations of two separable Gaussian states. The amount of
extra information recovered by coherent interaction is quantified and
directly linked with the discord consumed during encoding. No entanglement
exists in this experiment.
must get clearer on coherence, entanglement, and discord.
2013 November 20
Members of the European Parliament are tired of the monthly move from
Brussels to Strasbourg for a week of plenary sessions. Thousands of working
days are lost in the move from Brussels, where committee meetings are held,
to Strasbourg, where meetings of the whole parliament take place. MEPs want
to end the monthly move, which costs EU taxpayers some €180 million a year.
But France has blocked attempts to do so. There will be no decision before
AR End this farce.
Is Jesus a fictional character and Christianity a fraud?
The hypothesis advanced in this book is scientific. It can be checked by
any scholar who makes the effort to read the historical works of Josephus
Flavius and the New Testament Gospels carefully, in parallel. I found the
forensic case Atwill assembles in his cool and methodical report both
startling and convincing. Assuming that he has correctly translated and
interpreted the texts, and that the mathematics is fairly deployed to prove
the case with high probability, we have a clear case of massive and
systematic deception. Christianity becomes a fraud.
Atwill claims that Jesus of Nazareth is a fictional character written into
history to prophesy events that were new at the time of writing. The intent
of this deception was to persuade the successors of the militant Jews who
were defeated in the Roman destruction of the Second Temple to adopt a
pacifist ideology that in effect deified the the Flavian emperors Vespasian,
Titus, and Domitian as God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost,
respectively. A more egregious blasphemy against Judaic monotheism is hard
What I found especially shocking in
this scenario is that the deception worked for almost two millennia. The
evidence for the hypothesis was there for all to read in the first-century
literature, but generations of earnest scholars had missed it until Atwill,
who was raised in a deeply Christian environment but had an exceptionally
gifted analytic mind, serendipitously spotted the key threads of the fraud
and then took a few decades to build up his case. His book is not a light
read and his key finding is presented more in sorrow than with glee, but the
result is clear.
The huge irony in all this is that Christianity has
arguably become the greatest religious ideology the world has ever known.
Based on a Jewish militant tradition bordering on rabid racism, tempered by
Greek philosophy and poetic sensibility, and spread by Roman military and
institutional strength, the ideology that was centered on the figure of
Jesus turned out to be a winner for many millions of believers, whose
successors created the modern world. Modern Christians might prefer to
rebury the filthy roots that Atwill digs up, but truth will out, and must.
AR Thanks to Richard Dawkins for alerting me
to this book.
2013 November 19
What can be said about the chances of life starting
up on a habitable planet? The underlying problem is complexity. Even the
simplest bacterium is, at the molecular level, staggeringly complex. If life
arose simply by the accumulation of many specific chemical accidents in one
place, it is easy to imagine that only one in, say, a trillion trillion
habitable planets would ever host such a dream run.
Life may pop up readily in
Earthlike conditions, or it may be a fluke, unique in the observable
universe. We cannot conclude that Earth is typical. No statistical evidence
can be drawn from a sample of one. The easiest way to settle the matter is
to find a second sample of life, one that arose from scratch independent of
known life. The inventory of extrasolar planets being discovered is a first
No planet is more Earthlike than Earth itself. If life does pop
up readily in Earthlike conditions, then it should have started many times,
right here on Earth. Although the pathway from microbes to complex thinking
beings like humans may still be difficult, at least we know it happens by
Darwinian evolution. If microbial life is widespread in the cosmos, we can
expect that sentient beings will evolve.
God in Proof
Nathan Schneider reconsiders the business of
presenting proofs for God’s existence. He moves fluently and easily from
ancient Greece to the internet age, from the usual suspects in Western
philosophy (Plato, Augustine, Anselm, Descartes, Kant, and Hume) to Islamic
proofs, the contemporary philosophical reinvigoration of theism, and
Religious proofs are only meaningful for certain people. Whether
they mean anything has more to do with what we bring to the proofs than what
the proofs bring to us. Searching for God is not like searching for some
thing among others. If God could be found at the end of a logical proof,
then finding God would be like finding a solution to a math problem.
2013 November 18
Negotiations with Iran hit a road block with the 40
MW heavy water reactor in Arak. If the reactor
is for making medical isotopes, a light water reactor would have served
that purpose just as well.
Nuclear fission occurs when a neutron hits
a U235 nucleus, causing it to split and to spit out further neutrons that
can start a chain reaction. The probability of fission increases when the
neutrons are slowed down in a moderator such as water. In a light water reactor, which uses
ordinary water, the uranium fuel must be enriched to about 4% U235. In a
heavy water reactor, one can use natural uranium, which has less than 1%
U235. But this method also produces plutonium as a byproduct.
reactor of the Arak type, each megawatt of thermal power generates 1 g of
plutonium per day. So a 40 MW plant can produce 40 g of plutonium per day.
In a year it could make up to about 14 kg of plutonium. This is enough for
one or two bombs of the sort dropped on Nagasaki.
It would be easy
enough to convert the Arak reactor into a light water reactor. By going
ahead with a heavy water reactor, Iran seems determined to be able to make
plutonium, and perhaps a bomb.
Today NASA launches the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission
on a trip to Mars. With a mass of about 2500 kg, MAVEN will orbit Mars for a
year or more between 150 km and 6000 km above the surface. NASA says the
mission cost is $671 million.
MAVEN lead scientist Bruce Jakosky:
"MAVEN is going to focus on trying to understand what the history of the
atmosphere has been, how the climate has changed through time and how that
has influenced the evolution of the surface and the potential habitability —
at least by microbes — of Mars."
NASA Mars scientist Pan Conrad:
"We'll get a window on what is happening now so we can try and look backward
at the evidence locked in the rocks and put the whole story together about
Martian history and how it came to be such a challenging environment."
The MAVEN mission will swoop through the atmosphere and analyze the
gases. MAVEN project scientist Joe Grebowsky: "The first mission we sent to
Venus did extensive aeronomy things, quite like what we're doing with MAVEN
now. But we can't see the surface of Venus. With Mars you can see the
surface, and that distracted people."
The young Mars had a global
magnetic field but lost it about 4 billion years ago. MAVEN team member
David Brain: "A magnetic field protects an atmosphere from the sun, because
it turns charged particles away. It's like a big sneeze guard. If you take
the sneeze guard away, the solar wind comes crashing into the atmosphere,
and the atmosphere comes splashing out."
MAVEN will examine how the
solar wind interacts with the Martian atmosphere today. MAVEN scientist
Mehdi Benna: "We want to try to rewind the movie and see what happened as
MAVEN is due to reach Mars on September 22, 2 days before
India's Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM).
2013 November 17
Buddhism emphasizes the universal nature of the
conscious mind. All animals have complex physiology, not just humans.
Animals also have very complicated behaviors. The simplest explanation is
that consciousness is an immanent property of highly organized pieces of
matter, such as brains.
Giulio Tononi's integrated information theory
(IIT) assigns to a brain or a complex system a number that tells you how
integrated the system is. Any system with integrated information different
from zero has consciousness. How much it has depends on how many connections
it has and how they're wired up.
In IIT, consciousness is a local
maximum. So in the brain, the whole system is conscious, not the individual
nerve cells. For an ecosystem, it's a question of how richly the individual
components, such as the trees in a forest, are integrated within themselves
as compared to interactions between trees.
The internet contains a
few billion computers, and each computer has a couple of billion transistors
in its CPU. So the internet has at least 10^19 transistors, compared to the
roughly 10^15 synapses in the human brain. In my version of panpsychism, it
feels like something to be the internet.
I talked with Tononi about IIT at
2013 November 16
on a Train
Gielgud Theatre, London
A seemingly innocent
conversation soon turns into a lethal nightmare of blackmail and
psychological torment in this gripping thriller, based on a novel by
Patricia Highsmith that inspired a movie by Alfred Hitchcock.
AR Melodramatic play, excellent production.
2013 November 15
Britain and Germany have for years chosen green energy
over cheap energy. In Germany industry is being sacrificed to
environmentalism. In Britain millions of households are in fuel poverty.
The new Energy Bill, together with its predecessor, the 2008 Climate
Change Act, will inflict even bigger fuel bill increases. The 2008 measure
aims to treble the proportion of power produced by renewables by 2020. The
green bill by 2020 could exceed £100 billion.
This year, Britain
introduced a tax on emitting CO2. Power generators must pay £16 for every
ton of CO2 they emit. The Climate Change Committee rules that this should
quadruple by 2030. The cost of effecting this revolution in the crucial
industry on which all others depend will be about £300 billion.
year, German consumers will pay a total of €20 billion for power from wind,
solar panels, and biomass, of which €17 billion is subsidy. Yet Germany
exempts manufacturing companies from most of their renewable subsidies. The
European Commission may soon declare this an unlawful state subsidy.
The UK can repeal the Climate Change Act, abolish its targets, and stop
the Energy Bill coming into force. We could get on with fracking and so
release our colossal reserves of clean natural gas. In America, carbon
emissions have fallen to a 20-year low because gas is so much cleaner than
Britain and Germany are sleepwalking toward the same economic
AR Nuclear power is one answer,
solar power from North Africa another.
The liberalization of the Indian economy in 1991
inspired fresh hope. But economic growth has been led by the service sector
rather than manufacturing. Agriculture, which still employs most of the
population, remains stagnant. A small educated workforce enjoys rising
salaries, but there have been only small changes for people in the bottom
half of the dual economy.
By 2010, India's 100 wealthiest people had
increased their combined worth to $300 billion, a quarter of the country's
GDP. Crony capitalism and rent-seeking are powering economic growth. Reforms
that boost growth are not enough to improve the living conditions of the
poorest. They have to be supplemented by a radical shift in public policy in
education and health.
Rich Indians in the United States have built a
new economic relationship between India and the United States. Now rising
social unrest is making an insecure Indian elite gravitate to hard-line
leaders. Observers are impressed by Indian democracy, but many more Indians
will have to exercise their democratic rights if they wish to transform
Indian society and politics.
this sounds very like the problems in the UK.
2013 November 14
Many people believe in the Internet as
the source of salvation and the end of history. Evgeny Morozov and Jaron
Lanier say enthusiasm for the Internet underwrites an anti-democratic
technocratic agenda. Internet freedom is about the freedom
of data, not people, and strengthens the hand of a small elite.
Morozov calls the Internet a socially constructed concept. The
Internet gospel has subsumed economic developments, including
reconfiguration of supply chains, expansion of financial services, weakening
of labor unions, concentration of wealth, and depression of real wages, into
a redemptive framework.
Lanier is concerned by the processes that
concentrate wealth accumulation around the algorithmic power of big computer
nodes. He calls these nodes siren servers, and in his account they are
emblematic of contemporary network capitalism. The Internet gospel disguises
and naturalizes the immense and expanding power of siren servers.
Lanier sees a massive accounting fraud by which the ever-increasing power of
computation entails a devaluation of human labor. Siren servers tempt users
into their orbit by offering some upfront benefit, then collect their data
and monetize it. The people who fed the latest AI triumph are left unpaid
and jobless. But Lanier's plan to reward the originators of value defrauded
by the current system would end up exacerbating inequality. His nanopayment
scheme for digital property rights would lead to a world filled with
litigation in which the established rentiers with access to armies of the
best lawyers and accountants and with huge dossiers of copyrights would have
an overwhelming advantage.
Lanier advocates obliterating the last
remnants of private life in order to save the free market from the
inequality it has caused. His solution is to turn the vast commons of
quotidian activity and experience into a limitless intellectual property
regime enforced by a universal panoptic apparatus. Readers might prefer a
its Cassini-Huygens spacecraft in 1997. In orbit around Saturn since 2004,
the craft took pictures during a solar eclipse on July 19, 2013. A panoramic
mosaic of the Saturn system backlit by the sun was released Tuesday. It is
the first image including Saturn, its moons and rings, and Earth, Venus, and
Mars all at once.
would shrink if the polar ice caps melted
BBC Newsnight reports that Saudi Arabia
could obtain nukes "at will" from Pakistan, where weapons made
on behalf of the Saudis are ready for delivery.
India launches a mission to Mars today. So far
only NASA, the former Soviet Union, and the European Space
Agency have succeeded in operating Mars probes. Japan tried in
1998 but failed. A UK probe failed in 2003. China and Russia
failed in 2012.
"I'll be back."
