BLOG 2011 Q4
 

2011 December 31

Mindful Reading
Tim Parks

What a strange art form writing is. There is no image to contemplate. Only the sequence of signs matters. The writing is in the sequence of the signs. This is the one thing we can't change. The experience is the sequence. The experience is not in any one moment of perception, but in the movement through the sequence from beginning to end. We are locked into a journey.

Every self has a story. It exists in relation to other selves and other stories. The self exists in a web of words spun out of the mind, separate from the world of sense.

Writers telling their stories exploit this state of affairs. Using thousands upon thousands of signs, they mimic the way we are forever constructing our lives and the lives of others, in words. This is why we get interested. We refer every story that we read to ourselves, our lives, because the medium of written narrative is intimately involved with the way we make up ourselves.

Learning how to take intense pleasure in reading makes it also useful for us, really useful and really exciting. Enchantment is only part of it. The opening sentences of a novel are an invitation to enter a separate world of rhythm and sound, mental activity and social positioning.

However fast you like to read a book overall, make very sure you read the opening page or two with care. The pleasure here is of entering into enchantment slowly, consciously, with vigilance. You have every right to put a book down after a couple of pages. Life is simply too short for the wrong books, or even the right books at the wrong time.

There are two sources of pleasure that you suppose to be in competition with each other. If you learn to blend them, they intensify each other. The first is enchantment, but the second pleasure is awareness. We read with a new awareness, watching how the spell is being cast. This approach sets us up for the most wonderful and life-changing reading experience of all: when we come to a book with suspicion, only to discover that the writer has hooked us.

The excitement of reading is the precarious one of being alive now, intensely mentally silently alive, and reacting from moment to moment, in the most liquid and intimate sphere of the mind, to someone else's elusive construction of the precarious business of being alive now.

The Need To Read
Gail Rebuck

Psychologists from Washington University used brain scans to see what happens inside our heads when we read stories. They found that readers mentally simulate each new situation encountered in a narrative. The brain weaves these situations together with its own experiences to create a new mental synthesis in neural pathways.

The discovery that our brains are changed by the experience of reading is something many of us will understand instinctively, as we think back to the way a good book had a transformative effect on us. This transformation only takes place when we lose ourselves in a book, abandoning the chatter of the outside world.

Reading is the foundation of all education and an essential part of the knowledge economy. But more significant is its emotional role as the starting point for individual voyages of personal development and pleasure. Books can help create and reinforce our sense of self.

If reading were to decline, it would change the nature of our species. If we were no longer wired for solitary reflection and creative thought, we would be diminished. But technology throws up solutions: the ability of new devices to put an entire library in your hand is an amazing opportunity.

AR Reading is magic — hence my new book PHILOSOPHER, out next week or so.

Green Philosophy
Jonathan Rée

Roger Scruton is a champion of traditional English conservatism.
In Green Philosophy, he appeals to the idea of a moral economy.
He signs off his new book from Scrutopia.

More on Scruton

Goodbye Europe
David Aaronovitch

Judging by its newspapers and its politicians, the people of Britain don't get Europe, don't like Europe, and don't want Europe.

2012 should be the year when we start the process of applying to join the United States of America. It should be a year of homecoming, of rejoining, of putting back together what should never have been separated.

Like parents whose children have all gone to live in Australia, sometimes it's best to cut your losses and follow them.

AR Yes, the time is ripe for this.

I suggest we also bring in the former British Dominions of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa, revise a few state boundaries, revamp the U.S. Constitution, clean up Washington, and call the new entity the United States of the Anglogenic World.

We can all sing The Star-Spangled Banner and wave an Old Glory with a hundred stars on it.





Higgs And Me
Lisa Randall

The excitement from Europe earlier this month was palpable. Experiments had hinted at the discovery of the Higgs boson. Named for the British physicist Peter Higgs, the particle — if it exists — would tell us that the Higgs mechanism is correct. Higgs and his colleagues theorized that space itself contains a sort of charge. Particles acquire mass through their interaction with the charge.

For me, a physicist whose work for the past quarter century has focused on the mysteries of matter, any clue about the Higgs boson would provide valuable and long-awaited insight. For a moment I even believed the Higgs boson might really have been found.

The Damage Done
Foreign Policy

In 2003, after the invasion of Iraq, Brookings Institution researchers followed the progress of the war. Ten metrics reveal the damage done and the current state of Iraq:

1
At least 4,487 U.S. soldiers died during the war and 32,226 U.S. troops were seriously wounded in action. Most of the casualties were due to IEDs.

2
More than 115,000 Iraqi civilians died as a result of war, and over 10,000 Iraqi security force personnel have died since June 2003. Bombings are still common.

3
The first free elections were held in 2005 but led to political turmoil. In 2010, the second series of national elections resulted in a government in crisis.

4
Prewar oil production was around 2.5 million barrels per day. Current production is only marginally more. Insurgents often attack oil infrastructure.

The British Civil Service
Sir Gus O'Donnell

The Civil Service is the smallest since the Second World War.
The initiative to do away with unnecessary regulations is of critical importance. I believe successive governments have been far too quick to solve problems with regulation and legislation. We must be more creative and innovative in the way we solve problems. The more we can innovate, the more we can ensure the Civil Service is an engine room for growth. I would be proud of that legacy.

AR Sir Gus is Cabinet Secretary and head of the Civil Service
until the end of the year. He joined the Civil Service in 1979.
I joined in 1977.

2011 December 30

The Golden Future
The Times

Goldman Sachs says the relative fortunes of the UK will improve sharply in the coming decades. The investment bank's latest long-term forecasts show Britain leapfrogging Germany, France, and Japan in terms of wealth by midcentury.

Goldman says only the United States and Canada will have higher national income per head by 2050. In terms of the overall size of the economy, China will be #1, followed by the United States, India, and Euroland, with Britain as #10.

Goldman projects more investment in the UK than in countries such as Germany. Thanks in part to high immigration, Britain has a younger demographic profile and its working-age population will rise more than in Germany or Japan.

AR Watch out, all you gullible Brits! You're about to get sucked dry by the vampire squid squad!

Euroland
John Plender

Germany has emerged as the pre-eminent power in Euroland. The German solution to the sovereign debt crisis is that other eurozone members must accept fiscal orthodoxy and financial conservatism. Debt is condemned as immoral. But there is a reciprocal relation between debtors and creditors. No one can run persistent current account surpluses without someone else running up deficits. There is a double standard here.

AR Indeed. Germans must recall that Adelheit verpflichtet, or as they say on the Sceptred Isles, noblesse oblige, or as I say, if you want the job you have to act the part.

Pyongyang
KNCA
Pyongyang: The son takes over, hopes of "foolish political leaders in the world" are dashed, and military retaliation is threatened for South Korea's "unpardonable sin" of dissing dad's funeral.

2011 December 29

Iran's Dangerous Game
Michael Adler

Both the United States and Europe are moving toward new sanctions to cut off Iran's ability to sell its oil. Iran is warning them about trying to cut off its oil exports, but closing the Strait of Hormuz would backfire, as all its export oil ships via the strait.

The Israelis view an Iranian bomb as a threat to the existence of their country, and the Americans see such a weapon as a massive regional threat to the Middle East and beyond. The Israelis seem now to be convinced that the United States is not just trying to calm them down from attacking but is serious about preventing Iran from getting the bomb. Iran says it will not bow to sanctions.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says the United States will do what's needed to stop Iran from getting the bomb. President Obama and his administration have already pointed to an attack if Iran insists on developing nuclear weapons.

AR We have a fight on our hands. Let's finish it and get the oil spike behind us as soon as possible.

War With Iran
Trita Parsi

Iran warns that it will close the Straits of Hormuz if an oil embargo is imposed. It has sent oil prices soaring. Closing the Straits would choke off Iran's ability to export oil and antagonize Russia and China, but makes oil prices rise due to the increased risk premium. Higher oil prices are good for Iran but bad for the United States and the European Union.

More aggressive measures will likely be pursued by Iran in the next phase of this standoff with the West. Such is the logic of pressure politics as both sides increasingly lose sight of their original goals. As the conflict escalates, the psychological cost of restraint rises, while further provocations appear increasingly logical and justified. Soon the governments will no longer control the dynamics.

Contrary to some perceptions, diplomacy has not been exhausted. President Obama's room for diplomatic maneuver with Iran was limited, and was quickly eaten up by pressure from all sides and by the Iranian government itself in the fraudulent 2009 elections. By then, Obama's entire Iran policy had become "a gamble on a single roll of the dice." It would work either right away or not at all.

Diplomacy needs time, patience, perseverance, and a clear under-standing that the cost of abandoning diplomacy is greater than the cost of sustaining it, because of the catastrophic repercussions of the military confrontation that will follow collapsed talks. This might have escaped decision makers in Washington and Tehran earlier but there should be no doubt now.

2011 December 28

2012 Economic Outlook
Zachary Karabell

In late 2011, every major indicator of economic health in the United States showed marked improvement. American manufacturing remains highly productive, but it employs far fewer people and far more technology. The digital economy and social media will continue to thrive in 2012. In a country of 300 million people, the number doing well exceeds the number struggling by a considerable margin.

The American economy has no problem funding its needs. Government debt has ballooned, but very low interest rates mean that servicing the public debt costs less than before. The financial system is still burdened by home foreclosures and a bank credit squeeze, but that system is more stable and sober than in many years. And the financial industry is slowly contracting and becoming less profitable.

Americans are facing a competitive global environment fueled by China. We have the means to address unemployment by creating work programs and educational initiatives. We have the means to invest in the future, spend on applied and abstract research, and use the financial and natural resources we have more efficiently. We are not in desperate economic times.

The F-35 Mess
Walter Pincus

The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter will be the most advanced fighter-bomber in U.S. history, and at about $385 billion so far the most costly U.S. weapons program ever. The plane has the most sophisticated stealth technology and the most complex mission software ever planned for an airplane.

Two weeks ago in the Senate, John McCain described the F-35 fighter program as "a mess." The cost of each plane has almost doubled to $133 million, testing is only one fifth complete but more than 90 planes have already been bought, the software won't be ready for another four years, and yet the Pentagon had "sold this program as a fifth-generation strike fighter that would — more so than any other major defense procurement program — be cost-effectively developed, procured, operated and supported."

The original plan was to build 3,000 F-35s to replace the fighter-bombers in each of the three services and also be sold to foreign allies. For the Air Force, the conventional takeoff and landing
F-35A would replace the F-16 and the A-10 and add to the stealth
F-22A. The Navy's version, the F-35C, was to fly from carriers and complement the F-18E/F Super Hornet. The Marines wanted the
F-35B, a short takeoff and vertical landing version, to replace the F/A-18C/D and AV-8B Harrier aircraft.

Changes from 1986 to 2006, such as the end of the cold war, cut the original F-22 Raptor plan by almost half. We should expect more changes, such as the introduction of unmanned aircraft, to affect the F-35 plans between now and 2031.

AR Don't scrap the F-35B — that's the one with Harrier technology. But do give Lockheed Martin a hard time for cost overruns.

2011 December 27

Comet Lovejoy
bnps.co.uk
Astronomers worldwide watched Comet Lovejoy as it passed within 140 000 km of the surface of the Sun last week. Amateur stargazer Alex Cherney used a simple digital camera with a long exposure to make this image at Cape Schanck, Victoria, Australia.

2011 Christmas Day

Merry Xmas
HR
AR Thanks, Ma!

2011 December 24


Simon Dale
The Hobbit House
Built for less than $5K, plus over a thousand hours of hard but creative work, for sustainable living in a natural environment.

AR My Christmas tradition:
      Dec 24 — watch Lord of the Rings I
      Dec 25 — watch Lord of the Rings II
      Dec 26 — watch Lord of the Rings III

2011 December 23

The Four Horsemen
L to R: Hitchens, Dennett, Dawkins, Harris

Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens come together for the last judgment in the Christmas [sic] issue of the New Statesman:

Richard Dawkins: Modern society requires and deserves a truly secular state, by which I do not mean state atheism, but state neutrality in all matters pertaining to religion: the recognition that faith is personal and no business of the state.

Daniel Dennett: Societies are complex in more ways than colonies of bacteria are. What does shine through is a principle of good design. Darwin showed us that the secret of life is the differential reproduction of effective designs for fending off dissolution.

Sam Harris: Free will doesn't even correspond to any subjective fact about us, for introspection soon grows as hostile to the idea as the equations of physics have. Apparent acts of volition merely arise, spontaneously (...), and cannot be traced to a point of origin in the stream of consciousness.

Christopher Hitchens: I became a journalist because one didn't have to specialize. I remember once going to an evening with Umberto Eco talking to Susan Sontag and the definition of the word "polymath" came up. ... I retain what's interesting to me, but I don't have a lot of strategic depth.

UK Breakup
Mary Dejevsky

Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond, is committed to holding a referendum on independence in the next three years. The response of all three major British parties so far has been to reaffirm their support for the Union. Maybe a majority of Scottish voters will vote No, or will prefer an economic separation within the Union.

The Scottish Nationalist Party gained an absolute majority at the Scottish Parliament in Holyrood this year. Over the past 15 years, Scotland has become ever more distinct from the rest of Great Britain. On all sorts of policies it is spinning off at high speed in pursuit of something that looks like the Nordic model.

Alex Salmond was abrasively against David Cameron's veto in Brussels. Membership of the European Union has made devolution, and even independence for Scotland, less risky. An independent Scotland might even join the euro. Several recent breakups in Europe have been peaceful and left all parties satisfied.

2011 December 22

Gingrich On Shariah
The New York Times

"I believe Shariah is a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and in the world as we know it."
Newt Gingrich, July 2010

Gingrich was airing a thesis in vogue with conservative thinkers but rejected by many American Muslims. The antisharians say radical Islamists are working to impose Shariah in a stealth jihad.

Obama administration officials decline to label terrorism carried out in the name of militant Islam as Islamic or jihadist. They say such labels can imply religious justification for a distortion of doctrine that most Muslims abhor.

Gingrich: "The left's refusal to tell the truth about the Islamist threat is a natural parallel to the 70-year pattern of left-wing intellectuals refusing to tell the truth about communism and the Soviet Union."

Shariah is the law of Allah, as derived from the Koran and the example of the Prophet. It has far wider application than secular law but is subject to interpretation by religious authorities.

American University in Washington chairman of Islamic studies Akbar Ahmed says the notion of a threat from Shariah to the United States "takes your breath away, it's so absurd."

"We're not going to have Shariah law applied in U.S. courts. That's never going to happen."
Mitt Romney, June 2011

War With Iran
The Times

Iranian VP Mohammad Reza Rahimi: "If sanctions are adopted against Iranian oil, not a drop of oil will pass through the Strait of Hormuz."

A spokesman for the U.S. Fifth Fleet: "The free flow of goods and services through the Strait of Hormuz is vital to regional and global prosperity. Anyone who threatens to disrupt freedom of navigation in an international strait is clearly outside the community of nations; any disruption will not be tolerated."

A spokesman for EU foreign affairs chief Baroness Ashton of Upholland: "The EU is considering another set of sanctions against Iran and we continue to do that."





Higgs And Us
Martin Rees

One nanosecond after the big bang, every particle in the universe carried as much energy as can be generated by the Large Hadron Collider. But to confront the overwhelming mystery of what banged and why it banged, Einstein's theory isn't enough. A complete understanding of all the particles and forces in the universe would be the summit of an intellectual quest that began with the Greeks.

Most educated people still somehow think that humans are the culmination of the evolutionary tree. That hardly seems credible to astronomers. Post-human evolution could be far more rapid than in the past, driven by technology rather than natural selection.

5
The Iraqi electricity supply is inadequate. Power disruptions are common and complaints rampant. Iraq hopes to be self-sufficient for electricity by 2014.

6
Today, Iraq has more than 22 million phone subscribers and about 2 million people online. Satellite television has had a massive impact.

7
Over two-thirds of the population can now access drinkable water, but most still lack modern sanitation. Iraq's GDP has expanded fivefold since 2003.

8
More than 1 million U.S. troops served in Iraq. When the U.S. combat mission ended in August 2010, Iraqi forces on duty numbered 670,000.

9
Millions of Iraqis were displaced and an additional 2 million left the country. Many Iraqis who returned regret coming back.

10
A majority of Iraqis now think the country is headed in the wrong direction.

A New Europe
Gérard Errera

The recent Brussels meeting portends a new Europe. The Franco-German proposals on the debt crisis and Europe's economic governance were the result of hard negotiation. Germany now defends the right to have national interests and French elites realize that Europe can no longer be a mere extension of French ideas and interests. Franco-German cooperation will not be sufficient to lead the new Europe, but Cameron cast a veto against British influence in European affairs.

AR Gérard Errera is a former French ambassador to the UK.


British troops yomping toward
Port Stanley, Falkland Islands,
June 1982

Argie-Bargie Again 30 Years On?

Britain dusts off war plans after Argentina joins forces with Brazil and Uruguay to blockade the Falkland Islands.


Daily Mail
British war plans: How about a peace plan?

 Let The City Whinge
Vince Cable

David Cameron's veto exposes two views of the City of London:

1
It is a vital national interest, a unique network of innovators and workaholics who generate revenue for the UK.

2
It is a source of systemic instability, unfettered greed, and industrial-scale tax dodging.

Europhobes go for 1,
Europhiles for 2.

Both caricatures are true. A great deal of the European drive to tax and regulate the City is prompted by protectionism. And much of the City's flag-waving disguises special pleading on behalf of banks that have caused immense damage to Britain's productive economy.

The British financial services sector accounts for around 8% of GDP and employs around a million people. But most of this is largely untouched by the threatened EU regulation. Within the City itself there is a complex ecology, much of it uncontroversial.

(continued)

Consciousness and Complexity
Christof Koch
Scientific American
August 2009


University of Wisconsin-Madison neuroscientist Giulio Tononi has an "integrated information" theory (IIT) of consciousness, based on two axioms:

1
Conscious states are differentiated and informationally rich. Think of all the frames from all the movies you have ever seen. Each frame, each view, is a specific conscious percept.

2
This information is highly integrated. Underlying this unity of consciousness is a multitude of causal interactions among the relevant parts of your brain. If areas of the brain start to disconnect or fragment, consciousness fades and might cease.

Britain Distrusts Germany
Spiegel Online

British distrust of the European Union goes with distrust of Germany. The Daily Mail headline "Welcome to the Fourth Reich" shows how Eurosceptics see the German-French plans to rescue the monetary union as the economic colonization of Europe by the Germans. The continuing obsession with Nazis in Britain stifles almost all interest in Germany.

For the British, the fact that the Germans still produce and export goods is a reminder of their own days as major exporters during the Victorian age. The British financial sector is not a source of national pride. There is a growing hostility toward Germany.

2011 December 21

Havel And Orwell
John Kay

Václav Havel described a greengrocer with a placard in his window saying: "Workers of the World Unite!" The shopkeeper was not expressing his enthusiasm for such unity. And the leaders of the system had no desire to unite the workers of the world. The sign was there to signal conformity and avoid trouble. Havel translates the slogan as: "I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient."

George Orwell identified the corrupting influence of discourse based on the repetition of pre-packaged phrases. The vacuous rhetoric traps the leaders as well as the led. Havel: "Both are objects in a system of control, but at the same time they are its subjects." Orwell insisted that the meaning should choose the word, and not the other way about. For Havel, the issue was the rehabilitation of human values.

Havel Right, Hitch Wrong
Daniel Finkelstein

Václav Havel said communism relied on the telling of lies, one citizen to another. In the Stalin years, my grandmother worked on a collective farm in Siberia. Her story corroborates his view.

Christopher Hitchens always told you what he thought. He saw with great clarity that Islamism was a totalitarian doctrine and its demands non-negotiable. He argued that freedom, democracy and respect for human life should be universal and that those who offended against them must never be allowed to succeed when offering a cultural or historical excuse.

Hitchens was a Trotskyist for much of his life. Trotskyists advocate permanent revolution to destroy the bourgeois class and its values, upon which liberalism depends. Whereas liberal societies that respect individuals and human rights are built on property rights, the rule of law, the suburbs and the middle class, religious faith, marriage and family, the work ethic, social convention and tradition, ancient seats of learning, respect for older people.

My grandmother had a saying: "While the Queen is safe in Buckingham Palace, I'm safe in Hendon Central." I was never sure that Christopher Hitchens could see that.

RG (comment 2011-12-20-23-55) I think Hitchens clearly disavowed inflexible thinking, leader worship and totalitarianism in his later thinking and writing and became a truly independent thinker who recognized that freedom depends on stable, friendly, and predictable institutions that are subject to the rule of law.

AR Trots were and are extremists. It was and is the extremism that appeals to a certain kind of person. Hitch was in a cult named after a minister of war in a rebel regime, then late in life he rebelled against his former self and became an apologist for a war of invasion led by a born-again president (Bush 43) that ruined America. I think Finkelstein is right to have his doubts. His grandmother and our queen represent a kinder social order.

Alan Lightman laments the contingency of the anthropic multiverse

2011 December 20

Anesthesia
MIT Technology Review

General anesthesia is a drug-induced reversible coma, says Emery Brown, an anesthesiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). But what happens in the brain during general anesthesia is a mystery. Brown, who is also a neuroscientist and professor at MIT, aims to use anesthesia as an instrument for studying basic questions about the brain. He heads a research laboratory focused on developing signal-processing algorithms to extract information from electroencephalogram (EEG) data for anesthetized patients.

Brown is impressed by how quickly and completely drugs like propofol can alter brain activity. As patients enter an anesthetized state, the normal pattern of low-intensity but high-frequency waves shifts to one of less frequent but more intense pulses, as if the constant chatter of the brain had given way to a chant. The location of activity shifts from the back of the brain to the front. Some drugs decrease the frequency of brain waves seen in EEG readings, resulting in slow, regular oscillating waves across large areas of the brain. Other drugs cause certain areas to show fast, regular oscillations. Either way, the different parts of the brain can't communicate.

Other EEG studies suggest that anesthesia doesn't shut the brain down but interferes with its internal communication. It interrupts feedback between the front and back of the brain, disconnecting different brain networks. Both EEG and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) show response to light and sounds, but somehow that sensory information is never processed and integrated into conscious awareness. The studies cast doubt on a theory that links consciousness to brain waves with frequencies around 40 hertz. These waves can exist even when patients are unconscious. The patterns anesthesiologists see support the theory that consciousness emerges from the integration of information across large networks in the brain.

