2013 June 12-20
Interval to move from Germany to England
Human Universal Load
NASA X-1 exoskeleton
Photo: Bettina Strauss
Big Data: Google
Google X Labs built the world's largest
artificial neural network. It watched YouTube videos for a week and learned
all about cats. Then it learned to recognize voices and interpret Google
StreetView images. The work could boost Google Glass, Google image search, and even Google web search.
Big Data: SAP
The SAP HANA platform
uses a new generation of
columnar databases resident
in memory and running on
America braces for a plague
of billions of
University of Connecticut
biologist John Cooley:
who say that it's
gross are probably the same people who are quite happy
to catch the subway in
Manhattan in close proximity
to a million-plus
Give me cicadas any day."
2013 May 23
The murder in London is a horror, but the Sun has reacted (above) in the
best British tabloid tradition.
My take on the crime: The suffering of
Muslims offers no excuse for it, of course, but the ideology of jihad and
the tradition of halal slaughter don't exactly head off the danger of such
Pennies From Heaven
Internet prophets predict that machines will soon
outstrip humans and uplift us all to nerd nirvana. Skeptics are welcome to
take a $25,000 course at Singularity University in Silicon Valley.
To Save Everything, Click Here
Evgeny Morozov aims to debunk the belief that all
problems can be fixed through logic and data. He was raised in Belarus
during the waning years of the Soviet Union. The vogue for turning everyday
activities into computer games that spit out token rewards has for him an
unpleasantly familiar ring.
Internet zealots envision the internet as
an autonomous entity with its own inherent logic and development. This
ideology is a religion. Its proselytizers seek to reconfigure life by
eliminating its bugs with their new tools. But not all bugs are bugs. Some
bugs are features.
Morozov: "Technological amnesia and complete
indifference to history remain the defining conditions of contemporary
Who Owns the Future?
By Jaron Lanier
Jaron Lanier is a repentant Silicon Valley
pioneer. He sees danger in its ideology of freedom and empowerment.
Information only appears to be free on the internet. In reality, users give
personal data to companies and get services in return. The companies turn
this data into Big Data and sell it to advertisers. They are getting filthy
rich as they fob off users with treats.
Lanier says capitalism can
survive only by monetizing all information. To balance the information
economy, anyone who provides information that supports a profitable
enterprise should receive a micropayment. We would have to pay for browsing
online, but we would also be paid in turn with pennies from heaven.
AR Beware Neosoviet seduction by data-driven rationalism
(DDR) but build out the information
economy so that I can live on pennies from heaven — Thus spake Zaross.
"In American popular culture and
opinion, Iran remains the embodiment of an extremist Islam that is no more
rational than ... the Salafi extremism of Al-Qa'ida and the Taliban."
1 Free Will
Free will is
the most difficult and the most important philosophical problem confronting
us today. It's important because of the longstanding tradition that free
will is a prerequisite for moral responsibility. Our system of law and
order, of punishment, and praise and blame, promise keeping, promise making,
the law of contracts, and criminal law all depend on one notion or another
of free will.
Neuroscientists, physicists, and philosophers say that science
has shown us that free will is an illusion. They don't shrink from the
implication that our systems of law are built on foundations of sand. In
fact, there is nothing we have learned from neuroscience that undercuts the
foundation for both the law of contract and criminal law. We don't have
ultimate responsibility because our choices are always in some ways the
result of things we didn't choose.
Spokespeople for religion chastise the new atheists for attacking the
most simplistic forms of religious belief and leave their most
intellectually subtle versions untouched. There's a smidgen of truth in
that, but they bring it on themselves by changing the rules and shifting the
goalposts. I have made a concerted effort over the years to understand
sophisticated philosophical theology and have never come up with anything
that I thought could sit in the light of day and be defended.
If I go to a scientific conference I come
away with a bunch of new things to think about. If I go to a philosophy
conference I may come away just having learned four more wrinkles in the
debate about something philosophers have been thinking about for all my
The history of philosophy is a history of very tempting
mistakes made by very smart people, and if you don't learn that history
you'll make those mistakes again and again. One of the ignoble joys of my
life is watching very smart scientists reinvent second-rate philosophical
AR DD near enough verbatim
2013 May 22
Richard Wagner was born 200 years ago today. Regarded as one of the greatest
Germans of all time, he divides Germans as much as he delights them.
Welt cultural commentator Manuel Brug: "Only Jesus, Napoleon, and Hitler
have had more written about them."
UK — EU
Euroskeptics claim that the euro crisis
will lead to a more federal EU. But divisions within Europe are widening.
Most EU countries outside the EZ will stay there. A United States of Europe
is not inevitable.
Lord Lawson says the real economic opportunities
for Britain now lie in emerging markets, and will be better exploited if the
UK withdraws from the EU. But Britain still sells a lot more to Europe than
to emerging markets. Norway and Switzerland are outside the EU, and to get
access to the EU single market they have to accept rules they have no say in
making. This is a bad deal for them.
Lord Lawson says EU membership
has led British industry to miss opportunities in Asia. But German
manufacturers have done very well exporting to China from inside the EU. And
if Euroskeptics find the bureaucrats of Brussels high-handed, they should
try Beijing. China would find it easier to push the British around if they
left the EU, the world's largest trading bloc.
Other BRIC countries
are no better. European law may be annoying, but it is a lot better than the
Indian or Russian legal systems. The idea that Britain can do better in Asia
by leaving the EU is absurd.
emulating the USA with a USE. Perhaps a People's Republic of Europe?
Proving the hardest Weil conjecture won
Pierre Deligne the 2013 Abel Prize
The Color of
Money: Reclaiming our Humanity
WPC 14, Seattle, WA, April 10-13, 2013
Paul Gorski: "I got married. I participated in an oppressive tenure
system at my university. I used big banks. These are some of the things that
make me a racist, a sexist, and a heterosexist."
2013 May 21
The Stillborn God: Lilla is too indulgent of old theological confusions
for my taste. After a good run-up to the Third Reich, his account falls
apart and ends in confusion. The old ideas just don't work for
see Coral for a new account of the more recent years.
EU — UK
Berlin plans limited EU treaty changes to streamline EZ
decision making. Angela Merkel is unhappy with the slow pace of EZ
banking union but doesn't want to give the UK an opening to renegotiate
the terms of its EU membership. David Cameron had planned to derail EZ
reform to repatriate powers from Brussels.
Tools For Thinking
1 Use your mistakes
Whenever you make a mistake, take a deep breath and then examine it
ruthlessly and dispassionately. Savor your mistakes, delight in uncovering
what led you astray. Then you can set them behind you and go on to the next
big opportunity. Scientists make their mistakes in public so that everybody
can learn from them. This way, you get the benefit of everybody else's
experience, and not just your own. You can make big mistakes in public and
emerge none the worse for it. People love it when somebody admits to making
a mistake, and they love pointing out mistakes.
2 Respect your opponent
If there are obvious
contradictions in your opponent's case, then you should point them out. If
there are hidden contradictions, you should expose them to view and then
dump on them. But don't overdo it. The thrill of the chase encourages
uncharitable interpretation, which gives you an easy but irrelevant target.
The best antidote I know for poor targeting is to (1) rephrase the target
position as clearly and fairly as you can, (2) list any points of agreement,
(3) mention anything you have learned, and (4) only then go ahead and
rebut or criticize the position. Your targets will appreciate it.
When you're reading arguments, look for
"surely" in the text and check each occurrence. The word "surely" marks the
edge of what the author is sure about and hopes readers will also be sure
about. The author makes a judgment call and has plumped for bald assertion,
anticipating agreement. This is where you might find a "truism" that isn't
Answer rhetorical questions
Develop a sensitivity
for rhetorical questions in any argument or polemic. They represent an
author's eagerness to take a short cut. A rhetorical question is not meant
to be answered. That is, the author doesn't bother waiting for you to answer
since it's supposed to be obvious. But try to find a less obvious answer.
If you find a good one, surprise your interlocutor with it.
A modern form of this old rule of thumb is:
Don't multiply entities beyond necessity. Don't concoct a complicated theory
if you can find a simpler one that works as well. But extensions of the
principle are sometimes met with disagreement. Turning it into a
metaphysical principle or fundamental requirement of rationality is
ludicrous. It's just an old saying, like: Don't put all your eggs in one
6 Don't waste
your time on crap
Sturgeon's law: 90% of everything is crap.
A good moral to draw from this observation is that when you criticize
anything big or difficult, don't waste time hooting at the crap. Go after
the good stuff or leave it alone. We can agree that there is a great deal of
deplorable, second-rate stuff out there, of all sorts. So concentrate on the
best stuff you can find, not the dregs.
7 Beware of deepities
A deepity is a
proposition that seems both important and true, and profound, but does so by
being ambiguous. On one reading, it is manifestly false, but it would be
earth-shaking if it were true; on the other reading, it is true but trivial.
The unwary listener picks up the glimmer of truth and the devastating
importance and thinks: Wow, that's profound. Here's a deepity: Rowan
Williams described his faith as "a silent waiting on the truth, pure
sitting and breathing in the presence of the question mark".
AR Good man, Dan.
2013 May 20
The Stillborn God by Mark Lilla.
Much of my perspective in the
orange, green, and yellow chapters of Coral seem to me now to fall in
shadow Lilla cast and hence invite more insightful thought and elaboration. For example, I
should discuss Hobbes
and Rousseau, say more about Kant and Hegel, quote Schleiermacher and
Troeltsch. But a new edition will soon turn into a new book, with a more
academic orientation. Then my hopes of wider sales will evaporate. Ah, the
perils of authorship.
I started Storyline after I’d accomplished all my
goals and still wasn’t happy. I’d become a New York Times bestselling author
and yet I was less happy after accomplishing my goals than I was before. So
I began researching what really makes people happy and content. I found that
it has nothing to do with fame or money and everything to do with the health
of our relationships and our interest in our own work. Serving people rather
than trying to impress them is the foundation. So I created a life plan for
myself, then shared it with others and found that it helped them heal and
recover from a life of pursuing success. Now I consider it my life's work.
It fills my life with a deep sense of meaning.
Storyline is basically
a company that helps people tell better stories with their lives. Through
conferences, websites, and individualized training, we create life plans and
career paths for people who want to live meaningful lives. What we all want
most is a deep sense of meaning. When we find that, our emotional health
stabilizes and we can enjoy life, regardless of our life circumstances.
Every human being is searching for a deep sense of meaning and yet we're all
Meaning is something we experience more than we
attain. It's like finding a current in a river that carries you through
life. And we begin to experience it when we have three things:
1 A project to work on that captures our
passions and in some way serves others
community, family, or partner to share love with
A redemptive perspective on our suffering
If we have those three
things, we experience a deep sense of meaning. It sounds simple but it
AR Unusually for a live feed, I
found this piece needed almost no editing. So it must be good.
Most Scots oppose leaving the EU. For them, UKIP
might as well be named English Independence Party. Scotland can avoid the
risk of being cast out of the EU by voting for independence from the UK
before the English get the chance to vote on Europe.
Scotland will hold a referendum in September 2014 to decide
whether to stay in the UK. A poll shows 36% of Scots support independence
from the UK now (with 44% opposed), but 44% do (with 44% still opposed) if it looks like the UK will leave the EU.
With Nigel Farage and the
"swivel-eyed loons" riding high in the English charts, Scots now have to
consider passport controls and currency exchanges along the Tweed. Scots
wait a lifetime for a referendum, and then two of them come along at once.
Islam is not a race, yet Islamophobia has racist
characteristics. Most Muslims are born into their religion, but there are
more than a billion variations of lived belief among people who call
themselves Muslim. Islamophobes refuse to acknowledge these variations.
Lived religion is an individual thing. Very few people of
any faith live their lives as literalist interpretations of scripture. Many
people have little or no knowledge of scripture at all. Many others choose
to interpret what they know in ways that fit their own moral sense of what
is good. Still others live their lives divorced from any sense of faith.
People say my novel
Fundamentalist is about a man who becomes an Islamic fundamentalist. He
is a Pakistani student at Princeton. When he gets his dream job in New York,
he exclaims, "Thank you, God!" That's the only real hint that he's
religious. He doesn't quote scripture, he drinks and has sex out of
marriage, and he could have secular views. And yet he calls himself a
Muslim, and is angry with US foreign policy, and grows a beard. That leads
people to read him as an Islamic fundamentalist.
Taylor Swift scooped 8 out of her 11 nominations at the Billboard music
awards in Las Vegas,
including top artist and top Billboard 200 album for
Police hustled UKIP leader
Farage to safety in
Edinburgh after protesters
scum off our streets!"
$300 000 000 000
David Cameron told Tories
to "stop banging
on about Europe".
while he is in the US,
about 114 Conservative MPs
voted in Parliament for
amendment to the Queen's
Speech regretting the lack
of a bill
Labour and Lib Dems voted against
the amendment, and
it was defeated by 272 votes
Cameron had ordered
his ministers to abstain but
free to vote for it.
On May 13, a big flare erupted from
the Sun, shown here on
the left edge.
2013 May 19
There cannot be a unilateral solution in Syria.
The rebels are hundreds of different groups and bands. Each group has its
local leader. We can't discuss a timetable with a party if we don't know who
they are. Many are linked to foreign countries and cannot make a decision
for themselves. They say they don't want a dialog with the Syrian state.
Believing that a political conference will stop terrorism on the ground is
unreal. In any case, to resign would be to flee.
The west lies and
falsifies evidence to engineer wars. People from Hezbollah and Iran have
been coming and going in Syria since long before the crisis. Intervention is
a clear probability, especially after we've managed to beat back armed
groups in many areas of Syria. As for excessive force, the issue is not the
extent of the force used or the type of weapon but the nature and extent of
the terrorism we have suffered, and thus what is a proper response.
Israelis In Golan
When Israel allegedly bombed weapons sites in
Syria in early May, the Israeli government reacted coolly to Syrian threats
of war and said Bashar al-Assad was too beleaguered to retaliate. But Israelis
in the Golan Heights think differently. Alonei Habashan community manager
Israel Bar: "We've lived here quietly for years, and all the sudden we feel
Elisha Yelin was among the young pioneers who founded
Kibbutz Merom Golan, on the Syrian border, soon after Israel captured the
Golan Heights from Syria in the Six-Day War in 1967. On the night of the Yom
Kippur War in 1973, Yelin told me all the women and children were evacuated
and the men were driven off to fight at the front. A Syrian division blazed
into the Golan Heights, then stopped to wait for a second division to catch
up. That delay cost Syria the Golan.
Yelin drove me down to the
border crossing between Syria and Israel. Israel Radio played tape of
Syria's minister of information saying the Golan Heights belong to Damascus.
Yelin looked at the Syrian flag flying high: "I have no problem with the
Syrian flag. This is a sign of government, of control, of something you can
trust. I will be afraid if there will be no Syrian flag."
2013 May 18
Big Data is the next big thing. It promises
both total control and the logical management of our future lives. An
estimated 2.8 ZB of data was created in 2012, with a predicted volume of 40
ZB by 2020. This exponential growth doubles every two years.
and Facebook are giants of Big Data. But many other organizations are
analyzing all this data. Memory is cheap, so new computers can analyze a lot
of data fast. Algorithms create order from chaos. They find hidden patterns
and offer new insights and business models.
At a TED conference in Oxford in 2009, Henry Markram announced a plan to
deliver a sentient hologram within a decade. He hoped to wipe out all mental
disorders and create a self-aware AI. And he said he would do all this by
building a complete model of a human brain and running it on a supercomputer. In January 2013, the
European Commission awarded him a billion euros to try.
Far Side cartoon: I'm a magazine editor, and the
galley of an article comes back from a proofreader with a word circled and a
comment in the margin like "Does this word exist?" Usually the word is
simple and its meaning is obvious. Yes, of course it exists. There it is, on
Or the reader asks, "Is this word in the dictionary?" I
like dictionaries and use them often. But no dictionary contains every word
in the language. New fields constantly generate words that aren't in a
dictionary. Foreign words appearing in English are left out too. Words are
invented all the time.
Some readers see dictionaries as legal code
for language with verdicts on spelling and meaning and grammar. Others see
them as less. A person of wide reading rarely needs their help. If you write
for a living, you might occasionally stop and see what the dictionary has to
say about a word. The lexicographer has boiled the entry down to basics, but
you ask yourself if a given sense matches yours.
A committed writer
should be wary of substituting a lexicographer's sense of a word for his
own. There is always much more to know about a word than what a dictionary
can tell you. A good writer tries to avoid saying what has already been
said. Nothing worth writing is written from a dictionary.
Temple Grandin is a professor of
animal science at Colorado State University, a successful businesswoman, and
one of our most astute interpreters of autism.
2013 May 17
ER Want Brexit
Philip Stephens + AR
On the question of Europe, David Cameron is
in office but not in power. The Eurosceptic Right (ER) is bundling him along
the path to Brexit. British voters are cool on the EU and stone cold on the
UKIP-ER line is that British troubles are down to Johnny Foreigner.
Brexit would be a hard blow to the EU as well as
the UK. But the German and other EU governments have their own red lines.
They can offer Britain assurances about the future, but they can't just let
a member opt out of things it finds inconvenient. That way lies madness.
Some in the ER would consider staying in the EU on radically different
terms. But the terms challenge such basic EU tenets as free movement of
people, the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, and the single
market. Britain's partners can only say No.
Cameron must win the next
election to deliver on his pledge. Labour looks weak and its poll lead is
soft. Ed Miliband could be pushed into promising a referendum too. A Labour
government might well lose it. So even in opposition, the ER could get
Vince Cable + AR
British Conservatives should know better. Global
companies will ponder the wisdom of staying or investing in a country where
they can expect years of debate over whether to tear up Britain's main
trade and investment network.
A soft exit
would keep access to the single market in return for a payment, like Norway.
The UK would face the same regulations but have no vote in shaping them.
A hard exit from the single market would put the UK behind the same
tariff wall as Turkey or Ukraine.
The net costs of EU membership are
tolerable. So why should Britain leave the EU? Conservatives care about the
City of London. They dislike EU financial services regulation, despite the
crisis of 2008.
After eight years as chancellor, Angela Merkel
defines an era.
candidate Peer Steinbrück says we are living in a second Biedermeier era.
The first began in 1815 and ended in 1848. The era featured conservative
monarchies in Germany. The Biedermeier style of the period furniture
symbolizes a quiet, homey torpor. But revolution broke out in 1848, and by
1871 a new nation state was born.
Merkel is no absolutist monarch,
but she has silenced dissent in Germany and created a torpid republic. She
has built a cosy home and Germans seem to like it. The German economy is
growing and incomes are rising. This nationalization of outlook is a
hallmark of the Merkel era. The chancellor endorses European solidarity but
Merkel would like other Europeans to learn from
Germany. Thus Germany can extend its influence in the world. This attitude
goes down well with German voters: Defend homeland values by working hard
to enjoy a quiet life. The second Biedermeier era is even more Biedermeier
than the first. As chancellor, Merkel quickly became Mommy.
sit back and enjoy life with Mommy? Two reasons:
We need conflict and commotion to stay awake.
There's still plenty worth changing in Germany.
Empathy is an instinctive mirroring of others'
experience. Psychopaths lack empathy. Simon Baron-Cohen equates empathy
erosion with evil. Maybe we should go for global empathic consciousness. But
1 Empathy needs an identifiable
victim. Psychologists asked subjects how much money they would give to help
develop a drug that would save the life of one child, and asked others how
much they would give to save eight children. The answers were about the
same. A third group was told a child's name and age, and shown her picture,
then donated far more.
2 Empathy doesn't help in politics.
Politicians fight over whom we should empathize with. Liberals argue for gun
control by focusing on the victims of gun violence. Conservatives point to
the unarmed victims of crime. Liberals in favor of federal safety
regulations invoke injured employees. Conservatives talk about small
businessmen bankrupted by petty rules.
3 Empathy can pull us in the
wrong direction. It can drive a lust for retribution heedless of
consequences. People were asked how to punish a company for
making a vaccine that killed a child. Some were told a big fine would make
the company work harder on safety. Others were told a big fine would
discourage it from making the vaccine, so lead to more deaths. Most wanted a
big fine anyway.
Our best hope for the future is to see that even if
we don't empathize with distant strangers, their lives have the same value
as the lives of those we love. Empathy will have to yield to reason in
Karl Marx had good ideas and bad ones. We should
separate them. The bad include the labor theory of value, the tendency of
the rate of profit to fall, and the Hegelian view of human history as
inevitable progress, for Marx from from slavery to communism. The good:
1 Ideas and their political movements are
closely tied to social structures and their economic interests. Marx got the
idea from Hegel.
2 Ostensibly free and
voluntary market exchanges contain elements of domination and exploitation.
Marx got the idea from Hegel.
capitalist market economy isn't an automatically self-regulating system but
periodically has crises. The latest one was in 2008.
AR I added the Hegel references.
2013 May 16
Japan Is Back
Japan grew faster than other G7 countries in 2013
Q1. Prime minister Shinzo Abe came to power in December and flooded the
economy with cash. The yen has fallen by about 20% since he took over, and
the stock market is up 70% in six months. Preliminary data show a real GDP
increase of 0.9%, or 3.5% annualized, so Japan has outpaced the US, where Q1
GDP grew by an annualized 2.5%. Analysts say Abenomics has accelerated the
AR A lesson for all Austerians
Google All Access
Google has launched an on-demand
subscription music service with web and mobile interfaces. It features
millions of songs to play, recommendations, charts and playlists, and
instant radio stations.
Everything from your Google Music locker is
automatically pulled into Google Play Music All Access. Everything else an
artist has on All Access is listed beneath your content and plays at a tap.
All Access is among the news at the Google I/O
conference in San Francisco. Google launched its music locker service two
years ago. Now Google Play users have a choice to stream rather than
The Next 100 Years
John Gray + AR
The next 100 years may too closely resemble the
last 100 for comfort. We still don't have world peace or global government.
Geopolitical rivalries merely have new players and higher stakes.
dwindling significance of Europe as a global player is a fact. The European
project produced 40 years of peace and prosperity. But austerity policies
have plunged the southern half of the continent into a state of permanent
depression. On the geopolitical map, Europe doesn't exist.
is less important. Today it boasts only natural resources. The country is
ruled by spy services and organized crime. Russia is an extractive state,
like China and India. Any new prosperity is distributed narrowly within a
Upheaval in the Arab world was fueled by the financial
crash, which raised food prices. The cost of buying off mass discontent in
Arab countries is rising. Oil-producing countries need high oil prices to
fund public spending. Saudi Arabia heads off unrest with repression and
Renewable energy may undermine the global
stranglehold of the oil cartel. Higher oil prices boost other energy
sources. Russia and Mideast producers depend on oil and will face crises.
The United States has renewable energy, domestic oil and gas, and other
sources of wealth, and so will emerge stronger.
The United States may
rebound as a major manufacturing economy. It remains the global haven for
capital. With huge inequalities of wealth, an endangered middle class, and
many poor people, American capitalism is flawed. Yet Americans can cope
better with low growth than any other people.
Without growth, the
tacit compact on which democracy is based may break down. When the social
product shrinks, issues of distribution become politically explosive,
particularly if people see government working to transfer wealth to the few.
Authoritarian regimes are also at risk, as in China.
factors are at work. The population of many poorer countries will rise, but
many societies are aging fast. In Europe, Japan, and the United States, debt
is left for future generations. When the next generation is smaller and
poorer than the last, the pyramid scheme stops.
The Chinese government relies on
growth to head off mass unrest. Corruption and elitism have hollowed out the
state. Order could break down if the rate of growth falls for a few years in
a row. But China is not going the way of the former Soviet Union. The idea
that China has replaced the Soviet Union in a bipolar world is incorrect.
China has returned to the role it played several centuries ago, as has
Democrats say their values are universal. Slavery and
persecution are bad. Freedom and tolerance are good. But democracy can also
work against human rights and universal values. Globalization has helped
billions of people, but volatile global markets leave them as insecure as
ever. We need new ideas.
AR My cut of a long text has changed its tone
and tendency so far Gray may not recognize it.
Hans Christian von Baeyer + AR
Physicists have grappled with
quantum paradoxes for about a century. Quantum theory is still considered
bizarre, a powerful recipe book for building gadgets but impossible to
understand. Confusion about the meaning of quantum theory makes people think
what it seems to be telling us about our world is irrelevant to everyday
life and too weird to matter.
Bayesianism (QBism, "cubism") combines quantum theory with probability
theory to recast the paradoxes and make them look less troubling. QBism
recasts the the wave function as a mathematical tool that any observer can
use to assign their justified belief that a quantum system will have a
specific property. So the wave function reflects an individual's
AR This, more or less, has been my take for many years. If I were a
young student again, I would study the view properly and map it to
foundational work in modal logic. But I think von Baeyer in his account has
confused subjective perspectives with personal and mental ideas that mess up
the view. In my take, quantum mechanics reflects the logical necessity to
model nature from within, to leave a part called the future unknown. But
"cubism" is cute.
A number p is prime if it's indivisible by anything
but 1 and p. Twin primes are pairs of prime numbers such that their
difference from each other is 2, so they are a distance of 2 apart. The twin
prime conjecture states that there are infinitely many such pairs.
A new proof affirms the easier conjecture
that there are infinitely many primes that have a neighboring prime a finite
distance d away, for some d larger than 2. Yitang Zhang has shown that there
is an infinite number of prime pairs for which d is at most 70 million. Now
we only need to cut d down to 2 to prove the twin prime conjecture.
The Goldbach conjecture is that every even number greater than 2 is the sum
of two primes. Harald Helfgott has now proved a related problem: the odd
Goldbach conjecture, which states that every odd number above 5 is the sum
of three primes.
AR No one said math was
Northrop Grumman X-47B UCAV makes historic flight
from CVN-77 USS George H.W. Bush.
has lifted Dante's Inferno
to the top of UK retailer
Brown: "Dante has had enormous influence on the Christian view of hell."
is released today.
with son Phaedra
AR Phaedra? Phaedrus!
Chinese Wing Loong drone
U.S. Reaper drone
Photo: J.T. Huber
Fairyflies are tiny
wasps that lay their eggs inside the eggs of bugs, beetles, flies, and
so on. Tinkerbella nana (above) is the smallest known insect: 7 males
could line up in 1 mm.
A new viral video
The British Psychological Society Division of Clinical
Psychology calls for a "paradigm shift" on mental health to change the
psychiatric model of mental distress as treatable by doctors using
drugs. The DCP has "fundamental concerns about the development, personal
impact and core assumptions" of psychiatric diagnoses.
DSM-5 is coming soon.