Royal Opera House
Kim And I
I'm not saying that the Marshal
of North Korea is in control. It's the system that's been built
for years and years and years. And this young kid is trying to
do something to make it work. He's a good guy, a good-hearted
kid. Between me and him, we're friends. It will work, just
watch, 24 months from now. The door will open a crack. It took
an asshole like me to do it.
2013 November 12
The current era of particle physics is over. When
scientists at CERN found the Higgs boson, they uncovered the final piece of
the Standard Model. Physicists were hoping the Higgs would show them
something new. But it proved almost exactly as the Standard Model said it
Scientists had hoped to find evidence for other strange
particles. Over the next few years, experimentalists will be working to try
to answer questions about dark matter, the properties of neutrinos, the
nature of the Higgs, and perhaps what the next era of physics will look
Matthew D. Lieberman
Our brains respond adaptively to their daily
tasks. But when the brain is not focused on a specific task, it turns to
social cognition, or thinking about other people, oneself, and how they
Babies show default network activity almost from birth. The
default network activity precedes any conscious interest in the social
world, suggesting it might create those interests.
gave people only a few seconds of pause between math problems, the default
network activity was present right away. It seems to come on like a reflex.
The default network quiets down when we perform a specific task. But
then the mind returns to the default mode. In other words, the brain's free
time is devoted to thinking socially.
2013 November 11
Criminal courts in the United States are facing a
surge in the number of defendants arguing that even though they committed a
crime, they cannot be held responsible because their brains made them do it.
Nita Farahany, a professor of law who sits on the Obama administration's
bioethics advisory panel, told a
Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego that those on trial were
mounting ever more sophisticated defenses that drew on neurological evidence
in an effort to show they were not fully responsible for their actions.
Lawyers typically drew on brain scans and the like to reduce defendants'
sentences, but in many cases the evidence was used to try to clear
defendants of all culpability. Farahany said judges and lawyers urgently
needed educating in neuroscience to understand its uses and limitations.
People consistently overestimate their ability to
control themselves. So trying to stop an unwanted habit can be a frustrating
task. The mere act of exerting willpower saps the strength for future
attempts. We face willpower-depleting events all day long. The worse the
day, the more the willpower is exerted, the more we rely on autopilot and
follow bad habits. Plan for those times.
2013 November 10
We are now pretty certain that there are billions
of Earth-like planets in our galaxy. The nearest may be a mere 12 light
years away. The Kepler Space Telescope malfunctioned in May, but its
Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, is due to launch in 2017. It will
scour the sky for small rocky worlds around nearby stars, and is expected to
find hundreds. We can be pretty confident that, if life is common in the
universe, we will have found signs of it by the middle of the next decade.
Burn and Crash
I have watched captains of the energy and
financial industries at work and concluded that too many people across the
top levels of business and government have found ways to ignore systemic
risk. As a result of their complacency we face four great risks:
1 We have way more unburned conventional fossil
fuel than is needed to wreck the climate. Yet much of the energy industry is
discovering and developing unconventional deposits to pile onto the fire,
while simultaneously abandoning solar power just as it begins to look
2 We risk creating a carbon
bubble in the capital markets. For policymakers to limit global warming to 2
K, 60-80% of proved reserves of fossil fuels will have to remain in the
ground unburned. If so, the value of oil and gas companies would crash and a
lot of people would lose a lot of money.
We risk a surprise if the boom in shale gas production proves to be a
bubble. Production from individual shale wells declines rapidly, and large
amounts of capital have to be borrowed to drill replacements. Many people
judge based on the received wisdom that limits to shale drilling are few.
4 We court disaster with assumptions about
oil depletion. Crude oil production peaked in 2005, and oil fields are
depleting at more than 6% per year, according to the IEA. The 2 million
barrels a day of new US production capacity comes in a world that consumes
90 million barrels a day.
We have to nurture clean energy industries
and strategies. Emerging experience in Germany and elsewhere gives
increasing credibility to the view that modern economies can be powered on a
mix of renewables.
2013 November 9
The intelligence services of the United States
are an expression of their society. Paranoid democracies act in hysterical
ways out of fear. The United States is a country whose settlers fought for
their independence and democracy. This has led to tremendous military might
and heightened sensitivity.
After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991,
the United States experienced a relatively relaxed decade, until September
11, 2001. Belligerent Islamists were totally opposed to American society. A
paranoid democracy tends to use the tools of a dictatorship, and they
include maximum surveillance.
Royal Marine commandos are capable, professional, and
robust soldiers. But we should not feel compelled to point out that those
brave men and women are fighting in Afghanistan to secure our safety every
time the military is mentioned. We ought to ask why there is surprise when
When a political decision is taken that puts men
who are primed for violence into a war, bad things will happen. War is the
very last resort and should not be engaged in lightly. The culture of
irrational and uncritical soldier worship serves only to blind us to the
realities of war and occupation.
2013 November 8
I spent four years on
Pandora's Promise. I've
screened the film at the US Department of Energy, at the IAEA in Vienna, and
at university nuclear engineering departments. This film has received
nothing but support from the technical and scientific community regarding
I've taken not a dime from the nuclear industry. And I'm not a lobbyist
or a propaganda tool for anyone. I'm an independent documentary filmmaker
with a long track record of producing sober and critically acclaimed films
on historical, technological and environmental themes.
Edwin Lyman of
the Union of Concerned Scientists claims that I have a zeal to promote
nuclear energy. I feel that his criticism is driven mostly by his aversion
to nuclear technology in any form. The view is shared by many of his
generation that grew up equating nuclear energy with nuclear weapons.
The IFR technology featured in the film is simply one illustrative
example of the many advanced reactor technologies that are in various stages
of development: thorium reactors, molten salt reactors, small modular
reactors, traveling wave reactors, etc.
Lyman and others seem to
suggest that nuclear energy is hopeless and that all research and
development into its advancement should be abandoned. Given the overwhelming
challenges we face in attempting to power the planet, that's about the most
irresponsible course of action imaginable.
2013 November 7
Medieval universities, among them Oxford, Bologna,
and Paris, developed in large part as training grounds for men of the
church. Theology was the queen of the sciences, the field of inquiry that
gave meaning to all others. Several of the great American universities:
Harvard, Yale, and Princeton alike were founded with the express purpose of
To study theology well requires not faith, but empathy. If
history and comparative religion offer us perspective on world events from
the outside, the study of theology offers us a chance to study those same
events from within. The absence of theology in our universities is an
example of blindness to the fact that engagement with the past requires more
2013 November 6
Joshua Greene discusses human morality via
psychological experiments, observations of brain activity, and evolutionary
theory. He says the tragedy of commonsense morality is that moralities that
help members of particular communities to cooperate peacefully do not foster
a comparable harmony among members of different communities.
Biologically, humans were designed for cooperation within groups and within
the context of personal relationships. Commonsense morality requires that we
sometimes put Us ahead of Me, but the same disposition also leads us to put
Us ahead of Them. We feel obligations to fellow members of our community but
not to outsiders.
Greene thinks we need a metamorality. We have
strong moral reactions against certain actions that cause harm but serve the
greater good on balance, but not to other actions that produce the same
balance of good and harm. Greene wants to persuade us that moral psychology
is more fundamental than moral philosophy.
Our moral intuitions are
best understood as gut reactions that have evolved to serve social peace by
preventing interpersonal violence. One of the hardest questions for moral
theory is whether the values tied to the personal point of view should be
part of the foundation of morality. Humanity has a long road of moral
2013 November 5
Spies In Berlin
Leaked NSA documents show that GCHQ operates
electronic spy posts from diplomatic buildings around the world. The UK seem
to have a secret high-tech listening station in central Berlin.
German Green MEP Jan Albrecht: "If GCHQ runs a listening post on the top of
the UK's Berlin embassy, it is clearly targeting politicians and journalists
... This is hardly in the spirit of European cooperation."
document said Washington recently closed some of the 100 secret data
collection sites it operated in embassies around the world and transferred
some of the work to GCHQ.
The British embassy in Berlin has had a
white structure on the roof since it opened in 2000. The structure resembles
spy gear used in the GCHQ cold war listening post in West Berlin.
The UK might have been spying from its embassy in
Berlin. The German foreign ministry head of the department of European
affairs told the UK ambassador that eavesdropping on communications inside
the offices of a diplomatic mission would violate international law.
CDU parliamentarian Wolfgang Bosbach: "Such full-blown spying is completely
unacceptable and must be dealt with."
Social Democratic chairman of
the Bundestag parliamentary control committee Thomas Oppermann: "As sad as
this may be, in future we will have to assume we are being spied on by our
AR Breaking bad: Time for
UK politicians to assert control over their spy dogs.
Earth 2 ... 2 Billion
Our galaxy probably contains at least 2 billion planets
like Earth, with liquid water on their surfaces and orbiting their parent
stars in the habitable zone. The nearest could be less than 12 lightyears
A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
uses measurements from the NASA Kepler space observatory to estimate that
over 1 in 5 of the Sun-like stars the Milky Way have rocky planets orbiting
in the zone that gets about as much solar energy as Earth gets from the Sun.
There are around 100 billion stars in our galaxy, 1 in 10 of them like the
London astrophysicist Subhanjoy Mohanty: "Previous analyses of
Kepler data had shown that red dwarfs very frequently harbour Earth-size
planets, including in their habitable zones. This new study shows that the
same is true as well around stars more like our own sun. This is certainly
an added impetus for planned future missions which will study the
atmospheres of these potentially habitable planets."
Small rocky planets with liquid water enjoy key ingredients
for biology. The NASA Kepler telescope surveyed 42 000 Sun-like stars and
found planets of Earth size orbiting in habitable zones allowing surface
liquid water. We calculate that 22% of Sun-like stars harbor such planets.
2013 November 4
Ken Caldeira, Kerry Emanuel, James Hansen, Tom Wigley
and energy scientists concerned with global climate change, we advocate the
development and deployment of safer nuclear energy systems. Continued
opposition to nuclear power threatens humanity's ability to avoid dangerous
Global demand for energy is growing rapidly. At the
same time, the need to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions is becoming
ever clearer. We can only increase energy supply while simultaneously
reducing greenhouse gas emissions if new power plants turn away from using
the atmosphere as a waste dump. Renewables cannot scale up fast enough to
deliver cheap and reliable power at the scale the global economy requires.
Nuclear plants are far from perfect. Fortunately, passive safety systems
and other advances can make new plants much safer. And modern nuclear
technology can reduce proliferation risks and solve the waste disposal
problem by burning current waste and using fuel more efficiently. Innovation
and economies of scale can make new power plants cheaper than existing
Quantitative analyses show that the risks associated with the
expanded use of nuclear energy are orders of magnitude smaller than the
risks associated with fossil fuels. No energy system is without downsides,
but we cannot afford to turn away from any technology that has the potential
to displace a large fraction of our carbon emissions.
AR I agree.
Fire And Ashes
Evan R. Goldstein
In May 2011, Michael Ignatieff, 58, lost an
election in Canada. He had worked as screenwriter, essayist, columnist,
memoirist, TV host, biographer, novelist, war correspondent, and authority
on ethics and international affairs. For 16 years he was a public
intellectual. Then, in 2000, Harvard picked him to become a professor of
Ignatieff rose quickly in Canadian politics. By 2009 he
led the opposition Liberal Party. The New York Times said he might be
Canada's next prime minister. On election night Ignatieff and his wife were
relaxed. A few hours later, the smile was gone. The Liberal Party had been
trounced. Ignatieff quit politics and wrote a memoir:
Fire And Ashes
AR I enjoyed reading
Ignatieff's biography of Isaiah Berlin some years ago.
2013 November 3
The Sunday Times
Ed Miliband refuses to publish a report on the
Labour party vote rigging scandal. The trade union Unite attempted to rig
the selection of the Labour candidate for the Falkirk seat. The report
documents forgery, coercion, trickery, and manipulation. Miliband had to
abandon the inquiry after a dirty tricks campaign by Unite apparently led
key witnesses to withdraw their evidence. Unite boss Len McCluskey denies
Unite is overwhelmingly Labour's biggest cash
donor. When polled in 2010, 40% of Unite members said they would vote
Labour, but 28% said Conservative and 20% Liberal Democrat. This suggests
that most of its 1.4 million members do not share Len McCluskey's desire to
challenge the government with a general strike and civil disobedience. They
may not wish to "march against fascism" or to support Unite's new Centre for
Labour and Social Studies, known as Class.