Devalue The Euro
Martin Feldstein

The large current account deficits of Italy, Spain, and France can be reduced without lowering their incomes or requiring Germany to increase domestic demand. The key is to expand the net exports of those trade deficit countries to the world outside the eurozone.

Politicians wanted the euro as a means of accelerating political integration. They believed that the single currency would somehow cause productivity trends to converge. But productivity in Germany rose much faster than it did in Italy, Spain, and France. Germany also placed limits on wage growth. Now Germany has a current account surplus and the rest have deficits.

German officials and the ECB argue that the trade deficit countries need to cut wages and prices to make their products competitive. This could require a 30% wage cut, slower wage growth, a decade or more of high unemployment, and declining GDP.

The current account deficits of Italy, Spain, and France can shrink without austerity, internal devaluations, or German expansionary policies if the euro is devalued. To eliminate existing current account deficits, the trade-weighted value of the euro might have to fall by 20%.

AR Devaluing the euro raises German costs but increases export competitiveness, so this idea has wings.

2011 December 19

Vaclav Havel
(1936—2011)

Former Czech President Václav Havel opposed the Communist government in Czechslovakia before emerging as a leader of the Velvet Revolution that swept it aside in 1989.

The playwright turned political activist came to prominence as co-author of the Charter 77 declaration in protest at the arrest of a rock band. He remained active in anti-Communist causes from Cuba to China until his death.

Havel was unanimously elected President of Czechoslovakia by the last Communist parliament in 1989. He resigned after national politicians agreed to divide the country in two in 1992, but went on to be twice elected President of the Czech Republic.

Charter 77 co-signatory Martin Palouš: "Havel was the man who was able to stage this miracle play. The sacrifice was to cast himself in the main role."

Vaclav Havel
Havel not only opposed the Communist regime, he articulated a theory of opposition. In his essay The Power of the Powerless, he asked the inhabitants of totalitarian countries to "live in truth" by going about their daily lives as if the regime did not exist, and by founding small institutions that would prevent them from being totally controlled from above. He practiced what he preached not only before the fall of communism but also afterward. He became an establishment politician and recreated the Czech presidency.
Anne Applebaum

In October 2001, Jürgen Habermas started talking about religion

(continued)

After 2008 no sensible government (and few bankers) deny the need for regulation. EU financial market rules are necessary since the single market must apply to finances. The EU proposals cover areas in need of reform but also include more damaging ideas. All these issues could be negotiated in a calm environment.

The proposed EU transaction tax is a technically challenging proposal wrapped up on the EU side as a high ideal. But it is in reality a cynical raid on UK financial services to fund the EU budget. It is not a serious threat to the City since taxes are governed by unanimity. There is scope for taxing banks in other ways.

The issue of EU financial services regulation is a sideshow compared to averting a catastrophic outcome to the eurozone crisis and a deep European slump. And in the UK we need to ignore City whingeing and concentrate on achieving growth by rebalancing the UK economy.

AR Vince Cable is the
UK Business Secretary
and a Liberal Democrat.

AR I talked with Christof Koch and Giulio Tononi at ASSC XIII, Berlin, 2009. My photonic theory of consciousness looks at the physics of decahertz brainwaves:

1
Brainwaves form resonances, extended quantum entangle-ments, and superposed states.

2
These states stretch from classical (past) brain states to virtual (future) states and hence define "now" states whose durations of order 100 ms suggest realization in quantum states of decahertz waves (e.g. 40 Hz photons).

In Mindworlds I look at phenomenal consciousness, not complexity. The IIT is good for cognition, the waking state, and anesthesia studies, but it doesn't tackle the hard problem. My theory does.

A German In London
The Times

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said on a visit to British Foreign Secretary William Hague in London: "My main message is for the British people — you can count on us and we can count on you." He recalled his childhood in postwar Germany to expound the ideals behind the EU and insist that all its members had to move forward together.

Dr Westerwelle urged Britain to act in unison with the EU, which was "not only the answer to the darkest chapter of our history but also a life insurance in times of globalization because no country is strong and big enough to face the challenges of globalization alone."

North Korea

With Kim Jong Il gone, his son Kim Jong Un will likely take over. A letter from the NK Workers' Party called him "the great successor". Pyongyang urged increased NK military capability.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak cleared his schedule and put the SK military on "emergency alert" to monitor NK troop movements and tighten security measures at sea.

Following the Korean War in 1950, NK and SK never formally signed a peace treaty and remain technically at war, separated by a tense DMZ.


DPA
North Korean missile tests, January 2009

Korean War

The Korean War between SK and NK was a result of the division of Korea by the Allies in 1945, when US troops occupied SK and Soviet troops occupied NK.

NK invaded SK in June 1950. UN and US forces were pushed back, then pushed up almost to China. The PRC went to war beside NK and pushed UN forces back south. The USSR supplied both NK and PRC forces. Hostilities ended in July 1953 with an armistice that restored the border near the 38th Parallel and created a DMZ between NK and SK.

Total killed: 3-4 million

F-22 Raptor
Lockheed Martin
Raptors
Wired

On November 10, 2010, a USAF
F-22 Raptor crashed in Alaska, killing its pilot. The Raptor fleet was grounded while the problem was investigated.

The official crash report cites mid-flight failure of the on-board oxygen generating system (OBOGS). Many Raptor pilots have experienced air shortages and blamed the OBOGS.

This is only the latest in a series of problems with the Raptor. Lockheed Martin recently rolled out the 196th and final F-22 after 14 years of production. Each Raptor cost the taxpayer $377 million.

Entente Glaciale
The Times

London is the seventh-largest French city. It is also, after Paris, the city with the best-educated French population. It is time to set aside the gibes and name-calling in the search for a solution.


Clegg Fraps Fillon
The Times

The basic difference,
you should know,
Between GB and poor Sarko
Is this, that we have got
The printing press
And they have not!

UK To Observe EU Talks
Financial Times

The UK is invited to participate in negotiations on a new European treaty to govern eurozone economies. The invitation will allow London to check whether EU institutions will be used to monitor and enforce the new pact. The move is the first EU opening to the UK since the Cameron veto.

India And China
Financial Times

India: Emerging market
economies are beginning
to "falter"

Indian finance minister
Pranab Mukherjee said India
must turn its attention to
"reviving growth as quickly
as possible".

China: The global outlook is
"extremely grim and
complicated"

The Communist Party of China agreed to focus on maintaining fast growth amid the
worsening outlook.

2011 December 18

Europolitics
Kathleen R. McNamara

Europe is suffering from a political crisis. Almost all the EU countries under attack by financial markets are basically strong and productive. Yet the fiscal orthodoxy agreed to at the Brussels summit is only likely to hasten the demise of the euro. European polities under stress need to grow their way out of debt. EU leaders need to commit to a true political and fiscal union.

Debt and deficit figures diverge widely across the European Union, yet debt levels do not scale with the amount bond markets charge sovereign borrowers in Europe. Arguing that Europeans need to live within their means is nonsense in a world where there is flexibility in how markets perceive what appropriate debt levels mean.

European countries are not too economically divergent to be in a currency union. Currencies are determined by politics, not convergent economic zones. From a purely economic standpoint, the United States should not have a single currency. It survives because it has a true fiscal and political union.

The Eurosummit agreement is a rehash of the Stability and Growth Pact, which Germany and France both violated to boost their economies. Merkel and Sarkozy must recognize the need to pool sovereignty by agreeing to a Eurobond and true fiscal union.

AR Europeans are working on it, but you can't just unite by fiat. It comes as a response to a shared sense of crisis.

War Is Going Out Of Style
Joshua S. Goldstein and Steven Pinker

The invasion of Iraq may have been the last war between two national armies. World War III was canceled and the Korean War was the last war between great powers.

Overall, the annual rate of battle deaths worldwide has fallen from almost 300 per 100,000 of world population during World War II, to almost 30 during Korea, to the low teens during Vietnam, to single digits in the late 1970s and 1980s, to fewer than 1 since 2000.

Atrocities against civilians are on a smaller scale too. During World War II, in response to enemy atrocities, Allied forces repeatedly and deliberately firebombed Axis cities, incinerating tens of thousands of civilians in a night. Now we are repelled by war.

AR The years 1815 to 1914 seemed peaceful too. Until the Mideast is sorted out, I prefer to hold back from agreeing with Pinker here.

Is Higgs The End?
John Horgan

Discovering the Higgs would be a modest achievement relative to the grand ambitions of theoretical physics. The Higgs would serve merely as the capstone of the Standard Model. But the model is incomplete anyway.

The dream of a theory of everything will never be entirely abandoned. But fewer smart young physicists will be attracted to an endeavor that has vanishingly little hope of an empirical payoff. The quest for a unified theory will come to be seen not as a branch of science but as a kind of mathematical theology.

AR This is too pessimistic. Supersymmetry is both interesting and scientific. Gravity wave detectors and other new experimental rigs will push out the envelope for as long as the money holds out.

2011 December 17

On Faith
Matthew Parris

British PM Benjamin Disraeli in his novel Endymion:
"Sensible men are all of the same religion."
"And pray what is that?"
"Sensible men never tell."

British PM David Cameron: "The knowledge that God created man in his own image was, if you like, a game changer for the cause of human dignity and equality ... When each and every individual is related to a power above all of us, and when every human being is of equal and infinite importance, created in the very image of God, we get the irrepressible foundation for equality and human rights."

MP: "Religions do not create altruism or fellow feeling, they direct these instincts. Morality born of a humanist impulse to love and care for others is a higher and purer ethic than Christianity and Islam's reliance on celestial rewards and hellish punishments. But for many, and for all practical purposes, faith can and does act to reinforce morality, both public and private."

Cameron To Archbishop: Speak Up For Christianity
Daily Mail

David Cameron last night called on the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to lead a return to the "moral code" of the Bible. Cameron accused Williams of failing to speak "to the whole nation" when he criticized Government austerity policies. Cameron declared Britain "a Christian country" and said politicians and churchmen should not be afraid to say so.

AR In my opinion, being a Christian is a political choice.

Pubic hair in America (adult content)

2011 December 16

Ian, Hitch, Martin
PR
Ian McEwan, Christopher Hitchens, Martin Amis

Christopher Hitchens
1949—2011

"The next morning, at Christopher's request, Alexander and I set up a desk for him under a window. We helped him and his pole with its feed-lines across the room, arranged pillows on his chair, adjusted the height of his laptop. Talking and dozing were all very well, but Christopher had only a few days to produce 3,000 words on Ian Ker's biography of Chesterton. Whenever people talk of Christopher's journalism, I will always think of this moment."
Ian McEwan

Nuke Spy Drones
Wired

Stealthy drones like the RQ-170 Sentinel that crashed in Iran are very good at loitering over a target of interest for hours on end. Unnamed military sources confirmed that the RQ-170 was conducting nuclear surveillance over Iran.

2011 December 15

PHILOSOPHER

Last read and final corrections completed
Text and cover files delivered to publisher
Estimated publication date January 2012

AR This is a historic milestone for me.

Europe Needs A Firewall
John Paulson

The European banking sector is exposed to a sovereign credit crisis. I suggest the ECB consider a sovereign debt guarantee program as a firewall. The program would immediately calm the credit markets. In return for a 1% annual guarantee fee, and compliance with the ECB and/or IMF on implementation of structural reform programs, Italy and Spain would be able to refinance all maturing debt with an ECB guarantee. The program would be open for two years for maturities of up to 10 years. The firewall is needed now.

Eurozone Fiscal Union
Financial Times

Angela Merkel says member states of the eurozone have set themselves on an "irreversible course toward a fiscal union" to underpin their common currency. "We are not just talking about a fiscal and stability union. We have begun to create one." She expressed "great regret" at the British veto but said a new treaty for "at least" the 17 eurozone members was a big step forward.

SDP leader Frank-Walter Steinmeier said "this is no breakthrough to more Europe" and the isolation of Britain is "no cause for joy". Before the summit Europe faced a debt crisis. "After the summit, we have a real constitutional crisis. This estrangement process between Britain and Europe will not end."

Top Germans Like Merkel
Spiegel Online

A new survey of 500 German leaders finds that about 70% see Angela Merkel as a strong chancellor who is managing the crisis well and successfully promoting German interests at the EU level:

78%  support an economic and fiscal union
21%  support the introduction of eurobonds
13%  want the ECB to purchase all eurozone government bonds
74%  of those in business are concerned about the euro
42%  of those in politics are concerned about the euro
90%  believe austerity is the right policy for indebted countries
95%  like the joint Merkozy leadership of in the eurozone
92%  think floating eurozone government bonds will get harder
11%  think the eurozone will break up

A clear majority of the managers would like to see the return of the grand coalition that brought together the Christian Democrats and the SDP from 2005 to 2009.

2011 December 14

Not Worth A Fig
Anatole Kaletsky

The Franco-German fiscal compact is no more comprehensive or final than all the previous failed summit deals.

Nature Education

Principles of Biology
An Interactive Textbook
By Nature Education


Principles of Biology consists of 200 university-level modules collectively covering chemistry, genetics, cell biology, animal physiology, plant physiology, and ecology.

Each learning module is self-contained experience, combining textual instruction, figures, simulations, exercises, and tests. Accessible from a wide range of platforms at $49 per student.

Anglo-German Split
Financial Times

The German chancellor was determined to form a fiscal union. But treaty change was a big political problem for the UK prime minister.

Merkel found British politics "incomprehensible" but said she would look for "sweeteners" to seal a deal in Brussels. Cameron: "What about France?" Merkel: "Nicolas will agree."

A British gamble was born. Downing Street thought the German "G1 in the eurozone" would prevail.

Spoils of Iraq War
Financial Times

After almost nine years, a trillion dollars spent, and thousands of American lives lost, the United States is withdrawing from Iraq, leaving the spoils to others. Turkey, Iran, China, South Korea, and Arab states have already invested billions in Iraq, far outpacing the US and UK in every non-oil sector.

Heavyweight
The Daily Beast

Former Delaware Senate candidate and Tea Party favorite Christine O'Donnell endorsed Mitt Romney for president.

She cited his executive experience: "I trust him to
do the right thing."

On his flip-flopping:
"He's been consistent since
he changed his mind."


Jews and Jesus
Reflections on the Doctrine
of the Twelve Apostles and
the Epistle of Barnabas

Stratolaunch
Stratolaunch
Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen unveils his new company Stratolaunch with plans for a commercial spaceship.
The spaceship will be launched at a height of 10 km from a carrier aircraft with six 747 engines and a wingspan of 117 m.
The spaceship is being designed by Burt Rutan and the spaceship and booster will be built by SpaceX.

Clegg Versus Cameron
Financial Times

British deputy PM Nick Clegg refused to sit alongside David Cameron in the House of Commons as the PM defended his veto. Liberal Dem leader Clegg said the veto was bad for British business and would leave the UK isolated. But Tory MPs cheered the PM and claimed he had shown "bulldog spirit".

Cameron's veto is causing anger across Europe. Britain also refuses to take part in an urgent €200 billion funding boost for the IMF to tackle the crisis.

Cameron promised an "open mind" on whether the new euro-plus group could use EU institutions like the European Court of Justice and European Commission.

2011 December 13

Hint of Higgs at 125 GeV
New Scientist

The Large Hadron Collider may have seen the Higgs boson at a mass of about 125 GeV. Both of the main detectors, ATLAS and CMS, have found hints of Higgs. The standard model firmly predicted the Higgs boson.

Today, CERN presented results from trillions of collisions in the last year. ATLAS saw a hint of the Higgs at 126 GeV with a statistical significance of 2.3 sigma. CMS saw one at 124 GeV with a significance of 1.9 sigma. A discovery is defined as a 5 sigma signal, for less than 1 in a million chance of a fluke.

Theorists are relieved. The observed masses of the W and Z bosons imply a Higgs mass between about 115 and 130 GeV. A Higgs at 125 GeV or so "is just what the doctor ordered," says Nobel laureate Frank Wilczek.

Higgs Boson Podcast
Alok Jha

Today the European particle physics laboratory CERN holds a
seminar on the latest results in the search for the Higgs boson.
Guardian science correspondents Ian Sample and Alok Jha quiz
UK ATLAS team lead Professor Jon Butterworth:

Podcast (34:19, 33 MB)

End of an Era
Marco Evers

The UK will soon have less influence and more adversaries in Europe. Since joining the European project in 1973, the British have annoyed Europeans with their constant demands for special treatment and rebates and their blocking tactics. They have backed the internal market but sabotaged a common foreign policy and recoiled from a European constitution.

Cameron's veto marks the beginning of the end of Britain's days as a member of the EU. Britain will then be proud and free. It was no surprise. Cameron had already announced what he would do if his EU partners refused to back off from taxing financial transactions.

Cameron is a eurosceptic. He was held back by his Liberal Democrat coalition partners but his own party pushed him into confrontation. The Tories are campaigning against the European project more ferociously than they did in the days of Margaret Thatcher. Many people in the UK view the EU as another USSR.

AR EUSSR was big in the Berwick manifesto.

Cameron Woos Clegg
The Times

David Cameron is preparing to give ground to Nick Clegg over Europe. Deputy PM Clegg said he and Cameron "clearly do not agree".

Cameron: "Our membership of the EU is vital to our national interest. ... I believe in an EU with the flexibility of a network, not the rigidity of a bloc."

Labour leader Ed Miliband said the outcome was "bad for business, bad for jobs, bad for Britain". It was not a veto "when the thing you wanted to stop goes ahead without you", he said. "That's called losing."

Clegg: "There are many issues in the coalition where the parties differ."

Iraq

Polls show Americans approve of the U.S. Army withdrawal from Iraq by a ratio of three to one.
A NATO training mission had hoped to remain longer but could not agree with authorities in Baghdad in
"robust negotiations conducted over several weeks."
The New York Times

<< A U.S. Army soldier from the 1st Cavalry Division, at Camp Virginia, near Kuwait City, after arriving from Camp Adder, Iraq.
All U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by the end of the year.
Foreign Policy

Franglospat
The Times

Two European leaders basked in praise over the weekend. In Britain, David Cameron enjoyed accolades from some quarters for his bulldog triumph against the new fiscal regime for the eurozone. Across the Channel, Nicolas Sarkozy was admired for kicking the troublesome Perfide Albion from Europe's high table.





Catastrophic Decision
Jonathan Powell

The government has made the catastrophic decision to opt out of a treaty that will shape Europe over the next several decades. Britain will be excluded from all decision-making on the key economic policies of Europe. How long are the other 26 likely to put up with obstructionism by one member wielding the veto again and again?

Foreign Policy Down The Drain
Paddy Ashdown

Long years of anti-European prejudice from the Tory Eurosceptics, laced with insults from their supporting press, have generated a growing anti-British prejudice in many European capitals.

If the Franco-German plan doesn't work, things will not be better for Britain, they will be much, much worse as our main trading zone collapses. Yet we have rejected being in, helping prevent collapse, in favour of being out, hoping for the best.

AR The best solution is for David Cameron and his Tories to be replaced by David Miliband (not Ed) and a Lib-Lab team.

Pity Those In Euroland
Janet Daley

So we are isolated. Britain has stood alone before. We defended the idea of democracy in Europe then too. This putative treaty so triumphantly proclaimed by Merk and Sark is an agreement to work toward an idyll of anti-competitive regulation and tax harmonization. The United States of America has nothing like this. If Britain is at all culpable for the nightmare implosion to come, it is only that we did not argue hard enough for the integrity of democratic nationhood and the value of free markets.

Britain Isolated
The Guardian

David Cameron deployed the ultimate weapon in European summitry yesterday. EU leaders promptly agreed to bypass Britain and establish a new accord on the euro among themselves. The EU appeared poised to line up 26-1 against Cameron in support of the Franco-German blueprint, leaving Britain utterly isolated.

AR End of an era. No more
pussy-footing from London to
hide its contempt for the
European Union. Fortress UK fights on alone.

Cameron Played Poor Hand
John Lichfield

Britain is not leaving the European Union, just yet. But the EU may already have abandoned Britain. The fog of the Battle of Brussels, 8-9 December 2011, is still clearing. But the possibility of a UK departure from the EU is no longer unthinkable. Cameron wanted Britain to become a kind of Cayman Islands within the EU: enjoying the benefits of being part of a European single market for financial services but not subject to EU oversight or regulation.

AR The idea that Britain can
survive as the world's bankers
is an illusion.

Revised EC Statement
Edited Extract
1300 CET

The objective remains to incorporate these provisions into the treaties of the Union as soon as possible. The Heads of State or Government of Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Sweden indicated the possibility to take part in this process after consulting their Parliaments where appropriate.

AR Leaving UK and Hungary.

2011 December 12

Merkelization
Foreign Policy

Germany's one-woman show could doom the continent's beautiful project. Merkel may look like the big winner today, seemingly with Europe at Germany's feet, but this turn of events could well prove to no country's detriment more than than Germany's. The prospect is of a joyless union of penalties, punishments, disciplines, and seething resentments, with the EU elites increasingly under siege from anti-EU populists.

Merkel's audacious reaction to staunch the eurocrisis is the Germanization of European monetary and fiscal policy, foremost the codification of its obsession with tight money, fiscal purity, and budgetary orthodoxy. She's doing it with Sarkozy at her side and over the heads of European voters. This catastrophic mistake vastly expands the EU's centralized authority while robbing it of even a fig leaf of democratic legitimacy.

AR People like a strong leader who does "the right thing" — and
tight is right for my money.

Desert Sun Power
Leo Hickman

In 1986, German physicist Gerhard Knies estimated how much solar energy was required to meet our global demand for electricity: in just six hours, the world's deserts receive more energy from the sun than humans consume in a year. An area of Saharan desert the size of Wales (2 Mha) could power the whole of Europe.

Dii is an initiative founded in Munich in 2009 that currently includes more than 55 companies and institutions. Dii aims to provide 15% of Europe's electricity by 2050 through a vast network of solar and wind farms stretching across the MENA region and connected to Europe via highly efficient DC transmission cables. The total cost is estimated at €400 billion.

AR Bring the Desertec vision into reality: back Dii.

Has Europe Lost Its Soul?
Jonathan Sacks

When a civilisation loses its faith, it loses its future. When it recovers its faith, it recovers its future. We must help Europe to recover its soul. The market economy emerged in a Judeo-Christian Europe.

