BLOG 2011 Q2
The RAF calls her the Queen of the Skies.
The Vickers VC10 was built 50 years ago for BOAC. The RAF flies 13
long-range VC10s for air-to-air refuelling and troop transportation. They
will be replaced with a fleet of Airbus A330 planes, starting in October.
Amsterdam a few years ago,
I picked the mildest dose of
psilocybin-containing mushrooms legally on sale there and ate
it. The mushrooms were disgusting. Then I sat on a bench next to
a canal and waited. And all I could think of was God. A sense of
unity with an overwhelming force of immense love and kindness
Psychopharmacologists agree: psilocybin can give you mystic
Airbus is piling up the orders at the Paris air
show. Its A320neo jets are in demand as their new engines make them more
fuel-efficient and cheaper to run. It has taken firm orders for 586
aircraft, worth about $55.8 billion, with a further $29.5 billion in
Mad City Life
Brain regions involved in the regulation of
emotion and anxiety are overactive in stressed city-dwellers, say
researchers. The differences could account for the increased rates of
mental health problems seen in urban areas.
a study published in Nature,
Prof. Dr. A. Meyer-Lindenberg of the
University of Heidelberg scanned the brains of healthy volunteers from
rural and city locations while they performed difficult tasks. Both the
amygdala and the cingulate cortex of the city-dwellers were overactive
in stressful situations.
Basis product director Julie Wilner uses a
Basis watch to track heart rate, body temperature, movement, and sweat
levels. The data is analyzed to determine activity levels and calories
burned throughout the day.
2011 June 30
Costs of War
The Eisenhower Research Project based at Brown University assembled a
team to analyze the costs and consequences of the wars in Afghanistan and
Iraq. Some findings:
Just over 6,000 U.S. soldiers have died in the
wars. New disability claims for injury and illness in those who have
returned from the wars continue to pour in, with 550,000 through last fall.
Many deaths and injuries among U.S. contractors have not been identified. At
least 137,000 civilians have died Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan as a
result of the fighting. Putting together the conservative numbers of war
dead, in uniform and out, brings the total to 225,000.
economic cost of the wars, conservatively estimated, are $3.2 trillion in
constant dollars. A more reasonable estimate puts the number at nearly $4
2011 June 29
Sex and Violence
In the case of Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association,
the Supreme Court voted 7-2 this week to strike down down a California ban
on selling or renting violent video games to minors, citing the First
Justice Stephen Breyer, one of the two
dissenters: "What sense does it make to forbid selling to a 13-year-old boy
a magazine with an image of a nude woman, while protecting a sale to that
13-year-old of an interactive video game in which he actively, but
virtually, binds and gags the woman, then tortures and kills her?"
Breyer: "What kind of First Amendment would permit the government to protect
children by restricting sales of that extremely violent video game only when
the woman — bound, gagged, tortured, and killed — is also topless?"
Publishing Best Sellers
At a Simon & Schuster meeting, a consultant once said:
"Do you guys realize how much money the company would make if you only
published best sellers?"
factors brought about the homogenization of the best-seller list.
Superstores made publishers less inclined to publish the quirkier fiction in
which the smaller bookstores specialized. And the conglomeration of
publishing houses under larger and larger umbrellas prioritized the bottom
line over promoting literary culture. A novel by a new writer has a smaller
chance of becoming a best seller today than at any other time in history.
2011 June 28
Tim Worstall, Forbes
Anyone can publish a book with Amazon but
most authors are not salesmen. The new e-book and self-publishing
environment needs specialists in marketing who can get a book out there, get
it reviewed, sell extracts to the newspapers, run competitions, organize an
author’s book tour. The contractual structure would probably look more like
an agency contract than a publishing one.
2011 June 27
The world economy is growing again. But
economies and financial systems are still vulnerable. In the advanced
economies, overall deleveraging and structural adjustment is still
The fiscal trajectories of some of the world's largest
advanced economies are unsustainable. Rising dependency ratios, programs for
retirement and health care, and the like put future commitments well in
excess of future revenues. The need for fiscal consolidation is urgent.
Policymakers must intensify their efforts to repair financial sector
balance sheets. Fiscal trajectories must be put on sustainable paths,
monetary conditions should be normalized, and adjustments in the real
economy and balance sheets should be accelerated.
economy is safe unless the global economy is safe.
2011 June 26
The Poetry App
Faber & Faber has
launched T.S. Eliot's
The Waste Land
as an app. Faber produced the app with Touch Press, a digital publishing
operation that made its name with apps illustrating the periodic table of
the elements and the solar system.
The app is a virtuoso performance
that took two years to produce. You can read the text and you can hear it
read by Eliot or by others. The app offers 37 short video clips. Highlight a
line and you can call up a reading of your choice or check its
interpretation by commentators. You can also see the original manuscript
pages, complete with the editing marks of Eliot's friend Ezra Pound.
This is a turning point for digital literature. The app does not merely
illustrate the poem, it helps you read deeply into it. Spend a day with this
app and the poem will be lodged forever in your mind.
This is the ebook moment. The Amazon Kindle ebook reader took off in the
British market in 2010. The Apple iPad is not only a reader but an app
platform. The premium asset in the new media market is brand value.
The Waste Land by Touch Press
2011 June 25
Congratulations to Lily Cole for her success in winning a Cambridge
double first in History of Art.
Salman Rushdie on Martin
Amis and the Arab Spring
China Versus Europe
China has blocked an order for 10 Airbus A380 aircraft. The order from
Hong Kong Airlines, worth $3.8 billion at list prices, was due to be
announced at the Paris air show.
China opposes the EU move to enforce
its climate change rules and make all airlines flying into Europe pay for
AR For $380 million a pop you'd think they'd
waive the rules.
2011 June 24
The illusions of psychiatry
Islam versus science
2011 Corpus Christi
Dutch politician Geert Wilders has been
acquitted of inciting hatred against Muslims. The Amsterdam judge said his
statements were "acceptable within the context of public debate".
Wilders: "The good news is that it's also legal to be critical about Islam,
to speak publicly in a critical way about Islam and this is something that
we need because the Islamization of our societies is a major problem and a
threat to our freedom and I'm allowed to say so."
>> Geert Wilders
The present crisis validates the view
Britain adopted nearly 20 years ago that it's tough to sustain a currency
union with Germany. You could wipe out Greece's entire national debt and it
still wouldn't make any difference to the country's underlying lack of
competitiveness relative to Germany.
The key question for Britain is
whether we want to be a part of a Europe bounding headlong into full
political union or not. The European Union and its political institutions
would become one and the same thing as the eurozone, allowing Britain to
retreat to its historic position on the sidelines of Europe.
AR Britain outside Europe would be more like Taiwan outside China than Japan
Britain and the Euro
From a letter by 14
British Conservative MPs
UK taxpayers are now underwriting some €14
billion in loan guarantees to Greece, Ireland, and Portugal. We are
concerned that the solutions to the crisis proposed by eurozone countries
will further expose the British taxpayer to any future economic meltdown.
The UK now has an exposure to the eurozone of over €700 billion.
crisis affecting those countries that use the euro has created a political
vacuum at the heart of Europe. The UK needs to develop a bold new EU
strategy aimed at changing Europe into a more competitive, vibrant, and
accountable trade bloc. We must start getting some value in return for the
significant sums that UK taxpayers contribute to the EU's budget.
Since the UK is not a eurozone member, it can only have a marginal say in
how the crisis is resolved. A "bold new EU strategy" can change the
"political vacuum" in Europe only if UK leaders accept in word and deed that
the EU is the only game in town for preserving and increasing European peace
and prosperity. Complaining about the "significant sums" paid in membership
fees is no way to do so.
2011 June 22
Greece's embattled government won a vote of
confidence in parliament by 155 votes to 143. The government must now enact
a €28 billion austerity plan to win a fresh €120 billion bail-out by
Alistair Darling, The Times
You cannot manage the ejection of one
country from the euro without running the risk of chaos in the markets as
they turn their attention from one country to the next. That's an experiment
we can't afford to try.
A reparation-style austerity program won't work. The richer, stronger
economies who have benefited from the euro should help out their weaker
neighbors. If they want a single currency, they've got to make it work.
70 years ago today:
The storm of war
2011 June 21
The Quantified Self
Emily Singer, MIT Technology Review
Quantified Self members
consider that collecting detailed data can help them make better choices
about their health and behavior. Self-trackers use a combination of
traditional spreadsheets, an expanding selection of smart-phone apps, and
various consumer and custom-built devices to monitor patterns of food
intake, sleep, fatigue, mood, and heart rate. New consumer tools have made
self-tracking both simpler and more rigorous, generating reams of data that
can be scrutinized for patterns and clues. More and more people are finding
it useful to quantify their lives.
I wannabe a Quant too!
The Collapse of the Soviet Union
When Mikhail Gorbachev became general secretary of the
Communist Party in March 1985, virtually no one foresaw the collapse of the
Soviet Union in 1991. Gorbachev wanted to build a more moral Soviet Union:
"A new moral atmosphere is taking shape in the country," he told the Central
Committee at the January 1987 meeting where he declared glasnost and
democratization to be the foundation of perestroika.
Yeltsin dismantled an empire, but the enormous national tragedy of Stalinism
has never been fully explored and atoned for, corrupting the entire moral
enterprise. In February 2011, the Institute of Contemporary Development, a
liberal think tank chaired by President Dmitry Medvedev, said: "The
challenge of our times is an overhaul of the system of values, the forging
of new consciousness."
Yes, high time for a new consciousness!
Airbus has a new dream, and its name is ZEHST (Zero Emission High Supersonic
Transport). A hypersonic commercial jet would carry up to 100 passengers
while cruising at 4,200 km/h at an altitude of 32 km.
jet that would climb to a height of 5 km using turbofan engines powered by
biofuel made from seaweed or algae. At that point, a rocket engine would
propel the plane to an altitude of 32 km in a matter of minutes. There, it
could maintain cruising speeds above Mach 4 using ramjet
At its destination, the plane would glide down and switch
back to its turbofan engines for landing. The ZEHST would create no sonic
boom and use a standard-length runway.
AR This dream is a crazy waste of taxpayer subsidies.
Brits Invaded Oz
Sydney City Council is rewriting the history books. The
words "European arrival" are to be wiped from official documents
and replaced with the term "invasion or illegal colonization" on
all policy statements and documents after the council bowed to
pressure from its Aboriginal advisory panel.
Countdown to Zero
Countdown to Zero is a chilling wake-up call about the
of the nuclear threat. The film exposes a variety of
present day threats and features insights from a host of
international experts and world leaders who advocate the total
elimination of nuclear weapons.
Countdown to Zero is directed
by Lucy Walker and produced
by the producers of
"'Only about 500 million
people would die."
Ravi Shankar, 90, celebrated the summer solstice
with a concert at the Barbican in London.
AR My first LPs, back in
1969, were the Beatles' white album and a beloved Ravi Shankar album.
How I Sold 1 Million
eBooks in 5 Months!
"I've been in commission
sales all my life, and when I learned Kindle and the other e-book
platforms offered a royalty of 35% on books priced at 99 cents ... it
seemed like a license to print money."
John Locke, 60,
Wingspan 64 m
Around the world
a solar airplane
Invent Enemies, Buy Bombs
Outgoing U.S. Defense
Secretary Robert Gates berated Europe's "failure of political will" in
not maintaining defense spending. He said NATO had declined into a
"two-tier alliance" between those willing to wage war and those "who
specialize in soft humanitarian, development, peacekeeping, and talking
In 1961, U.S. President Eisenhower warned against the
"disastrous rise of misplaced power" of a military-industrial complex
with "unwarranted influence on government." A burgeoning defense
establishment, backed by large corporate interests, would one day employ
so many people as to corrupt the political system and "endanger our
liberties and democratic processes."
There is no strategic
defense justification for the United States spending 5.5% of its gross
domestic product on defense or Britain 2.5%, or for the NATO target of
2%. NATO has outlived its purpose.
2011 June 20
Another Trillion Dollars
Lockheed Martin has come under pressure over the
lifecycle cost of the F-35 Lightning II program. According to the latest
estimate, maintaining the fleet of jets through their entire working lives
will cost more than a trillion dollars.
This could spell trouble for
an aircraft that was pitched as a cost effective way to upgrade the U.S.
fleet. Lower maintenance and support costs were key to that goal. The
Pentagon now expects the
F-35 to cost a third more than the F-16 fleet it
aims to replace.
it looks so good — see May 11 below.
Jeet Heer, The Walrus
Marshall McLuhan maintaned that technology
changes how we think. In his first book, The Mechanical Bride (1951), he
surveyed the dehumanizing impact of popular magazines, advertising, and
comic strips. In The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962) he highlighted the effect of
print in shaping how we think. In Understanding Media (1964) he prophesied
that new electronic media would rewire human consciousness to create a
American novelist and social critic Tom Wolfe: "At the turn of the nineteenth
century and in the early decades of the twentieth there was Darwin in
biology, Marx in political science, Einstein in physics, and Freud in
psychology. Since then there has been only McLuhan in communications
McLuhan was born in Edmonton in 1911 and grew up in
Winnipeg. His father was a Methodist, his mother a Baptist. In a 1935 letter
to his mother explaining his increasing interest in Catholicism, he said: "I
simply couldn't believe that men had to live in the mean mechanical joyless
rootless fashion that I saw in Winnipeg."
McLuhan converted to
Catholicism in 1937. He saw the Church as a refuge from the ills of
modernity. He admired the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco as a bulwark against
communism and anarchism. He thought that feminism and the "homosexual cult"
were undermining the natural authority of men over the family.
McLuhan's saving grace was his ceaseless curiosity. As an academic, he thought it was more important to
understand the world than to condemn it. In 1967 he said: "The mere
moralistic expression of approval or disapproval, preference or detestation,
is currently being used in our world as a substitute for observation and a
substitute for study."
McLuhan remained conservative on moral
matters. As his faith deepened, he acquired an irenic confidence in God's
unfolding plan for humanity. In 1971 he said: "One of the
advantages of being a Catholic is that it confers a complete intellectual
freedom to examine any and all phenomena with the absolute assurance of
I read McLuhan's books decades ago. He is the Anglophone answer to
2011 June 19
Saudi Arabia no longer calls the tune in OPEC.
Power has passed from a country that needs the United States, and has big
investments in western countries, to Iran, a nation that has no reason to
want to cut prices to shore up western economies, and good reason to want to
cause another recession.
In America, President Obama risks high
unemployment to hinder drilling for oil and gas, and allows environmental
rules to paralyze investment in coal plants. The Senate holds up the Yucca
Mountain storage facility for nuclear waste, without which new nuclear
plants cannot support a big switch to electric vehicles. And no politician
will raise taxes to reduce oil consumption.