The moderate majority must unite against the class warriors.
Astronauts Sandra Bullock and George Clooney act
1 James Cameron
calls Gravity "the best space film ever done".
Sandra Bullock wore no make-up during filming, because astronauts don't.
3 To replicate zero g, Bullock was
strapped into a lightbox rig controlled by robots.
Bullock spent up to 10 hours a day alone in the rig, communicating via
5 Lighting was created
with 1.8 million lights that could be individually controlled.
6 The explosions are shown in
silence because there's no sound in space.
Clooney or Bullock are shown in their suits with real faces, the rest 3D
8 The film lasts only 91 minutes and
is mostly in silence, except for the soundtrack.
The last film to show zero g in a movie was Apollo 13. Gravity is in 3D.
10 Gravity had a production budget of $100
2013 November 2
New Scientist + AR
Newton captured time in mathematical
equations. Soon physicists depicted motion on a graph with time on a spatial
axis. The "now" in time looked as subjective as a "here" in space.
said there is no way to specify events that are simultaneous for everyone.
Two distant events that are now to you are not both now for anyone moving at
The result is the block universe. Past and future are
no more physically distinguished than left and right. Some things are closer
to you in spacetime and some are further away.
George Ellis on the
block universe: "It doesn't represent the passage of time, and that's one of
the most fundamental features of daily life. So it's a bad model of
Quantum physics describes future outcomes by probabilities
in the present. Quantum objects exist in superpositions of more than one
state until we measure them, when they adopt a definite state.
Ellis: "Even if you know everything about the state of the universe today,
you can't predict what will be tomorrow. The future can't be real because
it's not even fixed yet."
For Ellis, the present moment is the
boundary between what is fixed and what is yet to be fixed. We live on the
leading edge of a growing block universe, on a surface that shimmers into
focus a step at a time.
Spacetime is warped by gravity. With enough
data and a big computer, we could calculate a 3D surface on which each point
has the same age as us. Spacetime is defined up to then and not beyond.
This present is not now as we know it. If you and I are moving at
different speeds, we still disagree on what happens now. But causally
related events happen in the same order from all perspectives.
future is indeterminate. Aspects of the present are too. The present is not
solid but dotted with fuzzy bits that sharpen up later. These fuzzy bits are
very small and brief.
wants to throw out the block universe. Whereas in relativity spacetime
warps, in shape dynamics only sizes change. Observers agree on what happens
now but not on how big distant things are. Quantum physics gets a single
universal clock. The universe is a series of time slices. Events in the past
or future exist as projections in the present.
Tim Maudlin has a
geometric theory of linear structures that leaves the warped spacetime
geometry of relativity intact. It gives lines direction, as vectors, and
hence gives time its arrow.
distinguish past and future time, thermodynamics says the universe started
off in order at the big bang and has been expanding into increasing disorder
ever since. There is an infinity of future paths for the universe but only
one path into the past. So we see the past but not the future.
block universe, a human life is a sempiternal 4D worm. We get flow by
thinking that the same self persists. Really there is a new slice of me in
each now. Things seems to move, but really I move.
2013 All Saints Day
Speakers at the
Society (BIS) recently discussed plans for a starship named Icarus. The
nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, is 4.4 lightyears (42 Pm) away. DARPA
is sponsoring a project to develop the sorts of technology a starship might
need to go there.
Over 50 years ago,
Freeman Dyson designed a big
starship called Orion powered by a series of nuclear bombs spat out behind
it. But it would have taken 130 years to fly to Alpha Centauri, only to zoom
right past it.
In the 1970s, the BIS designed Daedalus, an unmanned ship
weighing 54 000 tons that would use a fusion rocket to attain 12% of light
speed (0.12c), allowing it to travel 6 lightyears (70 Pm) in 50 years. But
it too was unable to slow down again. That would have more than doubled the
fuel load. And its 3-helium fuel is scarce (it could be mined on the Moon).
The new BIS starship
Icarus would at least be able to slow down. But only Project Longshot, run
by NASA and the US Navy, envisages going into orbit around the target star.
A different approach is to leave the fuel behind. Their ships would use
a sail. A giant orbiting laser would push the sail with photons to to a
significant fraction of light speed. The ships could be much smaller and
lighter. They might even be able to slow down to orbital speed by using the solar wind of
the target star to push a second sail. And the power
laser could be reused to cut costs.
Still, accelerating a starship to
0.1c would consume more power than our present global civilization and cost
many trillions of dollars. Money well spent?
Obviously not, at least this century.
Economic growth hides the poverty it creates. The
concept of growth was used to mobilize resources during WW2. GDP measures
the conversion of nature into cash, and commons into commodities.
But poverty is spread when public systems are privatized. People are forced
to pay more for what was a common good. Household economics provided for
basic human needs using natural resources and allowing ecological renewal.
It was centered on women. Growth economics is a power game for men.
The dominant model of economic development has turned against life. When
economies are measured only in terms of money flow, the rich get richer and
the poor get poorer. And the rich start resource wars to feed growth. The
violence in unsustainable development is:
the natural world — expressed as the ecological crisis
2 Against people — expressed as destitution and
3 Against resource ownership —
expressed as war and conflict
GDP has become dissociated from real
value. This is not an end to poverty. It is an end to human rights and
justice. GDP does not capture the human condition. The real currency of life
is life itself.
AR Hear, hear.
morality by recalling the
of trolley problems and
says a utilitarian
the moral absolutism of
Lou Reed fronted the Velvet
Underground until 1970, but his 1972 album Transformer was his
masterpiece. I interviewed him in 2012 and he responded with: "That's a
rather pubescent question, don't you think?" and "Jesus. Who do you think
you're talking to?" I interviewed him again in September 2013, when he looked
much older. He was an articulate and creative professional.
has his say on
The number of known exoplanets has jumped
from 999 to 1010 thanks to a host of new worlds discovered by
the Super Wide Angle Search for Planets collaboration. Like many
others, these planets are roasting-hot Jupiter-like worlds. The
search for a habitable, Earth-like planet continues.
AR This is exciting.
on cosmology and
Here we have an
of madness ... a terrifying
glimpse of a futuristic
system of repression
in which deviance
"I write very
vulnerably, but I think in some ways that's what separates me
from my peers ... I don't think anyone ... sets out to be a role
model ... My self-worth ... was shattered."
Scientific results are hostage to experiment. But with over
6 million active researchers worldwide, scientists have lost
their taste for quality control.
Leading journals reject
9 in 10 submitted papers. They tend to publish the most striking
findings, so many researchers pep up papers by ignoring awkward
data. Negative results now account for only 1 in 7 of published
papers. Yet they are needed to prevent researchers from
Journals should replace peer review by
post-publication evaluation in appended comments. That system
works well in physics and math.
The Patience Stone
Talk with director
2013 October 31
Dear Russell, I read your thing
on revolution with great interest and some concern. My first reaction
was to rejoin the Labour Party.
Pensioners get attention from
politicians because they vote. Many of the people you write about are in
desperate need of support. The present coalition is not interested in
helping them. Election day is when we are the masters. We give them another
chance or we tell them to get another job.
I understand your ache
for the luminous, Russell. But revolution ends in death camps, gulags,
repression and murder. Read Orwell.
A bust of Sir Winston Churchill is on display in
Statuary Hall thanks to Republican house speaker John Boeher, who passed a
resolution to honor to Churchill in the US Capitol. At the unveiling he
called Churchill "the best friend the United States ever had" and the
architect of "a beautiful and, of course, special relationship".
Churchill, who in 1963 was made an honorary US citizen, is revered among
some Americans and quoted almost as often as the Founding Fathers.
Democratic minority house leader Nancy Pelosi: "That steadfast voice,
rumbling with unending determination, served as a great beacon of hope to
the free peoples of the world."
Republican senate leader Mitch
McConnell said Churchill was "the greatest Englishman of his time". His
Democratic counterpart Harry Reid called Churchill a "saviour" of the world
and told the audience he owned 125 hours of Churchill's speeches and
readings: "I've heard them all."
Current US secretary of state John
Kerry: "To think that in Statuary Hall, the building that British troops
tried to burn down [in 1814],
the bust of of the one time secretary of state for the colonies will forever
stand alongside the statue of Samuel Adams."
2013 October 30
Vicky Pryce was released from prison in May after
serving 8 weeks of her 8 month sentence. The mother of 5 and her ex-husband,
former cabinet minister Chris Huhne, were both imprisoned for perverting the
course of justice after she took his motoring penalty points 10 years ago.
She has now published a book about her experience.
was a great big chaotic place, but as soon as I started speaking to other
girls it was very clear to me that prison was not necessarily the best thing
for them ... The annual cost per prison place for a woman is more than
£56 000, yet intensive community orders cost less than a third of that and
evidence shows they have more impact on reducing reoffending ... Prison
often exacerbates the problems these women were facing before they were sent
away. The lack of co-ordinated governmental thinking on this is perpetuating
the problems and doing nothing to lower costs or re-offending, which costs a
staggering £9 billion or £10 billion a year."
2013 October 29
The New York Times
President Obama is poised to order the NSA to
stop eavesdropping on the leaders of American allies.
Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein: "I do not believe the United
States should be collecting phone calls or emails of friendly presidents and
German interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich: "The
Americans know by now that this affair is very damaging to their own
German federal data protection commissioner Peter Schaar:
"If we want to return to a relationship based on trust, it will require
serious effort. Officially the Americans said that they respected German
law. Now we know that was not the case."
The NSA documentation on
Angela Merkel authorized operatives in Germany not only to collect data
about the numbers she was calling but also to listen in on her
conversations. The Obama administration has refused to confirm that her
phone was targeted. The refusal further angers German officials.
Angela Merkel is angry. For Germans, the US
surveillance is no joke. Both the Nazi secret police (the Gestapo) and the
East German intelligence agency (the Stasi) spied on citizens. Germans have
fought hard for their privacy.
Last week Merkel became Germany's
first named NSA victim. Her anger is real enough for her to have phoned
President Barack Obama and protest. Polls show that most Germans support her
sharp reaction. Why spy on Germany?
When I spoke on Iraq for the UK Joint Intelligence
Committee, I judged that the Iraqi security forces unaided would never
contain the insurgency. General David Petraeus reduced violence from its
peak of 29 000 civilian deaths in 2006 to under 3000 by 2011. But attacks
have increased steadily since President Obama announced a total withdrawal
in 2011. A coalition military presence may have averted the current plunge
toward the abyss. Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki should institute
political reform, discipline the vengeful Shia militia, and return to US
counter-insurgency tactics. President Obama should consider providing
2013 October 28
The NSA surveillance scandal is a huge blow to
President Barack Obama. It is yet another betrayal of his 2008 campaign
promise to repair the US standing in the world.
Obama left much of
George W. Bush's foreign policy framework in place. He continued with an
extremely aggressive campaign against terrorist networks, employing drone
strikes to destroy networks despite significant civilian causalities,
allowing for tough interrogation techniques and detention policies and
depending on secrecy to reduce accountability. All this has dampened
enthusiasm for Obama.
The NSA issue concerns the proper domestic
balance between civil liberties and counterterrorism and now extends into
the realm of diplomacy. Obama needs to fix it.
Time is an illusion in a toy cosmos made of two
photons. And it might emerge from quantum entanglement. But quantum
mechanics and general relativity don't mix.
When quantum objects are
entangled, measuring the properties of one changes those of the other. A
clock entangled with the rest of the universe appears to tick when viewed by
an observer within that universe. But an observer outside the universe sees
a stationary universe.
Marco Genovese and
colleagues demonstrated this effect in a toy cosmos containing a pair of
entangled photons. The photons start out polarized either Horizontally or
Vertically, and the polarization rotates as the photons pass though a quartz
plate and on to detectors. The entangled photons are in a superposition of H
and V states until they are observed. The thicker the plate, the more their
polarization evolves, affecting the probability of measuring an H or V
If one photon is the clock, with a tick alternating between H
and V states, reading it affects the polarization of the second photon. An
observer reading the clock entangles with the photon universe and can
predict the probable detected polarization of the other photon. Repeating
the experiment with thicker plates changes the detection rates.
the experimenter stays outside the photon universe and measures the quantum
state of the system as a whole, the state of both photons together is always
the same, as in a static universe.