Austerity in the UK
Then and Now
Syria is awash in arms and rife
with divisions. Hardline Islamists are fierce and effective rebel
fighters. Violence will continue if the regime falls. Chaos,
criminality, and warlordism beset the liberated areas. We should resist
calls to supply the rebels with heavier weapons.
Photo: Dan Courter
Dan Brown releases
Inferno next week
Dante's Divine Comedy has three acts: Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso.
Nicholas Lezard recommends a cartoon version of Dante's Inferno.
Father of long tails
Against the Brahmins
U.S. Department of Defense
Annual Report to Congress
Military and Security
Developments Involving the
Photo: Eddie Mulholland
UKIP leader Nigel
People who are alert and engaged, who are eager
to debate, and who have some expertise to offer, drive the
Some public intellectuals have a committed
political stance. Others try to occupy neutral ground. The danger is
that people who emerge on the strength of expertise in a specialty are
seen as oracles on everything else.
Public intellectuals have
intelligence and engagement, and they speak out. Their ideas are the
cogs of history, and drive its progress.
Quantum Gravity and LIGO
Freeman Dyson has doubts
UKIP leader Nigel Farage
2013 May 15
Many British eurosceptics and European federalists
say there's no point in the UK staying in the EU but outside the EZ. They
say the EZ will set the agenda for the EU.
UK government can still reshape the EU. The scope of the EU goes beyond the
EZ to include the single market, competition, trade, energy, transport,
climate, the environment, farming, fishing, regional development, overseas
aid, foreign policy, defense, enlargement, justice, and home affairs. The UK
would have more clout in these areas if it:
Improved its economic performance
2 Strove to
maintain the authority of the European Commission
Did a better job of making friends in the EU
Grasped that the EU has commitments as well as rules
5 Took the initiative and showed leadership
where it has expertise
David Cameron has not shot the UKIP fox with his
promise of an EU referendum by 2017. The rise of UKIP is a xenophobic
response to austerity and impotence.
British opponents of the EU
lampoon Europe but are happy to bow down to the United States and the City
of London. Their agenda after leaving the EU would be to protect the
financial interests that led to crisis and ditch the social benefits that
most British people like about the EU. An EU exit would risk unleashing a
carnival of reaction, xenophobia, attacks on social rights, and lurches to
The British EU debate has largely ignored the progressive
case for change that is central to the struggle for change in Europe. The EU
has entrenched a failed neoliberal model of capitalism with deregulation,
privatization, and enforcement of corporate power over employment rights.
Its undemocratic and dysfunctional structures have been exposed by the EZ
crisis and the imposition of austerity.
Labour should back a
referendum. Ed Miliband has argued for comprehensive EU reform. He needs to
go a lot further to prevent the nationalist right dictating the EU agenda.
2013 May 14
Improve European Union
All Conservative cabinet ministers agree that we
should be spending the next period improving the EU and improving our
relations with the EU and then putting that choice to the British public in
a referendum. That is our policy.
The speech I made
on Europe had a very good reception from the business community in Britain,
who support it by and large, and a very good reception right across the
Conservative party and Conservative supporters. It also had a reasonable
reception in Europe, with a number of key European players recognizing this
was a legitimate agenda. That's a good start to the process.
AR I agree: Work to improve the EU. Let the UK
be a good neighbor.
Stephen Battersby + AR
Dark energy makes up more than two-thirds
of the universe, but we have no idea what it is or where it comes from.
"Nature has not been ready to give us any clues yet."
What we know so
1 Dark energy pushes. Space seems to
be expanding ever faster, as if repelled by antigravity.
2 There's a lot of it. We can see how much
matter there is in the universe, and the CMB from 12 Ts after the big bang
lets us work out the total density of matter plus dark energy. About 68% of
the universe (or 1 nJ/m^3) is dark and repulsive.
3 It's mysterious. As space expands there is
more and more of it, pushing against the fading gravity of the rest. Maybe
it's weird stuff called quintessence.
If dark energy keeps going, the
stars and galaxies will accelerate off into the distance, leaving us in the
dark. If it gets stronger, we might even be shredded in a Big Rip. We guess
the dark energy density is fairly stable.
The Dark Energy
Survey aims to look for signs of dark energy over a wide swathe of the
sky. It will see lots of supernovas pumping out photons that are more or
less redshifted by cosmic expansion. This lets us plot expansion over time
and gives us a sky map of a few hundred million galaxies. Sound waves in the
infant cosmos herded vast superclusters of galaxies that we can measure to
work out a better history.
If photons interact with dark energy, it
could rotate their polarization as they fly across the universe.
The Planck team plans to measure the polarization of CMB photons.
Carroll: "It is conceivable they will announce they have detected
John Templeton Foundation (JTF) supports research into the "Big Questions of
human purpose and ultimate reality" and likes to promote the idea that
science and religion are gradually reconciling.
Due to the efforts of many smart
people over the course of many years, scholars who are experts in the
fundamental nature of reality have by a wide majority concluded that God
does not exist. We have better explanations for how things work. The shift
in perspective from theism to atheism is arguably the single most important
bit of progress in fundamental ontology over the last five hundred years.
In my view, we have a responsibility to get the word out. And when we
blur the lines between science and religion, we do the world a grave
disservice. Religious belief exerts a significant influence over how the
world is currently run. Understanding the fundamental nature of reality is a
necessary starting point for productive conversations about morality,
justice, and meaning.
The JTF has done its best to spread the
impression that science and religion get along just fine. This impression is
false. But if anyone is tempted to award me the Templeton Prize, I will
totally accept it!
AR Keep dreaming,
2013 May 13
Former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind accused
Conservatives pushing for an amendment to the motion welcoming the Queen's
speech that laments the absence of an in/out referendum on EU membership of
"showing very poor judgment".
Rifkind accused (Conservatives pushing for (an amendment to (the motion
welcoming (the Queen's speech)) that laments (the absence of (an in/out
referendum on EU membership)))) of ...
Jacob Aron + AR
sells quantum computers. They use an adiabatic approach on qubits to allow
exponential speedup. But to be truly quantum, the qubits must be entangled.
Tests of the D-Wave device show indirect evidence for entanglement.
Catherine McGeoch has shown that a D-Wave computer can beat regular
machines. D-Wave hardware is designed to solve the traveling salesman
problem, which lies behind many practical applications.
the problem on a D-Wave Two computer, which holds 439 qubits in
superconducting niobium loops, and also ran it using three leading
algorithms running on a high-end PC. She gave each system roughly half a
second to find the best solution to a version of the problem, and repeated
the trial with 100 different versions. She then did the experiment for
problems involving even more variables and a more complicated equation.
The D-Wave machine was much faster. It found the best solution every
time within half a second. The three regular algorithms struggled to keep up
for problems with more than 100 or so variables. The best of the three,
CPLEX, had to run for half an hour on the largest problems.
Liel Leibovitz + AR
The BBC TV series Doctor Who has aired going
on 800 episodes since it began in 1963. The Doctor, a member of a superior
race called the Time Lords, occasionally slips into a new body, acquiring a
new face and a new personality. Eleven actors have played him thus far.
Doctor Who was created by Sydney Newman, who was born in
Toronto to Russian Jewish immigrants. Newman worked with the Canadian
National Film Board and spent World War 2 making propaganda films. He
eventually got a job at the BBC. In 1963, a few months after his arrival, he
came up with the idea for the Doctor Who series.
Newman's hero is wildly
intelligent and intergalactically cosmopolitan, with a biting sense of humor
and a commitment to putting things right. He is constantly wandering, never
at home. His relation is not to space but to time. Once he said his family
sleeps in his mind, a haunting intimation of loss.
The Doctor is
surrounded by a host of warlike species who view him as pesky and effete yet
oddly omnipotent. Most celebrated among these baddies are the Daleks,
crackly-voiced aliens who trundle around in armored turrets with little guns
sticking out of them. Their creator was Terry Nation, who recalled the
wartime terror of watching Germany led by a murderous maniac and who gave
Daleks the catchphrase: "Exterminate!"
With this timeless conflict of
the canny Jew versus the canned Nazis, Doctor Who ran for 26 seasons,
finally fading away in 1989. By 2005, the British were ready for more. All
the old enemies were back for another run, but new and more terrifying foes
joined the party, making the Jewish theme even more obvious.
among them was the Silence, a religious order devoted to ancient prophecies.
Their terrifying quality is that people forget them immediately after seeing
them. They travel the world with the sole purpose of assassinating the
Doctor, lest he answer the oldest question in the universe. Recall that
Exodus chestnut in which the creator says no man shall see his face and
live: Doctor Who?
How To Make Sex Boring
Lisa Levy + AR
Alain de Botton is the author of How To Think More
About Sex, an amusing little study of contemporary assumptions about sex,
marriage, and relationships, regarded strictly from the point of view of a
bored, married, middle-aged man who dabbles in philosophy and fancies
himself an intellectual.
The man does not interrogate what a queer theorist
might call heteronormative practices and he never explores any type of
relationship outside of monogamous marriage. In fact his book utterly lacks
imagination and a sense of curiosity. It might be the most boring book ever
written about sex.
On eros: "The more closely we analyze what we
consider 'sexy,' the more clearly we will understand that eroticism is the
feeling of excitement we experience at finding another human being who
shares our values and our sense of the meaning of existence."
only stands on show are against pornography and for adultery. The author advocates
censorship of the internet but likes a bit of nookie on the side: "That a
couple should be willing to watch their lives go by from within the cage of
marriage, without acting on outside sexual impulses is a miracle of
civilization and kindness for which they ought both to feel grateful on a
AR Thumb firmly down.
2013 May 12
The conflict in Syria is dragging in the
entire region. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is now more vulnerable than
ever. Analysts say Syria is in danger of becoming the next Somalia. But Syria
would be worse. Its religious and ethnic fault lines extend across borders
in every direction. Somalia never had chemical weapons, missiles, or modern armor. And Somalia never hosted a vicious struggle between Sunnis and Shiites. Why Syria suddenly looks more
Israelis look on
anxiously. They have not admitted carrying out air strikes, but they need to
prevent the transfer of advanced missiles to Hezbollah. Assad has a history
of not retaliating against Israel. But in weakening the Assad regime, Israel
may strengthen well organized and potent jihadist groups.
Syria has descended into sectarian horror. Moderates have
been sidelined. The Free Syrian Army coexists with a strong Sunni jihadi
element. The regime is mobilizing irregular Alawite militia and Hezbollah
fighters. The Syrian opposition sees Iran and Hezbollah everywhere.
3 Existential Endgame
The Syrian regime is launching counterattacks against
areas controlled by rebel factions. Assad relies on shabiha loyalists with
an existential stake in the regime's survival. Some say give the rebels more
missiles and communications and pick off regime forces from the air.
4 Chemical Weapons
For much of last year, Obama's "red line" seemed
largely hypothetical. But as the regime grows more desperate and control
of chemical weapons more difficult, it seems chemical agents have been
used. How much, of what, by whom?
Iraq: Weapons cross
border for Syrian resistance, Syrian and Iraqi
Turkey: Hosts 322,000 Syrian refugees, with another 100,000
clamoring to cross.
Jordan: Trying to cope with 450,000 Syrian refugees
in makeshift camps.
Lebanon: Hosts 455,000 Syrian refugees.
Salafists declare jihad against Syrian regime.
The United States and
Russia are calling for an international conference. Secretary of State
John Kerry: "The alternative is that Syria heads closer to the abyss, if not
over the abyss and into chaos."
Freedom of speech is essential to democratic life.
We can develop our human capacities more fully if we participate in
self-government and deliberate about important public questions.
Participating in self-government is character building. When we concern
ourselves with public affairs and take responsibility for the fate of the
community as a whole, we exercise faculties that would otherwise lie
Economics presents itself as an autonomous science.
Economists often assume that markets don't touch or taint the goods they
exchange. But the market mechanism changes the meaning of an activity and
crowds out other attitudes and norms. We need to ask whether people making
deals are acting voluntarily or are coerced by their circumstances, and
whether what they do is degrading. We have to reason together in public
about the right way to value goods.
Justice is a virtue of social
institutions. Other virtues to do with community, fellow feeling,
solidarity, self-government, and the scope and quality of public
deliberation may all have a bearing on justice. What counts as a good
society embroils us in questions of virtue and the good life.
Brain surgery requires at least two frightening qualities
in its practitioners: the will to make forcible entry into another person's
skull, and the hubris to believe you can fix the problems inside.
— Luke Dittrich
Brain images of twin girls joined at the head reveal
a bridge between the thalamus of one girl and the thalamus of her sister.
The thalamus joins the neural loops that create consciousness. The sensory
input that one girl receives might cross that bridge to the other. One girl
drinks, another girl feels it.
— Susan Dominus
professor of psychosomatics gave a lecture with two halves. In the first, he
showed images of fleas, lice, people scratching, and the like. The second
half showed soft down, baby skin, and bathers. Video cameras recorded the
audience. People were scratching themselves much more during the first half
than during the second.
— Atul Gawande
We are our connectomes. Our unique
selves are etched into the wiring of our brains. Connectomes are forever
being molded and remolded by life experience. The connectome is where nature
meets nurture. Advances in brain science and computer simulations of neural
networks may mean a cure for death.
— Evan R. Goldstein
criminal stands in court today, the legal system asks whether he is to
blame. This is the wrong question to ask. The choices we make arise from our
neural circuitry, and we have no meaningful way to tease the two apart. The
more we learn, the more complicated blame becomes.
— David Eagleman
Through studies of split-brain patients, neuroscientists regard the
healthy brain as two different machines, cabled together and exchanging a
torrent of data. When the primary cable is cut, information presented to one
hemisphere goes unnoticed in the other.
— David Wolman
To keep a
donor's organs viable, the respirator is left on and the heart keeps beating
until the surgeon removes the organs. Brain death is an artificial
distinction constructed on an unsound conceptual foundation. Perhaps
brain-dead patients aren't really dead at all.
— Gary Greenberg
2013 May 11
Paul W. Ragan
Men who use abuse to control a woman are termed
batterers. They have been studied for the presence or absence of alcohol or
drug abuse, whether or not the violence is intrafamilial or extends outside
the family, the presence or absence of criminality, and the presence or
absence of personality disorders.
They often grow up in families
fraught with strife, conflict, neglect, and violence. The theory is that
early life experiences cause developmental arrest of their psychological
maturation and personality formation. They are left with deep emotional
needs they feel totally inadequate to satisfy. Their self-concept is so
impaired and their self-esteem so low that they feel unable to compete in
the adult game of attracting and keeping a mate. When their attempts are met
by failure, their moral impairment and lack of empathy coupled with
unbridled anger and rage drive them to brutal sadism.
Anne Norton denies that Islam and the west are
involved in a clash of civilizations. She agrees with Jacques Derrida that
Islam is "the other of democracy" because Muslim states could retain their
distinctiveness while promoting democratic values.
that valid differences of orientation exist. But she sees options for
addressing the differences presented by a Muslim minority in a western
country. One could defer to their distinctiveness. Or the majority could try
to nudge "them" in the direction of being more like "us". Or one could try
to move "us" closer to "them". She prefers the third option.
Common ground is not always easy to find. But perhaps if we just pretend to be
receptive to our Muslim neighbors and no one disrupts our mutual
inattention, we can all go about our separate lives, ignorant of our
differences. Perhaps we can trust that all troublesome distinctiveness will
drop out of the equation. But many will suspect that this is neither the
most likely nor even the most desirable outcome.
the need for camouflage in the face of suspicion. But living as a chameleon
may be harder now that we all notice each other noticing each other.
Anonymity is stifling. We may avoid the clash at the cost of a
Alex Ross: "In the classical field it has long been
fashionable to fence music off from society, to declare it a self-sufficient
Ross assumes a
dichotomy between high and low art that leads him into reformulating the
position he seems to renounce. The fact of Hitler's undoubted musicality
torments Ross. Hitler was indeed a great music lover. He loved Wagner's
music. The real shocker is that Alex Ross still believes there can be
something morally ennobling about music.
Stalin had narrow but by no
means vulgar musical tastes. A frequent attendee at the Bolshoi, he also
listened to classical music on the radio, sang folksongs with a fine tenor
voice, and audited every single recording made in the Soviet Union, writing
judgements on the sleeves. Ross reads Shostakovich's Fourth
and Fifth symphonies to refute the idea that music is a non-representational
art form. He detects sarcasm and irony in many pieces
Shostakovich composed during the early Stalin years.
The problem for
classical music in the age of the dictators remains the same one that
classical music retains to this day: it remains an art form tainted by
association with vertiginous social hierarchies.
Ross offers a
fascinating narrative of classical music under the tyrannies of Hitler and
Stalin. But developments in compositional theory were irrelevant to what
music was saying, or being made to say. Marshall McLuhan: "The medium is the
Daniel Dennett says specialists can try talking to others:
"To explain their position under these conditions helps them find better
ways of making their points than they had ever found before."
Dennett presents intuition pumps to help
us think more clearly, or with more insight, about such topics as
consciousness, free will, meaning, and intentionality. Intuition pumps
condense a complex technical scenario into a vivid story that makes a point.
But we should beware of over-inflation. A flawed intuition pump, like
Occam's Broom, sweeps inconvenient facts under the rug.
Hofstadter is best known for his 1979 book Gödel, Escher, Bach. Together
with Emmanuel Sander, he now teases out the paradoxes and contradictions of
analogy, which is vastly more complex than we tend to assume. When we try to
make sense of an experience, we do so using a quick cognitive shorthand,
forging analogies between the latest and past experiences.
of analogical thinking is its odd recursiveness. Analogy as a rhetorical
device is an almost endless source of such entanglements. Analogies can be
creative, or mere wordplay.
2013 May 10
Say No To UK EU Referendum
Half of all Tory MPs want out of the European Union
now. David Cameron says he can win "fundamental reform" in Europe. His claim
that it "is in Britain's interest to remain the country that is uniquely
well connected to the world" is now the thin blue line between his party and
deliberately fudged. The UK will get no opt-outs, and any universal reforms
must be small enough not to need treaty change. No one wants any referendums
until the crisis is over. Austerity leaves rich Germany angry at paying for
poor nations, and poor voters outraged at the cuts.
Voters who want
out can vote for a party that wants out. Reasons to stay in are clear. US
banks and financiers only stay in the City as a gateway to the EU. Japanese
companies stay to trade in the EU. Trade with the EU from outside means
obeying the rules with no say on them.
Labour is staunch on staying
in Europe. Hold the line and hope to win through honesty and conviction.
That way lies democratic legitimacy. If Labour fails to change the
conversation and make the economy, growth, and jobs the great decider in
2015, it will have failed anyway.
War and humanity have evolved together from the
beginning. But humans are fallible. Drone pilots sit at their consoles for
hours analyzing video streams and suffer cognitive overload. Neuroscientists
are being called in to help.
The systems will become more autonomous. By 2015, drones
will be able to detect nearby aircraft and avoid them. They will soon
process their own video streams and dock unaided with tankers for flight
refueling. The pilots will be supervising robots.
Legal and moral
debates about drones forget the speed of war. The digital world is outpacing
human neural processing capabilities. Neurons for empathy and compassion in
the prefrontal cortex are bypassed under stress. Moral behavior emerges from
The US military plans to program machines with moral
heuristics to serve as a conscience. Empathy and compassion will be beyond
them, but they will be consistent. The reduction of inhumanity will balance
the loss of humanity.
DARPA says it is
blending the best of man and machine.
Neurohumanities (NH) may save the arts. Combining neuroscience with art
offers instant credibility.
UC Berkeley philosopher Alva Noë, a
neuroskeptic, sees the trend as a reaction to postmodernism. He argues that
NH is a rejection of the critical theory that dominated the American
humanities until the Sokal affair in 1996. Physics professor Alan Sokal
submitted a spoof paper on science to Social Text, then revealed all to show
the editors had no clothes. As critical theory dies, NH and literary
Darwinism are growing.
Critical theory made a fetish of haze and
ambiguity and what Noë calls "an allergy to anything essentialist". NH
offers mastery and is highly reductive. Neuroscience is now the way to
explain almost all human behavior.
London professor Semir Zeki, with the
Neuroesthetics in London and UC Berkeley, organized a study in which 10
people were shown 300 paintings while their heads were in a functional MRI
machine. They were asked to label the paintings as neutral, beautiful, or
ugly. The paintings they thought were beautiful led to increased activity in
their frontal cortex, while the ugly paintings led to a similar increase in
their motor cortex. Zeki's latest paper: "The neural sources of Salvador
Literary Darwinism recently scored against
feminism. Jonathan Gottschall compared over 1400 folktales from a range of
cultures to examine the claim "that European tales reflect and
perpetuate the arbitrary gender norms of western patriarchal societies" and
found biosocial norms that all cultures perpetuate.
the NH trend reduces people and culture to things "to be manipulated or made
AR I know Alva Noë. See
my Amazon review of his book Out of Our Heads.
2013 Ascension Day
Japan's new prime minister Shinzo Abe is ending 15
years of stagnation. Stock market gains have added nearly $1.5 trillion to
the market capitalization of Japanese companies. Toyota tripled its net
profits last year and sales at large retailers have posted their biggest
gains in 20 years. The central bank predicts economic growth of 2.9% for
2013. As to why, two catalysts stand out:
The 2011 tsunami was a shock. The Japanese headed off a crisis by cutting
energy consumption. Concern about energy caused businesses already full of
complaints to talk of a mass exodus.
China's economy overtook Japan's in 2010. Beijing is pressing claims to the
Japanese-administered Senkaku islands known as Diaoyu in China. Japan's new
sense of purpose might be its reply.
Abe responded to the slogan
"rich country, strong army" that rallied Japan after 1868. In Washington in
February he said: "Japan must stay strong, strong first in its economy, and
strong also in its national defense." After years of drift, Japan is
Israel and Syria
Syria was Israel's most feared enemy. But Syria cannot match Israel militarily and has found new ways to circumvent IDF superiority. The
regime has focused on defensive weapons that can hinder an Israeli attack
through the Golan Heights. And it supports Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic
The strategy persuaded Israel to withdraw from Lebanon
in 2000. Both sides maintained a balance of deterrence. But the balance was
wrecked by the Arab Spring. Suddenly, Israel stopped being afraid of Arab
strength and began to be worried about Arab weakness. In Syria,
revolt became civil war.
A quick end to the Syrian war would be a
problem for Israel. A failed state along the border is harder to
deter than a police state. If the Syrian opposition wins, it will quickly be
dominated by jihadists.The longer the fighting continues, the
more the regime is weakened. It looks like win-win.
Israel will act
if Syrian weapons go to Hezbollah or fall into the hands of
extremist rebels. IDF generals tend to take advantage of tactical
opportunities. So far, Syria has not retaliated. Analysts believe the Syrian
regime has no room to move. Retaliation would let the IDF destroy the Syrian
Israel should consider the possibility of an Iranian or
Lebanese response. Hezbollah is deeply involved in the civil war in Syria.
Iranian Revolutionary Guard units are also present. Analysts say Syria's
allies are too busy helping Assad fight for his survival and won't waste
time on clashes with the IDF.
Moths Hear Bats
Greater wax moths have good hearing. They are also a
pest. They grow up in beehives and eat beeswax. Adult moths gather in trees,
where males sing high-pitched sunset songs to females.
Their predators are bats. While the male moth's calls range from 90-95
kHz, bats echolocate at over 100 kHz, and some bats can squeak at over 200
Researchers tested the hearing of 20 adult greater wax moths by
playing sounds and measuring the moths' tympanal membrane vibrations and
auditory nerve signals.
Each sound was at 90 dB, less loud than most
bat squeaks. All the moths' tympanal membranes vibrated strongly to 300 kHz
sounds, and 15 of the 20 also showed strong neural signals.
need to detect bat calls quickly to survive. A sensor with a faster response
time will respond to higher frequencies. The moths' tympanal membranes are
2013 May 8
Israel's recent attacks risk retaliation and
further destabilization of its neighborhood. The first attack sought to deny
the transfer of arms that could alter the balance of power between Israel
and Hezbollah. Iran provides Hezbollah with funding and weaponry. Syria
serves as a transit route for Iranian forces and weapons. Israeli
strategists are gambling on three things:
1 Syria will not respond. Israel is a whipping
boy for Arab regimes seeking to distract attention from their own failures,
and Assad is too embattled to risk escalation. The Syrian opposition charges
that Assad has failed to protect Syrian soil. If Assad becomes desperate, he
may attack Israel.
2 Hezbollah will not
retaliate. Since 2006, Israel's border with Lebanon has been quiet. But now
Hezbollah forces are fighting beside Assad and have lost popularity in the
Arab world. Israel striking at Hezbollah's weapons damages its credibility.
They may be tempted to react.
Syrian regime will collapse. For Israel, the only thing worse than Assad's
regime in Syria would be chaos in Syria. The country would become an
incubator of jihad on Israel's border. Jihadists might use Syria's arsenals
against Israel. The border would again be a war zone.
can't resolve the chaos and uncertainty in Syria and Lebanon. Washington
Mideast Catastrophe Looms
Fawaz A. Gerges
The Syrian struggle has not only spread into
neighboring lands but is now a battlefield for Israel and Iran. The conflict
is in danger of escalating into a regional war pitting Iran and Hezbollah
against Israel, other regional powers, and the West.
involvement embarrasses the Syrian armed opposition because it not only puts
them on the same side as Israel but also reinforces President Bashar
al-Assad's claim that the struggle in Syria is a wider conspiracy
spearheaded by Israel and its regional allies and Western powers.
Iran is unlikely to retaliate
directly against Israel. Israel and its allies would have the upper hand.
But it is likely to deepen its involvement in Syria to support Assad. Only a
political solution can prevent a wider catastrophe in the Mideast.
No Referendum Now
From a letter to John Baron, MP, dated April 30:
"I completely understand the serious case you make for
legislation. You know, however, that this Government's legislative programme
is founded on the Coalition Agreement which did not include legislating in
this Parliament for an In-Out referendum. For the Government to be able to
bring forward the type of legislation you propose, we would require the
agreement of our Coalition partners which, as things stand, is not
Billions of cicadas will overrun the eastern
United States this spring. After 17 years underground, they will crawl out
of the earth in search of sex. The 25 mm bugs will make a big noise, up to
94 decibels, as the males sing for mates. After a few weeks, they will die
and their offspring will go to ground.
The males will come out first and climb up trees to grow wings and sing.
When a female comes close, the male changes his song, does a dance, and
mates. Each mated female lays 600 or so eggs on a branch. The offspring fall
out of the trees and burrow into the earth, to emerge in 2030.
mass emergence overwhelms predators. Ordinary cicadas come out every year
around the world, but these are red-eyed magicicadas, unique to the US east
coast. This year's invasion, Brood II, is one of the bigger ones. Experts
estimate there are 30 billion cicadas lurking underground.