The global situation is
dangerous. A de-nuked Japan will increase energy imports. So will China and
other Asian nations as they drive more cars. Germany will depend not only on
French nukes and on renewables but also on natural gas from Russia. If Saudi
Arabia is unable to increase output, the world will look to Russia.
AR Invest in modernizing
Let Greeks Go Free
The Greek tragedy is getting
worse. The unemployment rate is 16%, near 40% for those under 25.
Productivity is crashing and debt exceeds 160% of GDP.
continue, the euro becomes an engine for the creation of an economic
government of Europe. The disaster of the PIGS has been terrific for the
federalist cause. The PIGs are asked to submit to economic supervision
from Berlin and Brussels. The United States of Europe becomes
We have had hamartia — the tragic flaw in the
system. We have had hubris — the belief the good times would never end.
We have had nemesis — disaster. We now need anagnorisis — recognition
that Greece would be better off without the euro. Then there will be catharsis —
As long as Assad remains in power, none of the refugees in Turkey want to
return to Syria. In Yayladagi, a refugee camp in SE Turkey,
close to the border with Syria, more than 9,000 people
have reportedly found shelter.
Rewires the Brain
According to the China Youth Internet Association, some 24 million kids
in China are Internet addicts. A research team picked 18 Chinese addicts
and scanned their brains. Several regions in their brain cortex had
shrunk by up to 20 percent. The longer the addiction, the more
pronounced the tissue reduction. Deeper in the brain, the team also
found changes in white matter density in some areas.
Yukon Huang, Financial Times
China's GDP has increased faster
than private consumption in a pattern that mirrors many east Asian
economies, and also that of the United States in the 20th century.
Savings rates will not fall soon because there is no credible social
welfare system. Households are saving for old age and home ownership.
Response to Martin Wolf (June 15)
Saudi Arabia's bad year
Airbus unveils its transparent
concept plane for 2050. Airbus concepts include morphing seats made from
eco-friendly self-cleaning materials that meld to passengers' bodies for
a comfortable fit, cabin walls that become transparent at the touch of a
button, and holographic projections of virtual decors.
"You can't sink
The Rainbow Warrior III hull at Fassmer Shipyard, Bremen
"I have come to view NKS as one of the more
important single discoveries in the whole history of theoretical
The hugely expensive U.S. attempt
at nation-building in Afghanistan may not survive an American
withdrawal, according to the findings of a two-year congressional
investigation. The report calls on the administration to rethink
urgently its assistance programs. There is little evidence the positive
results of aid money to stabilize areas the military has cleared of
Taliban fighters are sustainable. Because oversight is scanty, the fund
encourages corruption. The Afghan economy could slide into a depression
as the foreign spending that now provides 97 percent of GDP declines.
Pray for a Rebound
In Q1 the
global economy was hit by four shocks: soaring oil prices caused by the
turmoil in North Africa, a breakdown of manufacturing supply chains due
to the earthquake in Japan, the renewed threat to the European financial
system resulting from the Greek crisis, and the European Central Bank's
premature decision to start raising interest rates.
turned out to be less powerful than feared. Civil war has not spread to
Saudi Arabia and the oil price has subsided. Supply chains have been
restored after the Japanese earthquake. And the financial crisis in
Europe has been brought under control. The global economic recovery
could regain momentum.
Cloud computing means your computing life is enabled by
the devices you own, not defined by them. Apple has lots of customers
who now own maybe an iPhone and and iPad and a MacBook and have no
patience for making any effort to make sure they're all on the same
page. With iCloud, the machine is just a portal that makes your stuff
available here and now.
Now your iTunes
collection lives on a server farm and is available to any of your
registered devices. For $0 Apple will keep the music you bought from
them safe and available to up to 10 devices. The music you didn't buy
from them will cost you $25 a year.
The New York
Review of Books
2011 June 18
Bostrom On Progress
"When we are headed the wrong way, the last thing we
What is your risk avoidance strategy?
Reduce existential risks. An existential risk is something that could either
cause the extinction of intelligent life or the permanent destruction of the
potential for future desirable development. It would be an end to the human
story. I introduced
the concept of existential risk in 2001.
Where might those risks arise from?
B Anthropogenic risks will arise from future technological
breakthroughs, such as advanced artificial intelligence or advanced forms of
nanotechnology, or from biotechnology or from new forms of surveillance
technology and mind control that might enable a system of global
How do we distinguish good progress?
B 1 Figure out which concerns are based on
2 Weigh our concerns against
3 Consider practicalities and
AR All this is thematized in my book on
2011 June 17
The Quantified Self
First Quantified Self Conference
Computer History Museum, Mountain
View, CA, May 28-29, 2011
Four hundred participants gathered a the
conference to show off their databases, spreadsheets, and gadgets.
Self-quantifiers who work at large technology companies are promoting the
commercial opportunities. Public health advocates and healthcare executives
see the potential for disease management and personalized drug development.
The attendees liken themselves to the pioneers of personal computers. An
attendee wears a maze of sensors and wires send data from his ear, chest,
and arm to a pocket-sized computer clipped to his belt —
the Sprout. The Sprout synchronizes the physical data from the body sensors
and from the apps on his iPod Touch. Such devices may soon be consolidated
into small products that automate data collection and let users see when
they're stressed or unwell. Personal health details could be shared with
doctors and insurers.
We shall all be tracked by medics administering drugs and neural stimuli via
Sprout implants —
2011 June 16
Pakistan: Cut Ties
The security relationship between the United States and Pakistan has
sunk to its lowest level since the two countries agreed to cooperate after
9/11, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials. Both sides say further
deterioration is likely as Pakistan's military leadership comes under
pressure from within its ranks to reduce ties with the United States.
AR To hell with them.
Airlifters for Indian Air Force
India's Ministry of Defence has signed an
agreement with the U.S. government to acquire 10 Boeing C-17 Globemaster III
Dinesh Keskar, Boeing India: "The C-17 will elevate
India's leader-ship in the region. With its tactical and strategic
C-17 fulfills India's needs for military and humanitarian
airlift. The important transaction reaffirms our close relationship of
several decades with India and also highlights our commitment to the
strategic partnership between the two countries."
AR This is sweet music after
all the bad news out of Pakistan.
Cheer Up Keanu
Yesterday was global
Cheer Up Keanu Day. Reeves has a lot to get over, being
His first book is called
Ode to Happiness. "I draw a hot sorrow bath," reads the first page. "In
my despair room," reads the second. Each page wallows in increasingly absurd
levels of self-pity, while the accompanying blotchy, black-ink drawings, by
Los Angeles artist Alexandra Grant, look as if they've been blurred by
tears. It culminates with an image of a bleeding black spot and the line:
"It can always be worse."
Steidl Verlag, Göttingen, produced the
40-page book as a stitched brochure, beautifully printed on thick paper, in
a clothbound slipcase, as a limited edition of 4,000. You can buy a used
copy for ca €25 at
2011 June 15
China Versus Japan
Martin Wolf, Financial Times
Until 1990, Japan was the most
successful large economy in the world. Japan's GDP per head (at purchasing
power parity) jumped from 20% of U.S. levels in 1950 to 90% in 1990. But by
2010, Japan's GDP per head had fallen to 76% of U.S. levels.
had an annual growth rate of 10% between 1979 and 2010. China's GDP per head
jumped from 3% of U.S. levels in 1978 to 20% of U.S. levels today. If China
matches Japan, its GDP per head will be 70% of U.S. levels by 2035 and its
economy will be bigger than those of the United States and European Union
China's new five year plan calls for growth of 7% a year
and the economy to rebalance toward consumption. From 2000 to 2010,
investment grew faster than consumption. The share of private consumption in
GDP sank from 46% to 34% and the share of fixed investment rose from 34% to
For this pattern of growth to reverse, the growth of investment
must fall well below that of GDP. This is what happened in Japan in the
1990s, with dire results.
Saudi Arabia: "History is
happening. No one can stop it."
2011 June 14
Standard & Poor's cut Greece's long-term
sovereign credit rating to CCC, a sign the rating agency thinks it will be
forced to downgrade Athens to default, D. Greece is now the lowest-rated
sovereign in the world, below Ecuador, Jamaica, Pakistan, and Grenada.
AR What were we
thinking, letting Greece get this deep in debt?
"Today it is
not enough to die for one's country. Rather a soldier has to achieve
martyrdom for Islam."
Pakistan's mutinous military
2011 June 13
"Der Mythos vom perfekten Deutschland wankt"
Rund um den Erdball erntet die Regierung von "Frau
Flip Flop" Kopfschütteln. Nur in Russland und der Türkei ist man zufrieden.
Das sollte Sorgen bereiten.
Adam Krzeminski schreibt, Angela Merkel sei eine Frau ohne
Eigenschaften: "Sie manövriert geschickt von Fall zu Fall, verzeichnet
gelegentlich Erfolge, aber es ist nicht ganz klar, wofür sie eigentlich
steht." Sein Fazit in
Polityka: "Deutschland beschäftigt sich mit sich selbst." Das könne sich
vielleicht Warschau erlauben, aber nicht Deutschland, der Motor der EU.
Bald wird es wieder Zeit, die deutsche Politik nach Prinzipien zu
orientieren. Aber welche?
2011 June 12
The Book of Mormon
The Book of Mormon show at the
Eugene O’Neill Theatre drew praise from the press. The Church of Jesus
Christ of the Latter-Day Saints made a decision not to take offense. Its
Head of Public Affairs, Michael Otterson, listed three things we should know
about Mormons: They follow Jesus Christ. They are friends of the family.
They like helping people.
The musical turns on a couple of young men
sent as missionaries to Uganda. Most of the inhabitants are suffering from
AIDS. Poverty is endemic. Conditions are gross and previous
missionaries made no converts. But one of the two young men discovers a gift
of improvising on church doctrine, adding whatever nonsense springs into his
brain. Mass conversion follows, in a proselytizing miracle. The Ugandans
save the day by pointing out that religious discourse is metaphorical
Otterson pointed out that in the seven years that it had
taken to put on the show, the Mormon Church in Africa had been responsible
for bringing clean water to more than four million Africans, getting
wheelchairs to 34,000 legless children, and so on.
The Mormon mission
to Africa was for a long time hobbled by racism. Then in 1978, the leaders
of the church experienced a convenient revelation. A willingness to jettison
or modify revelation has long been characteristic of Mormonism.
Acceptability matters more than doctrine. The musical at the Eugene O’Neill
Theater is a sort of hazing.
2011 June 11
Gates Blasts NATO
In his final policy speech as Pentagon chief,
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates questioned the viability of NATO.
Gates said both of NATO's main military operations now —
Afghanistan and Libya — point up weaknesses and failures within the
alliance: "The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and
patience in the U.S. Congress — and in the American body politic writ large
— to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are
apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary
changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense."
war in Afghanistan, which is being conducted under NATO auspices, is a prime
example of U.S. frustration at European inability to provide the required
resources: "Despite more than 2 million troops in uniform, not counting the
U.S. military, NATO has struggled, at times desperately, to sustain a
deployment of 25,000 to 45,000 troops, not just in boots on the ground, but
in crucial support assets such as helicopters, transport aircraft,
maintenance, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and much more."
Gates noted the difficulty NATO has encountered in carrying out an air
campaign in Libya: "The mightiest military alliance in history is only 11
weeks into an operation against a poorly armed regime in a sparsely
populated country, yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions,
requiring the U.S., once more, to make up the difference. … While every
alliance member voted for the Libya mission, less than half have
participated, and fewer than a third have been willing to participate in the
strike mission. Frankly, many of those allies sitting on the sidelines do so
not because they do not want to participate, but simply because they can't.
The military capabilities simply aren't there."
AR Fair comment. Europe needs to get serious.
2011 June 10
Fareed Zakaria, CNN
China seems to be moving away from a strategy
of increasing openness and connection to the West and toward one of greater
self-reliance and tighter internal controls. Henry Kissinger says China's
rise is the central challenge of American foreign policy.
Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo want Web page
operators to add semantic tags to their pages for search engines. Their
initiative Schema.org defines an interconnected vocabulary of terms that can
be added to the HTML markup of a Web page.
The Schema.org approach is
a straightforward one for semantics. But the companies acted without
consulting the World Wide Web consortium (W3C). Schema.org semantic markup
is written in microdata format, which is not a W3C standard.
AR OMG — I have to add tags to
all my pages.
In Search of the True Self
Philosophers say that what is most distinctive and
essential to a human being is the capacity for rational reflection. Losing
control and giving in to sexual desires would betray the true self.
People outside the world of philosophy say the true self lies in our
suppressed urges and unacknowledged emotions, while our ability to reflect
is just a hindrance that gets in the way.
Both of these perspectives
assume that the true self can be identified with one part of our psychology.
But our ordinary understanding of the true self appears to involve a value
judgment about what sorts of lives are really worth living.
AR The unexamined life is not worth living — Socrates.
2011 June 9
Tony Blair says Europe
needs an elected president with a democratic mandate to drive sweeping
reforms and give the European Union more clout on the world stage. A
directly elected president of Europe would be chosen by an electorate of
more than 386 million from 27 countries.
Blair sets out five areas
for EU action:
— Tax policy and reform of the social model
— Completion of the single market
— Forging a common energy policy
— A common
— A common immigration and crime policy
Right on, Blair. You get my vote.
Apple Cloud Versus Google
Google: the Web is the center of the universe
Google is betting that the world will have
fiber connections in offices and homes and super-fast mobile broadband in
virtually every nook and cranny of the planet. It is building its cloud for
that world, and it's hoping that by the time it has its application stack
refined and running like clockwork that broadband will be everywhere. All of
Google's apps are connection-dependent and all of the data is stored on
Google's servers in the cloud. Google has started talking about making
critical apps available offline, especially for Chromebooks, but offline
access is an afterthought.
Apple: your device is the center of the universe
Apple uses the cloud to orchestrate data
streams rather than control them. The cloud is a central repository for
apps, music, media, documents, messages, photos, backups, settings, and
more. Apple is allowing users to sync their personal data and media
purchases from their computers and mobile devices up to a personalized
central repository. Then, that central repository on the Internet syncs all
of the data and media files back down to all of the user's devices, so that
all of them have the same data. Geeks, technophiles, and IT pros like this
approach because they still control their own data and have local copies of
AR The cloud is the rapture for geeks. Your soul raptures
up from the box in front of you to the cloud and you supplicate for it
through your device. The Google model is more top-down. Your soul is really
gone, up to Google. The Apple model is more Zen. You harmonize with heaven
but you don't go there. The Ross model is more woo-woo. You are the cloud,
and we are all one in Globorg.