Lee Smolin: "They have verified in
the context of a laboratory system that quantum mechanics is working
202013 October 27
Like most people I am utterly
disenchanted by politics. Total revolution is what interests me.
Materialism and individualism do in moderation make sense. If you are naked
and starving and someone gives you soup and a blanket your happiness will
increase. On the most obvious frequency of our known sensorial reality we
are independent anatomical units. So we must take care of ourselves. But
with most of our basic needs met, the instincts of fear and desire are being
engaged to imprison us in an obsolete fragment of our consciousness.
For me the solution has to be primarily spiritual and secondarily political.
Our connection to one another and the planet must be prioritized. We have
become a people without a unifying myth. We are trying to sustain social
cohesion using redundant ideologies devised for a population that lived in
deserts millennia ago. We have created agriculture and cities. Now we have
succumbed to an ideology that is totally corrupt and must be overthrown.
We have to be inclusive of everyone. We are mammals on a planet, who now
face a struggle for survival if our species is to avoid expiry.
Consciousness itself must change. The reality is we have a spherical
ecosystem, suspended in infinite space, upon which there are billions of
carbon-based life forms, of which we presume ourselves to be the most
important, and a limited amount of resources. The only systems we can afford
to employ are those that rationally serve the planet first, then all
The Spiritual Revolution has come. The revolution of consciousness is a decision.
Brand said he didn't have the remotest clue as to what should replace
the lies, treachery and deceit of the current system. But don't vote cos it
changes nuffink, right? And there's a revolution coming but I don't know
what it's for. Profit is howwible and politicians are howwible and big
companies are howwible. Paxo was nodding off in his chair while Russell
Asking for It
A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy and Little Else!
This show is brutal, brilliant and brave. Adrienne Truscott takes rape
comedy by the balls and has a lot of fun. The most powerful hour of comedy
on the Fringe.
Truscott remains fiercely in character as a girl who is asking for it.
Her point is that no one, not even someone as ridiculous as this character,
is asking for it.
from the waist down, Adrienne Truscott dances onto the stage, swigs gin
and tonics, points and winks at audience members, and forces us to confront
her body as well as her act.
In a live chat, Truscott recalled the
genesis of her show. When she was a student in a seminar, the professor said
one in four women have been sexually assaulted. Addressing the women in the
room, he said several of them must be rape victims. Truscott turned to the
men in the room and said: "Well, by that logic, at least one of you have
raped a woman in your lives, so which one of you is a rapist?"
premise of the show is that Truscott is asking for it, and yet she was not
raped. Perhaps it is the rapist who makes a rape happen after
2013 October 26
Iran has installed more and more advanced centrifuges. We
updated breakout estimates of the time Iran would need to produce a
significant quantity of weapon grade uranium (1 SQ = 25 kg WGU) from its low
enriched uranium (LEU) stocks.
Iran would need additional time to
field WGU in a weapon. But these preparations would be difficult to detect.
The most practical strategy is to prevent Iran from accumulating sufficient
We evaluated breakout scenarios based on the current IR-1
centrifuges and LEU stockpiles, total installed IR-1 centrifuges, and a
possible covert facility containing IR-2m centrifuges, in four steps:
from natural U to 3.5% LEU, (2) to 20%, (3) to 60%, (4) to WGU.
could produce 1 SQ in 5-7 weeks using all its 20% LEU hexafluoride
stockpile. Using only its 3.5% LEU, Iran would need 8-10 weeks to make 4 SQ
WGU. Iran could use a covert plant to break out in 1-2 weeks, or 7-11 weeks
using a covert plant with a more realistic cascade organization.
Negotiation should be guided by the need to lengthen breakout times. A
reasonable minimum breakout time should be at least 6 months.
2013 October 25
President Obama is isolated from key allies
following international anger over NSA surveillance and over US Mideast
policy. Secretary of state John Kerry has been meeting with Saudi and
From a leaked National Security Agency (NSA) memo
dated October 2006 to the Signals Intelligence Directorate (SID): "In one
recent case, a US official provided NSA with 200 phone numbers to 35 world
leaders ... These numbers have ... been tasked" (for monitoring).
National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden: "The United States is
not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of Chancellor Merkel.
Beyond that, I'm not in a position to comment publicly on every specific
alleged intelligence activity."
Perhaps our universe was born with a bounce, not a
bang, and perhaps it needed no inflation.
The CMB dates to about 12
Ts ABB and is roughly uniform everywhere we look. The most widely accepted
explanation is that the universe inflated rapidly in the first moment ABB.
All we see was in contact before inflation. Quantum fluctuations were
inflated to seed structures like galaxies. But inflation is mysterious and
has no predictive power.
Paul Steinhardt and colleagues advocate a
cyclic universe. A previous universe contracted and crunched. A bounce then
led to our universe. Cosmic smoothness is explained without inflation and quantum fluctuations
survived. In their
model, a "ghost" field with negative pressure softened the crunch and
led to the bounce. But the ghost field is as mysterious as inflation.
Primordial gravity waves from inflation would leave ripples in the CMB. A hunt is on
2013 October 24
German government officials are furious over alleged
phone tapping by US intelligence agencies:
Chancellor Angela Merkel placed an angry call Wednesday night to President
to discuss the suspicions.
● Foreign minister Guido Westerwelle summoned US
ambassador John Emerson.
Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger called for Berlin to suspend the
transatlantic SWIFT deal governing the transfer of bank data for terror
● Defense minister Thomas de
Maizière: "The Americans are and remain our closest friends,
but this is completely unacceptable. We can't simply return to business as
usual. There are
allegations in France, too."
AR Obama and Cameron must bring the US and UK
spies to heel.
Galaxy z8_GND_5296 is 30 billion light years from Earth. We
see it as it was over 13 billion years ago, just 700 million years after the
Big Bang. A spectroscopic analysis of its emissions shows a redshift of
7.51. The galaxy is the closest yet observed to the cosmic dark ages when
space was filled with neutral hydrogen gas. This epoch lasted for a few
hundred million years, until the first stars lit up. Astronomers detected
the galaxy using the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope and analyzed it with
the spectrograph on the Keck Telescope in Hawaii.
Harm de Blij
The age of the dinosaurs ended with a bang. One day
about 65 million years ago, a comet or asteroid about 10 km in diameter
streaked toward Earth at a speed of 25 km/s. It struck Earth in what is
today Chicxulub in Mexico. The impact energy was equivalent to about 100
million H-bombs, forming a crater 180 km in diameter, 65 km deep, and
encircled by a geological fault 30 km beyond.
The devastation reached
around the planet. The impact area was a shallow sea, and the blast sent a
mass of debris high into the atmosphere. Some debris reached halfway to the
Moon before falling back to Earth. When it fell back, it rained red-hot
rocks that set fire to forests almost everywhere. The air was hot enough to
evaporate entire lakes and incinerate whole ecosystems.
Chicxulub impact marked the K/T boundary. It was one of the three greatest
known mass extinctions ever. Some large dinosaurs far from the site may
have survived the original blast, but food chains had been fatally disrupted
and they too died out. Some small mammals were better equipped to outlive
the crisis. But the faunal and floral exuberance of the Mesozoic era came to
Much of the enormous volume of pulverized, ejected rock
remained in orbit around the Earth. The rest choked the atmosphere and blocked the
sun. Volcanoes around the planet may have been triggered, adding eruptions
to the toxic mix. The smoke from worldwide fires darkened the skies across
the globe. The climate cooled more than at any time since the ice age 185
million years earlier.
2013 October 23
Saudi royals are angry at Washington for failing to
intervene in Syria. Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan
al-Saud will sever cooperation with the CIA in arming Syrian rebels. For
Saudi hawks, the desire to supplant Iran as the dominant proxy force in
Damascus trumps other considerations. A Saudi official: "There is a feeling
that this is not the United States of old, that Washington is trying to
dispose of all its responsibilities in the region."
AR Saudis have the money and the arms. Let them
do their own dirty work.
Saudi Arabia refused a seat on the UN Security
Council, claiming frustration at UN ineffectiveness in the Mideast and
elsewhere. The Saudis accused the UN Security Council of double standards
that prevent it from carrying out its duties and assuming its
responsibilities in keeping world peace. They cited UN failure on the
Palestinians and in Syria.
Allies of Saudi Arabia in the Mideast — the Arab League, Egypt, Qatar,
Bahrain, UAE, and Kuwait — all publicly back the move. Saudi Arabia has
turned down voting power in potential UN decisions on the Iranian nuclear
program, further action in Syria, precarious Egyptian politics, and
sectarian conflicts in Iraq. Have Arabs given up on the UN?
AR The Saudis seem to want the UN to rule the
world through blood and iron.
2013 October 22
Angela Merkel and her CDU, together with the CSU and
the SPD, are preparing to form a coalition government. Merkel now has more
power in Germany and Europe than any chancellor before her. Her officials
are forging plans to transform the European Union by gaining more control
over national budgets and public borrowing in the eurozone. This would
improve economic governance in the EZ.
Germany boasts almost full
employment and a healthy national budget. The first item on the coalition
agenda is to hand out benefits and spend money. Thanks to the strong
economy, this needs no new taxes. Budget surpluses are expected to give the
government an extra €15 billion to spend by 2017. There was talk of paying
off old debts, but Germany is still within its debt limit requirements.
Merkel talked with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy at the
Chancellery. The German Finance Ministry wants to beef up Protocol 14 of the
EU treaty. Merkel will act after the May 2014 EU election, but amending the
treaty is risky. The UK government, driven by UKIP, could use the
opportunity to retrieve powers from Brussels, essentially renationalizing
AR UK politicians must be stopped
from committing a Eurostrategic blunder.
Daniel Jonah Goldhagen
Antisemitism is arguably the most enduring
and murderous ethnic prejudice in human history. It has now gone global, in
no small measure due to digital technologies:
While before a person had to be personally exposed, through people or
perhaps a book, to vile stuff about Jews, today all you need is a browser.
2 New antisemitic accusations and
initiatives can spread like wildfire, picked up by news or community
websites and replicated virally, globally.
Now there are international and virtual communities of antisemitic hatred.
Bigotry shared in communities is powerfully sustained and spread.
4 Different streams of antisemitism are merging
in a global amalgam. Muslims, Christians, Leftists, neo-Nazis, Arabs, and
others all demonize Israel.
5 In the Arab
and Islamic worlds, what antisemites say goes well beyond, in ferocity and
murderousness, even Nazi Germany's hate speech.
The way to fight
digitally enhanced antisemitism is to get Internet providers, social media
sites, and search engines to adhere to their own terms of usage, and to
enforce laws prohibiting hate speech.
Despite its muddled, fuzzy semantics, "antisemitic" is now the mot du jour for
prejudice against Jews. The hate is directed against the people, the
religion, and the politics, and is no less fuzzy and irrational.
Even the word "hatred" is going: hate is all, a wild 4-letter teeth-baring
monosyllable for a wildly obscene state of mind.
2013 October 21
No sex please, we're Japanese
Ai Aoyama is a sex and relationship counsellor in
Japan. Today she tries to cure sekkusu shinai shokogun (celibacy syndrome).
The Japanese population, now 126 million, is shrinking and may sink below
90 million by 2060. Aoyama believes people are fleeing from human intimacy.
A recent survey found that most unmarried men and almost half of all
women aged 18-34 are not in a romantic relationship. A third of people under
30 have never dated at all. More than a quarter of men and almost half of
women aged 16-24 are not interested in or despise sexual contact. Both sexes
say mendokusai (too much bother) to explain their relationship phobia. Is
this a glimpse of our future?
À la recherche du temps perdu
Wall Street Journal
100 years ago next month, Marcel Proust published
Swann's Way, the first volume of his 6-volume masterpiece
In Search of Lost Time. The novel is about a man compelled by a sudden surge of memory
to revisit his past and to draw meaning out of it.
publishers turned down the manuscript in 1912. Proust paid for a third to
publish it. An early reader: "At the end of this 712-page manuscript
... one has
no notion of ... what it is about. What is it all for? What does it all mean?
Where is it all leading to?"
Proust's novel is so unusually
ambitious, so accomplished, so masterful in cadence and invention that it is
impossible ... [cut]
AR I haven't read
it. See the 4-hour theater adaptation A Waste of Time (Glasgow 1980, no
2013 October 20
Christian think tank Theos finds that well over
half the UK citizens it polled said that they believed in some kind of
spiritual being or essence. More than three-quarters agreed that "there are
things that we cannot simply explain through science or any other means".