2013 May 7
CORAL is due for a new edition, with
estimated release date 2014. The Right Reverend and Right Honorable Baron
Williams of Oystermouth, a.k.a. Dr. Rowan Williams, formerly Archbishop of
Canterbury and now Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, says it's "a
lively, provoking and hugely original essay" but feels the need for a more
focused conclusion. I see scope to add cameos on medieval theology, imperial
French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, late German Protestantism and the
Frankfurt school, existentialism and postmodernism, quantum mysticism and
possible worlds, Sloterdijk bubbles, computational mathematics, the rise of Facebook and
Twitter, and more besides. I guess the page count will rise to 400, but the
main change will be a new summary and conclusion.
Carsten Volkery + AR
British socialists have long admired the German
social market economy with its system of giving workers a say in corporate
decision-making, its state-owned savings banks that promote public welfare,
and its small and medium enterprises that plan for the long term.
Now the Conservative-Liberal
coalition is using at German ideas to get the British economy growing again.
It has launched apprenticeships for businesses to train their own employees,
a new state-owned business bank to give loans to small and medium
enterprises, and credit guarantees for exports.
The rethink began
after the 2008 financial crash. The British economy was heavily reliant on
banking and has yet to recover, but the German economy rebounded quickly.
Manufacturing accounts for 21% of GDP in Germany but only 11% in Britain.
Labour Party leader Ed Miliband likes to talk about responsible
capitalism. After learning how the German Sparkassen operate, he wants to
set up similar regional banks if he is elected PM. He is also considering
Mitbestimmung to add worker representatives to company boards. The British
introduced the system in Germany after WW2.
New Atheists brought the Enlightenment back to life.
They traced all that was worth defending in our world to rationality,
science, secularism, and democracy.
In 1784, Immanuel Kant saw the
Enlightenment as humanity learning to think for itself, the start of a slow
but inexorable triumph over myth and superstition. Some 20 years later,
Hegel blamed the Enlightenment for sacrificing spirituality and tradition at
the altar of reason and absolute freedom. Historians since then have failed
to break the stalemate between Kantians and Hegelians.
Anthony Pagden argues that the Enlightenment was distinctive not for
holding the humanities hostage to reason but instead for recognizing our
common humanity. Cosmopolitanism arose as a way for humans to live together
in harmony instead of killing each other. He imagines that without the
Enlightenment, Europe could have been conquered by the Ottomans and
converted to Islam. The Enlightenment discovered a timeless truth that had
been obscured by religion.
Enlightened cosmopolitanism rejects
religion as having any role to play in human understanding and organization.
It is a hopeless model for modern global governance.
AR I think
it's quite a good one.
2013 May 6
Britain's obsession with "punching above its
weight" in the international arena is one cause of its pitiable present
condition. Overblown and ill-configured defense forces, continuing
post-imperial involvements around the globe, obsession with pomp and
ceremony, and a surfeit of absurd institutions from the Knights of the
Garter to the Lord Privy Seal, hold Britain back.
The United Kingdom
could soon fragment. If Scotland becomes independent and Northern Ireland
looks toward Eire, the rump state of Britain will no longer be Great.
Perhaps this is an opportunity to revamp the state from top to bottom.
Reducing the role of the monarchy, replacing the House of Lords with an
elected chamber, and introducing a written constitution would be a start.
The most reasonable destiny for Britain thus reduced is as a member of a
Nordic community including the Scandinavian states and others, and perhaps
embracing Germany too. But the European Union needs an overhaul. Not before
the fiscal showdown with the southern states finds a convincing resolution
should the British public relax its Euroskepticism.
Lord Renwick of Clifton + AR
Margaret Thatcher's critique of the
European Union has become commonplace today. Hyper-bureaucracy, lack of
accountability, over-regulation, and the stifling of job creation and
enterprise should worry all member states. She would say Europe today is
failing its citizens.
Today she would make a huge effort to change
the EU from within before abandoning it. She would not resist further EZ
integration, recognizing that Germany is determined to impose much greater
discipline on the other participants.
But she would launch a crusade
with Angela Merkel, the Dutch and Swedish prime ministers, and some of the
East Europeans to change the direction of EU policy to foster growth and
jobs and restore competitiveness. She would do so with such zest that UKIP
would be roadkill.
2013 May 5
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's decision not to
attend today's Coptic Easter mass was no surprise. It follows a Brotherhood
fatwa prohibiting Muslims from wishing Christians a happy Easter, because
Muslims deny that Jesus was killed or crucified, whereas wishing Christians
a merry Christmas is permissible, because Muslims accept that he was born.
The Easter ruling contrasts with the Brotherhood's otherwise vacuous
approach to interpreting sharia. In 2012, Brotherhood leader Farid
Ismail said sharia "means peace, security, equality, citizenship, freedom,
and giving rights for people despite their religion or ethics or color or
sex" but declined to be more specific. Brotherhood local governor Saad
al-Husseini: "Everything I'm doing is sharia!"
By keeping its sharia vague, the Brotherhood prevents
internal fissures from emerging that could undermine its power. The
Brotherhood frames its views in sharia terms only when it seeks to justify
theocratic ideas on which its cadres broadly agree, such as opposition to
alcohol, bikinis, and Easter.
Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard was born 200
years ago today. For all his existential exertions, he will forever be
associated with the "leap of faith" he made to live with the absurd idea
that Jesus was simultaneously divine and yet much like other young men of
found the subjects he cared most about were hard to discuss. So he found a
new way to do so, letting his various pseudonymous "authors" say what a
pedagogical doctor of theology could not. Perceptive readers got the idea
without being told explicitly what it was.
This technique is familiar
today. Political candidates know that telling voters precisely what they
stand for is asking for trouble. There are more effective ways to air their
views. For Kierkegaard, subjectivity is truth. He became drawn to the
mystery of silence.
The United States has a complicated relationship with
imperialism. It spread the gospel of life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness less with gunboats than with missionaries and money men.
Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman sees not an
American empire but a story of how democratic capitalism and the armed
strength of American ideals built a world order more just than any in
history. The United States cooperated in building the United Nations and led
efforts to create international peace organizations and international law.
Americans enforced the law. They took on this responsibility because
their domestic experience taught that an institution sometimes has to step
in to keep order. In the early republic, the federal government was seen as
an umpire between the states. This idea filtered through the history of the
United States at home and abroad.
But the United States cannot be
seen as a neutral arbiter. International politics has no umpires, only
players strong and charismatic enough to impose their idea of what the rules
should look like.
2013 May 4
Sack The Toffs
The Conservatives must break the impression they are
"privileged and out of touch" if they are to stand a chance of winning the
next UK general election, says former party leadership contender David
Davis: David Cameron should stop surrounding himself with fellow Old
Etonians and show he understands the concerns of ordinary people.
UKIP kippt UK
The UK Independence Party emerged as a serious
nationwide threat to Britain's three main parties after making unexpectedly
big gains in local elections. BBC projected share of the national vote:
Labour 29%, Conservatives 25%, UKIP 23%, Liberal Democrats 14%, others 9%.
UKIP supports withdrawal from the European Union. It
now expects more than 100 councillors across the country. UKIP leader Nigel
Farage: "This is a real sea-change in British politics. The people who vote
for us are rejecting the establishment and quite right too. I don't think
these votes are going away quickly."
Conservative MP John Baron urged
David Cameron to table a bill in the next parliamentary session for an
in/out referendum on Europe after the 2015 general election.
Conservative MP Kenneth Clarke said UKIP has
"fruitcakes, loonies, waifs, and strays" in its ranks and among its
supporters. He added: "The political class are regarded as having got us
into a mess. It's very tempting to go for a collection of clowns or
indignant, angry people who promise that somehow they'll allow you to take
revenge against the people who caused it."
UKIP leader Nigel Farage
admitted his party was overstretched in vetting its 1,700 candidates.
Independence Party: "The European Union seemed a good idea in the 1970s
but it's gone very, very wrong. Brussels has become a bureaucratic monster,
strangling us all in red tape and massive waste. It's not just Britain that
wants out of the EU. Many other Europeans would vote to leave, if given the
New York Times
Suicide rates among middle-aged Americans have
risen sharply. Baby boomers facing years of economic worry and with easy
access to prescription painkillers may be vulnerable.
Americans now die of suicide than in car accidents. In 2010 there were
33,687 road traffic deaths and 38,364 suicides. From 1999 to 2010, the
suicide rate among people aged 35 to 64 rose by nearly 30%. Most suicides
are men, by a ratio of over 3 to 1. Rates for men in their 50s jumped by
Rutgers University sociologist Julie Phillips: "The
boomers had great expectations for what their life might look like, but I
think perhaps it hasn't panned out that way."
A low resting heart rate is a characteristic of
aggressive and violent behavior and reflects a lack of fear. Mothers who
smoke or drink during pregnancy are 2-3 times more likely to give birth to a
child who will grow up to be violent. Lead exposure early in life damages
the brain and increases the likelihood of adult crime. Men with
cavum septum pellucidum are more likely to be psychopathic and criminal.
The amygdala is shrunken by 18% in adult psychopaths and functions more
poorly in psychopaths during moral decision making. Children lacking fear of
punishment were more likely to be convicted 20 years later.
A pitiless new day is dawning. A generation that
tamed the threat of nuclear war now faces the human bomb. The revelation of
9/11 is that human bombs claim the power to strike anywhere, anyhow, any
time. A traditional war, however savage, comes to an end. Terrorist war
knows no cease-fire. For the show of force it substitutes the show of
hatred. Nourished by its own atrocities, it is inextinguishable. A contagion
of hatred moves like a plague. Soon we may view the last century with
nostalgia, despite Auschwitz and Hiroshima. Terrorists strive to mix these
two ingredients into new cocktails of horror.
JP An Israeli official says air strike targeted Syrian weapons
shipment headed to guerrillas in Lebanon; Syrian chemical weapons facility
nuclear complex is like a fortress. The enrichment centrifuges are
underground and the facility is built into a mountain range. But
Boeing has developed a new version of its bunker buster, the Massive
Ordnance Penetrator, that can penetrate deeper, even through granite
and steel, before it explodes. The MOP weighs about 14 tons and fits
in B-2 and B-52 bombers. A new targeting system allows several bombs
to hit exactly the same spot. The new version has not been drop
tested, but Israeli Defense Force officials have seen videos of
earlier drop tests.
New Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, 52, joined Intel
in 1982 as an engineer and managed a "fab" that fabricates processor
chips. Pundits speculate that Intel will
focus on this side of its business. Intel makes 80% of all CPUs sold for
PCs, but that market slumped 14% in Q1 as consumers turned to tablets
and smartphones. Krzanich says Intel is well placed to expand
into mobile markets.
The journal Porn Studies debuts next spring. A call for papers
solicits submissions for "the first dedicated, international,
peer-reviewed journal to critically explore those cultural products and
services designated as pornographic". The journal is open to work from
sociologists, criminologists, technologists, and experts in cultural,
media, and gender studies.
Her first screen kiss in 1939
made global headlines
Dan Dennett has been in troubled
waters with his yacht Xanthippe: "But I do know what I'm doing!"
2013 May 3
Less Is More
Nils Klawitter + AR
Berlin social psychologist Harald Welzer points
out that if everyone on Earth used the resources that Westerners do, we
would need three planets. He accuses economists of seeing the world in terms
of maximizing consumption. He wants to phase out the "totalitarian
consumerism" that inflames desires people never knew they had.
British economist Tim Jackson is an expert on sustainable
development and a professor at the University of Surrey. He calls capitalism
a "gluttony machine" that asks us "to spend money we don't have on things
that we don't need to create impressions that won't last on people we don't
Economists have largely disregarded the environmental
consequences of growth. Their benchmark of prosperity is gross domestic
product. GDP does not factor in the overexploitation of resources, the
destruction of biological diversity, air pollution, noise, soil degradation,
or poisoned groundwater.
A wealth model built on chronic growth is no
longer everyone's goal. But can we have prosperity without growth and growth
without environmental damage? How can a shrinking economy work? A German
parliamentary commission spent two years on these questions. It has now
presented its report.
Oldenburg economist Niko Paech advocates a
shrinking economy and preaches a new frugality. He attacks our "autistic
faith in progress" and wants less material, less energy, less waste, and
less pollution. The parliamentary commission finds growth with declining
resource consumption nowhere at present.
Heidelberg economist Hans
Diefenbacher has developed a national prosperity index that treats the
negative impacts of economic activity as a reduction in welfare. The
parliamentary commission used the index in a new way of measuring
growth with an indicator called W3 based not only on wealth but also on
Rock music involves a lot of posing. No one did it
better than David Bowie. Born in 1947 in London and raised in a dreary
suburb, young David was roused by American rock and roll. His pop career
took off when Lindsay Kemp taught him to dance and introduced him to Kabuki.
Bowie became a great poseur.
David and his wife Angela had a polymorphous perverse marriage. Androgyny
was central to Bowie's freakish image in two movies. The Man Who Fell to
Earth (1976) stars Bowie as a space alien. Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence
(1983) casts him as an army officer in a Japanese POW camp during WW2.
British rock in the 1970s became very camp. Bowie created his most
famous role, Ziggy Stardust, as a kind of alter ego. Ziggy was a rock-n-roll
messiah from outer space who is torn apart by his fans. Bowie moved on and
started quoting Nietzsche on the death of God. But he never lost his sense
Bowie moved to Berlin and created some of his best music.
His voice deepened and the lyrics darkened. By 2004, it looked as if it was
over. He was married to Iman and they lived in New York. Then he made
another album, The Next Day, announced on his 66th birthday. It is a highly
The translations of Richard Pevear and Larissa
Volokhonsky (known as PV) span the golden age of Russian literature. It is
easier to list the canonical prose authors they have neglected (Turgenev and
Nabokov) than all of those they have translated. From the war against
Napoleon to the heyday of Communism, the PV project is unique.
The husband and wife team works
in two steps. Larissa makes a literal English rendition of the original, and
Richard shapes the words into literary English without anachronisms. Now at
last they have reached the end of Lev Tolstoy's major writings.
hundred years ago, Constance Garnett was the main Russian interpreter of her
generation. Her translations of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky were landmarks. But
Vladimir Nabokov loathed her treatment of Tolstoy. He said the mortal sin of
the translator was to sacrifice "absolute accuracy" for readability:
"The clumsiest literal translation is a thousand times more useful than the
Russian writers thought Garnett churned out
her translations with a meat grinder. All that came out was the insipid
narrative voice of Constance Garnett. Nabokov: "The person who desires to
turn a literary masterpiece into another language has only one duty to
perform, and this is to reproduce with absolute exactitude the whole text,
and nothing but the text."
Larissa: "We want to recreate Tolstoy in English. We want to bring the
English reader to Tolstoy, not Tolstoy to the English reader."
Richard cites the FitzGerald translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.
Robert Graves tried to correct its distortions but made it dull: "And then
you go back to FitzGerald and it sings. It sings the wrong song, but it
sings. These are some of the ironies of translation."
AR I imbibed Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky via
Garnett. Now I must start again with PV.
2013 May 2
Simplify your life to get a fresh feeling back into your day. I trashed more
old papers and smashed a few old crocks today to clear up the clutter. The
outlook is improving.
Live Long And Prosper
A mechanism that controls aging has been
identified in the hypothalamus. Researchers have used it to change the
lifespan of mice.
The hypothalamus is the interface
between the brain and the rest of the body, and is involved in controlling
our automatic responses, hormone levels, sleep-wake cycles, immunity, and
Dongsheng Cai at the Albert Einstein College of
Medicine in New York and his colleagues noticed that aging mice produce
increasing levels of nuclear factor kB (NF-kB), a protein complex that plays
a big role in regulating immune responses. NF-kB is barely active in the
hypothalamus of young mice but becomes very active in old mice.
team tested three groups of mice: group 1 was given gene therapy that
inhibits NF-kB, group 2 had gene therapy to activate NF-kB, and group 3 was
left to age naturally. Group 3 lived between 600 and 1000 days, group 2 all
died within 900 days, and group 1 lived for up to 1100 days.
that lived longest also remained mentally and physically fit for longer.
Post-mortem exams showed they had many chemical and physical qualities of
NF-kB reduces the level of the gonadotropin-releasing
hormone (GnRH) produced by the hypothalamus. GnRH levels regulate egg
production and fertility. The team gave another group of mice daily injections of GnRH for several weeks. These mice lived longer
too, by similar lengths of time.
GnRH injections also resulted in new
neurons in the brain. When injected into the hypothalamus, GnRH reversed
widespread aging decline in other brain regions too. The injections even
delayed aging in the mice in NF-kB group 2 that would otherwise have aged
quickly. No mice showed serious side effects.
We could see drugs that
slow aging in the next 20 years.
AR Too late for me then.
Is social psychology in crisis? Diederik Stapel
committed fraud in at least 54 scientific papers. Ap Dijksterhuis found that
thinking about a professor before taking an exam improves your performance,
while thinking about a soccer ruffian makes you do worse, but his finding
may be weak or wrong.
Many key results of social psychology have been endlessly
replicated, like the Milgram effect, where subjects apparently administered
electrical shocks strong enough to injure others, simply because they'd been
asked to do it. People are still extending that result. In one recent study,
experimenters found that people would shock robots under similar
Something positive has emerged. For years, it was
difficult to publish a direct replication, or a failure to replicate an
experiment, in a good journal. Now, the scientific culture has changed.
Leading researchers in psychology have announced major efforts to replicate
previous work, and to change the incentives so that scientists can do the
right thing without feeling they are wasting time.
Psychological Science is accepting submissions for a new section of each
issue devoted to replicability.
Social Psychology is planning a special issue on replications of key
results in social psychology. Other journals in neuroscience and medicine
are making similar efforts.
AR The Roman calendar, with its year count going
back to 1 CE, is a great way to remind us that time, the dimension of human
experience, goes beyond our personal experience. That the old Romans saw fit
to christen the calendar with a human sacrifice was no more than a reflection of
the times. They could hardly have imagined how much bad metaphysics that
gesture would lead to.
Once upon a time, I packed all my essential
papers into a big silver case I called the ark of the covenant. I then moved
to Germany, where I condensed the stuff in the ark and enriched it with new
stuff. The process led to my production of this year's Coral bomb. Today I
sealed a new condensate of essential stuff in a set of eight boxes I call
the core archive. The boxes are surfaced in crimson linen, like quality
books, and contain a critical mass of texts and images. Together they form a
cuboid, with a volume of rather less than a fifth of a cubic meter, holding
the accumulated wealth of my first sixty years. If fortune smiles, I shall let
the Coral bomb trigger data fusion in the core archive and live
happily ever after.
Arwa Damon, CNN
Sectarianism has returned with a vengeance in
Iraq. Observers fear that tensions between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq could
escalate into war. Tensions are higher now than they have been for years.
The Sunni minority is demonstrating more actively against the predominantly
The conflict in Syria adds fuel to the fire. Iraq
and Syria are battlefields for a power struggle between Sunni Saudi Arabia
and Shia Iran. The Iraqi security forces are seen as protecting Shias and
targeting Sunnis. The government was built on sectarian lines and has failed
to forge a national identity.
AR A shooting war of Gulf states versus Iran
would not only be as hideous as the Iran-Iraq war during the Reagan
years but also impact us all via the price of oil.
Martin Wolf + AR
Austerians say a financial crisis is a mark of moral
turpitude, to be redeemed only by suffering. Latvia was hit by the crisis,
recovered, and is now blooming. Is it?
When financial apocalypse
hit, the Balts pegged their currencies and embraced austerity. A rescue
package was negotiated for Latvia in 2008, with support from the European
Union, the IMF, the Nordic countries, and others.
Latvia achieved a
public surplus of 0.8% in 2012. But its GDP shrank by 25% from 2007 Q4 to
the trough and then grew by only 16% to 2012 Q4, for a net shrinkage of 12%
over 5 years. The cumulative 5-year loss of output was 43% for Estonia, 77%
for Latvia, 44% for Lithuania. The Latvian population shrank by 7.6% in the
5 years to the end of 2012 and the unemployment rate was still 14%.
Latvia suffered one of the biggest depressions in history. It is recovering.
But the Balts had four huge advantages:
1 Latvian labor costs per
hour, in 2012, were a quarter of the EZ average.
2 The Baltic economies are small and open.
External adjustment is a more potent alternative to
domestic stimulus than in larger economies.
3 Foreign-owned banks play a central role in the Baltic
4 The Balts prefer an EU destiny to Russian domination.
Other EU countries are less committed.
Latvia may be a model for tiny
countries, but it is not one for Europe.
Daniel Dennett may be America's greatest
living philosopher. At 71, he is the co-director of the Center for Cognitive
Studies at Tufts University. He has presented himself for decades among his
philosophical colleagues as a ruthless slayer of metaphysical fancy. He is
famous in public for his blunt-talking atheist activism: "There's simply no
polite way to tell people they've dedicated their lives to an illusion."
Dennett studied at
Harvard with W. V. O. Quine and at Oxford with Gilbert Ryle. He says the
mind is a collection of computerlike information processes, the self is a
center of narrative gravity, and the elusive quality of subjective conscious
experience is an illusion. If he had to do it all over again, he says, he'd
still rather tackle free will and consciousness as a philosopher than as a
scientist. That way, he says, he can think about all the cool theories and
lab experiments without ever having "to do the dishes".
AR A fine philosopher in the gadfly tradition of
The Art of Bravery
If you know where to look, it is easy to find
forbidden work online. But artists are in increasing danger, and not just
artists. Rising numbers of journalists are being killed in pursuit of their
Violent and authoritarian regimes don't like the glare of
negative publicity. If you can make them sufficiently uncomfortable, they
frequently respond by setting people free or ceasing arrests.
Authoritarian rulers have an inflated sense of themselves and don't like
being deflated. It is all the more important to continue to deflate them.
Courageous people poke fun from inside these societies.
for story is very deep in human beings. We are the only creature in the
world that tells stories. Sometimes those are true stories and sometimes
those are made up stories. The larger stories, the grand narratives that we
live in, are part of the way in which we conduct the discourse of our lives.
Free expression is the right
from which all other rights are derived. If you can't articulate ideas and
if you can't articulate critiques of other peoples' ideas, then you're
powerless. Authoritarian regimes increase their power by preventing people
from expressing themselves.
AR Is it just
me, or is SR getting rather self-important?
Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands and his Queen Maxima
AR Is there
any end to the human appetite for such daft old pomp?
wind-powered hydrofoil racing yacht designed by Alain Thébault, can sail
at 100 km/h
A new biography
President of Lithuania
THU in Top Universities
Bank of England
New UK £5 note
Departing Bank of England
Governor Sir Mervyn King: "Sir Winston Churchill was a truly great
British leader, orator, and writer. Above that, he remains a hero of the
entire free world. His energy, courage, eloquence, wit, and public
service are an inspiration to us all."
Martin Amis worked on
the NS as literary editor in the late 1970s, he was baffled by
the political commitment of
and James Fenton.
thought the status of art had reached a pinnacle in ancient Greece but
collapsed into vulgarity and silliness in his day. The artist of the
future would fuse the genius of Beethoven and Shakespeare into the new
form of musical drama.
World Thinkers 2013
"God for Harry, England,
and Saint George!"
Thomas de Maizière
greets troops in Mali
The Obama administration will spend $10 billion on
upgrading nuclear bombs stored in Europe. Nearly 200 B61 gravity bombs
stockpiled for use against the Soviet Union will get new tail kits to
turn them into guided weapons for delivery by stealthy F-35
fighter-bombers. The Life Extension Program will produce B61 Mk12 bombs
with 50 kiloton tactical yield. East European states welcome the bombs
to deter Russia.
VW engineer Rolf Hofbauer
invented the 2-stroke OPOC (opposed piston, opposed
Now Eco Motors founder Peter Hofbauer and others
investing $200 million
to build them in China.
Red China has deployed DF-21D
anti-ship ballistic missiles that can take out US aircraft carriers near
Taiwan. This will counter US Navy assets that Taiwan relies on in
case of a crisis.
The Real Karl Marx
2013 April 30
Graphene is a one-atom thick layer of carbon atoms
arranged in a honeycomb lattice. Electrical currents move faster in graphene
than in any other known material. Graphene is also the best thermal
conductor we have. It is much lighter and stronger than steel. The "2D"
layers are transparent and flexible.
The first application for
graphene is probably as a replacement for indium selenide in solar cells.
After that, we may see products such as cell phones integrated into the
likes of the clothes and pieces of paper. Another direction is transparent
displays. We could embed electronic displays almost everywhere.
We are working on how best to manufacture graphene. Several techniques
look promising. Samsung recently made a single layer of graphene 75 cm in
diameter. We hope to make graphene in the same way we print newspapers, in a
roll to roll process. This will transform the economics of the industry.
Theodore Berger, at the University of Southern
California in Los Angeles, has designed silicon chips that work like memory
neurons. He wants to restore the ability to create long-term memories in
people whose brains have suffered damage by implanting the chips in their
The hippocampus makes short-term memories into long-term
memories. Berger has developed equations that describe how
electrical signals move through the neurons of the hippocampus to form a
long-term memory, and he has shown that his equations match reality.
Berger defines memory as a series of electrical pulses over time that are
generated by a number of neurons. You can put an electrode in and record
something that matches this definition of a memory. You can find the set of
neurons that make up this memory.
graduate school at Harvard, Berger's mentor was Richard Thompson, who
studied learning-induced changes in the brain. Thompson used a
tone and a puff of air to condition rabbits to blink their eyes and aimed to
deduce where the new memory was stored.
Thompson and Berger published
the results in 1976. They inserted electrodes into rabbit hippocampus to
monitor single neurons. They recorded the electrical spikes in the as
rabbits developed a memory. The spikes formed patterns that revealed the
code used to form a memory.
In the early 1990s, Berger and colleagues
made computer chips that mimic the signal processing in the hippocampus.
They input random pulses into the hippocampus, recorded the signals at
various points to see how they were transformed, derived equations for the
transformations, and implemented those equations in computer chips. Then
they put electrodes into a brain slice, let their chip perform the
transforms, and sent the output via other electrodes back to the brain
Then they trained rats to push
one of two levers to get a treat and recorded hippocampus traces. They
modeled the signal transforms as the rats laid down memories as well as the
code for the memory, and checked that their device could generate the
memory code from the recorded input. When the rats were given a drug that
blocked the ability to lay down memories, they forgot which
lever gave the treat. The researchers pulsed the rat brains with the code
and they again chose the right lever.