2011 June 8
Martin Wolf, Financial Times
This has been a weak
recovery. Of the six biggest advanced economies — the United States, Japan, Germany,
France, the UK, and Italy — only the United States and Germany had higher gross domestic
product in Q1 of 2011 than three years before and then only
by a little. The four laggards are still in recession.
The case for
combining structural measures to improve long-run potential output and
fiscal positions with continued strong monetary and fiscal support for
recovery seems overwhelming in countries with room for maneuver. The biggest
danger remains prolonged semi-stagnation in the post-crisis era, not
excessive growth and high inflation.
The International Monetary Fund suggests
that China will be number one by 2016. Some regard this interpretation of
IMF data as artificially boosting the size of the Chinese economy, but even
using real exchange rates China becomes number one in 2019.
China is sitting on
foreign reserves worth $3 trillion. Yet the average U.S. citizen is about
ten times as wealthy as the average Chinese. The United Nations, the IMF and
the World Bank are all situated in the United States, and NATO is built
around America. China is nowhere near matching the U.S. military and has no
equivalent to the American dream.
The Chinese economy cannot continue
to grow at 8-10 percent a year indefinitely. China also faces formidable
demographic and environmental problems. Chinese authoritarianism looks bad
and democracy would threaten the unity of the nation.
Li Na has been the toast of China ever since she became the
country's first Grand Slam tennis champion. Over 100 million Chinese watched
the live TV coverage of the French Open final.
Li is a product of a
state-supported sports machine, the "juguo" system. But Li could not be
where she is without the new "danfei" system that allows top players to choose
their own coaches and so on and retain most of the prize money.
may have to let go of certain controls to let their athletes compete
internationally. A successful athlete effectively becomes an international
citizen. Li Na is not going home any time soon.
2011 June 7
MIT Technology Review
Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced iCloud, a
service that means music, photos, and documents saved onto an Apple device
will soon appear almost instantly on any other Apple product a person owns.
The iCloud capabilities will become a central feature of
all Apple products. Apple's previous cloud service, MobileMe, "no longer
exists as a product," said Jobs.
When an iCloud user takes a photo or
saves a document with an Apple device, that file is instantly uploaded to
iCloud over either Wi-Fi or the cellular network. That person's other Apple
devices then automatically download the file as soon as possible.
Contacts and calendar items will behave in the same way. Users will get five
gigabytes of free storage for documents, mail and apps. Photos will be
stored in the cloud for 30 days.
After iCloud rolls out, music
purchased on iTunes will also automatically appear on every Apple device
associated with a person's Apple account. It will be possible to selectively
download previously purchased music to any device, too.
from CDs will also find a home in iCloud, with future versions of iTunes,
for a flat rate of $24.99 per year. It will scan music files and then offer
up high-quality replacements from the iTunes store. Only songs that cannot
be matched on iTunes will be uploaded.
Apple SVP for iOS software
Scott Forstall: "We're living in a post PC world." Many Apple customers are
people without computers who want their iPad or iPhone to be their only
Steve Jobs: "If the hardware is the brain of our products,
the software is their soul."
Apple has been in the cloud business for over a
decade. In 2000, Apple introduced iTools as a free service for Mac users. In
2002, Apple renamed the service, upgraded it, and turned it into a paid
subscription. In 2008, Apple turned it into MobileMe and expanded it to
include more advanced features. But most Mac users prefer Gmail and Google
iCloud, Apple is enhancing and relaunching the service. For two years, Apple
has been building a huge data center in North Carolina. It came online this
2011 June 6
Walter Kirn, Newsweek
Mitt Romney has announced his 2012
presidential campaign. But he has to overcome some big challenges before
capturing the Republican nomination. One is his Mormon faith.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints resembles a multinational
corporation, with global ambitions and an estimated net worth of $30
billion. Mormonism is now the fourth-largest religious denomination in
America, with just over 6 million members domestically and about 14 million
But the roots of Mormonism go down to some unique
theological doctrines. The Mormons believe that God was once a human being
and we can follow his example to evolve into gods ourselves. This
progression toward divine perfection extends beyond death.
issues, many Mormons toil side by side with conservative Protestants and
Catholics as allies in the culture war against secular liberalism. Still,
the differences among the groups are real and deep. Mormons think of their
religion as a restoration of genuine Christianity after 18 centuries of
Mormons hold that an ideal marriage — one between a man and
a woman, undertaken as a sacrament in a Mormon temple — is forever binding,
with marital vows, and procreation, extending into eternity. This view of
marriage motivates some of the church's most controversial public stands.
As governor of liberal Massachusetts, Mitt Romney championed health-care
reform. Mormons are just like everyone else.
2011 June 5
Li Na Makes History
Li Na won the trophy in the
women's final of the French Open.
2011 June 4
Li Na: China's tennis rebel is people's idol
Dignity and Democracy
Politicians are slaves to the financial markets.
Profligate policies gave Europeans a high standard of living but delivered
them into the clutches of the financial markets.
The banks and investment firms now play the role once held by the gods.
Hardly anyone dares to criticize them, and fear of their wrath guides the
behavior of politicians. Under such conditions, democracy has lost its
The banks owe their survival to politicians. Politicians
should impose tougher rules on the banks.
2011 June 2-4
Ethics and Neuroscience
Empirical, Conceptual and
Treffen der Nachwuchsgruppe Philosophie des Geistes
Campus, Raum 1.801
Grüneburgplatz 1, 60323 Frankfurt am Main
Thursday, June 2, 18:15 local time
Entering the Minds of Others:
Neurotechnological Assessments of
Saturday, June 4, 18:00 local time
What can Neuroscience tell us about Ethics?
Veranstalter: Prof. Dr. Thomas Metzinger
Frankfurt Institute for Advanced
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
2011 Christi Himmelfahrt
Consider horizon complementarity
and quantum vacuum decay
2011 June 1
Adherents of the Abrahamic religions
A philosemite is an
antisemite who loves Jews
Agitated Honeybees Exhibit Pessimistic Cognitive Biases
Animal emotional state can only be inferred using
physiological, cognitive, and behavioral measures. Honeybees display a
pessimistic cognitive bias when they are subjected to vigorous shaking
designed to simulate a predatory attack. Shaken bees also have lower
levels of hemolymph dopamine, octopamine, and serotonin. Honeybees could
be regarded as exhibiting emotions.
The New York
Christians are confident that the rapture will occur one day. An
unspecified date makes their prediction immune to refutation, but this
is no good reason for their confidence. Their beliefs are based not on
science but on faith. Objective certainty about a future event
requires good reasons. The Bible offers none.
AR Professor Gutting had a
A French government agency warns of a risk of mass
suicides tied to the predicted 2012-12-21 Apocalypse. Such theories fit
the gloomy mood in France. A Fondapol Foundation poll finds that only
17% of French people between 16 and 29 think the outlook for France is
Airbus Engineering Executive VP
Charles Champion: "Our research shows that passengers of 2050 will
expect a seamless travel experience while also caring for the
environment. The concept cabin is designed with that in mind, and shows
that the journey can be as much a voyage of discovery as the
will let readers stream books. Users will not own the books they read
but subscribe to the service for about ten euros a month and will have
access to all the books in the catalog. Publishers will be paid a
percentage based on pages read.
Isle of Wight Festival
The Isle of
Wight is one of the hippest spots in the British Isles. Madonna herself
has graced the island with her presence. Now the
Isle of Wight Festival
could steal the mantle of cool from Glastonbury. The flower power of
today's festival-goers hints at the Isle of Wight festivals held from
1968 to 1970. An estimated 600,000 people arrived in 1970 to see Jimi
Hendrix, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, and others. But the Government
created a law to ban the event.
I was there in my ragged
denims in 1970 to see
Hendrix et al.
Are Americans in the
an epidemic of mental illness?
The New Republic
Patrick French calls his book
India: A Portrait an intimate biography of 1.2 billion people.
French is a fine stylist and an excellent reporter, with an eye for the
telling detail. He subscribes to the view that the country's founding
fathers ended up papering over religious differences, therefore ensuring
the rise of sectarian Hindu politics. And he supports the opinion that
the centralized state apparatus was subject to diminishing returns. But
he seems so enraptured by India that his analysis is never quite
One of the worst Taliban attacks in a decade
killed General Mohammed Daud Daud, who was the police chief for northern
Afghanistan, plus two German soldiers, and wounded German General Markus
Kneip, the commander of coalition troops serving as part of the
International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in northern Afghanistan.
But when the crowd surged through the streets of the
provincial capital Taloqan for the funeral of the Afghan general, it was
calling for revenge against Americans, Germans, and any other
foreigners. At the head of the march was a car equipped with
loudspeakers, from which a young cleric chanted death to foreigners.
New College of the Humanities
Philosopher A. C. Grayling, biologist Richard
Dawkins, and historian Niall Ferguson are among academics setting up a
new independent London college.
New College of the Humanities will issue University of London degrees.
Undergraduates will be able to study law, economics, history,
literature, and philosophy. They will be obliged to take science
literacy, ethics, critical thinking, and professional skills modules.
Courses at the college will cost £18,000 a year.
AR Gimme a job!
BLOODHOUND SSC image by curventa
"Is there anyone who
has any questions about
Time, May 29, 2009
can save Pakistan
Photo: Paul Hanna/Reuters
Ministry of Defence
France are to deploy attack helicopters against Libya. Apaches from HMS
Ocean will join French Tiger helicopters in risky operations intended to
Future of Humanity
The first two paragraphs of my
blog entry for May 6 have been corrected to read thus:
Nick Bostrom is an Oxford University
philosophy professor who heads the Future of Humanity Institute, St.
Ebbe's Street, Oxford. The institute was founded in 2005 and works in a
field of study that spans Oxford's Faculty of Philosophy and its Martin School, a
creation of Dr. James Martin.
The institute's scope includes the work
of cosmologists like Sean Carroll of the Caltech and technology mavens like
Ray Kurzweil. It also includes that of Sir Martin Rees: "It's hard to think of
humans as anything like the culmination of life. ... Evolution in the future
won't be determined by natural selection, but by technology."
Invasion of Israel
The Arab Spring is supposed to be about the
liberation of the Mideast. But Arab protesters are targeting the one and
only stable democracy in the region. For many Arabs the ultimate message is
death to Israel.
Arab demonstrators flooded to numerous points on
Israel's borders in commemoration of Nakba, the day when Israel was
established. Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh exhorted worshipers in Gaza
City to pray for an end to Israel.
The demonstrations turned into
confrontations with Israeli troops. Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak
warns that the worst is yet to come.
Helmut Kohl On Europe
Former German chancellor Helmut Kohl, 81, took the
stage at the American Academy on the shores of Wannsee, Berlin, and
expressed confidence in Europe's future: "Those who want to do away with
everything and start over again are mistaken."
Kohl was the guest of honor on Monday night to receive the Henry A.
Kissinger Prize, an award given by the American Academy in recognition of
outstanding services to the trans-Atlantic relationship. Henry Kissinger,
87, was there among the luminaries.
Former U.S. President Bill
Clinton, 64, said Kohl was the "best European statesman since World War II."
Kohl had faced thorny questions during his 16 years at the helm, from German
reunification to Russian instability to the future of NATO to the break-up
of Yugoslavia. Clinton said "he answered every single one of these questions
2011 May 31
Ned Block bodged it, John
Searle nails it: the crucial flaw in
Self Comes To Mind by Antonio
2011 May 30
Germany's ruling coalition has agreed to shut down all of the nation's
nuclear power plants by 2022
2011 May 29
The Sunday Times
Southern California was
known as a flesh factory, especially Venice Beach, where women in bikinis
hung out admiring the bodybuilders.
Carl Jenkins says
Schwarzenegger was bold with women: "Arnold was just unbelievable. He'd see
a beautiful woman on the street or wherever he was and he'd go right up to
her and say, 'Do you wanna fuck me?' His English wasn't all that great but
he had that phrase down pat. ... That probably happened a few times a day.
We'd watch this in awe and think it was some kind of European thing."
Sex And Power
Johan van der Dennen is a sociobiologist at the University of Groningen.
Would Clinton, Berlusconi, Strauss-Kahn, and Schwarzenegger have
done the same if they weren't in a position of power?
VD Power makes men
arrogant, narcissistic, egocentric, oversexed, paranoid, despotic, and
craving even more power, though there are exceptions to this rule. Powerful
men generally have a keen eye for female beauty and attractiveness, and
women generally are attracted to powerful, successful, famous, and wealthy
What are these men thinking when they have sex?
Powerful men live in a sexualized or eroticized world. Not only do they
expect to have sex whenever they fancy, but they also expect that every
woman is always willing to provide this service, and enjoy it. They are
completely egocentric and opportunistic and just take what they want.
2011 May 27
THE PSYCHOPATH TEST
A Journey Through the Madness Industry
Jon Ronson, a popular British journalist, comes up with a
persuasive argument that the psychopath checklist and the Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) are dangerous weapons.
from a review by Janet Maslin, The New York Times
moment comes when Ronson asks Robert Spitzer, the
editor under whose aegis the DSM expanded from a slim booklet to a biblical
tome, whether it's possible that he'd created a world in which
some ordinary behaviors were being labeled mental disorders, and Spitzer
answers: "I don't know."
from a review by Will Self, The Guardian
AR Sounds like fun.
2011 May 26
The New York Times
Twins joined at the head are rare. The neural
anatomy of Tatiana and Krista is unique in the annals of science. Their
brain images reveal what Douglas Cochrane, of British Columbia Children's
Hospital, calls a thalamic bridge linking the thalamus of one girl to the
thalamus of her sister. The thalamus is thought to be essential in the
neural loops that create consciousness.
Images of their brains
astounded neurologists. Todd Feinberg, a professor of clinical psychiatry
and neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine: "Absolutely fantastic.
Unbelievable. Unprecedented as far as I know."
Tatiana and Krista are
not treated as freaks. The twins were born healthy at 34 weeks. Cochrane,
their neurosurgeon, concluded that separation would be extremely risky.
Doctors think the twins share sensation. Cochrane proposes that visual
input comes in through the retinas of one girl, reaches her thalamus, then
takes two different courses, either as usual to the visual cortex or via the
thalamic bridge to the visual cortex of the other sister. If one girl sees
an object with her eyes and the other sees it via that thalamic link, do
they have a shared experience?
Tatiana and Krista are more of a unity
than the closest identical twins. Feinberg says the brain labors to create a
unity of experience, knitting together our partial selves via numerous
cortical mechanisms into a unified sense of self: "In these girls, they're
linked, yet each acts as a whole. It's like a force of nature — the brain
wants to unify."
