BLOG 2013 Q1
Stonework by my nephew #3
POTUS To NK
As Air Force One flies
Barack Obama to Miami,
deputy press spokesperson
Josh Earnest tells onboard
rhetoric emanating from
North Korea only deepens
nation's isolation. The
United States remains
our allies in the region and
our interests that are
Kim Jong Un says
"the time has come to settle accounts with the U.S. imperialists in view
of the prevailing situation".
The USAF flew B-2 bombers over
Korea in military exercises. US Forces Korea: "The United States is
steadfast in its alliance commitment to the defense of the Republic of
Korea, to deterring aggression, and to ensuring peace and stability in the region."
Made in USA
Google is working with Foxconn to
assemble its new headset at a facility in Santa Clara, California. The
small scale, high cost, and complexity of the project's initial run
makes it practical to base manufacturing operations near Google HQ. Only
a few thousand Google Glass devices will roll off the line in the coming
weeks. Manufacturing locally will allow Google engineers to be closely
involved with the production process and facilitate quick fixes and personal customization. Many
sourced in Asia.
Spamhaus blacklists servers used to
spew forth spam around the net. Last week, a spammer launched a massive
distributed denial of service attack on Spamhaus that knocked it
offline. The attack was so big it blocked DNS servers and slowed down
the internet for users worldwide. Spamhaus reacted by turning to
CloudFlare, which can spread the traffic over a larger bandwidth.
CloudFlare CEO Matthew Prince likened the attacks to digital nuclear
bombs. Cyberbunker, a web hosting service housed in a disused nuclear
bunker in the Netherlands, may be the culprit. It was recently added
to a Spamhaus blacklist.
AR I felt
Cyprus EZ Model
After Cyprus, EZ leaders will push the risks
of paying for bank bailouts from taxpayers to private investors. Eurogroup
president and Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem: "Taking away the
risk from the financial sector and taking it on to the public shoulders is
not the right approach. If we want to have a healthy, sound financial
sector, the only way is to say: Look, there where you take the risks, you
must deal with them, and if you can't deal with them you shouldn't have
taken them on and the consequence might be that it is end of story."
AR Quite right. Sanity at last.
Russian state TV news anchor Dmitry Kiselev
called the EZ action in Cyprus "destructive" and said the last time a
European government acted so recklessly was when Adolf Hitler robbed the
Jews. Nazi propaganda described their money as "dirty" — how
EZ officials now describe Russian money in Cyprus.
AR EZ goes it loose,
to quote a phrase.
If you say it over and over again, "Jesus"
morphs into Cheesus.
Lovers of Cheesus celebrate the cross of Good Friday as a
moment of triumph. This is theologically illiterate. Cheesus is Jesus-lite, a romantic infatuation.
No PR agency in the
world could sell the message of a man who told his followers they too would go the way of the cross.
The Dark Side of the Moon
Album released 40
when the UK was being held
to ransom by the National
Union of Mineworkers.
Bibi Says Sorry
As Barack Obama was leaving Israel, Benjamin
Netanyahu called Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan and apologized for
mistakes in the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident. The two agreed to make up.
AR Bibi saw sense.
Axis of evil
Data from the 4-year ESA Planck spacecraft mission
shows the universe is slightly older than we thought and fits the
inflationary scenario. Lingering mysteries include a cosmic "axis of
evil" and an odd cold spot.
ESA Planck CMB Map
The European Space Agency has released the
most detailed map yet of the cosmic microwave background. The map,
made by the Planck telescope, reveals tiny variations in the average
temperature of about 3 K. Cooler regions (blue) are more dense and later
seed stars and galaxies. The data suggests the universe is about
13.82 billion years old. Normal matter seems to comprise 4.9%, dark
matter 26.8%, and dark energy 68.3% of the universe. This is a snapshot
of the universe about 12 Ts after the big bang.
Sugar is the real villain in the obesity
epidemic. Cocaine and heroin are deadly because they are addictive and
toxic, and so is sugar: "We need to wean ourselves off. We need to
de-sweeten our lives."
"The food industry has made it into a diet
staple because they know when they do you buy more. This is their hook."
Fat Chance: The Bitter
Truth About Sugar
Can Russia Save Cyprus?
Europe is clueless following the rejection by
Cyprus of the EU bank rescue package. Rich Russians launder money in
Cyprus, so Cyprus is appealing to Russia for help.
AR Monday the UK helicoptered cash into
Cyprus for stranded British servicemen. Maybe it should helicopter the
men out: Cyprus could implode.
Top 5 Arms Exporters
Ranking for 2008-2012:
pushed the UK out of the top 5: 55% of its arms exports went to Pakistan.
St. Patrick's Day Party
der Kultur, Heidelberg
Setting the Agenda for a Science of Information
PDF: 85 slides, 10 MB
FAA 787 OK
Federal Aviation Administration approves Boeing 787
Dreamliner battery fix and gives go-ahead for test flights. The fix
improves insulation between battery cells, puts the battery in a
fireproof box, and allows any smoke to vent outside the aircraft.
Boeing wants resumed flights within weeks.
Falkland islanders referendum:
want to stay British?"
Electorate 1,650; turnout 92%;
yes; 3 voted no.
One Ring To Rule Them All
Google has built rings that not
only adorn a finger but also let wearers log in to a computer or online
account. It says using a ring to log in is less risky than reusing
2013 Easter Sunday
1 Alain de Botton
The challenge of
our times is not to measure the god-shaped hole, but to fill it. Three ways:
For centuries in the west, priests were
there to take care of your soul. The deep self has not lost its aches and
pains simply because some scientific inaccuracies have been found in the
bible. Psychotherapy remains a minority activity, out of reach of most
people. Christian societies would imagine there was something wrong with you
if you had no priest, but we usually assume that therapists are there solely
for moments of extreme crisis. There is also an issue of branding. Therapy
is depressing. It has a long way to go to plug the gap left by the
Claims that culture could stand in for scripture
still sound eccentric or insane. But the qualities that the religious locate
in their holy texts can often be found in works of culture. Novels and
philosophy can impart moral instruction and offer consolation. Equivalents
to the ethical lessons of religion lie scattered across the cultural canon.
The notion of replacing religion with culture only sounds odd because
universities fail to train students to use culture as a repertoire of
Some say art museums are our new churches. But art
museums abdicate their potential to function as new churches by failing to
frame their collections in a way that links them to our inner needs. A walk
through a museum of art should amount to a structured encounter with ideas
that are easy to forget but are vital to remember. The challenge is to
change our art museums to serve the needs of psychology as effectively as
they formerly served those of theology. In the course of casting off
bad ideas, secularists have lost useful and attractive aspects of the
2 Francis Spufford
Richard Dawkins shows indifference
to all religions except Christianity. He feels he is locked in righteous
combat with the powers of darkness. For him the world is obscured by a layer of
corrupting gunk that purports to mediate between us and meaning but actually
hides the truth. We need to take up the wire wool of reason and
scrub the lies away. We need no priests. We can and must see the world as
But the project is impossible. Direct apprehension of truth is
not available, except via the hard work of science. That gunk the New
Atheists scrub away is the accumulating deposit of human culture. It grows
faster than they can remove it. We'll never arrive at the Year Zero where
everything means only what science says it should, for our imaginations will
never stop. We cannot disenchant the world. Even advocacy for disenchantment becomes a new enchantment, with prophets, heresies, and myths.
Alain de Botton finds
virtues and beauties in religion. He seeks to reconcile unbelief with
a fertile culture. Maybe we are entering a more tolerant phase, where
atheists abandon the impossible task of trying to abolish religion and
tackle instead the more useful task of sorting the good kinds from the bad.
3 Jim Al-Khalili
As a scientist, I have an unshakeable
conviction that our universe is comprehensible. There is no need
for a supernatural being to fill the gaps in our understanding. We shall
fill them with answers arrived at by examining hypotheses, testing our
theories, and dropping them if they conflict with empirical
data. Scientists are constantly subjecting our worldview to scrutiny. This
is the opposite of blind faith.
Not all scientists abandon a view
when proved wrong, and not everyone with religious faith follows it blindly.
If you are convinced that there is a deeper significance to the universe or
a spiritual meaning to your life, I shall not try to convince you otherwise.
But I take issue with the arrogant attitude that religious faith is the only
means of providing us with a moral compass. That idea is nonsense.
We still have a long way
to go to rid the world of the bigotry and injustice that come with religion. But we can afford to
moderate our criticism and tolerate those with a faith. I believe we are winning the argument. This
is no time for complacency, but we are now in a strong position to change
attitudes, to correct laws, and to build a fairer society
in which religion does not confer special privileges.
Our society is
no longer predominantly religious. Atheists are the mainstream. We cannot
afford to be complacent or conciliatory on the evil intent of religious
fanatics, the stubborn ignorance of creationists, or the injustices against
women or minority groups in the name of barbaric medieval laws, but we can
take a softer approach. Some atheists will call me an accommodationist. I
call myself a humanist.
4 Karen Armstrong
Most of us are
introduced to God and Santa Claus at about the same, but
over the years our views of Santa mature and change, while our notion of God
often gets stuck at an infantile level.
Religious thinking in the
west is often remarkably undeveloped, even primitive. Maimonides and Aquinas
both insisted that God was not another being. God, said Aquinas, is being
The biblical God is a starter kit. Throughout history, many
people have been content with a personalized deity, not because they
believed in it but because they learned to behave in a way that made it
real. Religion is a form of practical knowledge, like driving or dancing, not the quest for an abstract truth.
Usually religion is about doing things and it is hard work. The Christian Trinity was a new way of thinking, an activity rather than a metaphysical
truth. It is probably because most western Christians have not been
instructed in this exercise that it remains incomprehensible or
If you don't do religion, you don't get it. Originally,
belief meant commitment. When Jesus asked his followers to have faith, he
was asking his disciples to give all they had to the poor, live rough, and
work selflessly for the coming of a kingdom in which rich and poor would sit
together at the same table. Real faith demands overcoming
selfishness to bring new meaning into our world.
5 Richard Holloway
No matter how they answer the God question, generous-minded people could
profit from adopting an attitude of critical sympathy toward religion and
maybe even try it.
Most religions have two main departments. Natural
theology addresses ultimate questions about our universe, so natural
theologians are like philosophers, and they usually end up in a kind of
agnosticism. Revealed theology tries to work out the meaning of the
messages that God has sent us from beyond to answer our questions.
Revelation is what you get when you go to the synagogue or church or the
mosque. You get instructions from God to do this or abjure that.
problem is the circularity of the claims made by exponents of revealed
theology. If you ask them how they know that the words they quote came from
God, they say the Bible or the Quran or the Whatever tells them so. To the
question of where all this stuff came from, the obvious answer is that it
came from us. All these sacred texts are creations of the human imagination,
crafted to tell a story. They are myths. A myth is a
story that encodes but does not necessarily explain a universal human
experience. Ask of a myth not whether it is true or false but whether it is
dead or alive.
2013 March 30
Austerity in hard economic times mean giving up the
car, going out less often, cutting not just amenities but necessities, or
what we think are necessities. The people who take the hardest hit are the
poor and vulnerable.
Most of the things that are most valuable in
human life do not cost money. It might be pleasurable to dine with friends
in a fine restaurant, but to meet them on a park bench in the sunshine can
be good too. Material possessions can become an impediment.
Epictetus, the Stoic philosopher of antiquity, said that the truly rich
person is he who is satisfied with what he has. Enforced austerity might
teach one to be grateful not to be burdened with more than is sufficient.
So long as people measure their worth by how much they earn or own, they
will think that having less is austerity, that living more simply is
austerity, that getting to know their own locale rather than rushing to
distant beaches is austerity.
2013 March 29
China's territorial claims to islands and waters in
East Asia have turned bellicose and even provocative. The Philippines and
Japan say they will become "strategic partners" in settling their maritime
disputes with China. Japan is one of the world's most capable maritime
powers, and actively defends claims to the disputed islands known as the
Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
problems predate the People's Republic of China. Many Chinese are convinced
that old maps and imperial records imply historical Chinese control. In
1895, China and Japan fought a war and Japan annexed the islands. Now that
China's economy has surpassed that of Japan, the two countries are locked in
their most sustained and bitter dispute since World War II.
Subramanian argues that China will eclipse the United States even if
Washington pulls off a turnaround by balancing the budget and getting growth
back on track. Within the foreseeable future, China will surpass the United
States as the world's biggest economy. China will be in a position to
dominate it politically as well. The best Washington can do is prepare for
Edward Luttwak predicts that China cannot rise as a
superpower in its current incarnation. Its growth will cause countries to
band together and stymie its rise. Germany's economic and military growth
caused France and England to ally with each other, and China's rise to the
top is causing a reaction, not only in Japan and the Philippines but also in
the United States.
In 2010, China responded to the arrest of a
Chinese fishing captain who had violated Japanese territorial waters by
issuing inflammatory statements, arresting Japanese businessmen, and
effectively suspending rare earth shipments to Japan. Then it sought to make
a deal with Japan. But the Japanese were alarmed, and this prompted the
national government to take action.
All rising powers cause a
reaction, and rarely gain hegemony unless they create or take advantage of a
historic turning point, such as a war. The United States used Japan's defeat
and the decline of Britain and France after World War II to move decisively
into the Pacific as a donor of economic aid. By contrast, China is seen as a
predator and a challenge to its neighbors.
Graham Hill sold his Internet company for millions
in the late 1990s and went on a shopping binge. But it failed to buy him
happiness, so he downsized to a 39 sqm studio: "My space is small. My life
Hill has a point. Many people amass belongings not because
they have to, but because they want to. Such conspicuous consumption and
waste seems obnoxious and can imply unhealthy psychic needs.
Minimalism has roots in the spiritual asceticism of Zen, Jain, early
Christians, and Gandhi. In 1936, Richard Gregg coined the term "voluntary
simplicity" to describe the lifestyle. It still wins converts.
Everett Bogue had an epiphany in 2009 that led him to quit his New York job,
sell his possessions, and wander around the world. After three years of
living out of one bag, he blogged: "Fuck Minimalism."
lives in California with his wife and children. He takes walks, gardens, and
spends time with his family. He calls it simple living, not minimalism, and
thinks you can own stuff and still live simply.
AR This is how I plan to live.
2013 March 28
eurozone can do the right thing in the end. Superior alternatives assume a
nonexistent degree of solidarity among member states. Short of funding a tax haven, the present plan is the least bad one.
2 Euros are
not all equal. Nearly all euros are bank liabilities. The value of a euro of
bank liabilities depends on the solvency of the bank and the government
behind the bank. If both are insolvent, lenders may lose much of their money
and find the rest frozen behind controls.
3 The relationship between
banks, sovereigns, and the eurozone is complicated. There is no EZ consensus
on the principle that creditors, not taxpayers, should pay if a bank becomes
insolvent. The German government would rescue Deutsche Bank if it were in
4 The "bad marriage" that binds EZ members together has got
College Grads In Coffee Shops
Too many college kids are living in Mom's basement,
or working at Starbucks. Grad school often makes it worse. Skilled workers
with higher degrees are ending up in jobs that don't need
cognitive load of the jobs done by college students spiked in 1990-2000, as the IT revolution created new roles for thinkers. Then it started
to fall. Now college students do more routine work.
It seems we no
longer need so many skilled workers doing hard jobs with a
big analytical component. Grads who can't get those jobs are taking less
skilled ones. Unskilled workers are dropping out.
We may be
over-investing in college:
1 A lot of college attendance is seat warming
rather than useful learning.
2 More students with degrees end up in jobs
that don't make use of them.
3 A substantial number of kids drop out,
with debts but no job prospects.
Yet the wage premium for a college
graduate is higher than ever. Lower skilled workers are falling out of the
higher paying jobs as college graduates move down the skill ladder. College
graduates are having trouble getting good jobs, but the unskilled workers
are doing even worse. This doesn't prove that college degrees are raising
This is bad news. Kids are still taking expensive college
courses, but the credentials are often inflated tickets to routine service
jobs. If you plan to major in English, get ready for a career at
The word for "ungoogleable" — "impossible to find
via web search" — is gone from the Swedish lexicon published by The
Language Council of Sweden.
had become a notable neologism during 2012, but Google's lawyers got wind of
the council's intentions and told it the company did not want its trademark
diluted. Google proposed the definition "something that cannot be found on
the web using Google" together with a trademark notification.
Instead, the council dropped the word from its list. Council director Ann
Cederberg: "Google asked the Language Council to amend the definition of the
word. Today, we instead are deleting the word, marking our displeasure with
Google's attempts to control the language."
Cederberg: "One purpose
of the neologisms list is to show how society and language development
interact with each other. Google wanted to amend the definition and add a
disclaimer about its trademark ... We have neither the time nor the
inclination to pursue the lengthy process that Google is trying to start."
AR Google has forgotten its motto: "Don't be evil." Free speech implies
we must stop lawyers trying to tell us what we may and may not say.
2013 March 27
Carlos Frenk proposed dark
matter long ago. Today it is orthodoxy. Wherever dark stuff accumulates
normal matter follows, drawn by its gravity, to form stars and galaxies.
Dark matter explains the fact that clusters of galaxies whirl around too
fast for the amount of ordinary matter in them. And patterns in the CMB
reveal matter in the early universe poised between gravitational contraction
and expansive pressures in a way that agrees with dark matter theory.
My research suggests that to reproduce the facts we need dark matter as
a cold soup that barely moves at all. The energy from exploding supernovas
and stuff falling into black holes sends vast quantities of gas swirling
violently around. My simulations suggest that, if normal gas is shaken
enough, it swirls dark matter around too. Dark matter particles could then
be jostled by normal matter just enough to stop it clumping too densely.
The NASA gamma-ray telescope Fermi offers evidence for the idea of
normal matter kicking dark matter around. Cold dark matter theory suggests
you can see its particles collide and annihilate in a flash of gamma rays.
But annihilating superparticles would produce gamma rays with a spread of
energies, unpredictably. Frenk: "The case is absolutely fascinating, but I
don't think we've found anything yet."
David Shields wants to forge a literary form that can
articulate experience and assuage loneliness: "The only way out is deeper
in." He reveres Proust but no longer has the patience to read him. He reads
because he wants to watch others thinking and he writes from the compulsion
to share his mind's movements. But he believes writers must confront "the
marginalization of literature by more technologically sophisticated and thus
more visceral forms".
2013 March 26
Cyprus EZ Deal
How far can one bend to a country like Cyprus without
losing credibility? The most important glue holding the EZ together is the
mutual confidence of its members, but Club Med countries are increasingly
furious over the austerity diktats from Berlin, Brussels, and Frankfurt.
Cypriots see themselves as the innocent victims of a
ruthless bailout policy. They say their business model differs only slightly
from those of Ireland, Luxembourg, and the UK. But now, says a Cypriot
diplomat, "the German public only associates us with money laundering, the
Russian mafia, and oligarchs".
The Germany intelligence agency BND
portrayed Cyprus as a hub for money laundering. Wealthy Russians liked the
setup and invested billions in Cyprus, avoiding the Russian tax collector.
According to the BND, 80 Russia oligarchs have sheltered their money on the
President Anastasiades initially opposed the EZ plan to
introduce a mandatory levy on savings deposits to bridge the funding gap.
When he acquiesced, he insisted that small deposits also be levied, only to
claim afterwards that the hardliners from Germany had supported the
inclusion of ordinary savers. He had wanted to protect large investors.
Berlin rejects all blame for the crisis.
I back Berlin: Close down
the tax havens. Give law-abiding taxpayers a break.
Cyprus has been forced to succumb to the will of
Germany. Germanophobia is unfair. German taxpayers will once again be
funding the biggest single share of yet another eurozone bailout. Yet
growing German power is now the main theme in European politics.
The European Commission, the IMF, and the ECB took the lead in the Cyprus
negotiations. But no deal could go through without the German government.
The Germans have a clear and consistent analysis of the problem. They
believe that fiscal profligacy or faulty business models lie at the heart of
the crisis, and the solution is austerity, allied to structural reform.
The notion that Europe should be driven forward by a Franco-German
partnership was crucial to French thinking. But any notion that France is
playing an equal role to Germany has disappeared. Germany is writing the
cheques, enforcing the rules, and increasingly making them up as well. That
is a dangerous situation for Europe.
AR Not really. Recall the Holy
Roman Empire. Ample precedent, I'd say.
The ancient world turned on city states and
empires. The city is the smallest human association capable of
self-government. The empire is the most extensive possible grouping under a
single sovereign. Athens was a city. Rome was an empire.
Cicero was a
major reference for Saint Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. Medieval thinking is
divided between those who carry on the ancient tradition and those who
announce or prepare the work of the moderns. Europe was in search of an
Modernity was defined by a movement toward a reordering.
Medieval authors were caught up for ten centuries in confusion. The rupture
associated with Machiavelli and with Luther allowed a fresh start.
Machiavelli stated that fortune favors the bold. He dismissed moral precepts
and traditional inhibitions. He reduced all the virtues to hope and courage.
It was a call to revolution.
Luther attacked ecclesiastical mediation
between man and God. The rupture empowered temporal authorities. The
repository of religious authority became the community of believers. The
Reformation was a national revolution.
With the Church set aside, the
social world accelerated. The nation became the natural framework of
civilized human life. Europeans felt that they inhabited the most perfectly
developed political form.
During the twentieth century, the nation
state was discredited and now belongs to a past age. Europeans are in
transition from one type of human association to another.
AR Family — tribe — nation — polity: EU or EZ?
No, GO! The Cloud!
Brain parasites can change behavior:
A parasitic wasp attaches its eggs to the belly of an orb spider. They
zombify the spider to spin a cocoon for the baby wasps when they emerge.
● A parasitic fungus infects an ant.
The ant seeks out a spot on a tree about 25 cm above its trail, facing
northwest. At noon, it bites a leaf, holds on, and dies by nightfall. A few
days later, a tube sprouts from its head and emits fungus spores to infect
● A worm
reproduces in sheep. It hijacks the brain of an ant, which it programs
to climb to the top of a blade of grass every evening and hold on tight. The
ant waits all night for a grazing sheep to eat it. If it's still there in
the morning, it climbs down to avoid the sun. In the evening, it climbs up
and tries again.
● A parasite
called Toxoplasma gondii reproduces in cat guts. To get there,
it prompts its host to risk being eaten by a cat. Rats infected with Toxo
like the smell of cat urine. Toxo in brain areas controlling fear and
pleasure damps down alarm at the smell of cat urine and boosts the pleasure
hormone dopamine instead. Toxo is linked in humans to disturbed behaviors
such as reckless driving and a greater risk of suicide. Studies show men infected with Toxo become
introverted and wear rumpled old clothes, whereas infected woman dress
smartly and become more trusting and sociable.