Capitalism is a sustained process of creative destruction. The market undermines the values that gave rise to it. The consumer culture is antithetical to human dignity. Instead of being a means of directing self-interest to the common good, it can become a means of empowering self-interest to the detriment of the common good. Instead of the market being framed by moral principles, it comes to substitute for moral principle. The market becomes an ideology in its own right.

The current financial and economic crisis is an opportunity to pause and reflect on where we have been going and where it leads. The financial instruments at the heart of the current crisis were so complex that bankers failed to understand their vulnerability. Financial failure is the result of moral failure and a symptom of a wider failure to see the market as a means not an end.

Markets need morals. The keywords of a market economy are religious. Credit comes from the Latin for belief. Confidence comes from the Latin for shared faith. Trust is a religious and moral concept. It was a breakdown of trust that led to the banking crisis. And trust depends on an ethic of honour and responsibility. Markets were created to serve humankind.

AR Hear, hear. Fiscal duo Merkozy 1, City gent Cameron 0.

2011 December 11

Dear Prime Minister Cameron
Silke Burmester

I would like to heartily thank you! Your "No!" to the rescue plans of the EU countries to date and may well thoroughly in the future probably fly around your ears, but for me, whom I would describe myself as a great lover of your country, it's a relief. For too long you have been under the heel of the EU cucumbers and children's policies and bulbs dictation, made small, much too long you can spoon-feed from norms and treaties, that of a former world power like yours is not worthy.

You see, I had the good fortune to live at the time of the Iron Lady in your country and at that young age was very impressed with the coolness of Margaret Thatcher divided the country and forced the working class to its knees. And now, dear Mr Cameron, you also make the clear message and take the step away from European folklore and mishmash in which we all love and we act as if we also like to play with the grubby children.

The Britain of my youth you knew from the "After Eight" ads, the TV series "Upstairs, Downstairs" and music by the punk. And of course, by Monty Python, so it was ready for anything that distinguishes your kingdom like this: stubborn old ladies, strange ministries, parrots and, of course, perfectly shaped queuing. Their compatriots always spoke of the "continent" if they thought Europe apart from onions and cabbage was unknown.

All this has been lost in the last 20 years. Her beautiful, weird traditions are increasingly global standards of conduct from queue jumping, from eating a croissant instead of porridge given way, people have turned their beautiful capital to a sort of Disneyland Park. Only the money, your beautiful pounds, reminds one still working to be a guest in a country whose traditions established identity and always the latest adjustment avoided.

And now you come! Like Superman stops the train with his bare hands, threatening to take the dilapidated bridge, hold the European rescue shuttle on alone. One word from you is enough and all that what your colleagues have been working feverishly on, which will force the EU countries to more fiscal discipline is worthless. "No!" You have said a word and rarely has promised more delight. For now Great Britain is perhaps the back, from which arises is admirable that marked your country once: quirky.

We, lovers of the weird, quirky the kingdom, which had lost its identity under increasingly global whip. With joy we would sail across the English Channel and come to an island whose inhabitants are once again proud of their empire. And who are we owe it? You, Prime Minister Cameron! Even now I would like to express my thanks. I am sure one will pay homage to you. A rose for you or a street name. At least one-way street should probably be in there.

(thank Google for the translation)

Iron Man Cameron
The Times

Liberal Democrats condemned David Cameron’s decision to veto a new EU treaty. Lib Dem party leader and deputy PM Nick Clegg said he was "furious" at the way the PM handled the summit. Clegg feared Britain would now be the "lonely man of Europe", with waning influence for the City of London, less influence with the USA and reduced foreign investment.

Lib Dem business secretary Vince Cable accused David Cameron of going to war with Europe over the wrong issue: "I simply don’t buy the view that the British national interest is synonymous with banking and financial services." Cable called the veto a "pyrrhic victory" for Eurosceptics "because nothing has really changed — certainly with the financial services sector".

Lib Dem peer and former Treasury spokesman Lord Oakeshott said many in the party remained quiet on Friday because they were stunned and appalled: "It was Black Friday for every Liberal Democrat and for our future in Europe."

The Conservative party hailed Cameron as a hero and a true heir to Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher. Conservative foreign secretary William Hague said Cameron had done the "right thing for Britain".
Conservative chancellor George Osborne said Cameron's veto was the "right thing for our country".

2011 December 10

German Vision Prevails
The New York Times

A new European Union is pushing Britain to the sidelines and creating a more integrated core of nations under the auspices of a resurgent Germany. Angela Merkel persuaded every current member of the union except Britain to endorse a new agreement calling for tighter regional oversight of government spending.

The agreement was a clear victory for Merkel and it prompted a sharp rally in stock markets in Europe and the United States. Obama administration officials welcomed the overhaul of the eurozone but argued that stronger measures were needed in the short run. Germany has argued that the solution to the euro crisis is an overhaul of the rules that govern European integration. Germany is using market turmoil as a cudgel to force more austerity. But critics say such steps risk a deep recession.

The big loser in Brussels was Britain. David Cameron was perceived as having made a poor gamble in opposing the push by Merkel and Sarkozy, embittering relations and possibly damaging his standing at home. Some other countries were initially skeptical but only Britain rejected the agreement.

Britain and Europe
Wolfgang Kaden

Britain and the European Union was a mismatch from the start. When the union was founded, Britain still clung to dreams of empire. Economic arguments then led British industry to urge the government to join. When the empire dreams evaporated, they were replaced by a sentimental alliance with the United States. The British held back in the Europe of Brussels, caricatured for decades in the British press as a bureaucratic monster.

The UK is an EU member but never really wanted to be. From the start, the political establishment and the media were skeptical about the single currency. Much of what they said was accurate, but it was simple monetary nationalism that kept the UK out of the euro. Now Euroland stands apart from the UK with its financial autonomy. The British need to ask why they are in the union. Without a fundamental change in British policy, they should leave.

Bye Bye Britain
Roland Nelles

The European Union on Thursday night dropped the hypocrisy. No longer is harmony the overriding goal. The United Kingdom may no longer have a place at the table. London must decide whether it wants to remain part of Europe or not.

The European Union has reformed itself. The common currency union is following the Franco-German desire to grow together. The UK stands alone. It is a new development. The British have been the fly in the European soup for a long time, having their say and wielding their influence. In past EU summits all this was glossed over. No longer. The UK has been backed into a corner.

The euro crisis has exposed a momentum that is creating a new Europe. Chancellor Angela Merkel calls it a fiscal union. In reality, Europe is on the path toward becoming a federal country. Germany and France will lead but all are included.

The preferred outcome is that Britain should become part of an integrated Europe. But Europe can work fine without the British. The UK can focus on its alliance with the United States. They don't have much time. If the Brits wait too long, history will move on. Then we say bye bye Britain.

Great Britain Saves Itself
Niall Ferguson

David Cameron's stand in Brussels was the culmination of a consistent Conservative policy to resist any steps that would lead to Britain's becoming a member of a federal Europe. The eurozone members and the states that have chosen to follow them have just agreed to create a federal fiscal union.

This is the founding charter of the United States of Europe. It is not clear how the existing European institutions can police a fiscal union that is not covered by any treaty. And the balanced-budget rule is a recipe for excessive rigidity in fiscal policy, unless there is a significant centralization of fiscal policy.

Twelve years ago, I warned that a monetary union without a fiscal component would fall apart after about ten years. Four years ago, I pointed out that German banks were in worse shape than American banks. Incompetent leadership has brought the eurozone economy to the edge of a precipice.

The only way to save the monetary union is:
1 Massive quantitative easing by the ECB
2 Restructuring to reduce absolute debt burdens
3 Creation of a mechanism to transfer resources
4 Recapitalization of ailing eurozone banks

The Brussels agreement only does these things half-heartedly.
In the absence of sufficient resources for the new federal model,
the new rules will lead to pro-cyclical policies that deepen the recession. The continent has now embarked on a course for a chronically depressed federation. Cameron did the right thing.

AR Niall left the UK, loves the USA, and hates the USE.

2011 December 9

Eurosplit
The Times

The European Union fractured today at a rancorous summit when 23 countries signed up to a new euro-plus group without Britain. Britain was left out with Hungary, Sweden, and the Czech Republic, as France and Germany led the rest to form Core Europe.

Cameron said safeguards for the City of London were the price of his support for new rules in EU treaties. Both the Swedish and the Czech governments are expected to sign up to the new pact after gaining parliamentary approval. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt joked on Twitter that Britain might form an alliance with Hungary.

AR Many Brits will think this is a victory for freedom. But Cameron has only acted to protect the selfish interests of the moneymen who made a crisis out of the Greek drama in the first place. Britain has sided against Europe and chosen irrelevance in the EU future.

No EU Treaty Change
Financial Times

Leaders of the 27 EU countries failed to agree to change the EU treaties in order to impose tighter fiscal rules on the eurozone and instead chose to create a new intergovernmental treaty.

ECB president Mario Draghi approved the deal. The ECB can now move more aggressively in eurozone bond markets.

David Versus David
The Times

David Miliband criticizes David Cameron for using the V-bomb in Europe without benefit to Britain: "David Cameron didn't actually stop anything because the other 26 are going on and the provisions of the treaty would not have weakened our rights and freedoms one iota."





Balls Attacks Walkout
Financial Times

UK shadow chancellor Ed Balls attacked a "catastrophic failure of leadership" by David Cameron and others at the EU summit. He said Cameron should have played a lead role in trying to resolve the eurozone crisis instead of "walking away" from the talks.

BMW M1
BMW
The Best BMW Ever
Bill Caswell, Wired

I think the 1 Series M Coupe is
the best BMW I've ever driven.
I've been racing BMWs for over
10 years in everything from
local races to the World Rally Championships, and my daily
drive is currently an E30 M3.

BMW 2011 M1: $46,135

David Confronts Europe
Robin Harris

David Cameron saved his leadership by his brave and stylish performance in Brussels. The British, and not just the Conservative Party, like a champion who smiles while he sticks a finger in a foreigner's eye. Lord Salisbury once decried a feeble foreign policy of "floating lazily downstream, occasionally putting out a diplomatic boathook to avoid collisions". In European affairs, the time for boathooks has gone, and the time for ironclads has arrived.

British Demand Unacceptable
Financial Times

David Cameron left the European Union divided. Angela Merkel said the agreement still marked a "breakthrough to a stability union" that would open the way for full fiscal union in the eurozone. Cameron demanded safeguards for UK-based financial services. Nicolas Sarkozy said the demand was unacceptable.

AR Cameron 0, Merkozy 1,
time to move on. British people say no to the EUSSR, Europeans fence off the rabid bulldog.

Europe's Blithering Idiots
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

The leaders of France and Germany have more or less bulldozed Britain out of the European Union for the sake of a treaty that offers absolutely no solution to the crisis at hand, or indeed any future crisis. The EU may soon be reduced to a shell, with a new union forming among the core. Utter confusion will ensue over the legal structures of the EU. And what for? All this upheaval for a flimflam treaty?

AR Who's the blithering idiot? Ambrose seems to have forgotten to take his
medication.

Two-Speed Europe
Spiegel Online

European leaders agreed surprisingly quickly to fiscal union. But the new pact leaves out Britain. David Cameron will not be able to prevent the UK from becoming a second-class EU member.

Dana Point Harbor
LP
Dana Point Harbor, California, December 7, 2011

British riots: an analysis
by Theodore Dalrymple




The Shiites have enacted
bloody riots for centuries

NASA Dawn
NASA
The NASA Dawn spacecraft was launched in 2007 to encounter Vesta in 2011 and Ceres in 2015.
Dawn uses ion propulsion
powered by solar energy.


Vesta
NASA
This NASA Dawn image of the asteroid Vesta is dominated by the Caparronia impact crater. It was obtained on October 23, 2011. The crater is about 55 km in diameter and the distance to the surface of Vesta is 700 km.



Bethlehemian Rhapsody
YouTube, 4:46

AR Jesus would love it,
but what about Freddie?


Queen

The Muppets sing Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody
YouTube, 4:47

Sleeping Beauty is a movie about power and control. Lucy's lack of money requires her to relinquish control again and again. She answers a want ad and a madam employs her to enact the fairy tale of the film's title.

War With Iran

1
Süddeutsche Zeitung

Hopes for a comprehensive reconciliation between Iran and the West have evaporated. It is important that the issue is not reduced to a choice between the Iranian Bomb and bombing Iran.

2
Berliner Zeitung
The Israelis know that attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities would, at best, slow down development of a nuclear bomb, and not halt it. The Americans can still hope that the Israelis will hold back.

2011 December 8

Lecture by Dr. Seth Jones, RAND Corporation:
Afghanistan Beyond the Bonn Conference
Deutsch-Amerikanisches Institut, Heidelberg

The Merkozy Letter
Reuters

Edited extracts from a letter to EC President Herman Van Rompuy:

We need to reinforce the architecture of Economic and Monetary Union. The current crisis has uncovered the deficiencies in the construction of EMU. Alongside the single currency, we need a renewed contract between the Eurozone states.

We need more binding and more ambitious rules and commitments for the Eurozone states. They should reflect that sharing a single currency means sharing responsibility for the Eurozone as a whole. They should pave the way for a new quality of cooperation and integration within the Eurozone. We propose that those new rules and commitments should be enshrined in the European treaties.

Eurozone governance needs to be substantially reinforced. We should provide for more integrated and more efficient institutions based on regular summits of the Eurozone heads of state and government with a permanent president.

— signed by Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy

AR Core Europe is on the way. The British "divide and conquer" approach to Europe of previous centuries is obsolete. A politically united mainland Europe is natural, inevitable, and good.

2011 December 7

Yes To Treaty Change
David Cameron

Resolving the eurozone crisis requires three things:

1 Tighter fiscal discipline and closer fiscal coordination
    within the eurozone

2 A big firewall to prevent contagion along with
    properly capitalized banks

3 Improved competitiveness in the eurozone economies
    that are struggling

A change in the treaty governing all 27 members of the European Union is the most comprehensive and credible way to provide tough sanctions to ensure that eurozone countries stick to the rules on debt. Britain requires rules to keep the single market fair and open for financial services.

The eurozone has a problem of competitiveness. Countries that have large trade deficits coexist with Germany, which has a huge trade surplus. These imbalances have to be addressed.

Clarke: Resolve Crisis
Financial Times

UK Justice Secretary Ken Clarke has put himself at odds with David Cameron by saying Britain should focus on "how to maintain the financial stability of the western world" at the EU summit.

Clarke said it would be a distraction to try to open up discussions about the "wider structures of the union".

Merkozy Failed
Martin Wolf

Germany has a plan but it is something of a blunder.
Good: Eurozone opposition will block its full application.
Bad: Nothing better seems to be on offer.
Ugly: Germans believe fiscal malfeasance caused the crisis.

Truth: This is a balance of payments crisis.
It requires huge adjustments on both sides.

Hunting the Higgs
The Guardian

Rumors have hit the physics blogs that CERN may have seen the Higgs boson. CERN scientists say that if the particle exists, it was most likely to have a mass somewhere between 114 and 141 GeV. Rumors are that the Atlas and CMS teams see Higgs-like signals around 125 GeV. That fits with supersymmetry.

AR Wow! Just in time for Xmas.

2011 December 6

Merkozy Agreement
Financial Times

France and Germany agree on new fiscal rules for the eurozone:
1 Change EU treaty change, at least for eurozone members
2 Impose automatic sanctions for budget deficits over 3% of GDP
3 Set a constitutional "golden rule" requiring balanced budgets
4 Have the European Court of Justice verify the golden rule
5 Let private bondholders avoid haircuts in future restructuring
6 Bring forward the launch of the ESM from 2013 to 2012

The measures must be agreed at the EU summit on Friday.

Rating Downgrade
Financial Times

Standard & Poor's has put 15 eurozone countries on negative CreditWatch. The AAA members Germany, France, Austria, Finland, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg are under review for downgrade to AA+ if their plans fail to convince S&P experts.

Politicians accuse the ratings agencies of exacerbating the crisis. But the agencies worry about who will pay for a eurozone solution.

British Decline
Aditya Chakrabortty

In the past week, the UK has received two bits of bad news:

1 The Office for Budget Responsibility believes that the British economy is around 13% smaller than the government assumed at the height of the boom.

2 The Institute for Fiscal Studies forecasts that the average British family will be poorer in 2016 than they were in 2002.

In modern times, the only other rich country that has undergone the kind of decline that now awaits the UK is Japan.

2011 December 5

BIFA
British Independent Film Awards
The Guardian

Tyrannosaur won the best film award. Directed by Paddy Considine, this study of rage stars Peter Mullan as a drinking, gambling, washed-up widower who early in the film kicks his dog to death.
Considine won the Douglas Hickox award for best debut director.
Olivia Colman won best actress for her role in the film.
Michael Fassbender won best actor for his lead role in Shame, Steve McQueen's second feature film after Hunger.

2011 December 4

Iran Says It Shot Down U.S. Spy Plane
The New York Times

Iran's armed forces have shot down an unmanned U.S. spy plane that violated Iranian airspace along the country's eastern border, says the official IRNA news agency. The report quoted a military official: "An advanced RQ-170 unmanned American spy plane was shot down by Iran's armed forces. It suffered minor damage and is now in possession of Iran's armed forces."

NATO Accuses Pakistan and Iran
Spiegel Online

NATO says Pakistan and Iran support the Taliban. In a confidential report, NATO-ISAF military intelligence services raise serious allegations against the the Pakistani intelligence service ISI and Iran's secret police. The report says Pakistan and Iran provide financial and logistic support for armed resistance to the ISAF in Afghanistan, such as a training camp for insurgents in a project financed by Iran and Pakistan.

Suspicion of Pakistan and Iran is not new. For years, the ISI has had close ties to the Taliban and supported the armed struggle of the Taliban against the Afghan government and ISAF. The government of Pakistan denies the ties, but ISI still works with the Taliban and is cooperating directly with the insurgents. The Iranians are cooperating with Pakistan and support the insurgents with training, weapons, and money.

NATO officers in northern Afghanistan say the findings come from "fusion cells" of intelligence staffs from Germany, the USA, Sweden, and other nations. The German commander for northern Afghanistan, Major General Markus Kneip, has described the influence of Iran and Pakistan in his command area and warned against trained terror squads from Chechnya and Pakistan that supported the Taliban.

2011 December 3

German Calm
Spiegel Online

The endgame for the euro has begun. Fear is growing in the financial markets and in the capitals of Europe. But Germans seem calm. They are not blind to the depth of the crisis and most even think the worst is yet to come. But they are still happy to go shopping. The crisis is too complex for many of them.

European partners accuse the chancellor of shamelessly dominating the ongoing EU reform process. But Angela Merkel's approval ratings have gone up during the crisis. Most Germans are behind her and want her to take a strong leadership role in Europe. Germany should take the lead and the eurozone should follow.

War Histories
Joanna Bourke

  Peter Englund
  THE BEAUTY AND THE SORROW
  An Intimate History of the First World War

  Max Hastings
  ALL HELL LET LOOSE
  The World at War 1939-45

Englund and Hastings seek to draw readers into the intimate lives of people who suffered through the First and Second World Wars. The books both excel in depicting the horrors of war. Both solicit affect, so that readers are mesmerized by horror. But affective history fails to provide new understanding.

United States of Europe, Part 3

Britain Outside Europe
Anatole Kaletsky

The Prime Minister should encourage the 17 euro members to agree a separate treaty among themselves, outside the existing EU treaties. Such a new treaty would confirm that euro member-ship and political federation are distinct from the single market. The new treaty would turn the EU back into a primarily economic organization. Britain could lead the outer group.



German Europe
Spiegel Online

Germany is at the center of Europe. Officials in Berlin say it is important to stand side by side with France to avoid creating the impression that Germany is dominating Europe.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy: "France and Germany have decided to unite their fate." Earlier: "All my efforts are directed towards adapting France to a system that works: the German system."

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski: "I'm less worried about Germany's power than about its failure to act. It has become Europe's essential nation. It must not fail in its leadership. Rather than dominate, it must lead the reform process."

Kepler Finds New Earth
New Scientist

The NASA Kepler telescope had found a new Earthlike planet. Named Kepler-22b, the planet lies 600 light years away around a star like the sun. It is about 2.4 times as wide as Earth and orbits its star every 290 days, right in the middle of the habitable zone where liquid water can exist on its surface, and has a surface temperature of 22°C.

AR Let's launch a starship.

Freeman Dyson
on the psychology of
Daniel Kahneman

War With Iran

3
Financial Times Deutschland

An oil embargo will worsen the social and economic situation in Iran. But an oil embargo could also hurt the West. Higher oil prices would be poisonous for the European economy. To get the Iranian regime to give in, support from Russia and China is needed.

Sovereign
CNN
The Sovereign superyacht is the latest brainchild of Gray Design. Sovereign can be yours for about €100 million.
I guess the fan in the tower is a wind turbine to advertise the owner's environmental credentials.

Print Money
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

The eurozone economy is in imminent danger of crashing into deflation. This would wreck Europe's €31 trillion bank nexus. But the crisis can be stopped very easily by printing money. The ECB can halt the crisis immediately by reflating Club Med off the reefs. It chooses not to act because this would mean higher inflation for Germany.

AR Keep pressing until the
olive pips squeak.

Islamists
Financial Times

Qatari PM Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani says the West should embrace the rise of Islamist movements. Hamad played a role in the Libyan revolution and spoke after the first round of the Egyptian elections. Indications are that the Muslim Brotherhood party Freedom and Justice is in the lead.The puritanical Salafist party Nour also did well.

2011 December 2

PHILOSOPHER
Done. Plan:
1 Chill
2 Reread
3 Publish

Eurogeddon: Ten No-Nos
CNN

  1 Thou shalt not lack political vision and strategy
  2 Thou shalt not lead via two member states
  3 Thou shalt not neglect European foreign policy
  4 Thou shalt not let austerity be the only policy
  5 Thou shalt not fail to put people first
  6 Thou shalt not accept technocratic governments
  7 Thou shalt not run a democratic deficit
  8 Thou shalt not impose cuts that cause recession
  9 Thou shalt not cause panic in financial markets
10 Thou shalt not ignore economic differences

The Spirit of Enterprise
David Brooks

Germany and the United States are rich because many of their citizens believe that people who work hard and play by the rules should have a fair shot at prosperity. Work and self-control should be rewarded while laziness and self-indulgence should not.