Tatiana and Krista will start kindergarten in the
fall. A talent manager is helping the family pursue a reality TV show.
2011 May 25
President Barack Obama's speech to the British Parliament
historic in its tone and inspirational level
SAP Arena, Mannheim
2011 May 24
An Essential Relationship
Barack Obama and David Cameron
The United States and Britain
stand together. Our relationship is founded on ties of people and culture.
But the reason it thrives is because it advances our common interests and
shared values. Ours is not just a special relationship, it is an essential
Today the foundations
of our partnership are rock solid. Our servicemen and women serve alongside
one another. Our diplomats and security and intelligence agencies work
together. And we are unified in our support for a lasting peace between a
secure Israel and a sovereign Palestine.
We need to co-operate on
rebuilding our economies. Our destination must be strong and stable growth,
reduced deficits and reform of our financial systems. Our nations have proud
traditions of out-innovating and out-building the rest of the world. Today
the United States remains the largest investor in Britain, and Britain the
largest investor in the United States. We want to encourage this exchange.
Recent events in the Arab world and Middle East are momentous. We see
the prospect of democracy and universal rights taking hold in the Arab
world, and it fills us with confidence and a renewed commitment to an
alliance based not just on interests but on values.
AR Has Cameron become a speechwriter for
Obama now? This is ammo for Conservative stump speeches. True, the US-UK
relationship is essential for the Western world and only China can rock it.
But we could lose a lot of momentum trying to sort out the Arabs. Let's be
sure we know when to back off and let them make their own mistakes.
2011 May 23
Obama Presses Israel
The New York Times
At a conference of the American Israel Public
Affairs Committee, President Obama struck back at Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu to say talks over a Palestinian state should focus on the
pre-1967 borders, with mutually agreed negotiated land swaps.
Administration officials say that given the historic upheaval in the Arab
world, the United States and Israel would both benefit from being seen as
taking bold steps to end the impasse between Israelis and Palestinians.
President Obama will try to talk his European counterparts out of endorsing
Palestinian statehood when the United Nations votes on statehood in
AR Obama is smarter than Netanyahu on this
The Daily Beast
Israel was no more created in 1948 than the United States was created in
1776. When Israeli leaders declared independence in 1948, it was a
culmination of efforts going back to intensive Jewish immigration in the
1880s. The nation in formation also defended itself against murderous Arab
riots from 1921 to 1939.
Commentators refer to the displacement of
Palestinians without recognizing the dramatic increases in the area's Arab
population due to the economic development and improved living standards
that the Jewish immigrants brought with them.
AR Fair points: journalists can be
2011 May 22
Vive les femmes!
Bernard-Henri Lévy raged against a legal system that
had treated DSK like "any other person". "Everybody," declared the
philosopher, "is not everybody!"
AR BHL is as bad as DSK: We must end the
cocky ways of these
2011 May 20
President Obama expressed support for Israel’s refusal to negotiate with a
Palestinian government that now includes Hamas. But he also urged Israel to
accept its 1967 borders with mutually agreed swaps and withdraw Israeli
forces from the occupied territories. The contradiction is glaring.
You cannot reach mutual agreement on swaps without negotiation. There is an
impasse until the Palestinians nominate a negotiating partner with
acceptable ambitions and the ability to deliver. Until then, military logic
dictates that the 1967 borders are indefensible. Israel is right to hang
tough until the Arab world understands that land is a negotiable resource.
Resettling Palestinian refugees in other Arab lands is far cheaper and more
reasonable for all concerned than mobilizing to erase Israel from the map by
force. If Arab leaders do not understand this, we must teach them, by force
if need be. Revising ancient land claims is the only way forward. We must
convince the Arab world that invading Israel would result in many millions
of dead Arabs.
Arabs and Israelis are both semitic peoples. Let them
show solidarity in face of an Iranian hegemonic threat. Let Saudi Arabia
ally with Israel to fend off the threat. Then we have a hopeful future in
the region. The alternative for Israel is to ally with Turkey against the
Arab world, but this is harder. Either way, Israel needs local friends.
2011 May 19
Did religion precede agriculture over
ten thousand years ago?
2011 May 18
High Energy Physics
The Standard Model of particle physics
describes the microcosm as we know it. But we are still missing one
cornerstone to explain how elementary particles get their mass. We think
that the Higgs mechanism could be the answer. The manifestation of that
mechanism is the Higgs boson. Our goal is to find it.
Standard Model only describes around five percent of the universe. Around a
quarter of the universe is dark matter, three quarters are dark energy. So
an even bigger step would be to find traces of dark matter in the
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is a very powerful
microscope. It can work with very small wavelengths, which means very high
energy levels. But we don't need to build bigger particle accelerators to
achieve even higher energy levels. So we have not reached the end of the
development of experimental physics.
Our work has very practical
consequences. The idea of a worldwide network started in 1989 here at CERN,
because we needed that kind of digital network for our scientific work. We
gain knowledge but we also gain the potential for technological innovation.
Research charts new territory. Every time we discover something, we open
the door to new knowledge but find new sets of questions. At the edge of
physics, it becomes linked to philosophy. We are struggling with the limits
AR Orbiting systems to study cosmic rays
with energies in the
PeV range and above
could be useful.
2011 May 17
Helmut Kohl and Henry Kissinger in 2000
Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer is now in orbit.
2011 May 16
The European Union is in trouble. "Me first" is the new
credo. The financial crisis has split the continent. Denmark has shut its
borders to prevent a sudden wave of immigrants fleeing chaos from the Arab
Spring. France and the UK are stonewalling on stress tests for European
In Germany there are fears that
Berlin will become the paymaster for an increasingly hopeless euro zone. In
Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling coalition, 19 members of parliament
apparently no longer support plans to save the euro. But the coalition has
only a 20-seat majority. If more members defect, Merkel's measures to save
the euro would depend on opposition votes.
Former European Commission
member Günther Verheugen, in a new book on European unity, warns against the
spread of right-wing populism and the dangers of renationalization in
Europe. Without the European spirit of earlier leaders, he argues, such
accomplishments as freedom of travel, the single currency, and more than 65
years of peace are threatened.
2011 May 15
Iain M Banks
"The very fact that entirely respectable writers
occasionally feel drawn to write what is perfectly obviously science fiction
— regardless of either their own protestations or those of their publishers
— shows that a further dialogue between genres is possible, especially if we
concede that literary fiction may be legitimately regarded as one as well."
AR Authoring that sentence should doom Banks
2011 May 14
UN: 10,000,000,000 by 2100
The United Nations Population Division now say the
number of people living on the planet will reach 10 billion or more by
century's end. The projections include a lower and higher estimate. The high
projection would take us to 10.6 billion in 2050. The low projection would
mean 8.1 billion. Women are not having more children than in the past, but
fewer of them are dying. Globally, the number of infant deaths per 1,000
births fell from 126 in 1960 to 57 in 2001.
AR Ten billion is too many people.
2011 May 13
THE PHILOSOPHER — first draft done
2011 May 12
Seventy years ago today, Konrad Zuse demonstrated his new Z3 computer to
technical experts from the Deutsche Versuchsanstalt für Luftfahrt (DVL). In
the words of Dr. rer. nat. h.c. mult. Friedrich L. Bauer, Professor
Emeritus of Mathematics and Computer Science, TUM, Germany, Konrad Zuse was
Creator of the first fully automated, program-controlled and
freely programmable computer using binary floating-point calculation. It was
operational in 1941.
This or something similar, says Prof. Bauer, is
what will one day have to be written when Konrad Zuse's bust is unveiled in
the Temple of Valhalla.
Source: The Computer — My Life, by Konrad
Zuse. Translated by Patricia McKenna and J. Andrew Ross. Springer, 1993.
Foxconn makes products for Apple and other Western
firms. After 13 workers committed suicide in 2010, the company has responded
with counselors and safety nets.
Applicants jog in orderly rows through the
industrial area. They look about 19 or 20 and hope to be future builders of
the iPad. Each of them holds an envelope containing their job
application. On command, they turn into the recruitment office.
Foxconn is hiring tens of thousands of employees. The company has built new
factories in the Chinese city of Chengdu to produce millions of iPads for
Apple. The supplier is known for the strict rules it imposes on its
employees. "Order and obedience rule here," says Xi. Her colleagues nod.
"I work from Monday to Saturday, 12 hours a day," says Zu. Long working
hours are standard at Foxconn in Chengdu. The factories in Chengdu are new
and 100,000 people work there.
Foxconn is based in Taiwan but its
main factory is in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, with about 400,000 workers.
Everything is clean there. The workers who assemble iPhones and MacBooks
wear anti-static jackets. Visitors have to wear caps and shoe covers.
Employees repeat the same hand movements thousands of times a day.
Talking is not allowed unless absolutely necessary, and workers have to ask
for permission to use the restroom.
The main street from the factory gate
into the campus is lined with palm trees and flower beds. There are banks,
stores, libraries, swimming pools and cafés. Safety nets attached to the facades of the taller buildings prevent workers from
jumping to their deaths. A care center open 24/7 helps people
Demand from Apple is so high that Foxconn lets its
employees work long overtime.
AR Support battery life — buy an iPad!
"If we lose our ability to take pride in the victory over Hitler, we will be
deprived of one of our surest moral compass points."
Announced at SAPPHIRE last week, the SAP In-Memory
Appliance (HANA) serves as a data mart separate from production
workloads, with high granularity and low latency.
support for IBM DB2/400 and is certified to run on Linux-based IBM
System x servers. HANA is slated for general availability in July.
AR This is my former team's product
well done, guys!
Photo: Paul Hanna/Reuters
The ElliptiGO elliptical
bike is a substitute for running. The San Diego-based makers have
released a new 3-speed model. Currently it is only available in the
AR The scope of the
The Great Seducer
Dominique Strauss-Kahn is awaiting trial on charges of
sexual assault. The French may wish to ponder how their system has sheltered
a man who now appears to be a serial sexual predator.
media remain in denial about their complicity. DSK was widely dubbed "the
Great Seducer" but no one asked whether "seduction" was often an
overgenerous interpretation of his hobbies.
The French media have a
history of pride of their reluctance to pry into the private lives of
politicians and consider it a sign of maturity. Today it seems obscene.
Henry Kissinger On China
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton thinks the
Chinese government is "trying to stop history, which is a fool's errand."
These are words you cannot imagine being uttered by Henry Kissinger. He
knows that the real fool's errand is to lean on the Chinese.
It is 40 years since Kissinger went on his secret
mission to China, to pave the way for President Richard Nixon's historic
visit in 1972. The American opening to China was also a Chinese opening to
America. Mao Zedong feared encirclement. Soviet and Chinese forces were
already skirmishing. The stakes for China were high.
overtake America within a decade. This is a feat the Soviet Union never came
close to achieving. And China is now the biggest foreign holder of U.S.
Treasury notes. The fact that until now China has been a boon to the United
States rather than a bane owes much to the work of Henry Kissinger.
The Zuse Z3
The U.S. Air Force has accepted into its fleet the first
of a planned 1,763 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters.
jet, known as AF-7, flew to Edwards Air Force Base, CA, on May 6 to begin
flight testing. In addition to AF-7, eight more
production-model F-35s have
rolled out. The F-35 Lightning II is the most advanced multirole fighter in
Hillary Clinton On China
We believe that countries should empower their
people. We believe that people should have certain universal rights. ...
But we don't walk away from dealing with China because we think they have a
deplorable human rights record. ...
They are trying to stop history,
which is a fool's errand. They cannot do it. But they're going to hold it
off as long as possible.
2011 May 11
Boating On Titan
NASA is considering sending a probe to splash down
into one of the lakes on Saturn's moon Titan. The lakes are filled with a
mixture of methane and ethane, which are liquid at Titan's surface
temperature of -180°C. NASA has selected a mission called the Titan Mare
Explorer (TiME) as one of three finalists competing for a chance to fly in
In 2023, after a seven-year
cruise from Earth, TiME would parachute onto a lake in Titan's northern
hemisphere. Powered by heat from the decay of plutonium, the probe would bob
around on the lake and make measurements for about three months. Titan has a
cycle like the water cycle on Earth, with hydrocarbon raining onto the
surface, evaporating, and raining again.
TiME would measure the temperature, humidity, and
winds at the surface of the lake and take pictures. It could measure the
lake's depth with sonar and taste the chemicals it contains with a mass
spectrometer. Complex organic molecules form in the atmosphere and rain down
onto the surface. Some scientists speculate that microscopic life forms
could live in the lakes.
AR This is a project worth sponsoring.
2011 May 9
THE TERRIFYING TRUTH
Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world. The Pakistani army
manipulates the jihadis and the jihadis manipulate the army.
Don't Go Nuts
Sir Hilary Synnott
The United States should continue to try to
disburse assistance for social development in Pakistan. It should target and
account for its military-related assistance much more carefully than
hitherto. And it should close off Pakistan's access to big-ticket arms that
can only be used against India.
2011 May 8
The twentieth century was a period of immense popularity of genetic
explanations for class and race differences in mental ability and
temperament. Now genetic theories for the causation of physical disorders
have become the mode.
Richard C. Lewontin on genetics
2011 May 7
William Deresiewicz, The Nation
Don't do a Ph.D. The market is a
bloodbath. Only a third of the faculty work on the tenure track. Half the
faculty are part-timers. Contingent academic labor is cheaper to hire and
easier to fire.
Graduate programs both produce and consume
academic labor. But they have no financial stake in whether their graduates
get jobs. Programs keep prices low by maintaining an oversupply.
students live on subsistence wages when they could be getting rich. More
than half of them are abandoned. But without grad students we all suffer.
Industry outsources research to universities where it is done on the cheap.
Tenured professors retain their prerogatives in return for acquiescing
in exploitation and betrayal. The system of public higher education in
America is in danger of falling into ruin.
At the start of the First World War, the
Cambridge fellow Bertrand Russell, 42, was Britain's best-known philosopher.
His greatest work was Principia Mathematica, a forbiddingly
unreadable trilogy on the logical foundations of classical mathematics
coauthored with Alfred North Whitehead and published in three volumes
between 1910 and 1913, that takes 347 pages before reaching a definition of the
number 1, but he also wrote fluently for the general public. He denounced
conventional marriage but attracted women like a magnet, hated organized
religion but felt moments of spiritual ecstasy, and loved his country but
believed that the war was an appalling mistake.
AR I read much of Principia Mathematica volume 1 plus many
other Russell books. His views on the First World War are of course absolutely
2011 May 6
The Boston Globe
Nick Bostrom is an Oxford University philosophy professor who heads the
Future of Humanity Institute, St.
Ebbe's Street, Oxford. The institute was founded in 2005 and works in a
field of study that spans Oxford's Faculty of Philosophy and its Martin School, a
creation of Dr. James Martin.