The influenza vaccine changes human behavior. A study of 36 academics (a) two
days before and (b) two days after getting a jab showed that from (a) to (b) they almost doubled the number of people they interacted with and
cut the amount of time they spent with each person by a factor of more than
ten — ideal to spread the virus.
'r' us. Genes 'n' memes.
2013 March 25
EU Approves Cyprus Deal
EU ministers have approved a deal on Cyprus. The
deal leaves accounts worth less than €100,000 untouched. But those above
that level in Laiki Bank will be severely cut. The losses on large deposits
in Bank of Cyprus could reach 40%. The deal releases a €10 billion bailout
package and saves the island from bankruptcy. It will destroy the offshore
financial business that was the engine of the island's economy.
AR No pain, no gain.
EZ Breakup Looms
A eurozone that comprises countries as diverse
as Germany and Cyprus is not sustainable. An operational banking union with
supervision, resolution, and deposit insurance is the minimal condition to
make a monetary system work. But the eurozone does not meet it. Germany says
it is too expensive.
The crisis over Cyprus illustrates the problem.
It began when EZ officials decided to tax insured deposits, failing to see
the danger of a bank run. The Cypriot government committed three blunders:
1 Its failed appeal to Russia for help offended Germans.
2 Its days of
silence toward European officials lost trust.
Its proposal to raid the pension fund was abhorrent.
makes repeated policy errors. The policy of adjustment via austerity turned
a recession into a depression in Italy. A policy that goes against the
interests of the people is immoral.
AR The EZ can only work
well when Germans learn how to lead it.
David Nirenberg argues that hostility to Judaism was
deeply and pervasively woven into the fabric of Western Christianity. The
early Christians defined their beliefs in opposition to Judaism. Christians
said that in refusing to acknowledge Christ, Jews had failed to follow their
England prospered in the years
after the Norman Conquest in 1066. Jews flourished with it, and their
culture and expertise had much to offer. But after a hundred years, the king
regulated the loans made by Jewish lenders. The Jews were thrown out in
1290. The story was similar elsewhere in Europe.
The legacy of the
Christian Church was anti-Judaism. Enlightenment figures found in Jews an
archetypal avarice and deviousness, and in Judaism a primitive superstition.
Marx called for the emancipation of mankind from Judaism. Weber
rehabilitated capitalism by associating it with Protestantism.
Muhammad faced a paradox in embracing a revelation from which everything
must begin afresh while continuing to respect the authority of the Hebrew
scriptures. His followers depicted Jews as resisting the revelation of
Muhammad and even plotting against him. The seeds had been planted.
Martin Luther's onslaughts on the Jews arose from his anxiety that the world
was converting to Judaism. Nirenberg: "Luther's reconceptualization of the
ways in which language mediates between God and creation was achieved by
thinking with, about, and against Jews and Judaism."
AR All dead weight in spaceship Earth.
2013 March 24
Are We All Martians?
NASA says the Curiosity rover found proof of
running water not so long ago on Mars. When it drilled into a rock in an
ancient stream bed, it discovered sulfur, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen,
phosphorus, and carbon, which could feed life.
discovered in the drill sample was gray, not red. Life on Earth was possible
because no free oxygen existed on the planet at first. Organic materials
exposed to oxygen get oxidized, releasing energy we use for life, in a slow
Oxidized iron is red rust. The fact that not all the surface stuff on
Mars is oxidized suggests the early wet environment was not oxidizing and
not entirely acidic, so early life could have burned some of the material in
the gray clay for energy.
If we find evidence for life on Mars, the
big question will be whether it is or was related to us. Material routinely
travels between Earth and Mars, and microbes could too. Perhaps life first
originated on Mars and then was transported to Earth. If that's true, I'm a
Iraq War For Oil
Big Oil won the Iraq war. Before the 2003
invasion, Iraq's domestic oil industry was nationalized and closed to
foreigners. Today it is largely privatized, and dominated by Big Oil.
ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Shell, and service companies such as Halliburton
are all doing business in Iraq. The war let them in.
Oil was the aim of the Iraq war. In 2000, Big Oil
spent big money to get oilmen Bush and Cheney into office. The National
Energy Policy Development Group reviewed Iraq and reported in
May 2001 that Mideast countries should be urged "to open up areas of their
energy sectors to foreign investment".
Before the invasion, two
things stood in the way: Saddam Hussein and Iraqi law. The invasion got rid
of Hussein. Some Bush insiders said they should change the law through the coalition government of Iraq. Instead, the Bush
administration drafted a law for a newly elected Iraqi government to pass.
The Iraq Hydrocarbons Law would lock the nation into private foreign
investment on terms friendly to Big Oil. The Iraqi government was pushed to
pass it but refused. So in 2008, the oil companies simply signed contracts that provide all of the access and most of the
terms they wanted.
Law or no law, the new contracts open Iraq to Big
Oil. Iraqi oil production has increased by more than 40% since 2008 to 3
million barrels a day, 80% of it exported. The Iraqi oil and gas sectors
rely largely on imported labor. In the war for oil, the losers were the
AR A big round of thanks to
Bush for cheap oil.
2013 March 23
Who Owns The Future?
Cloud software will weaken nearly every present job.
The only one left standing will be the owner of the biggest computer on the
network. The biggest computer and the biggest data guarantee success.
Politics then becomes about the computer instead of the agenda.
If there were micro payments made to the people who fed
the big data, there would still be an economy. We choose not to intervene in
the market, which is just is an algorithmic result of things we do. Instead
of allowing human politics to decide, we let the market sort out our
Markets need to be honest. We constant find companies like
Google saying they are honest brokers. No, they are commercial concerns.
There is a smugness to the tech world. But the only proper attitude is that
the profession of engineering is there to serve people.
you have a big computer then you get to keep your data secret, and you have
tremendous rights. I would like to see everybody have their autonomy and
social mobility independently of some big company. Government must rule on
the basics of digital identity.
AR The IT
revolution is decoupling effort from reward in the economy. Pay is a
political issue: If we accept a market rigged by IT we accept that people
who get lucky get rich, while others starve. This cannot stand: We need a
principled basis for paying people to live normal lives. We need a right to
pay for poor people and a duty to pay back for rich people, all governed by
Go(...) and IT.
Chinua Achebe was a Nigerian writer. His first
novel, Things Fall Apart (1958) sold more than 10 million copies. A quote:
"The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his
religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he
has won our brothers and our clan can no longer act like one."
Achebe won the Man Booker prize in
2007. Elaine Showalter, said he had "inaugurated the modern African novel".
Nadine Gordimer said his fiction was "an original synthesis of the
psychological novel, the Joycean stream of consciousness, the postmodern
breaking of sequence" and that Achebe was "a joy and an illumination to
In a 1975 essay, Achebe said Joseph Conrad turned Africa into
"a metaphysical battlefield devoid of all recognizable humanity, into which
the wandering European enters at his peril", asking: "Can nobody see the
preposterous and perverse arrogance in thus reducing Africa to the role of
props for the break-up of one petty European mind?"
Born in 1930 and
taught at the University of Ibadan, Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart in
English, saying "the English language will be able to carry the weight of my
African experience". In 1990, a car accident in Nigeria left him paralyzed
and he moved to the United States. He was a professor at Brown University
until his death, aged 82.
AR Fair comment on Conrad: Recall
Colonel Kurtz (Marlo Brando) in
Now, based on Heart of Darkness. The Cambodians were mere bodies in the
2013 March 22
Publishing is the business of literature. The system
produces great literature in spite of itself. Until recently, unpublished
manuscripts were lost, so the universe of knowledge excludes books that were
never published. From what is published we choose what we celebrate, and we
say the system produced these celebrated works.
Like tables and chairs, books have receded into the backdrop of human life.
The book is a technology so pervasive that it reaches the status of nature.
Books virtually began consumer capitalism. The bookstore is the model for
the supermarket. Digital publishing increased the number of published
titles. The number of independent publishers rose with the growth of
superstore bookstores, which needed the indie offerings to fill their
With digital publishing, the cost of creating the text is
fixed but the marginal cost for mass consumption is zero. Books reward
iteration for readers too. The more you read, the better you get at it, the
more fun you have. Books are recipes for the imagination. The book is
already good enough. Its job is to deliver a very large set of words.
As for publishers, there is marketing and discovery. Editors add value
beyond their editorial skills: they bring relationship skills. People work
hard on books that become bestsellers, but what really matters is luck and
network effects. Almost all books are commercial flops, but some achieve
Publishing is about making culture. The margin
on books is low because it takes so long to discover whether or not you like
a book. Publishers cut prices to persuade us to risk wasting our time. But
selling a book is not the only way to generate revenue from all the cultural
activity around literature and ideas. Book culture is the swirl and gurgle
of idea and style in the expression of stories and concepts. Publishers are
where the shit hits the fan.
Algebra Breakthrough Wins Abel
Mathematician Pierre Deligne of the Institute for
Advanced Study in Princeton has won the $1 million Abel prize. He proved the
last of the four conjectures proposed in 1949 by André Weil to tackle the
problem of solving polynomial equations within number systems known as
Weil suggested describing the number of possible solutions in each
finite field by counting certain points on a related shape, using a zeta
function. Proving his four statements about the zeta function would confirm
that this is the way to tackle polynomial equations within
Three of the statements were soon proved, but the last
was harder. Finding a cohomology would crack the problem, but it was tricky.
Deligne did so in 1974, and won the Fields medal in 1978. Cambridge
mathematician Timothy Gowers calls him "one of the absolute all-time
2013 March 21
Europe Versus Cyprus
In the spat between Cyprus and the European
Union, Russia might ride to the rescue. Russian investors have parked
billion in Cyprus. When the Nicosia parliamentarians voted unanimously
against the EU bailout package, their main concern was not small savers but
maintaining their tax haven.
The Cyprus package called for €10
billion from the ESM plus €6 billion from the levy. If the Euro Group let go
the levy, any country in trouble in future would play hardball with Brussels
and play havoc with financial markets. European taxpayers will lose
trust if their austerity pays for mismanagement in the Med.
Nicosia hopes Moscow will overlook
the tax loss from rich Russians banking in Cyprus and bail out the banks.
They can offer a natural gas deal that trades Russian access to their
deposits for cash. It must be cash. A loan would drive Cypriot sovereign
debt too high. If Russia says no, say hi to a new eurocrisis.
Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev lambasted
EU handling of the Cyprus debt crisis. Cypriot finance minister Michael
Sarris met senior Russian officials to seek aid from the Kremlin to bail out
its banks. Officials in Moscow are skeptical: Russian businessmen invest
using commercial criteria.
Israel Versus Islam
The relationship between Barack Obama and Benjamin
Netanyahu started off badly in 2009. Washington thought Israel and the
Palestinians were close to an agreement. Obama told Netanyahu that progress
on the Palestinian track would make it easier to enlist the Arab world in
efforts to stop Iran. He seemed to think the proverbial Arab street would be
more accepting of Israel if it did right by the Palestinians.
Netanyahu took the opposite approach. Tackle Iran and its nuclear
program first, then deal with the Palestinians. A proud Iran would use Hamas
and Hezbollah to foul up any diplomatic process. Land for peace never worked
in the past. The Arab street looks at the conflict through religion. The
Muslim Brotherhood wants an Islamic state and views Israel as alien and
unacceptable in the Mideast.
AR Israel versus Iran and Islam: war on two fronts.
2013 March 20
Berlin Can Lead On Syria
On all recent questions of war and peace, Germany
has disagreed with the other leading European powers. Berlin opposed the
intervention in Libya in 2011, it was reluctant to help France in Mali in
January, and it still resists arming the rebels in Syria. So Europe is
failing to exert its full power.
Germans still find
comfort in the pacifism they adopted in reaction to the horrors of the
second world war. They are proud they opposed the Iraq war ten years ago.
Chancellor Angela Merkel responded to a push by Britain and France for
Europe to lift its arms embargo on Syria thus: "Just the fact that two have
changed their minds doesn't mean that the other 25 have to follow suit."
Germany can slow or prevent action by France and
Britain by denying access to EU resources. Berlin does not have the military
assets that Paris and London have. But Germany is widely seen as a neutral
player that can do business with both sides. Hosting a Syria conference in
Berlin would advance European interests in the Mideast and let Germany shine
as a peacemaker.
UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne
ordered ministers to come up with £2.5 billion of extra spending cuts. Faced
with stagnant growth and disintegrating debt targets, the chancellor will
present a budget for "people who want to work hard and get on".
The chancellor is expected
to raise the personal tax allowance to £10,000 in 2014, to defer a planned
rise in fuel duty, and to trim current spending to promote growth. Any good
news in the 2013 budget will be dwarfed by the scale of the UK borrowing
AR Ask the Saudis for a handout.
2013 March 19
CORAL is now for sale in the new updated version:
● Cropped and clarified Christians
● Enhanced and extended Revelation
● Extended notes and references
Yasmin Alibhai Brown
Prince Charles' wife Camilla wore an
unsecured headscarf on her trip to Saudi Arabia. It slipped off and almost
uncovered all her hair. According to Saudi Wahhabi Islam, uncovered hidden
female tresses are as licentious as exposed pubic hair. The Duchess'
shamelessness must have prompted diplomatic jitters.
Charles is keen
on Islamic thought but never gets into Mideast politics. To expect him to
stand up for human rights is about as hopeless as expecting him to champion
equal rights. The real iniquity is the way the UK sucks up to Saudi Arabia,
knowing its tyrannical governance and malevolent global influence.
Saudi Arabia is slowly handing some pitifully small rights to women. Female
politicians have been given an advisory role and smart young women are able
to work under restrictive conditions. But at this pace the world will end
before Saudi women achieve full human status. Black cloaks render them
Saudi funded Wahhabis are everywhere, successfully
eradicating all diversity and ease in Islam, aggressively exporting their
own brand. I have seen the results of this infiltration in Tanzania, India,
Bangladesh, Kenya, Egypt, and in Western cities. The ideology fosters
intolerance and extremism.
Cypriot authorities are renegotiating the terms
of a €10 billion bailout to scrap its levy on small account holders and
instead seize more from larger depositors and businesses. Banks are closed
to avoid a bank run as the government responds to the deal struck with the
eurozone and the IMF.
2013 March 18
Just as the eurozone had begun to set the right
course in its struggle with an ever-mutating debt crisis, it relapsed into
its old vice. Faced with a drowning member state, instead of throwing Cyprus
a lifebelt, leaders put a millstone around its neck.
The Cyprus deal
imposes a tax on all depositors down to the smallest ones. The small savers
are betrayed. A future European banking system must shield taxpayers from
the losses of banks.
Big banks are saved, small savers are wiped out: TIME TO REVOLT!
Iraq Ten Years On
Saddam Hussein did not expect his rule to end so abruptly. His
fall must have encouraged Arab opposition activists across the Mideast. But
if they were directly inspired by the fall of Saddam, they would have risen
a decade ago.
In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 atrocities, Arab
governments used the ensuing "war on terror" to quell domestic dissent. When
opposition Islamist parties questioned the legitimacy of Arab dictators,
they were seen as al Qaeda sympathizers and imprisoned.
2001 to 2011, government repression of Islamists signaled to young
Arabs that Islamism could not overthrow autocratic regimes. Islamists
failed to gain political office, and the
corruption and nepotism of regimes in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt sank deeper.
Social media like Facebook and Twitter helped young Arabs bypass
communications controlled by their dictators. The Arab youth used modern
technology to amplify the mood music of Western belief that Arabs too could
be free. The Arab Spring was going to happen with or without
Iraq is not a success. It is now an ally of Iran,
home to a prime minister who persecutes his own political opposition, and
unashamedly supports the Assad regime in Syria.
AR Bush lost the plot for the West.
2013 March 17
To ease the heartache of a stillbirth, Kelli Montgomery chose
rigorous exercise, yoga, and meditation over the antidepressants and
sleeping pills that her physicians suggested.
The Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is the bible for mental health
professionals. A new campaign will seek to block the May release of the next
The American Psychiatric Association dismisses DSM-5
critics as alarmist. Dr. Carl Bell: "All the good epidemiological studies
unfortunately show that one in five people have a psychological disorder."
The APA says the DSM-5 is sound. Dr. David Kupfer: "The development of
DSM-5 began with an unprecedented process of research evaluation that
included a series of white papers and 13 scientific conferences supported by
the National Institutes of Health. This preparation brought together more
than 400 international scientists and produced a series of monographs and
peer-reviewed journal articles."
Primary care doctors too often
dispense anti-psychotic drugs. Montgomery: "I had no mental illness. I had
never been medicated. I had not even suggested that I was depressed."
The number of people aged over 65 in the UK is set
to rise from 10 million in 2010 to 15 million in 2030. Many are alarmed by
the rising cost of pensions and healthcare.
A new Lords report says
businesses should let older people work for longer and people should agree
they have no right to be idle for the final third of their lives.
tend to see retirement as the end. More than a third of women aged 60-64 and
a quarter of men aged 65-69 may still be in full or part-time work, but we
pay the rest off.
It is high time we harnessed the powers of the
retired and semi-retired in a volunteer force. It would end the wicked waste
of millions of our more experienced people.
2013 March 16
Muslim Brotherhood On Women
The New York Times
The Muslim Brotherhood has long preached that Islam required women to obey
their husbands in all matters. In a statement on a proposed United Nations
declaration to condemn violence against women, the Brotherhood issued a list
● Wives should not have
the right to file legal complaints against their husbands for rape.
● Wives need their husbands' consent in matters
like travel, work, or use of contraception.
Husbands should not be subject to the punishments meted out for the rape of
● Husbands must have guardianship
over their wives, not equal partnerships with them.
● Daughters should not have the same inheritance rights as sons.
Egyptian UN representative Pakinam El-Sharkawy said the Egyptian
government objected to the UN declaration only over issues like whether to
call restrictions on abortion acts of violence against women. That offended
the cultural norms in many Arab and African countries: "We can't give women
the freedom to have abortions whenever they want."
Muslim Brother Abu
Salam says husbands should keep their wives under tight control: "It's the
nature of the weak to overstep the required framework if she is given the
space and the freedom, like children."
The Brotherhood says the UN
proposals are "destructive tools meant to undermine the family as an
important institution" that "would drag society back to pre-Islamic
The Book Trade
Publishers used to publish enough bestsellers to
subsidize diversified lists of prestige titles. Profits depended on their
monopoly position. Without them, readers and writers would have no books at
Now they're on the defensive. Bookstores and the recommendation
system are at risk with the rise of online booksellers like Amazon that let
customers recommend books to each other. Self-publishing threatens to cut
out traditional middlemen. And cheap e-books are endangering printed books.
People are buying fewer printed books, and buying more of those they do
buy online. Online bookstores now have a market share of almost 20%. The big
bookstore chains have failed to find a way to fight back.
fighting the literary aristocracy. The company wants the business to itself.
It locks in e-book customers and demands big discounts from publishers. Some
say it is destroying book culture. Yet Amazon depends on people valuing
books enough to buy a Kindle to read them.
People read and write a
lot, and they are publishing more books than ever before. And it's never
been this easy to publish a text as a book, at least in electronic form. All
it takes is a few clicks. It's as easy as buying a book. Reading and writing
is a mass phenomenon.
Amazon is dominant in the e-book market, with a
market share of over 40%. Its customers rank and evaluate their purchases,
as a crowd, and give Amazon the data for free. Almost everything can be
logged: how fast people read, which text they highlight, and where they stop
reading. The data may soon help authors to rewrite their books in response
to reader reactions.
Publishers are realizing they need to catch up.
They are hoping to learn from the mistakes of the music industry. When the
first e-book readers came on the mass market, customers weren't forced into
piracy, as in the music industry. And they let authors hold onto their
Bestselling authors are rare. Only a small group of
writers can support themselves with writing, and that elite is shrinking.
Meanwhile, the number of books sold in the middle of the pack declines from
year to year. Publishing literary books is still a gamble.
Harvard philosopher Hilary Putnam is a lucidly
self-aware neurotic. Born in 1926 in Chicago, he was raised an atheist and
progressive. At age 50, he abandoned communism. At 68, he had his Bar
Putnam denies a clean distinction between facts and
values. Scientists agree that simpler theories are better but have no
rulebook to say so. They appeal to the greater pragmatic value of simpler
theories or to the lack of explanatory value in added complications. Facts
are inextricably tied to values.
Putnam says meaning is external and
normative. The meaning of our statements is derived from their causal
relation to an external world. Symbols derive their content from a complex
network of information, metaphor, and history. A brain map of a speaker is
not enough to interpret what they say.
Putnam believes in an external
reality compatible with our ordinary human values. He has faith in our
ability to represent reality correctly. But he finds it hard not to go
2013 March 15
Beware the Ides of March
2013 + 44 — 1 (they skipped
0) = 2056 years ago today, Julius Caesar was assassinated in Rome.
Beware the View From Nowhere
Wonkery can only take a
blogger so far.
The View from Nowhere is a bid for trust, a
preemptive defense against accusations of bias, and an attempt to secure a
kind of legitimacy that is denied to those who stake out positions or betray
a point of view. Claiming objectivity is not a source of authority.
In journalism, real authority starts with reporting. Knowing your stuff,
mastering your beat, being right on the facts, digging under the surface of
things, finding out what happened, verifying what you heard, illuminating a murky situation because you understand it better than most. Doing the work!
The Ross Blog embodies that kind of
journalism. But Ross tries to bolster his authority by invoking The View
from Nowhere. When Ross writes as if politics is about dispassionately
identifying the best means to a universally agreed end, he isn't just
disagreeing with values not his own, he is disappearing them.
audience gets resentful when journalists treat their own values as
normative. Ross is more than capable of providing the View from Somewhere.
Don't confuse facts and values.
AR Well, should I adopt a point
2013 March 14
CORAL peace: my revisions are
satisfactory to me.
Life On Mars?
The Mars Curiosity rover has found an environment on
Mars that was once warm and wet, with a chemistry that would support
Earth-like life. Curiosity drilled into a rock and found evidence of clay
minerals. The water that formed these minerals was neutral, not too strongly
acidic or basic. Curiosity also found sulfur, phosphorus, and carbon, all
ingredients for life as we know it.
Curiosity did not find evidence of life. It has been looking for organic
compounds but has not yet found them. But it did find conditions were once
conducive for it. The region where Curiosity landed was once very wet, and
for a long time. It was probably a lake bed, fed by a river or stream that
spread out into an alluvial fan. Fairly fresh water once stood where the
rover sits now.
NASA has been looking for life, or at least the
conditions for it. Now we have speculation based on solid scientific
evidence. Mars may have once been suitable for life. Ice has been found just
under the surface at mid-latitudes, insulated by the rock and dust above it.