Last year, the scientists
published primate experiments involving prefrontal cortex, which retrieves
long-term memories created by the hippocampus. They put electrodes in monkey
brains to capture the code in prefrontal cortex that the monkeys used to
remember an image. Then they drugged the monkeys to impair that part of the
brain. With implanted electrodes sending the correct code to prefrontal
cortex, the monkeys succeeded at the image task.
Berger and his
colleagues now plan human studies.
Russia vs. Japan
Four islands north of Japan, known in Russia as
the Kuril Islands and in Japan as the Northern Territories, were occupied by
the USSR at the end of WW2. Japan has made their return a condition for
signing a WW2 peace treaty with Russia.
president Vladimir Putin and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe met in
Moscow and agreed to restart negotiations intended to resolve the dispute.
AR My 1996 novel
LIFEBALL, set in 2013, used this
issue as a plot driver.
2013 April 29
During my spare time, I run a popular blog. It started
out small and grew organically. By 2012, my blog wasn't just a hobby
anymore, but a monster of my own making. I'd lost the passion.
You might not realize it until that moment of clarity when the light bulb
flashes in your head. I didn't want to waste all those years of hard work. I
had to change it into something I was happy with.
I went back to
basics. I looked to my audience and considered what they want. I got rid of
anything they might find irrelevant and boring, and instead brought in new
stuff I enjoy.
It's probably the best thing I ever did. I've got my
passion back and I'm enjoying it again. Change is essential for any creative
project. Listen to your gut feelings.
EZ Tax Shenanigans
The Netherlands and Luxembourg had booked foreign
direct investment of $5.8 trillion by the end of 2012 — more than the US,
UK, and Germany combined. The Netherlands attracted FDI of $3.5 trillion, of
which $573 billion ended up in the real Dutch economy. Luxembourg booked
$2.28 trillion in FDI but $122 billion entered the real economy. The
"unreal" economy covers the finance and holding companies that help big
businesses avoid tax.
OECD secretary-general Angel Gurría said
business cannot be blamed for using the rules that policy makers have set
up: "Tax planning strategies that exploit loopholes are mostly legal" yet
"constitute a major risk to tax revenues, tax sovereignty, and tax
This is shameless abuse of weaknesses in EZ policy coordination. No
wonder Chancellor Merkel wants standardization of EZ fiscal and monetary
policy. The present shambles amounts to massive and cynical fraud against every
honest EZ taxpayer.
New York Times
In the Syrian city of Aleppo, rebels aligned with
Al Qaeda control the power plant, run the bakeries, and head a court that
applies Islamic law. Elsewhere, they have seized government oil fields, put
employees back to work, and now profit from the oil. Across Syria,
rebel-held areas are dotted with new courts.
This is the landscape President Obama confronts as he
considers how to respond to growing evidence that Syrian officials have
crossed his red line.
The Islamist character of the opposition
reflects the failure of mainstream rebel groups to secure regular arms
supplies. The rebel movement includes Qaeda-aligned jihadis seeking to
establish an Islamic emirate, political Islamists inspired by the Muslim
Brotherhood, and others who want Sharia law.
extreme groups is the Al Nusra Front, which cooperated with Al Qaeda in Iraq
and claims responsibility for a number of suicide bombings. The group has
set up camp in a former children's hospital in Aleppo and helped establish a
Sharia commission in the eye hospital next door to govern the city's
rebel-held neighborhoods. The commission runs a police force and a Sharia
The United States has designated Nusra a terrorist
organization. As for the red line, the Obama administration says it needs
more conclusive information before it acts.
President Assad is ineffectual. The rebellion is a tragedy.
2013 April 28
We're in the midst of a bionic revolution. The age
when prostheses were largely inert pieces of wood, metal, and plastic is
passing. Advances in microprocessors, interfaces with the human nervous
system, and in battery technology are turning replacement limbs into active
parts of the body.
These new prostheses will
enhance human abilities. They will give us new powers and augment those we
have. While present prostheses are still primitive, we can already see the
trend when a monkey moves a robotic arm on the other side of the planet just
by thinking about it.
We can now enhance brain function. The
hippocampus helps make memories. If it's damaged, people have difficulty
forming long-term memories. Researchers in 2011 created a chip that when
implanted in brain-damaged rats could not only repair memory but also
improve their ability to learn new things.
A 2012 study demonstrated
that brain chips can boost intelligence in monkeys. Scientists implanted the
chips in a set of monkeys and trained the monkeys to play a picture game.
When the implant was activated, it raised their scores by an average of 10%.
The implant made them smarter.
boosting memory and intelligence are in very early stages, in animal studies
only, and decades away from wide use. But the technology will sneak up on
us, starting with people with disabilities, the injured, and the ill. Soon
we'll be doing more and making us superhuman.
Perhaps humans lost their fur, started to walk
upright, and developed big brains because they took to living by the water's
edge. We have subcutaneous fat and a descended larynx, features common among
aquatic animals but not other apes. The aquatic ape theory is backed by a
growing group of scientists.
The theory was first proposed in 1960 by Alister
Hardy, who believed apes learned to live on river banks and beaches. To keep
their heads above water, they evolved an upright stance, freeing their hands
to make tools for fishing. Then they lost their body hair and grew fat to
keep warm in the water.
Peter Rhys Evans: "Humans have particularly
large sinuses, spaces in the skull between our cheeks, noses and foreheads.
But why do we have empty spaces in our heads? It makes no sense until we
consider the evolutionary perspective. Then it becomes clear: our sinuses
acted as buoyancy aids that helped keep our heads above water."
Michael Crawford: "DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that is found in large
amounts in seafood. It boosts brain growth in mammals. That is why a dolphin
has a much bigger brain than a zebra, though they have roughly the same body
sizes. The dolphin has a diet rich in DHA. Without a high DHA diet from
seafood we could not have developed our big brains."
Forty years ago,
Elaine Morgan wrote a popular account of the theory,
The Descent of Women, which became a bestseller.
2013 April 27
Lithuania is a small country. Our business
community trades mostly with the eurozone, so we want to be part of the
currency union. Our currency has been pegged to the euro since 2002, and a
quarter of our national budget comes from the European Union. We understand
the value of solidarity.
After 2009, the Baltic
states had to implement very radical austerity measures. In Lithuania, we
consolidated 12% of GDP in 2 years. We cut public salaries by 20% and
pensions by 10%. Our adjustment was a lot deeper than what we see now in
southern Europe. And we saw growth return after 2 years.
As for the
crisis in Europe, the bottom line is that debt levels have to come down. The
German people are largely responsible for paying for the bailouts. I cannot
imagine a head of government whose country is paying for something not
asking for certain conditions. It is legitimate that Berlin leads the way.
Chancellor Angela Merkel knows exactly how much every policy move costs
for Germany. She is interested in the facts and tries to find a consensus.
Because Germany pays for the bailouts and sets the conditions, she becomes a
target. But if it weren't for Germany, the indebted countries would be
Garry Wills asks how the priesthood become so central
to the Roman Catholic Church. The early Christian community was an
egalitarian movement without priests. Then Catholic priests used concepts
provided by Thomas Aquinas to claim they transformed bread and wine into the
body and blood of Christ. The doctrine of transubstantiation sought to
impose a literal interpretation on a symbolic idea. Wills wants to restore
the Eucharist to its original meaning as a thanksgiving meal. This opens the
way to abolishing the priesthood entirely.
American billionaire philanthropist Stephen A. Schwarzman, founder and
chairman of the private equity firm Blackstone, has launched a scholarship
program to send 200 graduates a year to study in China.
Scholars will fund scholarships for students from overseas to attend classes
at Tsinghua University, Beijing. The endowment will fund the studies of
10 000 students over 50 years, 45% from the United States, 20% from China,
and the rest from other parts of Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Each year,
200 students will take a one-year master's program at Tsinghua in public
policy, economics and business, and international relations or engineering,
starting in 2016.
The $300 million program will be jointly governed
by the Schwarzman Education Foundation and Tsinghua University on matters
including curriculum and faculty, and will enjoy full academic freedom, with
no topic off limits in the classrooms. The students will take classes in
English at Schwarzman College, which will be a new building on the Tsinghua
The Schwarzman Scholars program aims to rival the Rhodes
Scholarship program, which for over a hundred years has enabled foreign
students to study at the University of Oxford, UK. A generation from now,
the president of the United States will have been on a Schwarzman to
Tsinghua, instead of a Rhodes to Oxford, as Bill Clinton did a generation
Schwarzman is donating $100 million of his own $6.5 billion
fortune to the fund. A further $100 million comes from private donors,
including BP, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Boeing, GE, JPMorgan Chase,
Bloomberg Philanthropies, Caterpillar, Credit Suisse, and Deloitte.
Schwarzman is hoping to raise the remaining $100 million by the end of this
The program's advisory board includes Tony Blair, Henry
Kissinger, Brian Mulroney, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Kevin Rudd,
Nicolas Sarkozy, and Yo-Yo Ma.
Tsinghua was founded in 1911, when the
United States used Chinese government money to establish a school to prepare
students sent to study in America. The university has graduated many Chinese
leaders, including current President Xi Jinping and former President Hu
Schwarzman: "For future geopolitical stability and global
prosperity, we need to build a culture of greater trust and understanding
between China, America and the rest of the world ... A win-win
relationship of mutual respect between the West and China is vital,
benefiting Asia and the rest of the world, and enhancing economic ties that
could lead to a new era of mutual prosperity ... The board shares my belief that
fostering connections between Chinese students, American students, and
students from around the world is a critical aspect of ensuring geopolitical
stability now, and into the future."
With input from
Huff Post Business
The Rise of Big Data
Kenneth Neil Cukier and Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger
Fact 1 Big data: Today our world is
flooded with well over a zettabyte of digital information.
Fact 2 Datafication: We can "datafy"
many aspects of the world that we never could before.
Fact 3 Cheap hardware and powerful
software enable us to use data in new ways:
— We can collect and
use all the data rather than trying to extract random samples.
We can shed our preference for cleaned and curated facts and accept dirty
— We can give up our quest for the real causes
and make do with correlations.
Datafication is not the same as
digitization, which takes analog content and reduces it to lots of bits. Google Glass datafies the gaze and Twitter datafies stray
thoughts. Once we datafy things, we can transform their purpose and enhance
data will change how governments work. It will help them generate economic
growth, provide public services, and fight wars. Open data initiatives will
give public access to vast amounts of previously hidden government data.
Antitrust laws are hard to apply to big data, but governments will need to
protect personal privacy against companies like Amazon or Facebook.
Government with big data could become Big Brother. Big data exacerbates the
asymmetry of power between the state and the people. It even allows
authorities to track potential wrongdoers before they do wrong. Predictive
systems may soon be able to drill down to individuals. Prevention is better
than punishment, but it overrides free will. Big data will rock our world.
2013 April 26
The European Dream
The European Union has lost the support of two thirds of its citizens.
Perhaps this is blowback from the politics of austerity, but anti-federalism
was growing across Europe even before the credit crunch. The European dream
is badly in need of a reality check.
A united Europe was the dream of
bad men for many centuries. Today it cloaks the meddling and fraud of the
EU. The idea that such an empire can wield power with the euro and still win
the consent of European people is absurd. Democratic deficits are
The great achievement of modern Europe is national
democracy. There is no way the EU can supplant it through the present EU
parliament, which has no ministerial responsibility, no governing party
discipline, and no identifiable political culture. It is a Potemkin
The introduction of the euro has forced a stark choice
between more Europe and less Europe. But even after the EU, the nation
states of Europe must discipline their dealings with each other, or they
will lapse back into trade controls and mutual hostility.
Euroskeptics need a new vision of Europe. Closer European union started as
an answer first to war and then to communism. So far so good. But then
federalists pretended that a single currency could paper over economic
differences. We need more respect for diversity.
The New Digital Age
Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen
Connectivity encourages and enables
altruistic behavior. The best thing anyone can do to improve the quality of
life around the world is to drive connectivity and technological
opportunity. Most of the world’s population will soon enjoy open online
communications and access to information.
We will soon live in a world where repressive states
will have a dangerous advantage in targeting their citizens. People living
in such places will have to fight harder for their rights. But they will
have at their disposal tools and software designed to help safeguard
citizens living under digital repression.
For every negative, there
will be a counter-response that has the potential to be a substantial
positive. People who try to perpetuate myths about religion, culture,
ethnicity, or anything else will struggle to keep their narratives afloat
amid a sea of newly informed listeners.
2013 April 25
Less Trust In European Union
Public confidence in the European Union has fallen to
historic lows in the six biggest EU countries.
Percentage of nationals who said they tended not to
trust the EU:
The European Council on Foreign
Relations (ECFR) analyzed Eurobarometer polling data for Germany, France,
Britain, Italy, Spain, and Poland: In 2007, trust prevailed over mistrust in
all the countries except the UK, but by 2012 mistrust prevailed over trust
by big margins in all but Poland.
ECFR Madrid office head José
Ignacio Torreblanca: "The damage is so deep that it does not matter whether
you come from a creditor, debtor country, euro would-be member or the UK:
everybody is worse off. Citizens now think that their national democracy is
being subverted by the way the euro crisis is conducted."
Commission president José Manuel Barroso: "At a time when so many Europeans
are faced with unemployment, uncertainty and growing inequality, a sort of
European fatigue has set in, coupled with a lack of understanding. Who does
what, who decides what, who controls whom and what? And where are we heading
German chancellor Angela Merkel: "We still haven't found the
answer to the question of whether we're actually now prepared to unite on
common economic parameters inside the single currency area. If we want to
have a common currency, a common Europe, we have to be ready to give up our
hard-won habits ... That means we have to be prepared to accept that in the
end Europe has the final word in certain things."
Polish PM Donald
Tusk: "We can't escape this dilemma: how do you get a new model of
sovereignty so that limited national sovereignty in the EU is not dominated
by the biggest countries like Germany, for example."
AR Europe needs a new democratic revolution to
sweep away the fat cats in Brussels and Strasbourg. I volunteer to draft the
manifesto — can I get an EU grant to sponsor me?
2013 April 24
Iran Nears Red Line
Former Israeli military intelligence head Amos
Yadlin: "By the summer, Iran will be a month or two away from a decision
about the bomb ... we are on a course of collision towards the end of the
Yadlin stressed that without a drastic
change in the sanctions placed on the Islamic Republic, Iran would continue
buying time and expanding its nuclear program. He added that of American
military credibility is needed for negotiations. "This credibility will be
achieved if the US aims a precise strike to stop the Iranian nuclear program
and show that it can deal with the escalation that would follow this
Iran has kept its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20% below
250 kg, the amount needed, if further processed, to make one nuclear bomb.
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu set the 250 kg mark as the "red line" for a
military strike in a UN speech last year. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayayollah
Ali Khamenei has reportedly decided to rein in the country's nuclear
progress in order to avoid crossing the red line.
AR Grasp the nettle: Humiliate the Islamic
Republic, give the Iranian people a chance to break free of the mullahs,
contain the blowback from Islamists worldwide, and declare victory in time
for President Obama to cut a new deal with Gulf Arabs to cooperate with
Israel in rebuilding the Mideast. But I don't see Obama doing it without a
big jolt from Tehran.
2013 April 23
Barroso, Europe, Austerity
European Commission president José Manuel Barroso
said that while he still believed in the need for sweeping economic reforms
and drastic cuts in budget deficits, political and social acceptance of such
policies was now at risk: "While this policy is fundamentally right, I think
it has reached its limits in many aspects. A policy to be successful not
only has to be properly designed, it has to have the minimum of political
and social support."
My next austerity step is to stop eating to cut costs.
Thomas de Maizière
If the UK were to leave the EU, it would be a
great disappointment to us in Germany. It would weaken NATO and weaken the
British influence within NATO. From a military point of view, the
disadvantages for Britain would be bigger than the advantages.
Germany would lose a strong partner for transatlantic cooperation with
America and a pragmatic British approach to security issues. For the last
five years, the German defense budget has been quite stable. In the future
too, it will remain stable. This is nearly unique in Europe. Of the bigger
countries, only Poland is in a similar position. I see reductions in Britain
In the euro crisis, some countries call for German
leadership. They criticize us when we say leadership means we Europeans
shouldn't spend so much raising debts, and they say this is not good
leadership. But when the leader only fulfills the wishes of the others, that
is not leadership.
Liberal Democrat former armed forces minister Nick Harvey
says Britain cannot afford a new Trident fleet. Lib Dems were infuriated by
the PM's recent claim that the UK needed to retain a "continuous at-sea"
deterrence to protect the country from rogue states such as North Korea.
Harvey calls Trident as a "fantastically expensive insurance policy" that no
longer makes sense: "Trident is, quite simply, a burden that distorts the
AR Merge the British and
French nuclear deterrents and let Europe pay —
America The Skittish
Stephen M. Walt
I am troubled about our collective inability to
keep dangers in perspective and to respond to them sensibly. The speed with
which the Tsarnaev brothers were identified was remarkable, but public
officials shut down the entire city of Boston and several surrounding
suburbs for most of the day, at an estimated cost of roughly $300 million. A
teenage amateur paralyzed an entire American metropolis. Terrorists want a
lot of people watching, and that's what the American media gave them.
Ever since 9/11, our political leaders
have kept us disrobing in security lines, obsessing over every bizarre
jihadi utterance, and constantly fretting about the Next Big One. Terrorism
"experts" keep us on the edge of our seats, even though many other dangers
pose a far greater risk. Bad things happen to good people, and it is the
task of our political leaders to help us keep our heads even when awful
things occur. The reaction to the Marathon attacks was grossly
Richard Dawkins: "Mehdi Hasan admits to
believing Muhamed flew to heaven on a winged horse. And New Statesman sees
fit to print him as a serious journalist."
Tom Watson: "You really
are a gratuitously unpleasant man."
no. Just frank. You'd ridicule palpably absurd beliefs of any other kind.
Why make an exception for religion?"
Watson: "You are gratuitously
unpleasant; I am just frank."
Dawkins: "A believes in fairies. B
believes in winged horses. Criticise A and you're rational. Criticise B and
you're a bigoted racist Islamophobe."
2013 April 22
US GDP To Grow 3%
The US GDP will become 3% bigger in July as
billions of dollars of intangible assets enter the accounts. The revision
adopts a new international standard in the biggest update since 1999 and
rewrites history back to 1929. Bureau of Economic Analysis national accounts
manager Brent Moulton: "We're capitalizing research and development and also
this category referred to as entertainment, literary and artistic originals,
which would be things like motion picture originals, long-lasting television
programs, books, and sound recordings."
To Boldly Go
Subjects that were once in the realm of science
fiction are now serious. Predictions:
With big new telescopes, we can look for planets like Earth orbiting stars
like our Sun.
2 Space trips for tourists
around the Moon are likely soon, with round trips to Mars later.
3 In this century, flotillas of tiny robotic
spacecraft will map the Solar System, initially for minerals.
4 In a century or more, human colonies are
likely to be living independently on asteroids or on Mars.
5 Humans will be redesigned to cope with
hibernation or suspended animation for interstellar travel.
6 New computers will create virtual universes
containing artificial life, allowing virtual time travel.
2013 April 21
Andrew Zak Williams
New Atheists have recently been accused of
Islamophobia. Sam Harris imagines a radical Islamist state acquiring long
range nuclear weaponry. An avowedly suicidal regime makes nuclear deterrence
a worthless currency. Harris anticipates the possibility that the United
States may find itself having to press the button first. But so do we all.
One can dream up allegations about any religion that are so obscene that
no believer should be expected to respond. But Islam's holy book, taken
literally, demands an embrace of violence and reprisals that wouldn't be
tolerated by any humanist ethos. These tenets and precepts have real
consequences and repercussions for all of us.
We are used to seeing
Muslim spokespersons choosing the aftermath of a terrorist attack carried
out in the Prophet's name to practise mealy-mouthed equivocation at the
price of heartfelt sympathy. Then again, many moderate Muslims are at the
front of the queue deploring much that is done in the name of their faith.
The atheist community will not be bullied by lazy allegations of bigotry
leveled against those who point out that a religion that harbors such extremes
has some explaining to do. Resort to the tag "Islamophobia" is justified
only if you adapt a bizarre definition of the word that is satisfied merely
if the religion is held up to scrutiny.
2013 April 20
The Tsarnaev Brothers
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was
originally from Chechnya and came to the United States with his family in
either 2002 or 2003. He studied engineering at a community college in
Boston. He was also a boxer, participating in a national Golden Gloves
competition, and dreamed of fighting in the Olympics.
Tamerlan was a
Muslim. He did not drink or smoke and said "there are no values anymore" and
"people can't control themselves". After five years in the United States, he
said: "I don't have a single American friend. I don't understand them."
YouTube he subscribed to a channel called "Allah is the One."
His brother Dzhokhar, 19, entered the U.S. at the same time and attended a
public high school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he became a Greater
Boston League winter all-star for wrestling. He also won a scholarship of
$2,500 from the city of Cambridge in 2011.
The area near Chechnya
where the brothers originate has been a hotbed of Islamic insurgency. Their father Anzor Tsarnaev described
Dzhokhar as "a true angel" and "a second-year medical student" in the
"He is such an intelligent boy. We expected him to come on holidays here."
Douglas Yoffe: "I met him almost 10 years ago, I was down at one
of the boxing gyms and he was boxing ... I said he must have had some fights
in Russia, he was too polished for such a young kid. He was very relaxed,
very smooth in the ring ... But he did have an arrogant, disdainful
hatte Tamerlan Zarnajew schon 2011 im Visier
Tamerlan Zarnajew ist Anfang 2011 vom FBI befragt worden. Er soll
"Anhänger eines radikalen Islam" gewesen sein und sich darauf vorbereitet
haben, die USA zu verlassen, um sich Untergrundorganisationen anzuschließen.
AR Face facts: Islam again. We have a clash of
civilizations. Nominative determinism: The original Tamerlane was the "Sword
of Islam" in the 1300s who led Mongol hordes on rampages that killed an
estimated 17 million people. See Coral.
UK and IMF to Fight
A Battle in May
UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne
is preparing an aggressive battle with the IMF in May over the
credibility of his Plan A for austerity in the UK. Osborne fears IMF
officials will criticize his plan as part of a proxy attack on US
AR He should be proud to
do battle on behalf of US capital.
The NASA Kepler orbiting
telescope has found three
good candidates for habitable worlds outside our solar system:
Kepler-62e and Kepler-62f are the outermost of 5 planets around
Kepler-62, which is 11 Em away.
Kepler-69c is on the edge of the habitable zone of Kepler-69, which is
25 Em away.
1 exameter = ca 105 light years
TMT Observatory Corporation
The Thirty Meter Telescope has go for construction on the summit of
Mauna Kea, Hawaii. TMT will join 13 others on the peak but will dwarf
them all: the biggest now are the twin 10 m Keck telescopes. If all
goes well, its astronomy will start in 2021.
NK supreme leader Kim Jong-un
and his new
wife Ri Sol-ju
SK president Park Geun-hye
Professor Jean-Denis Rouillon has been
studying women's breasts. He has found that, after a year, the bosoms of
young bra wearers sag an average of 7 mm more than free-range boobs. A
Japanese experiment from 1990 had similar results. Science has blown the
claim that all women need lifelong surgical supports across their upper
torsos. Is it time to sack the straps?
Lose the bras, girls.
US To NK
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says NK is "skating
very close to a dangerous line" as it heats up the rhetoric: "Their actions
and their words have not helped defuse a combustible situation." He said the
USSK is "fully prepared to deal with any contingency".
Skate and burn —
Seen in Belfast, Northern Ireland
Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead
(YouTube, 0:31) now has over
a million views.
2 preview files,
20 book pages each,
are now available
2013 April 19
A sane man's contempt for the United States Senate
must now be certain and complete. Given its null response to the mass murder
of schoolchildren, those who still believe that our governance represents
popular will are suckers or worse.
The higher house of our bicameral
farce is one in which 40% of the American population choses 60% of the
representation. And the lower house is gerrymandered to a point where a
majority of American votes are guaranteed to achieve a minority of the
representation. But focus on the money.
We have given our democratic
birthright over to capital. The risk to political careerists from individual
Americans who want stricter gun laws pales beside that from a lobbying group
backed by those who profit from the fear and violence in our culture. Only
cash has meaning to those who claim to represent us.
It isn't the American presidency that's
broken, it's the legislative branch. The sin was the equivocation that
declares money to be speech. The government has elevated money and guns over
German power was central to Europe even before
the principalities of the Holy Roman Empire were soldered together by Otto
von Bismarck. Unification, and then reunification, turned the German
question into the abiding dilemma of European geopolitics.
The euro was the price Helmut Kohl paid to
Francois Mitterrand to win his blessing for reunification. It is not
responsible for the financial mess in the British economy. But it is easy
for those suffering from austerity to see the euro as a sinister German
The progressive integration of the German economy with those in
the east plays to the same conspiracy theory. In the early stages of the
euro crisis, the gripe was about an absence of leadership. Yet many of those
who fear Germany complain that Berlin prefers the role of a greater
Switzerland to that of a big player in European defense.
criticism of Germany that sticks is about the idea that all would be well if
others behaved like Germans. Adjustment has to be symmetrical. For others to
cut their deficits, Germany must shed some of its surplus and learn to carry
Lawrence Wright tells a scary story in
Going Clear. The Church of Scientology started as a method of
psychological self-help, but now has at least $1 billion in liquid assets
and property estimated at about the same amount, making it among the richer
Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, born in 1911 in
Nebraska, had some talent as a writer and a good deal of personal charm.
Though his life may have been spoiled by his own frailties, he apparently
needed to see himself as a serious thinker, and maybe even was one.
In his book
Dianetics, Hubbard describes the procedures to master in order to
progress. Many members and former members claim to have gotten some benefit
from the Scientology training. The people who grew up in the church were
taught to despise "wog" (without goals) society.
lawsuits as a weapon. When in 1993 the IRS sent a bill to Scientology for $1
billion in back taxes, Scientologists infiltrated it, IRS agents were
threatened, and their lives became a sea of legal and domestic torments. The
agency capitulated and granted Scientology the status of a religion.
Sid Kouider at the ENS Paris and colleagues used
EEG to record electrical activity in the brains of 80 infants while they
were briefly shown pictures of faces.
awareness of a stimulus is linked to a two-stage pattern of brain activity.
Areas of the visual cortex fire immediately after a visual stimulus. About
300 ms later other areas light up, including the prefrontal cortex.
Conscious awareness emerges when the second stage reaches a threshold.
Kouider and colleagues put EEG caps on groups of babies aged 5, 12, and
15 months, to record brain activity as the babies were shown a series of
rapidly changing images. Most of the images were randomly patterned ovals,
but among them was a face, flashed for between 17 and 300 ms.
group responded to the face with the two-stage pattern. In the babies aged
12 and 15 months it arrived 800 to 900 ms after the image display. In the
5-month babies, there was a delay of more than 1 s before the second pattern
appeared. In adults, it appears after 300 ms, on average.
are not direct evidence of subjective experience. We don't know how short
the delay must be for awareness.