This ethos is being undermined from all directions. People see lobbyists using connections to divert money, traders making millions in devious manipulations, and governments stealing money from future generations to reward current voters.

European nations like Germany and the Netherlands have played by the rules and practiced good governance. Now they are being browbeaten for not wanting to bail out nations that did not do these things. They are being asked to paper over fundamental economic problems by printing money.

Our sympathy should be with the German people. They are not behaving selfishly by insisting on structural reforms in exchange for bailouts. They are defending the values upon which the entire prosperity of the West is based.

In a financial crisis you do what you have to do. But as soon as the crisis passes, you repair the system. After the American financial crisis of 2008, the people who caused the crisis were never held responsible, there was no strategy to pay off the debt, and structural problems were not addressed. We can do better.

Was ABB Insane?
Simon Baron-Cohen

Anders Breivik committed mass murder to draw attention to his manifesto aimed at saving Europe from the Muslims. The killings were part of a carefully planned political project. He claimed to have worked on the plan for nine years. His manifesto is the work of a man with a single vision. The question is whether a man who is so cold and calculating in executing his logical plan is insane.

Empathy is both cognitive and affective. Cognitive empathy is the drive to identify someone else's thoughts and feelings and imagine what is in their mind. Affective empathy is the drive to respond to someone else's thoughts and feelings with an appropriate emotion. Cruelty results from low affective empathy, plus other factors.

In Breivik's case, deeply held ideological convictions may have been the extra ingredient. Breivik appeared to have many parallels with the young Hitler. Hitler's Mein Kampf is a diatribe against the "Judification" of Europe that parallels Breivik's diatribe in his manifesto against the "Islamification" of Europe.

2011 December 1

War With Iran
David Miliband

A nuclear-armed Iran would mean the end of non-proliferation. But that is not an argument for military action. Diplomacy must take the lead. The regime faces challenges:

1 Sanctions, cyberwar, and covert operations have impaired Iran's progress toward a nuclear weapons capability.

2 IAEA inspectors continue to monitor key installations and operations, providing a tripwire to signal any dramatic change.

3 Iran's strategic influence in the region is waning. Among the Arab public, Iran's popularity has plummeted since 2006.

4 The Iranian people aspire to the same kinds of open government that the youth of the Arab world are reaching for.

Now is the time to put pressure on a weakened regime. A concerted diplomatic effort on Iran is needed now to prevent another war in the Mideast.

UK Pu To Burn
The Guardian

General Electric proposes to build a new nuclear reactor at the Sellafield site to convert the British stockpile of plutonium into electricity. The multibillion pound project would burn fuel from nuclear waste in a 600 MW PRISM reactor. The GE Hitachi Power Reactor Innovative Small Module reactor has been in use for more than 30 years in the US.

But the UK government has not yet decided how to deal with its plutonium. Options include long-term storage, converting it for use in a thorium reactor, or building a new mixed oxide fuel (MOX) processing plant. Some in government want the plutonium to be classed as an asset rather than a liability.

A thorium reactor is an alternative to current nuclear plants that experts say is safer, cleaner, and more environmentally friendly.

AR Iran would pay billions for our Pu.

ECB Rescue
Financial Times

ECB president Mario Draghi said a "fiscal compact" could pave the way to a eurozone rescue plan. An agreement binding governments to strong rules on public finances would be "the most important element to start restoring credibility" with financial markets. A fiscal compact would anchor confidence and boost investor trust.

AR First the new rules,
then the new money.


Harry Ramsden's
Harry Ramsden's
Fish and chips and mushy peas

FISH & CHIPS
To Go Global


Harry Ramsden's, the popular fish and chip chain, is about to close the first restaurant it opened, in Guiseley, Leeds, UK, in 1928.

CEO Joe Teixeira: "Whilst the Harry Ramsden's brand remains strong nationally, it is not immune from the challenging economic environment."

Food magnate Ranjit Boparan has acquired Harry Ramsden's chain and says he plans to expand it to a further 100 UK sites over the next five years and maybe export it to India and China.

AR Fish and chips yum yum!

Honey Money
Catherine Hakim

"Feminist theory often erects a false dichotomy: either a woman is valued for her human capital (her brains, education, work experience and dedication to her career) or she is valued for her erotic capital (her beauty, elegant figure, dress style, grace and charm). Women are not encouraged to do both."

Export Boom
Financial Times

The German business club BGA says German exports will rise by at least 6% in 2012.








Apocalypse
Financial Times

Germany is the only country in Europe that can act to save the eurozone and the wider European Union from "a crisis of apocalyptic proportions", warned Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski in Berlin on Monday.

2011 St. Andrew's Day

Good News
CNN Money

The Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan, the Bank of Canada, and the Swiss Central Bank announced a coordinated plan to lower prices on dollar liquidity swaps. A swap takes place when the Fed provides U.S. dollars to a foreign central bank in exchange for the equivalent amount of foreign currency. The plan is meant to "ease strains in financial markets and thereby mitigate the effects of such strains on the supply of credit to households and businesses and so help foster economic activity."

AR At last: a glimmer of sense from the financial hand of GOD.

Euro: IMF Hope
Spiegel Online

Eurozone finance ministers agreed on two levers to take the EFSF over €250 billion:

1 Raise insurance on government bond purchases to reduce
    investor risk.
2 Open the fund to investors outside the eurozone.

Leverage of 3 to 5 times is needed to finance Italy and Spain.
Ministers expect a max of 3. They hope the IMF can help out.

To drive down interest rates, eurobonds are a long-term solution.
A short-term fix is for the ECB to buy more bonds.

ABB Declared Insane
New Scientist

Forensic psychiatrists say Anders Breivik was insane when he killed 77 people in July. They say he had suffered for years from paranoid schizophrenia and was psychotic. If the verdict is confirmed, he will escape criminal charges and be committed to psychiatric care.

To meet the legal definition of insanity in most countries, the defendant would have to be proven to be psychotic to the point where they could no longer distinguish between legal definitions of right and wrong, and no longer appreciate the nature of their actions at the time of the offense.

Professor Paul Appelbaum, Columbia University, New York, says that even though Breivik carefully planned and executed the killings, he could still have lost contact with reality to the point that he was no longer in control of his own actions. If he felt he was fighting oppression, he might expect to be treated as a hero.

AR Breivik's manifesto shows he was psychotic but by everyday standards he was sane.

2011 November 29

German Europe
Richard J. Evans

Germany refuses to let the ECB print money. Quantitative easing would stimulate demand as people spend the extra currency.

Germans remember the Weimar Republic. The government printed money and in 1923 inflation spiraled out of control. The depression then destroyed the republic. Between 1943 and 1948, Germans ran a black market economy to survive under the threat of inflation. It took decades of hard work to create an economic miracle.

Germany will not let the ECB print money because of inflation. But entrenchment and austerity are deepening the recession. Fiscal discipline is all very well but we need to revive Europe.

AR The original (long) article went on about Nazis.

New Physics
New Scientist

Do neutrinos travel faster than light? Why is the universe dominated by matter not antimatter? Why is our universe so comfortable to physicists?

On neutrinos, we still await independent verification.

The CERN Large Hadron Collider reports that mesons decay differently from anti-mesons. If so, this would help explain why we have more matter than antimatter.

The existence of multiple universes solves the comfort problem by saying we just happen to live in one that's friendly to physicists.

Theorists say dents in the cosmic microwave background might show that our universe once collided with others. The ESA Planck satellite is looking for the dents.

AR At least the ESA knows how to spend our euros.

2011 November 28

Eurozone: Days to Collapse
Wolfgang Münchau

The banking sector is broken. Parts of Europe are cut off from credit. Contagion has reached the EFSF. The eurozone must:

1 Agree an ECB backstop and increase liquidity for banks to head off bankruptcy.

2 Set up a eurozone bond to end the insanity of cross-border national guarantees.

3 Form a fiscal union, with new institutions and partial loss of national sovereignty.

The European Commission produced a smart proposal last week. Angela Merkel can get her fiscal union but only with a eurobond. Then the problem is solved. Or we go down.

Europe Funding Freeze
Fubancial Times

The funding hole for European banks is deepening following a sharp fall in bond issuance. European banks have sold only two-thirds of the sum due to be returned to investors in 2011 as debts mature, leaving the banks with a $241 billion funding gap.

AR Creak, bang OMG I'm on the Titanic!

2011 November 27

Lecture by MIT Professor Frank Wilczek (Nobel Prize in Physics, 2004, for work on the basic theory of the strong force, QCD):
Quantum Beauty
Deutsch-Amerikanisches Institut, Heidelberg


Genesis
New Scientist

Three billion years ago on planet Earth, Luca (the last universal common ancestor) filled the oceans. Cells in the waters exchanged useful stuff in an open-source paradise to form a global organism.

A search in a database of proteins shows that almost one in ten protein structures are universal. Luca seems to have had enzymes to extract energy from nutrients and nanomachines to make proteins but not enzymes for making and reading DNA molecules.

Luca was made of cells with leaky isoprenoid membranes that let them share stuff. She probably also had organelles. Tiny granules in some archaea are precursors to modern acidocalcisomes, suggesting that these organelles date back to Luca.

Luca made lots of errors when she made proteins from gene templates. So early cells must have shared genes and proteins. Remnants of this gene-swapping system are seen in communities of microorganisms that can only survive in mixed communities. Any cells that dropped out of the global swap shop were doomed.

When cells learned to live independently about 2.9 billion years ago, Luca gave birth to the trinity of archaea, bacteria, and eukaryotes. The eukaryotes evolved into plants and animals.

AR Luca = Ur-Globorg

Manuel Bauer

Manuel Bauer was once a neo-Nazi thug, heavily involved in far-right paramilitary organizations and guilty of numerous assaults against foreigners and immigrants in Germany. He has since turned his back on the scene.

Pension Strikes
The Guardian

More than 2 million public sector workers are staging a nationwide strike over cuts to public sector pensions. The TUC said it was the biggest stoppage since the mass strike in 1979.

AR The 1979 "winter of discontent" was the event that put Margaret Thatcher in power.

Export Boom
Der Spiegel

This year, for the first time, German companies will export goods worth over €1 trillion.








Firepower
Financial Times

European leaders need to provide "credible and large enough firepower" to halt the sell-off in the eurozone sovereign debt market or they will risk a severe recession, sys OECD chief economist Pier Carlo Padoan.

Curiosity
NASA

Europe
Jürgen Habermas

Jürgen Habermas has no desire to see Europe consigned to the dustbin of world history. Europe is the project of his generation. The longer the crisis continues, the more confusing it gets.

Habermas calls the system that Merkel and Sarkozy have established during the crisis a post-democracy. The European Parliament has hardly any influence. The European Commission is not responsible for what it does. The European Council engages in politics without being authorized to do so. States are driven by the markets. Everything about Europe is topsy-turvy.

Habermas is an optimist. He believes in the rationality of the people. He believes in a public sphere that serves to make things better. He believes in the power of words and the rationality of discourse.

Meteor Bentley
BP
Meteor Bentley

Bob Petersen constructed this masterpiece on an original Bentley Phantom II chassis with bespoke coachwork by giving it a Rolls-Royce Meteor engine. The Meteor was derived from the legendary Merlin of Spitfire fame, in essence by leaving off the supercharger. The 27-litre V12 turns out a leisurely 660 bhp, ample for British tanks like the Centurion that once used it.

Twiggy, 62, was born Lesley Hornby and brought up in Neasden, London. At 16 she was discovered, nicknamed Twiggy, and declared "the face of 1966".

"You shouldn't want to be famous. You should want to be good at what you do."
Twiggy

e-volo

Fly e-volo!

The e-volo multicopter is an electric copter with 16 engines and propellers. Flight time is up to 30 minutes, depending on payload and battery charge. Its empty weight is 80 kg including the lithium batteries. Electricity for a full charge costs about €3.

The pilot uses a joystick to control attitude and direction in 3D via multiple fail-safe onboard computers for independent control of motor speeds. The software can be integrated with GPS or obstacle detection and can land the craft safely if up to four motors fail. The craft can even pack a safety parachute.

The End

QE Trillion
Financial Times

ECB president Mario Draghi says the eurozone crisis is political so he will not bail out anybody.
TFEU Article 123 says the ECB shall not give overdrafts to governments. But the ECB could launch a very large program of quantitative easing.

AR Print money?
Just say no.

V-22 Osprey
Pool photo
The Osprey takes off like Clark Kent and flies like Superman

V-22 Osprey
The New York Times

The Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey is a $70 million aircraft that Marines use for assaults in Afghanistan. After years of problems, its builders now run ads celebrating its 100 000 flight hours and say it is the safest Marine rotorcraft of the last ten years. Of the 458 Ospreys on order for U.S. forces, nearly 300 are in service or in production, with some $36 billion spent of a projected $54 billion.

AR Osprey Olé!


Breaking Dawn
Wired

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1 is a nerd movie if there ever was one. And geeks should get behind it. Breaking Dawn was made for a certain type of geek and it succeeds wildly at appealing to their needs.

Picking up where Eclipse left off, the film starts with the wedding of Edward and Bella. It goes on to the romantic honeymoon where, yes, hot, bed-breaking sex is had, many times. Bella then inexplicably becomes pregnant. Then things get freaky.

Breaking Dawn is an entertaining film. Yet it's still seen as largely uncool amongst geeks to like Twilight films. Twilight fans are predominantly women. If being a geek means loving what you love unabashedly, collecting all of its related schwag, attending the related conventions, and sleeping outside before a new film comes out, then Twihards are geeks of the highest caliber. Breaking Dawn isn't going to appeal to anyone who isn't already geeked out on the subject matter.

AR Uh?

German Growth
Spiegel Online

German GDP grew by 0.5% in Q3 over Q2. The Federal Statistical Office estimates that GDP grew by 2.6% compared with 2010 Q3. The office also revised its 2011 Q2 estimate upward from 0.1% to 0.3% of GDP.

Reasons for good growth:
1
Labor market developing
robustly
2
Interest rates on corporate
loans very low
3
Wages rising for millions
in Germany
4
Inflation forecast below 2%
for 2012


Untitled, Georg Herold
Gesamtkunstwerk:
New Art From Germany
Saatchi Gallery, London
2011-11-18 — 2012-04-30

Strengthen Europe
David Miliband

The British decision to repatriate powers is deluded and dangerous.

Britain needs an alliance
with Germany.

Britain needs to help move
the EU forward.

The eurozone crisis needs to be
a spur to budgetary reform.

Britain should be making the
Lisbon treaty work.

Britain needs a positive
vision for Europe.

Eva Braun
Eva Braun
Mrs Hitler
A new biography


Israel Won't Tell
Adrian Blomfield

President Obama was rebuffed last month when he demanded private guarantees from Israel that it would not launch a military strike against Iran without White House notification. In the wake of the IAEA report Israeli leaders have all but lost hope for a diplomatic solution.

IAEA Report on Iran

One, Two, Er

Rick Perry isn't letting a little "oops" bring him down. After his debate brainfreeze he went on a media blitz. Will he quit the race? Perry: "Oh, shoot, no. This ain't a day for quitting nothing."

AR Leader of the free world?
I wouldn't vote for him to be
town mayor.

2011 November 26

Sex Addiction
Newsweek

Sex addiction can destroy a life much as addictions to alcohol or drugs can. Substance abusers and sex addicts alike form a dependency on the neurotransmitter dopamine. Chronic masturbators who engage with online porn all day can suffer a hangover from the dopamine fall. An estimated 5% of the U.S. population could be sex addicts.

AR Is this simplistic neuroscience or a very American neurosis?

Buddhism Is Bad
John Horgan

Buddhism is not much more rational than the Catholicism. It espouses reincarnation and a law of moral cause and effect. Together, these tenets imply the existence of a cosmic judge.

Western Buddhists say Buddhism is a practical way to achieve happiness. The main vehicle for achieving enlightenment is meditation. But research shows meditation to be unreliable. It can reduce stress, but no more so than sitting still does.

Meditation leads to the idea that the self is an illusion. But this perspective may not transform you into a saint. Human suffering and death may appear trivial. Buddhists hold that enlightenment makes you morally infallible, but some Buddhist masters have behaved more like nihilists than saints.

Buddhism implies that detachment from ordinary life is the surest route to salvation. It exalts male monasticism as the epitome of spirituality. The concept of enlightenment suggests that life is a problem that can be solved and should be escaped.

Science tells us that we appeared by chance and we could vanish in the same way. This is not comforting, but science seeks truth.

Yoga Is Satanic
Father Gabriele Amorth

Vatican chief exorcist Father Gabriele Amorth says practicing yoga is Satanic and leads to evil, just like reading Harry Potter books. He says science is incapable of explaining evil and that sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church are proof that the Antichrist is at war against the Holy See.

European Transfer Union
Sebastian Mallaby

Germany is the eurozone winner and Club Med countries are losers. The currency union that caused pain in the periphery gave Germany its export boom. And once the euro crisis began, Germany enjoyed the stimulus of capital inflows from the periphery. European currency union involves transfers. Germans need to rescue it.

United States of Europe, Part 2

2011 November 25

Simply Baroque!
Dorothee Oberlinger and the La Folia Baroque orchestra played
works by Händel, Sammartini, Telemann, Vivaldi, and Corelli
in the Mozart Theatre, Schwetzingen Palace

Eurofix
Financial Times

Leaders of the Eurozone big powers (D, F, I) made tougher fiscal governance a top priority in their battle to stem the sovereign debt crisis. Their performance failed to impress the market. Angela Merkel (D) and Mario Monti (I) spoke of creating a fiscal union to drive economic integration and enforce budgetary discipline.

AR Ignore the market and do it right, but do it fast.

Nothing
Brian Greene

Isaac Newton imagined two rocks tied together with a string whirling around their common center. The string pulls taut. But how can we explain the taut string if the rocks are spinning in an otherwise empty universe? Newton concluded that the string pulls taut because the rocks are moving relative to empty space absolute nothing.

Albert Einstein was puzzled by gravity. How does the sun keep the Earth tethered in orbit? His answer was that space and time warp in response to the presence of matter and energy, which guides the motion of objects like the Earth. Einstein concluded that gravity is the shape of spacetime relative nothing.

Quantum mechanics implies that some features of the microworld are subject to random fluctuations. In a region of space that seems empty, such quantum fluctuations make particles pop in and out of existence and fields fluctuate wildly. Two metal plates close together in otherwise empty space are forced together by an imbalance in the quantum jitters outside and between them quantum nothing.

This year's Nobel prize in physics is for three astronomers who discovered that the expansion of space is accelerating. The prizewinning data suggests an unseen energy permeating space called dark energy that yields a repulsive gravitational push. Its identity remains a mystery. Most of the mass of the universe is in dark energy cosmic nothing.

The Large Hadron Collider is being used to find evidence for the Higgs field, which is believed to permeate empty space. Instead of driving the expansion of space, the Higgs would exert a drag on particles, giving them their mass. According to theory, colliding protons should produce a Higgs particle a dot of nothing.

2011 November 24

The New Crisis
Spiegel Online

The eurozone is in crisis. Investors are no longer buying sovereign bonds. Banks holding them are in trouble. States can no longer expect capital markets to finance their budgets.

European banks are doing all they can to clear their books of state bonds. Most of the bonds have likely landed with the ECB, which now holds €195 billion in bonds but doesn't want more.

The comparison with 2008 is frightening. The crisis has eaten deep into the credit system and the situation is unsustainable. A loss of faith in European sovereign bonds could lead to a death spiral.

The German government has the key. Germany is the only eurozone country that investors still trust. Either Germany guarantees eurozone debt via eurobonds or the ECB buys bonds from debtors. There is no other way.

German Bond Failure
Financial Times

A German bond auction Wednesday was a "disaster" nervous buyers fear the eurozone debt crisis is spreading to Berlin.

AR Oops.

Three Pillars of Union
Manfred Schepers

European leaders should build a permanent structure for eurozone governance. The new structure must assign responsibilities clearly. My proposal:

1 ECB: The European Central Bank safeguards monetary, financial, and price stability as the lender of last resort to the eurozone banking system, but not to sovereigns.

2 EMF: A European monetary fund oversees medium term debt sustainability by assessing performance, providing support, and policing reform.

3 EDA: A European debt agency finances eurozone member states by issuing eurozone sovereign debt, mutualized only to a level consistent with medium term sustainability.

Changing the EU treaty to establish the EMF and EDA will take time. In the interim, the ECB can fund the EFSF to buy sovereign bonds that later go to the EDA.

AR Can the ECB fund the EFSF?

2011 November 23

Eurozone Unite!
Martin Wolf

The eurozone confronts three challenges:

1 Manage illiquidity in public debt markets. Vulnerable countries cannot prevail with austerity. Interest rates must be capped. The countries will still curb their deficits and lower their debts.

2 Reverse divergence in competitiveness. Peripheral countries must become more competitive. More inflation in partner countries would help them. Too much price stability can be lethal.

3 Ensure stabler economic relationships within the eurozone. The financial sector needs a common regulator and fiscal authority and could use a unified bond market. Eurozone policies need discipline.

AR Memo to Merkel: Your call.

How Good Are German Finances?
Spiegel Online

German national debt is too high. The Maastricht Treaty required governments to bring the ratio of debt to GDP down to the 60%. The German debt ratio is over 80%, only average compared to other EU countries. Even Spain is below 80%.

The primary balance (PB) is the difference between government revenues excluding new debt and government spending excluding debt service costs. If the PB is positive, a country can cover its expenses and meet its obligations. If it is negative, the country faces a growing mountain of debt. To support bailout programs, donor countries expect recipient countries to get PB surpluses.

From 2002 to 2006, the German PB was in deficit. Italy generated a surplus in the same period, and projects a surplus of 4.4% in 2013. Germany expects a surplus of 1.5% in 2013. If yields on German government bonds increased by only 1%, Germany would have to pay €20 billion more in the medium term, but already new German borrowing is only about €10 billion below its limit.

AR Politics trumps economics. If EU rules are (a) sound and (b) followed, yields will go down and smiles return.

2011 November 22

UK Misses Debt Targets
The Times

David Cameron: "Getting debt under control is proving harder than anyone envisaged."