Evidence that standing water existed is everywhere, from dry lake beds like
this one to strong hints of ancient oceans.
been sent to the right place
Curiosity has found a rock that contains
evidence for a past environment that would have been suitable for Earth-like
microorganisms. The mineralogical and geomorphological observations suggest
that the rover is on an ancient Martian lakebed. The rock contains both
oxidized and reduced forms of the same elements, so there are chemical
gradients that life could potentially exploit as an energy source.
AR Good news
David Foster Wallace told
students in 2005 that they can choose how to make meaning out of their
lives. In the tides of boredom that wash over us in our daily lives, anyone
who harnesses the power of his own attention is king. We can, as he says,
"choose what we worship".
2013 March 13
There Is Only Awe
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the
Bicameral Mind (1976) by Julian Jaynes was his only book. He said his
inspiration arose from an episode of "darkest distress" when he was
despairing over the question of how we can know anything. He heard a voice:
"Include the knower in the known!"
As a doctoral student at Yale,
Jaynes concluded that consciousness was a function of language. He read
ancient texts and saw that consciousness emerged in the time between the
Iliad and the Odyssey. The actors in the Iliad have no concept of a personal
mind, but 300 years later Odysseus is a modern hero.
gods were ... man's volition. They occupied his nervous system, probably his
right hemisphere." The Trojan War was fought by men with bicameral minds. In
moments of stress, their servile left hemispheres took hallucinated voices
in their right "god" hemispheres as commands.
By about 3 MBP,
turmoil in the Mideast led to mass migrations. The gods fell silent and
retreated to the sky. Humans were left alone, groping for answers. They
still heard a voice, but they knew it was their own. Jaynes: "The mighty
themes of the religions of the world are here sounded for the first time."
Consciousness can only be described through metaphor and analogy. Jaynes
noted that writers tend to describe their work in bicameral terms as a form
of listening: they hear a voice and take dictation.
science as a new attempt by humans to establish contact with a "lost ocean
of authority". Science offers a rational splendor that explains everything.
In return the adherent receives a world view, a total explanation of man.
Jaynes lived alone in a single room on the Princeton campus. Jaynes:
"Our search for certainty rests in our attempts at understanding the history
of all individual selves and all civilizations. Beyond that, there is only
2013 March 12
Books After Amazon
Waterstones hopes that books with extra "bonus"
material will be enough to persuade paperback fans to shun Amazon and return
to the High Street. The promotion is one of several innovative marketing
tactics being adopted by booksellers in an attempt to compete with cut-price
Bookseller editor Tom Tivnan: "All bookshops are
having to innovate and do special things to survive. It's part of the whole
package of how to reform themselves. They have to work out what things they
can do that online retailers can't ... One of the buzzwords in publishing
and bookselling is discoverability."
More than 400 UK bookshops
closed in 2012, leaving fewer than 2,000 bookshops in Britain, less than
half as many as 7 years ago. Ebook sales doubled in 2012 to £260 million,
while physical book sales fell to £1.5 billion, 5% down from 2011.
AR Am I the only one who often buys hardbacks,
if only to enjoy their physical quality compared to a cheap paperback, on
the grounds that the time spent reading the thing has an opportunity cost
that outweighs the price anyway? A good book, like a Blu-ray movie, has
value that amply rewards the price. Time is too valuable to waste reading
Nuclear Power, Safer And Cheaper
MIT Technology Review
Transatomic is developing a nuclear reactor
that it says will cut the overall cost of a nuclear power plant in half. Its
updated molten-salt reactor is highly resistant to meltdowns and small
enough to be built in factories and shipped by rail. It can burn nuclear
waste and includes new safety features. Transatomic says it can build a 500
MW power plant for $1.7 billion, roughly half current price levels.
AR I buy it as a low carbon planet saver.
2013 March 11
NK Annuls Armistice
American Forces Press
NK annulled the armistice agreement of 1953
and cut off the hot line to SK. The NK press reported that "the US has
reduced the armistice agreement to a dead paper."
General James D. Thurman, commander of Combined Forces
Command and US Forces Korea, today opened the annual Key Resolve exercise.
About 13 000 US and SK participants are honing the skills necessary to
defend SK, including improving the operational capabilities of combined US
and SK forces, coordinating and executing the deployment of US
reinforcements, and maintaining SK military combat capabilities. Thurman:
"For 60 years, the armistice agreement has ensured peace and stability on
the Korean Peninsula."
has no chance against USSK resolve.
We may see a return of "conventional" warfare between
nations if Japan and China or the United States and Iran go to war. But
irregular war is more common. Max Boot: "Much of the world's population
lives in states whose present boundaries were determined in insurgencies
waged by or against their ancestors."
Early guerrillas rarely
achieved their aims, but insurgencies have been much more effective in
defeating established powers since 1945. Wars nowadays are played out on TV
screens as well as real battlefields. Unless an insurgency is put down
quickly and effectively, it saps the will of the military to continue.
The Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts underscored the importance of winning
over hearts and minds rather than merely killing the enemy. Guerrilla
movements prevail when they have access to foreign funding, arms training
and havens. Boot: "No other factor correlates so closely with insurgent
Thomas Nagel wrote "the materialist neo-Darwinian
conception of nature is almost certainly false" and Steven Pinker tweeted it
was "the shoddy reasoning of a once-great thinker".
Nagel: "In the
present climate of a dominant scientific naturalism, heavily dependent on
speculative Darwinian explanations of practically everything, and armed to
the teeth against religion ... I would like to extend the boundaries of what
is not regarded as unthinkable."
Nagel is being denounced for heresy.
He is a philosopher. In American intellectual life, scientists often do the
work of philosophers, but the history of science is a history of mistakes.
The provenance of an idea reveals nothing about its veracity. Accept the
truth from whoever utters it, said the rabbis.
AR Darwinist logic is good even if it looks imperialist.
2013 March 10
The Undivided Past
David Cannadine looks at what historians have said
about religion, nation, class, gender, race, and civilization. He dismisses
the idea of history as identity politics. He suggests that the only
solidarity that is acceptable is solidarity with humankind. Nazism took the
shine off nationalism, and divisions of class trumped race in the British
empire. Cannadine seeks to do away with such categories.
are members of their societies, and human society has not yet taken a global
form. There is still virtually no shared consciousness globally of common
struggles or common achievements. Even our most urgent global issues tend to
be tackled regionally or nationally. There may be many things beyond our
differences. But it is not yet clear that there is any history.
David Bowie's new album
The French navy will invade Britain
this weekend: 200 troops, 43 vehicles, and 4 helicopters from 2 landing
craft and a new landing catamaran will storm a beach at Gosport,
Google Glass can shoot video and stream it online — that's cool.
Wearable computing with voice control will become pervasive. Google
co-founder Sergey Brin (above) suggests you can whirl your child around
by their arms and say: "OK, Glass, take video!" He says ordinary
smartphones are "emasculating".
Google Glass can beam their story to the web. Google knows this is an
issue: "It may be that new social norms develop with Glass, where people
develop an informal way of showing that they're not using it — say,
wearing it around their neck to signal they aren't using it or being
distracted by it."
The Borg is the software
system at the heart of Google. It parcels out work across the company's
vast fleet of computer servers. It's one of the secrets of Google
becoming the dominant force on the web. Google is now building a new
version called Omega.
Brits Die Younger
People in the UK enjoy fewer years of good
health before they die than the citizens of most comparable European
The UK ranked 12th out of 19
countries of similar affluence in 2010 in terms of healthy life
expectancy at birth, according to an analysis from data collected by the
UK health secretary Jeremy Hunt called the result
shocking. Despite more funding and reforms, the UK has not risen in rank
AR What a bloody
China Defense Up 10%
China will increase its defense budget
by 10.7% this year, to Rmb 720 billion ($116 billion). The overall
economic growth target is 7.5%.
Dynamics robot BigDog use jaws and head to hurl cinder blocks (47 s)
2013 March 9
Pyongyang propaganda says NK forces will flush the
Americans mercilessly into the sea, destroy South Korea, and turn Seoul into
a nuclear sea of fire, and even annihilate the US aggressors in a
pre-emptive nuclear strike. All this is driven by revolutionary ideology and
love for NK dictator Kim Jong Un.
The regime vowed to end a
nonaggression pact with SK and cut its hot line to Seoul, and threatens to
annul the 1953 Korean ceasefire agreement. In the coming weeks, NK forces
will launch a major military exercise and may test another ballistic
missile. SK experts cannot exclude a new NK attack:
1 The NK bosses are convinced the rest of
the world wants to oust them. They think they have a right to nuclear
weapons and big ballistic missiles.
NK bosses must confirm their leadership by protecting the masses from their
enemies and blaming their misery on foreign sanctions.
3 The NK bosses are testing their new political
limits. In China, Xi Jinping is the new head of state. In SK, Park Geun Hye
is the new president.
The NK fate depends on China. Beijing need only
cut off oil and food to kill the NK regime. The CPC Central Committee want
to keep the NK alliance. CPC chief Xi plans to reconsider the NK issue after
the People's Congress. Beijing professor Shi Yinhong: "Relations are
currently in the toilet."
The Professor, the Bikini Model,
and the Suitcase Full of Trouble
In November 2011, Paul Frampton, a theoretical
physicist, met Denise Milani, a Czech bikini model, on an online dating
site. Soon they were chatting online nearly every day. Frampton, 68, had
been a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was
lonely since his divorce.
Milani agreed to meet
Frampton in La Paz, Bolivia, where she was doing a photo shoot. In January
2012, Frampton set out for Bolivia and finally arrived in La Paz four days
later. By then, Milani had been called away to another photo shoot in
Brussels. She sent him a ticket to Buenos Aires and said another ticket to
Brussels was on the way. She asked him to do her a favor: bring her a bag
she had left in La Paz.
Nine days after Frampton arrived in Bolivia,
a man handed him a bag out on the dark street in front of his hotel. It was
an utterly commonplace black suitcase with wheels, and it was empty. He wrote to Milani, asking why
it was so important. She told him it had sentimental value. The next
morning, he filled it with his dirty laundry and headed to the airport.
Frampton flew from La Paz to Buenos Aires. He
waited for the e-ticket to Brussels.
He checked two bags, his and hers, and went to the gate. He heard his
name called over the loudspeaker. At the airline counter, he was greeted by
several policemen. Soon he was under arrest.
up in Devoto, an old-style jail in Buenos Aires. It
seems a classic tale. Those who know Frampton well portray him as a kind of
idiot savant. He grew up in England, matriculated at Oxford, and was awarded his
doctorate in 1968. As Frampton tells it, his life is just a line of
impressive grades, advanced degrees, and citations of his work in cosmology
His defense unraveled. There were damning text
messages on his cellphone. He tried to shrug them off as jokes. In November 2012, he was sentenced to 4 years 8
months for drug smuggling.
AR Thank God I'm not
2013 March 8
CORAL news: Wrote 8 good new pages
for inclusion in Revelations.
Now I need to delete 8 pages elsewhere to
make room for them.
At least I used the time failing to visit India to
NATO was robbed of its founding mission by the
dissolution of the Soviet Union. Events in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and
Libya saved it. NATO became an operational alliance.
A decade is
several lifetimes in geopolitics. The appetite for intervention has been
sated in Washington, even though the Mideast is in flames, Syria is fighting
a civil war, Iran is building a bomb, jihadist extremism has spread into
Africa, cyberspace risks mass disruption, and rising states are arming fast.
NATO requires military capabilities to confront new threats. They have
to be paid for, but no one wants to pick up the bill. Most of the
European members of NATO long ago abandoned their commitment to spend 2% of
GDP on defense. Britain and France are hollowing out their militaries. Even
former communist states have axed their forces.
The U.S. share of
NATO spending has jumped to almost 75%. But sequestration has brought down
the curtain on the era of American military plenty. Even if the White House
and Congress strike a fiscal deal, the U.S. defense budget faces deep cuts.
Politicians in Washington are not willing to pay for Europe.
who thinks the advanced nations can afford to spend less on safeguarding
their security need only glance at the threats. They all require collective
Chinese Parliament Has 83 Billionaires
The People's Republic of China parliamentary
delegates this year include 83 dollar billionaires, according to a rich
list. The United States has no billionaires in the House of Representatives
or the Senate.
AR Corruption, guaranteed.
2013 March 7
The Catholic Church says a vow of celibacy
not only underscores the commitment of seminarians to their vocation but
also recalls Christ's own celibacy. But a new pope could change church law
to allow all priests to marry.
In 1967, Pope Paul VI
published an encyclical defending the tradition of celibacy as a superior
way of achieving grace that freed priests from familial obligations in order
to devote themselves to God and that mirrored heaven as a place without
In 1993, Pope John Paul II said celibacy did "not belong to
the essence of the priesthood" but there was "no doubt about its suitability
and indeed its appropriateness to the demands of sacred orders."
Reverend Joseph Fessio says celibacy is a discipline and not a dogma but
still important: "It's something the church in its wisdom for 2000 years has
recognized as a closer, more exact, more profound following of the example
Jesus set us."
AR Sexual self-discipline
is essential to a true spiritual vocation. Its best expression is in
celibacy. Married priests lack transcendent vision. As family men, they have
practical concerns. But for the daily life of a priest, the practical
concerns are paramount. As long as priests uphold the vision without
succumbing to the Filth (blog March 3), the church can survive. At root, the
church is a patriarchy. If that visionary sexual control is lost, human
hopes of transcendence crash down in ruin. We become brutes, bonking our
brains out in a world run by machines.
James Clerk Maxwell realized that light was an
electromagnetic wave. His equations showed that light speed should be about
300 Mm/s. This was good, but his equations left a nagging loose end: speed
relative to what? Einstein argued that scientists needed to take the
equations more seriously. Light speed is 300 Mm/s relative to anything. This
led to the special theory of relativity, and eventually to the general
theory, Einstein's theory of gravity.
Steven Weinberg: "Our mistake is not
that we take our theories too seriously, but that we do not take them
seriously enough." Weinberg was referring to the prediction of the cosmic
microwave background radiation, the afterglow of the big bang. Einstein
understood how a set of mathematical equations can seem real. But he did not
take his own general theory seriously enough to believe its prediction of
black holes, or of an expanding universe. Others did.
mechanics used to be seen as relevant only to small things. But in 1957,
Hugh Everett took the mathematics seriously. Everett argued that
Schrödinger's equation should apply to everything. This led him to the idea
of a quantum multiverse. The multiverse has since become a pervasive feature
of much mathematics that purports to offer us a deeper understanding of
reality. Taken to this extreme, mathematics is reality.
AR The foundation of mathematics is in set theory. The cumulative hierarchy of pure
well-founded sets founds all the rest, and it collapses under scrutiny into the unstable
but fertile duality of the null set and the universal set — this is the vision I
articulated in the logical trilogy I wrote in the 1970s.
2013 March 6
CORAL news: Inspiration for revision
has dawned on me.
— Cut a couple of pages from the Christians chapter
(which still has too much guff in it)
— Add a couple of pages to the
Revelation chapter (on Wittgenstein, Kripke, and Wilber)
It should take
me a week or so to prepare a new edition.
Leszek Kolakowski was a historian of ideas, first at
Warsaw University, then at Oxford. His magisterial trilogy
Main Currents of
Marxism (1978) demolished a sham philosophy. His daughter Agnieszka
Kolakowska compiled some of his essays in
Is God Happy?
"What Is Socialism?" (1956) is a satirical enumeration of things that
socialism wasn't supposed to be: "a state whose neighbors curse geography";
"a state that produces superb jet planes and lousy shoes"; "a state whose
philosophers and writers always say the same things as the generals and
ministers, but always after the latter have said them."
Ideology" (1977) asked why Soviet communism attracted so many artists and
intellectuals and Nazism so few. Nazis straightforwardly promoted Teutonic
rule and the conquest of Europe. Communism, on the other hand, "never
preached conquest, only liberation from oppression; it never extolled the
state as a value in itself, only stressed the necessity of reinforcing the
state as an indispensable lever to destroy the enemies of freedom."
"Totalitarianism and the Virtue of the Lie" (1983) explained why a society
based on disinformation cannot survive: "Even in the best of conditions the
massive process of forgery cannot be completed: it requires a large number
of forgers who must understand the distinction between what is genuine and
what is faked."
Seven essays cover theological subjects, including
the problem of evil and the impossibility of separating the historical Jesus
from Western culture and history.
"Erasmus and his God" (1965)
describes how Erasmus tried to combine the "faith alone" approach of Luther
and Calvin with a Catholic emphasis on works and moral virtue. Kolakowski
saw this as "a particular instance of the difficulty inherent in any
doctrine which views genuine human effort as the unique source of moral
value while at the same time refusing to acknowledge any human contribution
to the results of that effort."
"Crime and Punishment" (1991)
rejected the idea that punishment must be utilitarian and defended
AR When Kolakowski was at All Souls,
I once explained to him my interest in Hegelian philosophy. He responded with a
smile that hovered between impish and tragic.
2013 March 5
Struggle is essential for career advancement.
Embrace struggle as an art to be mastered. Seek out situations where there
is rapid change. Look for projects that expand your skills and
Performance is best when goals are difficult but
still attainable with effort and imagination. If you find yourself easily
meeting your goals, they are too easy. Set a higher bar for yourself.
Receiving valid feedback is the most valuable of gifts, allowing you to step
outside your delusional cocoon and become connected with external metrics of
The more anchored and centered you are, the less likely you
will be thrown off balance by challenges. Train yourself in a set of daily
and weekly practices that keep you on a steady course: exercise, meditation,
journaling, prayer, or even just walking in the woods. Build a support
community to give you the advice and assistance you need.
challenging yourself, readily embracing feedback, and remaining grounded and
centered, you can embrace struggle head on and use it as fuel for your
career. These practices are the foundation.
Ray Kurzweil has a pattern recognition theory
of mind (PRTM). A stimulus is presented, say, the letter "A", and little
brain machines respond by breaking it down and processing its parts: thus
"A" is analyzed into a horizontal bar and two angled lines meeting at a
point. The neural machine recognizes that the stimulus is an instance of the
letter "A". Other letter recognizers combine to recognize, say, the word
"APPLE". This procedure is hierarchical. There are some 300 million such
modules across the brain.
But pattern recognition is
only part of the activity of the mind. When I see an apple as red, the color
is simply a sensory quality. Thinking about an absent object is not
perceptual recognition. Nor do such mental phenomena as emotion,
imagination, reasoning, willing, intending, or feeling pain and pleasure fit
the PRTM. Kurzweil has switched from patterns as stimuli in the external
environment to patterns as mental entities, without saying so. The PRTM does
not generalize beyond perception.
Kurzweil makes relentless and
unapologetic use of homunculus language. But neurons don't say things or
predict things or see things. People say and predict and see. Such
anthropomorphic descriptions of cortical activity must ultimately be
replaced by literal descriptions of electric charge and chemical
transmission. Homunculus talk can give rise to the illusion that one is
nearer to accounting for the mind. Talk of pattern recognition by neurons is
already too mentalistic.
Neuroscientists cannot claim that we have
observed information transmission in the brain. This is a theoretical
description. The brain is causally connected to the mind and the mind
contains and processes information. Telephone lines convey information
because conscious subjects are at either end of them, exchanging information
in the ordinary sense. Neurons are the causal background to the
transactions. The brain does not process information or send signals or
receive messages. People do.
versus brain is an instance of the subject—object dichotomy that we can only
accept as fundamental (as an axiom in my psychophysics). But then performing
"homuncular" reduction to minimal parts that correlate 1:1 is fine.
Information has subjective and objective sides. Bits are rock bottom. As qubits, they make a
physical base for the rest. Mental entities are patterns of (qu)bits.
2013 March 4
Swiss: Curb Corporate Pay
Swiss voters want curbs on corporate wages and on
company boards: 68% of voters approved rules giving shareholders a binding
say on executive pay, banning golden hellos and goodbyes, requiring annual
re-elections for directors, and threatening criminal sanctions for
UK chancellor George Osborne plans to try to revise
the EU bonus cap, but his prospects are slim. A big majority of EU member
states is willing to sign up to the deal. A diplomat: "It's really too late.
We don't want to stigmatize one member state but we've come to the end of
AR Vox pop is clear:
corporate robbers must be stopped.
2013 March 3-9
Science of Consciousness
East-West Views on Brain, Mind and Reality
Dayalbagh Educational Institute
AR To my great regret, I'm not there.
Mercedes G63 AMG
6x6 with 544 HP V8
Martin Heidegger joined the Nazi party in 1933.
He spoke out on the need to Nazify German universities and was made
rector at the University of Freiburg, where he removed all the Jews and
let Brownshirts patrol the campus. He died in 1976, unrepentant.
2013 March 3
Pope Benedict XVI loved being Pope. Yet he said he
wasn't up to it any more. Up to what? He spent most of his time writing,
tinkling on the piano, and stroking his cat. He was waited on hand and foot,
with a handsome secretary to do his every bidding.
He quit to save the Catholic Church from ignominy. A report on the state
of the Curia landed on his desk in January. It revealed that what he called
the Filth had entered the bureaucracy. He resigned in February. Now all the
senior bureaucrats lose their jobs.
The Curia is a big operation.
Rivalries, vendettas, ambition, calumny, backstabbing, and intrigues are
endemic. Some of the bureaucrats are actively gay men, others have a
weakness for sex with minors. And the people who procure these sexual
services are greedy.
Benedict has resigned to purge the Filth. He has
given the Church a chance to start again. He would be happy with a smaller
Church exerting pressure on sexually active Catholics to play by the rules.
If his gamble works, the Church can reform. If not, doom.
Wool was a short story about a post-apocalyptic future
in which society has been driven underground into a vast silo. Hugh Howey
published it as a e-book on Amazon in 2011. Within three months, it was a
Kindle best-seller. Readers asked Howey for the rest of the story, so he
decided to write it.
By January 2012, Howey had self-published five
serial stories about the silo and collected them into the Wool Omnibus. It
landed on the New York Times best-seller list. By the end of 2012, Howey had
deals with publishers to release print editions worldwide and optioned the
film rights to Ridley Scott.
The silo is a self-sustaining community
with full employment and universal access to education and health care. More
than 100 floors deep and connected by only a staircase, the silo limits
mobility and communication, separating the machine deck at the bottom from
the mayor and sheriff up top.
The stories invert the traditional
power dynamic between author and fan. By reaching out to Howey and posting
rave reviews, fans helped conjure up the fictional world. And Howey
converted interest in the first story into dedicated fandom and more sales.
He is now writing a sequel called Dust.
2013 March 2
Telepathy In Rats!