2013 April 18
The Digital Public Library of America is launched
today. The holdings of U.S. research libraries, archives, and museums
become available to everyone online and free of charge.
expresses an Enlightenment faith in the power of communication. Thomas
Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin both believed that the health of the
Republic depended on the free flow of ideas. Thanks to the Internet, we now
can realize their dream. We can make all the collections of all our
libraries accessible to all. That is the mission of the DPLA.
DPLA will be a distributed system that will make the holdings of public and
research libraries, archives, museums, and historical societies available
via the web. The user-friendly interface will enable readers to consult
works that used to be stored on inaccessible shelves or locked up in
treasure rooms. Readers will simply navigate to the
2013 April 17
The Magaret Thatcher state funeral today was a classic British exercise in
imperial pomp, the greatest
since the funerals of Winston Churchill in
1965 and the Queen Mother in 2002.
Top Ten Internet neologisms:
1 Avatars — This word
for our digital incarnations has a mystic origin in the Sanskrit term
avatara for a god descended from the heavens into earthly form.
2 Hashtags — Once an American shorthand for weight in pounds, the # sign was
adopted by Bell engineers as the function symbol on their phones. Hashtags have come into their own on Twitter.
problems — Entirely innocent words can fall victim to machine filth-filters
thanks to unfortunate sequences of letters within them. The effect was
labeled in honor of Scunthorpe in 1996, when AOL temporarily prevented any
Scunthorpe residents from creating user accounts.
4 Trolling — The Old
French verb troller means to wander around while hunting, and "trolling"
entered English to describe fishing by trailing bait around. This idea of
baiting the unwitting led to online trolling, where net users simulate naivety to ensnare the naive. Trolls are also monstrous
— Richard Dawkins coined the term "meme" in
his 1976 book The Selfish Gene to signify a unit of cultural transmission.
6 Spam — The
most enduring gift of British comedy series Monty Python's Flying Circus may
be the reuse of the brand name used since 1937 by the Hormel Foods
Corporation for spiced ham. Spamming came to describe any process of
drowning out "real" content.
LOLs — If you type "LOL" or "lol",
you're not literally laughing out loud. You're offering a kind of stage
direction: dramatizing a move in a conversation through written words.
8 Meh — The supremely useful "meh" expresses a
contemporary species of indifference. It suggests something like "OK, whatever" and was apparently first recorded in a 1995 episode of The
9 Cupertino errors
— Also known as "auto-correct errors", a
Cupertino error occurs when your computer thinks it knows what you're trying
to say better than you do. The name comes from the California city where
Apple has its headquarters.
— In Low German, a geck is a
crazy person. In 1952, Robert Heinlein used "geek" in the sense of a
freakishly adept technology enthusiast.
2013 April 16
Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt: "For every
person online, there are two who are not. By the end of the decade, everyone
on Earth will be connected."
About 38% of the world's population uses
the internet in 2013, up from about 35% last year, according to the ITU.
Poor and developing nations around the world are isolated by crumbling or
nonexistent Web infrastructures, and others are hindered by factors ranging
from geography to censorship.
Google supports a project called Geeks
Without Frontiers, a nonprofit group that donates computers and related
technology to poor areas around the world. The group now aims to bring
wireless access to regions with no traditional Web access. In Africa, more
people have access to a mobile phone than have access to electricity.
Samsung is backing a project to turn old shipping containers into
solar-powered, web-enabled classrooms in places like South Africa and Sudan.
Privacy is so last century!
The Facebook Home app integrates all
of the social network's services into Android. Instead of having to download
apps, access is consolidated on the user's home screen. Facebook says the
data Home would collect is no different from what the site already tracks.
Privacy is fast becoming an outdated concept.
David Rowan: "Our
concept of privacy is very much a 20th century idea. All that personal data
you are giving to these private companies they are making money on and they
decide how it's going to be used. You lose control of that data."
Jaron Lanier says we pay for the big online services such as Google and
Facebook by giving away information about ourselves that can be turned into
Andrew Keen: "Facebook wants to know everything we do, so
they can sell more advertising. It shows that Facebook has absolutely no
respect for our privacy." He foresees a "scary, nightmarish, dystopian
future" of "radical transparency" where every aspect of our existence is
recorded: "Data distribution and the invasion of our privacy is the
pollution of the big data age."
NK engineers launched a satellite into space December
2012. After the launch, US Navy ships recovered the front section of the
rocket and found clues about NK warhead design. US officials say the NK
missile cone had dimensions to fit a nuclear warhead for atmospheric
The Defense Intelligence Agency, in a classified assessment,
expressed "moderate confidence" that NK "has nuclear weapons capable of
delivery by ballistic missiles". Intelligence has been building for years
and now suggests NK has mastered miniaturization and warhead design.
2013 April 15
NK Has Won
NK nuclear and missile technology has already found
its way to the Mideast. The regime helped Syria develop a nuclear reactor.
It has sold its wares to anyone willing to pay and works closely with Iran.
The crisis has already broadcast a message of encouragement to tyrants
and regimes considering nuclear weapons. If you have nuclear capabilities,
it doesn't matter how outrageously you behave, how horribly you mistreat
your people, how flimsy your economy is. Superpowers are afraid of making
As NK threatened a "preemptive nuclear attack" on the US,
the "final destruction" of SK, and a "nuclear attack" on Tokyo, world powers
held talks with Iran over its nuclear program. The talks went nowhere.
Last September, Tehran and Pyongyang signed a cooperation agreement like
the one NK signed with Syria a decade ago, which brought NK technicians to
help Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad build a nuclear reactor that Israel
destroyed in 2007. Iranian scientists observed the third NK nuclear test
earlier this year.
AR If Obama were to
nuke the NK nuke site, that would send a message too.
2013 April 14
News Is Bad 4U
News is to the mind what sugar is to the body. News
flashes are bright-colored candies for the mind.
Today, we are beginning
to recognize how toxic news can be:
● News is irrelevant
News has no explanatory power
● News is
toxic to your body
● News increases
● News inhibits
● News works like a drug
News wastes time
● News makes us
● News kills creativity
Books are good.
This just in:
Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens are accused of
All are accused by
Nathan Lean, Murtaza Hussain, and Glenn Greenwald of New Atheist bigotry.
2013 April 13
SK Leader Battle Ready
New York Times
Her mother was shot by an assassin. Her father, a
staunchly anti-Communist dictator, was similarly killed. And she survived a
vicious razor attack to the face.
New SK president Park Geun-hye, 61,
is as hard as they come. On learning that her father had died, her first
concern was over an NK invasion. Her first question after an operation for
the razor attack in 2006 was how her party was campaigning.
so tough that her gender is a nonissue. Choi Jin, head of the Institute for
Presidential Leadership in Seoul: "She dispelled whatever doubt there had
been about a female president by showing that she was a strong-minded
But she may go too far in hanging tough. She filled the top
security posts in her cabinet and staff with former generals and plays
hardball with the NK regime.
Richard Wagner the prophet and Adolf Hitler the disciple?
cut of the troubled history of the Wagner family
2013 April 12
Cameron and Merkel
David Cameron will discuss European reform with
Angela Merkel on a visit to Germany this weekend.
Cameron: "We need a Europe that is more open, that is more
competitive, that is more flexible, that thinks more about the cost that
it's putting on businesses, particularly small businesses; we want a world
that wakes up to this modern world of competition and flexibility. That is
CDU deputy parliamentary chairman Michael Meister: "We want
to unify Europe and we have to do it together, and I think there are a lot
of common ideas with the British side and the German side on it."
If someone robs your house, you don't say: "I
disagreed with the burglar's policy of tying me to a chair. But I did admire
Maggie's supporters are insulting her memory with a
funeral paid for by the taxpayer. They should say: "If you can't stand on
your own two feet, you can't expect help from the state."
The impasse over the Iranian nuclear program may
have reached a balance. Each party is more comfortable with the status quo
than with any available alternative. Tehran is more inclined to stand its
ground than make a deal, and Washington prefers the present impasse to war.
Israel may feel less comfortable, but the risks of a unilateral Israeli
strike might convince Israel to hold its fire. Iran has stopped short of
their red line.
Pentagon Security Breach
Sensitive information about the NK nuclear program from a
classified March 2013 report was discussed during an open hearing on Capitol
In a hearing to discuss the Pentagon
budget, Representative David Lamborn read a sentence in a report by the
Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA): "DIA assess with moderate confidence the
North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic
missiles, however, the reliability will be low."
Officials said after
the hearing that the sentence he read was "mistakenly" marked as
AR All this reminds me of
the foreplay to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Graft In China
The Little Red Book is gone. With the loss
of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, China no longer has an ideology. New
President Xi Jinping appeals to patriotism, but before the Chinese dream can
move the masses, the country needs to fight corruption. New Premier Li
Keqiang: "Since we have chosen public office we should give up all thought
of making money."
So far, Xi and Li have pursued easier objectives,
ordering officials to abandon high-style living. It seems some official
departments are turning their canteens into luxury restaurants so that they
can continue to enjoy their banquets. The regime goes after the small fry
but is leery of targeting corruption in the higher ranks. Investigations
reveal vast wealth accumulated by relatives of the party's inner circle and
by the descendants of the old revolutionaries. The upper ranks of Chinese
society form a robber baronage.
Officials bundle peasants off the
land to sell it and get business kickbacks for factories that pollute the
air and rivers. Transforming so corrupt a system from top to bottom has dire
political implications. If the Chinese people don't tackle corruption, China
will be doomed, but if they do tackle corruption the party will be doomed.
China needs leaders who put people above party.
The artist formerly known as Johnny Rotten, John
Lydon, says those now celebrating Margaret Thatcher's death are "loathsome".
The former Sex Pistol added: "I'm not going to dance on her grave." He also
denied being a misogynist and a Nazi.
Good theology helps one to live for a while in
silence. Apophatic theology is often called negative. It is a habit of mind
that we have lost sight of in our talkative age of information.
theology takes us through speech to another dimension of reality. The
apophatic moment can only occur after a feast of noise. God is not goodness,
not soul, not intellect. But a vigorous affirmation of God is an essential
part of the process.
When we speak of God we have no idea what we are
talking about. It is all too easy to turn what we call "God" into a being
like ourselves, writ large, to give our prejudices a seal of transcendent
approval. Apophatic silence is good.
Armstrong is nearly there. Zen is apophatic: Let silence peak in a moment of
satori. Bang — all over. No God. No more blabber, just clarity and calm.
2013 April 11
NK: "War can break out any moment"
North Korea has erected at
least one Musudan missile into its firing position. A US official said the
erection may be a trial run to check everything works. The missile is an
untested No-Dong-B BM-25 Musudan MRTBM (based on the Soviet R-27 SLBM) with
a range up to 3,500 km (3.5 Mm) and 1.6 km CEP for its 1,200 kg (1.2 Mg)
China Forex $3.4T
China is again facing heavy capital inflows after its foreign
exchange reserves jumped to $3.44 trillion — about as big as the German
GDP — in Q1.
Money fled China in 2012. Its return stoked fast
credit growth in Q1. The People's Bank of China has stepped up liquidity
withdrawals to blunt the inflationary effect of the inflows. Beijing has
capital controls to prevent speculative inflows, but investors are sneaking
China's GDP grew at 7.9% in Q4 2012 and is
expected to be higher for Q1 2013.
Would that we could share such pain.
OMG: English Evolves
OMG has a long history. In a
1917 letter from First Sea Lord Admiral Sir John Arbuthnot Fisher to First
Lord of the Admiralty Winston Spencer Churchill, the old admiral wrote: "I
hear that a new order of Knighthood is on the tapis — O.M.G. (Oh! My God!) —
Shower it on the Admiralty!"
As for LOL, the textual speech act of
laughing out loud is a stage direction for transient feelings. ROFL (rolling
on the floor laughing) exceeds lolling in intensity, while ROFLMAO (rolling
on the floor laughing my ass off) is more ironic. Or I can LMFAO (laugh my
fucking ass off).
This is memetic evolution in action. Within a
few letters and characters, deep layers of meaning are gathering.
Texting was originally a test tool for network operators. But it caught on
with young users who found its cryptic characters an ideally minimal
medium in an era of information overload.
Some texters act
"for the lulz". The lazy lower case letters and use of the "internet z" as a
typo for "s" convey a shift of meaning. They connote subversion, as the name
of the hacker collective LulzSec (Lulz Security — "the world's leaders in
high-quality entertainment at your expense") suggests.
acts are performative. Typing for lulz signals membership of a tribe. It
adds wit to communicative intent. And it puts an exchange in a shell of
self-reference. Even if the texted me resembles my true self, "I" remain an
elaborate self-invention, performed letter by letter.
sometimes outsource the composition of crucial text messages and status
updates to their more eloquent friends. Their 140 characters are crafted and pitched to sound spontaneous — poetry.
Johnny Rotten Sexist Pig
Former Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten, now known as
John Lydon, 57, told Australian TV anchor Carrie Bickmore to "shut up when a
man is talking". Lydon insulted Bickmore when she cut in with a question.
He went on: "Stop it. You sound like one of them dreadful loud birds I don't
When she said he was offensive, he
replied: "So are you when you do that. You have to learn what manners and
respect is." A fellow TV anchor: "He was a flat-out sexist, misogynist pig."
2013 April 10
The euro crisis threatens to destroy the European
Union. Eurozone countries are indebted in a currency they don't control.
They are held guilty and the structural defects of the euro go uncorrected.
The blueprint for the euro created two problems. The
political problem is that Germany did not seek the dominant position into
which it has been thrust and it is unwilling to accept the obligations and
liabilities that go with it. The financial problem is that Germany is
imposing the wrong policies on the eurozone. Austerity doesn't work. You
cannot shrink the debt burden by shrinking the budget deficit.
In the bailout of Cyprus, Germany went too far.
Attention focused on the impact of the rescue on Cyprus, but the impact on
the European banking system is far more important. Banks will now have to
pay risk premiums that fall more heavily on the weak.
for problems of the eurozone is eurobonds. Countries that abide by the
fiscal compact could be allowed to convert their entire stock of government
debt into eurobonds. Germany has no right to prevent this. If Germany is
opposed to eurobonds, it should consider leaving the euro.
left, the euro would depreciate. The debtor countries would be more
competitive and their debt would become sustainable. By contrast, if Italy
left, its debt burden would become unsustainable and would have to be
restructured. This would plunge the global financial system into a meltdown.
Germans should choose between accepting eurobonds or leaving the euro.
Authorizing eurobonds would benefit Germany. The cost of leaving the euro
may be the end of the European Union.
When Margaret Thatcher came to power, she faced a Britain still dreaming of
being a world power but blocked by the power of the trade unions. With
aplomb, she neutered the unions and woke up the UK. But she also set up
Britain for the growth of financial market capitalism and drove it to the
brink of deindustrialization. She discredited the EU in the UK. She helped
Ronald Reagan win the cold war, but on German reunification she was cold.
— Die Welt
The social coldness that is making Britain
shiver once again today is her legacy. After her forced resignation in 1990,
she was asked what she had changed as leader of the country, and she
answered: "Everything." That crowing answer is the key to understanding her.
She was always a rebel.
— Süddeutsche Zeitung
Thatcherism stands for
deregulation, privatization, and the destruction of the welfare state. No
one divided British society as much as Margaret Thatcher. She destroyed the
trade unions and ruined the public sector. As soon as she gained office, she
lowered the top tax rate from 83% to 60% and raised VAT from 8% to 15%.
During her time in office she used up more than 100 ministers and surrounded
herself with yes-men. Only one women made it into her cabinet.
Thatcher liberalized the British financial sector. The move
triggered the massive boom of the City of London. Between 1993 and 2006, the
British economy grew by 2.8% on average per year while unemployment fell
from 9% to 4%. But since then, the world has learned that faith in free
markets was a mistake. The Big Bang was followed by the Big Bust. Today
prime minister David Cameron and his finance minister George Osborne look
with envy at the industrial heart of the German economy.
Christopher Hitchens, December 1990
Margaret Thatcher, November 1990: "I make up my mind about people in the
first 10 seconds, and I very rarely change it." Within minutes of first
being introduced to me, Thatcher lashed me across the buttocks with a
rolled-up parliamentary order paper.
It happened in 1977, when she
was still leader of the opposition and was pandering to South African
racists. I made the mistake of bowing as if to acknowledge some point of
hers, and she took swift advantage of my posture by shrieking, "Bow lower!"
and spanking me. Later, in 1979, she reversed her position and oversaw the
transition of Rhodesia into Zimbabwe.
It is easy to summarize the
foulness of the Thatcher years: the combination of Malthus and Ayn Rand that
went to make up her social philosophy; the police mentality that she evinced
when faced with dissent; the awful toadying to Reagan and Bush; the
indulgence shown to apartheid; the coarse, racist betrayal of Hong Kong; the
destruction of local democracy and autonomous popular institutions.
Thatcher was a radical and not a reactionary. She has shown that there is
power and dignity to be won by defying the status quo.
2013 April 9
"Maggie! Maggie! Maggie! Out! Out! Out!"
Maggie Thatcher forced us to dislike her. She seemed intent on
monetizing human value and famously cared little for the impulses that bind
individuals into a society.
But before her reign TV schedules were a
state secret not shared with daily newspapers. A special license was granted
exclusively to the Radio Times. It was illegal to put an extension lead on
your phone — you had to wait six weeks for an engineer. There was only one
state-approved answering machine available. Electricity was a state
monopoly. Thatcher swept all this away.
We live in a world that is
harder and more competitive, and certainly more intently aware of the lure
of cash. It is doubtful that we will ever undo her legacy.
With Denis Thatcher
David Cameron: "Margaret Thatcher succeeded against all the
odds, and the real thing about Margaret Thatcher is that she
didn't just lead our country, she saved our country, and I
believe she will go down as the greatest British peacetime prime minister."
Tony Blair: "Margaret Thatcher was a
towering political figure. ... Her global impact was vast."
Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013)
The Iron Lady was the most charismatic British prime
minister since Winston Churchill.
She was PM from 1979 to
With Ronald Reagan
Barack Obama: "The world has lost one
of the great champions of freedom and liberty, and America
has lost a true friend. Here in America, many of us will
never forget her standing shoulder to shoulder with President Reagan, reminding the world that we are not simply
carried along by the currents of history — we can shape them with moral conviction, unyielding courage and iron will."
Cyprus was partitioned in 1974. Its northern third remains under Turkish control.
Greek Cypriots in the south built a freewheeling banking center.
grew rich on chaos in
Lebanon, the former Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union.
capita Cypriot income quadrupled between 1975 and 2011. In US
dollars, earnings per head rose by a factor of over 20 over the same
Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004 and the euro in
2008. But tax havens and
brass plaque economies fell out of favor.
Wesley Clark on NK
Big Nuts Rise Faster
On Earth Than On Mars
MIT Technology Review
TU Braunschweig physicist
Guttler and colleagues have shown that Brazil nuts in a shaken container
of mixed nuts would rise to the top more slowly on Mars than on Earth,
and even more slowly on the Moon.
The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer was installed on the
International Space Station in 2011 and has recorded more than 25
billion particle events, including 400,000 positrons. The results show
"unexpected new phenomena" and will be published Friday.
matter is unknown stuff that in total has six times more gravity than
ordinary matter. Scientists think dark matter particles should
occasionally hit one another, annihilating into positrons and electrons,
which AMS can detect at higher energies (up to 350 GeV) and better
precision than previous experiments. AMS has observed a uniform positron
excess across the sky, suggesting a single explanation.
John Kerry, Tuesday:
"The bottom line is simply that what Kim Jong Un
is choosing to do is provocative. It is dangerous, reckless. The United
States will not accept the DPRK as a nuclear state."
AR Right on,
Korea rattled off fresh volleys of bombast over the weekend, declaring
that it had entered a "state of war" with SK and calling the US mainland
a "boiled pumpkin".
2013 April 8
Leslie H. Gelb
President Obama has told Iran's leaders that if
they come close to marrying a nuclear warhead with a missile that can hit
the United States or our allies, they should expect a U.S. military attack,
yet he's not nearly as tough with North Korea.
Is North Korea more or less dangerous than Iran?
Is President Ahmadinejad more or less crazy than
President Kim Jong-un?
Is Pyongyang too far
gone toward nukes to stop, while Tehran is not?
Israel more important to American security than South Korea and Japan?
Obama made his strongest statements against Iranian nukes to AIPAC,
suggesting that Israel and oil count for more than Seoul and Tokyo. American
tolerance of Kim's nukes may push South Koreans and Japanese toward their
AR The US umbrella is effective against NK,
which is constrained by China, but not against Iran, which wants a
Zen and the NHS
MIT grad Jon Kabat-Zinn discovered Zen in 1965:
"That first class took the top off my head. I found a sense of largeness
beyond my little preoccupations of what would happen to my future, or my
relationships. It opened up a new dimension of being which could offer more
meaning and enable me to interface more effectively with society in a way
which could be healing and transformative."
Kabat-Zinn developed the Mindfulness Based Stress
Reduction (MBSR) program: an eight-week course of meditation and yoga that
train practitioners to pay close attention to the current moment. Since
then, a steady stream of academic papers, books, and randomized control
trials led to hundreds of MBSR programs across the US.
years, Kabat-Zinn has collaborated with psychologists in the UK who have
adapted his work for Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), now
recognized by NICE as a treatment
for depression. Kabat-Zinn and others say mindfulness has unlimited
applicability to healthcare issues. UK policymakers are keen to hear more.
AR Excellent move: I like
The EZ risks drifting into prolonged stagnation.
A recovery now looks fanciful. Even Germany has run out of steam. Growth
will not come fast enough from structural reforms. Rich EZ countries need to
help their poor partners.
SMEs are the engine of job creation. Yet
they find loans hard to get and expensive. The ECB should lower its policy
rate. It could offer cheap loans to banks or lend directly to SMEs.
AR Yes, lend me what I need to create an SME.
2013 April 7
Ban Killer Robots
Some say robots could be more accurate in battle
than human soldiers. But current machines have no way to conform to
international law. Their sensing systems are not up to that. They lack the
vital components of battlefield awareness and common sense reasoning to make
decisions about whom to kill.
Robots do not have the agency to decide
if striking a target is proportional to the expected military advantage.
There is no metric for this. Much of war is art and not science. A military
commander must make a qualitative decision about the civilian lives that can
be risked for a military objective.
A robot has no moral agency. Some
would hold the commander who sends a robot on a mission responsible. But the
problem could lie with the mission programmer, the manufacturer, or an
unknown subcontractor. Maybe the device was tampered with in the industrial
supply chain or damaged in action. Forensics are difficult with complex
The United States has the opportunity to take a lead. We
need to think about how:
1 An adaptive
enemy will exploit the weaknesses of robot weapons with spoofing or hacking.
2 Unknown computer programs will interact when
swarms of robots meet.
3 Autonomous weapons
could destabilize world security and trigger unintentional wars.
month in London, a group will launch a civil society campaign to stop killer
AR A ban would be hard to
enforce, worse than a nuclear proliferation ban.
2013 April 6
In 2004, Google co-founder Larry Page predicted
that online search "will be included in people's brains" so that "when you
think about something and don't really know much about it, you will
automatically get information".
Google didn't set out with a strategy
for world domination. When last year Google announced it would bring the
data collected through its online services together, the move made business
sense. By tracking our every email, appointment, and social networking
activity, Google Now can predict where we need to be, when, and with whom,
to relieve us of making decisions. But six European countries are asking if
Google's data policy violates their national privacy laws.
defending personal privacy as a human right. Google Glass is a line of smart
glasses that privacy advocates compare to stylish CCTV cameras that people
and cover self-driving cars and Google Glass, our internet searches might be
linked to our driving routes, and all the ads we saw linked to the scenery
might be based on everything that Google already knows about us.
many, this may be an enticing future. Only by understanding it can we get
Google to act more responsibly. For an engineer, the past and the present
are just raw materials for making a better future. Let's make it right.
The Cairo subway was one of Hosni Mubarak's
proudest achievements. It cost several billion dollars and was beautifully
appointed. A special police unit kept the stations clean and safe. Then came
the Egyptian revolution. Today, the subway is a wreck. The tile walls of its
central hub, Tahrir Square, are chipped and filthy. Platforms are strewn
with litter and passageways stink.
Egyptian women now fear shopping
or taking cabs at night. Cairo police sit in their precinct houses and
refuse to provide security. Tourists have vanished. Youth unemployment and
inflation are high and rising, and much of the economy is unregulated and
unofficial. Egypt imports roughly $60 billion worth of goods and services
per year but exports under $25 billion.
Egypt spends about 20% of its
budget on fuel subsidies, and Egyptians spend 70% of their income on
subsidized food. But to secure the IMF loan Egypt needs to unlock more aid
and investment, it must cut its subsidies and plan for growth. Many
Egyptians blame the mess on the incompetence of President Mohammed Morsi and
his ruling Muslim Brotherhood.
I deeply regret going to graduate school. It was
a terrible idea. After years of trying, I will not get a job. Tenure-track
positions in my field have about 150 applicants each. Multiply that chance
by the 10 or so appropriate positions in the entire world, and you have
about 6% chance of success. You wouldn't bet your life on such ludicrous
Just go do something else. By the time you finish graduate
school, you academic self will be the culmination of your entire self, and
thus you will believe that not having a tenure-track job makes you
worthless. You will believe this so strongly that when you do not land a
job, it will destroy you, and nobody outside of academia will understand
Don't resent the generation of full professors teetering toward
retirement, cleaving resolutely to their positions. Their tenure lines will
die with them. You don't need to put yourself through 5 to 10 years of the
hardest work you will ever do, followed by years of rejection and dejection,
simply to regret it. When it comes to graduate school, just say no.
AR Cheer up, Rebecca, write a rom-com screenplay
2013 April 5
Narratives Of War
Emile Simpson sees two kinds of war. Traditional
bipolar conflicts are fought to establish military conditions for a
political solution. A new kind of war seek political outcomes directly,
usually via counterinsurgency. In the former, strategy is largely driven by
the operational needs of warfare. But in the latter, operations are
themselves political tools, used to undermine the adversary, deprive him of
political support, and if possible to convert him. In both, the war aim is
to convey a message.
In old wars, the primary audience
was the enemy population. In new conflicts, the adversary is disparate, the people at home may be puzzled and divided, and a much of the
audience is global. An operation that conveys one message to one
audience may mean something else to another. The operations of
the United States and its allies in the Mideast were intended to convey a
message of liberation to local populations. But for many on the
receiving end, and for many global observers, they were imperialist.