The institute's scope includes the work
of cosmologists like Sean Carroll of the Caltech and technology mavens like
Ray Kurzweil. It also includes that of Sir Martin Rees: "It's hard to think of
humans as anything like the culmination of life. ... Evolution in the future
won't be determined by natural selection, but by technology."
central preoccupation is making sure that humans survive to see the future.
Rees sets the odds of human extinction in the next century at 50 percent.
Bostrom puts them at 25 percent, listing nuclear annihilation, man-made or
natural viruses and bacteria, or other technological threats, such as
nanobots that run amok.
Bostrom, who trained in neuroscience and
cosmology as well as philosophy, says one survival scenario worries him
especially: The technologies that might liberate us from the threat of
extinction might also change humans into creatures who have shed their
Apple Brand Value
Apple has overtaken Google to become the world's
most valuable brand with an estimated brand value of more than $153 billion.
For the last four years, Google has dominated the BrandZ Top100 ranking of
the most valuable global brands. But thanks to the success of the iPad and
iPhone, Apple's brand value has surged in the last year. Apple has increased
its brand value by $137 billion since 2006. Apple's market capitalization is
$319 billion and Google's is $172 billion.
Sessions and Speakers
1. Brain Fields and
2. Consciousness in the Universe
3. Transcranial Therapy of
W. Jamie Tyler
Time, Precognition and Consciousness
Sara Gonzalez Andino
5. Anesthesia and
2011 May 2-8
Toward a Science of Consciousness
Stockholm University, Aula Magna
Keynote Speaker: Sir Roger Penrose
Toward a Science of Consciousness is an
interdisciplinary conference emphasizing broad and rigorous approaches to
the study of conscious awareness. Topical areas include neuroscience,
philosophy, psychology, biology, quantum physics, meditation and altered
states, machine consciousness, culture and experiential phenomenology.
Sessions and Speakers
6. Quantum Biology
7. Neuronal Activities and
8. Consciousness, Reality and
9. End-of-Life Brain Activity
Pim Van Lommel
10. The Varieties of Religious Experience
Padrinho Paulo Roberto
previously undisclosed, classified stealth helicopter apparently was part of
the U.S. task force that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan on May 1.
helicopter appears to be a highly modified version of an
Photos show that the helicopter's tail features stealth-configured shapes on
the boom and the tail rotor hub fairings, swept stabilizers and a "dishpan"
cover over a tail rotor with 5 or 6 blades. It has an infrared suppression
finish as on V-22s.
Stealth helicopter technology was used in the RAH-66 Comanche, canceled in 2004.
President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan twice served as prime minister. He was in
prison from 1990-1993 and 1996-2004 for corruption and was known as "Mr 10 Percent" when his wife Benazir Bhutto was prime minister. He is
reputedly a billionaire and owns a
355 acre luxury estate in England.
Obama Killed Osama
The Daily Beast
The president who found and
killed Osama bin Laden will be very hard not to re-elect. The Big Lie that
Obama is somehow not a strong president is debunked. Strength doesn't mean
blowing hard on Fox News, it means exercising patience and resolve to get
what you want.
This incident reveals that we are really at war with
Pakistan, not Afghanistan. Obama will find that the logic for withdrawal
just got a lot stronger. We did what we went there to do after 9/11. And
after ten years, it is time to leave. With our heads high. And justice done.
2011 May 5
Gregory Paul and Phil Zuckerman, Washington Post
like atheists. Christian conservatives stridently declare that the lack of
godly faith is detrimental to society. Nonbelievers are one minority still
commonly denied rights.
A growing body of
social science research reveals that atheists, and non-religious people in
general, tend to be more ethical than their religious peers. Atheists tend
to score high on verbal ability and scientific literacy. They tend to raise
their children to solve problems rationally, to make up their own minds, and
to obey the golden rule. Studies of people who were religious but later
rejected religion report they feel happier, better, and liberated.
The number of American nontheists has tripled in the population since the
1960s. Surveys find that as many as 60 million Americans are not believers.
They should be accorded the same respect as other minorities.
New Intel Chips
MIT Technology Review
Intel has shown off its next generation of
chips. Their 3D structure allows twice the chip density with better
performance and lower power consumption. Chips sold now use planar
transistors with 32 nm features. Intel's next generation will use 22 nm
features and 3D transistors. Intel will roll out the design first in Core
chips for desktops and then in the Atom chip line.
Intel announces the world's first 3D transistors in a production
technology. The transistors run at lower voltage with lower leakage. The
traditional planar channel is replaced with a thin silicon fin that rises up
vertically from the substrate. Three gates on the fin surface control the
current. The gates improve control of "on" and "off" states and allow faster
2011 May 4
Hasnain Kazim, Spiegel Online
Pakistani government officials say
they were not informed of the U.S. raid on Osama bin Laden's compound. The
situation is deeply embarrassing for Pakistan. The Pakistani foreign ministry stated that "as far as the
target compound is concerned, ISI had been sharing information with the CIA
and other friendly intelligence agencies since 2009." But an ISI official
admitted that mistakes had been made in the search for bin Laden. The ISI
now plans to investigate how bin Laden could have been living undetected so
close to a well-guarded military academy.
Officials in Washington do
not believe Islamabad's claims that it had no knowledge of bin Laden's
hiding place. President Obama's counterterrorism advisor
John Brennan claims that bin Laden lived undisturbed for "five to six years" in the
lavish compound on the outskirts of Abbottabad. Brennan says it is "inconceivable" that the terrorist
leader did not get any support from Pakistan. Members of the U.S.
Congress have also expressed doubts over the Pakistani claim not to have
known where bin Laden was.
Former CIA agent Bruce Riedel calls Pakistan "the most
dangerous country in the world." Pakistan, he says, is a country where
"every nightmare of the 21st century — terrorism, nuclear proliferation,
the danger of nuclear war, dictatorship, poverty and drugs — come together
in one place."
AR We need to get tough with them.
2011 May 3
David Eagleman says the brain is like Kublai Khan. Enthroned in its skull,
the brain is "encased in darkness and silence," at a lofty remove from brute
reality. Messengers stream in from every corner of the sensory kingdom,
bringing word of distant sights, sounds, and smells. Their reports arrive at
different rates, often long out of date, yet the details are all stitched
together into a seamless chronology. Like Kublai Khan, the brain needs
time to get its story straight. Perception and reality are often out of
register. Reality is censored before it reaches us.
AR Guess I'd better read his new book
Pakistan Did Its Part
President Asif Ali Zardari
the other targets of al-Qaeda in our satisfaction that the source of the
greatest evil of the new millennium has been silenced, and his victims given
A decade of cooperation and partnership between the United
States and Pakistan led up to the elimination of Osama bin Laden. More
Pakistani soldiers have died than all of NATO's casualties combined. The
terrorists murdered our greatest leader, the mother of my children.
My government endorses the words of President Obama and appreciates the
credit he gave us for the successful operation. We also applaud and endorse
the words of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that we must "press forward,
bolstering our partnerships, strengthening our networks, investing in a
positive vision of peace and progress, and relentlessly pursuing the
murderers who target innocent people."
In the words of my martyred
wife Benazir Bhutto: "Truth, justice, and the forces of history are on our
AR Benazir's ghost may rest easier now.
Pakistan's Deadly Game
Salman Rushdie, The Daily Beast
Laden, the world's most wanted man, was found living at the end of a dirt
road 800 yards from the Abbottabad military academy, Pakistan's equivalent
of West Point or Sandhurst, in a military cantonment with soldiers on every
street corner, less than 50 miles from the Pakistani capital Islamabad.
His million-dollar house had neither a telephone nor an Internet
connection. Are we supposed to believe that Pakistani authorities didn't
know he was there and did nothing to facilitate his presence there?
Pakistan's neighbor India is demanding answers. Pakistan supports
anti-Indian jihadist groups, provides them with safe havens, and encourages
such groups as a means of waging a proxy war in Kashmir. In recent years
these groups have been reaching out to the Pakistani Taliban to form new
networks of violence. The first threats of retaliation for bin Laden's death
have been made by the Pakistani Taliban. Pakistan fears that an Afghanistan
cleansed of the Taliban would be an Indian client state. Pakistan is
paranoid about India.
America has been tolerating the Pakistani
double game because it needs Pakistani support in its Afghan enterprise. But
Pakistan must answer some very tough questions. If it does not, perhaps the
time has come to declare it a terrorist state.
AR Believe AAZ or SR?
The Boeing Phantom Ray
unmanned aircraft made its first flight at Edwards AFB, California, on April
27. Phantom Ray is a "starting point" for developing a U.S. Navy
unmanned, stealthy, carrier-based strike aircraft.
An embargo was
placed on the news until the test data were analyzed. The Phantom Ray is a
further development of the Phantom Works X-45C and has a weapons bay like
that in the Lockheed Martin F-35.
On Sam Harris
Bin Laden: The Drama
The New York Times
How It Happened
The three MH60 Black Hawks hovered above the
high-walled compound surrounding a three-storey villa and members of Seal
Team Six, wearing night-vision goggles, abseiled down ropes. Armed guards
emerged from the building and a firefight broke out. One helicopter stalled
and landed in the compound.
Bin Laden fired at the Seals, who shot
him dead. Four other people were also killed. The raiders verified bin
Laden's identity by his face and his height. The CIA analyzed photos of all
the dead. DNA testing confirmed that one was bin Laden. The operation had
lasted 40 minutes.
2011 April 30
Situation Room, White House, Washington
As Navy Seals in four helicopters descended on a
walled compound few miles north of Islamabad,
President Barack Obama and
his advisers sat monitoring the operation as it unfolded.
At 2:05 pm, CIA
director Leon Panetta sketched out the operation to the group.
hour, he began his narration from CIA headquarters in Langley.
name for Osama bin Laden was "Geronimo."
The group watched Panetta
"They've reached the target."
"We have a visual on
Enemy Killed In Action
Prince William is an RAF officer so the RAF staged
a flypast to conincide with the kiss(es).
the Spitfire and the Hurricane of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight flew over the palace. The Merlin engines made a lot of noise.
was soon drowned out by the two Typhoon and two Tornado fighters that roared past.
2011 April 29
The royal wedding of William and Kate was a kind
of national festival. The British were celebrating their royal family and
their own Britishness. Even after the wedding, people continued celebrating.
The euphoria did not let up.
The wedding was
an historic event. Even if not everyone was in favor of the second-in-line
to the British throne marrying the daughter of a self-made millionaire, it
was the story of the girl who became a princess, and who will perhaps be
queen one day.
In the past eight years, Kate and William have in
their relationship got right all the things that Prince Charles and his
brother Andrew messed up in their days. Kate and William are considered more
discreet, something which will no doubt be appreciated by the Queen. The
young couple seem to be well grounded and likable.
On the balcony of
Buckingham Palace, the couple shared their intently anticipated kiss, or
rather two, one lasting 0.7 seconds and the second lasting 1.1 s.
AR I watched it for 3 hours on CNN and
fought back tears of joy.
David and Victoria Beckham released a statement:
Today's ceremony was beautiful and heartfelt. Catherine
looked wonderfully elegant and we were honoured to be part of such a
special, historical day for our country.
We wish Catherine and
William much love and happiness for the future.
Now A Pentalogy
By Andy Ross
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
The 9/11 mastermind claimed under
interrogation that al Qaeda had hidden a nuclear bomb in Europe. If Osama
bin Laden were killed or captured, militants would unleash a "nuclear
hellstorm" on the West,
according to WikiLeaks.
AR Kill them both and
call their bluff.
Physics blogs are alive with chatter about a
possible sign of the Higgs boson in data from the Large Hadron Collider. But
the claim could be wrong.
The rumors come from an abstract posted
Peter Woit's blog. The abstract appears to be part of a
longer paper written by four physicists involved with the LHC ATLAS
detector. The authors of the abstract say ATLAS data shows more photon pairs
than expected with an energy of 115 GeV.
The Higgs boson may have a
mass of around 115 GeV. It should sometimes decay into a pair of photons,
but the bump claimed in the abstract is 30 times bigger than expected from
the standard model. The consensus is that the paper is real but the result
may turn out to be wrong.
Apparently the paper has not been reviewed
or endorsed by the ATLAS collaboration.
Afghanistan: Job Done
Brigadier Paul Gibson
British forces in Afghanistan have defeated the terrorist networks that threatened the UK. David Cameron should declare Afghanistan a job
well done and bring the troops home.
The desire of the
diplomats who crafted UN Resolution 1973 that there would be no boots on the
ground in Libya is unlikely to prove sustainable. British forces need to be
AR Let Afpak go.
Image Credit: Philip Larkin Estate
Larkin was a loner, says Christopher Hitchens
The British and French still see themselves as world powers, but NATO
remains dependent on the United States to do the heavy lifting in Libya.
BATTLE: LOS ANGELES
The New York Times
An alien blitzkrieg is rendered in panic-vision, with hysterical hand-held cameras, staccato
editing, and ambient dust clouds occasionally illuminated by fiery
explosions. No interesting political implications
and no breathtaking special effects. Just some slimy creatures with heavy
firepower laying waste to the smog-bound skyline and a hearty band of
Marines fighting a running street battle.
Christopher Hitchens on Islamic fundamentalism: "An
ideology of that sort has shown itself incapable of running even as
low-level a society as Afghanistan. They deny themselves the talents of
half the population. They believe that things like diseases and earthquakes
are punishments. They have no self-criticism, so when things go wrong they
have to look for the source in a Jewish-Crusader conspiracy, which is why
they export their surplus young people to take their violence elsewhere.
That's why they're an immediate menace to us. Their state won't just fail on
its own; they have to share their failure. Once you've established that they
can't possibly win, our victory is a sure thing."
AR A victory for reason and common sense.
The Hitch gets my vote for formulating this insight.
Leslie H. Gelb
The Mideast is awash in arms.
The Arab oil states sell Europe and America oil at exorbitant prices, and
the big weapons producers sell weapons to Arabs at equally exorbitant rates.
Western leaders hope for transitions to stable
democracies as Arabs come of political age. But autocrats can use the arms
to crack down on protesters. Democrats may open the door to religious
Washington policymakers see arms sales as keeping the
peace by maintaining the balance of power among Arab states, between Arab
states and Israel, and between Israel and Arab states and Iran.
AR Lenin: capitalists will sell you
the rope to hang them.
Don't let ignorant people vote
LZ Granderson, CNN
We wouldn't issue a driver's license to
someone unable to pass the written test, knowing the potential damage that
person could do behind the wheel. Why do we look at voting differently?