But the poll found quite low levels of belief in more specifically religious
concepts. Around a third believed in life after death, a quarter in angels,
and only a sixth in the power of prayer. By far the most popular view was
that prayer "makes you feel more at peace".
Organized religion is at
least as much a form of communal belonging as it is a vehicle for private
spiritual fulfillment. Richard Dawkins: "A quasi-mystical response to nature
and the universe is common among scientists and rationalists. It has no
connection with supernatural belief."
I sat opposite the leader of the English far right
in a television debate. I called for the EDL to be proscribed and talked
about EDL ideology. Then something odd happened. Tommy and I looked at each
other and suddenly we were kids at the back of the class. I met Tommy later
that month at a hotel. Three hours of debate followed.
A few days later I
met Tommy again, in Newcastle, where an EDL rally was being held. I
challenged him but he wasn't listening. And then it happened again. We both
looked at each other, sighed, laughed, and before I knew it, he had put his
arm around me. We had been "papped" [photographed by the press]. The furore
about the image spread around the Muslim world.
I stood up and
addressed an EDL meeting. It was a stressful experience. At the end of the
meeting I invited Tommy back to my room and he stood with me as I offered a
prayer. We ate food from a local Indian takeaway. Now Tommy is quitting the
EDL. The answer to hate is not more hate.
2013 October 19
Matt Rowland Hill
Tommy Robinson quit the English Defence League.
Short and stocky, like a welterweight grown pudgy between bouts, he speaks
with understated intensity. Earlier this year he spent 18 weeks in solitary
confinement after running into trouble with Muslim gangs in jail. He now
says he wants to become an advocate for moderation and dialogue by working
Tommy was born in Luton in 1982. His father was
English, his mother Irish. His adoptive father worked at the local Vauxhall
car plant. At school, Tommy scored 11 A-C grades at GCSE, including an A in
Maths. But he left school at 16. When the Vauxhall plant closed in 2000, 15%
of Luton's population were Muslims. Today they are 25%, and white Britons
are an ethnic minority.
After he left school, Tommy applied to study
aircraft engineering at Luton Airport. He won an apprenticeship and
qualified in 2003, but then got a criminal conviction for assault and lost
his job. After September 11, his criminal record meant he was blacklisted
from working at airports.
Tommy knew little about Islam as a
religion. But now he began to see the clash of civilizations happening on
the streets of Luton. So he set up a group called Ban the Luton Taliban.
They held a demonstration, and it worked. The next protest snowballed, and
soon the newly formed English Defence League was making headlines. At 26,
Tommy was thrust into the national spotlight.
He befriended Maajid
Nawaz of Quilliam a few weeks ago and now says he's sorry for provoking fear
among British Muslims.
Everyone in Luton is the son of immigrants. I
always knew there was a hostility coming from the Muslim community, and I
never really knew what it was. When I looked into the religion, I thought,
this is what it is: Islam, political Islam, Salafism, Wahhabism. I don't
care if they want to practice their religion, just when they're not
integrating and asking for special treatment.
There's a problem with
extremism. And how are we going to work together to get it solved? I don't
think it's by allowing Saudi Arabia and Qatar and Iran to fund multi-million
pound mosques and manipulate which form of Islam is being taught in them. So
we can stop the foreign funding to all religious institutions. What does
David Cameron know about growing up in Luton?
I was born in Luton. My father worked then at Vauxhall.
2013 October 18
The Patience Stone
Patience Stone stars Golshifteh Farahani, who is Iranian but lives in
exile in Paris. She portrays a mother of two caring for her injured husband.
The man is much older than her and lies in a coma after being shot in the
neck. Gunfire can often be heard outside the house. "Can you hear me?" the
woman asks her husband. There's no answer, but she continues to talk. The
director is Atiq Rahimi, who also lives in Paris. He wrote the novel on
which it is based. It won the Prix Goncourt in 2008.
Body of Lies, a 2008 Hollywood thriller directed by Ridley Scott and
starring Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio. She then starred in
Elly, which won a Silver Bear at the 2009 Berlinale. After she bared a
breast for a moment in a promotional video for a French film award, a man
claiming to represent the Islamic Republic of Iran's judiciary called her
parents and threatened to cut off her breasts. Farahani: "I don't believe I
could live in Iran again."
The Fog of Law
Lord Justice Moses
"None have succeeded in defeating the armed
forces of the United Kingdom. [But] our own
legal institutions threaten to succeed. So argue the authors of this
stimulating, well-reasoned and important paper. They recall that in 2009,
soldiers carried twice the weight of the loads born by their predecessors
during the Falklands. Now they demonstrate the even greater weight of
judicial intervention imposed on the armed forces following the decision of
the Supreme Court in June 2013 in the Smith case. The judges, by a majority
of four to three, chose, in that case, to admit of the application of
Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights to soldiers on the
field of battle, should their death or injuries be attributable to some
earlier decision relating to procurement."
Ponderous prose prizewinner! But no sign of fresh thinking.
2013 October 17
Long Live the USA!
A deal: Uncle Sam will continue to service his debts
and pay his bills. President Obama chose a strategy of refusing to negotiate
and stuck to it. He has won a political victory. Tea Party loyalists in
Congress behaved as if they had a mandate to suspend government and repeal
legislation. But their dread of borrowing is justified. On a typical day the
US Treasury spends $2.5 billion more than it takes in.
Anti-Judaism: David Nirenberg asks why so many have said so much about
the Jews. He traces how Jews became the villains of early Christian and
Muslim narratives. In the Middle Ages, Jews were said to pollute Christian
society through their materialism and greed. Martin Luther demonized the
Jews. Kant, Hegel, and Schopenhauer Judaized their opponents.
New Testament epistles, Paul explained why Jesus completed the history of
Judaism. The Gospel writers transmuted his theory into narrative. They
explained why the Romans had destroyed the Temple. Then Augustine explained
that Christian rulers must protect Jews because they would serve as proof
that Christianity had superseded their obsolete religion.
AR Now Christianity is obsolete too.
2013 October 16
Down with the USA!
Timothy Garton Ash
The US national debt exceeded its limit in May
this year. Since then, the federal government has been using "extraordinary
measures" to pay its bills and refinance its debt. These measures end
tomorrow. If things go on like this, investor confidence will run out. Even
if Republicans in the Senate and House of Representatives step back from the
brink at the last minute, huge damage has already been done.
Just a Mo
All is not well at the London School of
Economics. At the Fresher's Fair, the students running the Atheist Society
stall wore T-shirts displaying an image from
Jesus and Mo. The
identity of the characters is not explicit, but the cartoon pokes fun at
religion. The Student Union called in the school authorities, who called in
security, and the offenders were required to hide or lose their T-shirts.
The school felt bound by the Equality Act to prevent harassment, defined as
an act that might violate someone's dignity or create a hostile environment
"related to a protected characteristic" such as religion.
AR My MSc is from LSE. Then the leftists ruled
the school. Now it's the god mob.
2013 October 15
Former Conservative Home Office minister Lord
Blencathra (a.k.a. David Maclean): "We dislike leaks. Yes, we disapprove in
many ways of what the Guardian has done, but at the same time we are deeply,
deeply uneasy about what has been going on. I do not want people like Mr
Snowden endangering national security. But I do not want our national
security apparatus operating in what seems to me to be outside the law or on
the very edge of the law. Or if it is just within the law, certainly without
parliament knowing. Many of us are happy to have certain information
collected by the state but, by God, we've a right to know the parameters
under which they are operating."
Praise the Lord!
promotes her new album
Quantum computing pioneer
Seth Lloyd has developed a
quapp for machine
on big data
find New York a tremendously exciting and glamorous city. There
is such a buzz about it. For sheer excitement, it's the best
place to go for a weekend, party for four days, and then get
Chris Wright was one of the most successful
talent scouts and hit creators in the music business. He founded
the Chrysalis media group and made £70 million. But he turned
away David Bowie, Dire Straits, The Kinks, The Spice Girls, and
the musical Cats. In his new autobiography he is brutally honest
about his failures.
The Pervert's Guide to Ideology
big's no way to describe it though it's important in theory
A personal portrait
By Volker Ullrich
The Roman Conspiracy
To Invent Jesus
Is Christianity the Genesis
of Modern Psychological Warfare?
Symposium, Conway Hall,
Rites of Love and Math
A new pathway for future
drug treatments of neurodegenerative diseases blocks a faulty
signal in diseased brains that shuts down the production of
essential proteins. Scientists at the University of Leicester,
UK, tested it in mice with prion disease but say the same
principles apply in a human brain with Alzheimer's or
Colin McGinn and the
making of a philosopher
tests camo (1:05)
Introducing WildCat (2:09)
Command and Control
and the Illusion of Safety
By Eric Schlosser
Schlosser tasked film-maker
Kevin Ford with bringing the book's themes to life in a
video (4:25, audio by Radiohead)
Top Ten Fighters
F-35 Lightning II
F-15E Strike Eagle
Saab JAS 39 Gripen
F-16 Fighting Falcon
U Cal, Berkeley
AR Odd. Compare
the QS rankings
Tom Clancy, technothriller
writer, died aged 66: "I read
the papers, watch CNN, and
think. It's all in the open.
You just have to know
where to look."
British Museum, London
2013-10-03 — 2014-01-05
2013 October 14
2013 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences
The winners are Eugene F. Fama, Lars Peter Hansen,
and Robert J. Shiller. They won the award for their research on
understanding and predicting movements in asset prices. Fama showed that
short-term markets are efficient but not predictable. Shiller proved that
market movements are predictable in the long run. And Hansen provided the
tool to apply the theories.
Robert Shiller predicted the new economy
bubble and the financial crisis. In his 1981 American Economic Review
stock prices move too much to be justified by subsequent changes in
dividends? he noted that stock prices are much more volatile than
company dividends are. And the way stock prices change relative to dividends
is predictable. These findings shook the efficient market hypothesis.
Shiller later proved that he could actually predict market trends. In
his 2000 book
Irrational Exuberance he anticipated the crash of the stock market in
the following years. His fame grew when it turned out he had also predicted
the collapse of the US housing market in 2007. Since then, Shiller has
become the star witness for critics of financial capitalism. He has shown
that investors often behave irrationally.
For the Conservative party, the value of a policy is
measured by its utility as a weapon against the opposition. Does it
neutralize an Ed Miliband attack or trap him on the wrong side of public
opinion? Government aides boast that campaign strategy and policymaking are
Conservatives say they are fixing the economy for
the benefit of hard-working people. Labour stands for mass immigration,
welfare profligacy, and debt. Tories like the punchy tone. Only a few worry
about the stultifying effect of monolithic messaging. They just hope to win
Ed Miliband says his agenda is one of social and economic
transformation on an epic scale. Ed Balls has committed the Labour party to
budget discipline. But they need more than paper pledges of fiscal
rectitude. People now accept Tory claims that there is no money left to
Cameron and Miliband claim to talk about the future while
their opponent is wedded to the past. But the future they have in mind is a
mirage of balanced budgets, gleaming hospitals, secure borders, higher
wages, lower bills, new homes, fairer taxes. On the real future there is
AR If our politicians could
prophesy the future, they'd quit.
Politicians say we should trust the security
agencies. Those agencies not only concealed the bending or breaking of rules
but also attacked the whistleblowers who revealed it. When I combed through
GCHQ documents provided by Edward Snowden, I was struck by two things:
GCHQ is much cleaner than it used to be. It has adopted internal procedures
designed to ensure it complies with the law. This can be seen as an
achievement of earlier whistleblowers.
2 There is still ample reason
to worry. GCHQ claims to deal only with terrorism and serious crime, but
there are signs of mission creep. Documents show GCHQ targeting migration
AR It's like the Bomb
priesthood during the cold war.
2013 October 13
Global War On Christians
John L. Allen Jr.
Christians are by far the most persecuted
religious body on the planet. About a million Christians have been killed
for their beliefs in the past decade. Iraq had a flourishing Christian
population of at least 1.5 million in 1991. Today there are fewer than half
a million. In the Indian state of Orissa in 2008, riots left some 500
Christians killed, thousands more injured, and at least 50 000 homeless. In
Burma in 2010, the Burmese military were authorized to attack and kill
minority Christians on sight. One doesn't have to be Christian to see the
defense of persecuted Christians as a towering priority.