No responsible government now uses armed force without calculating the
global impact of doing so. A strategic narrative is needed that explains why
one is at war at all, and how the military operations can help. The
narrative must not only be reasonable but also appeal to the emotions. Above
all, it needs an ethical foundation. The wider audience must believe that
one is fighting a just war. The genius of Winston Churchill in 1940 was to
devise a strategic narrative that not only inspired Britons but also won the
support of the United States. By contrast, Hitler had no good strategic narrative.
AR The Kim
Jong Un strategic narrative fails too.
UK PM David Cameron defended his decision to
retain the Trident nuclear deterrent by citing the threat of an NK nuclear
strike against the UK: "North Korea does now have missile technology that is
able to reach, as they put it, the whole of the United States and if they
are able to reach the whole of the United States they can reach Europe too.
They can reach us too, so that is a real concern."
AR If NK can nuke the UK, then I'm a
billionaire. If this is the best defense Cameron can find for Trident, then
scrap it. If this is an acceptable threat claim, then what Tony Blair said
about the Iraqi WMD threat was acceptable too.
2013 April 4
Lost In The Cloud
Clusters of servers scattered worldwide now hold
our music, photos, and mail. We are moving toward living our entire digital
lives in the cloud. Your digital stuff now sits in vast data centers owned
by the likes of Amazon, Google, or Microsoft. The cloud lets us access
online services and digital possessions from any of our devices. It seems
that by 2020 the cloud will run all digital life.
Storing your stuff with a service offered by a third party is like dumping
your things in someone else's warehouse. But service agreements that would
be unacceptable for a physical warehouse are standard for cloud storage.
Though you technically retain copyright for stuff you create and upload, in
fact the service terms generally reserve many rights. The services can
delete files, or lose your stuff with impunity.
Our understanding of
property is based on material objects, but digital information has no fixed
physical existence. A digital file exists as a state of matter rather than
matter itself. And your cloud possessions rarely exist in just one location.
There is no way you can track them. If your file has already been uploaded
by someone else, Dropbox will just link you to the existing files instead of
uploading a duplicate. Your relation to your cloud property is confusing.
Some say we should restructure the basic
architecture of the cloud to help bring it closer to traditional notions of
property. One idea is modeled on a deposit box. For example, you would keep
a photo on a small local server. There would be no doubt that you legally
own a photo stored in your box. A Facebook image would be uploaded from your
box whenever it was needed.
A cloud "doomsday event" such as a
massive and widespread loss of data would jog our ideas.
Offshore Tax Haven
Millions of internal records have leaked from
Britain's offshore financial industry. Thousands of holders of anonymous
wealth are exposed by the British Virgin Islands (BVI) data leak, involving
some $30 trillion stashed in overseas havens. Naming names may be damaging
for many of the world's wealthiest people.
The BVI has incorporated
more than a million offshore entities since it began marketing itself
worldwide 30 years ago. The UK Foreign Office depends on the licensing
revenue to subsidize the BVI, while lawyers and accountants in the City of
London benefit from a lucrative trade as intermediaries. The 200 GB of BVI
data covers more than a decade, as well as offshoots in Singapore, Hong
Kong, and the Cook Islands.
AR All this
is rank corruption. The BVI should be closed down immediately, by force if
2013 April 3
Young man: "She told him that she loves me, which
is an important data point." Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier
would call this datafication: "To datafy a phenomenon is to put it in a
quantified format so it can be tabulated and analyzed."
analysis is a branch of digital analytics that seeks to identify the
viewpoint(s) underlying a text span. This is accomplished by identifying the
words in a proposition that originate in subjectivity, and thereby obtaining
an accurate understanding of the feelings and the preferences that animate
the utterance. This finding can then be tabulated and integrated with
millions of similar findings, to create a vast repository of information
about inwardness, which can be mined to detect patterns that will enable
prediction, for example using the Good Grief Algorithm to detect
We are ambiguous beings. We frequently have mixed
feelings, and are divided against ourselves. We use different words to
communicate similar thoughts, but those words are not synonyms. Our meanings
are often obscure. A choice is often a coarse and inadequate translation of
a feeling. In an election, what matters is that I vote. The same is true of
what I buy. A business wants my money. Its interest in my heart is owed to
its interest in my money. In the scholarly papers on sentiment analysis, the
examples given are restaurant reviews and movie reviews — a Rotten Tomatoes
view of life.
Mayer-Schönberger and Cukier: "With the help of big
data, we will no longer regard our world as a string of happenings that we
explain as natural and social phenomena, but as a universe comprised
essentially of information." The religion of information is here.
Union of Concerned Scientists
We put rigorous,
independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. We
combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative,
practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.
began as a collaboration between students and faculty members at MIT in 1969
is now an alliance of more than 400,000 citizens and scientists. UCS members
are people from all walks of life. Our members understand that scientific
analysis should guide our efforts to secure responsible changes in
government policy, corporate practices, and consumer choices.
AR Digital analytics is what the engine I worked
on at SAP did. But data — even big data — needs a lot more than a few "good
grief" algorithms to become real science.
2013 April 2
The Meme Hustler
Tim O'Reilly, founder and CEO of O'Reilly Media, gave us
such memes as open source, Web 2.0, government as a platform, and
architecture of participation. He is a smooth and stylish self-promoter as
well as a prolific blogger and tweeter. He says his company's vision is to
"change the world by spreading the knowledge of innovators" and his personal
credo is to "create more value than you capture".
As a young man, OR had hopes of writing deep books that
would change the world. In 1978, he launched a consulting firm that
specialized in technical writing. The growth of open source software was his
first big break. He hosted a summit to define the concept, wrote provocative
essays on it, produced a host of books and events to popularize it, and
cultivated a network of thinkers for it.
To support his narrative
about open source software, OR produced an account of the Internet that
became the standard way to talk about its history. He saw that as software
migrated from desktops to servers — now the cloud — it was counterproductive
to fixate on licenses. As he saw it, many of the key developments of
Internet culture were driven by open source behavior.
In 2004, OR hit
on the idea of Web 2.0. He said Silicon Valley companies should heed the
lesson of the 2001 market crash and find a way to make collective
intelligence part of their business model. The label caught on, and OR ran
events with titles like "Gov 2.0".
In public, OR presents himself as
someone who just happens to excel at detecting emerging trends. He does so
by monitoring a group he dubs the "alpha geeks" and promoting their ideas:
"Just as gene engineering allows us to artificially shape genes,
meme-engineering lets us organize and shape ideas so that they can be
transmitted more effectively, and have the desired effect once they are
With the election of Barack Obama in 2008, OR turned
his attention to government reform. His writings on Gov 2.0 reveal the same
talented meme-engineer who gave us open source and Web 2.0.
to redefine participation to something that arises from individual
frustration with bureaucracies and usually ends with citizens using or
building apps to solve their own problems. Debates about the content and
meaning of specific reforms and institutions are replaced by governments
calling on their citizens to help find spelling mistakes in patent
applications or use their phones to report potholes. That politics can
aspire to something more ambitious than bug-management is not an insight
that occurs after politics has been refracted through the prism of open
As The New Yorker reported in 2010, British PM David
Cameron is using the OR memes in his BS:
David Cameron's Big
The Big Society is Cameron's plan to devolve power
"from the elites in Whitehall to the man and woman on the street". The
program comprises public-service reform (cutting red tape), community
empowerment (transferring authority to the local level), and social action
(encouraging voluntarism and philanthropy — getting people to do things for
nothing that they used to get paid for).
This is Wikipedia
government, intended to mend Broken Britain by way of piecework.
Qualitatively, the goal is to compel a more robust citizenship, in which
people must not only pay taxes and refrain from doing ill but actively seek
to do good.
2013 April 1
SK President Park Geun-hye: “If there is any provocation
against South Korea and its people,
there should be a strong response in
initial combat without any political considerations."
Guardian Goggles: because life's too short to think for yourself
Stonework by my nephew #3
Oxford beat Cambridge
POTUS To NK
As Air Force One flies
Barack Obama to Miami,
deputy press spokesperson
Josh Earnest tells onboard
rhetoric emanating from
North Korea only deepens
nation's isolation. The
United States remains
our allies in the region and
our interests that are
Kim Jong Un says
"the time has come to settle accounts with the U.S. imperialists in view
of the prevailing situation".
The USAF flew B-2 bombers over
Korea in military exercises. US Forces Korea: "The United States is
steadfast in its alliance commitment to the defense of the Republic of
Korea, to deterring aggression, and to ensuring peace and stability in the region."
Made in USA
Google is working with Foxconn to
assemble its new headset at a facility in Santa Clara, California. The
small scale, high cost, and complexity of the project's initial run
makes it practical to base manufacturing operations near Google HQ. Only
a few thousand Google Glass devices will roll off the line in the coming
weeks. Manufacturing locally will allow Google engineers to be closely
involved with the production process and facilitate quick fixes and personal customization. Many
sourced in Asia.
Spamhaus blacklists servers used to
spew forth spam around the net. Last week, a spammer launched a massive
distributed denial of service attack on Spamhaus that knocked it
offline. The attack was so big it blocked DNS servers and slowed down
the internet for users worldwide. Spamhaus reacted by turning to
CloudFlare, which can spread the traffic over a larger bandwidth.
CloudFlare CEO Matthew Prince likened the attacks to digital nuclear
bombs. Cyberbunker, a web hosting service housed in a disused nuclear
bunker in the Netherlands, may be the culprit. It was recently added
to a Spamhaus blacklist.
AR I felt
Cyprus EZ Model
After Cyprus, EZ leaders will push the risks
of paying for bank bailouts from taxpayers to private investors. Eurogroup
president and Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem: "Taking away the
risk from the financial sector and taking it on to the public shoulders is
not the right approach. If we want to have a healthy, sound financial
sector, the only way is to say: Look, there where you take the risks, you
must deal with them, and if you can't deal with them you shouldn't have
taken them on and the consequence might be that it is end of story."
AR Quite right. Sanity at last.
Russian state TV news anchor Dmitry Kiselev
called the EZ action in Cyprus "destructive" and said the last time a
European government acted so recklessly was when Adolf Hitler robbed the
Jews. Nazi propaganda described their money as "dirty" — how
EZ officials now describe Russian money in Cyprus.
AR EZ goes it loose,
to quote a phrase.
If you say it over and over again, "Jesus"
morphs into Cheesus.
Lovers of Cheesus celebrate the cross of Good Friday as a
moment of triumph. This is theologically illiterate. Cheesus is Jesus-lite, a romantic infatuation.
No PR agency in the
world could sell the message of a man who told his followers they too would go the way of the cross.
The Dark Side of the Moon
Album released 40
when the UK was being held
to ransom by the National
Union of Mineworkers.
Bibi Says Sorry
As Barack Obama was leaving Israel, Benjamin
Netanyahu called Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan and apologized for
mistakes in the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident. The two agreed to make up.
AR Bibi saw sense.
Axis of evil
Data from the 4-year ESA Planck spacecraft mission
shows the universe is slightly older than we thought and fits the
inflationary scenario. Lingering mysteries include a cosmic "axis of
evil" and an odd cold spot.
ESA Planck CMB Map
The European Space Agency has released the
most detailed map yet of the cosmic microwave background. The map,
made by the Planck telescope, reveals tiny variations in the average
temperature of about 3 K. Cooler regions (blue) are more dense and later
seed stars and galaxies. The data suggests the universe is about
13.82 billion years old. Normal matter seems to comprise 4.9%, dark
matter 26.8%, and dark energy 68.3% of the universe. This is a snapshot
of the universe about 12 Ts after the big bang.
Sugar is the real villain in the obesity
epidemic. Cocaine and heroin are deadly because they are addictive and
toxic, and so is sugar: "We need to wean ourselves off. We need to
de-sweeten our lives."
"The food industry has made it into a diet
staple because they know when they do you buy more. This is their hook."
Fat Chance: The Bitter
Truth About Sugar
Can Russia Save Cyprus?
Europe is clueless following the rejection by
Cyprus of the EU bank rescue package. Rich Russians launder money in
Cyprus, so Cyprus is appealing to Russia for help.
AR Monday the UK helicoptered cash into
Cyprus for stranded British servicemen. Maybe it should helicopter the
men out: Cyprus could implode.
Top 5 Arms Exporters
Ranking for 2008-2012:
pushed the UK out of the top 5: 55% of its arms exports went to Pakistan.
St. Patrick's Day Party
der Kultur, Heidelberg
Setting the Agenda for a Science of Information
PDF: 85 slides, 10 MB
FAA 787 OK
Federal Aviation Administration approves Boeing 787
Dreamliner battery fix and gives go-ahead for test flights. The fix
improves insulation between battery cells, puts the battery in a
fireproof box, and allows any smoke to vent outside the aircraft.
Boeing wants resumed flights within weeks.
Falkland islanders referendum:
want to stay British?"
Electorate 1,650; turnout 92%;
yes; 3 voted no.
One Ring To Rule Them All
Google has built rings that not
only adorn a finger but also let wearers log in to a computer or online
account. It says using a ring to log in is less risky than reusing
2013 Easter Sunday
1 Alain de Botton
The challenge of
our times is not to measure the god-shaped hole, but to fill it. Three ways:
For centuries in the west, priests were
there to take care of your soul. The deep self has not lost its aches and
pains simply because some scientific inaccuracies have been found in the
bible. Psychotherapy remains a minority activity, out of reach of most
people. Christian societies would imagine there was something wrong with you
if you had no priest, but we usually assume that therapists are there solely
for moments of extreme crisis. There is also an issue of branding. Therapy
is depressing. It has a long way to go to plug the gap left by the
Claims that culture could stand in for scripture
still sound eccentric or insane. But the qualities that the religious locate
in their holy texts can often be found in works of culture. Novels and
philosophy can impart moral instruction and offer consolation. Equivalents
to the ethical lessons of religion lie scattered across the cultural canon.
The notion of replacing religion with culture only sounds odd because
universities fail to train students to use culture as a repertoire of
Some say art museums are our new churches. But art
museums abdicate their potential to function as new churches by failing to
frame their collections in a way that links them to our inner needs. A walk
through a museum of art should amount to a structured encounter with ideas
that are easy to forget but are vital to remember. The challenge is to
change our art museums to serve the needs of psychology as effectively as
they formerly served those of theology. In the course of casting off
bad ideas, secularists have lost useful and attractive aspects of the
2 Francis Spufford
Richard Dawkins shows indifference
to all religions except Christianity. He feels he is locked in righteous
combat with the powers of darkness. For him the world is obscured by a layer of
corrupting gunk that purports to mediate between us and meaning but actually
hides the truth. We need to take up the wire wool of reason and
scrub the lies away. We need no priests. We can and must see the world as
But the project is impossible. Direct apprehension of truth is
not available, except via the hard work of science. That gunk the New
Atheists scrub away is the accumulating deposit of human culture. It grows
faster than they can remove it. We'll never arrive at the Year Zero where
everything means only what science says it should, for our imaginations will
never stop. We cannot disenchant the world. Even advocacy for disenchantment becomes a new enchantment, with prophets, heresies, and myths.
Alain de Botton finds
virtues and beauties in religion. He seeks to reconcile unbelief with
a fertile culture. Maybe we are entering a more tolerant phase, where
atheists abandon the impossible task of trying to abolish religion and
tackle instead the more useful task of sorting the good kinds from the bad.
3 Jim Al-Khalili
As a scientist, I have an unshakeable
conviction that our universe is comprehensible. There is no need
for a supernatural being to fill the gaps in our understanding. We shall
fill them with answers arrived at by examining hypotheses, testing our
theories, and dropping them if they conflict with empirical
data. Scientists are constantly subjecting our worldview to scrutiny. This
is the opposite of blind faith.
Not all scientists abandon a view
when proved wrong, and not everyone with religious faith follows it blindly.
If you are convinced that there is a deeper significance to the universe or
a spiritual meaning to your life, I shall not try to convince you otherwise.
But I take issue with the arrogant attitude that religious faith is the only
means of providing us with a moral compass. That idea is nonsense.
We still have a long way
to go to rid the world of the bigotry and injustice that come with religion. But we can afford to
moderate our criticism and tolerate those with a faith. I believe we are winning the argument. This
is no time for complacency, but we are now in a strong position to change
attitudes, to correct laws, and to build a fairer society
in which religion does not confer special privileges.
Our society is
no longer predominantly religious. Atheists are the mainstream. We cannot
afford to be complacent or conciliatory on the evil intent of religious
fanatics, the stubborn ignorance of creationists, or the injustices against
women or minority groups in the name of barbaric medieval laws, but we can
take a softer approach. Some atheists will call me an accommodationist. I
call myself a humanist.
4 Karen Armstrong
Most of us are
introduced to God and Santa Claus at about the same, but
over the years our views of Santa mature and change, while our notion of God
often gets stuck at an infantile level.
Religious thinking in the
west is often remarkably undeveloped, even primitive. Maimonides and Aquinas
both insisted that God was not another being. God, said Aquinas, is being
The biblical God is a starter kit. Throughout history, many
people have been content with a personalized deity, not because they
believed in it but because they learned to behave in a way that made it
real. Religion is a form of practical knowledge, like driving or dancing, not the quest for an abstract truth.
Usually religion is about doing things and it is hard work. The Christian Trinity was a new way of thinking, an activity rather than a metaphysical
truth. It is probably because most western Christians have not been
instructed in this exercise that it remains incomprehensible or
If you don't do religion, you don't get it. Originally,
belief meant commitment. When Jesus asked his followers to have faith, he
was asking his disciples to give all they had to the poor, live rough, and
work selflessly for the coming of a kingdom in which rich and poor would sit
together at the same table. Real faith demands overcoming
selfishness to bring new meaning into our world.
5 Richard Holloway
No matter how they answer the God question, generous-minded people could
profit from adopting an attitude of critical sympathy toward religion and
maybe even try it.
Most religions have two main departments. Natural
theology addresses ultimate questions about our universe, so natural
theologians are like philosophers, and they usually end up in a kind of
agnosticism. Revealed theology tries to work out the meaning of the
messages that God has sent us from beyond to answer our questions.
Revelation is what you get when you go to the synagogue or church or the
mosque. You get instructions from God to do this or abjure that.
problem is the circularity of the claims made by exponents of revealed
theology. If you ask them how they know that the words they quote came from
God, they say the Bible or the Quran or the Whatever tells them so. To the
question of where all this stuff came from, the obvious answer is that it
came from us. All these sacred texts are creations of the human imagination,
crafted to tell a story. They are myths. A myth is a
story that encodes but does not necessarily explain a universal human
experience. Ask of a myth not whether it is true or false but whether it is
dead or alive.
2013 March 30
Austerity in hard economic times mean giving up the
car, going out less often, cutting not just amenities but necessities, or
what we think are necessities. The people who take the hardest hit are the
poor and vulnerable.
Most of the things that are most valuable in
human life do not cost money. It might be pleasurable to dine with friends
in a fine restaurant, but to meet them on a park bench in the sunshine can
be good too. Material possessions can become an impediment.
Epictetus, the Stoic philosopher of antiquity, said that the truly rich
person is he who is satisfied with what he has. Enforced austerity might
teach one to be grateful not to be burdened with more than is sufficient.
So long as people measure their worth by how much they earn or own, they
will think that having less is austerity, that living more simply is
austerity, that getting to know their own locale rather than rushing to
distant beaches is austerity.
2013 March 29
China's territorial claims to islands and waters in
East Asia have turned bellicose and even provocative. The Philippines and
Japan say they will become "strategic partners" in settling their maritime
disputes with China. Japan is one of the world's most capable maritime
powers, and actively defends claims to the disputed islands known as the
Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
problems predate the People's Republic of China. Many Chinese are convinced
that old maps and imperial records imply historical Chinese control. In
1895, China and Japan fought a war and Japan annexed the islands. Now that
China's economy has surpassed that of Japan, the two countries are locked in
their most sustained and bitter dispute since World War II.
Subramanian argues that China will eclipse the United States even if
Washington pulls off a turnaround by balancing the budget and getting growth
back on track. Within the foreseeable future, China will surpass the United
States as the world's biggest economy. China will be in a position to
dominate it politically as well. The best Washington can do is prepare for
Edward Luttwak predicts that China cannot rise as a
superpower in its current incarnation. Its growth will cause countries to
band together and stymie its rise. Germany's economic and military growth
caused France and England to ally with each other, and China's rise to the
top is causing a reaction, not only in Japan and the Philippines but also in
the United States.
In 2010, China responded to the arrest of a
Chinese fishing captain who had violated Japanese territorial waters by
issuing inflammatory statements, arresting Japanese businessmen, and
effectively suspending rare earth shipments to Japan. Then it sought to make
a deal with Japan. But the Japanese were alarmed, and this prompted the
national government to take action.
All rising powers cause a
reaction, and rarely gain hegemony unless they create or take advantage of a
historic turning point, such as a war. The United States used Japan's defeat
and the decline of Britain and France after World War II to move decisively
into the Pacific as a donor of economic aid. By contrast, China is seen as a
predator and a challenge to its neighbors.
Graham Hill sold his Internet company for millions
in the late 1990s and went on a shopping binge. But it failed to buy him
happiness, so he downsized to a 39 sqm studio: "My space is small. My life
Hill has a point. Many people amass belongings not because
they have to, but because they want to. Such conspicuous consumption and
waste seems obnoxious and can imply unhealthy psychic needs.
Minimalism has roots in the spiritual asceticism of Zen, Jain, early
Christians, and Gandhi. In 1936, Richard Gregg coined the term "voluntary
simplicity" to describe the lifestyle. It still wins converts.
Everett Bogue had an epiphany in 2009 that led him to quit his New York job,
sell his possessions, and wander around the world. After three years of
living out of one bag, he blogged: "Fuck Minimalism."
lives in California with his wife and children. He takes walks, gardens, and
spends time with his family. He calls it simple living, not minimalism, and
thinks you can own stuff and still live simply.
AR This is how I plan to live.
2013 March 28
eurozone can do the right thing in the end. Superior alternatives assume a
nonexistent degree of solidarity among member states. Short of funding a tax haven, the present plan is the least bad one.
2 Euros are
not all equal. Nearly all euros are bank liabilities. The value of a euro of
bank liabilities depends on the solvency of the bank and the government
behind the bank. If both are insolvent, lenders may lose much of their money
and find the rest frozen behind controls.
3 The relationship between
banks, sovereigns, and the eurozone is complicated. There is no EZ consensus
on the principle that creditors, not taxpayers, should pay if a bank becomes
insolvent. The German government would rescue Deutsche Bank if it were in
4 The "bad marriage" that binds EZ members together has got
College Grads In Coffee Shops
Too many college kids are living in Mom's basement,
or working at Starbucks. Grad school often makes it worse. Skilled workers
with higher degrees are ending up in jobs that don't need
cognitive load of the jobs done by college students spiked in 1990-2000, as the IT revolution created new roles for thinkers. Then it started
to fall. Now college students do more routine work.
It seems we no
longer need so many skilled workers doing hard jobs with a
big analytical component. Grads who can't get those jobs are taking less
skilled ones. Unskilled workers are dropping out.
We may be
over-investing in college:
1 A lot of college attendance is seat warming
rather than useful learning.
2 More students with degrees end up in jobs
that don't make use of them.
3 A substantial number of kids drop out,
with debts but no job prospects.
Yet the wage premium for a college
graduate is higher than ever. Lower skilled workers are falling out of the
higher paying jobs as college graduates move down the skill ladder. College
graduates are having trouble getting good jobs, but the unskilled workers
are doing even worse. This doesn't prove that college degrees are raising
This is bad news. Kids are still taking expensive college
courses, but the credentials are often inflated tickets to routine service
jobs. If you plan to major in English, get ready for a career at
The word for "ungoogleable" — "impossible to find
via web search" — is gone from the Swedish lexicon published by The
Language Council of Sweden.
had become a notable neologism during 2012, but Google's lawyers got wind of
the council's intentions and told it the company did not want its trademark
diluted. Google proposed the definition "something that cannot be found on
the web using Google" together with a trademark notification.
Instead, the council dropped the word from its list. Council director Ann
Cederberg: "Google asked the Language Council to amend the definition of the
word. Today, we instead are deleting the word, marking our displeasure with
Google's attempts to control the language."
Cederberg: "One purpose
of the neologisms list is to show how society and language development
interact with each other. Google wanted to amend the definition and add a
disclaimer about its trademark ... We have neither the time nor the
inclination to pursue the lengthy process that Google is trying to start."
AR Google has forgotten its motto: "Don't be evil." Free speech implies
we must stop lawyers trying to tell us what we may and may not say.
2013 March 27
Carlos Frenk proposed dark
matter long ago. Today it is orthodoxy. Wherever dark stuff accumulates
normal matter follows, drawn by its gravity, to form stars and galaxies.
Dark matter explains the fact that clusters of galaxies whirl around too
fast for the amount of ordinary matter in them. And patterns in the CMB
reveal matter in the early universe poised between gravitational contraction
and expansive pressures in a way that agrees with dark matter theory.
My research suggests that to reproduce the facts we need dark matter as
a cold soup that barely moves at all. The energy from exploding supernovas
and stuff falling into black holes sends vast quantities of gas swirling
violently around. My simulations suggest that, if normal gas is shaken
enough, it swirls dark matter around too. Dark matter particles could then
be jostled by normal matter just enough to stop it clumping too densely.
The NASA gamma-ray telescope Fermi offers evidence for the idea of
normal matter kicking dark matter around. Cold dark matter theory suggests
you can see its particles collide and annihilate in a flash of gamma rays.
But annihilating superparticles would produce gamma rays with a spread of
energies, unpredictably. Frenk: "The case is absolutely fascinating, but I
don't think we've found anything yet."
David Shields wants to forge a literary form that can
articulate experience and assuage loneliness: "The only way out is deeper
in." He reveres Proust but no longer has the patience to read him. He reads
because he wants to watch others thinking and he writes from the compulsion
to share his mind's movements. But he believes writers must confront "the
marginalization of literature by more technologically sophisticated and thus
more visceral forms".
2013 March 26
Cyprus EZ Deal
How far can one bend to a country like Cyprus without
losing credibility? The most important glue holding the EZ together is the
mutual confidence of its members, but Club Med countries are increasingly
furious over the austerity diktats from Berlin, Brussels, and Frankfurt.
Cypriots see themselves as the innocent victims of a
ruthless bailout policy. They say their business model differs only slightly
from those of Ireland, Luxembourg, and the UK. But now, says a Cypriot
diplomat, "the German public only associates us with money laundering, the
Russian mafia, and oligarchs".