Scientists have invented a new channel of
communication, direct communication between brains. Rat A learns where the
food is, and communicates it directly into the brain of Rat B, initially by
fine wires running between their brains, and subsequently over the internet.
What's passing between the two rats is information, and
information technologies grow exponentially. Imagine a world where I deliver
this straight into your brain, via the Cloud. It seems fanciful. But 20
years ago, so much of today seemed fanciful that if someone had suggested it
we'd have laughed. Sergey Brin of Google says smartphones are emasculating.
He doesn't know the half of it.
Benefits, Bonuses, Caps
In the UK this year, benefit entitlements will be
capped. According to the government, the benefit cap is necessary. But when
it comes to capping bankers' bonuses, the Tories say no. They say if these
pin-striped pricks don't get what they want, they will fly off to Singapore.
Well, let them go.
London is not just a playground
for the super rich. The bankers got us into the financial mess, yet whenever
there is talk of limiting the bonus culture that incentivized their absurd
risk culture, the government sides with them. The poor are capped, the rich
are protected. This cannot go on.
UK is a land of gross moral desolation.
The Case Against
A.C. Grayling makes his case against religion and outlines the humanist
Grayling: "Atheism is to theism as not stamp-collecting
is to stamp-collecting." This is a ruse to get the horsemen off the charge
that they write about religion while knowing nothing of theology. If
religion is like belief in fairies, then there is no need to understand it
and it should be exposed and refuted.
Western humanism is a very
small sect in the context of global beliefs and world views. The idea that
it could and should become a world ideology is both wildly improbable and
extremely dubious. Like it or not, religions are here to stay. Most thinkers
accept some sort of evolutionary explanation. Religious faith is not
remotely like belief in fairies. It is deeply embedded in human nature.
religion has nothing to offer the world. But religion will teach you more
about the human condition than anything written by the four horsemen of the
AR I know the
truth here: see CORAL.
2013 March 1
Jens-Martin Eriksen, Frederik Stjernfelt
Last summer, the
director of Norway's Trondheim Museum of Art, Pontus Kyander, decided that
the museum should no longer fly the Norwegian flag. He said it was divisive,
that it rallied only ethnic Norwegians and Christians.
The battle over symbols in Europe has intensified. Ethnically distinct
groups increasingly demand that they be able to practice their own customs
and receive special dispensations for particular religious practices. Muslim
organizations in Norway demand special police uniforms for female officers,
special opening hours for public swimming pools dedicated exclusively to
Muslim women, special hours in fitness centers, special bathing curtains for
Muslim boys to protect them from being exposed to other children, special
diets in schools, special prayer rooms in airports, and interpretation
facilities in all public institutions for those who don't speak the
language. These demands are on the agenda in many European countries.
Muslims also want to import spouses from their home countries. Meeting their
demands is causing
massive social problems.
Muslims seek segregation from the
mainstream. Pontus Kyander's flag ban is one absurd reaction. Political correctness
makes honest discussion impossible. Neither side dares address the real
problem: Islamic dogmatism.
AR The only
solution is zero tolerance of exceptions for any religion.
MIT Technology Review
Pairs of rats can communicate through brain
chips and collaborate to perform a task. Brain activity recorded in one rat
was translated into pulses transmitted to another rat that had been trained
to push a lever in response to a pattern of electrical stimulation in its
brain. The rats worked together. If the second rat chose the wrong lever,
then the first rat changed its brainwaves, which improved the chances in the next
The research was led by
Miguel Nicolelis at Duke University Medical Center. The team trained a rat
to choose between a right or left lever to push depending on which of two
LEDs lit up. If the rat pushed the correct lever, it got a rewarding sip of
water. The researchers recorded the electrical activity of the rat's motor
cortex and translated the activity in the two cases into more or fewer
pulses. They sent the pulses to the implant in the brain of another rat in a
separate chamber. That rat had been trained to respond to pulse patterns in
a similar way.
With no cue but the pulses, the second rat chose the
correct lever 64% of the time, and both rats got a reward. When the second
rat got it wrong, the first rat noticed because it did not get a second
reward. So in the next trial, the first rat would try harder and make a
stronger signal. This was the collaboration.
The team is working on
"swarms" of rats that cooperate via brain chips.
AR Swarms of roborats — woohoo — can't wait!
The Next Day
In the Italian election, comedian Beppe
Grillo's party emerged as the kingmaker. Global investors are unhappy.
European politicians fear a renewed euro crisis.
Moody's says it will downgrade the country from its current BAA2 rating
— two notches above junk status — if reform efforts wane.
German former finance minister and Social Democratic chancellor
candidate Peer Steinbrück: "I am horrified that two clowns won the
Richard Seymour exposes Christopher Hitchens as a liar,
an "ouvrierist", a plagiarist, and an "amanuensis" for the George W. Bush
Great Illusion of the Self
Climate Tipping Point
We are on the cusp of a tipping point in the
climate. If the global climate warms another half a degree, a large
expanse of the Siberian permafrost will start to melt uncontrollably. A
vast mass of greenhouse gases will be released into the atmosphere.
The Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the planet. A huge
region of Siberian permafrost and clathrates that trap methane could
undergo runaway decomposition: as it melts, microbes in the soil will
eat the carbon and produce heat, melting more soil and releasing more
Anton Vaks of the University of Oxford and colleagues
have studied the history of the Siberian permafrost going back half a
million years. They say today's permafrost is likely to become
vulnerable when we hit 1.5 K of global warming. We already have more
than half of that.
The methane released could be equivalent to
over 250 gigatons of CO2. This is not much compared to the vast amount
humans are likely to emit. And much of the methane will be converted to
CO2 by microbes in the soil, reducing the warming effect.
2013 February 28
EU Bank Deal Done
Bankers' bonuses are to be capped at 2x bankers'
salaries and banks will be subject to a strict transparency regime, under a
provisional EU deal including concessions to cushion the most severe pay
crackdown since the 2008 financial crisis.
The breakthrough paves the way to enact the Basel III capital rules for
avoiding another banking crisis. The European parliament negotiators
insisted on pay curbs as their price for passing Basel, which requires banks
to reveal their taxes and profits.
The deal preserves the freedom for
national authorities to require banks to hold more capital, but the
remuneration exemptions dash hopes in the City of London. UK chancellor
George Osborne must now decide whether to accept the deal.
AR If Osborne fights this, to preserve the
freedom of bank robbers to pig out on the hard-earned cash of the workers,
he and his bunch of Tory toffs will deserve to be flushed down the toilet of
China: Drop North Korea
China should reconsider its alliance with NK and press
for Korean reunification:
1 Although NK is socialist, like China, their
differences are much larger than those between China and the West.
2 NK has dubious strategic value as an ally. If
the US felt threatened by NK and launched a pre-emptive attack on it, China
would be dragged in. China is strong enough to cut loose.
3 NK will not reform and open up to the world.
Once the door of reform opened, the regime could be overthrown. China need
not help a regime that will fail sooner or later.
4 NK is pulling away from Beijing. The Chinese
recall their shared sacrifice during the Korean war. But NK erased Chinese
graves and rewrote the history of the war to give itself all the credit.
5 NK has nuclear weapons. The capricious Kim
regime uses nuclear weapons to negotiate with the US, but NK can also use
nuclear blackmail against China.
AR Yes: China
should act here.
2013 February 27
Investors had assumed that a coalition led by
Pier Luigi Bersani would form a government. But the comedian Beppe Grillo
had the last laugh. His Five Star Movement won 25% of the national vote. The
Democrats squandered a lead that looked unassailable. Silvio Berlusconi's
People of Liberty lost 6 million votes compared with 2008. Mario Monti won
only 10% of the vote.
The triumph of the Five Star Movement is a
damning verdict against Italy's political class. But the economic crisis and
the austerity imposed on the country by the Monti government were important
factors. Democracy is often a messy business. It would be wrong to interpret
this result as a vote against the euro. Opinion polls show that support for
the euro in Italy remains high.
The Democrats and their allies should
be allowed to form a government, seeking alliances from across the political
spectrum. It may be able to pass such changes as cutting the cost of
politics, changing electoral law, and reducing conflicts of interest. But it
would only work if markets decided not to turn against Rome. The eurozone
should expect renewed turbulence.
Beppe Grillo is a rollicking satirist with a clear
message: austerity, the euro, and corruption are jointly to blame for
Italy's ills. We can argue the issues, but why bother when no one listens?
Just tell those in charge, as he says, to fuck off.
Beppe Grillo's Blog
I don't know what we can do: hand back the country to Berlusconi ... It's
truly a crime against the galaxy ... They can no longer succeed against us
They need psychiatric analysis. They are failed people. They've been there
for 25, or 30 years, and they have brought the country to the point of
catastrophe ... Italy's problem is this set of people.
AR It seems Italians have had it up to ... with
The Chinese navy is embarking on a supersonic bomber program.
The "new" bombers are licensed copies of the cold-war Tupolev Tu-22M
Backfire nuclear bombers. It seems the once-feared ship-killer aircraft will be built
with engines imported from Russia.
The Chinese will use the
Backfires over the Pacific to carry large anti-ship missiles. The Soviet navy used
them for this role over the Atlantic. The Chinese navy would use them to replace its
Xian H-6 bombers (a version of the obsolete Soviet Tu-16 Badger).
2013 February 26
German President Wants More Europe
German president Joachim Gauck has preached a
good sermon on the subject of Europe. He admits the rising tide of
criticism of the European Union and is clear that "more Europe" must be
built from the bottom up on citizen consent and not as a continuing
Gauck appealed to the British not to walk away
from the EU: "More Europe cannot mean Europe without you." Young Germans
experience more Europe than any previous generation. But there is still
no "shared narrative" for Europe to unite the 27 nations in the midst of
an economic crisis.
Europe has a canon of values to unite it,
including peace, freedom, democracy, the rule of law, equality, human
rights, and solidarity. Gauck wants to create not a united states of
Europe, but a commonwealth of nations, and a space for debate. It will
require a common language: English.
Catholic Church Sex
The Vatican announced that the archbishop
of Scotland is resigning after accusations of decades-long sexual
misconduct. An American cardinal is facing fresh allegations of covering
up abuse. And Italian newspapers published sordid accounts of
homosexuality and blackmail within the Church hierarchy.
former Dominican friar Mark Dowd: "When you have this culture of secrecy
and guilt and repression, you have conditions which foster the potential
for blackmail and for manipulation ... About half, if not more, of all
the people attracted into seminaries in the priesthood are gay
Vatican journalist Marco Politi says Pope Benedict
XVI "had, from the beginning, crises with Islam, crises with the Jews,
crises with the world of the science because of the condom and HIV ...
Here in the Vatican, there are monsignors who have love affairs, with
women and with men. But they hide it."
When Cardinal Ratzinger
became pope, he wanted to turn a new page on the sex abuse scandal.
Politi: "He understood how deep this problem was. But he has not had the
courage to order all the bishops to open the archives to see the hidden
victims, which are still thousands and thousands all over the world."
When scientists think about truth, they often
think about it as their ability to explain our world. These explanations
can take many forms, from basic empirical laws to grand theories. These
theories can unify various phenomena that we see in the world, describe
the mechanisms of the universe beyond what we can see with our own eyes,
and yield predictions about how the world should work.
always understand that our view of the world is in draft form. What we
think the world looks like is constantly subject to refinement and even
sometimes a complete overhaul. When properly internalized, this can be
exciting. Science is always in draft form, and this is most clear at the
frontier. We are still improving our view of the world and reducing
error in our understanding.
We pride ourselves on our ability to
understand our universe. But what if this intuition is wrong? Do hard
pieces of reasoning mean that eventually there will be answers to the
riddle of the universe that machines can spit out but we cannot grasp?
Quite possibly. The hard science is coming. We've grasped the
low-hanging fruit. We made the machines: we can be proud of their
AR When we see this
horizon, we'll know the
Singularity has dawned.
Israel Arrow Test
Israel carried out a successful test of the
Arrow 3 missile defense interceptor. Set to become operational in around
2016, the Arrow 3 missile defense system is designed to seek and destroy
missiles like the Iranian Shihab 3.
The test was led by technicians
from Israel Aerospace Industries and a team from the US Department of
Defense Missile Defense Agency: "The Israeli and American teams
congratulated one another warmly."
The Arrow 3 does not need to know
the exact location of the incoming missile when it takes off to intercept
it. Once in space, it locates the target rapidly. The United States has
earmarked $250 million for four Arrow 3 batteries.
Deutschland hat seine Waffengeschäfte mit Golfstaaten im vergangenen
Jahr mehr als verdoppelt. Bahrain, Katar, Kuwait, Oman, die Vereinigten
Arabischen Emirate und Saudi-Arabien: Insgesamt wurden 2012 die Ausfuhr
von Rüstungsgütern in diese sechs Staaten des Golf-Kooperationsrats im
Wert von 1,42 Milliarden Euro genehmigt. Im Jahr 2011 habe der Wert bei
knapp 570 Millionen Euro gelegen. Der mit weitem Abstand größte Anteil
entfiel 2012 auf Saudi-Arabien.
Gay Report, Pope Quits
La Repubblica newspaper links the resignation of
Pope Benedict XVI to the discovery of gay prelates in the Vatican. His
decision to resign came on the day he received a dossier compiled by
three cardinals that depicted the Vatican as a seething hotbed of
intrigue, including a faction whose members were "united by sexual
orientation" and subject to "external influence" from laymen with whom
they had links of a "worldly nature" — gay sex and blackmail.
AR Church and sex —
can of worms.
How it will feel to wear
AR Cool — I want it!
Saudi Arabia will
remain a Western ally
continue to reform
reshape the Mideast
keep pumping oil
keep buying arms
avoid civil war
not get nukes
SAP co-founder Hasso Plattner, 69,
has taken The Pledge. He plans to give away at least half of his
fortune, estimated by Forbes magazine at $7.2 billion (€5.4 billion). He
will become the first German member of the exclusive club started a few
years ago by U.S. billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. Over a
hundred billionaires, mostly in America, have taken The Pledge to give
away at least half their wealth. Buffett: "It's not a legal contract,
it's a moral promise."
AR Saint Hasso
How To Create a Mind
Ray Kurzweil, 64, has a new job at
Google: "Right now we're giving machines more and more intelligence, and
in the end, the machines will always win."
The human brain is the
most powerful thinking machine available today, so it is logical that we
look to the brain for ideas on how to make devices smarter.
Kurzweil's "pattern recognition theory of mind" (PRTM) "describes the
basic algorithm of the neocortex."
nanoscale devices that will work inside our bodies. They will link to the cloud,
to the vast power of Googleworld.
UK vs. EU
Poll of UK voters on EU:
Stay in: 1 in 3
Get out: 1
No vote: 1 in 6
List of 15 priorities:
Benedikt XVI. rief die katholische Kirche und ihre Mitglieder zur Erneuerung
auf. Kirche und Gläubige sollten "sich neu Gott zuwenden, um Hochmut und
Egoismus zu begegnen". Dies bedeute einen "spirituellen Kampf, weil der
Geist des Bösen versucht, uns vom Weg zu Gott abzubringen."
2013 February 25
The Theoretical Minimum
There are a lot of people reading physics in
popular literature that they don't understand, not because it's too advanced
but because it isn't advanced enough. But they're not about to plough
through a big fat textbook. So to help them I wrote
The Theoretical Minimum.
The language of physics is mathematics,
and it cannot be done honestly without mathematics. That makes it
inaccessible. Physics is perceived as a lonesome, nerdy kind of enterprise
that has very little to do with human feelings and the things that excite
people day to day about each other. I believe that scientists
should spend as much time as possible explaining. Physics is a very human
2013 February 24
Timur Vermes, 46, has written a satire about
Hitler. The book has sold more than 400,000 copies in six months and is #1
bestseller. The English version appears next year. Vermes, who has worked as
a journalist and ghost writer, says "it was just great fun" to write.
The novel tells how Hitler, who "fell asleep" in 1945,
reawakens in Berlin in 2011. People assume he's a professional comedian who
has perfected a brilliant doppelgänger act. He is soon preparing his
political comeback. The satire is written in the first person.
read and reread Mein Kampf and spent weeks reading Hitler's Führer
monologues. The result has led some to accuse the author of taking
tastelessness to extremes. Süddeutsche Zeitung: "We laugh, but it's a laugh
that sticks in our throats".
Er ist wieder da: Der Roman
Sommer 2011. Adolf Hitler erwacht auf einem leeren Grundstück in
Berlin-Mitte. Ohne Krieg, ohne Partei, ohne Eva. Im tiefsten Frieden, unter
Tausenden von Ausländern und Angela Merkel. Gegen jegliche
Wahrscheinlichkeit startet er eine neue Karriere im Fernsehen. Eine
Persiflage? Eine Satire? Polit-Comedy? All das und mehr: Timur Vermes'
Romandebüt ist ein literarisches Kabinettstück erster Güte.
"Einerseits ist das brüllend komisch, denn der Mann trifft den Jargon des
Diktators perfekt. Andererseits bleibt einem das Lachen schnell im Hals
mich an den lustigen 1986 Roman
Briefe in die chinesische Vergangenheit.
2013 February 23
UK Loses AAA
Moody's Investors' Service stripped the UK of its
AAA credit rating, lowering it to AA1, saying sluggish economic growth and
austerity will affect its finances for years and citing the "policy
commitment to austerity" as a "drag" on the economy.
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne: "Far from weakening our resolve
to deliver our economic recovery plan, this decision redoubles it."
AR The government position reminds me of British
army generals in World War I, when appalling losses, far from weakening
their resolve to deliver their victory plan, caused them to redouble their
Israel Versus BDS
George Galloway said he doesn't debate with Israelis
or recognize Israel. In response, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions
(BDS) movement national committee has stated that it doesn't call for the
avoidance of people purely on the basis of nationality.
The BDS renaissance in the Arab world is partly due
to the failures and conceits of the peace industry. Many left-leaning Jews
don't join the BDS movement because the boycott is seen as rage against
people, rather than an effective political tool.
When westerners use
the BDS card, it just seems like bad politics by proxy. The Israel hate in
such circles is often focused on the people, not the state. This is no way
to build a movement that includes Jewish and Israeli advocates of equal
rights for all.
The brain is composed of 100 billion neurons, each
connected to many thousands of its neighbors. Each neuron relays information
in miniature voltage spikes, which then become chemical signals. Most
neurons signal many times per second. If each signaling event were to make a
sound as loud as a pin dropping, the cacophony from a single human head
would blow out all the windows.
A new kind of science is required. Our thoughts,
desires, agonies, and ecstasies all emerge from the neural landscape. A
deeper understanding of mental illness will improve early detection,
resources, and rehabilitation. Then we can stop using our prisons as a de
facto mental health care system. We can tackle drug crime by decoding the
circuitry and pharmacology in the brain of the addict.
understanding of the brain will steer the future of our technologies. You
can't pull a piece of circuitry out of your smartphone and expect the phone
to function. But when a young child with severe epilepsy has half of her
brain surgically removed, she tends to do just fine: the remaining brain
tissue automatically rewires itself to take over responsibility for the
parts that are missing.
We don't know how to build self-configuring
machines like these. When a Mars rover loses a wheel, it becomes another
piece of space junk. Imagine a future in which we capitalize on the
principles of neural reconfiguration, producing devices that flexibly adapt
rather than bust. For now, the brain is the only functioning example of such
futuristic machinery on our planet.
Obama's BAM: brain activity map (blog Feb 18)
2013 February 22
Over the next 10 years, smartphones will get far
Your smartphone will
have a 3D display and a 3D web browser, and you won't need special glasses
for it. So instead of just viewing web pages on your smart phone, you'll be
able to go into virtual environments and maneuver in them, like you do in a
game. Or you'll see things sticking out from the screen, again without the
special glasses. 3D will be a game-changer for business.
Instead of passwords, you will access sites
using biometric authentications. Advanced screen resolution and sensors on
the phone will make this possible. For example, your touch-screen will
recognize your fingerprint, and your phone's front-facing camera will
identify you. Your voice, your keystrokes, and your touch patterns are
unique. The biometrics used will depend on the level of security you want.
Your smartphone will become your
wallet. Google has a mobile wallet that will soon work with many credit
cards. It is secure and enables you to make payments with your smartphone.
As every financial service firm gets into mobile payments, you will move
from a leather wallet to a smartphone wallet. Near-field communications
chips (NFC) will allow for secure and easy payment.
Your intelligent agent will get smarter. As agents
advance, they will turn into personal assistants and will search the web for
you and bring back focused, relevant information based on how long you have
used your e-agent and how well it knows you. It will compile, present, and
share what you want or need. And it will have a face and a personality that
you choose. Celebrities will license their images for agents.
No more screens
Some smartphones will have no screens.
The traditional smartphone with a screen won't go away, but you will have a
no-screen option. Without the screen, you get rid of much of the need for a
big battery. Think of a no-screen smartphone as like jewelry people wore on
Star Trek. It will be touch and voice activated. When you tap it, you'll
connect to your agent up in the cloud. Your agent will give you stuff
Your smartphone will
interface with smart surfaces. We already have touch and voice-operated
intelligent screens as tabletop computers that access the internet. By
placing your smartphone on these surfaces, the two will link together. And
your agent will flow from your smartphone to the screen.
When you get excited in one of Studio Roosegaarde's
dresses, you just can't hide it. The dresses become transparent based on
personal interactions between partners, or whenever the wearer gets aroused.
The Intimacy dresses are made from leather and smart e-foils that monitor
the wearer's heart rate. The dress starts out either black or white, but the
higher the pulse, the more see-through it becomes. Each dress has a
microchip in it that responds to the pulse by making the material
transparent. Daan Roosegaarde: "With some people you want to show more and
some people you want to show less."
Take care running upstairs.
Galloway Snubs Israel
Respect party MP George Galloway walked out of a
debate at Oxford University after discovering that his debating opponent
Eylon Aslan-Levy was an Israeli citizen. The motion was that "Israel should
withdraw immediately from the West Bank" and he was for it, his opponent
Galloway: "You said 'we'. Are you an Israeli?"
Aslan-Levy: "I am,
Galloway: "I don't debate with Israelis. I have been misled,
sorry." (Walks out)
Aslan-Levy afterwards: "I am appalled that an MP
would storm out of a debate with me for no reason other than my heritage."
Galloway later on Facebook: "I refused this evening at Oxford University
to debate with an Israeli, a supporter of the apartheid state of Israel. The
reason is simple: no recognition, no normalisation. Just boycott, divestment
and sanctions, until the apartheid state is defeated. I never debate with
Israelis nor speak to their media. If they want to speak about Palestine —
the address is the PLO."
Galloway has an honorary Palestinian
AR GG is a rotter.