State Of England
NHS England medical director Dr Andy Mitchell says London
hospitals are at breaking point. And NHS England chief executive Sir David
Nicholson warns of a massive funding gap. If NHS services are run as they
are now, NHS England faces a £30 billion gap by 2020. UK Department of
Health: "The NHS is already on track to make £20 billion of efficiency
savings by 2015 by making changes to the way it works ... We've protected
the health budget and increased health spending in real terms."
An OECD study ranks Brits aged 16-24 in England and
Northern Ireland #22 out of 24 western countries for literacy and #21 for
numeracy. Alone in the developed world, the British 16-24 group performed
worse in literacy and numeracy than the 55-65 group. UK education secretary
Michael Gove blames the educational establishment for driving down
Tommy Robinson was the poster boy of British
racism. He founded the English Defence League in 2009 in Luton, and it now
has about 30 000 followers. They march through city centers with large
Muslim populations, chanting slogans and being offensive.
Now he is
leaving the EDL. He has defected through Quilliam, a foundation set up by
Maajid Nawaz. I asked Robinson why he quit. He said he decided in February
while serving an 18-week prison sentence for trying to travel to America on
a false passport. Prison was the "best thing" because he "needed a break"
from his former life: "Everything revolved around the pub."
Tommy was a
notorious bully, often seen swaggering topless down barricaded streets, beer
can in hand, hollering "EDL till I die" at bystanders. But he claims that in
solitary confinement he had plenty of time to think. He decided to leave the
EDL but was "terrified" about how to do it. Then he met Nawaz and saw a way
out. He took the leap, with Quilliam on hand to protect him.
is good at tapping into fears and then inflaming them. He is convinced that
he is the voice of the white working class. And he believes the police are
targeting him. The truth is that he is thuggish and scared. He says he
sympathizes with UKIP.
2013 October 12
British-German Pact Defies EU
Britain is negotiating a secret deal to help to shield
Germany's luxury car industry from new European rules in return for support
for UK bankers. Germany sought help to delay the introduction of caps on
carbon dioxide emissions that could harm BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi. In
return, Britain seeks help to protect the banking sector, which is lobbying
to reduce the impact of regulations from Brussels.
Tommy and Maajid
Tommy Robinson and Maajid Nawaz say they will work
together to combat extremism. Robinson founded and headed the
Defence League. British Pakistani Liberal Democrat parliamentary
candidate Nawaz was a radical Islamist until he founded the
Foundation. Both men have been in prison and have both faced death
MN: "I was given a second chance and so I want to help
someone else to have one. I've left a group and I've lost my family as a
result of it. I said to Tommy, I know what this feels like."
TR: "I saw the EDL as the voice of
working-class people but because it's a nationalist organization it
attracted some people with another agenda. There were neo-Nazis there and I
didn't want to be the public face of that."
MN: "He has assured me
that he's not anti-Muslim. What he's concerned about is Islamist ideology,
although, as he will admit, he has sometimes mistakenly referred to that as
Islam. Tommy is coming from a certain cultural milieu."
are annoyed and frustrated that there's been no debate and when you're not
even allowed to talk about things because you are called an extremist."
MN: "The Lib Dems are traditionally less anti-immigration than the
Conservatives but I don't think this is a party political issue. The stuff
Tommy and I both care about are far-right racism, social cohesion, and
2013 October 11
The Snowden leak of secret files was the most
catastrophic loss ever suffered by British intelligence, says former GCHQ
head and UK homeland security adviser Sir David Omand: "You have to
distinguish between the original whistleblowing intent to get a debate
going, which is a responsible thing to do, and the stealing of 58 000 top
secret British security documents and who knows how many American documents,
which is seriously, seriously damaging."
UK deputy prime minister
Nick Clegg: "I've got no doubt that there were some parts of what were
published which would have passed most Guardian readers completely by,
because they were very technical, but would have been immensely interesting
for people who want to do us harm."
Fair enough. Rap Guardian knuckles. But open up on GCHQ activities.
The Jesus Myth
Joseph Atwill says Christianity was created as a
propaganda tool to pacify subjects of the Roman Empire. He says he noticed a
pattern forming while studying
War Of The Jews by Josephus, where he found dozens of parallels between
Jesus and Roman Emperor Titus Flavius.
Atwill: "Jewish sects in
Palestine at the time, who were waiting for a prophesied warrior Messiah,
were a constant source of violent insurrection during the first century.
When the Romans had exhausted conventional means of quashing rebellion, they
switched to psychological warfare. They surmised that the way to stop the
spread of zealous Jewish missionary activity was to create a competing
belief system. That's when the peaceful Messiah story was invented ... Once
those sources are all laid bare, there's simply nothing left."
The Jesus Conspiracy
author Joseph Atwill says Palestinian unrest by Jewish zealots awaiting
their warrior Messiah was a big problem for the Roman authorities, who
resorted to psychological warfare. Roman aristocrats fabricated the story of
Jesus Christ and wrote the New Testament.
Atwill: "Christianity may
be considered a religion, but it was actually developed and used as a system
of mind control to produce slaves that believed God decreed their slavery.
... Although Christianity can be a comfort to some, it can also be very
damaging and repressive, an insidious form of mind control that has led to
blind acceptance of serfdom, poverty, and war throughout history."
Richard Dawkins: "I'm not qualified to judge Atwill's thesis. Just thought
it might be worth a look."
2013 October 10
Think of mathematics as the grand project of
building an enormous jigsaw puzzle, with different groups of people working
on different parts. Then, every once in a while, somebody finds a bridge
between two parts, a way to put pieces together so that big chunks of the
I believe that physical reality as we know it and the
world of mathematical ideas are two separate worlds, and neither can
subjugate the other. Sometimes you have some beautiful mathematics which
comes out of the real world. We all know the story of Newton, an apple
falling on his head. But another possibility is that within the narrative of
mathematics, he discovered something about the real world. There is a subtle
interplay between the physical and the mathematical worlds.
to realize the power of mathematics. The global economic crisis was caused,
in part, by misuse of mathematical models. People who understood those
models were sounding the alarm. The executives who had the power did not
understand how these formulas functioned. Physicists faced a similar dilemma
when they realized the power of the nuclear bomb. Physicists were trying to
understand the structure of matter and inadvertently discovered this
I was struck by the serenity of the Buddha.
Meditation calms the passions and prepares the practitioner for the
experience of enlightenment or awakening. The practitioner transcends
Buddhist practice becomes a form of ethical preparation,
reducing the forms of self-preoccupation that impede a concern for justice.
Buddhism is more like a philosophy of life than a religion.
of Buddhism as a philosophy brings it into dialog with the ancient
conception of philosophy, as spiritual practice to liberate oneself from
illusion and ready oneself for moral action.
1 Never impose on others
what you would not choose for yourself.
does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.
3 When anger rises, think of the consequences.
4 Our greatest glory is not in never falling but
in getting up every time we do.
5 He who will
not economize will have to agonize.
that are done it is needless to speak about; things that are past it is
needless to blame.
7 Learning without thought
is labour lost; thought without learning is perilous.
8 Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig
2013 October 9
I am transferring www.andyross.net from me at 1und1 in Germany to me at 1and1
in the UK.
They say this will involve taking the name offline while the
change propagates in the system.
The site will still be up at the address
www.andyross.de until the transfer is
Meanwhile I'm busy
anyway, editing a philosophy book for
Russell Brand's Messiah Complex is far more
satisfying than his previous standup outings. Brand knows he'll be met with
adulation. He loves hugging his fans, flashing smiles for the cameras. But
rather than just eat the cake, he wants to show us it's hollow inside.
Celebrity has replaced religion.
Brand says discrediting communism
because the Russians misused it is like blaming Steve Jobs because Brand
uses his iPad mainly for porn. His point is, in a world where $40 billion
could eradicate poverty, and $21 trillion is held by the rich in offshore
accounts, we need a radical change in our values.
He has a pick'n'mix
attitude bordering on the contradictory toward traditional belief systems.
And he often detours, via florid sex talk, to tell us how much he worships
women. But he keeps the laughs front and center, as when he ridicules a
portrait of Jesus wearing a crucifix necklace: "Spoiler alert!"
AR If it needed only $40 billion, Bill Gates
would have done it already.
2013 October 8
Nobel Prize in Physics 2013
François Englert and
Peter W. Higgs "for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that
contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic
particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the
predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN's
Large Hadron Collider".
We need to understand Iran's nuclear capabilities and
aspirations. US Army War College professor Christopher J. Bolan: "Iran is
not a threat to American vital interests. They don't want nuclear weapons.
I think it has just been overly alarmist when folks are advocating a more
Government agencies worldwide conclude that
Iran's leadership is level-headed and its decisions are reached soberly.
National Defense University professor Gawdat Bahgat: "They are not crazy,
and they are not stupid. They are rational. They see that making the bomb is
not in their best interest."
American military officials say Israel
has little to fear. Iran's leaders know that an attack on Israel would mean
the destruction of their own country by Western military forces. Former
Mossad director Efraim Halevi: "I think, ultimately, it is not in the power
of Iran to destroy the state of Israel."
Since the Islamic Revolution
of 1979, there have been US calls for regime change in Tehran. Experts say
that makes the Iranians suspicious about the intentions of the American
government: Is Washington really worried about weapons, or are officials
looking for ways to change the regime?
That puts Iran in a difficult
position. Its leaders fear that if they unilaterally abandon the capability
to develop nuclear weapons, they will open themselves up to a possible
invasion. But they know that if they start building a bomb, they will be
attacked with the full force and fury of the American military.
America faces difficulties too should it choose to attack Iran. An attack
would play into the narrative that the United States is waging war on Islam.
It would buy only a brief delay in Iran's nuclear weapon capability, and
would strengthen Iranian hard-liners. Negotiating with Iran is the smart
Let Kids Be More Feral
Children who spend time learning in natural
environments "perform better in reading, mathematics, science and social
studies", says a British study. Exploring the natural world "makes other
school subjects rich and relevant and gets apathetic students excited about
The Wilderness Foundation UK found that taking troubled
teenagers into the mountains improved their self-control, self-awareness,
and behavior. UK schools inspection service Ofsted says getting children out
of the classroom raises standards, motivation, personal development, and
The UK government published a white paper in 2011 proposing
"action to get more children learning outdoors, removing barriers and
increasing schools' abilities to teach outdoors". But 95% of all outdoor
education centers have had their local authority funding cut. Kids need
2013 October 7
I was warned not to reveal any "privileged
information" acquired as a UK government minister. But I have a revelation
of another kind to make. Readers would be shocked not by what ministers know
when they are taking decisions, but by what they do not know, and are not
I was also on the National Security Council, attended by
ministers and the heads of the secret and security services, GCHQ and the
military. If anyone should have been briefed on Prism and Tempora, it should
have been the NSC.
Throughout my time in parliament, the Home Office
was trying to persuade politicians to invest in "upgrading" Britain's
capability to recover data showing who is emailing and phoning whom. Yet
this seems to be exactly what GCHQ was already doing.
AR Curious. With this level of dysfunction, UK
democracy is seriously endangered.
2013 October 6
A major nuclear incident was narrowly averted at
the main UK Royal Navy submarine base in July 2012. Both the primary and
secondary power sources of coolant for nuclear reactors failed at the
Devonport dockyard in Plymouth. Experts compared the crisis with the
Fukushima meltdown in Japan in 2011.
A heavily redacted report from
the MOD Site Event Report Committee (SERC) reveals a failure of the electric
power source for coolant to nuclear reactors and then the diesel backup
generators. A submarine arriving in Devonport must be connected to coolant
supplies to prevent its nuclear reactor overheating.
nuclear facility was built for the new Vanguard ballistic missile submarines
and also bases Trafalgar and Astute class nuclear attack submarines. There
were two previous electrical failures at Devonport, both involving the loss
of shore supply to nuclear subs, one in 2009 and one in 2011.
launched an investigation after the 2012 incident and blamed the loss of
power on a defect in the central nuclear switchboard. The investigation
cited areas of concern including an "inability to learn from previous
incidents and to implement the recommendations from previous event reports".
CND general secretary Kate Hudson: "Accidents such as
the one highlighted in this report again show that a city-center location is
no place for nuclear submarines."
2013 October 5
Analysis of data from the Mars rover Curiosity shows
that Martian surface soil contains about 2% water by weight. The rover's SAM
instrument helped scientists probe the soil by heating a sample to 835 C.