AR Spending cuts alone are not enough. Get people working at something useful. There are surely enough infrastructure and service projects to keep a few million people off the streets. If the finance sector can't find a way to pay them a living wage while they work, tax the financial parasites into exile. The illusion that financial services could save the British economy was what got Britain into this mess in the first place. Hard work on projects that add substantial value — that's the way out.

End Top Pay Deals
Financial Times

UK High Pay Commission recommendations:
1 Restrict top pay to basic salary + discretionary award of shares
2 Represent employees on remuneration committees
3 Publish total pay earned by an executive
4 Publish pay ratio of top-paid executive to company median

AR Publish the facts and shame the pigs.

Lecture by Sir Ian Kershaw:
Das Ende — Kampf bis in den Untergang
NS-Deutschland 1944/45
Deutsch-Amerikanisches Institut, Heidelberg

The end of the Third Reich is puzzling. How can we explain the extraordinary cohesion of German society right up to the bitter end? The most obvious explanation — that people really did believe in Him — begs the question: why?

AR Sir Ian wrote the definitive biography of Hitler.
      I read the thousand-page short edition in 2009.

2011 November 21

German Far-Right Threat
Spiegel Online

Today the German parliament debates far-right violence in Germany. Government statistics show 46 homicides committed by right-wing extremists between 1990 and 2008. Journalists have compiled a list of at least 147 dead to date since 1990.

The Federal Court of Justice demands strict proof in convictions for homicide based on political motives. Such convictions are likely to be reversed on appeal. In some regions, politicians and the police have collaborated to play down right-wing extremism.

The Justice Minister proposes consolidating the state branches of the domestic intelligence agency. And politicians are discussing a new attempt to ban the NPD. The last attempt failed in 2001, when it turned out that NPD functionaries had worked in intelligence.

AR Get tougher. Zero tolerance.

Splendid Little England
Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon

Britain could have joined the euro in 1997. Instead it devalued and borrowed. Now it not only has to improve competitiveness and produce goods the world will buy but also has to cut a huge deficit. Britain could have helped build a better eurozone.

Britain has now lost its influence in Europe. The PM will swear to defend Britain but achieve too little. Euro members will favor the ins against the outs. A referendum in England will reach a foregone conclusion. Another referendum may let Scotland go its own way.

AR Paddy has a case. If Britain had joined the euro, it would probably now be economically somewhere between France and Germany. Britons would be struggling to keep up with Germany and to keep their AAA rating. British exposure to Club Med debt would be their worst problem. Instead, Brits now watch Europe fall apart, as it did a hundred years ago. If it does, we all go down.

2011 November 20

Lecture by Professor Olga Holtz:
Mathematics as Aesthetics
Deutsch-Amerikanisches Institut, Heidelberg

Mathematics is a science that has a lot to do with creativity and aesthetics. Olga Holtz was born in Chelyabinsk, Russia, in 1973. She is a winner of the Sofja Kovalevskaja Award and a Professor of Mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley, a Professor of Applied Mathematics at the Technical University Berlin, and a Professor at the Berlin Mathematical School.

David and Angela
The Times

David Cameron's call for a "big bazooka" to blast the euro crisis misfired in Berlin. He pushed for the ECB to print money to save the single currency but Angela Merkel argued for "limited" treaty changes. Cameron repeated calls for "decisive" eurozone action, Merkel insisted on a "step-by-step" approach. The PM said a big bazooka was a "Superwaffe" but was told he had the wrong word.

AR I think David will find the correct word is "Panzerfaust" (lit. "armored fist") but I think Angela will agree that's the last thing we need in Europe right now.

2011 November 19

Britain Versus Germany
The Independent

David Cameron and Angela Merkel struggled to disguise the gulf between them on how to tackle the eurozone crisis. They have fundamental differences on three key issues:

1 New eurozone rules. Merkel wants limited treaty changes negotiated by eurozone members. Cameron wants Britain involved because of the potential impact on the UK.

2 ECB intervention to support the eurozone. Merkel says no, it would fuel inflation. Cameron says all eurozone institutions must do what they can.

3 Taxing financial transactions within the EU. Merkel supports this. Cameron says it can only work if applied globally.

Wolfgang Schäuble: "One day the whole of Europe will have a single currency and perhaps it will happen more quickly than many people on the British island think."

GEHÖREN DIE BRITEN NOCH ZUR EU?
Bild Zeitung

Bei der Euro-Rettung stehen die Briten abseits — und auf der Insel wird immer lauter gegen die EU gestänkert.

Jüngster Anlass: Die Kritik von CDU/CSU-Fraktionschef Volker Kauder am Nein Londons zur EU-Finanzmarkttransaktionssteuer, die u. a. die Banken an den Kosten der Krise beteiligen soll.

O-Ton Kauder: "Nur den eigenen Vorteil suchen zu wollen und nicht bereit sein, sich auch einzubringen, das lassen wir den Briten nicht durchgehen. In Europa wird wieder Deutsch gesprochen."


United States of Europe
Spiegel Online

Former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer wants eurozone countries to form a powerful block in the European Union as an "avant-garde of the United States of Europe."

Fischer: "When the others see how successfully the avant-garde operates, many will want to participate." It would be a major step toward the United States of Europe.

A European federal state would go far beyond the Europe of the Lisbon Treaty. The Brussels technocracy would be replaced by political institutions with the power to shape economic and social policy for all of Europe. This can only work if what happens at the European level is both fair and democratic.

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso was wrong to tell the European Parliament that his commission was the economic government of the union. Europe can run without Barroso.

The most important decisions on rescuing the euro were hammered out by national leaders. Merkozy presented the Brussels machine with a fait accompli.

>> My longer cut

2011 November 18

German Euro Policy
Guido Westerwelle

The eurozone is the economic backbone of the European Union. An erosion of the eurozone would jeopardize Europe as a political project. Stabilizing the eurozone is in the interest of all 27 EU member states, not least the UK.

1 Tackle the immediate crisis. Protect states and banks from contagion. This includes reform of the national economies in crisis. Saving the euro by sacrificing monetary stability would be a mistake. Printing money would raise inflation and dissipate incentives for reform. Price stability is of paramount importance.

2 Plan for competitiveness and growth. Complete the single market by extending it to growing sectors and create a more enterprise-friendly environment. Emphasize innovation, education, and research in EU budgets. Coordinate economic and financial policies more closely.

3 Upgrade the monetary union to a stability union. Sound budgeting is in the interest of Europe as a whole. We need a treaty change to strengthen the economic and currency union. The eurozone needs deeper integration through tighter economic governance and tougher rules for the stability pact.

The British Disease
Spiegel Online

The UK has problems. Unemployment stands at 2.62 million, 8.3%, a million of them under 25, which is 1 in 5 young people. Inflation is over 5%, consumer confidence is at an all time low. Economists talk about a possible relapse into recession.

The Bank of England now forecasts just 1% economic growth in the next two years. The Cameron government needs an economic rebound to reduce the budget deficit. The Labour Party calls for government investment to stimulate the economy.

Currently the risk premium on UK government bonds is no higher than that on German bonds, despite deeper debt and lower growth prospects. But British banks are sitting on their money and small business owners face a credit crunch.

The British economy has serious imbalances. London and its financial sector have weathered the crisis but the rest of the country suffers. As jobs in manufacturing industry were lost, jobs in the new service economy were supposed to replace them, but in many places this did not occur. The diversified German economy is held up as a shining example.

Speedy Neutrinos
Financial Times

Physicists have new evidence to support the claim that neutrinos travel faster than light. They carried out new experiments to rule out possible sources of error as they shot beams of neutrinos from CERN near Geneva to Gran Sasso in Italy. This time they sent neutrinos in short 3 ns bursts. This let them measure their time of flight more accurately. The neutrinos still arrived 60 ns sooner than expected. More experiments will run next year. The result needs to be confirmed independently elsewhere. A team at Fermilab near Chicago will shoot neutrinos to Minnesota.

2011 November 17

TOP Thieves
The New York Review of Books

The One Percent issue is runaway incomes at the very top. Much of this income comes from financial investments, stock options, and other special financial benefits available to the exceptionally rich, who are often taxed at very low rates.

Over the past few decades, almost all the gains for the top 20% were for TOP earners. And half of TOP gains were by the top tenth of TOP (TTT). For earners in the band 80% to 99% the share rose only slightly, and the share for the bottom 80% fell.

Three out of five in the TTT are executives or managers of financial and non-financial companies. All of them are paid in part in stock options. Many TTT earners are lawyers who make money from Wall Street. TTT executives manage their businesses to push up their stock prices. Many cut labor costs and R&D to boost short-term profits.

The United States is more polarized than other countries. American boards give their CEOs and other high level executives big raises and generous stock options. The executives keep wages down to push up stock prices. Corporate takeovers and leveraged buyouts build up cash flow by cutting expenses to pay off the debt they took on for their acquisitions.

Wall Street used to work for business, but now it wastes hundreds of billions in speculation and gambling. Occupy Wall Street is right.

Cold Atoms
New Scientist

Quantum physics lets cold atoms get together to form molecules. UCLA physicist Wade Rellergert and colleagues studied the interaction of calcium atoms with ytterbium ions. At room temperature, either the two elements stay apart or an ytterbium ion takes an electron from a calcium atom. The team cooled the atoms to 4 mK and found that calcium atoms were pairing up with ytterbium ions. At room temperature, calcium atoms move around so fast that an electrons rarely jump onto ytterbium ions. But at ultracold temperatures, an electron can blur out over both a calcium atom and an ytterbium ion. The pair may then emit a photon and relax as a molecule.

Wet Chips
New Scientist

IBM researchers have invented a new type of computer chip that is both powered and cooled by fluid pumping through it. The idea is to stack hundreds of silicon wafers on top of each other to create 3D processors. Between each layer is a pair of fluidic networks: one carrying in charged fluid to power the chip, one carrying away the same fluid after it has picked up heat. The new approach should shrink machines and reduce power consumption.

2011 November 16

Europe
Martin Wolf

Two thousand years ago, half of humanity was under the control of the Roman and Han empires. The Han empire is reborn as the People's Republic of China. The rebirth of the Roman empire is the dream behind the European Union.

Germans believe a united Europe is in the German interest. Chancellor Merkel seems to be following a "just enough, just in time" strategy. [jujitsu — AR]

Italy may need to tighten fiscal policy by more than 5% of GDP to bring public debt down from 120% of GDP. Austerity is not enough. Italy needs export-led growth, but this will take time.

The Monti government needs:
1 Financing to roll over a trillion euros of debt
2 Profitable and dynamic external markets
3 Credible strengthening of the political union

Germany has the power. Now it must take charge.

2011 November 15

No Nuclear Iran
Tzipi Livni

Iran poses a serious threat. Its people have suffered for too long under a repressive regime that holds basic human rights hostage to religious extremists. Now is the time for the international community to stand together and confront the threat.

Biologism
Raymond Tallis

Biologism is the dual claim that the mind is the brain and that Darwinism explains human behavior. If the brain is an evolved organ, then the mind is a cluster of apps or modules securing the replication of our genes.

A brain in good working order is necessary for human consciousness, but many aspects of everyday human consciousness elude neural reduction. A community of minds cannot be inspected by looking at the activity of the solitary brain.

Terrence Deacon says we are influenced by "absentials" such as beliefs and possible states or events. Living organisms are shaped and defined by the constraints placed on their development. Mind emerged not from matter but from the constraints on matter.

Michael Gazzaniga says mental activity is not reducible to neural events. Minds emerge from the group interactions of many brains. The community of minds is where our human consciousness is to be found. We are people, not just neural machines or smart apes.

AR Consciousness in community — this is good. The absential halo invites the quantum treatment I sketched in Mindworlds.

Greece and Italy
Gideon Rachman

Greek PM Lucas Papademos and Italian PM Mario Monti are at home in the world of yield curves and markets. We must hope they can work miracles. For if they fail, the extremists are waiting.

Collectively, the political extremes in Greece now muster more support than either of the two mainstream parties. And Italy is no stranger to powerful communist and far right movements. In the other nations of Europe, rising radical parties rail against elites and are hostile to globalization and immigration. All the populists are deeply sceptical of the European Union.

Across Europe, there is no extreme party that looks close to winning power. But imagine what would happen if banks started to collapse, people lost their savings and their jobs, and there was another deep recession. Voters would turn to the extremists.

BARF: The Brown Army Faction
Spiegel Online

A bomb wrecked a house a week ago in Zwickau. Z left the house shortly before the explosion and disappeared. Hours earlier, M and B robbed a bank and then shot themselves in a burning vehicle.

Police found four DVDs in the wreckage. A video by the National Socialist Underground (NSU) was burned onto them. The authors form a network of comrades who value action above words.

The BMZ trio may be the hard core of a Brown Army Faction. This sort of terrorism was last seen forty years ago with the Red Army Faction. For each of its attacks, the RAF wrote a letter explaining why they killed their latest victim. BARF fits the pattern.

2011 November 14

Romney On Iran
The Times

Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney says America must be ready to go to war with Iran. He hints that the outcome of the 2012 presidential election will be decisive: "If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if we elect Mitt Romney — if you elect me as the next President — they will not have a nuclear weapon." He said America must not shirk its responsibility as leader of the free world: "If all else fails ... Then of course you take military action."

AR Right on, Mitt.

Fixing Italy
Financial Times

Italy and Europe can now look forward to a new administration led by Mario Monti. It must rebuild confidence among investors and allies by fixing both the Italian economy and the broken trust between voters and politicians. The new team must reform the labour market, open up the service sector, change the tax system, and try to balance the budget and reduce the debt burden.

02011-11-13

Confidence Man
Ezra Klein

In 2008, Barack Obama was presented with an economic crisis of astonishing severity. He underestimated it. Almost everyone did. But then the problem was political. Having passed a very big policy that you promised would revive the economy, the country blames you when the economy does not revive. Barack Obama was the greatest confidence man of the last few years. He gave America hope. He made America believe he could deliver change. But the president needs to do more than lead. He needs to govern.

APEC TPP

President Obama said at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Honolulu that the new Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with eight other Pacific states can be a model for future trade agreements elsewhere. The TPP will ensure that state-owned enterprises compete fairly with private companies and will address digital technologies. The 21 members of APEC account for 55% of global GDP, 43% of world trade, and 58% of U.S. exports.

AR Europe is fading — long live Globorg!

2011 Wellcome Trust Science Writing Prizewinner
The Nocebo Effect
Penny Sarchet

The nocebo effect is the flip-side to the placebo effect. When volunteers feel nocebo pain, brain scans show they really are responding to neurological pain. One of the neurochemicals responsible for converting the expectation of pain into pain perception is cholecystokinin. When drugs block cholecystokinin from functioning, patients feel no nocebo pain. But telling volunteers who had been given a strong opioid painkiller that the drug had now worn off was enough for their pain to return.

If doctors try to avoid lawsuits by overemphasizing side-effects to their patients, the nocebo effect can cause a treatment to fail before it has begun. Many illnesses like allergies or back pain could be physiological in some people and nocebo effects in others. We should think twice before medicalizing them. We should not build up our everyday worries into psychological syndromes and we should make health warnings on new drugs specific and accurate.

AR This is my short cut of a much longer essay.

02011-11-12

Ten thousand year clock
Photo: Rolfe Horn
The Ten Thousand Year Clock
IEEE Spectrum

The 10 000 Year Clock is a monument-size mechanical clock designed to measure time for ten millennia. Designed by MIT engineer and Thinking Machines supercomputer guru Danny Hillis, the clock is the flagship project of his Long Now Foundation, founded in 01996 with help from Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos.

02011-11-11

Simply Baroque!
Jan Vogler and the La Folia Baroque orchestra played
works by Händel, C.P.E. Bach, Fasch, and Telemann
in the Mozart Theatre, Schwetzingen Palace

AR Simply heavenly!

The Big Lie
Barry Ritholtz

Wall Street has a Big Lie. It is that banks and investment houses are merely victims of the crash. The entire boom and bust was caused by misguided government policies. It was not irresponsible lending or derivative or excess leverage or misguided compensation packages, but housing policies that were at fault.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg built Bloomberg Data Services on the notion that data are what matter most to investors. He put the Big Lie like this: "It was not the banks that created the mortgage crisis. It was, plain and simple, Congress who forced everybody to go and give mortgages to people who were on the cusp."

Banks present a systemic risk to the economy, but reducing that risk by lowering their leverage and increasing capital requirements lowers profitability. Congress deregulated the financial sector and the Fed turned a blind eye to bank abuses. The Big Lie is that free markets require no adult supervision.

The One Percent
George Monbiot

TOP people have extraordinary intelligence or creativity or drive, they say. Nobel economics laureate and psychologist Daniel Kahneman studied the performance of wealth advisers and found that those who got the biggest bonuses had just got lucky. Wall Street traders and fund managers are paid millions for gambling.

In another study, senior British managers and CEOs were tested against patients at Broadmoor hospital for the criminally insane. The bosses were often worse than the patients. Egocentricity, a sense of entitlement, a readiness to exploit others, and a lack of empathy and conscience are good for business.

Not all executives are psychopaths. But the economy has been rewarding the wrong skills. Chief executives are paid sums out of all proportion to the work they do or the value they generate. They are no more deserving of their wealth than oil sheikhs.

TOP bandits have been stealing our wealth for decades. In the United States between 1947 and 1979, both productivity and the income of the bottom fifth of the population rose by about 120%. From 1979 to 2009, productivity rose by 80% and the income of the bottom fifth actually fell, but TOP income nearly trebled.

AR We 99ers need to get angry.

Europe
Timothy Garton Ash

The economic and financial crisis is accelerating the shift in the balance of power from West to East. The West is now forced to ask the Chinese to invest and purchase government bonds. But this is not the Red Army. The Chinese are showing up not with tanks but with investments.

We have to build this Europe with the material we have at our disposal. And this material is national democracy. Today, the key to Europe's renewal lies in the national democracies. We should apply Churchill's words about democracy to Europe: We have the worst of all Europes, except for all those others that have been tried.

For the first time in its history, Europe has a union of politics, economics, and security policy, in which most people are free and also enjoy prosperity, freedom of movement, and social justice.




Priestmangoode
Moving Platforms
Priestmangoode

Future rail travel can use a rail infrastructure where local trams connect to a network of non-stop high speed trains enabling passengers to travel from their local stop to a local address at their destination (even far away) without getting off a train.

A tram picks you up from your local stop, runs fast alongside a high speed train, and docks to let you cross. Near your destination, you cross to another docked tram and ride to your destination. The high speed train need never stop. This reduces journey times.

Economics Is No Science
Stephen Cave

Behavioral economists think policymakers need better models of human behavior.

Economists try to keep up with psychology but research on human irrationality suggests they are still way behind.

We have evolved to inflate our achievements, play down our failings, and rationalize away our mistakes.

Neuroscience shows that the structures of our brain are ill adapted for modern life.

Economics should be rebuilt on evolutionary biology.


In the last year of World War II, as many people died in Europe as on all military fronts throughout all of World War I.
Ian Kershaw


LEGO
The Lego Technic 1/12 model of the Unimog has 2048 pieces.
Price ca €160

Olga Holtz
OH
Olga Holtz

Sex And Porn
Slate

Sex education should value sexual pleasure. If teenagers don't learn much about sex beyond how to use a condom from trusted adults, they're going to turn to porn. And porn is no good on women's pleasure.


 

QE Prize for Engineering
The Times

The Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, announced today, will be awarded for an engineering achievement that an international panel of judges decides has created the most significant benefit to humanity.

The £1 million prize will be:
1
First awarded in 2013
then biennially
2
Shared by up to three people
of any nationality
3
Not awarded
posthumously
4
Managed by the Royal
Academy of Engineering

UK Libel Law Reform
libelreform.org

Campaigners crowded in the House of Commons to press MPs to reform the libel laws in the public interest.

AR MPs: Just do it, now.

Strengthen Europe
Angela Merkel

It is time for a breakthrough
to a new Europe.

Our task is to complete economic and monetary union.

If the euro fails, then
Europe will fail.

We need a rescue fund to
hold the euro together.
 
We need to build a firewall if Greece reschedules its debts.

We need better budgetary control throughout the eurozone.


Tracey Emin
The Sunday Times

The Royal Academician and recent Visionary victor at the Women of the Year awards, met the Queen on Friday.

AR This counts as news in the British Sunday papers.

 

Market Spikes Rescue

Market upheaval in Europe has made it difficult to increase the firepower of the eurozone rescue fund to the trillion euros that leaders wanted. Luring investors back by offering insurance on losses will be expensive.

AR Leaders must supply vision. Then investors will risk losses.

Passchendaele, 1917
Imperial War Museum
Passchendaele, 1917

Cool To Be Kind

When you perform an act of kindness your brain produces dopamine, associated with positive thinking, and endogenous opioids that make you feel good. If you do an act of kindness face-to-face with someone, your body produces oxytocin, the bonding hormone. Kindness benefits your blood pressure and your nervous system.

November 13 is
World Kindness Day

Lightning Delays
Wired

The U.S. Air Force has confirmed that the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II probably won't be ready for combat until 2018. The new fighter has been beset by parts failures, design changes, and a 64% increase in overall cost since development began in 2001. At nearly $400 billion and counting, the program still needs thousands more test flights before the first batch of regular pilots can begin training. The effects of the delay are cascading through the USAF. The Force must keep its cold-war-era F-15s and F-16s in service far longer than originally planned.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Activision
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Latest instalment of the best- selling game franchise ever

Clocks
New Scientist

Nuclear clocks could be 60 times as accurate as atomic clocks. The idea is to use an atomic nucleus as a tuning fork. A nucleus jumps up and down between energy states only when primed with a specific frequency of light. Tuning a laser to prime it sets the frequency with high precision. Atomic clocks are similar but electrons do the jumping. The most accurate atomic clocks drift by an amount equivalent to 4 seconds since the big bang (1 part in 10^17). A nuclear clock based on thorium would drift by 1 second in 200 billion years.

Big Bang Boom
The Observer

A California TV comedy is being credited with making physics "cool" among British teenagers. There has been a 10% boom in the number of students accepted to read physics since 2008/09, when The Big Bang Theory was first broadcast in the UK.

Fast Young Pulsar
New Scientist

Millisecond pulsar J1823-3021A is 25 million years old, spins 185 times per second, and is 28 000 light years away. The NASA Fermi space telescope has confirmed from its copious gamma rays that it is losing energy fast. Pulsars are neutron stars that beam signals like lighthouses. Millisecond pulsars are supernova remnants that spin fast. Most seen so far are about a billion years old.