The Germany intelligence agency BND
portrayed Cyprus as a hub for money laundering. Wealthy Russians liked the
setup and invested billions in Cyprus, avoiding the Russian tax collector.
According to the BND, 80 Russia oligarchs have sheltered their money on the
President Anastasiades initially opposed the EZ plan to
introduce a mandatory levy on savings deposits to bridge the funding gap.
When he acquiesced, he insisted that small deposits also be levied, only to
claim afterwards that the hardliners from Germany had supported the
inclusion of ordinary savers. He had wanted to protect large investors.
Berlin rejects all blame for the crisis.
I back Berlin: Close down
the tax havens. Give law-abiding taxpayers a break.
Cyprus has been forced to succumb to the will of
Germany. Germanophobia is unfair. German taxpayers will once again be
funding the biggest single share of yet another eurozone bailout. Yet
growing German power is now the main theme in European politics.
The European Commission, the IMF, and the ECB took the lead in the Cyprus
negotiations. But no deal could go through without the German government.
The Germans have a clear and consistent analysis of the problem. They
believe that fiscal profligacy or faulty business models lie at the heart of
the crisis, and the solution is austerity, allied to structural reform.
The notion that Europe should be driven forward by a Franco-German
partnership was crucial to French thinking. But any notion that France is
playing an equal role to Germany has disappeared. Germany is writing the
cheques, enforcing the rules, and increasingly making them up as well. That
is a dangerous situation for Europe.
AR Not really. Recall the Holy
Roman Empire. Ample precedent, I'd say.
The ancient world turned on city states and
empires. The city is the smallest human association capable of
self-government. The empire is the most extensive possible grouping under a
single sovereign. Athens was a city. Rome was an empire.
Cicero was a
major reference for Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. Medieval thinking is
divided between those who carry on the ancient tradition and those who
announce or prepare the work of the moderns. Europe was in search of an
Modernity was defined by a movement toward a reordering.
Medieval authors were caught up for ten centuries in confusion. The rupture
associated with Machiavelli and with Luther allowed a fresh start.
Machiavelli stated that fortune favors the bold. He dismissed moral precepts
and traditional inhibitions. He reduced all the virtues to hope and courage.
It was a call to revolution.
Luther attacked ecclesiastical mediation
between man and God. The rupture empowered temporal authorities. The
repository of religious authority became the community of believers. The
Reformation was a national revolution.
With the Church set aside, the
social world accelerated. The nation became the natural framework of
civilized human life. Europeans felt that they inhabited the most perfectly
developed political form.
During the twentieth century, the nation
state was discredited and now belongs to a past age. Europeans are in
transition from one type of human association to another.
AR Family — tribe — nation — polity: EU or EZ?
No, GO! The Cloud!
Brain parasites can change behavior:
A parasitic wasp attaches its eggs to the belly of an orb spider. They
zombify the spider to spin a cocoon for the baby wasps when they emerge.
● A parasitic fungus infects an ant.
The ant seeks out a spot on a tree about 25 cm above its trail, facing
northwest. At noon, it bites a leaf, holds on, and dies by nightfall. A few
days later, a tube sprouts from its head and emits fungus spores to infect
● A worm
reproduces in sheep. It hijacks the brain of an ant, which it programs
to climb to the top of a blade of grass every evening and hold on tight. The
ant waits all night for a grazing sheep to eat it. If it's still there in
the morning, it climbs down to avoid the sun. In the evening, it climbs up
and tries again.
● A parasite
called Toxoplasma gondii reproduces in cat guts. To get there,
it prompts its host to risk being eaten by a cat. Rats infected with Toxo
like the smell of cat urine. Toxo in brain areas controlling fear and
pleasure damps down alarm at the smell of cat urine and boosts the pleasure
hormone dopamine instead. Toxo is linked in humans to disturbed behaviors
such as reckless driving and a greater risk of suicide. Studies show men infected with Toxo become
introverted and wear rumpled old clothes, whereas infected woman dress
smartly and become more trusting and sociable.
The influenza vaccine changes human behavior. A study of 36 academics (a) two
days before and (b) two days after getting a jab showed that from (a) to (b) they almost doubled the number of people they interacted with and
cut the amount of time they spent with each person by a factor of more than
ten — ideal to spread the virus.
'r' us. Genes 'n' memes.
2013 March 25
EU Approves Cyprus Deal
EU ministers have approved a deal on Cyprus. The
deal leaves accounts worth less than €100,000 untouched. But those above
that level in Laiki Bank will be severely cut. The losses on large deposits
in Bank of Cyprus could reach 40%. The deal releases a €10 billion bailout
package and saves the island from bankruptcy. It will destroy the offshore
financial business that was the engine of the island's economy.
AR No pain, no gain.
EZ Breakup Looms
A eurozone that comprises countries as diverse
as Germany and Cyprus is not sustainable. An operational banking union with
supervision, resolution, and deposit insurance is the minimal condition to
make a monetary system work. But the eurozone does not meet it. Germany says
it is too expensive.
The crisis over Cyprus illustrates the problem.
It began when EZ officials decided to tax insured deposits, failing to see
the danger of a bank run. The Cypriot government committed three blunders:
1 Its failed appeal to Russia for help offended Germans.
2 Its days of
silence toward European officials lost trust.
Its proposal to raid the pension fund was abhorrent.
makes repeated policy errors. The policy of adjustment via austerity turned
a recession into a depression in Italy. A policy that goes against the
interests of the people is immoral.
AR The EZ can only work
well when Germans learn how to lead it.
David Nirenberg argues that hostility to Judaism was
deeply and pervasively woven into the fabric of Western Christianity. The
early Christians defined their beliefs in opposition to Judaism. Christians
said that in refusing to acknowledge Christ, Jews had failed to follow their
England prospered in the years
after the Norman Conquest in 1066. Jews flourished with it, and their
culture and expertise had much to offer. But after a hundred years, the king
regulated the loans made by Jewish lenders. The Jews were thrown out in
1290. The story was similar elsewhere in Europe.
The legacy of the
Christian Church was anti-Judaism. Enlightenment figures found in Jews an
archetypal avarice and deviousness, and in Judaism a primitive superstition.
Marx called for the emancipation of mankind from Judaism. Weber
rehabilitated capitalism by associating it with Protestantism.
Muhammad faced a paradox in embracing a revelation from which everything
must begin afresh while continuing to respect the authority of the Hebrew
scriptures. His followers depicted Jews as resisting the revelation of
Muhammad and even plotting against him. The seeds had been planted.
Martin Luther's onslaughts on the Jews arose from his anxiety that the world
was converting to Judaism. Nirenberg: "Luther's reconceptualization of the
ways in which language mediates between God and creation was achieved by
thinking with, about, and against Jews and Judaism."
AR All dead weight in spaceship Earth.
2013 March 24
Are We All Martians?
NASA says the Curiosity rover found proof of
running water not so long ago on Mars. When it drilled into a rock in an
ancient stream bed, it discovered sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen,
phosphorus, and carbon, which could feed life.
discovered in the drill sample was gray, not red. Life on Earth was possible
because no free oxygen existed on the planet at first. Organic materials
exposed to oxygen get oxidized, releasing energy we use for life, in a slow
Oxidized iron is red rust. The fact that not all the surface stuff on
Mars is oxidized suggests the early wet environment was not oxidizing and
not entirely acidic, so early life could have burned some of the material in
the gray clay for energy.
If we find evidence for life on Mars, the
big question will be whether it is or was related to us. Material routinely
travels between Earth and Mars, and microbes could too. Perhaps life first
originated on Mars and then was transported to Earth. If that's true, I'm a
Iraq War For Oil
Big Oil won the Iraq war. Before the 2003
invasion, Iraq's domestic oil industry was nationalized and closed to
foreigners. Today it is largely privatized, and dominated by Big Oil.
ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Shell, and service companies such as Halliburton
are all doing business in Iraq. The war let them in.
Oil was the aim of the Iraq war. In 2000, Big Oil
spent big money to get oilmen Bush and Cheney into office. The National
Energy Policy Development Group reviewed Iraq and reported in
May 2001 that Mideast countries should be urged "to open up areas of their
energy sectors to foreign investment".
Before the invasion, two
things stood in the way: Saddam Hussein and Iraqi law. The invasion got rid
of Hussein. Some Bush insiders said they should change the law through the coalition government of Iraq. Instead, the Bush
administration drafted a law for a newly elected Iraqi government to pass.
The Iraq Hydrocarbons Law would lock the nation into private foreign
investment on terms friendly to Big Oil. The Iraqi government was pushed to
pass it but refused. So in 2008, the oil companies simply signed contracts that provide all of the access and most of the
terms they wanted.
Law or no law, the new contracts open Iraq to Big
Oil. Iraqi oil production has increased by more than 40% since 2008 to 3
million barrels a day, 80% of it exported. The Iraqi oil and gas sectors
rely largely on imported labor. In the war for oil, the losers were the
AR A big round of thanks to
Bush for cheap oil.
2013 March 23
Who Owns The Future?
Cloud software will weaken nearly every present job.
The only one left standing will be the owner of the biggest computer on the
network. The biggest computer and the biggest data guarantee success.
Politics then becomes about the computer instead of the agenda.
If there were micro payments made to the people who fed
the big data, there would still be an economy. We choose not to intervene in
the market, which is just is an algorithmic result of things we do. Instead
of allowing human politics to decide, we let the market sort out our
Markets need to be honest. We constant find companies like
Google saying they are honest brokers. No, they are commercial concerns.
There is a smugness to the tech world. But the only proper attitude is that
the profession of engineering is there to serve people.
you have a big computer then you get to keep your data secret, and you have
tremendous rights. I would like to see everybody have their autonomy and
social mobility independently of some big company. Government must rule on
the basics of digital identity.
AR The IT
revolution is decoupling effort from reward in the economy. Pay is a
political issue: If we accept a market rigged by IT we accept that people
who get lucky get rich, while others starve. This cannot stand: We need a
principled basis for paying people to live normal lives. We need a right to
pay for poor people and a duty to pay back for rich people, all governed by
Go(...) and IT.
Chinua Achebe was a Nigerian writer. His first
novel, Things Fall Apart (1958) sold more than 10 million copies. A quote:
"The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his
religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he
has won our brothers and our clan can no longer act like one."
Achebe won the Man Booker prize in
2007. Elaine Showalter, said he had "inaugurated the modern African novel".
Nadine Gordimer said his fiction was "an original synthesis of the
psychological novel, the Joycean stream of consciousness, the postmodern
breaking of sequence" and that Achebe was "a joy and an illumination to
In a 1975 essay, Achebe said Joseph Conrad turned Africa into
"a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognizable humanity, into which
the wandering European enters at his peril", asking: "Can nobody see the
preposterous and perverse arrogance in thus reducing Africa to the role of
props for the break-up of one petty European mind?"
Born in 1930 and
taught at the University of Ibadan, Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart in
English, saying "the English language will be able to carry the weight of my
African experience". In 1990, a car accident in Nigeria left him paralyzed
and he moved to the United States. He was a professor at Brown University
until his death, aged 82.
AR Fair comment on Conrad: Recall
Colonel Kurtz (Marlo Brando) in
Now, based on Heart of Darkness. The Cambodians were mere bodies in the
2013 March 22
Publishing is the business of literature. The system
produces great literature in spite of itself. Until recently, unpublished
manuscripts were lost, so the universe of knowledge excludes books that were
never published. From what is published we choose what we celebrate, and we
say the system produced these celebrated works.
Like tables and chairs, books have receded into the backdrop of human life.
The book is a technology so pervasive that it reaches the status of nature.
Books virtually began consumer capitalism. The bookstore is the model for
the supermarket. Digital publishing increased the number of published
titles. The number of independent publishers rose with the growth of
superstore bookstores, which needed the indie offerings to fill their
With digital publishing, the cost of creating the text is
fixed but the marginal cost for mass consumption is zero. Books reward
iteration for readers too. The more you read, the better you get at it, the
more fun you have. Books are recipes for the imagination. The book is
already good enough. Its job is to deliver a very large set of words.
As for publishers, there is marketing and discovery. Editors add value
beyond their editorial skills: they bring relationship skills. People work
hard on books that become bestsellers, but what really matters is luck and
network effects. Almost all books are commercial flops, but some achieve
Publishing is about making culture. The margin
on books is low because it takes so long to discover whether or not you like
a book. Publishers cut prices to persuade us to risk wasting our time. But
selling a book is not the only way to generate revenue from all the cultural
activity around literature and ideas. Book culture is the swirl and gurgle
of idea and style in the expression of stories and concepts. Publishers are
where the shit hits the fan.
Algebra Breakthrough Wins Abel
Mathematician Pierre Deligne of the Institute for
Advanced Study in Princeton has won the $1 million Abel prize. He proved the
last of the four conjectures proposed in 1949 by André Weil to tackle the
problem of solving polynomial equations within number systems known as
Weil suggested describing the number of possible solutions in each
finite field by counting certain points on a related shape, using a zeta
function. Proving his four statements about the zeta function would confirm
that this is the way to tackle polynomial equations within
Three of the statements were soon proved, but the last
was harder. Finding a cohomology would crack the problem, but it was tricky.
Deligne did so in 1974, and won the Fields medal in 1978. Cambridge
mathematician Timothy Gowers calls him "one of the absolute all-time
2013 March 21
Europe Versus Cyprus
In the spat between Cyprus and the European
Union, Russia might ride to the rescue. Russian investors have parked
billion in Cyprus. When the Nicosia parliamentarians voted unanimously
against the EU bailout package, their main concern was not small savers but
maintaining their tax haven.
The Cyprus package called for €10
billion from the ESM plus €6 billion from the levy. If the Euro Group let go
the levy, any country in trouble in future would play hardball with Brussels
and play havoc with financial markets. European taxpayers will lose
trust if their austerity pays for mismanagement in the Med.
Nicosia hopes Moscow will overlook
the tax loss from rich Russians banking in Cyprus and bail out the banks.
They can offer a natural gas deal that trades Russian access to their
deposits for cash. It must be cash. A loan would drive Cypriot sovereign
debt too high. If Russia says no, say hi to a new eurocrisis.
Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev lambasted
EU handling of the Cyprus debt crisis. Cypriot finance minister Michael
Sarris met senior Russian officials to seek aid from the Kremlin to bail out
its banks. Officials in Moscow are skeptical: Russian businessmen invest
using commercial criteria.
Israel Versus Islam
The relationship between Barack Obama and Benjamin
Netanyahu started off badly in 2009. Washington thought Israel and the
Palestinians were close to an agreement. Obama told Netanyahu that progress
on the Palestinian track would make it easier to enlist the Arab world in
efforts to stop Iran. He seemed to think the proverbial Arab street would be
more accepting of Israel if it did right by the Palestinians.
Netanyahu took the opposite approach. Tackle Iran and its nuclear
program first, then deal with the Palestinians. A proud Iran would use Hamas
and Hezbollah to foul up any diplomatic process. Land for peace never worked
in the past. The Arab street looks at the conflict through religion. The
Muslim Brotherhood wants an Islamic state and views Israel as alien and
unacceptable in the Mideast.
AR Israel versus Iran and Islam: war on two fronts.
2013 March 20
Berlin Can Lead On Syria
On all recent questions of war and peace, Germany
has disagreed with the other leading European powers. Berlin opposed the
intervention in Libya in 2011, it was reluctant to help France in Mali in
January, and it still resists arming the rebels in Syria. So Europe is
failing to exert its full power.
Germans still find
comfort in the pacifism they adopted in reaction to the horrors of the
second world war. They are proud they opposed the Iraq war ten years ago.
Chancellor Angela Merkel responded to a push by Britain and France for
Europe to lift its arms embargo on Syria thus: "Just the fact that two have
changed their minds doesn't mean that the other 25 have to follow suit."
Germany can slow or prevent action by France and
Britain by denying access to EU resources. Berlin does not have the military
assets that Paris and London have. But Germany is widely seen as a neutral
player that can do business with both sides. Hosting a Syria conference in
Berlin would advance European interests in the Mideast and let Germany shine
as a peacemaker.
UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne
ordered ministers to come up with £2.5 billion of extra spending cuts. Faced
with stagnant growth and disintegrating debt targets, the chancellor will
present a budget for "people who want to work hard and get on".
The chancellor is expected
to raise the personal tax allowance to £10,000 in 2014, to defer a planned
rise in fuel duty, and to trim current spending to promote growth. Any good
news in the 2013 budget will be dwarfed by the scale of the UK borrowing
AR Ask the Saudis for a handout.
2013 March 19
CORAL is now for sale in the new updated version:
● Cropped and clarified Christians
● Enhanced and extended Revelation
● Extended notes and references
Yasmin Alibhai Brown
Prince Charles' wife Camilla wore an
unsecured headscarf on her trip to Saudi Arabia. It slipped off and almost
uncovered all her hair. According to Saudi Wahhabi Islam, uncovered hidden
female tresses are as licentious as exposed pubic hair. The Duchess'
shamelessness must have prompted diplomatic jitters.
Charles is keen
on Islamic thought but never gets into Mideast politics. To expect him to
stand up for human rights is about as hopeless as expecting him to champion
equal rights. The real iniquity is the way the UK sucks up to Saudi Arabia,
knowing its tyrannical governance and malevolent global influence.
Saudi Arabia is slowly handing some pitifully small rights to women. Female
politicians have been given an advisory role and smart young women are able
to work under restrictive conditions. But at this pace the world will end
before Saudi women achieve full human status. Black cloaks render them
Saudi funded Wahhabis are everywhere, successfully
eradicating all diversity and ease in Islam, aggressively exporting their
own brand. I have seen the results of this infiltration in Tanzania, India,
Bangladesh, Kenya, Egypt, and in Western cities. The ideology fosters
intolerance and extremism.
Cypriot authorities are renegotiating the terms
of a €10 billion bailout to scrap its levy on small account holders and
instead seize more from larger depositors and businesses. Banks are closed
to avoid a bank run as the government responds to the deal struck with the
eurozone and the IMF.
2013 March 18
Just as the eurozone had begun to set the right
course in its struggle with an ever-mutating debt crisis, it relapsed into
its old vice. Faced with a drowning member state, instead of throwing Cyprus
a lifebelt, leaders put a millstone around its neck.
The Cyprus deal
imposes a tax on all depositors down to the smallest ones. The small savers
are betrayed. A future European banking system must shield taxpayers from
the losses of banks.
Big banks are saved, small savers are wiped out: TIME TO REVOLT!
Iraq Ten Years On
Saddam Hussein did not expect his rule to end so abruptly. His
fall must have encouraged Arab opposition activists across the Mideast. But
if they were directly inspired by the fall of Saddam, they would have risen
a decade ago.
In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 atrocities, Arab
governments used the ensuing "war on terror" to quell domestic dissent. When
opposition Islamist parties questioned the legitimacy of Arab dictators,
they were seen as al Qaeda sympathizers and imprisoned.
2001 to 2011, government repression of Islamists signaled to young
Arabs that Islamism could not overthrow autocratic regimes. Islamists
failed to gain political office, and the
corruption and nepotism of regimes in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt sank deeper.
Social media like Facebook and Twitter helped young Arabs bypass
communications controlled by their dictators. The Arab youth used modern
technology to amplify the mood music of Western belief that Arabs too could
be free. The Arab Spring was going to happen with or without
Iraq is not a success. It is now an ally of Iran,
home to a prime minister who persecutes his own political opposition, and
unashamedly supports the Assad regime in Syria.
AR Bush lost the plot for the West.
2013 March 17
To ease the heartache of a stillbirth, Kelli Montgomery chose
rigorous exercise, yoga, and meditation over the antidepressants and
sleeping pills that her physicians suggested.
The Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is the bible for mental health
professionals. A new campaign will seek to block the May release of the next
The American Psychiatric Association dismisses DSM-5
critics as alarmist. Dr. Carl Bell: "All the good epidemiological studies
unfortunately show that one in five people have a psychological disorder."
The APA says the DSM-5 is sound. Dr. David Kupfer: "The development of
DSM-5 began with an unprecedented process of research evaluation that
included a series of white papers and 13 scientific conferences supported by
the National Institutes of Health. This preparation brought together more
than 400 international scientists and produced a series of monographs and
peer-reviewed journal articles."
Primary care doctors too often
dispense anti-psychotic drugs. Montgomery: "I had no mental illness. I had
never been medicated. I had not even suggested that I was depressed."
The number of people aged over 65 in the UK is set
to rise from 10 million in 2010 to 15 million in 2030. Many are alarmed by
the rising cost of pensions and healthcare.
A new Lords report says
businesses should let older people work for longer and people should agree
they have no right to be idle for the final third of their lives.
tend to see retirement as the end. More than a third of women aged 60-64 and
a quarter of men aged 65-69 may still be in full or part-time work, but we
pay the rest off.
It is high time we harnessed the powers of the
retired and semi-retired in a volunteer force. It would end the wicked waste
of millions of our more experienced people.
2013 March 16
Muslim Brotherhood On Women
The New York Times
The Muslim Brotherhood has long preached that Islam required women to obey
their husbands in all matters. In a statement on a proposed United Nations
declaration to condemn violence against women, the Brotherhood issued a list
● Wives should not have
the right to file legal complaints against their husbands for rape.
● Wives need their husbands' consent in matters
like travel, work, or use of contraception.
Husbands should not be subject to the punishments meted out for the rape of
● Husbands must have guardianship
over their wives, not equal partnerships with them.
● Daughters should not have the same inheritance rights as sons.
Egyptian UN representative Pakinam El-Sharkawy said the Egyptian
government objected to the UN declaration only over issues like whether to
call restrictions on abortion acts of violence against women. That offended
the cultural norms in many Arab and African countries: "We can't give women
the freedom to have abortions whenever they want."
Muslim Brother Abu
Salam says husbands should keep their wives under tight control: "It's the
nature of the weak to overstep the required framework if she is given the
space and the freedom, like children."
The Brotherhood says the UN
proposals are "destructive tools meant to undermine the family as an
important institution" that "would drag society back to pre-Islamic
The Book Trade
Publishers used to publish enough bestsellers to
subsidize diversified lists of prestige titles. Profits depended on their
monopoly position. Without them, readers and writers would have no books at
Now they're on the defensive. Bookstores and the recommendation
system are at risk with the rise of online booksellers like Amazon that let
customers recommend books to each other. Self-publishing threatens to cut
out traditional middlemen. And cheap e-books are endangering printed books.
People are buying fewer printed books, and buying more of those they do
buy online. Online bookstores now have a market share of almost 20%. The big
bookstore chains have failed to find a way to fight back.
fighting the literary aristocracy. The company wants the business to itself.
It locks in e-book customers and demands big discounts from publishers. Some
say it is destroying book culture. Yet Amazon depends on people valuing
books enough to buy a Kindle to read them.
People read and write a
lot, and they are publishing more books than ever before. And it's never
been this easy to publish a text as a book, at least in electronic form. All
it takes is a few clicks. It's as easy as buying a book. Reading and writing
is a mass phenomenon.
Amazon is dominant in the e-book market, with a
market share of over 40%. Its customers rank and evaluate their purchases,
as a crowd, and give Amazon the data for free. Almost everything can be
logged: how fast people read, which text they highlight, and where they stop
reading. The data may soon help authors to rewrite their books in response
to reader reactions.
Publishers are realizing they need to catch up.
They are hoping to learn from the mistakes of the music industry. When the
first e-book readers came on the mass market, customers weren't forced into
piracy, as in the music industry. And they let authors hold onto their
Bestselling authors are rare. Only a small group of
writers can support themselves with writing, and that elite is shrinking.
Meanwhile, the number of books sold in the middle of the pack declines from
year to year. Publishing literary books is still a gamble.
Harvard philosopher Hilary Putnam is a lucidly
self-aware neurotic. Born in 1926 in Chicago, he was raised an atheist and
progressive. At age 50, he abandoned communism. At 68, he had his Bar
Putnam denies a clean distinction between facts and
values. Scientists agree that simpler theories are better but have no
rulebook to say so. They appeal to the greater pragmatic value of simpler
theories or to the lack of explanatory value in added complications. Facts
are inextricably tied to values.
Putnam says meaning is external and
normative. The meaning of our statements is derived from their causal
relation to an external world. Symbols derive their content from a complex
network of information, metaphor, and history. A brain map of a speaker is
not enough to interpret what they say.
Putnam believes in an external
reality compatible with our ordinary human values. He has faith in our
ability to represent reality correctly. But he finds it hard not to go
2013 March 15
Beware the Ides of March
2013 + 44 — 1 (they skipped
0) = 2056 years ago today, Julius Caesar was assassinated in Rome.
Beware the View From Nowhere
Wonkery can only take a
blogger so far.
The View from Nowhere is a bid for trust, a
preemptive defense against accusations of bias, and an attempt to secure a
kind of legitimacy that is denied to those who stake out positions or betray
a point of view. Claiming objectivity is not a source of authority.
In journalism, real authority starts with reporting. Knowing your stuff,
mastering your beat, being right on the facts, digging under the surface of
things, finding out what happened, verifying what you heard, illuminating a murky situation because you understand it better than most. Doing the work!
The Ross Blog embodies that kind of
journalism. But Ross tries to bolster his authority by invoking The View
from Nowhere. When Ross writes as if politics is about dispassionately
identifying the best means to a universally agreed end, he isn't just
disagreeing with values not his own, he is disappearing them.
audience gets resentful when journalists treat their own values as
normative. Ross is more than capable of providing the View from Somewhere.
Don't confuse facts and values.
AR Well, should I adopt a point
2013 March 14
CORAL peace: my revisions are
satisfactory to me.
Life On Mars?
The Mars Curiosity rover has found an environment on
Mars that was once warm and wet, with a chemistry that would support
Earth-like life. Curiosity drilled into a rock and found evidence of clay
minerals. The water that formed these minerals was neutral, not too strongly
acidic or basic. Curiosity also found sulfur, phosphorus, and carbon, all
ingredients for life as we know it.
Curiosity did not find evidence of life. It has been looking for organic
compounds but has not yet found them. But it did find conditions were once
conducive for it. The region where Curiosity landed was once very wet, and
for a long time. It was probably a lake bed, fed by a river or stream that
spread out into an alluvial fan. Fairly fresh water once stood where the
rover sits now.
NASA has been looking for life, or at least the
conditions for it. Now we have speculation based on solid scientific
evidence. Mars may have once been suitable for life. Ice has been found just
under the surface at mid-latitudes, insulated by the rock and dust above it.
Evidence that standing water existed is everywhere, from dry lake beds like
this one to strong hints of ancient oceans.
been sent to the right place
Curiosity has found a rock that contains
evidence for a past environment that would have been suitable for Earth-like
microorganisms. The mineralogical and geomorphological observations suggest
that the rover is on an ancient Martian lakebed. The rock contains both
oxidized and reduced forms of the same elements, so there are chemical
gradients that life could potentially exploit as an energy source.