The gases that came off included oxygen, chlorine, and water vapor. The
isotope ratios suggest this water came from the recent Martian atmosphere.
The analysis reveals a hydrological cycle on Mars.
Data from the
rover's ChemCam instrument let scientists analyze the soil and rock on Mars.
One main soil type on Mars is made of fine-grained particles and carries a
significant amount of hydrogen. The other main soil type is coarse and local
to Gale Crater, the area where the rover is exploring. These particles, up
to 1 mm in size, reflect the composition of rocks in the area.
Curiosity can determine whether Mars was once habitable and look for organic
compounds. The release of chlorine and oxygen when it heated Martian soil
suggests the presence of perchlorate at a 0.5% level. This substance can
destroy traces of organic carbon when heated with the soil. Perchlorate in
Martian dust could present a toxicity problem to humans on Mars during dust
Curiosity is on the way to Mount Sharp, which is over 5 km
high. As the rover climbs, it will probe sedimentary layers representing
chapters of Martian history. At a location called Waypoint 1, it found a
rock typical for an ancient stream bed. The river would have extended from
the rover's landing site all the way to Waypoint 1. The entire area would
have been a stream bed eons ago.
is historic science.
Cosmic microwave background results from the ESA
Planck satellite raise problems for inflation. The inflation scenario is
that space expanded exponentially in a tiny fraction of a second soon after
the big bang. It explains the fact that CMB radiation is uniform to within
0.3 mK, even in parts of the sky that are too far apart for light to have
evened out random hotspots. These parts were in contact before inflation
blew them apart. Stars and galaxies grew from the tiny dents in spacetime
made by quantum fluctuations. Inflation stretched the dents far enough to seed the structures we see.
The quantum field of a
hypothetical particle called the inflaton does the inflating. The energy of
the inflaton field dictated how fast space inflated. It was high when
inflation started and was down to zero when it ended. But previous maps of
the CMB were too fuzzy to show how it varied. Models suggested the potential
energy curve made a plateau ending in a more or less smooth downward curve.
This is the initial condition problem for inflation.
The new Planck
measurements rule out some models. They give an energy curve looking like an
upturned soup bowl. The edge might fall steeply before flattening off and
then falling again. Because the potential energy started out high, there is
no need to assume the newborn universe was uniform. But the Higgs field
causes problems. It seems the Higgs vacuum is metastable and could decay.
Either the Higgs and inflaton fields did not have enough energy to inflate
the universe or inflation was energetic enough to trigger Higgs vacuum decay
and collapse the universe to a singularity. Inflation is in trouble.
AR Bet on Higgs — inflation is as speculative as Alan Guth's office is
2013 October 4
Sir Andrew Wiles says mathematics has lost its moral purity
through misuse. He says his subject has become a powerful tool that can be
used for financial gain and as a weapon in cyberwarfare: "One has to be
aware now that mathematics can be misused and that we have to protect its
Professor Wiles spoke to mark the opening of a new
Mathematical Institute at the University of Oxford, which has been named the
Andrew Wiles Building. The institute features tiling designed by Sir Roger
Penrose. Professor Sam Howison says it will bring together those working on
very abstract mathematics with those working on more applied problems: "We've
not built an ivory tower for ourselves."
I worked at the Mathematics Institute almost 40 years ago. Fond
memories, but no financial gain.
2013 October 3
Today is the 36th anniversary of my first day at the Ministry of Defence in
It is also the 23rd anniversary of German reunification. The two
events may be related :)
Iran's new president Dr. Hassan Rouhani is a man of
considerable gravitas. His PhD is in law, from Glasgow Caledonian
University. He was national security adviser to presidents Rafsanjani and
Khatami, and he has represented Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for
nearly a quarter of a century.
In the 34 years since the Iranian
revolution, the Islamic government has lost much of its legitimacy. Since
2009, the leadership has relied on repression to preserve its strength. Poor
economic management has amplified the perception among many Iranians that
the system is no longer working. Iran has good universities, an
entrepreneurial culture, a developed industrial base, and until recently
huge oil revenues. Yet in recent years, few of the 76 million Iranians have
benefited from all this.
President Rouhani and his foreign minister
Javad Zarif have long experience negotiating with the West. In the next few
weeks, they will face a barrage of assertions from Israel, the US Congress,
Saudi Arabia, and the Arab monarchies that their offer is a sham and should
be rejected. Negotiations begin soon.
AR Proof of a sham
David Cameron claims that the Conservatives are the
"party of the future" and that the best way of helping people struggling to
pay their household bills is to focus on economic recovery. Young people
under 25 not in education, employment, or training (neets) will lose their
AR So parents of neets
pay — neat.
The Daily Beast
Dave Eggers rebukes Silicon Valley titans like
Google, Facebook, and Twitter for their steady erosion of privacy and even
interiority. The Circle is a reminder that surveillance and transparency
were not always judged merely by what they might do for us.
Holland is a disgruntled utility company grunt recruited to the Circle. Millennials
will instantly recognize her as the girl who not only wants
a plum job but also believes it is her birthright. The Circle's mission turn outs to be fueled by love of power. We know what power does. But does
Mae consents to having her life made public. A colleague
surreptitiously records what should be a sexual embarrassment involving Mae.
When she petitions to have the video erased, she is told that the
elimination of shame is part of the Circle's mission. That private moments
might be sacred, not humiliating, never occurs to those who believe that
privacy is theft.
AR What is sacred?
2013 October 2
Bibi @ UN
Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu at the UN: "Israel
will not allow Iran to get nuclear weapons. If Israel is forced to stand
alone, Israel will stand alone ... Israel will never acquiesce to nuclear
arms in the hands of a rogue regime that repeatedly promises to wipe us off
Those words were meant for the global leaders engaging
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Netanyahu wants them to be aware of a
possible Israeli military strike as they negotiate. He says the aim is the
complete dismantling of Iran's nuclear program.
Netanyahu: "The last
century has taught us that when a radical regime with global ambitions gets
awesome power, sooner or later its appetite for aggression knows no bounds.
That's the central lesson of the 20th century. And we cannot forget it."
AR Wrong lesson. The 20th century taught
that in a clash of big ideas (be they racist, communist, or fundamentalist)
no holds are barred. Sort out the big ideas and peace can prevail.
Cameron @ ConCon
At the Conservative party conference,
UK PM David
Cameron said young people who are not in full-time education or undertaking
an apprenticeship will either have to find a job or enter an approved
training program under changes included in the 2015 Tory manifesto: "We want to see everyone under 25 earning or learning
... Go to school.
Go to college. Do an apprenticeship. Get a job."
The reforms aim to
prevent young people being trapped in benefit dependency: "We have done some
big things to transform Britain, but we need to finish the job we've
started. We need to go further, do more for hardworking people ... What
matters is the effort you put in, and if you put the effort in you'll have
the chance to make it. That's what the land of opportunity means."
AR My efforts gave me a chance but so far I seem
to have blown it. Buy my books, world!
2013 October 1
The US government shut down at 12:01 am ET Tuesday after
lawmakers in the House and the Senate could not agree on a spending bill to
fund the government. Obamacare was the bone of contention. House Republicans
were against it, Senate Democrats were for it. Close to 800 000
"non-essential" federal employees will be furloughed.
AR I propose that all the House and Senate
lawmakers be "furlowed" (sic) on zero pay until they end dysfunction in
In the beginning, there were many gods. Ara
Norenzayan argues that Christianity, Islam, and so on prospered because they
had a competitive edge over their rivals. They alone offered an all-knowing,
interventionist god who judged immoral behavior. This encouraged cooperation
among strangers and paved the way for modern civilization.
may be distrusted in religious societies as freeloaders who act immorally.
Police and the rule of law step in to ensure cooperation and accountability.
Watched people are nice people. Some cohesive and peaceful societies, as in
Scandinavia, have outgrown their gods. The US exception shows that religion
is about more than cooperation.
about welfare in a dysfunctional society.
Banker quotes that read like
Blair Force One
Former UK prime minister Tony
Blair, 60, charters a luxury private jet, the Bombardier Global Express, to
travel the world in his new roles as business consultant and public speaker.
Bombardier: "It is the most luxurious, most accomplished business aircraft
ever built, accommodating the desires of the most sophisticated and
demanding traveller with no compromises."
Science vs. Humanities
The New Republic
"The promise of science is to enrich
and diversify the intellectual tools of humanistic scholarship,
not to obliterate them."
"Scientists can say anything they want ... But everything
they say may not be met with grateful jubilation."
Saudi Arabian Madness
A leading Saudi Arabian cleric says
women who drive risk damaging their ovaries and bearing children with
clinical problems. Women are still banned from driving in the Islamic kingdom.
How about male drivers damaging their testicles? Or any passengers risking
their gonads? Or clerics losing their minds?
Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident in most
regions of the globe, says a new assessment by the UN Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change. It is extremely likely that human influence has
been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th
century. The evidence for this has grown, thanks to more and better
observations, an improved understanding of the climate system response
and improved climate models.
Machines are becoming part of our transactive
memory. Our brains are terrible at recalling details, so we rely on
devices like search engines and smartphones to handle them for us. To
retrieve information on the fly in daily life, we rely on transactions
with other people. But as transactive partners machines have several
advantages. Just as we learn who knows what in our families and offices,
we are learning what computers store and how to access it. Our memory is
all around us.
AR See Alva Noë:
Out Of Our Heads
Stephen Fry joins other authors and
artists to demand an end to mass spying on citizens by US and UK
"Privacy and freedom from state intrusion are
important for everyone. You can't just scream 'terrorism' and use it as
an excuse for Orwellian snooping."
The London group Index on
Censorship launched the petition urging government leaders to state
their opposition to all systems of mass surveillance. Chief executive
Kirsty Hughes: "Snooping and surveillance on this scale is not only an
invasion of privacy, it also undermines the basis of democracy and
anticipate, as it will
make your narrative
Take extra care with your
sources other than
those originating from the
2013 September 30
I am heading up to Manchester this morning to attend
the Conservative conference. My message is that the 2014 European
parliamentary elections are a huge opportunity. The rise of UKIP has changed
the national debate. I now hear echoes of our policy platform coming out of
the Tory machine.
Without the significant rise of UKIP across the country
there would be no referendum pledge. I believe that at the coming Euro
elections those Conservatives who believe in our national independence
should lend their vote to UKIP. This will help to toughen up the referendum
A huge UKIP success next year will cause tremors in Brussels
and could help Cameron with his negotiations. Speculations about possible
deals between UKIP and the Tories are missing the point. UKIP is creating
its own political ground. We are opposed to almost everything Cameron
AR The UKIP agenda: Fortress
UK. It must be stopped.
2013 September 29
UK defense secretary Philip Hammond has announced that the
MOD is set to recruit hundreds of computer experts as cyber reservists to
help defend UK national security. A new Joint Cyber Reserve will put
reservists alongside regular forces to protect critical computer networks
and safeguard vital data.
Hammond: "In response to the growing cyber
threat, we are developing a full-spectrum military cyber capability,
including a strike capability, to enhance the UK's range of military
capabilities. Increasingly, our defense budget is being invested in high-end
capabilities such as cyber and intelligence and surveillance assets to
ensure we can keep the country safe. The Cyber Reserves will be an essential
part of ensuring we defend our national security in cyberspace. This is an
exciting opportunity ..."
Recruiting for the Joint Cyber Reserve will
commence in October.
Greece, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Ukraine
were all under Turkish control for centuries, conquered and colonized by the
Ottomans. Although the Ottomans were Muslims, large populations of
Christians and Jews continued to live and prosper across the Ottoman empire.
The Turks came swarming across the Anatolian plain like many other
fierce central Asian nomads both before and after them. But these predators
got down off their horses and converted to Islam, then defeated the
Byzantines in Constantinople in 1453 CE.
The Ottoman golden age endured
for centuries. Ottoman emperors conquered half of Europe and the whole of
the north Africa coast as far as Morocco. They also controlled the Islamic
holy sites of Mecca and Medina and adopted the title of caliph, leader of
The Ottoman administration rested on the custom of
kidnapping Christian boy children from the Balkans year after year,
converting them to Islam, and turning them into soldiers or civil servants,
depending on their gifts. Thus they built Europe's first functioning
In 1923, Kemal Ataturk, the Turkish hero of Gallipoli,
buried the Ottoman empire and abolished all its symbols. This removed a
central point of reference for Muslims everywhere. The Ottomans had
developed laws for both Muslims and Christians, and sustained a model of
AR Buoyed by recent
German trade and investment, the Turks could dominate the Mideast again.