2013 February 21
China Hacks America: The Mandiant Report
John Avlon, Sam Schlinkert
The Chinese government just got
caught. Cybersecurity consultant Mandiant released a report offering a
detailed look at Chinese army involvement in hacking into American
government and corporate websites.
PLA Unit 61398 is identified by the report as the most prolific hacking
group inside the Chinese government. Dedicated to infiltrating
English-language sites, the unit recruits English-language proficient
speakers and experts in computer security, but otherwise scrubs any mention
of its organization from Chinese-language websites. Its 12-story building in
Shanghai contains as many as 2,000 personnel. Special high capacity fiber
optics were installed when the building was constructed in 2007 and the
outfit uses over 1,000 servers.
In a 3-year investigation, Mandiant
documented Unit 61398 hacking into 141 companies (including 115 in the U.S.)
across 20 industries, and stealing terabytes of data in sustained attacks.
The longest persistent attack documented by Mandiant lasted 58 months. The
largest recorded theft was 6.5 TB from one company over 10 months.
Given the recent attacks, it's a good time to be a company that specializes
in Chinese cybersecurity threats. Mandiant says it took in more than $100
million in revenue in 2012. The Mandiant report is the first detailed public
analysis of PLA cyberattacks. Mandiant anticipates reprisals.
Chinese hackers are a serious source of threats.
But CSIS fellow James Lewis
says the leading problem in cyberspace is Russia, and next is Israel: "The
Chinese would be in the top three, maybe the top two, leading problems in
cyberspace. They're not close to being the primary problem."
ministry spokesman Hong Lei: ''Making unfounded accusations based on
preliminary results is both irresponsible and unprofessional, and is not
helpful for the resolution of the relevant problem. China resolutely opposes
hacking actions and has established relevant laws and regulations and taken
strict law enforcement measures to defend against online hacking
America Envies Germany
Americans envy Germany. In his latest State of the
Union, President Barack Obama plugged Germany, not only as a manufacturing
powerhouse, but also as a standard for vocational training for young people.
A big factor in Germany's manufacturing and export success is its
vibrant SME (small and medium-size enterprise) sector. Germany has a lot of
Fortune 500 companies, but what sets it apart are its SMEs.
About 99% of all German companies are SMEs, and around two-thirds of all
German workers are employed in them. That's the same as the EU
average but higher than the UK and much higher than the US.
Germany's manufacturing SMEs are world-class. Nearly a third of
its SME workers are in manufacturing, but they
account for 40% of Germany's total exports (compared to 31% for American
A typical enterprise will focus on making a single, high
quality product. Many manufacturing SMEs are world market leaders in their
field and have a relentless drive to produce high quality products, as well
as stellar productivity and an obsession with improving operational
The conventional wisdom in the US is that
manufacturing can't compete with low-cost labor in China. Germany has shown
this viewpoint to be utter rubbish. German workers in SMEs also all have
quality, affordable health care. In the US, many workers in SMEs have
inferior health care, if any at all.
Germany is the world's
fourth-largest economy, with a sizable trade surplus, broadly shared
prosperity, and an enviable living standard. Its example is the envy of many
Is the Higgs boson a harbinger of the apocalypse?
Physicists say the mass of the Higgs-like particle announced last summer
show our universe is teetering on the edge of chaos.
Fermilab physicist Joseph Lykken: "It may be that the universe we live in is
inherently unstable. At some point, billions of years from now, it's all
going to be wiped out. The universe wants to be in a different state, so
eventually to realize that, a little bubble of what you might think of as an
alternate universe will appear somewhere, and it will spread out and destroy
Theory predicted that if the Higgs boson is heavier than about
129 GeV, the universe should be safe. The particle matching the Higgs found
at the LHC has a mass of about 126 GeV. But the relationship between the
Higgs mass and the vacuum of space depends on the mass of the top quark. So
if the top quark mass is not what we think, the vacuum might hold.
Anomalies with the Higgs measurement include its decay into photons more
often than predicted. So we may yet find hints of SUSY. If so, it might save
us from destruction.
2013 February 20
North Korea's third nuclear test is a challenge all
round. For South Korea, it reminds the new president that NK is untamed. For
Japan, it dashes hopes for a breakthrough in kidnapping cases. And for the
US, it shows that NK is pursuing a serious nuclear capability. For China,
the relationship with NK has gone through phases:
1 Conflict divided Korea. Since 1953, NK has
been a buffer between China and the US forces in SK. For decades, NK was
sustained by fraternal communist countries. China indulged NK.
2 Since the fall of communism, NK has been
isolated. A series of bluffs and gambits secured money, food, and energy
from other countries while it pursuied nuclear and missile dreams.
3 In recent years, NK has undertaken a series of
escalating and provocative acts that have rendered diplomacy virtually
irrelevant. The new test pushes the limit of indulgence.
The risk of an immediate eurozone crisis is reduced.
Germany wants to keep the eurozone intact, vulnerable countries are sticking
with austerity policies, and the ECB took bold initiatives.
survival is not certain. The currency union is a bad marriage. A good
marriage is one spouses would enter again. Many eurozone members would say
no. To make this bad marriage good, the zone needs to manage a quick return
to economic health and introduce reforms to prevent a new crisis.
return to health has three components: writing off old debt, rebalancing,
and financing new debt. Risk sharing and fiscal transfers are not going to
happen. More debt write-offs are needed. Resistance is strong, but it may be
futile. The road is hard and long.
Fiscal reforms are contractionary.
Countries with private sector debt overhangs are unlikely to see a private
sector resurgence. External demand is weak. Competitiveness is low. ECB
financing prevented collapse but required fiscal tightening. Results are
Those who believe the eurozone is saved must assume either an
extraordinary economic turnaround or a willingness of those trapped in deep
recessions to soldier on, year after grim year. Not likely.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Google co-founder
Sergey Brin, and venture capitalist Yuri Milner have jointly established the
biggest annual prize in the history of science to reward research into
curing diseases and extending human life. The first 11 winners of the
Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences Foundation each receive $3 million.
Milner, who has homes in Moscow and California, is a
Russian internet investor who quit a PhD in physics and invested in social
networking. Last year he gave out prizes to theoretical physicists. They too
were each worth $3 million: 9 inaugural winners won a total of $27 million.
They formed a committee to choose winners of the future annual prize.
Milner persuaded his fellow internet
billionaires to join him in rewarding the life sciences. Together with
Zuckerberg, Brin, and Brin's wife, Anne Wojcicki, the sponsors will split
the cost of the inaugural prizes and of the next 5 annual awards. The
winners will join a growing selection committee to vote on future winners.
Chair of the new foundation is Apple chairman Art Levinson.
Cornelia I Bargmann, Rockefeller University
David Botstein, Princeton University
Lewis C Cantley,
Weill Cornell Medical College and New York Presbyterian hospital
Hans Clevers, Hubrecht Institute
Titia de Lange, Rockefeller
Napoleone Ferrara, University of California, San Diego
Eric S Lander, MIT and Harvard Medical School
Charles L Sawyers,
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Bert Vogelstein, Johns Hopkins University
and Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Robert A Weinberg, MIT and
Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research
Shinya Yamanaka, Kyoto
University and University of California, San Francisco
The US military wants ultra-small flying robots for
surveillance missions in dangerous territory. Building them is not easy, but
DARPA has a proof of existence of small-scale flying machines in the form of
insects. If the military began with live insects, they'd already be halfway
to their dream machines.
Michel Maharbiz, at the
University of California, Berkeley, figured that beetles are the best for
the job. The flower beetle is more than 5 cm long. Maharbiz's team popped
one in the freezer to anesthetize it, then poked a needle through the
exoskeleton, making small holes directly over the brain and the base of the
optic lobes, and over the basalar muscles that modulate wing thrust on
either side. Thin steel wires through the holes plugged into a package of
electronics mounted with beeswax on the beetle's back. This backpack
included a radio receiver, a circuit board, and a battery.
member called up their Beetle Commander software on a laptop and issued the
signal. The insect's wings began to flap. The bug took flight. The beetle
flew on its own, but as it cruised across the room, the researchers overlaid
their own commands. They pinged the basalar muscles, prompting the beetle to
steer a course through the air.
Backyard Brains is a company started
by Greg Gage and Tim Marzullo to sell low-cost kits for any interested
amateur who wants to play neuroscientist. Their RoboRoach is very much like
the bionic beetles from the Maharbiz team. The cockroach relies on its long,
fluid-filled antennas for a host of sensory and navigational functions, so
its nervous system is easy to hack: all you have to do is thread a wire
inside each antenna. The wires run into a small black box Marzullo glues
onto its head. He plugs this connector into the roach backpack. The
electronics are adapted from a widely available toy, a plastic worm called
the HexBug. Now anyone can experiment with bionic bugs at home.
AR First find a roach at home ...
2013 February 19
CORAL news: made half a dozen minor (almost trivial)
changes to the online file for future sold copies.
The changes are not
worth listing for those who have the first copies — just enjoy your rare original!
Since 2008, most
big European countries have cut defense spending. The British Royal Air
Force now has just a quarter of the number of combat aircraft it had in the
1970s. The Royal Navy has about a quarter of the number of ships it had. The
British army is scheduled to shrink to 82,000 soldiers, its smallest size
for 200 years.
And yet the UK has the fourth-largest military budget
in the world. Much European military spending goes on pensions or pay, not
equipment. The Belgians did well in the Libyan campaign of 2011, but one
critic calls the Belgian military "an unusually well-armed pension fund".
The United States alone accounts for about three-quarters of NATO
defense spending. But Americans are preparing for a new age of military
austerity. The Pentagon could cut $1 trillion in defense spending over the
next decade. And it will concentrate on the Pacific. The US Navy currently
devotes half its resources to the Pacific and half to Europe and the
Mideast, but in future, Asia will get 60%. Last year, Asian nations spent
more on military force than European countries.
Europeans seem more
worried by the damage austerity could do to its social model than by any
military threat. Politicians are trying to protect health and social budgets
ahead of defense spending. But with the Mideast in turmoil, Iran
belligerent, Russia resurgent, and Chinese defense spending almost trebled
in the last decade, Europeans may need their forces.
AR As Barack Obama told Mitt Romney, times
change. Spend where it helps, not where it looks good.
Stockholm International Peace Research
Sales of arms and military services by the SIPRI Top 100 largest arms-producing companies totaled $410 billion in 2011, a 5% decrease in real
terms from 2010. Expansion into the cybersecurity market is a clear trend. SIPRI arms industry expert Dr Susan Jackson: "Arms producing and military
services companies have been taking steps to insulate themselves against austerity measures."
AR By selling internet paranoia.
2013 February 18
Brain Activity Map Project
New York Times
The Obama administration is planning a decade-long
scientific effort to examine the workings of the human brain and build a
comprehensive map of its activity. The BAM project could cost billions of
The Human Genome
Project cost $3.8 billion. It began in 1990 and reached its goal of mapping
all the genes in human DNA ahead of schedule in 2003. A study showed it
returned $800 billion by 2010.
BAM differs from the European Human
Brain Project that will invest €1 billion in an effort to simulate a brain.
Critics say the simulation will use knowledge that is still theoretical,
incomplete, or inaccurate.
BAM will be organized
by the Office of Science and Technology Policy. A meeting at Caltech was
attended by NIH, DARPA, and NSF, scientists, and representatives from
Google, Microsoft, and Qualcomm.
The Brain Activity Map project and
the challenge of functional connectomics
AP Alivisatos, M Chun, GM Church, RJ Greenspan, ML Roukes, R
Neuron, June 2012
In Germany, a "Doktor" title helps an ambitious
person get ahead. But instead of doing the work themselves, many hire a
ghostwriter to write a thesis for them.
When he finished his
doctorate in philosophy, Dr G couldn't get a job, so he joined a
ghostwriting agency: "I find it great to discover things. In no other
profession would I gain such a wide range of knowledge."
only given a general subject, and doesn't even know the name of the
university, doctoral advisor, or client. Dr G: "These are people who have
absolutely no intellectual ambitions. One can tell from their spelling
errors that they would never be able to get a PhD the normal way."
can write a thesis in about three months. So far all of them have been
accepted by the universities. Dr G: "If the universities functioned
properly, my job wouldn't exist."
2013 February 17
Oscar Pistorius is "numb with shock, as well as
grief" after his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp died on the bathroom floor of
his mansion, shot four times. Prosecutors say Pistorius "repeatedly and
intentionally" shot his girlfriend while she cowered behind a locked
Pistorius was not the "squeaky clean" hero previously
portrayed in the press. In 2009 he spent 17 hours in jail after being
charged with common assault. Lawyer Charlotte Harris: "It's very likely to
be a circus trial ... You have a beautiful woman and a national hero who has
succeeded against all the odds."
AR Beautiful woman — the man's
Faith In Fiction
Like a late Victorian clergyman doubting in the dark, I have moments
when my faith in fiction falters. I don't know how or where to suspend my
disbelief. I don't believe a word of it.
When the god of fiction
deserts you, everything must go. The book-lined church, the respectful
congregation, the reviewer's blessing or curse. My doubter's heart fails
when I wander into a bookstore and see the towers on the tables, the
taglines above the cover art, the earnest plot summaries.
I'm 64. If
I'm lucky, I might have 20 good reading years left. Teach me about the
world! Bring me the cosmologists, the annalists, the philosopher, the
neuroscientist, the mathematician, the historian. A few widely spaced
pleasures apart, what will I have or know at the end of yet another novel?
Such apostasy creeps into the wide gap that separates finishing one
novel and starting the next. Months can go by. Then there comes a shift. I
have a memory of myself as a child, caressing a detail in a novel. The
experience showed me how the worlds of fact and fiction can interpenetrate.
Things that never happened can tangle with things that did. The atheist
may lie down with the believer, the encyclopedia with the poem. You can put
everything to use when you return to the faith.
AR Even CORAL :)
2013 February 16
I read all day. I recommend the best pieces each
day on my website, The
Browser. My wisdom:
1 This is a great
time to be a reader. The amount of good writing freely available online far
exceeds what the consumer might have encountered in printed media. Only 1%
is of value to the intelligent general reader, but even that's an
embarrassment of riches. To read the blog of a political scientist, or an
anthropologist, or a lawyer, or an information technologist, is about as
good as reading their mind.
2 The writer
is everything. Good writers write good pieces, regardless of subject and
regardless of publication. When print media ruled, your basic unit of
consumption was the publication. The publisher was the guarantor of quality.
But many online publishers subtract value by filling the space between
reader and writer with banner ads. A new business model for reading and
writing online will prevail in which readers reward directly the writers
3 We overvalue new writing
and undervalue older writing. The newspaper industry told us for decades
that today's newspaper is essential but yesterday's newspaper is worthless.
Online, you can call up a year-old piece as easily as you can call up a
day-old piece. A wise new hire for any long-established newspaper or
magazine would be a smart, disruptive archive editor.
4 The internet is a force for brevity. When
you're writing online, you don't have to fill an expected space or length,
or to introduce and source every person or fact you mention.
The NASA Messenger space probe has
been orbiting Mercury for two years. A new color video shows the entire
surface. Enhanced colors reveal differences in structure and composition of
the rocks on the surface of Mercury, said David Blewitt, Johns Hopkins
University, at an AAAS meeting.
Blewitt: "The colors represent real
differences in the composition of the rocks on the surface. The orange areas
represent volcanic plains and the areas of deep blue are reflections of blue
Mercury is a planetary oddball. It is the only planet in
a spin-orbit resonance with the Sun, making exactly 3 turns on its axis for
every 2 revolutions about the Sun, and its temperatures go from 70 K
at night to 700 K by day. At the poles there are craters in shadow where
water ice has collected.
Close encounter with
My boxer nephew #4:
Mo Karbo training Mike Ross
Barack Obama mentioned a transatlantic
trade pact during his State of the Union address. The EU and the US vowed to
complete trade talks within two years. Together, the EU and US account for
nearly half of world economic output. European Commission president José
Manuel Barroso: "It is a boost to our economies that does not cost a cent of
State of the Union
Barack Obama proposes to reignite the engine of
America's economic growth by raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour, tied to
the cost of living, and by avoiding the automatic $1.2 trillion in spending
cuts, half from the defense budget, that start March 1. He wants more
revenues, largely from closing personal and company tax loopholes, for the
next round of deficit reduction.
Obama plans to reduce pollution,
prepare for climate change, and speed the transition to sustainable energy.
Pope Benedict XVI
Joseph Ratzinger was unlikely
ever to thrill
billion or so Roman Catholics.
He leaves a sense of drift
The child abuse scandal has
not been resolved, nor has
the church's loss of
and self-confidence been
reversed. In the west, the
and in vocations for the
have been neither
confronted nor resolved.
Governments in Catholic
countries press on with their
plans for gay marriages or
easier abortion. The
has squandered its moral
authority across the world
over child abuse. Benedict
was an interim pope.
2013 February 15
Cosmic Rays Come From Supernovas
Cosmic rays are charged particles from space,
usually protons, accelerated to almost the speed of light. The material
blown out by exploding stars forms a shock wave. Protons get caught in
magnetic fields that bounce them back and forth across the shock, and each
time they get a kick. When their energy is high enough, they escape, as
cosmic rays. The rays are deflected by magnetic fields on their way to
Earth, scrambling their directions, but when the fast protons collide with
slow protons further out, they emit gamma rays, which travel to us in
Stefan Funk and colleagues at SLAC, California, used
the Fermi Gamma Ray Space Telescope to observe the two brightest supernova
remnants in the galaxy. The gamma ray photons from the proton collisions
have a minimum energy of 150-200 MeV. The team found lots of gamma rays with
that energy or higher coming from that region. So cosmic rays come from
supernovas in the Milky Way.
Quantum Uncertainty in a Grain
A drum no bigger than a grain of sand is now the
largest object shown to obey the uncertainty principle. This principle
limits how far you can simultaneously determine both the position and
momentum of a particle and is known to apply to quantum particles, but it is
hard to test for large objects.
Tom Purdy and colleagues at the
University of Colorado, Boulder, made a drum by stretching a 40 nm sheet of
silicon nitride over a square frame with sides of 0.5 mm and put the drum
inside a vacuum chamber cooled to a few degrees above 0 K. They measured the
position of the skin at any moment by firing a stream of photons at it. This
made the drum vibrate at an unknown speed and caused the predicted error in
their momentum measurement.
The uncertainty principle on this scale
could affect the hunt for gravitational waves. Gravitational wave detectors
look for very slight changes in the distance between two test masses caused
by passing spacetime ripples. Quantum uncertainty could overwhelm these very
On February 15, 2003, over a million anti-war
protesters gathered in Hyde Park. A decade on, they stand vindicated. The
hawks were wrong. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, no ties
between secular Saddam and Islamist Osama. The invasion failed to usher in a
The Iraq war was a strategic disaster. The
invasion and occupation undermined the moral standing of the western powers,
empowered Iran and its proxies, heightened the threat from al-Qaeda, and
sent a signal to "rogue" regimes that the best way to deter an attack was to
acquire weapons of mass destruction.
Over the past ten years, Iraqis
have witnessed the comprehensive destruction of their country. The
post-Saddam government is consumed by divisions and by corruption. The human
rights of the Iraqi people are violated with impunity. Prime Minister Nouri
al-Maliki is leading his country toward dictatorship.
2013 February 14
Andrew Wylie may recall that Valentine's Day
2013 marks the 24th anniversary of the Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa against
Salman Rushdie. Wylie is a hero in Rushdie's recent memoir Joseph Anton. In
a narrative of betrayals, Wylie provides Rushdie with counsel,
housing, friendship, and all sorts of other support.
Wylie does the
hard and sometimes blunt work of negotiating the best advances and royalties
for the best authors. By focusing on the backlists of talented authors, he
ensures that their worthwhile books remain in print. Rushdie gives us a
personal look at his relationship with Wylie, and shows just how much
writers need men of action like Wylie.
Wylie extracts more value for
authors from their works amid the troubled book business. He is a
businessman with a literate sensibility.
Andrew Wylie is a literary agent. The Wylie Agency, founded in 1980,
with offices in midtown Manhattan and in London, represents hundreds of
clients, including the biggest names in the business. In book publishing,
the new titles are where the up-front sizzle is, but a strong backlist of
previous titles is where the money is. Wylie makes money for his clients by
concentrating on their backlist.
The British press dubbed Wylie "The
Jackal" in 1995 after Martin Amis deserted his previous agent for the Wylie
agency, which won him a big advance for his next novel. Wylie says his own
clients are equally free to move on. He generally represents established
writers and tends to move them toward the larger and richer publishers. The
smaller publishers do the legwork of finding and grooming new authors, then
Wylie reads the reviews and eats their lunch.
Wylie: "A writer
arrives with a fully formed personality and set of beliefs, powerfully
expressed. I become so enraptured by their interests, knowledge, and means
of expression that nothing can distract me. My ability to transmit the
writer's qualities, to persuasively describe them with admiration, is strong
because I have this sort of hollow core: I take on the author's identity."
2013 February 13
The Nuclear Threat
progress made by North Korea on its nuclear and missile programs is deeply
concerning. I would urge China to intensify its leadership role in helping
to solve this crisis. I think we can greatly diminish the risk of a nuclear
explosion in Europe or the United States within the next 10 years.
The Iranians know that if they develop nuclear weapons, they will be in
tremendous jeopardy from military capabilities of their neighbors and of the
United States. I think 2013 is a crucial year. We need a dialogue with the
Iranians. We have to give the Iranians an idea of what the possibilities
would be if they gave up their quest for a nuclear weapon.
ago, 40 countries had weapons-usable nuclear materials. Now there are only
28. Some big avalanches are threatening to come down the mountain, with Iran
and North Korea. But when you look at the avalanches that have missed us so
far, there is something to be grateful for.
Stanley Cavell on fraud in art:
"There is no one feature, or definite set of features, which may be
described in technical handbooks ... There are no such proofs possible for
the assertion that the art accepted by a public is fraudulent; the artist
himself may not know."
Logical positivists questioned the value of
poetry. They said its statements were not true or false, hence meaningless.
But Cavell saw their fraudulence. He asked how we mean what we say. If we
must bring a world with us to understand a definition, then we cannot define
away ambiguity in words. Language is ambiguous because we do not all see the
world in the same way. So we must dare to mean what we say, take
responsibility for all the meanings our words might be taken to have.
Philosophers now see logical positivism as a dead end. Skeptics say we
never can be absolutely certain of ourselves or our relation to the world,
but that was what the logical positivists wanted. Their philosophy was
fraudulent because under the banner of getting closer to the world, they
moved further away from it.
Cavell was an American interpreter of
ordinary language philosophy. The Oxford philosopher J.L. Austin would pick
at a philosophical definition of a word to unveil an entire world that the
definition had obscured. The ordinary language philosophers returned to the
ordinary world — but they found that their travels had made it uncanny.