I'm not suggesting we
kick people out of the political process, only that we require them to have
an agreed upon understanding of what that process is. Ignorant voters who
are fed up with being on the outside looking in can pick up a brochure and study free of charge.
AR I agree: see
the last chapter of
G.O.D. Is Great
Karl Marx was no more responsible for the
monstrous oppression of the communist world than Jesus of Nazareth was
responsible for the Inquisition.
Marx thought human beings fulfill
themselves in and through each other. At the interpersonal level, this is
known as love. At the political level, it is known as socialism.
Communist Manifesto predicted that capitalism would become global and that
its inequalities would sharpen.
Europe is socialist in many ways. The system no longer fits into a Marxist
taxonomy. Global oppression is a consequence of resource scarcity.
2011 April 28
Fatah and Hamas
The New York Times
The two main Palestinian factions, Fatah and
Hamas, have announced that they were putting aside years of bitter rivalry
to create an interim government and hold elections within a year.
deal, brokered in secret talks by the caretaker Egyptian government, was
announced at a news conference in Cairo. It was the first impact of the
Egyptian revolution on the Palestinians.
denounced the deal as dooming future peace talks on the grounds that Hamas
seeks its destruction. The deal also risks alienating Western support for
the Palestinian Authority.
AR The European Union should cease to fund
the Palestinian Authority. Let the rich Arab states take on the task.
2011 April 27
Steven Levy in the
Sam Harris on
right and wrong
2011 April 26
WikiLeaks, Spiegel Online
The latest documents released by
WikiLeaks provide U.S. profiles of the 779 prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay.
The documents underscore the shortcomings of the Guantanamo system. They
give information about the detainees' country of origin, age, health status,
and behavior in prison. They include statements from the masterminds behind
the 9/11 attacks and high-ranking Qaida leaders. But they describe their
alleged actions in an arbitrary way and would not stand up in a normal court
AR Close Gitmo. Find a better way.
WikiLeaks, The Guardian
The "secret" files cover almost every
inmate since the camp was opened in 2002. They reveal how many prisoners
were flown to the Guantanamo cages and held captive for years on flimsy
grounds, or on the basis of lurid confessions extracted by maltreatment.
The files depict a system often focused less on containing dangerous
terrorists or combatants than on extracting intelligence. Among inmates who
proved harmless were an Afghan villager who was 89 and suffering from senile
dementia and a boy of 14 who was an innocent kidnap victim. Almost 100 of
the inmates were listed by their captors as having depressive or psychotic
illnesses. Many went on hunger strike or attempted suicide.
documents list Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) as a
"threat indicator" and refer to the ISI supporting and protecting insurgents
AR Julian Assange and Bradley Manning have
done us the useful service of embarrassing Pakistan without official effort.
2011 April 25
The Swedish Solution
The Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management company (SKB)
plans to bury the country's expected 12,000 tons of nuclear waste in
corrosion-resistant copper canisters under 500 m of crystalline bedrock at
Osthammar in central Sweden.
The latest poll
showed that 88% of Osthammar residents are in favor of having the storage
site in their community. Today Sweden's 10 nuclear reactors produce almost
half of the country's electricity. More than 5,000 tons of spent fuel is
stored in an underground water tank in the southern city of Oskarshamn.
SKB started the search for a new site by visiting locals in their homes
for a chat over coffee. For the mayor of Osthammar, Jacob Spangenberg,
whether or not to accept the repository has nothing to do with the new
investment and the new jobs it would generate:
"This is a possibility for
our nation and our society to solve a very, very difficult problem."
France and Italy
Silvio Berlusconi and Nicolas Sarkozy want to ask
the European Union to revise the Schengen treaty on open borders. Rome and
Paris are in crisis over the war in Libya and the exodus of north African
migrants. More than 25,000 illegal migrants have landed on Italian shores
After the EU refused to activate a
burden-sharing agreement, Italy started issuing the immigrants with
temporary residence papers, released them from detention centers, and
ushered them toward France. In response, France reimposed border controls
and returned some migrants to Italy.
In Libya, Rome has been dragged
into a war it would rather avoid, fearing a Paris-Benghazi nexus will freeze
out its substantial interests in Libyan oil and gas. France and Italy are
the only two western countries to have granted political recognition to the
Benghazi rebel council.
AR Hey guys, it would be nice to see a bit
more discipline down there in the Med.
2011 April 24
Anatol Lieven, Foreign Policy
The United States must go on
cooperating with the Pakistani state, military, and intelligence services
against terrorism directed against the West and not allow this relationship
to be destroyed by Pakistan's sheltering of the Afghan Taliban.
The Pakistani government and military know that a
successful terrorist attack on the United States by a Pakistan-based group
would lead to a U.S. response that would be damaging to Pakistan. But
Pakistani authorities shelter the top leadership of the Afghan Taliban and
have allowed free passage to volunteers fighting the war against Western
forces in Afghanistan. There is overwhelming sympathy for the Afghan Taliban
among ordinary Pakistanis.
The ambiguity in the Pakistani military's
struggle against militants extends to Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), whose public
wing, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), runs an extensive network of schools, hospitals,
and welfare organizations in Punjab and beyond. LeT is regarded by many
Western counterterrorism experts as the most effective terrorist group in
South Asia and beyond. Much of the Pakistani diaspora in Britain comes from
Pakistani Kashmir. These people have British passports and are a potential
threat to the West.
Pakistan's strategy depends on not taking harsh
action against LeT/JuD. American policymakers need to stay focused on the
goal. As long as Pakistan cooperates, the United States should continue to
work with Pakistan. If Pakistan fails to do so, all bets are off.
AR Letting Afpak go is not so easy. Sigh.
2011 April 23
I think we're seeing fundamental change in the
Mideast. This is the region's 1989. But the Mideast is not Eastern Europe.
The transitions will be much slower.
governments have used mass repression or mass bribery. The oil-rich
countries use mass bribery. Countries like Syria use mass repression.
Bribery works better. Change in Saudi Arabia will be evolutionary. If I'm
wrong, all bets are off.
I think Egypt will look like Indonesia
today. Indonesia had Islamic fundamentalism but democracy stabilized the
country. For Egypt that would be amazing progress.
AR The Saudi monarchy is more rotten than
Ottoman Turkey a century ago. It will crash.
The Gospel of
Brendan O’Neill, Spiked
In The Good Book, A.C. Grayling has
gathered bits of philosophy and thought from the past few thousand years,
rewritten them in archaic lingo, split them into chapters and verses, and
grouped them under biblical names. He hopes this will become the secular
alternative to the Bible and the Koran.
Grayling is behind the times.
The sort of people in the West to whom Grayling is preaching don't beg God
to keep tsunamis and plagues at bay. They plead with environmentalists to do
that. Many people literally believe that switching their kettle on or
driving their car will have a direct impact on the future of humanity, and
so, like the early Jews, they have created all sorts of bizarre homely
rituals that might help to save themselves and mankind. Challenging the idea
of a deity is a decent aspiration. But the deity we should most worry about
today is not God, but Gaia.
AR For Gaia read
2011 April 22
Kids With Guns
Anthony Loyd, Prospect
Libya's revolution is regressing, despite
the NATO air strikes. The revolution's Provisional Transitional National
Council has lost its way. Daily life in Benghazi has deteriorated. The
rebels are skeptical that foreign intervention can help them.
opposition is made up of many different layers. The youth are armed
volunteers. Some rebels are soldiers who defected. A few are veterans of the
Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. If these factions start fighting each other,
the revolution is finished.
2011 April 21
Emine Ülker Tarhan, 48, is a Turkish politician.
Earlier she was a supreme court judge in Ankara and president of a
association. She says the Islamic administration of Prime Minister Recep
Tayyip Erdogan is trying to destroy the independence of the Turkish
Tarhan spoke of a "realm of fear" when she was
invited to speak in the German state of Hesse in early April. When asked
what was wrong in Turkey, she replied: "It's the deep state of the AKP." In
Turkey, the term "deep state" refers to the criminal ties among politicians,
the judiciary, and organized crime.
An election campaign began in
Turkey last week. Tarhan is the candidate of the Republican People's Party
(CHP). She says she never wanted to become a politician. She just wants a
different and more modern Turkey.
AR Vote CHP.
Hikikomori means "withdrawal" in Japanese. Japan's Ministry of
Health, Labor and Welfare uses the following definition:
1 The person does not take part in society
and is shut in
his or her home for at least six months.
2 The person does not have any intimate
than with family members.
3 The withdrawal is not a symptom of psychotic
4 The person withdraws from
social activities, school or work.
Psychiatrists and researchers in
Japan use a working definition that ranges from complete seclusion to going
out every day but having no friends or jobs. Patients tend to sleep during
the day, and at night they watch TV, play computer games, and read. They
often eat alone and do a great deal of internet chatting, but have very
little face-to-face communication with others.
AR Sounds vaguely like my present lifestyle.
2011 April 20
Up The Khyber
Pakistan sells itself to the United States as a
national security bulwark and Washington buys it. The terrorist attacks of
9/11 made Pakistan's unique combination of a nuclear arsenal and a thriving
population of Islamic extremists not so much indispensable to Washington as
terrifying to it. But the incompatibility of Pakistani and American
interests can no longer be avoided. In Pakistan, as in Afghanistan, the time
has come to lower expectations.
AR Let Afpak go to hell and get ready to
bomb their nukes.
2011 April 19
S&P set America's chances of a lower
credit rating by 2013 as 1 in 3 and warned that lack of a deficit reduction
plan "would render the U.S. fiscal profile meaningfully weaker than that of
peer AAA sovereigns."
2011 April 18
BATTLE: LOS ANGELES
Now screening in Germany, this
battle drama revealed its bathos before me last night. I'm tired of
Hollywood movies that offer no better brain candy than orgies of violent
death and destruction.
AR Looks like the Gaza Strip two
2011 April 17
Together with Professor Dr. Violetta Krawczyk-Wasilewska, Department of
Folklore, University of Łódź, Poland, published:
Through Avatars: Social Aspects of Online Dating
delivered on the panel Shaping virtual lives: identities on the Internet,
during 10th Congress of the Société International d'Ethnologie et de
Folklore (SIEF), Lisbon, April 17-21, 2011
PDF: 10 pages, 621 KB
Online dating and gaming with avatars have merged in the new phenomenon of
avatar dating. Since online dating is a big and growing industry, gaming
technology is still advancing rapidly, and avatar dating is popular with
young players, the phenomenon is likely to grow in importance in future.
This paper explores the advantages and disadvantages of this new form of
dating and relates the findings to previous work in social psychology.
2011 April 16
NATO At War
AR The beauty of our weapons should not
blind us to the fact that we still lack a clearly defined war aim and an
2011 April 15
Gaddafi Must Go
David Cameron, Barack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy
Together with our
NATO allies and coalition partners, the United States, France and Britain
have been united in building a broad-based coalition to respond to the
crisis in Libya. Our duty and our mandate under UN Security Council
Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians.
NATO and its coalition
partners must maintain their operations so that civilians remain protected
and the pressure on the regime builds. Then a genuine transition from
dictatorship to an inclusive constitutional process can really begin, led by
a new generation of leaders. For that transition to succeed, Colonel Gaddafi
AR The prose is Cameronian, the message
Churchillian. The "broad-based coalition" (BBC) is an actor with
Globorg ambition. The goal is hard
to dispute: Gaddafi must go. The world deserves a better partner in Libya.
The Libyans deserve better.
2011 April 14
Germany regards nuclear power as unacceptably
risky. Chancellor Angela Merkel has embarked on a plan to phase it out as
soon as possible. The shift will provoke a backlash.
government plans to fill the country with massive wind turbines and
high-voltage power masts to create a modern smart grid. The conservatives
want to push the move into renewables. A study says there are good spots for
wind turbines all over Germany.
Bavarian state Environment Minister
Markus Söder wants to win the race to expand renewable energies. He plans to
double the number of wind turbines in his state to quadruple its wind power.
More than 80 percent of Germans want to see the country abandon nuclear
energy. But most Germans don't want big energy projects in their own
backyard. As soon as plans are unveiled for mass wind turbines near
residential areas, home owners and locals organize campaigns to halt
Many fear the transition to renewable energy will ruin
the nation's countryside. The zeal to install wind turbines reminds them of
the drive to build roads in West Germany in the 1960s, which created massive
eyesores. The Federal Agency for Nature Conservation says the rush to expand
renewables may override other concerns.
Opposition to wind power is
well organized. Brandenburg has more wind turbines per head than any other
state in Germany and in January citizen's groups demonstrated in Potsdam
against the "mass construction of wind turbines in Brandenburg."
Baden-Württemberg has the lowest percentage of wind power of any state but
people demonstrated against wind power near Stuttgart.
also mounting against an estimated 3,600 km of big new power masts that will
be needed to transport clean energy across Germany and Europe. In Thuringia,
Petra Enders, a member of the state parliament for the Left Party and also a
town mayor, says a projected power line should be buried. This would push up
NIMBY outrage over Germany's planned shift to
renewable energies won't just be directed at Merkel and her conservatives.
The Green Party is often active in local NIMBY protests against big
projects. In Baden-Württemberg, the newly elected Green governor Winfried
Kretschmann will be in charge of decommissioning old nuclear plants in the
state. He will need to speed up the switch to other forms of electricity
generation to offset the shortfall.
Other European countries have
already failed. In the Netherlands, traditional pride in their windmills
doesn't seem to apply to modern wind turbines. They don't want wind power.
AR I say bite the bullet and go for nukes.
With good engineering, political vision, and a hard PR push we can do it.
2011 April 13
David Eagleman, 39, is the hottest thing in
neuroscience. He was toiling away in his laboratory at the Baylor College of
Medicine in Houston, Texas, when two years ago he published a pocketbook of
fiction called Sum. In Britain the book took off when Stephen Fry tweeted,
"You will not read a more dazzling book this year."
in British and American literature at university. He discovered neuroscience
during his final year at Rice University in Houston (with a year at Oxford).
He talked his way into a PhD programme at Baylor College of Medicine, on the
back of all the neuroscience books he had read in his spare time.
Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain contains this
revelation: "The conscious mind is not at the center of the action in the
brain; instead, it is far out at the distant edge, hearing but whispers of
the activity." The brain is a neural battleground where rational and
emotional systems compete. Our behavior is the result.
"We have this
giant cosmos in our head that we don't know about. What I am really exposing
is the depth of the mystery. We are really at the foot of the mountain with
AR If this is neuroscience, give me a break.
2011 April 12
In the last few days,
Israel's Iron Dome missile
defense system has shot down nine rockets fired at Israel from Gaza,
although it was unable to stop at least 11 others.