2013 September 28
US President Barack Obama spoke by telephone Friday with
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in the first direct conversation between
leaders in Washington and Tehran since 1979. Obama: "While there will surely
be important obstacles to moving forward and success is by no means
guaranteed, I believe we can reach a comprehensive solution."
The UN Security Council voted unanimously Friday to require
Syria to eliminate its arsenal of chemical weapons, or face consequences.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon: "Today's resolution will ensure that the
elimination of the Syrian chemical weapons program happens as soon as
possible and with the utmost transparency and accountability."
Professor Brian Cox is a pop star: "I really love that
people, especially young people, are inspired by science. But ... I'm a
greying bloke in an anorak. The star of the show should be the science."
As a boy, Cox used to go bus-spotting in Manchester. After that he
started on planes. But in 1984 he had an epiphany at a Duran Duran concert.
"My dad told me I had to go to look after my sister. I noticed that the hall
was full of this incredible energy. And it was these girls screaming with
desire. And I thought: that's what I want!"
Cox joined a rock band
and toured with them for a couple of years. But he stuck with science. He
got his PhD and various research fellowships, and still teaches quantum
mechanics and relativity.
He steers clear of headline battles about
the origin and meaning of life: "I gave a talk to some kids recently and the
very first question one asked afterwards was: can I be a scientist and still
believe in God? I said yes and meant to add more. But they all started
applauding ... I'm not a guru on a mountain top passing down judgments."
2013 September 27
US secretary of state John Kerry and Iranian foreign
minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met at the UN in New York. It was the first
substantive high-level US-Iran meeting since the 1979 Islamic revolution and
a fresh start for nuclear negotiations. The meeting was chaired by EU
foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who said she and Zarif both wanted a
deal concluded and implemented within a year.
think all of us were pleased that the foreign minister came today, that he
did put some possibilities on the table. Now it's up to people to do the
hard work of trying to fill out what those possibilities will do."
The five permanent members of the UN Security Council
have agreed on a compromise deal over Syria that largely meets Russian
wishes. US ambassador to the UN in New York Samantha Power tweeted that there is now a UN draft resolution on the destruction of Syrian chemical
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani wants Israel to
join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Many Israelis agree about Israel
finally owning up to its nuclear arsenal. Tel Aviv has for decades
maintained a policy of deliberate ambiguity about its nuclear stockpile.
Nonproliferation experts at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists estimate
that Israel has 80 nuclear warheads and enough fissile material for many
Generations of Israeli leaders have refused to mention those
weapons. Today a debate is raging within the country about whether the time
has come to drop the facade and admit to being a nuclear power. Monterey
Institute of International Studies professor Avner Cohen says the official
silence prevents Israeli politicians from debating the merits of the program
or from providing proper oversight.
The Labour comfort zone is a place where the
public is prized over the private, market failure is heralded but state
failure is ignored, investments are made but no cuts, good things are free
and bad things are banned.
Ed Miliband wants to freeze energy prices: "If
competition fails and if there's evidence that it fails in particular
markets, should a a regulator act? And if the regulator fails, as has
happened in this market, should government act? Absolutely." He says this
out of conviction. He sounds as if he thinks profit and
profiteering are the same thing.
Miliband thinks business and
the media are too powerful, the political class makes a fetish of
markets, and money has become the measure of too much. His father Ralph
wrote a book saying it is impossible to legislate your way to the promised
land. As prime minister, Ed would surely prove his father right.
2013 September 26
Timothy Garton Ash
Can the European tortoise somehow outrun the
American eagle and the Chinese dragon?
Angela Merkel's new government
may be a grand coalition that eases German EZ policy, but the soft
underbelly of Europe will continue to bleed. Merkel lacks a strategic
partner in the European Union. France is weakened by domestic economic
problems and slow reform. Britain is in thrall to Eurosceptics who have
launched David Cameron on a foolish course of attempted renegotiation of the
terms of UK membership of the EU.
The EU is a giant, weary tortoise,
with chancellor Merkel sitting astride its shell, trying to steer its woozy
head and coax its bleeding underbelly across stony ground. But the US eagle
suffers shrieking brinkmanship in Washington, and faces deep problems of
neglected infrastructure and imperial and welfare overstretch. And the
Chinese dragon shows no signs of political reform to head off a deeper
crisis over the next decade.
All the runners have problems.
2013 September 25
I bring peace and friendship from Iranians to
Americans. The supreme leader of Iran has said that should negotiations be
necessary for the national interest of the country, he is not opposed to
them. The supreme leader has given permission for my government to negotiate
freely on these issues.
AR Seems an offer
In the standard Big Bang model, the universe exploded out
of a singularity. But it is hard to explain the almost completely uniform
temperature of the BB universe. Most cosmologists say the young universe
inflated a small patch into what we see.
In an arXiv preprint,
Perimeter cosmologist Niayesh Afshordi and team consider a model of our 4D
spacetime universe as a brane floating in a 5D bulk universe. If the bulk
universe contained stars, some of them could collapse into 5D black holes.
In 4D spacetime, a black hole is bounded by a 2D spherical surface called an
event horizon. But the event horizon of a 5D black hole is a 3D hypersphere.
The team modeled the death of a 5D star and found that the ejecta would form
an expanding 3-brane around the event horizon. The bulk universe could be
old enough for the brane to be near thermal equilibrium.
says our spacetime universe might be such a brane, and we might see its
growth as cosmic expansion: "Astronomers measured that expansion and
extrapolated back that the universe must have begun with a big bang, but
that is just a mirage."
Out of the White
Cosmic censorship hides most spacetime singularities behind
event horizons, but we live in the causal future of the big bang
singularity. Could the big bang be also hidden behind a horizon, hiding us
from the decadence of a naked singularity? A braneworld cosmology with both
4D induced and 5D bulk gravity lets the universe emerge as a spherical
3-brane from a 5D black hole.
AR If the CMB detail fits, this is a runner.
Trident is the most expensive project on the
Treasury books. The renewal program is set to consume £20 billion and rise
to a reputed £100 billion over 20 years.
The Trident nuclear deterrent
bears no reference to any plausible threat to the UK. A former head of US
Strategic Air Command once said it baffled him. Trident relies on US
supplies and maintenance, yet its use is predicated on America hesitating to
go nuclear against a hypothetical attacker. The British deterrent had to
deter in case the US one did not. It made no sense.
deterrence is rooted in the mad scenario of mutual assured destruction. But
either the west would stand together under the US nuclear umbrella or it
would be doomed. The idea that Britain is made one jot safer by a £100
billion Armageddon weapon lurking in the Atlantic is absurd.
AR Scrap it. Rely on US boomers.
2013 September 24
I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon. I chose the
Society of Jesus. A Jesuit is a person who is not centered in himself. The
Society's center is Christ and his church. The image of the church I like is
that of the holy, faithful people of God, on the journey through history.
The proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and
religious imperatives. God manifests himself in history. Time initiates
processes, and space crystallizes them. God is in the processes. We must
initiate processes rather than occupy spaces. This gives priority to
When we desire to encounter God, we would like to verify him
immediately by an empirical method. But you cannot meet God this way. A
contemplative attitude is necessary. God is always first and makes the first
move. You never know where and how you will find him.
Christian is a restorationist, he will find nothing. Those who today always
look for disciplinarian solutions have a static and inward-directed view of
things. In this way, faith becomes an ideology. God has revealed himself as
history, not as a compendium of abstract truths.
AR This suggests the neo-Hegelian concept of
history I developed in CORAL.
Cliodynamics is the study of human history using big data
to predict the future and to test theories about the past. You build a model
of history and test it using real data.
Peter Turchin and his team
analyzed how social norms spread that allowed societies to expand across
millions of people. The standard story is that humans invented agriculture
around 10 000 years ago, providing resources that freed people up for other
ventures. Turchin disagrees: "Competitions between societies, which
historically took the form of warfare, drive the evolution of complex
The team built two mathematical models for predicting the
spread of complex societies. One was based on agriculture, ecology, and
geography. The other included those factors plus warfare. The team used data
from historical atlases to test these models. The model with warfare
predicted about 65% of the historical variance, while the agricultural model
explained only about 16%.
The model is crude and includes no
population data, but it predicted the spread of large states between
1500 BCE and 1500 CE. Later, when the Soviet Union was established, the
United States still had raw capitalism. The Red Scare and its socialist
ideas led the bosses to pay their workers more. A few decades later,
economic competition forced the USSR to collapse and lose the Cold War.
Based on the news coverage, India has an
extraordinarily high frequency of rape. Yet India has one of the lowest
levels of reported rape in the world. The UN found the incidence of rape in
India for 2010 to be less than 2 per 100 000 people, compared with over 25
in the US and the UK, and 120 in South Africa. India does have a huge
problem in monitoring rape and taking steps to reduce it.
tend to prefer boys over girls. The relatively higher mortality rates of
girls compared with boys is mainly due to neglect of their health. Male
priority in care continues to raise the mortality rates of adult women above
those of men. The wide use of new techniques for determining the sex of
fetuses has led to numerous selective abortions of female fetuses.
Female literacy and schooling cut down child mortality and work against
neglecting the health of girls. They also help to cut down fertility rates.
In India, 9 of the 20 largest states now have fertility rates below the
replacement level. Yet educated mothers seem almost as keen on having boys
rather than girls as uneducated mothers are, unaware of the oddity of seeing
girls as inferior to boys.
There is a regional dimension to the
problem. In the northern and western states, there is clear evidence of
extensive use of selective abortion of female fetuses. In the states in the
south and east of India, we do not typically find evidence of its widespread
use. Any explanation will demand a fuller understanding of diverse
AR The big regional
difference is Islam (legacy of the Mughal empire) and its sexist
2013 September 23
Monday: 68 dead so far, about 10 hostages remain with up to
15 Islamist Al-Shabaab gunmen. Kenyan military tweeted that most of the
hostages had been rescued. Israeli special forces are at the scene.
The annual toll from firearms in the United States
is running at 32 000 deaths and climbing, even though the general crime rate
is now 40% lower than it was in 1980.
For all the wars in American
history since 1775, the death toll is about 1 171 000. The number killed by
firearms in the US since the day Robert F. Kennedy was shot in 1968 is 1 384
000. So over 200 000 more Americans lost their lives from firearms in the
last 45 years than in all US wars ever.
People are trying to make
life safer. On US roads, there has been a huge effort in the past 50 years.
By 2015, road deaths are predicted to fall below those caused by firearms
In the 12-year US war on terror, homeland security spending
has added up to some $650 billion. But there have been fewer than 20
terror-related deaths on American soil since 9/11, compared with about
364 000 deaths caused by privately owned firearms.
The gun lobby is
too powerful to challenge. People despair of the inaction. America is in a
jam. International pressure may reduce future slaughter. The world cannot
stand idly by.
In December 2011, the last US army convoy drove
out of Iraq.
Since then, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has
consolidated his rule. He has eliminated his leading Sunni rivals, tightened
his control over Iraqi security services, violated an agreement on Sunni and
Kurdish rights, and allowed Iran to fly weaponry into Syria through Iraqi
airspace. Reports say Baghdad is helping Damascus conceal chemical
stockpiles and is ready to help Tehran develop its nuclear program.
The United States lost the Iraq war. Iran won.
In 73 CE, after a Jewish revolt against the Romans,
the last thousand or so rebels were besieged in the fortress of Masada, near
the Dead Sea. As the Romans stormed the fortress, the rebels chose death
before slavery. The men killed their wives and children, then each other,
until the last man killed himself, according to historian Flavius Josephus.
After the declaration of the state of Israel in 1948, Masada became a symbol
of heroism and sacrifice. New soldiers were taken there to swear that Masada
would not fall again. But some now say the myth of Masada was either
exaggerated or invented.
Hebrew University of Jerusalem professor of
archaeology Guy Stiebel: "If you put me in a corner and ask do you think
they committed suicide, I will say yes. But this was not a symbolic act, it
was a typical thing to do back then ... At the end of the day, it's an
excellent story and setting, you can't ask for more."
AR Fundamentalist bloodbath.
© J. Andrew Ross