End Times
Niall Ferguson

The great divergence began half a millennium ago. Westerners got richer than everyone else. A century ago, a few Western empires controlled most of the world and its riches. The gap between the West and the Rest widened until thirty-odd years ago. Now it is shrinking fast.

The West surged ahead
thanks to six killer apps:
Competition
The scientific revolution
The rule of law
Modern medicine
The consumer society
The work ethic

Western predominance is ending on our watch.
The Rest has figured out
how to download the apps.

TED talk video
Niall Ferguson

Greek PM scraps
referendum plan
FT 1611 GMT

Yes Or No Aid
Financial Times

European leaders suspend aid to Athens and issue an ultimatum. Under pressure from France and Germany, Greek PM Papandreou accepts an early referendum on eurozone membership.

Turkey Versus Greece
The Times

Turkey is hurtling toward a military showdown in the eastern Mediterranean as it steps up gas exploration in the region. The dispute pits Turkey against fellow NATO member Greece, and could drag in Israel, Syria and Iran.

Greek Cypriot diplomat Andreas Mavroyiannis: "They want to draw a straight line across the eastern Mediterranean with Turkey controlling the upper bit, Egypt the lower and no room for anybody else."

The Levant Basin could contain the equivalent of 20 billion barrels of oil. Turkey wants a bonanza and has threatened to break off relations with the European Union if there is no deal over Cyprus by next summer.

If there is a big find, Europe could work it jointly with Israel. But Israel fears its installations would be targeted by Hezbollah or Hamas, acting as proxies for Iran.

AR A plan for Europe: Throw Turkey out of NATO, relocate all our Afghan forces to Cyprus, put massive backup forces into Greece, base a large naval task force in Israel, claim the entire gas field as EU-Israeli property, and fight off any Turks or Arabs who try to stop us.

Good: Europe gains energy.

Bad: Military costs escalate.

Ugly: Muslim minorities riot.

2011 November 10

Italy May Go Down
Nouriel Roubini

Italy may soon lose market access. This could lead to a forced restructuring of its public debt of €1.9 trillion. That would not solve its flow problems. Italy may need to exit the eurozone. Italy and other illiquid sovereigns need a big bazooka. But there is none.

Italy needs a primary surplus of over 5% of GDP just to cap its debt. Output is in free fall and the austerity that Germany and the ECB are imposing will make the debt worse. Restructuring the debt won't restore growth and competitiveness.

To head off disaster:
1 Make the ECB an unlimited lender of last resort
2 Let the euro fall to parity with the dollar
3 Give the eurozone core a fiscal stimulus
4 Impose austerity in the eurozone periphery

The Origin of Sex
Thierry Lodé

My theory is that sex originated from an archaic horizontal gene transfer process among prebiotic bubbles on the ocean surface. Bubbles exchanged genetic material freely, leading to more bubbles with membranes allowing meiotic recombination of DNA. Bubbles exchanging genes were selected for adaptive variation. Primitive interactions selected the most libertine bubbles.

2011 November 9

Five Reasons Not To Bomb Iran
Foreign Policy

1 There's no good end state. Striking Iranian nuclear sites is like mowing the grass. Even in the best case, the Iranians would react with the kind of legitimacy and urgency that can only come from an attack by an outside power.

2 No one can prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon except Iran. Denying Iran a weapon means changing the national calculation and motivation of a power that historically has imagined itself as a great nation.

3 There are severe costs to the United States. The price of oil would spike exponentially. The Iranian capacity to wage a clandestine war against American and Israeli interests across the Mideast is formidable.

4 It will legitimize and popularize Iran in the Mideast. Sanctions may never stop the Iranians but they do have some impact. An Israeli attack could undermine all that good work and would enrage the Arab street.

5 If the Israelis strike, the United States is involved. Tehran will assume that the attack was coordinated with the United States. The United States is involved in two wars in two Muslim countries. The last thing it needs is another one.

Eurozone Exit
Martin Wolf

Greece would introduce a new drachma. New contracts executed under Greek law and taxes and spending in Greece would be in this currency. Existing contracts would stay in euros. Banks would have legacy euro accounts and new drachma accounts. The market would set the drachma-euro exchange rate.

The Greek government would strive for fiscal balance. Its central bank would manage the drachma. Hyperinflation could be avoided with external support. Public and private default on euro liabilities would be massive. But the only way to avoid contagion is for the eurozone to grow its way out of the crisis.

Berlusconi To Go
Financial Times

Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi pledged to resign after parliament passes a new financial stability law that will implement fresh austerity measures demanded by the European Union. After his announcement share prices rose worldwide and the euro rallied.

AR An austere Italy without SB — new hope dawns.

2011 November 8

Unconscious Knowledge
David Eagleman

There is a gap between what your brain can do and what you can tap into consciously. Some experts can rapidly ascertain the sex of one-day-old chicks, based on very subtle visual cues, but they cannot say what those cues are. They look at the chick's rear and just know the correct bin to throw it in. The experts teach student sexers by standing over them as they pick up a chick, examine its rear, and toss it into one bin or the other. The master gives feedback: yes or no. Weeks later, the student is trained.

During World War II, under threat of bombings, the British needed good aircraft spotters. The government tasked the best spotters with training others, but the spotters were unable to explain their strategies. So new spotters were trained by trial and error. A novice would hazard a guess and an expert would say yes or no. Eventually the novices became experts.

Patients with anterograde amnesia cannot consciously recall new experiences. If you spend an afternoon trying to teach them a game, they will say the next day that they can't recall the session. But their performance on the game improves just as much as nonamnesiacs. Their brains learn the game but the knowledge is not accessible to their consciousness. Essentially everything about your interaction with the world rests on this process.

Mental Disorders
New Scientist

In the industrialised world, roughly 1 person in every 25 has severe mental disorder, and nearly half of us will experience some kind of mental illness during our lives.

Conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and autism, are at least in part inherited. Perhaps natural selection has not eliminated them because they were once advantageous to humanity.

The stone-age tool revolution around 100 000 years ago may have been triggered by people with traits on the autism spectrum, who can be systematic and cherish precision. By about 35 000 years ago modern humans were painting pictures on cave walls that resemble the drawings of some autistic people.

Evidence of religion and spirituality also appear during this period. Shamans painted some of the cave art, and modern shamans tend to be unusual and creative people, who may have schizophrenic traits and often appear to have had mood disorders.

Complex emotions such as compassion set us apart from other species. Neanderthal shared almost all their genes with modern humans, but they carried subtly different forms of genes associated with autism and schizophrenia.

Researchers call such genes orchid genes: nurture them and the carrier thrives, neglect them and a maladaptive trait appears.

2011 November 7

Bombing Iran
Tony Karon

This week the International Atomic Energy Agency is expected to reveal that the Islamic Republic's nuclear program may include a "possible military dimension" enabling Tehran to build nuclear weapons, and that Iran may have conducted work on warhead design and experiments on triggering systems for nuclear weapons.

Israeli headlines last week featured leaked accounts of fierce debates about bombing Iran and warnings that Israel could start a war without first consulting Washington. Media spectacles included a long-range missile test, a long-distance Israeli Air Force exercise, and a civil defense drill.

Intelligence correspondents say the war talk is part of a strategy to raise pressure on Iran. But former Mossad chief Ephraim Halevy said Iran represents no existential threat to Israel. New Mossad chief Meir Dagan dismissed bombing Iran as "the stupidest idea I've ever heard" and said Israel could not win the resultant war.

Tragedy of the Commons
Financial Times

Last week the U.S. Senate killed a $60 billion bill to upgrade America's infrastructure. Republicans objected that it would be funded by a 0.7% surtax on millionaires. In 2005 Republicans on Capitol Hill passed a $280 billion Highways Act stuffed with boondoggles. Those were the good old days.

Even U.S. aviation and internet infrastructure is outdated. Last week Washington scrapped a plan to fund a satellite-based air traffic system to replace antiquated radars. Car drivers with satellite navigation systems are years ahead of the aircraft above them. As for the internet, the OECD says average U.S. home connection speed ranks 29th out of its 34 members. Some countries, such as France, Japan, and Sweden, offer speeds more than four times greater than what U.S. citizens endure.

The United States would need to spend more than $2 trillion in the next five years to maintain its existing infrastructure. Obama could find a new way to fund the infrastructure bank but instead he let Republicans vote against a minor surcharge on millionaires. It might work politically but it is bad news for U.S. competitiveness.

2011 November 6

Defending German Sloth
Fareed Zakaria

Europe created a single currency without adequate fiscal policy coordination. Now Germany is trying to force countries like Greece to enact meaningful reforms. If the Germans guarantee eurozone debt, financial panic would end but countries like Greece and Portugal would feel no pressure to balance their budgets, repair their fiscal houses, or become competitive.

Germany is trying to force as much reform in debtor countries as possible in part for political reasons. German taxpayers would revolt if Chancellor Merkel guaranteed the debts of countries like Greece. Greece will likely fail but the European Central Bank can stabilize the euro. Recapitalizing the ECB sounds much better in German than bailing out the Italians.

2011 November 5

Anonymous

Today in 1605, Guy Fawkes was arrested in London and charged with high treason. He was hanged, drawn, and quartered in January 1606. He had been involved in a Catholic "gunpowder plot" to blow up the British Houses of Parliament. His image is now used by the hacktivist collective Anonymous.

2011 November 4

The World from Berlin
Spiegel Online

Handelsblatt:
Either Greece accepts European help or it leaves the eurozone. If Greece left, attention would move on to the next weak link in the chain. A domino effect could reach France.

Die Welt:
Merkel and Sarkozy bet the house with the Greek prime minister. They said the Greek referendum would be a vote on Greek membership in the eurozone.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung:
Merkel, Sarkozy, and Juncker seem to have run out of patience. The dangers are obvious. It could become a slippery slope. Europe is experiencing a crisis of confidence.

Berliner Zeitung:
Regardless how the Greek drama ends, confidence in the euro has been damaged. The message sent by Merkel and Sarkozy was that the euro was not built to last.

Süddeutsche Zeitung:
The Italians will determine whether the euro survives. Italy has 60 million inhabitants, the third-largest economy in the euro club, and €1.9 trillion of debt. Blame the Berlusconi government.

Die Tageszeitung:
How do you build a firewall in Europe? How do you protect Italy and Spain? Italy is close to bankruptcy. But who will buy Italian bonds? The eurozone is facing a crash.


Foto: DLR/ESA
Mars 500
Spiegel Online

A Russian team has just ended the longest manned mission in the history of space flight. After 520 days of isolation in a container in Moscow, six men ended their "Mars 500" simulation of a flight to Mars. The German Center for Air and Space Travel participated in the experiment and called the windowless container a mixture of Finnish sauna and seventies loft apartment.

Scientists and Autism
Nature

Autism spectrum disorders can range from profound autism to Asperger's syndrome. The idea is popular that many people in professions such as science and engineering are on the spectrum.

Simon Baron-Cohen at the University of Cambridge, UK, thinks the parents of autistic children have an aptitude for understanding and analyzing predictable, rule-based systems. He thinks the genes that give parents such minds could lead to autism in their children.

In a survey of Cambridge undergraduates he found that those studying mathematics were more likely to have been diagnosed with autism than were students majoring in medicine, law, or social science. And students in science and maths had higher scores on measures of autistic traits than did students in the humanities and social sciences. He says systemizing is part of a broad autistic phenotype.

Other researchers suggested that fathers of children with autism are just more educated. A 2010 analysis of autism diagnoses in California found clusters in areas where parents were older and more highly educated. People with more education tend to have children later in life. Perhaps age is the key.

The autism enigma

2011 November 3

Hubs
Image: Martijn van den Heuvel/University Medical Center in Utrecht
Connectome with hubs: green—red = fewer—more connections

Brain Hubs
New Scientist

Researchers have found that 12 well-connected hubs orchestrate neural traffic in your brain. The hubs form six pairs, with one of each pair in each hemisphere:

1 The precuneus seems to integrate high-level information from
    all over the brain.
2 The superior frontal cortex plans actions and governs where
    to focus attention.
3 The superior parietal cortex is linked to vision and locates
    nearby objects.
4 The hippocampus processes, stores and consolidates memories.
5 The thalamus interlinks visual processes, among other things.
6 The putamen coordinates movement.

The hubs enable the brain to integrate information for decisions.

Cannes 2011
Financial Times

The OECD predicts weak GDP growth in the USA, negative growth in parts of Europe, and slower growth in emerging economies.

The USA did its best to win the Cannes G20 summit award for the most incompetent decision making. But eurozone leaders take the prize by letting Greek debt get out of hand.
G20 action items:

1 Exchange rates. Protectionism is creeping back as currency manipulation. Countries in surplus should let demand rise.

2 Monetary policy. The Bank of Japan should scale up its asset purchases and the ECB should lower interest rates.

3 Fiscal stimulus. Countries in surplus should increase public spending. China must move to a consumer-driven model. Germany should think about Europe. The USA needs more stimulus.

For the global economy, 2012 could be dismal. World leaders must rise to the challenge.

AR The G20 is currently the top political organ of Globorg. Google is currently the top functional organ.

2011 November 2

Turkish Intransigence
Spiegel Online

Turkey wants to join the European Union. Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan says German politicians "should do much more for Turkey's EU accession because it would massively encourage the integration" of the 3 million Turks in Germany. Some Germans fear Turkey may turn away from Europe. With economic growth of 10% and a tripling of per capita income since 2002, Turkey is an important export market for Germany.

Turkish politicians often accuse Germany of protecting Kurdish terrorists. In the Mideast conflict, Turkey is on the side of the Palestinians. This summer Turkey threw out its Israeli ambassador. Erdogan recently called Israel a threat to the region.

Turkey has occupied the northern part of Cyprus since 1974 and does not recognize the Greek southern part, the Republic of Cyprus, which is an EU member state. The republic has claimed the huge gas and oil reserves in the waters around the island and agreed on dividing the claim with Israel. Erdogan said the Turkish navy will patrol the area and he will freeze relations with the EU when Cyprus assumes the rotating presidency next year.

AR Put a European army onto Cyprus and throw the Turks off.

Greek Apocalypse
Spiegel Online

Greek prime minister Papandreou wants to ask the people how to save Greece. It seems desperate. They will be voting on whether to stay in the eurozone. Do they want the euro or the drachma?
But he is right for several reasons:

1 He needs instant legitimacy for his actions. He was elected before the crisis escalated and the new plan is extreme.

2 The Greek opposition is obstructive. They fail to understand that Greece is in deep trouble. A popular vote may wake them up.

3 Greece is in a death spiral. As jobs vanish, the economy shrinks, more austerity is needed, and so on. Voters must accept the gravity of the crisis.

Each citizen must make a choice. Do they want to lose all their assets or not? The drachma would be massively devalued. The debt is in euros, so Greece would soon go bankrupt.

Europe Versus Greece
Financial Times

European leaders are racing to save the eurozone rescue plan after financial markets reeled on fears of a disorderly default by Athens.

In a joint communiqué, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy said they were "determined to ensure the implementation without delay of the decisions adopted at the eurozone summit."

AR Lord Wolfson was right (blog October 19) to say we need a plan to help a state exit the eurozone. We need it for Greece.

2011 November 1

A Tale of Two Europes
Spiegel Online

The Eurozone has a leader, Germany. It has a goal, the stability of the euro. And it has a principle: Those who botch their finances stand to lose part of their sovereignty. Its central administrative body is the EFSF, which manages the bailout fund.

Chancellor Merkel didn't want to be Europe's savior. She wanted to protect German money. Over a year ago, she said EU member states would make no effort if Germany was too generous. Her strategy was to scare the other nations into making an effort. Now the euro is safe, for a while.

The price of her success is the division of Europe. The countries outside the Eurozone are now out of core Europe. Eurozone states will work more closely together without waiting for the non-euro countries. The EFSF is a Eurozone facility for members only.

The European Union is now a two-class society. In addition to the European Commission, which represents all 27 member states, a new Euro Summit group of the 17 Eurozone nations will meet regularly. A strong second structure will appear alongside the European Commission. Germany will get the Europe it wanted.

AR Good. I must do PHILOSOPHER V12 this week.

The Quantum Universe

Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw tell those uncomfortable with quantum theory: "It is the resistance to new ideas that leads to confusion, not the inherent difficulty of the ideas."

Asteroid YU55
CNN

An asteroid "the size of an aircraft carrier" passed within
the moon's orbit Tuesday, the closest approach by an object that large in over 30 years.
The asteroid passed within 202,000 miles of Earth.

AR A lump of rock some 400 m in diameter (that's something like 100 megatons in mass, whereas aircraft carriers have mass in the 100 kiloton range) passed with about 320 Mm of Earth. The more relevant fact is that if it had hit Earth it would have caused a magnitude 7 earthquake.

Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci
National Gallery, London
Salvator Mundi
Leonardo da Vinci

Biography
Geoff Dyer

After reading half of the manuscript of Richard Bradford's biography of him, Martin Amis didn't like what he saw and the original publisher pulled out. Amis is hyperallergic to bad writing and seeing his life half-swaddled in Bradford's sentences must have induced anaphylactic shock. As the subject of this biography has pointed out, style is not something added after the fact, like nice wrapping paper. It is the thing, the gift, itself. And once the sentences start running away from a writer, everything else goes as well.

New British Muslims
The Independent

Since 9/11, some 100 000 British people, 75% of them women, have converted to Islam. Most of the women, of average age 27, said they felt confused after conversion. A quarter of them liked Islam because of the rigid gender demarcation.

Nostradamus
Colin Dickey

Nostradamus was born in France in 1503 and worked as a pharmacist. In 1534 his wife and children died of the plague. For years he battled the plague.

In 1550 he began to publish weather almanacs that brought him wealth and fame. In 1555 he published The Prophecies and the queen of France, Catherine de Medici, began to consult him.

He died in 1566 but his writings lived on. People said Napoleon was the first prophesied Antichrist, the second Hitler. The third is yet to come.

Revelations
Elaine Pagels

The Book of Revelation is the strangest book in the Bible. It doesn't have any ideas, stories, or moral teaching. It only has visions, dreams, and nightmares. How do we account for the fact that ever since it was written the book has been enormously influential in western culture?

I chose the book of Revelation as the toughest test case for the question: Why is religion still around?

The Book of Revelation
Edge Master Class 2011
Elaine Pagels

No Quantum Jerks
New Scientist

Quantum mechanics may soon explain why wave functions collapse on measurement. The GRW approach said collapses are random and rare for any given particle, but measuring a particle quangles it with the measuring equipment so any collapse triggers collapse of the whole quangled mass. Refining GRW with continuous spontaneous localization (CSL) triggered by fluctuations in an extended field caused jerks that clashed with special relativity. A new field smooths out the jerks and makes CSL relativistic, says
Daniel Bedingham.

Google Translate
Slate

Google Translate mines existing translations and uses probability to deliver the best match based on context. Today, it under-stands language as well as a child of ten, but it is learning fast.

"The actions that I will take will be actions recommended and supported by Israeli leaders. ...
I don't think America should play the role of the leader of the peace process, instead we should stand by our ally."
Mitt Romney












Bad Move, Papa
Financial Times

Greek prime minister George Papandreou has announced a referendum to approve the new EU rescue deal for Greece. Greek voters are angry over public sector job cuts and tax hikes. They are striking and protesting in Athens and other cities.

AR If he gets a yes, good.
If not, chuck Greece out
and man the firewall.






Climate scientists caught
lying and cheating again

Seven billion people: Imagine ten trucks carrying a total of 200 tons of rice: that's about 7 billion grains.

Two-Tier Europe
David Owen

The European Union will not break up if the eurozone fails. Germany is moving toward a form of fiscal union for the eurozone but there is still a chance that the Bundesbank will prevent the slide to a United States of Europe.

The President of the European Council must remain above the euro issue. The president should not chair meetings of the euro group without also chairing meetings of the ten countries not in the eurozone, creating a new non-euro group.

A non-euro group would be a mechanism for unity rather than division. Eurozone membership is not inevitable and some countries may never join, such as the UK.

 

Bank Haircut:
€100 000 000 000
Financial Times

European leaders said private investors must take a 50% cut in the face value of their Greek bonds. German chancellor Angela Merkel: "Debt sustainability for Greece can only be established if the private sector participates in a substantial way."

The agreement came just before 4 am after nearly 11 hours of talks. The deal includes a new €130 billion bail-out for Greece and increased firepower for the €440 billion EFSF.

AR My pension cut will help
reward Greek sloth.

LiTraCon
SmartPlanet
Light transmitting concrete, LiTraCon, is made by combining concrete and optical fiber strands that act like aggregate. The fibers make up 4% of the volume of a block. Blocks up to 20 m thick can still transmit light.

Farewell B-53
Wired

In the 1960s, when apocalypse was just a button away, U.S. Air Force B-52 Stratofortress bombers flew on permanent standby alert, 24/7, each loaded with two B-53 nine-megaton bunker buster bombs. Today in Texas, the last B-53 bomb will be dismantled.

AR Bid a fond farewell to
the MAD years.

Cameron Rocked
The Guardian

British PM David Cameron faced down backbench rebellion as 81 of his MPs defied a three-line whip and voted for a referendum on EU membership. They want Cameron to get tough in EU treaty negotiations.

AR Whip 'em harder!

VKW
VKW
Prof. V. Krawczyk-Wasilewska reads a paper on avatar dating and the social meaning of virtual identities at the Center for Impact Assessment Studies and Forecasting, Kozminski University, Warsaw.

 

Cold and Lonely
Brian Schmidt
2011 Nobel Laureate

The expansion of the universe is speeding up. When light travels through space to us it has to fight the expansion. In the future the universe will become so stretched that the light from distant galaxies will never reach us. The universe that is not gravitationally bound to us will be stretched beyond our horizon. Our part of the universe will collapse down into a supergalaxy and the stars in it will burn out and fade to black. The universe will be cold and lonely.

AR Mine is already.

The Pod Delusion (1:36)

Gas giants
NASA
Jumping Jupiter!
New Scientist

Our solar system may once have had a fifth gas giant that was thrown out four billion years ago. The present four gas giants may have formed closer together but one planet would have been ejected as they spread out.