Director of the
Institute for Counter-Terrorism Boaz Ganor: "It's a technical revolution
that shows us what may be possible in the future. The success has been
limited by the fact that we only have two batteries, but it has proven
itself accurate and efficient."
Danes In Afghanistan
Armadillo is a war documentary about a platoon of
young Danish soldiers serving in the Helmand province of Afghanistan, where
they are pitted against the Taliban. Director Janus Metz and cameraman Lars
Skree were embedded with the platoon for six months at Armadillo, their
front line base camp. The soldiers were caught in a firefight with the
Taliban and killed some of them.
Danish novelist Carsten Jensen: "The
Danish self-image was smashed in Armadillo. ... It is an earthquake in the
Mass Distribution of Jet Pairs Produced in Association with a W boson in
ppbar Collisions at sqrt(s) = 1.96 TeV
CDF Collaboration, T. Aaltonen et al.
We report a study of the invariant mass distribution of jet
pairs produced in association with a W boson using data collected with the
CDF detector. The observed distribution has an excess in the 120-160 GeV/c^2
mass range, which is not described by current theoretical predictions, with
a statistical significance of 3.2 standard deviations.
AR Thanks to a former SAP colleague for the
1889-04-26 — 1951-04-29
"Larkin's life was a failure; his work was a triumph. That is all that
matters. Because the work, unlike the life, lives on."
Martin Amis defends
like a child, he writes like a distinguished author, and
speaks like a genius.
Amis on Hitch
Deutsche Bank economists evaluating the "sovereign
risk" of 14 advanced economies placed the United States just behind Greece,
Ireland, and Portugal. Washington must reduce its deficit.
says kin selection theory doesn't explain altruism. Critics say he is wrong
to treat kin selection as something separate from natural selection.
BATTLE: LOS ANGELES
Los Angeles Times
The movie opens with an unknown force of flying battleships strafing big
cities around the world for unknown reasons. It turns out they are aliens in
search of water. The alien forces are absolutely disgusting blobs of really
gross stuff. For a while it can be fun to watch things get blown up and
burned. But at some point you wish there had been a lot more heart in this
Matthew Parris, The Times
I believe that we see the decision to
wear a burka as an insult, however passive, to ourselves; that we take the
wearing of this veil as an expression of rejection by the wearer, or her
husband, of the culture and society in which they live. We think that they
are trying symbolically to shut us out, to define themselves against us. We
think we see the uniform of an alien grouping: a passive-aggressive shunning
of the host country.
AR All clothing
is uniform in some way. We use dress in part to help ourselves focus on each
other. It provides a language of conventional associations. The burka just
has associations we rightly regard as appalling. If we can ban the wearing
of swastikas in Germany or camouflage fatigues in night clubs or bikinis in
churches, we can ban burkas in Western civil societies.
U.S. Senate investigators probing the financial
crisis will refer evidence about Wall Street institutions including Goldman
Sachs and Deutsche Bank to the justice department for possible criminal
investigations. The subcommittee found "a variety of troubling and sometimes
abusive practices" by the banks.
top CDO trader Greg Lippmann apparently referred to assets underlying CDOs as "crap" and "pigs" at the same time as his bank was selling
them to clients. Prior to the crisis, Lippmann built a short position in
CDOs, betting that they would fall in value. Deutsche Bank took losses on
the housing market.
AR Deutsche Bank should have listened to
Wall of Vagina
On show at the Brighton Festival Fringe in May, "The
Vagina Monologues in sculpture form" is a plaster cast frieze 8 m long of
genital close-ups of 400 women. Jamie McCartney, the artist behind it, began
the project five years ago after a few clients asked for casts of their
genitals: "When you're an artist you don't turn down work." In his studio he
has a casting couch where his subjects lie down. The materials in the
process are like those a dentist uses. The casting takes ten minutes and
leaves no residue. It's intimate but "it's just another naked person and
another part of the body."
Wall Street Journal
Twin research shows that
practically everything is partly genetic. It also shows
that with a few exceptions, the effect of parenting on adult outcomes ranges
from small to zero.
So parents should lighten up. Focus on enjoying
your children. They're cheaper to run than you thought, so have more.
Vostok 1 capsule used by Yuri
Gagarin on display near Moscow
50 Years Ago: Man In Space
Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space. His Vostok spacecraft
completed a 108-minute orbit of the Earth on April 12, 1961.
He became a
Hero of the Soviet Union but this was his only spaceflight. His flight was a
major coup for Moscow in the
Cold War space race with the United States.
The New North
John Gray, New Statesman
Laurence C. Smith suggests
that forces of global warming and resource scarcity will drive development
in the northern rim countries. Canada, Greenland, Norway, Sweden, Iceland,
Finland, and the northern regions of Russia and the United States will
become zones of rapid economic growth and increasing strategic importance.
Natural resources are finite.
It does not much matter how
efficiently markets are operating. The limits to growth are imposed by the
planet. Industrial civilization made possible the levels of human population
the planet supports today, but cheap oil is running out. Resource war could
well become a chronic condition in future.
In a week, about 30 books
are delivered to my Berlin apartment. I will immediately discard about
75% of them. Maybe 8% of the books I receive are
self-published. I feel bad for these writers and all the boundless optimism
that got them to this point. But I don't feel bad enough to read their
Hundreds of thousands of books are published each year, one
almost indistinguishable from the next. The books disappear as quickly as
they are released, unable to cut through all the noise. Not even the most
idealistic critics bother to argue that the system is based on merit.
The deluge of writers is not new. The widespread publication of them is.
There have always been the hobbyists, the men and women who scribble out
their life stories, their
poems, or their screenplays.
The difference is that now whatever you can type on your computer, you might as well publish as a book. What was once
fantasy now can be reality. But all the respect and laurels you expected is
still fantasy. You're met with silence.
Rees says we have a mere
50-50 chance of surviving
Microsoft In Toyota Cars
Microsoft and Toyota plan to build a new vehicle
telecommunications platform that manages the energy efficiency of electric
cars. Microsoft said the platform would use cloud computing for broader
integration of information between the customer's car, home, and mobile
device. Using the new platform, drivers will be able to turn the heat on in
their car from their phone, check the battery power remotely, and charge the
car during off-peak times when power is cheaper.
AR It may be boring to keep saying it, but
I'll say it again:
Battlefield Extraction Assist Robot (BEAR)
Military Robots To Fight
Strategic Defence Intelligence
Robots are often used in
nuclear reactors. For an emergency like Fukushima, military robots could
help. Bomb disposal robots can be operated from a safe distance and have
versatile dextrous manipulators. Unmanned aerial vehicles with cameras could
look inside a reactor. An unmanned helicopter
now in development could drop water onto hot reactor cores. Japanese robots
for radiation detection and fire fighting were reportedly used at
AR Good, but we really need dedicated
Britain has exported too many arms to regimes in north Africa and the Mideast that could be
used to repress civilians, says a new report. Since January the government
has withdrawn 160 export licenses that reflected poor policy
AR Selling arms to Arabs is like selling
crack to addicts. What the Mideast needs is an outbreak of love and peace
followed by economic
development. Arabs need to open
minds closed by centuries of strife.
humanist version of
The Ten Commandments
Seek the good in all things
Harm no others
Help the needy
Think for yourself
2011 April 11
On the future: "Most people discount the future. Understandably, they
care about their immediate surroundings and their kin rather than people in
remote parts of the world, decades in the future."
On our brains: "We
can understand the quantum world, which is very spooky and
counter-intuitive, and we can understand Einstein's theory of gravity. But
just as a chimpanzee can't understand quantum theory, it could be that there
are aspects of reality which are beyond the capacity of our brains."
On quantum gravity: "I think we may eventually have a theory that does unify
the very large and the very small — quantum and cosmos — and when that happens
it will show that space itself has a sort of grainy structure, but on a
scale a trillion trillion times smaller than an atom. There are reasons to
believe that that's where gravity and quantum theory meet."
evolution: "We are the outcome of 4 billion years of evolution, but
we're not the culmination. Future evolution could be as dramatic as what's
happened up to now. Any creatures witnessing the demise of the sun 6 billion
years from now could be as different from us as we are from bacteria. And
there may be many more advanced forms of consciousness in the universe.”
On religion: "I grew up in Shropshire in the tribe of the English who
were part of the Church of England tradition and I deeply value the
aesthetic associations of that culture, the music and the architecture, and
therefore have no problem participating in the ritual. If I'd grown up in
Iran I'd be going to the mosque."
2011 April 10
The Wall Street Leviathan
Jeff Madrick, The New York Review of Books
Chairman Ben Bernanke told the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC):
"September and October 2008 was the worst financial crisis in global
The Dodd-Frank Act proposes ways to deal
with many practices that led to the crisis. A new oversight board will
assess systemic risk and impose stricter rules. But the act puts
responsibility for writing and implementing the new rules onto the
regulators who tolerated the risky behavior in the first place.
Charles Ferguson's Oscar-winning documentary Inside Job tells the story of
the crisis. Wall Street firms borrowed far too much in order to invest in
mortgage debt securities that were far too risky, and no one stopped them.
The result was soaring housing prices, which led to more risky mortgages.
Then the banks and others sold the risky debt to investors around the world
as if it had almost no risk at all. Ferguson remarks that no one has yet
gone to jail.
illustrates how Wall Street firms circumvented existing capital
requirements. The FCIC report found that if all Citigroup's assets had been
accounted for accurately, its ratio of assets to capital would have been 48
to one in 2007. Triple-A-rated packages based on mortgage-backed securities
of CDOs never deserved their AAA ratings. Citigroup sold enough AAA
securities to take big losses when housing collapsed. Citigroup losses and
write-downs came to $130 billion. Citigroup received $45 billion in funds
from the government's Troubled Asset Relief Program, but no one was removed
AR Outrage at this level makes me want to
opt out of the entire hijacked and subverted institution of money.
The Natural History Museum in South
Kensington, London, is hosting a special exhibition in a butterfly house on
its east lawn from April 12 to September 11, 2011.
2011 April 9
Is America Addicted to War?
Stephen M. Walt, Foreign
My Top 5
Reasons for why the USA keeps getting into wars:
1 Because We Can.
United States has a remarkably powerful military. When you've got hundreds
of planes, smart bombs, and cruise missiles, the whole world looks like a
target set. America has an exceptional concentration of military power
in the hands of the president and eroding political constraints on its
2 We Have No Serious Enemies.
The end of
the Cold War left the United States in a remarkably safe position. We face a
terrorism problem, but that danger is probably exaggerated, is partly a
reaction to our tendency to meddle in other countries, and is best managed
in other ways. If we faced a powerful adversary, we wouldn't be wasting time
and money on feel-good projects like the Libyan crusade.
3 The All-Volunteer Force.
By limiting military service only to volunteers, public opposition to wars
of choice is more easily contained. Could Bush or Obama have kept the Iraq
and Afghanistan wars going if most young Americans had to register for a
draft? I doubt it.
4 It's The
Our foreign policy is shaped by a bipartisan
class of foreign policy do-gooders who spend years out of power maneuvering
to get in, and spend their time in office pushing their own pet projects.
The people who run our foreign policy are unlikely to suffer penalties if
some foreign war goes badly.
Congress Has Checked Out.
Congress has the authority to declare war, not
the president, but that authority has been steadily usurped ever since World
War II. In practice, the use of America's military power has been left to
the presidents and a handful of ambitious advisors.
AR America and Arabs are addicted to
war and weapons. Arabs: Arms are the adornment of a man. President #26 Teddy
Roosevelt: "A just war is in the long run far better for a man's soul than
the most prosperous peace."
Rees: A Tribal Christian
Lord Rees of Ludlow, the Astronomer Royal and until
recently President of the Royal Society, is incredulous at how rational and
intelligent people can subscribe to religious dogma. He wishes to be
understood on this as he accepts the Templeton Prize, which "honors a living
person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life's
responds to the controversy: "I'm a complete unbeliever. The only respect in
which I differ from Christopher Hitchens is to be less allergic to
religion." He distinguishes between religious belief and religious custom,
and counts himself a tribal Christian. As Master of Trinity College,
Cambridge, he is a churchgoer.
AR Wonderful. I agree completely with Sir
Martin's stated positions both on religion and on cosmology and wider issues
(well, aside from a few quibbles over the next hundred years and perhaps
over Sir Roger's cyclic cosmology). With the Templeton prize, Sir John has
created a fine institution for setting cats among pigeons. I dare say it
will do more for the demise of dogmatic religion than any number of allergic
2011 April 8
Fukushima and Chernobyl
Robert Peter Gale, Spiegel Online
About 25 years ago, I advised
several ministries in Bonn after the Chernobyl accident that fewer lives
would be lost from it each year than from our reliance on fossil fuels. I do
not expect that there will be many deaths from the Fukushima accident.
The Chernobyl explosion and radiation exposure killed 31 people. The
explosion released huge amounts of radioactive iodine 131 and cesium 134 and
137. In Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, about 6,000 excess cases of thyroid
cancer were detected. But there is no well documented increase in leukemia
or other cancers. Data from the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki suggest
there may be ten thousand excess cancer deaths by 2036. Since we can expect
80 million other deaths from cancer in the EU and the former Soviet Union in
this period, the change will be hard to detect.
accident has released about a tenth as much radioactive iodine and cesium as
the Chernobyl accident, and the dispersion is limited. We might expect a few
cases of thyroid cancer and a few hundred cases of other types of cancer. At
the same time, about 18 million Japanese will die from cancers unrelated to
Fukushima. The statistical impact is well below our level of detection.
Reducing the price of a pack of cigarettes by a few percent would do more
A Nonstandard Higgs?
The New York Times
Physicists at the Fermi National Accelerator
Laboratory may have found evidence of a new elementary particle. The
particle may be a new and unexpected version of the Higgs boson. Or it might
be evidence of a new force of nature. Fermilab physicist Giovanni Punzi said
that he and his colleagues were "thrilled."
The Tevatron collides
beams of protons and antiprotons at energies of 1 TeV. The evidence appeared
in an analysis of some 10,000 of those collisions. In about 250 more cases
than expected, two jets of lightweight particles and a W boson came out of a
collision where the total energy of the jets was around 144 GeV, as if they
were the decay products of a hitherto unsuspected particle. This was not the
signature of the Standard Model Higgs.
AR My guess: this is Higgs and the Standard
Model is wrong.
2011 April 7
Martin Rees Wins Templeton
Sir Martin Rees, the astronomer royal and former
president of the Royal Society, has been awarded the 2011 £1m annual
Templeton prize in London. Set up in 1973 by the late John Templeton, a Wall
Street billionaire who called himself "an enthusiastic Christian", the prize
honors a living person who has made "exceptional contributions to affirming
life's spiritual dimension."