In response, Cavell embarked on a wholesale "reconstruction or
resettlement of the everyday" through interpretations of literature and
film. Reading the later Wittgenstein helped him see that there is no hope of
building a nice new home there. We must turn to a philosophy of constant
movement. Cavell found this in Emerson and Thoreau. Emerson: "Our life is an
apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn;
that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning."
Cavell, now 86, calls his philosophy perfectionism.
2013 February 12
It's often easier to make something 10 times better
than it is to make it 10 percent better.
you’re working to make things 10% better, you inevitably focus on the
existing tools and assumptions, and on building on top of an existing
solution that many people have already spent a lot of time thinking about.
But when you aim for a 10x gain, you lean instead on bravery and
creativity. We chose to go to the moon, John F. Kennedy said, not because it
was easy but because it was hard. Kennedy understood that bigger challenges
We need 10x gains to solve some of the biggest
problems facing humankind because our problems are exponentiating. We need
to keep pace with these challenges and then pull ahead of them, and
incremental thinking isn’t going to get us there. The only way we can do
this is by shifting our focus toward moonshots.
1 Starts with picking a big problem: something
huge, long existing, or on a global scale
Involves articulating a radical solution that would solve the problem if it
3 Needs evidence that the proposed
solution is not quite as crazy as it at first seems
"If you're not
doing some things that are crazy, then you're doing the wrong things."
Aristotle said the acorn grew into a seedling
because its purpose was to become a mighty oak. Teleology can seem to imply
an intention to pursue an end, or even reverse causation, acting back in
time. For such reasons, teleology was disowned at the birth of modern
Kant said we see living beings in
teleological terms but teleological explanation is unwarranted. Hegel had a
teleological view of human affairs as the world-spirit pursuing an ultimate
aim through the dialectical operations of history. Singularity theorists,
who believe we are destined to merge with our machines, have a diluted
Thomas Nagel seeks to resurrect teleology. He
sees the appearance of conscious beings like us as the universe waking up.
Doubts about Darwinian evolution motivate his teleology. He finds it
implausible that life as we know it is the result of a sequence of physical
accidents plus natural selection. Well, he'd better get used to it. The
experts have done the math.
Fundamental teleology is not incoherent
in cosmology. The problem for cosmic teleology is that we have no way to
test it. Over cosmic time, why should we assume that creatures like us are
the telos of the universe, when there is plenty of time left to go?
AR Teleology closes the circles that logic and
science say should stay open, and thus demonstrates the irrationality at the
heart of our rationality, hence the triviality of terrestrial life and human
consciousness in the great scheme of
THE NEXT TWIST OF
World history is the greatest story ever told. It starts with the gods
and ends here and now, with us. We all want to know what happens next.
Looking back we see a rich tapestry of good and bad actors — Buddhists,
Jews, Christians, Muslims, Communists, Nazis, and the heroes of Apollo.
It is truly a tale of triumphs and tragedies.
Spiral dynamics is
a color scheme for understanding history by tracing the evolution of
complexity from humble origins. How we rose from surviving as naked apes to
living as smart nodes in a globalized ecosystem is a story well worth
telling in color. The tale has an amazing twist in the next chapter — the
coral step in the spiral.
Paperback, 12.8 cm x 19.6 cm, 300 pages
Wintry lake views at the
favorite jogging trail
Japan vs. Russia
Japan scrambled fighters
Thursday after Russian Su-27
jets entered Japanese airspace off Hokkaido. The incident occurred near
territory disputed by Japan and Russia since the end of World War II.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to resolve the dispute over what
Japan calls the Northern Territories and Russia calls the Kuril Islands.
AR This dispute featured
in my 1996 novel
set in 2013.
opened today in Bangalore.
The show began with flights
helicopters, by a vintage
De Havilland Tiger Moth, and
by the Czech
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: "I am ready to
be the first human to be sent to space by Iranian scientists."
AR Shoot him up!
Saudi Killer Goes Free
A Saudi preacher accused of raping and
murdering his 5 year-old daughter Lama has been released. Lama suffered a
crushed skull, broken back, broken ribs, a broken arm, and extensive
bruising and burns. Social workers say she had been repeatedly raped.
Fayhan al-Ghamdi admitted inflicting the injuries after doubting the
girl's virginity. A judge ruled that under Islamic law he must pay $50 000
to Lama's mother. This is half the payment for a boy. Fathers cannot be
executed for killing their children in Saudi Arabia.
In an interview on Saudi TV, Sheikh Abdullah Daoud
said all female newborns should wear veils to protect them against sex
attacks. He cited instances of babies being sexually molested
in Saudi Arabia.
AR Forget the veils —
the balls off any Saudi man
who touches a girl.
2013 February 11
Growth and job creation remain America's most
serious national challenge. The US economy growth rate was 1.5% in 2012 and
is predicted to be 1.4% during 2013, with rising unemployment.
A weak economy and limited job creation make growth in
middle class incomes all but impossible, pressure budgets by restricting tax
revenues, and threaten essential private and public investments in education
and innovation. It undermines the American example to the world.
Americans can do better. An agenda:
budget cuts over time: Sudden slashing of military and civilian spending
2 Reform corporate tax: US
companies are sitting on $2 trillion in cash awaiting tax relief.
3 Ease housing finance: The move against cheap
mortgages has swung too far.
4 Push energy
changes: Approve the Keystone pipeline and replace coal with natural gas.
Venture Capital View
The British Venture Capital Association says
addressing the need for growth had become more urgent than spending cuts.
BVCA chairman Robert Easton: "The UK's fiscal position remains precarious so
there is a limit to what stimulus can be delivered without adding to an
already large debt burden."
BVCA says tackling youth unemployment is priority #1. It calls for more
flexibility on immigration to allow companies to look abroad for talent and
skills. And it wants a smarter industrial policy focusing on key industries,
technology, and science.
The BVCA also says the government can learn
from the German approach by encouraging lending and investment through tax
credits and guarantees. And the government should not raise capital
requirements on banks above EU levels.
2013 February 10
Warlord by Carlo D'Este
2013 February 9
Across-the-board U.S. defense spending cuts set to kick in
March 1 and the possibility of the government operating under a continuing
resolution instead of a budget for the rest of the year pose a "nightmare
scenario" for the Defense Department.
Kendall, deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and
logistics, said the cuts translate to $50 billion over the rest of FY 2013.
He added that DOD officials will try to protect units that are deploying
sooner and to sustain current operations.
The Defense Department
faces a national security environment that includes al-Qaida's activity in
Africa, unrest in Syria, the unpredictability of Iran and North Korea, and
the modernization of the Chinese and Russian militaries.
AR There are worse nightmare scenarios ...
1 Humankind is overthrown
by its own robots!
Robopocalypse author Daniel H. Wilson explains how to
survive a robot uprising: Destroy a robot, take it apart, and use it against
the other machines. He says humans are just an arms race in progress.
2 Genetically modified crops attack humanity!
Anne Swithinbank says
if plants mobilize, gather your family and relocate to a very large bottle garden. Friendly plants
will clean your air and recycle your effluent and may even let you eat them.
The problem is finding a big enough bottle garden.
Virtual reality is so real, we may be already in it!
Brookmyre thinks we'll augment our brains so that we process our thoughts
digitally. He finds the idea of waking up in a virtual reality quite
appealing, but thinks we'd soon start moaning.
4 Social media
over-sharing is used by a police state!
Vikki Stone worries that we're
volunteering all this information and it's portrayed as very fun and jolly
to be social and connected, but soon we'll never be able to get away from
it. She and her other half would become freedom fighters.
A compulsory wonder-drug pacifies the populace!
Michael Smiley thinks we
already live in a world where we're controlled by drugs that make us bypass
our gut instincts, and that the only way to fight back would be to decide to
be nice to other people.
2013 February 8
A major summit of Europe's top intellectual
icons met in Paris to discuss the future of Europe.
"Europe or Chaos?" featured
Bernard-Henri Lévy, Umberto Eco, György Konrád, Juan Luis Cebrián,
Julia Kristeva, Peter Schneider, and Hans Christoph Buch. The attendees
mentioned Goethe and Herder, Husserl and Voltaire, Pushkin and Freud,
Adenauer and de Gaulle, and Schuman and De Gasperi.
Europe, said the
poets and thinkers, stands for enlightenment, humanism, universally
applicable values, and the separation of church and state. Schneider said
Europe boasts "the noblest of all cultures in the world." Eco read a long,
baroque, confusing text. György Konrád mumbled about the "murderous, old
dualities" that continue to exist in Europe. And so on.
The panel discussion followed
a manifesto signed by Salman Rushdie, António Lobo Antunes, and others,
published a few days earlier. The first sentences: "Europe isn't just in a
crisis. Europe is dying. Europe as an idea, as a dream, as a project."
The assembled intellectuals forgot all nuance and seemed to rant. The
rhetoric was childishly exaggerated and filled with plainly false arguments:
Europe "is crumbling everywhere, from West to East, and from North to South.
Populism and chauvinism of all stripes are on the rise."
This is not
the continent most Europeans live on. The scenario ignores the European
Union. The group reiterated that there is no alternative to Europe. But they
have no idea why we need today's Europe.
Europe needs new thinkers.
They were not invited.
They forgot to invite me.
Britain and Europe
David Cameron doesn't want to be the prime
minister who takes Britain out of the European Union. But the problem with
his promise of a referendum is that Britain's relationship with Europe in
the next few years is going to be defined by the danger of a potential exit.
Many Tories say the big issue is repatriation of powers. I say the big
issues are innovation, energy, infrastructure, and migration.
two-tier Europe is not the way we want to go. Britain and Germany, one of
them in the euro, the other one out of the euro, will be two pillars of the
European construction. This is not to exclude France, because the
French-German alliance is special. But in spite of German and British
differences, we have a lot of shared perspectives and common values. We
should be pushing together for reforms.
David M gets my vote on this issue.
Symptoms of the relative economic decline of the West
growth, crushing debts, aging populations, and anti-social behavior.
Representative government, the free market, the rule of law, and civil
society were once the four pillars of Western societies. In our time, these
institutions have deteriorated in disturbing ways. Our democracies have
broken the contract between the generations by heaping debts on our children
and grandchildren. Our markets are distorted by over-complex regulations
that are the disease, not the cure. The rule of law has become the rule of
lawyers. And civil society has degenerated into uncivil society. Europeans
and Americans are frittering away the inheritance of
centuries. Arresting the degeneration will take heroic leadership and
AR Ferguson sees the
symptoms: CORAL may cheer him up.
2013 February 7
Gespräch zwischen Dieter Borchmeyer und Manfred Osten über die
DAI, Haus der Kultur, Heidelberg
Besteht ein Zusammenhang zwischen Richard Wagners Hoffnung auf eine
ästhetische Weltordnung und der fatalen Theatralisierung der Politik durch
Prof. Dr. Dieter Borchmeyer ist emeritierter Professor an der
Universität Heidelberg, Präsident der Bayerischen Akademie der Schönen
Künste und lehrt im Rahmen der Stiftungsdozentur "Heidelberger Vorträge zur
Kulturtheorie" weiterhin an der Universität Heidelberg.
ehemalige Diplomat und langjährige Generalsekretär der Alexander von
Humboldt-Stiftung Manfred Osten ist Kulturwissenschaftler.
Etiquette is the measure of how we treat one
another. It reaches across class, race, gender, and culture, and has long
fashioned Americans' ideal of what it was to pursue a gracious and even a
moral life. Attention to behavior preoccupied even the founders: George
Washington wrote a book on it.
Etiquette (1922) by Emily Post sold over a million copies in its first
few years. In 1976 and again in 1990, Life magazine lauded her as one of the
most important Americans of the twentieth century. She was not alone in
maintaining that the art of treating people well is the other side to the
act of waging war.
French Nuclear Disaster Could Cost Half A
In a new study of a nuclear disaster on the scale of
Fukushima, the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear
Safety (IRSN) calculates that the Fukushima accident has cost Japan about
200 billion euros, but costs in France would be up to 500 billion euros, a
quarter of French GDP.
IRSN chief Jacques Repussard: "A
major accident would have horrific consequences, but it would not erase the
country, so we have to talk about it, even if it is difficult."
IRSN study author Patrick Momal: "The probability of
such accidents is extremely low, but estimates like these help decision
makers to set the cost of preventive measures in perspective."
plans to reduce the share of nuclear power in its energy mix from 75% today
to 50% by 2025. Worldwide, according to the IAEA, 68 nuclear reactors are
under construction. Of them, 29 are in China, 7 in India, 4 in South Korea,
and 3 in Japan. Dozens more are planned.
2013 February 6
The dispute between China and Japan
over the islands known as the Diaoyu to the Chinese and the Senkaku to the
Japanese could lead to war. The two powers' aircraft and ships shadowbox
near the islands. A Chinese attack would trigger American security
guarantees to Japan.
The United States is concerned that the new
Japanese cabinet is full of hardline nationalists, who are inclined to
confront China. Shinzo Abe, the new Japanese prime minister, rejects the
"apology diplomacy" that Japan followed to atone for its aggression in World
China now, like Germany 100 years ago, is a rising power that
fears the established powers seek to block its rise. But the Chinese
leadership is determined to avoid the mistakes of Germany and Japan. In a
nuclear age, a 1914 crisis seems unlikely.
Solving the Iranian Nuclear Puzzle
Arms Control Association Briefing Book
Iran apparently has still not made a strategic decision to pursue
nuclear weapons and does not yet have the ingredients for an
effective nuclear arsenal, but its capabilities are improving.
that ties Iran's enrichment activities and its stockpiles to the needs of
its nuclear power plants, combined with IAEA safeguards, could
sufficiently guard against a nuclear-armed Iran.
international sanctions can help slow the advance of Iran's nuclear and
missile programs and increase pressure on Tehran to negotiate seriously. Yet
sanctions alone will not be enough.
The military option would be
counterproductive and costly for all sides. Air strikes could set back
Iran's program for no more than a few years and could lead Tehran to
withdraw from the NPT.
The three rounds of nuclear talks in
2012 have revealed substantial differences between the two sides. Iran could
make a deal and sanctions relief more likely if it cooperated with the
2013 February 5
Al Gore considers globalization. He confines
himself to outsourcing and robots and does not discuss economic integration
or dimensions such as patents and migrations.
accepts that outsourcing and robots depress wages. But an alternative narrative
is that robots depress wages and that freer trade offsets the change.
Gore accepts that spread of new ideas to lands like China and India will
stimulate them to win where we used to win. But no: as they become more
similar to us, mutual benefit will increase.
But in the new world
comparative advantage is fragile:
need flexibility in firing if they are to hire.
Security does not come from lifetime employment.
Firms cannot train workers who are free to leave.
Gore accepts that
we are doomed to greater inequality in a globalized world. But Indian growth
has been inclusive, pulling more than 200 million above the poverty line.
Gore is persuasive on the dangers of global warming. We expect public
funding of public goods. Should we give green technologies for free to China
AR I had to edit freely.
Authors: try to keep it short and clear.
The UK Chancellor George Osborne proposes
ringfencing: separating a bank's retail and investment activities so that in
a crisis we can save one part but let the other go to the wall. But in the
face of panic and a collapse in confidence, I found we had to erect a
Ringfencing will not be enough. No government can say it will never have to
bail out a bank or intervene in a crisis. In more tranquil times, a failed
bank can be allowed to fail.
The Vickers Commission recommended a
lending ratio of 25 to 1. The chancellor now wants a 33 to 1 ratio. A
Vickers ratio is better than a ringfence. Also, bond holders must take
losses in a failure. We cannot let them take the profits while taxpayers
take the risk.
We cannot sort out UK banking problems until the
eurozone does the same. The banking union will not work as proposed. French
and German banks will not accept ringfencing.
The Sunday Assembly is an atheist service run by
two standup comedians in a former church in north London. Sanderson Jones:
"I would go to a carol service or a friend's wedding, and there would be so
much about it that I really liked — the togetherness, the rituals — but I
just couldn't get past the God bit."
The service opens with a song,
"Don't Stop Me Now" by Queen, and features a reading, a moment of reflective
silence, even a collection to pay for the rental of the church, during which
people are invited to turn and greet those around them. After a sermon by a
physicist on antimatter and the improbability of the universe, the
congregation stands to sing Superstition by Stevie Wonder.
Humanist Association CEO Andrew Copson: "I think it's an interesting
2013 February 4
Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi says Tehran
is ready to meet the E3+3 (US, UK, France, China, Russia, and Germany) to
The US is prepared to meet Iran bilaterally. US
vice-president Joe Biden: "There has to be an agenda that they are prepared
to speak to. We are not just prepared to do it for the exercise."
Energy sanctions have cut $46 billion of revenues, equivalent to 8% of GDP.
Iran now has 40% inflation.
Rise of the Robots
The United States is automating. The net increase in
US manufacturing jobs since last July is zero. Yet in January manufacturing
activity rose by its fastest rate since April.
employment is shrinking around the world. China is moving fast toward
industrial robotics. But the distribution of the benefits is unsustainable.
Middle income jobs have cratered.
The effects of technology are
beginning to be felt in education and healthcare. Teachers will outsource
lessons online and focus on personal care. Doctors will be freed from basic
diagnostics to do the same.
Sustained growth is inconsistent with
declining middle class incomes. Rage against the machine.
Bill Gates enthused about the move online on GPS this week.
Black Hornet spy drone:
20 cm long,
mass 15 g
Brigade Reconnaissance Force
Sergeant Kevin Hough
deploys Black Hornet
The European Space Agency plans to build a Moon base using
3D printers to transform raw lunar soil into walls for domes. ESA
says autonomous robots will print a cellular structure to house four
ready for occupancy by about 2050, with 90% of the mass needed coming
from lunar rock, so only the robots and small parts need be ferried from
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi
has become a smiling saint who brought
down the British Empire with civil disobedience.
The 1982 movie
Gandhi shows him ejected from a first-class railway carriage in South Africa after a white passenger objects to sharing space with a
"coolie". In fact, the railway company accepted his demand to travel first
class. He argued that "respectable Indians" should not be obliged to use the
same facilities as "raw Kaffirs". In Durban he won his action to end the
indignity of Indians using the same entrance to the post office as blacks,
and got three doors: one for Europeans, one for Asiatics, and one for
When former Viceroy of India
Lord Halifax saw Adolf Hitler
in 1938, the Führer suggested he have Gandhi shot.
2013 February 3
Who in their right mind would want to move to Britain?
UK government ministers are planning an ad
campaign to deter a potential influx of EU immigrants. They can make it
1 Inform those thinking of
moving here that Britain is introducing a "spare room tax" for poor
people on benefits. And that poor people "underoccupying" a property
have to downsize, whether or not there is anywhere else to go.
2 While the health service is being privatized, while
the school system is being reconfigured by a former journalist, while
bankers and CEOs are being pampered by those charged with checking their
rapacious greed, we are devoting large amounts of time and energy to the
trivial pursuits of the royal family.
3 We are a country in which a certain
amount of time and energy should be devoted to this question because Mr
Money's elevation to the Earldom of Poo will cause unearned benefits to
accrue not just to him and his wife but to generations of his family to
4 We are a country that has
just rewritten its citizenship test so that it resembles, in the words
of Migrants' Rights Network director Don Flynn, "an entry examination
for an elite public school", thereby enshrining 18 acts of
discrimination in one short document.
We are a bewildered wreck of a country, steeped in snobbery and led by a
band of conscienceless hucksters with no greater goal than to strip the
wealth and assets owned by the many and place them firmly in the hands
of the few.
AR Lucy, I revised your list to make it more
accessible to international readers.
Five reasons to
Miriam Margolyes has take Australian
citizenship: "I don't like class distinction and there is far too much
of that in England. There's an energy here, an optimism, a vitality. I
think England doesn't have that any more."
There are plenty of other things to complain about:
1 The British economy depends on the
arms industry but we haven't had a civil war in over 400 years. How uncivil.
2 Newspapers keep on showing
female celebrities wearing backless, sleeveless, plunging dresses on a
red carpet in January, in central London, in the snow.
3 Nobody in the UK displays a house number
properly. Some of the houses don't have numbers at all, they have names.
And this in a country where the roads are all weird and wiggly.
4 Cigarettes are sold in newsagents.
Disgusting to be tempted to buy mags with your fags.
5 If I have to listen to
another person droning on about the class system, Jeez! Change the
AR Ditto, Victoria.
2013 February 2
Groundhog Day: 70 years ago today, General Paulus surrendered a Nazi army to
the Soviets at Stalingrad.
Time Travel Movie
A time travel movie (1:51)
made by a team led by Wolfgang Schleich, Uni Ulm, visualizes life inside an
infinitely wide rotating cylinder of evenly spread dust called a Gödel
The first scene is shot from the center of the universe and
shows a nearby planet. Light rays move in spirals, and there is a radius
beyond which the cylinder rotates faster than light, so the rays are
reflected back, as from a mirror. Light from the planet's front gets
squashed and light from the back is reflected off the horizon. The light
from the back takes longer, so the view is older. You see two views, one
old, one new, at once.
The second scene shows a ball moving along a
closed timelike curve. The young ball gets hit by an older version of itself that has come from
beyond the horizon. The young ball is hit off along the CTC. It flies fast
into the future before looping around into the past, aging all the while.
The ball comes back to the time and place of the collision, but this time as
the older ball. After knocking its younger self onto the CTC, the old ball
Max Tegmark: "I find ray-tracing visualizations to be a
powerful tool for deepening our understanding of general relativity."
2013 February 1
Six drivers of change:
A more globalized economy
communications and advanced robotics
Political influence and initiative shifting from west to east
4 Unsustainable population growth and resource
5 New science that enables us to
reshape the fabric of life
relations between civilization and the ecosystem
civilization is emerging.
"If you are concerned about the massive changes the world is just
heading into, then you should read this book. If you aren't, then you must
"The Dawk" vs. "Mad Willy"
Richard Dawkins is celebrated as an atheist, forever
seeking to make a bonfire of the vanities and idiocies of religion. Less
well known is his fondness for penis gags.
Lord Rowan Williams no longer leads the
world's 77 million Anglicans and is now master of Magdalene College,
RW "Religion has always been a matter of community
building; a matter of building precisely those relations of compassion,
fellow feeling and — I dare to use the word — inclusion, which would
otherwise be absent from our societies."
RD "If I were a cultural
Muslim, I would have something to say about that faith's appalling treatment
of women — its appalling attitude to women — as well as various other moral
Dawkins' rhetorical ace was a passing reference to God as
"the immortal knob-twiddler". This earned him a roar of laughter and
applause for 10 seconds.