David Nesvorny ran simulations of Jupiter ejecting a fifth planet from between Saturn and Uranus. The models show how Jupiter jumped and the outer gas giants drifted out to their current orbits. The violence explains the "late heavy bombardment" of the Moon.

arXiv:1109.2949v1

2011 October 31

Reviving Britain
David Cameron

Britain can come through the crisis with an economy that is stronger and fairer if we focus on three fronts:

1 Confronting our debts. We went into the bust with the biggest structural deficit in the G7 and came out of it with one forecast to be the biggest in the G20. Yet the rating agency that downgraded the USA confirmed our AAA rating. We will stay the course.

2 Strengthening Britain's competitiveness. In terms of future productivity, our infrastructure deficit is as serious as our budget deficit. The government will create jobs by starting projects.

3 Unlocking global trade. We have to push for a more balanced world economy, where countries like the UK do better at saving and investing and restoring their competitiveness, and trade surplus economies increase domestic consumption. We still boast some of the best universities in the world and the world's first language.

AR "We still boast" — for how much longer?

2011 October 30

Dreamreaders
New Scientist

Michael Czisch and Martin Dresler, Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, Munich, and colleagues observed the brain activity of lucid dreamers as they clenched a hand (a) awake, (b) in imagination, and (c) in a lucid dream.

They found that dreaming brain activity associated with hand clenching was very similar to activity when imagining hand clenching. Real hand clenching was similar too but with a greater area of activation.

Daniel Erlacher, University of Bern, Switzerland: "If you can get a detailed reading of brain functions and know what each represents, you can read dreams."

2011 October 29

Thai dip
Asian dip
AR Oh to be in Phuket, now that autumn's here!

2011 October 28

China Rescue
Financial Times

China is likely to contribute to the eurozone bail-out fund, depending on contributions from other countries and on safety guarantees. With over $3 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, China could be willing to invest around $100 billion in the EFSF.

Pankaj Mishra on Niall Ferguson: my cut

2011 October 27

Euro Deal
Time

Good: The eurozone is finally getting real. Its leaders had been in denial. Now we have a plan to recapitalize European banks, a bigger bailout with a bigger reduction of Greek debt, and a deal to increase EFSF capabilities to guarantee private bondholders against losses.

Bad: Eurozone leaders have attempted to tackle the crisis with hardly any new money on the table. The bank recapitalization plan calls for banks to raise only €106 billion in fresh capital. On the expansion of the EFSF, the deal is aimed at giving the fund more firepower without adding any more ammunition. The size of the fund will remain the same. The Greek situation will improve due to the 50% haircut imposed on private bondholders, but Greeks still have a dangerously high debt burden.

Ugly: The deal includes a proposal to tap China and other cash-rich emerging markets to participate in bolstering the EFSF. The eurozone leaders think the Chinese are gullible enough to put in their savings? I don't think so.

AR China Daily Europe: "China has an interest in a healthy European economy ... When Chinese firms take over foreign assets, they usually do not remove the existing management and workforce. Instead, they integrate the acquired firm in their existing operations."

Brits and Europe
David Aaronovitch

In the British parliament last Monday, Jacob Rees-Mogg advised the government to "stiffen your sinews, imitate the actions of a tiger, for that's how you should behave to our European partners". He was quoting Shakespeare's Henry V to commend behaving toward allies and friends as if they were bitter enemies.

The drift of the debate was clear. Europe was a bad thing, the British people were fed up with it and the only question was whether you got out or demanded root-and-branch reform. Any heirs present to the great Tory Europeans — Hurd, Heseltine, Heath, Brittan, Churchill, Thatcher — were silent. Forgotten were the words of Margaret Thatcher in 1986: "What we need are strengths which we can only find together ... we must have the full benefit of a single large market."

Pro-Europeanism long has since ceased to be a rallying cry. But we are not sleepwalking into a federal Europe, we are sleep-arguing ourselves out of the European Union. And the price would be a catastrophic loss of influence in setting the rules and terms for the place where we do more than half of all our trade with the entire world. It is still as Mrs Thatcher argued it was 25 years ago.

If you go back to first principles, the case for the EU, like the case for the alliance with the United States, is overwhelming. This is an interdependent world, in which the UK is a small to medium-sized nation. We need to stand together with our neighbors. We need to work with our allies, not against them.

2011 October 26

Europe Fights Reality
John Kay

A common fiscal policy is neither necessary nor sufficient for a successful monetary union. Monetary union implies that areas with different conditions no longer make compensating adjustments through currency devaluation. They must instead impose appropriate local policies on taxation and public spending.

A Franco-German monetary union was an ambitious project. But an excess of ambition extended membership of the eurozone to states that were neither willing nor able to accept the economic disciplines that replaced those imposed by the currency market. These states escaped the consequences by borrowing.

Financial markets are desperate to be bailed out. The decisive action they all seek is that the German government should write very large cheques, or underwrite very large borrowings. Eurozone leaders are fighting not the markets but reality.

Methane Hydrates
SmartPlanet

Buried in sediments below Arctic permafrost and beneath the ocean floor, methane hydrates could contain more energy than all other known fossil fuels combined.

AR So we can spend trillions on ocean and Arctic rigs instead of on enriching Arabs and yet still cook the planet.

Global warming was about 0.9 K over land in the past 50 years

2011 October 25

My Eurozone Plan
George Soros

1 Eurozone member states accept a common fiscal policy. They go to the ECB for liquidity and ask the EFSF for risk guarantees.

2 The EFSF takes over the Greek bonds held by the ECB and the IMF to allow voluntary haircuts.

3 The EFSF guarantees banks, not bonds. Recapitalization comes later on a national basis.

4 Big banks take instructions from the ECB or lose access to the ECB discount window.

5 The ECB instructs banks to maintain credit and loans and installs inspectors to control risks.

6 The ECB lowers the discount rate and encourages insolvent governments to issue treasury bills for banks to park liquidity. The ECB issues its own bills and stops open market purchases. The EFSF guarantees the solvency risk.

7 Markets are calmed and banks are recapitalized. Eurozone member states accept a common treasury.

Steve Jobs
Walter Isaacson
Amazon #1


Steve to Walt: "I know there will be a lot in your book I won't like. I won't read it for a while, because I don't want to get mad. Maybe I will read it in a year, if I am still around."

Jobs was a fussy eater. He may have been bulimic and was often a fruitarian. Sometimes he ate only apples, hence the name Apple.

1983: Bill Gates told him Microsoft was developing a new operating system with a graphical interface. Jobs: "I trusted you, and now you're stealing from us." Gates: "Well, Steve, I think there's more than one way of looking at it. I think it's more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it."

1985: Jobs was forced out of Apple. He called Mike Murray in the Macintosh team, cried "it's over" and hung up.

1997: Jobs returned to Apple.

2000: Jobs said all other digital music players "truly sucked" and decided to build the iPod.

2005: Apple prospered but the iPod provided nearly half of its revenues. Jobs: "The device that can eat our lunch is the cell phone. Everyone carries a phone, so that could render the iPod unnecessary." Apple built the iPhone.

Soon after, Jobs dined with a Microsoft employee who raved about the coming of the tablet. Jobs: "This dinner was like the tenth time he talked to me about it, and I was so sick of it that I came home and said fuck this, let's show him what a tablet can really be." Apple built the iPad.

2011 October 24

A Trillion Euros
Spiegel Online

German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to leverage the EFSF to €1 trillion and to impose a Greek haircut of up to 60%.

The leveraging plan is unclear. The measure to pump up the EFSF will be put to a full vote in the German parliament on Wednesday.

Merkel also wants €100 billion to increase European bank core capital to 9% and prepare them for the haircut.

AR If this works I shall breathe a sigh of relief.

European Crisis
Wolfgang Münchau

The European summit is considering levering the European financial stability facility as a monoline insurer for sovereign bonds. Leveraging raises possible losses for the AAA states who provide the insurance. If France lost its AAA rating, the EFSF would lose its rating too. The AAA countries can support this only so far. If Germany plays hardball, the crisis ends in a break-up.

The German chancellor must seek Bundestag approval before negotiating in Brussels. This makes it hard to coordinate policy in the European Council. A monetary union may require a formal transfer of sovereignty that includes the rights to levy certain taxes, set fiscal rules, and impose market regulations. European electorates might accept this to save the euro.

AR I say go for union. Let German bankers rule Club Med.

Treaty Dilemma
The Times

A German demand to discuss European Union treaty changes this year presents a dilemma for British PM David Cameron. Speaking at the end of the summit, he said there was a "possibility" of changing the treaty but that now is not the time to claw back powers from Brussels.

AR Britain no longer has a useful political role in Europe.

2011 October 23

Euro Empire Plot
The Telegraph

European Union chiefs are drawing up plans for a single treasury to oversee tax and spending across the eurozone. The treasury plan emerged in Brussels yesterday as European finance ministers discussed the eurozone crisis. A full-scale rescue plan could cost about €2 trillion. The treasury would be the clearest sign yet of a new United States of Europe — with Britain left on the sidelines.

Britain and Europe
Matthew Parris

Tomorrow the British Parliament will debate a motion calling for a referendum on possible British withdrawal from the European Union. I don't believe that a Commons vote could tip Europe into the abyss, but a British withdrawal could. The UK is a major market competitor in continental Europe. Eurosceptics argue that EU membership on present terms shackles British competitiveness. They say we should be free to undercut those in the eurozone. Do they suppose the eurozone would just grin and bear it?

AR Plot? Brits need to rethink their attitude to Europe.

2011 October 22

Mind and Body
New Scientist

Place a fake rubber arm where you can see it on a table and hide your real arm from view, then ask an accomplice to stroke both rubber and real arms at the same places and in time with each other. You begin to feel as if the stroking sensation is coming from the arm you can see.

Brain scans taken as people fall for the trick show that when our senses provide information about our bodies, this is compared and integrated with the body map in the premotor and parietal cortices. When the integrated information reaches the insular cortex a feeling of embodiment emerges in consciousness. The insular cortex also processes internal bodily signals to give us interoception. People who are good at interoception are less susceptible to embodiment illusions.

Embodiment is central to consciousness. Without input from your body, your mind would be unable to generate a sense of self or process emotions properly. Embodied cognition even seems to cover mathematical thinking and language processing.

AR It is but a bagatelle to perform the induction to infinity and infer that all is mind, slumbering for the most part in deep, deep sleep, waiting only for the kiss of her panpsychic lover to awaken her to the immanence of the godhead.

2011 October 21

German Stick
Spiegel Online

A second EU summit will be held next Wednesday because Paris and Berlin need more time to agree on the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF). Europe needs a quick fix to reassure markets that the problem is under control. British PM David Cameron said European leaders should use a "big bazooka" to fix it.

Ulrike Guérot of the European Council on Foreign Relations says the debate highlights the German role in the new Europe. Germany wants to avoid positioning the European Central Bank as the funder of last resort. No euro bonds, no banking license for the EFSF. The debate is beyond reason: "If it is a carrot and sticks game, Germany is only on the sticks side."

Iraq: Troops Out This Year
Reuters

The United States will pull troops out of Iraq by the end of the year. President Barack Obama: "America's war in Iraq will be over." He promised "a normal relationship between sovereign nations." The U.S. military role in Iraq is now mostly advisory.

AR Perhaps my former Iraqi students can relax now.

The Book Biz
Curtis White

Literature has always been about the struggle over who would have the social authority to determine what would count as literature. But the book business deserves to die. Its business model is crap: send a bunch of losers out as reps and have them place the books on consignment, like junk in an auction.

There are now only two big players, Amazon and Google. Everyone else is trying to figure out the best way to go bankrupt or to become something else. From their point of view, the book was just a platform that has had its day. Amazon is now trying to win as much monopoly power as it can.

Literature requires a book culture. But the narrative of the Great Works has lost its legitimacy. If that past is what literature seeks to preserve as its future, then it has no future.

AR There is still a market for great books. Universities still make up reading lists and sell courses. The core canon of texts shaping Western civilization is big and growing and fuzzy at the edges. Google can define it by logging the online buzz.

Quantum Universe
Hannah Devlin

The Quantum Universe:
Everything that can happen
does happen
Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw


Cox and Forshaw reassure the reader that while quantum physics has a reputation for being fiendishly difficult, the barriers to understanding it are not insurmountable. But by chapter two, your reviewer, who has a PhD in physics, had developed a deep furrow across her brow and needed to retire to a quiet room. As they take a classic route through quantum theory, they add new examples and the "vast" numbers that Cox has become famous for. The book is littered with equations.

AR Sounds like one for me.

HP To Keep PC Arm
Financial Times

Hewlett-Packard will keep its personal computer division. Former CEO Léo Apotheker had proposed to sell it. His successor Meg Whitman: "This was first and foremost a math exercise, and a very revealing one."

AR Sorry Léo: bad call.

The Recursive Mind
Barbara J. King

Michael Corballis believes that mental time travel and theory of mind are uniquely human ways of thinking that propelled our species above all others, thanks to recursion. Noam Chomsky claimed long ago that only humans communicate recursively, by embedding structures within structures.

Corballis says recursion is what distinguishes the human mind from that of other animals. But chimps have mental time travel and theory of mind. Corvids think recursively. Corballis is wrong.

AR Humans are smug.

Thinfilm
Thinfilm
Researchers at PARC and Thinfilm Electronics have announced a printed electronic device that can compute small amounts of data. Printed devices are slow but they can be bent and they cost only pennies.

AR Smart food labels

Brutal Haircut
Financial Times

Greek debt holders will be asked to take a 60% cut in the value of their holdings. The hardline stance is a victory for northern creditor countries led by Germany.

AR Caveat emptor

Contagion
Steven Soderbergh

This thriller stars Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, and Jude Law. It's practically a public service announcement — what can you do if a deadly disease breaks out that threatens to kill up to a billion people within just a few weeks?

AR Good movie


 

Pricing the Future
New Scientist

Economists discount future events. Their models shave off the same percentage every year and asset values decrease exponentially. Far future values tend to zero.

Under hyperbolic discounting we have a strong preference for a good today rather than tomorrow but only a weak preference for it on day 100 rather than day 101, yet on day 100 we strongly prefer the good that day.

A recent paper shows that in times of uncertainty hyperbolic discounting makes more sense than exponential discounting.

TW Hydrae
NASA/JPL-Caltech
TW Hydrae system
(artist's impression)

Icy Star Disk
New Scientist

Astronomers have found lot of icy snow in a protoplanetary disk around a young star. The discovery supports the idea that Earth got its water from comets that rained down after the planet cooled.

Michiel Hogerheijde and colleagues used the Herschel space observatory to study the young star TW Hydrae. In the outer frigid regions of its disk they found the spectral signature of ice amounting to about half a percent of the mass of Earth's oceans and inferred that the ice in the disk should add up to several thousand Earth oceans.

DOI:10.1126/science.1208931

 

Recapitalization
Financial Times

The European Banking Authority plan to strengthen the eurozone banking system finds a capital shortfall of about €80 billion to be made up in early 2012. A recent IMF report found a €200 billion debt hole.

Virgin Galactic has opened
Spaceport America in New Mexico, about 180 miles southwest of Roswell.

Milan
SmartPlanet
The Bosco Verticale project will integrate vertical gardens into some new buildings in Milan, Italy.

Cosmic Spin
Anil Ananthaswamy

Michael Longo thinks the universe might be spinning.

 After years mining SDSS data, he finds an excess of galaxies with left-handed spin in the northern sky and an excess with right-handed spin in the southern sky, all around the "axis of evil" detected in the cosmic microwave background.

Longo says that if the asymmetry is real, the universe has a net angular momentum and was born in a spin.

AR Kurt Gödel must be spinning with joy in heaven.

2011 October 20

Five Steps to Credit
Spiegel Online

1 Greece: The European troika's planned aid package of over €100 billion for Greece is not enough. Creditors agreed to a 21% haircut, but now a 60% cut is on the table.

2 Banks: As a firewall against spillover, banks should increase their core capital to 9%. But banks think accepting state capital is bad for business.

3 Bailout: The European Financial Stability Fund may need a trillion euros. This was denied in Berlin. The guidelines need German government agreement.

4 Policy: Eurozone countries plan to coordinate economic and fiscal policy. Berlin says euro countries must agree to reduce debt, ideally with a debt brake on the German model.

5 Treaty: A proposed European Convention would strengthen stability criteria and allow for debt offenders to be sued in the European Court of Justice.

Salman Rushdie interview

2011 October 19

Greek Tax Rats
Spiegel Online

Athens is pursuing an agreement with Switzerland that would enable Greece to pursue tax evaders who have deposited money in Swiss bank accounts.

Greek citizens have deposited an estimated €200 billion in Swiss accounts, much of it unreported. Experts guess up to €120 billion has flowed out of Greece since the beginning of 2010, reducing the lending capacity of Greek banks.

Horst Reichenbach said a deal "would be an excellent avenue for Greece to access a new tax revenue stream and at the same time to slow capital flight out of their own country."

AR Crack down hard on the rats. And punish Swiss banks.

Goldman Sachs
Daily Beast

Goldman Sachs lost $428 million in Q3 yet so far has set aside $10 billion in its compensation fund for 2011. Analysts and other midlevel suits in Goldman Sachs make salaries of $400,000 or more, and CEO Lloyd Blankfein received $13 million in pay last year. This was the bank's second quarterly loss since going public in 1999. Profits per share through the first three quarters were down more than 70% compared with 2010. Goldman stock has fallen since January by 43%.

AR Perhaps we're seeing the death throes of this loathsome vampire squid, but don't count on it. If they still pay themselves well the other numbers are just PR to lower their profile and blend in with the losers. I say people who work with money should not be trusted to pay themselves. To avoid moral hazard, they should be paid servants of the state.

No Future For Euro
Martin Wolf

A eurozone rescue package must fix banks, fix Greece, and fix other fragile eurozone sovereign debt markets:

1 Banks: Start with a credible stress test. Ask what capital ratios to aim at. Derive required levels of capital. States must ensure that banks do not cause a slump.

2 Greece: Greek debt service must be put on a sustainable basis. The IMF starts here. The case for radical cuts is powerful.

3 Markets: The simplest solution is for the ECB to ensure liquidity in fragile eurozone sovereign debt markets.

A fiscal union is not the answer. A transfer union would be a calamitous outcome of European monetary integration. Eurozone policymakers have long insisted that the balance of payments cannot matter inside a currency union and that only fiscal deficits matter. This is nonsense.

External deficits mean residents are spending more than their income and financing the difference abroad. Prolonged external deficits shape the structure and competitiveness of an economy and lead to huge liabilities that endanger banks. Inability to devalue rules out an easy escape.

A currency union with structural mercantilists in the core now threatens a permanent slump in the periphery. This is the problem.

Wolfson Economics Prize
Financial Times

Lord Wolfson is offering £250,000 to the person who comes up with the best plan for winding up the euro in an orderly way. The Wolfson Economics Prize, launched today, gives entrants until the end of January 2012 to formulate their plans.

Lord Wolfson: "The prize will help answer some of the many important yet unanswered questions from over a decade ago when the monetary union was first set up."

Think tank Policy Exchange will send entry details to 200 economics departments. PE chairman Daniel Finkelstein: "We are trying to make sure the people with the best solutions to this crisis find us."

AR Is this my next pay cheque?

Memories
Wired

Humans are storytelling machines. But like all good narrators, we tweak our stories to make them better stories. We are constantly revising our memory of the past in response to social pressures.

A Science paper (below) reports an experiment. Groups of subjects watched a documentary about a police arrest. Three days later, they returned to the lab and completed a memory test about it. Four days after that, they were brought back again and asked about it while inside a brain scanner. This time, they were shown the answers given by other people in their group. They didn't know these were false answers to the questions they had previously answered correctly. This false feedback caused nearly 70% of them to give an incorrect answer.

The researchers invited the subjects back to retake the memory test, saying the answers they had previously been given were randomly generated by a computer. Some of the responses reverted back to the original, but more than 40% remained wrong. The subjects had come to believe their own bullshit.

Following the Crowd:
Brain substrates of long-term memory conformity
M. Edelson, T. Sharot, R.J. Dolan, Y. Dudai
DOI: 10.1126/science.1203557


Human memory is strikingly susceptible to social influences. We examined how socially induced memory errors are generated in the brain by studying the memory of individuals exposed to recollections of others. Participants exhibited a strong tendency to conform to erroneous recollections of the group, producing both long-lasting and temporary errors, even when their initial memory was strong and accurate. Functional brain imaging revealed that social influence modified the neuronal representation of memory. A particular brain signature of enhanced amygdala activity and enhanced amygdala-hippocampus connectivity predicted long-lasting but not temporary memory alterations. Our findings reveal how social manipulation can alter memory.

AR Achtung PHILOSOPHER — bullshit alert!

2011 October 17

The G20 and the Eurozone Crisis
Mohamed El-Erian

Europe's banking crisis and sovereign debt crisis must be solved together. G20 finance ministers must:

1 Clarify which balance sheets will do the heavy lifting, not only between the private and public sectors but also within the public sector between taxpayers and monetary institutions.

2 Specify mechanisms to inject funding into the system, in an overall architecture that never envisaged the current challenges.

3 Ensure conditionality, so that satisfying the first two conditions is accompanied by visible changes in behavior of aid recipients.

Does stabilizing the eurozone involve fiscal union for the current members or for a smaller set of countries?

G20: Fix Euro This Week
Financial Times

The G20 told the eurozone that by next Sunday it should agree on:
1 A Greek haircut
2 A plan to recapitalize European banks
3 A Greek firewall

U.S. Treasury secretary Tim Geithner: "They clearly have more work to do on the strategy and the details, but when France and Germany agree on a plan together and decide to act, big things are possible."

2011 October 16

WE ARE THE 99%
guardian.co.uk

Protests inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement have spread to cities around the world. In Stockholm, activist Bilbo Goransson said: "There are those who say the system is broke. It's not. That's how it was built. It is there to make rich people richer."

AR That is an insightful statement.

That Haircut
Financial Times

Big differences remain between Paris and Berlin not only on the financial firepower of the EFSF but also on the size and shape of the proposed haircut for private creditors in a rescheduling of Greek debt.


London
SmartPlanet
Future buildings could absorb carbon dioxide and use it to regenerate their facades and create light.