Lord Rees neither believes in God nor subscribes to any religious dogma, but
says he attends chapel as Master of Trinity College, Cambridge: "Doing
science made me realise that even the simplest things are hard to understand
and that makes me suspicious of people who believe they've got anything more
than an incomplete and metaphorical understanding of any deep aspect of
reality. I participate in occasional religious services which are the
customs of the society I grew up in. I'm not allergic to religion."
AR Good for him. I've enjoyed his books.
A Greener Leaf
Researchers have made a solar power device that
is more efficient than natural photosynthesis and uses cheap materials. The
new device uses light to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. At a meeting
of the American Chemical Society in California, Daniel Nocera, a professor
at MIT, called the device first practical artificial leaf. It combines a
commercially available solar cell with a pair of inexpensive catalysts made
of cobalt and nickel that split water into oxygen and hydrogen. A solar
panel of one square meter bathed in water could produce enough hydrogen to
supply a house with electricity. Nocera says his group achieved 5%
efficiency for the conversion of sunlight to hydrogen. Natural
photosynthesis is less than 1% efficient at converting sunlight to energy.
The Clash Of Civilizations
Hasnain Kazim, Spiegel Online
Calling Islam a "violent religion,"
American pastor Terry Jones and pastor Wayne Sapp declared the Koran
"guilty" and sentenced it "to death." Sapp doused the book with kerosene and
set it alight. About 30 followers watched as the Koran burned.
The Russian head of the United Nations mission in the
northern Afghanistan city of Masar-i-Sharif had fled with three colleagues
into a safe room when the assailants broke in.
"Are you Muslim?" one
of the insurgents yelled. The Russian said he was. "What is the profession
of faith?" The Russian: "There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his
It was a lie that saved his life. He got away with a severe
beating. The three UN workers he was with were all killed.
is contending that the riots in Afghanistan prove that Islam is a violent
religion. He is demanding retribution for the attacks on the UN workers and
is calling for the U.S. government and the UN to take immediate action
against Muslim countries.
AR Immediate action would destroy our
investment in Afpak.
2011 April 6
Marjorie Garber is a Harvard professor. She
says the central actor in the literary process is the English
professor. She says literature isn't "about" anything but itself and so must
be disentangled from any pleasure it may give or how useful it may be. "A manifesto for literary
studies will claim for it an unapologetic freestanding power to change the
The argument is banal. It cuts literature off from the world.
Literature is useful because it wakes us up and shows us the world,
ourselves, and other people, and forces us to think about them all. The
pleasure of serious literature is not escape but this shiver of
consciousness. Reading is thinking and feeling, both at once.
piece of writing achieve literary status by virtue of its intrinsic quality,
or only as a product of social consensus? Garber plumps for the second. In
fairness, standards of value do change. But devising a test of literary
merit is not hard: Would you read the thing again? This is not a measure of
universal value but it does get us to the next best thing. For when we add
up all the little affirmations we arrive at something like intrinsic
Critics and professors are an ancillary part of the world of
readers. Writers do not write for them. They write for the common reader,
and for other writers. Professors can be professionally dishonest about
their responses. The abuse of literature begins with that.
AR Adding up the little affirmations amounts
to social consensus.
Thinking the Impossible
Gary Gutting reminds us that the likes of Jacques
Derrida and Michel Foucault are the cream of French post-war intellects.
Back in the 1950s, when they applied to read philosophy at Paris's École
Normale Supérieure, Foucault failed the entrance exam the first time around
and Derrida took three goes to get in.
Foucault and Derrida said the idea of the individual
consciousness was just an idea. Like all ideas, it was a product of
language. You don't speak language. Language speaks you. You might think of
speech or writing as ways of expressing yourself but all you really do is
mouth the cliches that language permits. There is nothing outside the text.
Gutting says post-structuralist thought was an attempt to think the
impossible. But impossible thinking makes for impossible writing, and he
boldly admits that the best approach is to treat their stuff like poetry.
Foucault and Derrida wrote obscurantist stodge.
AR French "philosophy" is not Anglo-American
2011 April 5
Good News and Bad
Gideon Rachman, Financial Times
If the Arab
spring is like 1989, we are the Soviet Union. The United States may lose its
power and influence in an emerging Mideast we barely understand. The West
regards a threat to oil supplies from the Gulf as justification for military
intervention. A peaceful transition in Saudi Arabia or its neighbor states
would be fine, but not a chaotic and violent change that opened the way to
Spring Chickens No Turkey
Stone, The Times
In October 1911, the Italians invaded the Turkish
possession of Libya. Their defeat of the Ottoman Turks in Libya destabilized the
Balkans and let to the First World War. In 1923, Kemal Atatürk established
the Republic of Turkey. Western pundits now promote the Turkish model for the Arab
There is a gigantic problem of youth unemployment throughout
the Arab world. The Turkish model involves state control of religion, to
curb the wild men, of whom Islam generally produces a great deal too many.
Many Turks are dismissive of the Arabs, and many Arabs would dismiss the
Turkish model. Turks are not Arabs.
AR Turks in Germany fit in better than Arabs
2011 April 4
Islam and the Arab Revolutions
The Arab revolutions are still in full swing. In
Tunisia and Egypt they are going the right way. In Libya, Syria and Yemen
dictators are clinging on to power. And in the Gulf monarchs are struggling
to fend off demands for democracy.
Islam is a growing force in the
Arab revolutions. That makes secular-minded and liberal people, both Arabs
and Westerners, queasy. They fear that the Arab awakening might be hijacked
by Islamists. In Libya the transitional national council is a medley of
secular liberals and Islamists. The Muslim Brotherhood is big in Libya and
Egypt. In Tunisia the Islamists look well placed. Hamas is an offshoot of
the Brotherhood. Some say more extreme Islamist groups are riding behind the
more moderate Brothers. Hundreds of Egyptian jihadists have been released
Islam plays a large political role in the Arab world.
Most Muslims do not believe in the separation of religion and state. But
Islamic does not mean Islamist. Many Muslims cite Turkey as a model.
AR Religion is still a source of discord on
my home planet.
The Good Book
Professor A.C. Grayling is going to upset a lot of
Christians: "My wife did give me a card that said, 'I used to be an atheist
until I realised I am God'. And I know that on Monty Pythonesque grounds
there's a good likelihood that in five centuries time I will be one, as a
result of this."
British Humanist Society conducted a poll that asked people if they were
religious: 65% said no. But when asked, "What is your religion?" 61% of them
answered Christian. Grayling: "We have to try to persuade society as a whole
to recognise that religious groups are self-constituted interest groups.
They exist to promote their point of view. Now, in a liberal democracy they
have every right to do so. But they have no greater right than anybody
The atheist movement has been accused of adopting a tone so
militant as to alienate potential supporters. Grayling: "I think the charges
of militancy and fundamentalism of course come from our opponents, the
theists. My rejoinder is to say when the boot was on their foot they burned
us at the stake. All we're doing is speaking very frankly and bluntly and
they don't like it."
The author of 30 books, Grayling
is a professor of philosophy at Birkbeck College in London, and a
supernumerary of St Anne's College, Oxford, as well as a UN human rights
activist. He first had the idea for The Good Book as an undergraduate, and
it reads like the opus of a workaholic.
AR I once lectured on philosophy at
Birkbeck, I taught logic classes at St Anne's, and I was an undergraduate UN
activist. So I feel I understand Grayling. But I think his book concept is
flawed. His wife seems to understand. How can he be serious after Will Self
wrote The Book of Dave?
Sam Harris holds that "questions about values — about meaning, morality, and
life's larger purpose — are really questions about the well-being of
conscious creatures. Values, therefore, translate into facts that can be
Harris joins the ranks of those whose
claim to have transcended philosophy is just an instance of their doing it
The Moral Landscape
The Tyrant of Damascus
Michael J. Totten, City Journal
Syria's ruler, Bashar al-Assad,
is a sponsor of terrorism. Many hoped that he would turn out to be a
reformer when he took over from his father in 2000. He is an ophthalmologist
by training, he's a bit of a technology geek, and he spent several years in
the United Kingdom, where his wife was born. Even when reforms failed to
materialize and repression was ramped up again, some blamed the regime's old
guard. Bashar and his family believe that their battle for power is a fight
for survival. They will not go quietly.
Timothy Garton Ash
Being in Warsaw these
days is like being in Madrid or Rome. Poland joined NATO in 1999 and the
European Union in 2004. Poland plans to join the eurozone. Its economy had a
growth rate of 3.8% in 2010, one of the best in Europe. It is beginning to
look like a western consumer society.
Yet everyday life in Poland is light
years away from the images conveyed in Polish TV commercials. This is still
a poor country by European standards. Income per head is only just above
half the EU average. Unemployment is high and youth unemployment is higher.
The Polish government wants to apply its experience for the benefit of
others. It support freedom for Belarus and EU membership for Ukraine. It
wants to use the Polish presidency of the EU, starting in July, to help the
Arab lands find their freedom. There is hope for Egypt.
Photo: David Sillitoe/Guardian
"All have gazed up at the vault
of heaven, and
in their own way."
Libyan Rebels Criticize NATO
Abdul Fatah Younis, the head of the Libyan
opposition's armed forces, has accused NATO of acting too "slowly", or not
acting at all, to protect civilians in their fight against Colonel Gaddafi.
Younis, who was formerly the country's interior minister, said that NATO had
"disappointed" the rebels. He said that rebel forces were providing NATO
with the coordinates where pro-Gaddafi forces were present, but NATO was waiting
too long before taking action.
AR NATO has no right to bomb human shields.
But who are the rebels to complain? Where's their organization, their game
University of Innsbruck
Thomas Monz of the Institute for Experimental
Physics at the University of Innsbruck in Austria and his colleagues have
created entangled states with a record 14 qubits.
AR This is good news. Thanks
to Prof. Dr.
Anton Zeilinger, Austria has a strong place
in the emerging world of
Brian Greene must have enjoyed Max Tegmark's May 2003 Scientific American
article on parallel universes, since he recycled the concept for the third
book in his physics trilogy ...
>> my review
2011-02-14 flyby of comet Tempel 1, the NASA Stardust-NExT mission took
image of the comet at 16:39 UTC.
Google and Facebook
Google and Facebook are rivals. Google had revenue of
$29 billion in 2010, representing 24% annual growth. It has 20,000 employees
worldwide and plans to add 6,000 this year. Its Android software for mobile
devices is a winner. Its browser Chrome is good. But it has failed in social
Facebook could be worth $50
billion or more and is planning to go public. It would be big enough to
compete with Google. Google hatched many ideas in social networking. Many
ex-Googlers now work at Facebook.
AR Microsoft — Google — Facebook:
I see a trend.
My book gives
2011 April 3
The Sunday Times
Google does one thing really well. Its algorithms index the internet and the
advertising dollars flow in. Set up in a garage in Menlo Park in 1998, the
company is now worth $188 billion. Sales in 2010 were $29 billion and
revenue rose 26% in the last quarter. Google has a cash pile of $35 billion
and a workforce of 25,000.
has big ambitions. Android, Google's operating system for mobile
phones, was launched three years ago and now powers 170 different devices.
The system supports apps but Google expects to make money from ads that
reflect a user's location. A mobile music service is coming.
Google browser Chrome has more than 120 million users, roughly 15% of the
market. It will become an operating system for laptops to compete with Microsoft
Windows. Chrome will run cloud apps hosted on Google servers.
But the internet is
changing. Google is old news, like Microsoft. Millions of Facebook users
navigate the web according to friends' recommendations, not through a search
box. Four of Facebook's top 13 executives used to work for Google.
Amis: "Dying Art"
Martin Amis, 61, has
a knack for outraging people: "I
say what I happen to think about things, often only rehashing a paragraph
I've written. And it gets taken up."
Amis fears the long
read is a dying art: "There are so many claims on our attention. Very
literate people admit they can't read books any more. And just as the
literate brain is physically different to the illiterate brain, the
digitally savvy brain is different again."
AR I saw this at SAP, where my young
colleagues were bright but were challenged by big books. Reading books is
2011 April 2
Farhad Manjoo, Slate
Facebook is more than a fad. The site is more entrenched than just about
any other technology we use. Not only does it have a huge number of users
but its audience is spread across every demographic and they're addicted to
Facebook could be the only social site five years from now.
The future of social networking is unpredictable. Google has a good picture
of your social connections. It constantly crawls the Web to build its search
indexes and picks up what you do on any new network that comes along. But
Google can't access the stuff you post on Facebook.
Facebook may have
wrapped up social networking. Every time you press the Like button or post a
comment, you're telling Facebook something about yourself and your friends.
Many people connect their activity on other sites with their Facebook
accounts. Social signals are becoming the primary organizing structure of
In the beginning, Brin and Page created the PageRank
algorithm. The more inbound links a site had, the higher its rank. A link is
a social signal. Google saw that social signals can organize the Web. It was
the start of a $100 billion company.
my book sees a possible future for
2011 April 1
Gates Silent On CIA Role
U.S. Secretary of Defense
Robert Gates ruled out American ground troops in Libya: "Not as long as I am
in this job."
AR Europe needs free and secure access to Libyan
real estate for decades to come in order to build solar farms to make
Hydrogen Car Fuel
Hydrogen can be stored in a cheap and practical way for
use as fuel in cars, say developers at Britain's Rutherford Appleton
A new technology encapsulates the
hydrogen in tiny beads so small that they behave like a liquid. The beads
contain hydride fibers that soak up hydrogen like a sponge. RAL spin-off
Cella Energy have developed a process for releasing hydrogen from the beads
that is much faster and cooler than before. The beads form a fine powder
that flows freely and does not catch fire easily.
Cella Energy Chief
Scientific Officer Stephen Bennington says you pump the powder into your car
like regular gasoline. It flows into the engine, gets hot, releases
hydrogen, and powers the car. The spent beads are filtered from the exhaust
and stored. When you refuel the car you have two nozzles, one for new fuel
and one for spent beads that go back for recycling.
The beads are
spun from nanofibers 30 times smaller than a human hair. The fibers can
capture and release hydrogen. Encapsulation protects them from oxygen and
water for safe handling. Because the beads behave like a liquid, current
pumps and engines will need only minor modification. Hydrogen burns cleanly
in engines to form water vapor.
AR Excellent: we can go green and stiff OPEC.
Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011)
The Daily Beast
Colonel Gaddafi bought huge amounts
of arms from the USSR. He invaded Chad and sent death squads into Nigeria.
For decades he supported a list of ugly "national liberation" movements. He
was behind the bombing of Pan-Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988, killing 270
people. The real reason why NATO should now take steps to topple
Gaddafi is for vengeance.
AR Vengeance is a poor
But Libya would be a good
shake-down mission for