The Dawk lost to Mad Willy by 324 votes to
difference: present American
and future Chinese military transports
CORAL is now finished
the end, plus notes,
references, and index.
has 300 pages.
Next week: read it all
again and correct it.
Two Billion Euro Winners
The winners of the EU competition on Future
Emerging Technologies will
each receive €1 billion:
an emerging nanotechnology where
discoveries in laboratories
are rapidly transferred to applications and products.
The Human Brain
will collect and integrate experimental data.
techniques will impact
a range of industries.
UK Q4 GDP Down
The British economy
shrank 0.3% in Q4, 2012.
The economy has
"We have a
The World Economic Forum is infotainment. Its founder
Klaus Schwab is an entrepreneur who founded a new business model. Davos has
1 It is serious.
Participants discuss weighty topics and review the state of the world.
2 It is live. Media and entertainment
companies have come to realise the value of live events.
3 It is a club. Entrance is restricted and it
plays to people's vanity to be invited. It's a social network.
SoS Hillary Clinton
"We operate in places where we know that our facilities are
being surveilled for potential attacks where we have a steady Intel stream
"It is our job to figure out what happened and do
everything we can to prevent it from ever happening."
2013 January 31
In 1752, the UK converted its entire national
debt into consolidated annuities, consols. The consols paid interest on an
annual basis just like regular bonds, but with no requirement that the
government ever redeem them by repaying the face value.
Today a consol would take advantage of low interest rates. The
inflation-adjusted yield on 10-year U.S. Treasury bonds is negative. Savers
want to pay the American government to safeguard their money. For 30-year
treasury bonds, rates are higher, but still far below the long-term average
economic growth level. A sensible country would be using them to finance its
At a time when demand for goods and services is depressed,
demand for American government debt is high. Consols offer a safe high-yield
investment for those willing to lock their money up forever. The ability to
offer them credibly is a sign of strength.
Memo to UK: Consols are better than austerity.
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi had to a lot of
listen to criticism from German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. When a
reporter asked him whether he would apologize for saying that Zionists were
bloodsuckers, he thundered back that he had heard the question five times
already that day.
Morsi played the role of solid statesman and head
of a regional power in the Mideast. In the joint press conference with the
chancellor, he said what people wanted to hear about Egypt's political
future: democracy, rule of law, freedom of religion, the separation of state
But Merkel said nothing on Egypt's debt of €240 million
to Germany, or on new German development projects. Merkel: "Jetzt kommt es
darauf an, dass die Arbeit, die noch getan werden muss, auch getan wird"
(Now it all depends on actually doing the work that needs to be done).
AR Well said, Angela.
2013 January 30
Leaving Europe Bad For Britain
I completely agree
about the need for reform and change in Europe. About the British
relationship with Europe, I have difficulties with the notion that we commit
now to putting into play the issue of whether Britain exits the European
China has three times the population of the whole of the
European Union, and will have the biggest economy in the world. If Britain
wants weight today, we need Europe. The rationale for Europe in the 21st
century is stronger than it has ever been.
For reasons of
globalization, demography, and technology, all developed countries will have
to change radically. The social model of Europe has got to reform. Europe is
going to exist in a completely different economic and geopolitical context.
The concept of the single currency with the single market is a perfectly
sensible concept. But in its execution there was not the proper alignment of
the political desire to have a single currency with the economic decisions
necessary to make it work.
Germans Who Agree With Cameron
Two politicians from Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition parties have
voiced support for UK Prime Minister David Cameron's calls for a reform of
the European Union.
CSU general secretary Alexander Dobrindt: "It
would be totally wrong to react with kneejerk refusal to the intitiative of
Prime Minister Cameron. If you condemn Cameron's idea of a referendum on
Europe outright, you will fan mistrust of Europe, as if Europe has to hide
from the people. ... It's clear that in an optimized Europe there can't be
room for special rights for individuals, such as a British rebate."
FDP Bavarian economy minister Martin Zeil: "The British have had to undergo
painful financial cuts to stabilize their state budget. So one can well
imagine the frustration of the British when they see that other states have
reacted in a far more lax way to their desolate financial situations. ... The
issues he addressed are quite right, but ... an exit from the EU — that's wrong."
2013 January 29
For reasons too complicated to explain, I plan to return to the UK this
The move will probably force a break
in the continuity of this blog.
Almost €100 billion of private funds flowed back
into the eurozone periphery in late 2012 after action by the ECB encouraged
reinvestment. The return of capital encourages policy makers to believe the
eurozone crisis is over.
AR It's over
when it's over, but not yet.
Muslim Brother Morsi
Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi is visiting Berlin this week to meet
with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Morsi says Egypt will fulfill all of its obligations,
including both the peace treaty with Israel and a policy of close
cooperation with the United States.
Morsi served as general inspector
of the Muslim Brotherhood for years.
MEMRI has published an old video of
Morsi in an interview with an Arab network, calling Israelis "bloodsuckers"
and "warmongers" and saying that there can be no peace with these
"descendants of apes and pigs".
In 2004, Morsi, then an
Egyptian MP, allegedly raged against the "descendants of apes and
pigs" and said that there could be "no peace" with them. In 2009, referring
to the Israelis, he said: "They all have the same nature. They are equally
shaped by shrewdness, deception and hate."
AR Merkel must keep her distance.
2013 January 28
CORAL has grown in the revision to
294 pages and counting.
Will top out below 300 for rollout soon and a
UK Economy Is Disaster
The British economy is a
disaster. After Olympic growth lifted it out of recession in Q3, Britain
sank back with a GDP fall of 0.3% in Q4, the fourth shrink in five quarters.
Britain is verging on a triple-dip recession, a.k.a. depression. The GDP is
still more than 3% below its 2008 peak.
Zero growth coincides with
austerity. Despite entering office with borrowing costs at 50-year lows, the
Cameron coalition decided the government deficit was the chief threat to
future prosperity. It raised taxes and cut the growth of spending. Public
net investment has fallen by half the past three years.
the boom, not the slump, is the time for austerity. This is more like an
economic whodunit. The euro crisis has kept Britain from exporting its way
out of trouble. And British industries like oil and finance have gone into
decline. But the real puzzle is the collapse in productivity.
has been adding jobs at a fair clip the past year or so. Unemployment has
reached an 18-month low, and more people have a job today than in 2008. This
combination of zero GDP growth with positive job growth means Britain is
working more to do less. Thank goodness for stiff upper lips.
AR Back to the UK? One must be joking!
2013 January 27
Nadeem Aslam, 46, says literature is a
public act, and a powerful instrument against injustice. His debut novel,
Season of the Rainbirds (1993), won prizes. His second, Maps for Lost Lovers
(2004) won the Encore and Kiriyama awards, was shortlisted for the Dublin
Impac prize, and was longlisted for the Man Booker prize. The Wasted Vigil
(2008), his third, traces decades of Afghan history. The Blind Man's Garden,
his fourth, is published in February.
Aslam was born in 1966 in
Gujranwala, Pakistan. His father was a communist poet and film producer. His mother's side made money and were religious. Aslam: "My uncle's version of
Islam was the same kind practiced by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan three
General Zia ul-Haq seized power in a military coup
in 1977 and drove for Islamic values. Aslam's family fled into exile in
1980, settling in Huddersfield. Aslam's mother tongue is Punjabi, and he
learned English by copying out entire novels by hand. He excelled at science
and studied biochemistry at the University of Manchester, but dropped out
"when I realized my English was good enough to do what I wanted".
Aslam: "I've more or less realized my writing has cost me almost everything.
Sometimes friendship, love, because there's not enough time to be with
people, and never enough money. Work can take so much out of you."
AR Must read.
2013 January 26
Frank Ramsey was an still undergraduate when he
translated Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus from German
into English. He became a fellow of King's College Cambridge at age 21.
Unrequited love for a married woman drove Ramsey to Vienna for
psychoanalysis. There he befriended Wittgenstein, and later helped John
Maynard Keynes to bring him back to Cambridge, where Wittgenstein had
earlier worked under Bertrand Russell. Ramsey supervised Wittgenstein's
Ph.D. for the Tractatus.
In philosophy, Ramsey advocated the
redundancy theory of truth, stating that to describe a statement as true is
equivalent to asserting it. This theory went on to have a huge impact on
formal logic and epistemology. Ramsey also contributed new ideas to
probability and economics, which Keynes described as remarkable, both in
importance and difficulty.
In mathematics, Ramsey launched what is
now known as Ramsey theory, which answers such questions as the party
problem: what is the smallest number of invitees to a party such that at
least some of them will know each other and some of them will not know each
Ramsey died in 1930, aged 26.
2013 January 25
UK vs. EU
David Cameron's speech on Europe was
predominantly tactical. So too are the reactions from Berlin and Paris. But
the his speech raises questions of broader significance.
Union acts as if all members shared the same goal but were traveling at
different speeds. So the euro is legally the currency of the whole EU, but
some members benefit from derogations and can issue their national currency.
This unity has become a fiction. A set of rules, institutions, and
instruments is being built for the current and future participants in the
euro. This endeavor raises issues of political legitimacy.
euro members strive to define how much integration they need to make their
currency union effective and resilient, why not ask how much integration is
needed to ensure the effectiveness and resilience of the single market?
Labor regulations are repeatedly mentioned by British euroskeptics. But
regulations on health and safety, equality in the workplace, or working time
are an integral part of the single market.
Martin Goetz, now 83, was awarded the first patent
on a piece of software in 1968, for a method of sorting data. It marked a
watershed that would lead to the rise of Microsoft. He was working for a
company called Applied Data Research: "IBM and other computer companies were
giving away their software when they sold their computer. We were trying to
sell out software, but selling against free software is very difficult."
A conference on software intellectual property issues persuaded him that
a patent could be awarded for a piece of software. Copyright law would have
protected the code he had written but not the method. Since then software
patents have become enormously valuable. Recently Apple was awarded a
billion dollars in damages over infringements by Samsung on a number of
patents relating to smartphones and tablets.
Goetz: "It's a little
bit of a mess."
2013 January 24
Cameron: Running Scared?
David Cameron is afraid of his party,
afraid of voters, and afraid of the European Union. He wants Europe to be a
free trade zone with beach access.
have pulled Britain from the brink. He could have proved that international
clout is more important to him than getting patted on the back by his party
friends. Instead he promised a referendum on the EU after the next general
election. A referendum is not a strategy.
Cameron proposes to
persuade the German chancellor, the French president, and all the other
European leaders that he should get to pick the raisins from the cake while
everyone else gets the crumbs. Britain should remain in the EU, he says, but
he has no ideas for shaping it.
Cameron's vision of Europe has no
depth. Apart from vague demands like competitiveness, flexibility, and
fairness, he has no idea how the EU should develop. By trying to satisfy his
radical backbenchers with the referendum pledge, he's launched into a game
he can't win.
Cameron is right to question the growing budget of the
European Commission and the lack of democracy in EU decision-making. He is
wrong on the rest.
Cameron Critics: No
German chancellor Angela Merkel: "Germany, and I
personally, want Britain to be an important part and an active member of the
European Union. We are prepared to talk about British wishes but we must
always bear in mind that other countries have different wishes and we must
find a fair compromise."
French president François Hollande: "The United Kingdom can decide perfectly
well by a referendum to stay or leave the European Union, it's a decision
for the leaders and the British people to make. But what I say, in the name
of France, and as a European, is that it's not possible to negotiate Europe
to make that referendum. Europe has to be accepted as it is. We can make it
evolve tomorrow, but we cannot dismiss it or diminish it under the pretext
of proposing to stay in it."
French foreign minister Laurent Fabius:
"You can't do Europe à la carte."
German foreign minister Guido
Westerwelle: "A politics of cherry picking will not work. Europe is not a
sum of national interests but a community of fate in difficult times."
The leader of Austria's far-right Freedom party was the only European
politician to follow Cameron and call for a referendum on whether Austria
should give up the euro and leave the EU.
Labour leader Ed Miliband
believes the PM will find he has made a strategic error as the Tory skeptics
continue to make demands, his European partners reject his demands, and
business blames him for creating years of uncertainty.
AR Going it alone is not an option for the UK.
2013 January 23
Cameron vs. EU
David Cameron confirmed plans to hold an in-out
referendum by the end of 2017 and said: "The biggest danger to the European
Union comes not from those who advocate change, but from those who denounce
new thinking as heresy."
Cameron said he would campaign for Britain
to remain in the EU with renegotiated membership terms: "When the referendum
comes, let me say now that if we can negotiate such an arrangement, I will
campaign for it with all my heart and soul."
Cameron wants to
challenge the pledge to create an ever-closer union: "We understand and
respect the right of others to maintain their commitment to this goal. But
for Britain, and perhaps for others, it is not the objective."
Cameron: "It is neither right nor necessary to claim that the integrity of
the single market or full membership of the European Union requires the
working hours of British hospital doctors to be set in Brussels irrespective
of the views of British parliamentarians and practitioners."
said he expected to table his demands in treaty negotiations to agree new
governance arrangements for the eurozone.
We are a plague on the Earth. It's coming home
to roost over the next 50 years or so. It's not just climate change; it's
sheer space, places to grow food for this enormous horde. Either we limit
our population growth or the natural world will do it for us, and the
natural world is doing it for us right now.
Captain Harry Wales
662 Squadron AAC:
"Go ugly early"
Another bad-air day
The WHO says an Air Quality
Index of 25 micrograms is
Healthy. Beijing says a
300 reading is Bad and
500 is Hazardous.
Last weekend it
Lena Dunham in Girls
Brits debate body images
2013 January 22
POTUS Inaugural Address
Barack Obama spoke on faith in
America's future. His master of ceremonies Chuck Schumer reminded us that
the US is in reality a constitutional monarchy: The "innate majesty" of US
inaugurations "never fails to make our hearts beat faster".
"What makes us exceptional — what makes us American — is our allegiance to
Inside the loftiness was an agenda that was strikingly
liberal in its core message: "The patriots of 1776 did not fight to replace
the tyranny of a king with the privileges of a few or the rule of a mob."
On the partisan divide: "We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or
substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned
A hint of socialism: "We must make the hard choices to
reduce the cost of healthcare and the size of our deficit. But we reject the
belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built
this country and investing in the generation that will build its future."
A big ambition: "We will respond to the threat of climate change,
knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future
For a day Washington was consumed with the elaborate
staginess of a republican coronation.
A Twitter abridgment of the
speech by Ian Bremmer: "Together, we will pursue my objectives."
H. Allen Orr
Thomas Nagel insists that the mind-body problem
invades our understanding of the entire cosmos and its history. If
materialism can't explain consciousness, then it can't explain life, or the
universe. Neo-Darwinism says natural selection adapts species to changing
environments but cannot aim for a goal.
that neo-Darwinism must be supplemented by teleology. He doubts that
self-reproducing life forms came into existence spontaneously or that random
genetic mutations produced organisms. He cannot see how brains and neurons
could give rise to the phenomenon of subjective experience.
inability to imagine a solution might reflect our cognitive limitations as
evolved creatures. Although we cannot rule out the formal possibility of
teleology in nature, science is about inference to the most likely
hypothesis. For neo-Darwinism there is overwhelming evidence. For natural
teleology there is none.
AR Darwin 1,
2013 January 21
Until the Libyan revolution, Mali was not a fragile
state. By the standards of low-income countries, it was secure. But the
Tuareg minority was beyond the pale, and patronage and corruption were
The fall of Gaddafi inflicted an avoidable military threat on
the region. Many of the weapons stockpiled in his country were seized by
gangs bent on mischief. As there was no international operation to secure
the stockpile, the urgent task was to protect neighboring regimes.
The Mali government received money for arms, but it was looted. This left
the army ill matched against the experienced and motivated gangs that
descended on it. Its soldiers were slaughtered, provoking a mutiny from the
ranks and a seizure of power. Global and regional actors aiming to retake
northern Mali were delayed by the 2012 African Union leadership elections.
The enemy seized the rest of the country.
Victory for the Islamists
was within reach. Mali would have become a second Somalia, with the Sahara
as the Indian Ocean and the oil and gas facilities as the tankers. So France
sent in troops. But as Libya showed, Europe lacks the military depth to
mount the operation required.
The west has blundered so badly that it
is in no position to condemn Algeria for taking tough action against
kidnappers. Mali needs life support. The Islamic gangs are well equipped,
but they have no government to keep them supplied, and they are divided.
Perhaps the west can salvage the situation.
2013 January 20
United States Republicans are losing touch with
science. Some deny evolution in favor of creationism, some say immunization
to prevent cancer causes mental retardation in young girls, and some say the
female body can prevent pregnancies after rape. Either they believe these
things or they are throwing out red meat for bigots in their base.
American scientists tend to be Democrats. Some scientists feel
they must also support Republicans, who will otherwise claim a liberal bias
and ignore their policy advice. Social scientists already find their funding
under political threat — bad news. Such threats are a sure way
to taint their advice.
We should do all we can to promote scientific
objectivity. Political choices can be made after the evidence is in, but the
evidence should stand as is. If politicians reject it, their ignorance
should be exposed, regardless of which side they stand. Some leftists too
have dogmatic beliefs, for example on the dangers of vaccinations,
genetically modified food, or nuclear energy.
pursuit of science free of partisan dogma is a public good. We who care
about science should promote education to increase the number of
scientifically literate people. Politicians will respond.
AR I have edited this piece heavily. May
Opal forgive me.
2013 January 19
Big Data, Big Insights
In a study of
research methods in the age of digital journalism, a team led by Bristol
University Professor Nello Cristianini looked at the gender ratios of men to
women as subjects and sources in stories. They analyzed at 2.5 million
stories and found men dominating in practically every topic analyzed. This
kind of analysis is decisive on gender bias and any other comparable
Cristianini and his team did a general test for news media
readability using Flesch scores, which assess the complexity of writing
based on the length of words and sentences. Writing aimed at children tends
to have a higher Flesch score than scholarship in the humanities.
According to their analysis of over 200 000 US and UK media stories, The
Guardian is a more complex read than any of the other major publications,
including The New York Times. So is the Daily Mail. Together, says Comscore,
these three publications are the most read news sources in the world.
Cristianini et al. also measured the percentage of adjectives expressing
judgments to assess the degree of linguistic subjectivity. Tabloid
newspapers tended to be more subjective, while the Wall Street Journal was
the most objective. Despite The Guardian and the Daily Mail's complex prose,
the researchers found that, in general, readability and subjectivity tended
to go together when they combined the most popular stories with writing
When Cristianini et al. looked at the market demographics for
the UK publications, they found "no significant correlation between writing
style and topics, or between topics and demographics in respect to outlets.
Thus, it appears, audiences relate more to writing style than to choice of
2013 January 18
The U.S. Navy plans a missile submarine Ohio
Replacement (OR) program featuring a drive train that will be almost silent
and keep running for 50 years.
The Ohio boomers rely on
stealth to hide from other subs, ships, and aircraft. The quieter the boats,
the harder they are to find, even though each one displaces 19 000 tons and
packs 24 Trident intercontinental ballistic missiles, each loaded with 3
independently targeted nuclear warheads.
The navy plans to give OR
boomers the quietest nuclear engine yet by going to an electric drive.
Current boomers have a direct mechanical connection to the props that drive
the boat. Steam turbines driven by the nuclear power plant go through a
mechanical gear train that makes noise. The new boats will use the power
from the reactor to feed an electrical grid, with electric motors driving
The OR boats will also get a nuclear plant that will last
the life of the boat. The present Ohio fleet requires a midlife refueling
and overhaul that takes years and cost billions. The navy has 14 Ohio
boomers, but the shorter midlife upgrades will allow the navy to reduce to
12 OR boats.
The navy plans to start work on the first OR boat in
2021 and to send it on patrol in 2031. The boomers should last until 2080.
UK vs. EU
Five years after the crash, the British economy
is still flat on its back. Repair of UK finances has stalled. The health of
the neighboring eurozone is far from assured and its future shape is
David Cameron responds by promising a vote
on British membership of the EU. The rest of the world looks on in profound
bafflement. Cameron wants a "new settlement" so Britain can repatriate
powers from Brussels but keep privileged access to the single market. He
promises a renegotiation and a referendum to ratify it if he wins the 2015
election. The irresistible force of rising Tory party europhobia meets the
immovable object of geopolitical reality.
Margaret Thatcher: "Britain
does not dream of some cosy, isolated existence on the fringes of the
European Community. Our destiny is in Europe, as part of the Community."
2013 January 17
CORAL is nearly done now: notes and
references down, index to do. Then last checks and trims.
AR The end.
Lockheed Martin test pilot Billy Flynn: "Darth Vader never had a helmet like
this ... This is an essential part of the F-35. It's what makes such a
difference. ... It's virtual reality!"
The seat is comfortable. Press
the starter. In 90 seconds, the plane is ready to fly. The instrument panel
is a touch screen. You can talk to the aircraft, and it talks back. The
F-35B can land itself, or hover at the touch of a button.
pilot "Wizzer" Wilson: "The new technology takes workload and risk away from
the pilot ... It's a quantum step in every way from the Harrier."
Chief Marshal Sir Brian Burridge: "We could go 100% unmanned after F-35."
Steven Levy describes
The German economy grew 0.7% in 2012, down from
3% in 2011. It contracted about 0.5% in Q4. The trade surplus contributed
1.1% of growth.The government ended the year with a fiscal surplus of 0.1%
of GDP, the first balanced budget since 2007. Germany accounts for 28% of
eurozone GDP. Recent business surveys indicate improving sentiment.
Chuck and Barack in Jordan
Library of Congress
Tom and Chuck in Vietnam
Robonaut 2 works in the International
Space Station. R2 travelled to the station in February 2011 and currently
works alongside six human colleagues. The robot can be teleoperated by
humans on the ISS or from the ground, or it can work autonomously.
Trident And The British Nuclear Deterrent
Lame Piers Morgan
Piers Morgan, given a 9 pm
slot on CNN as part of
some secretive money-burning
scheme (I'm guessing),
manages to combine
tedium of "balanced" TV
talk with overwhelming
Morgan's latest viral hit
interview: His "confrontation"
with Alex Jones, the inherently
amusing conspiracy theorist
who promoted the overhyped
for Morgan's deportation.
Jones is a motormouth
job is to blow up and shame a
buffoonish foreigner. Morgan's
job is to make an example of
the worst possible advocate
rights, but he let
Jones steamroll him.
2013 January 16
Facebook has launched an advanced search
capability. CEO Mark Zuckerberg: "We're giving people the power and the
tools to take any cut of the graph that they want and make any query they
Facebook search features were considered poor. But
marketers will like the new graph search. Combining search-based advertising
with the social network data of Facebook could make big bucks.