Germany

GDP (2010): EUR 2.5 trillion
GDP per Capita (2010):
EUR 30,569

GDP by Sector (2010):
Services 54.0%
Industry 27.9%
Trade 17.2%
Agriculture 0.9%

GDP Growth (2010): 3.6%
Inflation Rate (2010): 1.2%

Exports of Goods (2010):
EUR 952 billion
Imports of Goods (2010):
EUR 798 billion

AR Good numbers

Model Katie Price, 33, published her fourth autobiography, You Only Live Once, in October 2010. Her sixth novel, The Comeback Girl, was released in July 2011. Price has an estimated net worth of over $65 million.

The process of writing a novel is getting to know more about the novel until you know everything about it. It's a kind of dreamlike state where you're letting the novel make its own shape, and you're putting into it the pleasure of creation, which is intoxicating. You can do absolutely anything; you are the freest of all artists. It's that freedom that's frightening in the end.

Martin Amis, Mexico

Sgt. Merced
Courtesy Steve Griffin
Sergeant Merced
Steve Griffin

Iraq, 2006: Specialist Jose Merced was my tank driver. We were ordered to patrol in tanks, to rely on their armor. During our first patrol we made contact, with a roadside bomb and heavy machine-gun fire.

Specialist Merced volunteered to take the lead in our next patrol. Our tank led each patrol for the next week. He drove the tank like I had never seen before, running down enemy fighters in speeding cars and using the tank's heavy armor and big gun to draw insurgents into fights they were certain to lose.

Specialist Merced was something special. He loved to fight. I pushed for his promotion to sergeant and made him the tank gunner. He was a warrior.


Objectifying Women
Scientific American

A new study suggests that men's objectification of women might not cause them to see women as mindless bodies but instead change the kind of minds that they perceive. We tend categorize minds by agency, or the capacity to act, and experience, or the capacity to feel. Researchers showed participants images of individuals exposing different amounts of flesh. Seeing more flesh caused ratings of agency to diminish but ratings of experience to increase. As the images became more sexually suggestive, perceptions of agency decreased and perceptions of experience increased. Participants were less willing to inflict pain on individuals showing more flesh, suggesting they see them as humans in need of protection.

More than a Body:
Mind Perception and the
Nature of Objectification
Kurt Gray et al., to appear in
Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology

Life Of Brian
Monty Python

Terry Jones: "I took the view it wasn't blasphemous. It was heretical because it criticized the structure of the church and the way it interpreted the Gospels. At the time religion seemed to be on the back burner and it felt like kicking a dead donkey. It has come back with a vengeance and we'd think twice about making it now."

Woody Allen: "Shouldn't I stop making movies and do something that counts, like helping blind people or becoming a missionary or something?"
Martian: "You want to do mankind a real service? Tell funnier jokes."

Iranian Chernobyl
The Times

The first Iranian nuclear power station is inherently unsafe and will probably cause a "tragic disaster for humankind", according to a document apparently written by an Iranian whistleblower. Iran is the only country with a nuclear power plant that has not joined the Convention on Nuclear Safety.

PETMAN
PETMAN
Boston Dynamics founder and president Marc Raibert gave a keynote talk at the 2011 IEEE International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems. He says even he is creeped out by the company's new humanoid robot PETMAN.

Boston Dynamics has just rolled out AlphaDog. Like its forerunner BigDog, AlphaDog is a robotic pack-mule designed to carry all the heavy gear that a modern soldier lugs into the field. It can carry a payload of 181 kg a distance of 32 km.

Video: AlphaDog in action

Nobel for Dark Energy
Anil Ananthaswamy

Three cosmologists share the Nobel prize in physics for their discovery that the expansion of the universe is accelerating.

The accelerated expansion has been attributed to the energy of spacetime. Dark energy creates a repulsive force that counters gravity and is blowing up spacetime.

The three: Saul Perlmutter, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, California; Brian Schmidt, Australian National University; Adam Riess, Johns Hopkins University.

Genes and the Mind
New Scientist

Twin studies suggest that people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder have changes in gene activity caused by their environment. Researchers at King's College London scanned the genomes of 22 pairs of identical twins in which one twin per pair was diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. The twin scans revealed methylation differences in genes linked to the disorders. The environment influences gene expression in part via methylation and demethylation, which turn genes off and on.

Human Molecular Genetics
DOI: 10.1093/hmg/ddr416

Quantum Darwinism
Philip Ball

Quantum mechanics is one of the most reliable theories in science. Most physicists accept that there is no essential reality beyond the quantum probabilities. These become certainties via decoherence, as interactions of an object with its environment collapse superpositions into a unique state.

Quantum Darwinism says quantum systems can leave imprints on their environment. Each observer sees an imprint and all observers agree on the properties of the system. The quantum states that create many identical imprints are selected out of all the possible states of the system.

AR See my blog 2010-01-07

2011 October 16

Those Fast Neutrinos
Wired

Times of flight between a source and a detector observed from a GPS satellite
Ronald A.J. van Elburg
arXiv:1110.2685v1
The theory of special relativity predicts that the distance between the production location of a particle and the detection location will be changed in all reference frames that have a velocity component parallel to the baseline separating source and detector in a photon time-of-flight experiment. For the OPERA experiment the correction is in the order of 32 ns. The correction needs to be applied twice here for a total correction of 64 ns.

AR The OPERA team used GPS satellites to measure the distance between their detector and the CERN source. The problem was a 60 ns time discrepancy. This could be the solution.

2011 October 15

Giordano-Bruno-Stiftung
Die gbs ist eine Denkfabrik für Humanismus und Aufklärung, die 2004 gegründet wurde. Ziel der Stiftung ist es, eine tragfähige säkulare Alternative zu den bestehenden Religionen zu entwickeln und ihr gesellschaftlich zum Durchbruch zu verhelfen.

Giordano-Bruno-Stiftung-Rhein-Neckar
Vortrag von Dr. Colin Goldner
Dalai Lama: Fall eines Gottkönigs
Dalberghaus, Mannheim

Iranian Assassination Plot
William Cohen

If the allegations of the assassination and bombing plot are true, and the covert operation had proved successful, Iran's leaders would have invited retaliation on a scale far more vigorous than any they might have contemplated.

The United States should:
1 Bring the assassination plan to the UN Security Council
2 Encourage Saudi Arabia to support tough sanctions against Iran
3 Expose nations circumventing sanctions against Iran
4 Explain that Iran's nuclear weapons program poses a threat
5 Strengthen our ability to keep the Persian Gulf open
6 Improve the defense of friends and allies threatened by Iran
7 Urge Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States to coordinate defense
8 Release intelligence exposing Iranians responsible for this act

The United States and Saudi Arabia should proceed with vigor.

Rapture
The Independent

The Rapture Index has been up this year. In August it hit an all-time high of 184. Thousands of Christians around the world are on red alert for Judgement Day. In December 1993, when the index began, it stood at 57. Today it is near its brief 9/11 high. Christians believe the Apocalypse will start with the Rapture as the righteous vanish from the face of the Earth, whisked up into heaven, leaving the damned to face death and destruction.

AR Rapture is living on Facebook, Iran be damned.

2011 October 14

Earth
ESA
The European Space Agency launched the Rosetta spacecraft in
2004 to land a probe on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in
November 2014. Rosetta took this photo showing Antarctica on
November 12, 2009.

Saving the Eurozone
George Soros

European leaders cannot go on kicking the can down the road. The financial markets are anxiously awaiting the next move. Greece needs an orderly restructuring because a disorderly default could cause a meltdown.

Eurozone leaders talk about recapitalizing the banking system. Germany does not want to recapitalize French banks. The banking system needs to be guaranteed first and recapitalized later.

The governments can provide a credible guarantee because they have the power to tax. The European Central Bank is already guaranteed by the member states. The ECB would instruct the banks to maintain their credit lines and loan portfolios.

A new agreement for the eurozone should not only codify the practices established during the emergency but also lay the groundwork for a growth strategy. The debt burden will become unsustainable without growth.

2011 October 13

Time's Arrow
New Scientist

The second law of thermodynamics says the entropy of the universe can never decrease. It does not explain the arrow of time. Entropy reflects the number of ways you can rearrange a system's constituent particles without changing its overall appearance. High entropy systems are more likely than low ones since there are more ways to produce them. Both past and future worlds are likely to have higher entropy.

Observations show that the universe started out in an extremely unlikely low entropy state. In the beginning, matter and radiation were spread smoothly in space. Gravity clumps things together, so in a system with gravity a smooth distribution is most unlikely.

Cosmologists say that the early universe inflated, which stretched it smooth. Inflation only pushes the problem back. The field driving the inflation has low entropy too. If the field started out in a high entropy state, the inflation of our smooth universe would be just a random blip in a larger field. So there are many universes in an infinite multiverse. Some universes have arrows of time and some don't. We can only live in one that does.

Many mysteries remain. How does the second law fit in with quantum theory, which says systems are always in superpositions of possible states until a measurement irreversibly selects a unique state? And why do we remember the past and not the future?

AR Time is a "psy-phy" concept at the interface of physics and a future scientific psychology, on which I have expressed original thoughts in chapter 13 of my book Mindworlds.

2011 October 12

America's Pacific Century
Hillary Clinton

The Asia-Pacific region is central to American economic and strategic interests. Open markets in Asia provide the United States with unprecedented opportunities for investment, trade, and access to cutting-edge technology. Strategically, maintaining peace and security across the Asia-Pacific is increasingly crucial to global progress.

China represents one of the most challenging and consequential bilateral relationships the United States has ever had to manage. The United States and the international community have watched China's efforts to modernize and expand its military, and we have sought clarity as to its intentions. On the economic front, the United States and China need to work together to ensure strong, sustained, and balanced future global growth.

The relationship between India and America will be one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century, rooted in common values and interests. There are still obstacles to overcome and questions to answer on both sides, but the United States is making a strategic bet on India's future.

The United States has moved to fully engage the region's multilateral institutions, such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum. We are working through APEC, the G-20, and our bilateral relationships to advocate for more open markets, fewer restrictions on exports, more transparency, and an overall commitment to fairness.

The world still looks to the United States for leadership. Our military is by far the strongest, and our economy is by far the largest in the world. Our workers are the most productive. Our universities are renowned the world over. America has the capacity to secure and sustain our global leadership in this century.

No Future
Peter Thiel

Modern Western civilization depends on science and technology. But technological progress has fallen short in many domains. The high cost of fuel points to a much larger failure in energy innovation. Computers have become the single great hope for the technological future. The speedup in information technology contrasts dramatically with the broad stagnation of real wages and incomes since 1973, the year when oil prices quadrupled. To a first approximation, the progress in computers and the failure in energy appear to have roughly canceled each other out. The technology slowdown threatens the entire modern political order.

AR Pathetic. Computers have brought huge advances. And robots will bring even more. Paying trillions to Arabs for oil was dumb, maybe, but try telling the developing world there was no progress. Globorg is the future, right on schedule.

2011 October 11

Erdogan
Gideon Rachman

Good: Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made Turkey a major player in the Mideast and a model for the Arab world. He has won three elections, presided over an economic boom, and enacted social reforms.

Bad: Erdogan has said he will step down after his third term in office. But he seems intent on moving on to the presidency and on amending the constitution to gain more power.

Ugly: Erdogan is becoming more willing to court confrontation. Before the end of the year Turkey could face conflicts with Cyprus, with Israel, and with the Kurds.

Israel
Gilad Sharon

The Palestinians rejected UN resolution 181 of 1947 and started a war whose goal was to destroy the new state of Israel. In 1967, their war aim was to destroy the state of Israel. Israel cannot return to the pre-1967 borders. If the Jordanian monarchy falls, Israel might face a Palestinian state four times the size of Israel.

2011 October 10

Mormonism No Cult
Richard J. Mouw

Mitt Romney is Mormon. Some say to cast a vote for him is to promote the cause of a cult.

I am not prepared to say that Mormon theology falls within the scope of historic Christian teaching. But those of us who have made the effort to engage Mormons in conversations have come to see them as good citizens whose life of faith often exhibits qualities that are worthy of the Christian label.

Mitt Romney deserves a careful examination of his views. He does not deserve to be labeled a cultist.

Richard J. Mouw is President of Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California.

2011 October 9

Romney Calls For American Century
The New York Times

Mitt Romney delivered his foreign policy vision to military cadets at The Citadel on Friday. Actions he would take in his first hundred days in office include:

1 Strengthening naval power by increasing shipbuilding
2 Improving relationships with the country's closest allies
3 Increasing measures to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon
4 Revisiting a missile-defense system
5 Reviewing the country's strategy in Afghanistan
6 Working for economic opportunity in Latin America

"In an American Century, America leads the free world and the free world leads the entire world."
Mitt Romney, 2011

"If the Americans continue such politics, they are going to face major troubles. ... If America does not withdraw its troops from all over the world, its economy will never improve."
Saddam Hussein, 1993

2011 October 8

The Euro
History of an unfolding Greek tragedy portending global doom

2011 October 7

American Lessons for Euro
Financial Times

Ever since the American Troubled Asset Relief Program in 2008, Europeans have pondered a EuroTARP. Lessons:

1 Size matters. TARP was a "bazooka" that stunned markets and turned sentiment around.
2 Coordination is crucial. TARP worked because it was wielded by a single team.
3 Keep out government. Congress vetoed TARP before approving it after a market crash.
4 Keep plans flexible. TARP was created to buy bad assets but was used to recapitalize banks.
5 Stress tests only work if they address points people care about. TARP stress tests did so.
6 TARP stabilized asset values and money was repaid. A EuroTARP need not lose money.

AR But can Europe afford to buy Greece?

2011 October 6

Steve Jobs

2005
"Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose."

2000
"Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service."

1996
"These technologies can make life easier, can let us touch people we might not otherwise."

1985
"Working on Macintosh was the neatest experience of my life."

2011 October 5

The Book
Sam Harris

I love physical books as much as anyone. But when shopping for books, I am acutely sensitive to the opportunity costs of reading them. If your book is 600 pages long, you are demanding more of my time than I feel free to give. And if I could learn as much by reading a 60-page version of your argument, why not publish a book this length instead?

I have begun to experiment with self publishing short ebooks. Last week, I published LYING. My goal was to write a very accessible essay on an important topic that could be absorbed in one sitting. I know how revolutionary it is to be honest with everyone one meets and I know how few people do this. LYING spells out my reasons for thinking that we would all be better off living this way. LYING reached the #1 spot for Kindle Singles.

Writers and public intellectuals must find a way to get paid for what they do. I write longer books for a traditional press and publish short ebooks myself on Amazon. If anyone has any better ideas, please publish them.

AR PHILOSOPHER will be under 500 pages.

2011 October 4

Quantum Biology
New Scientist

Quantum theory might help explain smell and photosynthesis.

Smell

In a quantum theory for the sense of smell, the brain interprets the vibrational frequencies of certain molecules as smells, rather as it interprets the vibrational frequencies of light as colors.

In 1996, biophysicist Luca Turin proposed that vibrational sensing might work via electron tunneling. When an odorous molecule lodges in the pocket of a receptor, an electron can tunnel through the molecule to unleash a cascade of signals that the brain interprets as a smell. There must be an exact match between the electron's quantized energy level and the odorant's natural vibrational frequency.

In 2007, Harvard researcher Jennifer Brookes and her colleagues showed that the mechanism is physically plausible: the timescales are consistent with how fast the brain responds to smell, and the signals generated are large enough for the brain to process.

In 2011, Turin and his colleagues at the Alexander Fleming Biomedical Sciences Research Centre in Vari, Greece, showed that fruit flies can distinguish between two types of acetophenone, one containing normal hydrogen and the other deuterium. Both forms have the same shape but vibrate at different frequencies. That sensitivity suggests electron tunneling.

Photosynthesis

In 2007, a group led by Graham Fleming at the University of California, Berkeley, looked at photosynthesis in green sulphur bacteria. They detected beat signals characteristic of quantum wave interference in the photosynthesizing centers of bacteria cooled to 77 K.

In 2010, a group led by Gregory Scholes of the University of Toronto, Canada, showed a similar effect at room temperature in light-harvesting proteins from two marine algae. Scholes says that sunlight briefly kicks electrons into a superposition that links light-gathering molecules to the reaction center where photosynthesis takes place. This lets an electron probe all paths and choose the path of least energy.

AR I've been asserting the possibility, indeed the probability, of something like this for years.

2011 October 3

NATO
James Blitz

NATO defense chiefs face are facing a drastic decline in defense spending across NATO. Europeans have cut back so much that they can no longer defend themselves without U.S. help.

NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen says NATO nations need to reduce duplication: "We must prioritize, we must specialize and we must seek multinational solutions."

This is hard for three reasons:
1 Government leaders are focused on the euro crisis and the
    global economy.
2 Governments only share defense capabilities if they can trust
    one another.
3 Governments do not want to lose national defense capabilities.

Christian Moelling of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs says the decline in R&D spending means Europe will be a "technological wasteland" by 2020.

2011 October 2

Let Science Lead the Way
Lisa Randall

Today's politicians seem more comfortable invoking God and religion than they do presenting facts or numbers. Of course, everyone is entitled to his or her own religious beliefs. But when science and reason get shortchanged, so does America's future. With science, we put together observations with explanatory frameworks whose predictions can be tested and ultimately agreed on. Empirically based logic and the revelatory nature of faith are very different methods for seeking answers, and only logic can be systematically improved and applied.

AR Professor Randall is a leading contributor to the mathematics of string theory.

Light Too Slow for Stock Traders
New Scientist

The New York Stock Exchange handles a third of the world's stock trading. NYSE Euronext, who operates the exchange, wants to speed it up. NYSE Euronext head of network services Andrew Bach: "The speed-of-light limitation is getting annoying."

The present transit time between London and New York is 65 milliseconds. A new $300 million transatlantic cable will shave 6 ms from the time. Bach proposes speeding up signals further by using not solid-core but hollow-core optical fibers. Glass slows light down by about a third. Bach also suggests dropping data compression and error-correction codes, which could save a few microseconds.

AR Bach needs to slow down and find better ways to waste punters' money.

2011 October 1

Google
Daniel Soar, LRB

Google is ambitious. Google wants to organize the world's information. Google may soon know the contents of your fridge, your heart rate when you're exercising, the weather outside your front door, the pattern of electricity use in your home, your credit card numbers, your purchasing history, your date of birth, your medical history, your reading habits, your taste in music, and your interest or otherwise in anything online.

Google is learning. The more data it gathers, the more it knows, the better it gets at what it does. The better it gets at what it does, the more money it makes, and the more money it makes the more data it gathers, and the better it gets at what it does. Google's brain is a sponge that gets smarter from the information it soaks up. If Google misunderstands you, and delivers the wrong results, the fact that you'll go back and rephrase your query will help it get it right next time. Every search for information is itself a piece of information Google can learn from.

In 2010 Google launched its Android operating system and released a search-by-voice service. You tapped the microphone icon on your phone's screen and your speech was transmitted via the mobile internet to Google servers, where it was interpreted using the advanced techniques that Google had learned. Google now has a vast and growing repository of spoken words, in every language on Earth, and a much more powerful learning machine. Soon there will be a Google machine in the cloud that can correctly transcribe all speech in any language.

Google bought YouTube in 2006. If Google can deploy its voice recognition system to transcribe the spoken words in the videos uploaded to YouTube, there will be an explosion in the amount of searchable material. If Google launched satellites into orbit it could record all terrestrial broadcasts and transcribe those too. That’s no crazier than some of the ideas that Google’s founders have found a way of implementing, such as photographing all the world's streets, scanning all the world's books, and building cars that drive themselves. If Google doesn't do these things, who will?

AR Not far to go from Google to GLOBORG

 

gbs

German tanks for Saudi Arabia

Obama Goes Cold
guardian.co.uk

Brookings Institution senior fellow Bruce Riedel: "One of the things that made Obama attractive to many Americans was a Bush hangover. ... They wanted a more cerebral president who thought ahead rather than plunged in. Two years ago, that cerebral look seemed cool to many Americans. Two years later it seems cold."

Washington political analyst Charlie Cook: "I think the emphasis was on going on television and trying to explain his agenda, to the point now where I think if the American people haven't hit the mute button their finger is very close to that button where they just don't listen any more."

The Black Death
Der Spiegel

The Black Death killed up to a half of the population of Europe in the Middle Ages.

Researchers say plague bacteria must have evolved to infect humans just before the first outbreak of the plague. They analyzed plague DNA from mass graves dug in London in 1348.

The researchers compared the reconstructed genome with a modern reference genome and found they differed at very few places. They say the original plague bacterium dates back only to about 1282.

A draft genome of Yersinia pestis from victims of the Black Death
DOI:10.1038/nature10549

Babi Monkeys
Duke University

Two monkeys at the Duke University Center for Neuroengineering used brain activity alone to move their avatar hands and feel virtual objects. Their use of a bidirectional brain-avatar-brain interface (BABI) suggests a future where paraplegics can enjoy a full life in a robotic exoskeleton.

Nature lead author Miguel Nicolelis: "Such an interaction between the brain and a virtual avatar was totally independent of the animal's real body, because the animals did not move their real arms and hands, nor did they use their real skin to touch the objects and identify their texture."

Cell Tweets
MIT Technology Review

A new prototype petri dish can create an image of what's growing on it and send that information to a laptop.

Caltech professor Michael Elowitz: "Normally, one leaves the cells in an incubator and just checks up on them from time to time. With ePetri, it's like getting continuous tweets from the cells."


An Android app called LHSee
lets you learn about the LHC
and its ATLAS experiment,
view collisions live from CERN,
and play "Hunt the Higgs"

Delusion
John Gray

Discussing the "long peace" since the end of the second world war, Steven Pinker says the developed states have stopped waging war on one another. The result is no more credible than the efforts of economists until 2008 to demonstrate the permanence of the long boom. The long peace is another delusion.

Hope Solo
Luis Sanchis
U.S national soccer team goalkeeper Hope Solo in
ESPN The Body Issue

AR Good way to go gardening


 

To Pay Or Not To Pay
Isabell Hülsen

The Guardian has been losing money every year since 2004. Editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger says the Guardian is not in business to make money, so he focuses on the web. The Guardian website ranked fifth worldwide this August among the most popular newspaper sites, attracting almost 32 million users a month. But the site is free.

This year the New York Times put up a pay wall around its new site. The NYT has a global audience of 47 million users a month and is still the #1 news site. A feared slump in online advertising revenues never materialized. The NYT says good journalism has a price.

AR My blog loses money too.