AR Good news
David Foster Wallace told
students in 2005 that they can choose how to make meaning out of their
lives. In the tides of boredom that wash over us in our daily lives, anyone
who harnesses the power of his own attention is king. We can, as he says,
"choose what we worship".
2013 March 13
There Is Only Awe
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the
Bicameral Mind (1976) by Julian Jaynes was his only book. He said his
inspiration arose from an episode of "darkest distress" when he was
despairing over the question of how we can know anything. He heard a voice:
"Include the knower in the known!"
As a doctoral student at Yale,
Jaynes concluded that consciousness was a function of language. He read
ancient texts and saw that consciousness emerged in the time between the
Iliad and the Odyssey. The actors in the Iliad have no concept of a personal
mind, but 300 years later Odysseus is a modern hero.
gods were ... man's volition. They occupied his nervous system, probably his
right hemisphere." The Trojan War was fought by men with bicameral minds. In
moments of stress, their servile left hemispheres took hallucinated voices
in their right "god" hemispheres as commands.
By about 3 MBP,
turmoil in the Mideast led to mass migrations. The gods fell silent and
retreated to the sky. Humans were left alone, groping for answers. They
still heard a voice, but they knew it was their own. Jaynes: "The mighty
themes of the religions of the world are here sounded for the first time."
Consciousness can only be described through metaphor and analogy. Jaynes
noted that writers tend to describe their work in bicameral terms as a form
of listening: they hear a voice and take dictation.
science as a new attempt by humans to establish contact with a "lost ocean
of authority". Science offers a rational splendor that explains everything.
In return the adherent receives a world view, a total explanation of man.
Jaynes lived alone in a single room on the Princeton campus. Jaynes:
"Our search for certainty rests in our attempts at understanding the history
of all individual selves and all civilizations. Beyond that, there is only
2013 March 12
Books After Amazon
Waterstones hopes that books with extra "bonus"
material will be enough to persuade paperback fans to shun Amazon and return
to the High Street. The promotion is one of several innovative marketing
tactics being adopted by booksellers in an attempt to compete with cut-price
Bookseller editor Tom Tivnan: "All bookshops are
having to innovate and do special things to survive. It's part of the whole
package of how to reform themselves. They have to work out what things they
can do that online retailers can't ... One of the buzzwords in publishing
and bookselling is discoverability."
More than 400 UK bookshops
closed in 2012, leaving fewer than 2,000 bookshops in Britain, less than
half as many as 7 years ago. Ebook sales doubled in 2012 to £260 million,
while physical book sales fell to £1.5 billion, 5% down from 2011.
AR Am I the only one who often buys hardbacks,
if only to enjoy their physical quality compared to a cheap paperback, on
the grounds that the time spent reading the thing has an opportunity cost
that outweighs the price anyway? A good book, like a Blu-ray movie, has
value that amply rewards the price. Time is too valuable to waste reading
Nuclear Power, Safer And Cheaper
MIT Technology Review
Transatomic is developing a nuclear reactor
that it says will cut the overall cost of a nuclear power plant in half. Its
updated molten-salt reactor is highly resistant to meltdowns and small
enough to be built in factories and shipped by rail. It can burn nuclear
waste and includes new safety features. Transatomic says it can build a 500
MW power plant for $1.7 billion, roughly half current price levels.
AR I buy it as a low carbon planet saver.
2013 March 11
NK Annuls Armistice
American Forces Press
NK annulled the armistice agreement of 1953
and cut off the hot line to SK. The NK press reported that "the US has
reduced the armistice agreement to a dead paper."
General James D. Thurman, commander of Combined Forces
Command and US Forces Korea, today opened the annual Key Resolve exercise.
About 13 000 US and SK participants are honing the skills necessary to
defend SK, including improving the operational capabilities of combined US
and SK forces, coordinating and executing the deployment of US
reinforcements, and maintaining SK military combat capabilities. Thurman:
"For 60 years, the armistice agreement has ensured peace and stability on
the Korean Peninsula."
has no chance against USSK resolve.
We may see a return of "conventional" warfare between
nations if Japan and China or the United States and Iran go to war. But
irregular war is more common. Max Boot: "Much of the world's population
lives in states whose present boundaries were determined in insurgencies
waged by or against their ancestors."
Early guerrillas rarely
achieved their aims, but insurgencies have been much more effective in
defeating established powers since 1945. Wars nowadays are played out on TV
screens as well as real battlefields. Unless an insurgency is put down
quickly and effectively, it saps the will of the military to continue.
The Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts underscored the importance of winning
over hearts and minds rather than merely killing the enemy. Guerrilla
movements prevail when they have access to foreign funding, arms training
and havens. Boot: "No other factor correlates so closely with insurgent
Thomas Nagel wrote "the materialist neo-Darwinian
conception of nature is almost certainly false" and Steven Pinker tweeted it
was "the shoddy reasoning of a once-great thinker".
Nagel: "In the
present climate of a dominant scientific naturalism, heavily dependent on
speculative Darwinian explanations of practically everything, and armed to
the teeth against religion ... I would like to extend the boundaries of what
is not regarded as unthinkable."
Nagel is being denounced for heresy.
He is a philosopher. In American intellectual life, scientists often do the
work of philosophers, but the history of science is a history of mistakes.
The provenance of an idea reveals nothing about its veracity. Accept the
truth from whoever utters it, said the rabbis.
AR Darwinist logic is good even if it looks imperialist.
2013 March 10
The Undivided Past
David Cannadine looks at what historians have said
about religion, nation, class, gender, race, and civilization. He dismisses
the idea of history as identity politics. He suggests that the only
solidarity that is acceptable is solidarity with humankind. Nazism took the
shine off nationalism, and divisions of class trumped race in the British
empire. Cannadine seeks to do away with such categories.
are members of their societies, and human society has not yet taken a global
form. There is still virtually no shared consciousness globally of common
struggles or common achievements. Even our most urgent global issues tend to
be tackled regionally or nationally. There may be many things beyond our
differences. But it is not yet clear that there is any history.
David Bowie's new album
Bowie meets Rihanna
Iman and David
The French navy will invade Britain
this weekend: 200 troops, 43 vehicles, and 4 helicopters from 2 landing
craft and a new landing catamaran will storm a beach at Gosport,
Google Glass can shoot video and stream it online — that's cool.
Wearable computing with voice control will become pervasive. Google
co-founder Sergey Brin (above) suggests you can whirl your child around
by their arms and say: "OK, Glass, take video!" He says ordinary
smartphones are "emasculating".
Google Glass can beam their story to the web. Google knows this is an
issue: "It may be that new social norms develop with Glass, where people
develop an informal way of showing that they're not using it — say,
wearing it around their neck to signal they aren't using it or being
distracted by it."
The Borg is the software
system at the heart of Google. It parcels out work across the company's
vast fleet of computer servers. It's one of the secrets of Google
becoming the dominant force on the web. Google is now building a new
version called Omega.
Brits Die Younger
People in the UK enjoy fewer years of good
health before they die than the citizens of most comparable European
The UK ranked 12th out of 19
countries of similar affluence in 2010 in terms of healthy life
expectancy at birth, according to an analysis from data collected by the
UK health secretary Jeremy Hunt called the result
shocking. Despite more funding and reforms, the UK has not risen in rank
AR What a bloody
China Defense Up 10%
China will increase its defense budget
by 10.7% this year, to Rmb 720 billion ($116 billion). The overall
economic growth target is 7.5%.
Dynamics robot BigDog use jaws and head to hurl cinder blocks (47 s)
2013 March 9
Pyongyang propaganda says NK forces will flush the
Americans mercilessly into the sea, destroy South Korea, and turn Seoul into
a nuclear sea of fire, and even annihilate the US aggressors in a
pre-emptive nuclear strike. All this is driven by revolutionary ideology and
love for NK dictator Kim Jong Un.
The regime vowed to end a
nonaggression pact with SK and cut its hot line to Seoul, and threatens to
annul the 1953 Korean ceasefire agreement. In the coming weeks, NK forces
will launch a major military exercise and may test another ballistic
missile. SK experts cannot exclude a new NK attack:
1 The NK bosses are convinced the rest of
the world wants to oust them. They think they have a right to nuclear
weapons and big ballistic missiles.
NK bosses must confirm their leadership by protecting the masses from their
enemies and blaming their misery on foreign sanctions.
3 The NK bosses are testing their new political
limits. In China, Xi Jinping is the new head of state. In SK, Park Geun Hye
is the new president.
The NK fate depends on China. Beijing need only
cut off oil and food to kill the NK regime. The CPC Central Committee want
to keep the NK alliance. CPC chief Xi plans to reconsider the NK issue after
the People's Congress. Beijing professor Shi Yinhong: "Relations are
currently in the toilet."
The Professor, the Bikini Model,
and the Suitcase Full of Trouble
In November 2011, Paul Frampton, a theoretical
physicist, met Denise Milani, a Czech bikini model, on an online dating
site. Soon they were chatting online nearly every day. Frampton, 68, had
been a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was
lonely since his divorce.
Milani agreed to meet
Frampton in La Paz, Bolivia, where she was doing a photo shoot. In January
2012, Frampton set out for Bolivia and finally arrived in La Paz four days
later. By then, Milani had been called away to another photo shoot in
Brussels. She sent him a ticket to Buenos Aires and said another ticket to
Brussels was on the way. She asked him to do her a favor: bring her a bag
she had left in La Paz.
Nine days after Frampton arrived in Bolivia,
a man handed him a bag out on the dark street in front of his hotel. It was
an utterly commonplace black suitcase with wheels, and it was empty. He wrote to Milani, asking why
it was so important. She told him it had sentimental value. The next
morning, he filled it with his dirty laundry and headed to the airport.
Frampton flew from La Paz to Buenos Aires. He
waited for the e-ticket to Brussels.
He checked two bags, his and hers, and went to the gate. He heard his
name called over the loudspeaker. At the airline counter, he was greeted by
several policemen. Soon he was under arrest.
up in Devoto, an old-style jail in Buenos Aires. It
seems a classic tale. Those who know Frampton well portray him as a kind of
idiot savant. He grew up in England, matriculated at Oxford, and was awarded his
doctorate in 1968. As Frampton tells it, his life is just a line of
impressive grades, advanced degrees, and citations of his work in cosmology
His defense unraveled. There were damning text
messages on his cellphone. He tried to shrug them off as jokes. In November 2012, he was sentenced to 4 years 8
months for drug smuggling.
AR Thank God I'm not
2013 March 8
CORAL news: Wrote 8 good new pages
for inclusion in Revelations.
Now I need to delete 8 pages elsewhere to
make room for them.
At least I used the time failing to visit India to
NATO was robbed of its founding mission by the
dissolution of the Soviet Union. Events in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and
Libya saved it. NATO became an operational alliance.
A decade is
several lifetimes in geopolitics. The appetite for intervention has been
sated in Washington, even though the Mideast is in flames, Syria is fighting
a civil war, Iran is building a bomb, jihadist extremism has spread into
Africa, cyberspace risks mass disruption, and rising states are arming fast.
NATO requires military capabilities to confront new threats. They have
to be paid for, but no one wants to pick up the bill. Most of the
European members of NATO long ago abandoned their commitment to spend 2% of
GDP on defense. Britain and France are hollowing out their militaries. Even
former communist states have axed their forces.
The U.S. share of
NATO spending has jumped to almost 75%. But sequestration has brought down
the curtain on the era of American military plenty. Even if the White House
and Congress strike a fiscal deal, the U.S. defense budget faces deep cuts.
Politicians in Washington are not willing to pay for Europe.
who thinks the advanced nations can afford to spend less on safeguarding
their security need only glance at the threats. They all require collective
Chinese Parliament Has 83 Billionaires
The People's Republic of China parliamentary
delegates this year include 83 dollar billionaires, according to a rich
list. The United States has no billionaires in the House of Representatives
or the Senate.
AR Corruption, guaranteed.
2013 March 7
The Catholic Church says a vow of celibacy
not only underscores the commitment of seminarians to their vocation but
also recalls Christ's own celibacy. But a new pope could change church law
to allow all priests to marry.
In 1967, Pope Paul VI
published an encyclical defending the tradition of celibacy as a superior
way of achieving grace that freed priests from familial obligations in order
to devote themselves to God and that mirrored heaven as a place without
In 1993, Pope John Paul II said celibacy did "not belong to
the essence of the priesthood" but there was "no doubt about its suitability
and indeed its appropriateness to the demands of sacred orders."
Reverend Joseph Fessio says celibacy is a discipline and not a dogma but
still important: "It's something the church in its wisdom for 2000 years has
recognized as a closer, more exact, more profound following of the example
Jesus set us."
AR Sexual self-discipline
is essential to a true spiritual vocation. Its best expression is in
celibacy. Married priests lack transcendent vision. As family men, they have
practical concerns. But for the daily life of a priest, the practical
concerns are paramount. As long as priests uphold the vision without
succumbing to the Filth (blog March 3), the church can survive. At root, the
church is a patriarchy. If that visionary sexual control is lost, human
hopes of transcendence crash down in ruin. We become brutes, bonking our
brains out in a world run by machines.
James Clerk Maxwell realized that light was an
electromagnetic wave. His equations showed that light speed should be about
300 Mm/s. This was good, but his equations left a nagging loose end: speed
relative to what? Einstein argued that scientists needed to take the
equations more seriously. Light speed is 300 Mm/s relative to anything. This
led to the special theory of relativity, and eventually to the general
theory, Einstein's theory of gravity.
Steven Weinberg: "Our mistake is not
that we take our theories too seriously, but that we do not take them
seriously enough." Weinberg was referring to the prediction of the cosmic
microwave background radiation, the afterglow of the big bang. Einstein
understood how a set of mathematical equations can seem real. But he did not
take his own general theory seriously enough to believe its prediction of
black holes, or of an expanding universe. Others did.
mechanics used to be seen as relevant only to small things. But in 1957,
Hugh Everett took the mathematics seriously. Everett argued that
Schrödinger's equation should apply to everything. This led him to the idea
of a quantum multiverse. The multiverse has since become a pervasive feature
of much mathematics that purports to offer us a deeper understanding of
reality. Taken to this extreme, mathematics is reality.
AR The foundation of mathematics is in set theory. The cumulative hierarchy of pure
well-founded sets founds all the rest, and it collapses under scrutiny into the unstable
but fertile duality of the null set and the universal set — this is the vision I
articulated in the logical trilogy I wrote in the 1970s.
2013 March 6
CORAL news: Inspiration for revision
has dawned on me.
— Cut a couple of pages from the Christians chapter
(which still has too much guff in it)
— Add a couple of pages to the
Revelation chapter (on Wittgenstein, Kripke, and Wilber)
It should take
me a week or so to prepare a new edition.
Leszek Kolakowski was a historian of ideas, first at
Warsaw University, then at Oxford. His magisterial trilogy
Main Currents of
Marxism (1978) demolished a sham philosophy. His daughter Agnieszka
Kolakowska compiled some of his essays in
Is God Happy?
"What Is Socialism?" (1956) is a satirical enumeration of things that
socialism wasn't supposed to be: "a state whose neighbors curse geography";
"a state that produces superb jet planes and lousy shoes"; "a state whose
philosophers and writers always say the same things as the generals and
ministers, but always after the latter have said them."
Ideology" (1977) asked why Soviet communism attracted so many artists and
intellectuals and Nazism so few. Nazis straightforwardly promoted Teutonic
rule and the conquest of Europe. Communism, on the other hand, "never
preached conquest, only liberation from oppression; it never extolled the
state as a value in itself, only stressed the necessity of reinforcing the
state as an indispensable lever to destroy the enemies of freedom."
"Totalitarianism and the Virtue of the Lie" (1983) explained why a society
based on disinformation cannot survive: "Even in the best of conditions the
massive process of forgery cannot be completed: it requires a large number
of forgers who must understand the distinction between what is genuine and
what is faked."
Seven essays cover theological subjects, including
the problem of evil and the impossibility of separating the historical Jesus
from Western culture and history.
"Erasmus and his God" (1965)
describes how Erasmus tried to combine the "faith alone" approach of Luther
and Calvin with a Catholic emphasis on works and moral virtue. Kolakowski
saw this as "a particular instance of the difficulty inherent in any
doctrine which views genuine human effort as the unique source of moral
value while at the same time refusing to acknowledge any human contribution
to the results of that effort."
"Crime and Punishment" (1991)
rejected the idea that punishment must be utilitarian and defended
AR When Kolakowski was at All Souls,
I once explained to him my interest in Hegelian philosophy. He responded with a
smile that hovered between impish and tragic.
2013 March 5
Struggle is essential for career advancement.
Embrace struggle as an art to be mastered. Seek out situations where there
is rapid change. Look for projects that expand your skills and
Performance is best when goals are difficult but
still attainable with effort and imagination. If you find yourself easily
meeting your goals, they are too easy. Set a higher bar for yourself.
Receiving valid feedback is the most valuable of gifts, allowing you to step
outside your delusional cocoon and become connected with external metrics of
The more anchored and centered you are, the less likely you
will be thrown off balance by challenges. Train yourself in a set of daily
and weekly practices that keep you on a steady course: exercise, meditation,
journaling, prayer, or even just walking in the woods. Build a support
community to give you the advice and assistance you need.
challenging yourself, readily embracing feedback, and remaining grounded and
centered, you can embrace struggle head on and use it as fuel for your
career. These practices are the foundation.
Ray Kurzweil has a pattern recognition theory
of mind (PRTM). A stimulus is presented, say, the letter "A", and little
brain machines respond by breaking it down and processing its parts: thus
"A" is analyzed into a horizontal bar and two angled lines meeting at a
point. The neural machine recognizes that the stimulus is an instance of the
letter "A". Other letter recognizers combine to recognize, say, the word
"APPLE". This procedure is hierarchical. There are some 300 million such
modules across the brain.
But pattern recognition is
only part of the activity of the mind. When I see an apple as red, the color
is simply a sensory quality. Thinking about an absent object is not
perceptual recognition. Nor do such mental phenomena as emotion,
imagination, reasoning, willing, intending, or feeling pain and pleasure fit
the PRTM. Kurzweil has switched from patterns as stimuli in the external
environment to patterns as mental entities, without saying so. The PRTM does
not generalize beyond perception.
Kurzweil makes relentless and
unapologetic use of homunculus language. But neurons don't say things or
predict things or see things. People say and predict and see. Such
anthropomorphic descriptions of cortical activity must ultimately be
replaced by literal descriptions of electric charge and chemical
transmission. Homunculus talk can give rise to the illusion that one is
nearer to accounting for the mind. Talk of pattern recognition by neurons is
already too mentalistic.
Neuroscientists cannot claim that we have
observed information transmission in the brain. This is a theoretical
description. The brain is causally connected to the mind and the mind
contains and processes information. Telephone lines convey information
because conscious subjects are at either end of them, exchanging information
in the ordinary sense. Neurons are the causal background to the
transactions. The brain does not process information or send signals or
receive messages. People do.
versus brain is an instance of the subject—object dichotomy that we can only
accept as fundamental (as an axiom in my psychophysics). But then performing
"homuncular" reduction to minimal parts that correlate 1:1 is fine.
Information has subjective and objective sides. Bits are rock bottom. As qubits, they make a
physical base for the rest. Mental entities are patterns of (qu)bits.
2013 March 4
Swiss: Curb Corporate Pay
Swiss voters want curbs on corporate wages and on
company boards: 68% of voters approved rules giving shareholders a binding
say on executive pay, banning golden hellos and goodbyes, requiring annual
re-elections for directors, and threatening criminal sanctions for
UK chancellor George Osborne plans to try to revise
the EU bonus cap, but his prospects are slim. A big majority of EU member
states is willing to sign up to the deal. A diplomat: "It's really too late.
We don't want to stigmatize one member state but we've come to the end of
AR Vox pop is clear:
corporate robbers must be stopped.
2013 March 3-9
Science of Consciousness
East-West Views on Brain, Mind and Reality
Dayalbagh Educational Institute
AR To my great regret, I'm not there.
Mercedes G63 AMG
6x6 with 544 HP V8
Martin Heidegger joined the Nazi party in 1933.
He spoke out on the need to Nazify German universities and was made
rector at the University of Freiburg, where he removed all the Jews and
let Brownshirts patrol the campus. He died in 1976, unrepentant.
2013 March 3
Pope Benedict XVI loved being Pope. Yet he said he
wasn't up to it any more. Up to what? He spent most of his time writing,
tinkling on the piano, and stroking his cat. He was waited on hand and foot,
with a handsome secretary to do his every bidding.
He quit to save the Catholic Church from ignominy. A report on the state
of the Curia landed on his desk in January. It revealed that what he called
the Filth had entered the bureaucracy. He resigned in February. Now all the
senior bureaucrats lose their jobs.
The Curia is a big operation.
Rivalries, vendettas, ambition, calumny, backstabbing, and intrigues are
endemic. Some of the bureaucrats are actively gay men, others have a
weakness for sex with minors. And the people who procure these sexual
services are greedy.
Benedict has resigned to purge the Filth. He has
given the Church a chance to start again. He would be happy with a smaller
Church exerting pressure on sexually active Catholics to play by the rules.
If his gamble works, the Church can reform. If not, doom.
Wool was a short story about a post-apocalyptic future
in which society has been driven underground into a vast silo. Hugh Howey
published it as a e-book on Amazon in 2011. Within three months, it was a
Kindle best-seller. Readers asked Howey for the rest of the story, so he
decided to write it.
By January 2012, Howey had self-published five
serial stories about the silo and collected them into the Wool Omnibus. It
landed on the New York Times best-seller list. By the end of 2012, Howey had
deals with publishers to release print editions worldwide and optioned the
film rights to Ridley Scott.
The silo is a self-sustaining community
with full employment and universal access to education and health care. More
than 100 floors deep and connected by only a staircase, the silo limits
mobility and communication, separating the machine deck at the bottom from
the mayor and sheriff up top.
The stories invert the traditional
power dynamic between author and fan. By reaching out to Howey and posting
rave reviews, fans helped conjure up the fictional world. And Howey
converted interest in the first story into dedicated fandom and more sales.
He is now writing a sequel called Dust.
2013 March 2
Telepathy In Rats!
Scientists have invented a new channel of
communication, direct communication between brains. Rat A learns where the
food is, and communicates it directly into the brain of Rat B, initially by
fine wires running between their brains, and subsequently over the internet.
What's passing between the two rats is information, and
information technologies grow exponentially. Imagine a world where I deliver
this straight into your brain, via the Cloud. It seems fanciful. But 20
years ago, so much of today seemed fanciful that if someone had suggested it
we'd have laughed. Sergey Brin of Google says smartphones are emasculating.
He doesn't know the half of it.
Benefits, Bonuses, Caps
In the UK this year, benefit entitlements will be
capped. According to the government, the benefit cap is necessary. But when
it comes to capping bankers' bonuses, the Tories say no. They say if these
pin-striped pricks don't get what they want, they will fly off to Singapore.
Well, let them go.
London is not just a playground
for the super rich. The bankers got us into the financial mess, yet whenever
there is talk of limiting the bonus culture that incentivized their absurd
risk culture, the government sides with them. The poor are capped, the rich
are protected. This cannot go on.
UK is a land of gross moral desolation.
The Case Against
A.C. Grayling makes his case against religion and outlines the humanist
Grayling: "Atheism is to theism as not stamp-collecting
is to stamp-collecting." This is a ruse to get the horsemen off the charge
that they write about religion while knowing nothing of theology. If
religion is like belief in fairies, then there is no need to understand it
and it should be exposed and refuted.
Western humanism is a very
small sect in the context of global beliefs and world views. The idea that
it could and should become a world ideology is both wildly improbable and
extremely dubious. Like it or not, religions are here to stay. Most thinkers
accept some sort of evolutionary explanation. Religious faith is not
remotely like belief in fairies. It is deeply embedded in human nature.
religion has nothing to offer the world. But religion will teach you more
about the human condition than anything written by the four horsemen of the
AR I know the
truth here: see CORAL.
2013 March 1
Jens-Martin Eriksen, Frederik Stjernfelt
Last summer, the
director of Norway's Trondheim Museum of Art, Pontus Kyander, decided that
the museum should no longer fly the Norwegian flag. He said it was divisive,
that it rallied only ethnic Norwegians and Christians.
The battle over symbols in Europe has intensified. Ethnically distinct
groups increasingly demand that they be able to practice their own customs
and receive special dispensations for particular religious practices. Muslim
organizations in Norway demand special police uniforms for female officers,
special opening hours for public swimming pools dedicated exclusively to
Muslim women, special hours in fitness centers, special bathing curtains for
Muslim boys to protect them from being exposed to other children, special
diets in schools, special prayer rooms in airports, and interpretation
facilities in all public institutions for those who don't speak the
language. These demands are on the agenda in many European countries.
Muslims also want to import spouses from their home countries. Meeting their
demands is causing
massive social problems.
Muslims seek segregation from the
mainstream. Pontus Kyander's flag ban is one absurd reaction. Political correctness
makes honest discussion impossible. Neither side dares address the real
problem: Islamic dogmatism.
AR The only
solution is zero tolerance of exceptions for any religion.
MIT Technology Review
Pairs of rats can communicate through brain
chips and collaborate to perform a task. Brain activity recorded in one rat
was translated into pulses transmitted to another rat that had been trained
to push a lever in response to a pattern of electrical stimulation in its
brain. The rats worked together. If the second rat chose the wrong lever,
then the first rat changed its brainwaves, which improved the chances in the next
The research was led by
Miguel Nicolelis at Duke University Medical Center. The team trained a rat
to choose between a right or left lever to push depending on which of two
LEDs lit up. If the rat pushed the correct lever, it got a rewarding sip of
water. The researchers recorded the electrical activity of the rat's motor
cortex and translated the activity in the two cases into more or fewer
pulses. They sent the pulses to the implant in the brain of another rat in a
separate chamber. That rat had been trained to respond to pulse patterns in
a similar way.
With no cue but the pulses, the second rat chose the
correct lever 64% of the time, and both rats got a reward. When the second
rat got it wrong, the first rat noticed because it did not get a second
reward. So in the next trial, the first rat would try harder and make a
stronger signal. This was the collaboration.
The team is working on
"swarms" of rats that cooperate via brain chips.
AR Swarms of roborats — woohoo — can't wait!
2014 September 3-6
and the Internet
SIEF 20th International Ethnological Food Research
Department of Ethnology and Folklore, Institute of Ethnology
and Cultural Anthropology,
University of Łódź, Poland
AR Bon appetit!
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