AR As a former
SAP search evangelist I say this is big.
Why I Raise My
Children Without God
I am a non-believer, and for years I’ve been on the fringe in my
community. Here are a few of the reasons why I am raising my children
— God is a bad parent and role model
— God is not
God is not fair
— God does not protect the innocent
— God is not present
God does not teach children to be good
— God teaches narcissism
When we raise kids without God,
we tell them the truth. We are a very small part of a big machine.
The realization of our insignificance gives us humility.
AR CNN put this story behind a warning about
explicit content unsuitable for some readers.
New York Times
In 2010, Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi
delivered a speech urging Egyptians to "nurse our children and our
grandchildren on hatred" for Jews and Zionists. On television, he described
Zionists as "these bloodsuckers who attack the Palestinians, these
warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs."
Morsi is now the
president of Egypt. His political culture accepts such defamation of Jews as
almost standard stump discourse. Any attempt to retract, or even clarify,
his slurs would expose him to political attacks by opponents who already
accuse him of softness toward the United States and Israel.
Anti-Defamation League deputy national director Kenneth Jacobson: "When the
leader of a country has a history of statements demonizing Jews, and he does
not do anything to correct it, it makes sense that many people in Israel
would conclude that he cannot be trusted as a partner for peace."
AR Western politicians must shun him until he
retracts the statements.
2013 January 15
Next week, Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to win a
third spell in office as Israel's prime minister. He has presided over an
economic renaissance in Israel. Not a single Israeli has been killed by
suicide bombing from 2009 to 2012, and Israel has avoided major wars.
Netanyahu can claim to have negotiated
a difficult period with acumen. Many predicted that
turmoil in the Arab world would spark an uprising among the Palestinians.
Israel is concerned over developments in Syria and Egypt, but so far its
national security is unaffected. Israel managed to cajole the world toward
tougher sanctions on Iran. And when the Obama administration demanded a halt
to Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, it was the
Americans who blinked.
Yet future generations may look back on
Netanyahu as a man who fatally undermined the Jewish state by failing to
answer the big question about the Palestinians. Israel used to have decent
relations with the two most important governments in the region, Egypt and
Turkey. But the two countries are now more Islamist and less willing to
accept Israeli dominion over the Palestinians. Israelis were stunned by the
lack of European support for their position at the recent UN vote on
Netanyahu pays lip service to the idea of a
two-state solution. But settlement building continues and the Israeli
government has humiliated and undermined the moderate Palestinian leadership
on the West Bank. Such a policy risks leading Israel to disaster.
AR Bibi has done quite well in exploiting Arab
2013 January 14
French President François Hollande decided to oppose
Islamist fighters pushing into southern Mali. The German government decided
to provide cargo planes and medical personnel.
A collection of Islamist terror groups have created an
international network of evil in North Africa. They pay their way by trading
in drugs, weapons, and people. They destabilize governments and threaten
civilians. That has to be stopped. France has taken the first step. But
France needs military assistance from its allies in Europe. The German
government is hesitating while France is becoming exasperated. Nobody in
Europe can ignore what is happening.
The biggest challenge now facing France is that of
transforming their unilateral operation into a mission supported by the
international community. The president knows that voters are not interested
in seeing the former colonial power become involved in a complicated
conflict in the deserts of Africa. The effort to help Mali will overextend
the French military, and nobody wants to see them fail. Germany shares an
interest in not allowing Mali to fall into the hands of Islamist terrorist
The former colonial power
France became the first to help Mali with troops and weapons from its base
in neighboring Senegal. The first successes against the Islamist rebels were
reported, but it won't be enough. The 3,000 troops provided by the West
African alliance ECOWAS won't be enough either.
The problem with the French intervention is that
it is French. French troops head out from former French colonies in Africa
while cabinet ministers in Paris deny it. The operation only became official
long after it had begun. On African policy, the French government believes
it doesn't need to talk to anybody.
Support the French but give them an earful in private about going it alone.
British Europe Voices
David Cameron will move the date of his keynote
speech on Europe to prevent a diplomatic and PR shambles. January 22 is the
50th anniversary celebrations of the Elysee treaty, a big day in the
Cameron wants to navigate between pro-EU
business leaders and his most rightwing MPs by renegotiating the UK
relationship with the EU to avoid an exit.
Labour leader Ed Miliband
said the PM's strategy was "incredibly dangerous" and had left Mr Cameron in
danger of "sleepwalking" Britain towards exit.
leader Bill Cash: "There are profoundly good reasons for us to have a
Communities secretary Eric Pickles: "We shouldn't stay at
The Tory Fresh Start group will propose a UK veto over
future EU banking regulation, an opt-out from EU policing and criminal
justice measures, and returned UK control over social and employment laws.
A BCC survey of businessmen found nearly half wanted to renegotiate the
UK relationship with Europe while staying in the EU.
Sorrell warned political grandstanding could damage the UK negotiating
position in Brussels.
Lord Wolfson: "There is little to fear from a
two-speed Europe, as long as Britain remains in the slow lane."
AR Politics as usual in Perfidious Albion.
In 2008, Senators Barack Obama, Chuck Hagel, and Jack
Reed traveled together to Afghanistan and Iraq. For Obama it was an
opportunity to see Hagel in action. As a decorated Vietnam vet, Hagel
mingled with the soldiers with ease and authenticity. But for all of his
empathy toward the grunts, he could play hardball with their commanders.
Today, Obama's decision to nominate Hagel as secretary of defense has
started an ideological firestorm. Conservative groups question Hagel's
commitment to Israel and whether he'd be tough enough on Iran. His defenders
say he will be a counterweight to hawks both in and out of government.
Chuck Hagel grew up in western Nebraska. His grandfather was a World War
I vet, his father a World War II vet. Chuck volunteered for the Army in
1967, and soon his brother Tom joined up too. Unusually, they were assigned
to the same unit in Vietnam. One day in 1968, they were on patrol when
shrapnel exploded around them. Chuck was a bloody mess, and Tom bandaged his
chest to stop the bleeding. About a month later, they were in an armored
vehicle when a mine went off, searing Chuck's face and puncturing his
eardrums. Tom was unconscious, and Chuck pulled him from the burning
wreckage to safety.
The brothers returned from Vietnam with a stack
of medals and divergent views of the war. Tom was enraged at his government,
and eventually his politics turned sharply to the left. But Chuck maintained
that the war was fought for a noble cause, even if it had gone awry. It
would take a long time for Chuck to begin reevaluating this position.
When the Bush administration went to war in Iraq, the dam burst for
Hagel. Vietnam became his frame of reference for Iraq. Hagel read every book
about Vietnam he could findn, obsessed with the parallels to Iraq. By 2007,
he was making intemperate remarks about the administration's policies. He
even said the impeachment of George W. Bush should be an option.
Hagel's willingness to stand up to both the CIA and the generals will surely
prove useful to Obama. Then again, he hasn't been afraid to criticize Obama,
either. The White House: "When Hagel speaks his mind, he's really telling
you what he believes, and that's a characteristic the president likes."
AR If I'd been American I could have served
in Vietnam too.
2013 January 13
SAP Business Suite software, used by companies
to crunch financials and manage operations, now runs on SAP HANA. So
customers can leave Oracle behind.
SAP HANA is an in-memory database
and one of the company's fastest-growing products of all time. It can crunch
numbers from an enormous database almost instantly, instead of the hours or
days it can take with traditional databases.
SAP customers will not
dump critical business databases in favor of an untested new product, but
now that HANA has been on the market for about 18 months, with about 500
customers as of October, enterprises know what an in-memory database can do
SAP cofounder and chairman Hasso Plattner: "We do not
abandon the database vendors who carry us to success. Customers have a
AR My former team developed
HANA: great lads.
China Versus Japan
China is flying jet fighters over the East China
Sea in support of regular Y-8 flights over the oil and gas fields under the
sea. Some Y-8 variants perform EW and spy missions, and one variant is a
gunship. The fields surrounding the Senkaku islands are contested between China and
Japan spotted aircraft in its Air Defense Identification Zone
above the islands that it said were Chinese
J-7 and J-10 fighter jets. Japan
responded by scrambling F-15 Eagles from Okinawa.
The Chinese jets
are likely flying from Shuimen, where the airbase is defended by advanced
S-300 missiles. China maintains 35 ships in the region, including the new
Type 054 frigate and 7 submarines, including 4 Kilo-class subs, all less
than 400 km from the contested islands.
The Well Tempered Mind
Daniel C. Dennett
Control in your commercial computer is a
carefully designed top-down thing. Control in brains is very different. Each
neuron imprisoned in your brain is a direct descendent of eukaryotic cells
that lived and fended for themselves for about a billion years. When they
joined forces into multi-cellular creatures, they became domesticated. They
became part of larger organizations.
Maybe a lot of the neurons in
our brains are motivated to be more adventurous, more exploratory or risky.
They're struggling amongst themselves with each other for influence, just
for staying alive. One of the amazing features of the brain is its
tremendous plasticity. Neurons are eager to pitch in and do other work just
because they don't have a job. They're unemployed.
My next project
will be to look at cultural evolution. We have the model that culture
consists of treasures. You amass them and bequeath them to your children. I
think that vision is true of only the tip of the iceberg. Culture includes
all kinds of bad habits and ugly patterns and stupid things. We may give our
fleas to our children too. I think there are a lot of cultural fleas.
Seminary professors who teach pastors often are instrumental in starting
them down the path of hypocrisy. The pastors speak from the pulpit quite
literally, and if you weren't listening very carefully, you’d think this
person really believes all this stuff. But they're putting in just enough
hints for the sophisticates to understand this is all just metaphorical.
Suppose we face some horrific, terrible enemy, and here's two different
armies we could use to defend ourselves, the Gold Army and the Silver Army.
They're all armored and armed as well as we can do. The Gold Army has been
convinced that God is on their side and this is the cause of righteousness.
The Silver Army is entirely composed of economists who are all making side
bets and calculating the odds. Which army do you want on the front lines?
2013 January 12
Germany, US to UK: Stay in EU
British Prime Minister David Cameron is under mounting
pressure from the ultranationalist wing of his Conservative Party to exit
the European Union.
Minister Guido Westerwelle: "Germany desires a Great Britain that will
remain a constructive and active partner in the EU ... the European house will
also have different levels of integration, but we would like a deeper and
better EU of 27, with Great Britain."
US Assistant Secretary of State
for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon: "We have a growing
relationship with the European Union as an institution which has a growing
voice in the world — and we want to see a strong British voice in that
European Union. That is in the American interest."
UK Chancellor of
the Exchequer George Osborne: "More than half of all British exports go to
the EU. ... But for us to stay in the European Union, the EU must change."
AR Yes, stay, and reform the EU.
Our reproductive success may depend in part on the
microbes living in us and on us, our microbiome. The hologenome theory of
evolution says the unit of selection is the collective including the
The separation of an organism from its microbiome is
artificial. Most animals host a large array of microbes that are usually
passed down from generation to generation, directly or indirectly. An
animal's fitness often depends in part on the genes of the microbes it
inherits. Natural selection sees a single organism and selects the combined
genomes of the host and its microbiome.
Eugene Rosenberg predicts
that most animals inherit much of their microbiome, related species have
related microbiomes, and changes in the microbiome can allow the holobiont
to adapt to changing circumstances.
2013 January 11
The UK has long been a reluctant European. The
British sees membership of the European Union in economic terms, whereas
France and Germany see it as a political project forged from the ashes of
the second world war.
Germany now dominates Europe. For the foreseeable future,
the EU will be divided between strong northern European creditors led by
Germany and weak southern European debtors.
European reforms to shore
up the single currency project will change it profoundly and irrevocably.
They would create a tightly integrated core that the UK might never want to
The UK is a valued member of the European club. David Cameron
should not raise false hopes that other members will agree to allow the UK
to participate in the single market without accepting its fundamental rules
AR An integrated Europe
with Germany at its heart is a natural and welcome development.
2013 January 10
Al Qaeda In Syria
In Syria, fighting the Assad regime is Jabhat
al-Nusra, recently designated by the U.S. State Department as a foreign
terrorist organization. Al-Nusra is the most effective arm of the Syrian
insurgency and now fields about 5,000 fighters. It has declared itself a
player in the fight for a global jihad.
Almost every foreign
fighter entering Iraq to join al Qaeda in Iraq came through Syria. During
the Iraq war, aides in Syria played a critical role in recruiting and
planning outside Iraq. In 2006-07, 8% of al Qaeda in Iraq operatives were
Al-Nusra is using some of the same tactics as al Qaeda in
Iraq but it also is providing the people of Syria with a range of goods and
services such as food, water, and medical care. This might signal that
al-Nusra aspires to be more like Hezbollah or Hamas. If the Assad regime
fails, groups like al-Nusra will dictate the direction and shape of a new
Al-Nusra is unlikely to settle for a political role in the new
government. It may aim to play the spoiler for any transitional government
and use its resources and political violence to empower and encourage other
extremists. Al-Nusra could rekindle global jihad.
The Obama administration is concerned about a
possible UK exit from the European Union following the British plan to
renegotiate EU membership terms and hold a referendum.
the U.S. embassy in London, U.S. assistant secretary for European affairs
Philip Gordon said Europe was more effective when it worked together: "We
have a growing relationship with the EU as an institution, which has an
increasing voice in the world, and we want to see a strong British voice in
that EU. That is in America's interests. We welcome an outward-looking EU
with Britain in it."
David Cameron wants to negotiate a looser
relationship with the EU core as part of talks on a new EU treaty to deepen
eurozone economic union. A referendum is unlikely before 2017.
Tom Wolfe's Back to Blood is a novel about Miami
and the Latinization of America. His focus is on the Cubans. He shows that
assimilation is working well, and how confused racial categories have
become. Miami today is the business and financial capital of Latin America.
In the bravura opening sequence on a police boat, and later when
describing a drug dealer's arrest, Wolfe shows he can still write great
action scenes. He also explores the serious subject of pornography
addiction. Wolfe takes a hard stare into America's future.
Don't Burn Your Books
Pundits assume the future of book publishing is
digital. But rather than replacing printed books, e-books may be just
another format, like paperbacks or audio books.
In America in
2012, the percentage of adults who have read an e-book rose from 16% to 23%.
Among regular book readers, 89% said that they had read a printed book last
year and only 30% an e-book. The annual growth rate for e-book sales fell in
2012 to about 34%. Total sales of e-readers fell by 36%.
purchases are skewed toward fiction. Screen reading seems suited to light
entertainment. Readers of heavier fare seem to prefer books you can set on a
2013 January 9
The Coolest Place In The Universe
The discovery of a Higgs-like particle by the Large
Hadron Collider at CERN was the greatest scientific story of 2012. The Higgs
mechanism is a means of preserving certain nice symmetry properties. It
gives mass to the fundamental particles by interacting with them. The
strength of the interaction determines the mass of the particle. Every cubic
meter of space is crammed with Higgs particles.
The Higgs particles
are thought to have condensed out into the universe less than 1 ns after the
Big Bang as the universe expanded and cooled. A naive calculation of the
energy locked up in the Higgs condensate borders on the absurd: In every
cubic meter of space the condensate stores 10^37 J, which is more energy
than the sun outputs in 1000 years.
Theere are many differing
Higgs-like theories, each leading to Higgs particles with different
properties. Some of these theories predict that there is more than one type
of Higgs particle. There is more work to do to pin down precisely which
Higgs has been seen, but what has been produced and detected is a new
particle that behaves roughly like the Standard Model Higgs Boson.
The discovery of the Higgs is not only a profound vindication of advanced
mathematics and its application in theoretical physics but also a surprising
engineering and political achievement. The LHC machine is 27 km in
circumference and is constructed from 9300 superconducting electromagnets
operating at less than 2 K. It is by far the largest refrigerator in the
Buried inside the magnets are two beam pipes containing beams
of protons moving at 0.999999991c, circumnavigating the ring 11 245 times
every second. Up to 600 million protons collide every second, each one
re-creating the conditions present less than 1 ns after the Big Bang. Four
giant detectors observe each collision, searching for new physical phenomena
such as the Higgs.
CERN employs more than 10 000 physicists and
engineers from 608 institutes in 113 countries. Its budget, shared between
many nations, is approximately that of a medium-sized European university.
Managed almost exclusively by scientists and engineers, it has consistently
delivered on time and on budget. As a spin-off, it has invented the World
Wide Web and medical technologies.
is a good physicist who makes good BBC shows.
Alpine town of Hallstatt, Austria
Replica of Hallstatt in Guangdong, China
Eunuchs Of The Universe
The Masters of the
Universe just didn't get it when a bunch of weaklings, a bunch of nerds
known as quants, shut the golden door flat in their faces.
first inkling came when the trading floors began to calm down. Before long
they were sitting at desks behind banks of computer screens.
How To Be A Wanker
Alain de Botton has a formula:
mine the work of a great thinker for choice quotations and slot them into a
beguilingly simple frame.
How To Think More About Sex brings out his worst
"Sex came to be perceived as a useful, refreshing and physically
reviving pastime, a little like tennis."
Perhaps the only upside of
his gutting of the classics is that it might drive readers back to the works
themselves. A book that mashes literature together with peppy crap can only
be a middlebrow mess.
A baseball-size black rock from Mars that landed
in the Sahara desert is 2 billion years old and resembles rocks
examined by the NASA rovers on Mars.
University of New Mexico curator
and Institute of Meteoritics director Carl Agee: "Here we have a piece of
Mars that I can hold in my hands. That's really exciting."
NWA 7034 contains water. The amount released during testing was
0.6%, much more than other Martian meteorites. More tests are under way.
The Atacama Large Millimeter/
submillimeter Array in Chile has captured the first image of a new planet
being formed from the dust and gas surrounding a distant star. The image
shows two streams of gas connecting the inner and outer disks of cosmic
material surrounding the star HD 142527, about 450 ly from Earth.
Salafis want to impose sharia.
want to return to the form of Islam prevalent in the days of the Prophet.
Aided by funding from Gulf states, the movement has spread widely across the Arab region.
Salafis were suppressed
but are angry.
Salafis are resisting a crackdown and
Salafis have welcomed funded and trained al Qaeda
Salafis are pressing for an
Salafis are few and
poorly organized but aggressive.
to disarm them.
2013 January 8
President Barack Obama has nominated John Brennan to
be the next director of the CIA. Brennan dealt with the threat from al Qaeda
and its allies by using drones and special forces.
In an April 30 speech at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington,
Brennan said: "There is nothing in international law that bans the use of
remotely piloted aircraft for this purpose or that prohibits us from using
lethal force against our enemies outside of an active battlefield."
Brennan speaks Arabic and was once
CIA station chief in Saudi Arabia. AQAP has not tried to launch an attack on
a target in the West since an abortive attempt more than two years ago.
Brennan defends the use of drones in Pakistan and Yemen and their
possible use in Mali. He says drone strikes are "ethical" because of "the
unprecedented ability of remotely piloted aircraft to precisely target a
military objective while minimizing collateral damage."
Before the end of this century, 7 in 10 of today's
jobs will be replaced by robots. The robot takeover is just a matter of
Baxter is a workbot from Rethink Robotics, one of a new class of
industrial robots created to work alongside humans:
1 Baxter can look around and indicate where it
is looking by shifting the cartoon eyes on its head. It can perceive humans
working near it and avoid injuring them.
Baxter is smarter than other industrial robots. To train the bot you simply
grab its arms and guide them in the correct motions and sequence. It learns
the procedure and then repeats it.
Baxter is cheap. Priced at $22,000, Baxter is the first PC robot. As with
the PC, the user can interact with it directly, immediately, without waiting
In the quadrant chart ABCD, the rows indicate whether
robots will take over existing jobs or make new ones, and the columns
indicate whether these jobs seem like jobs for humans or for machines.
Quadrant A: jobs humans can do but robots can do better
Quadrant B: jobs that
humans can't do but robots can
Quadrant C: jobs created by
automation, including new ones
Quadrant D: jobs only humans can do,
until robots can too
This postindustrial economy will keep expanding,
even though most of the work is done by bots, because part of your task
tomorrow will be to find new things to do, which will later become jobs for
robots. We will need a whole army of robot nannies, dedicated to keeping
your personal bots up and running.
The real revolution erupts when
everyone has a personal workbot. Imagine a bot that can assemble a stack of
ingredients into a gift or make spare parts for the lawn mower or materials
for the new kitchen. Imagine your kids running a dozen workbots in the
garage, churning out parts for an electric-vehicle startup. Imagine your
kids becoming appliance designers, making custom batches of dessert machines
to sell to the millionaires in China. Personal robot automation will enable
all that and more.
This is a race not against the machines but with
them. You’ll be paid in the future based on how well you work with robots.
Ninety percent of your coworkers will be unseen machines. Most of what you
do will not be possible without them. Anything that seems like drudgery will
be done by robots.
We need to let robots take over. They will help us find new ways to be
2013 January 7
Optogenetics involves inserting fiber optics
into the brain to control neurons via pulses of light. The neurons are
engineered to react to the light. A protein that can turn neurons on and off
in response to light is inserted by transfection using a vector such as a
virus to infect the target neuron and insert genes for making the protein.
The neurons can then be controlled with light pulses.
can be used in clinical studies of brain pathologies, for example to help us
to understand the neural mechanisms that make dopamine give rise to feelings
of reward and pleasure, and hence develop better treatments for depression;
to map the circuitry involved in Parkinson's disease; and to explore
abnormal gamma oscillations in schizophrenia and autism.
2013 January 6
The secret to improving your brain is to understand
it. The brain is the only organ that changes instantly according to how the
mind relates to it. You can relate to your brain in positive or negative
ways, and depending on which one you choose, your brain cells, neural
pathways and areas of high and low activity will be altered. Thinking your
brain into better functioning is the most efficient way to improve it.
Take care of stress. Avoid dulling routine. Do
something creative every day. Read words that makes you feel uplifted. Take
time to be in nature. Bond with another person who is heartwarming. Pay
attention to being happy. Take time to relax, meditate and reflect. Deal
with anger and anxiety. Focus on activity that makes you feel fulfilled.
Give of yourself. Follow a personal vision. Attach yourself to a cause that
is bigger than you are. Take the risk to love and be loved.
Get set in your ways. Don't look beyond your opinions, likes
and dislikes. Isolate yourself from others. Take relationships for granted.
Reconcile yourself to going downhill as you age. Forget about having ideals.
Act on selfish impulses. Give in to anger and anxiety. Let life take care of
itself. Go along to get along. Assume that you are automatically right.
Avoid anything new or challenging. Put up with stress. Take no emotional
risks. Distract yourself with mindless diversions.
embraces your every thought, word and deed. The best way to relate to it is
to inspire it.
2013 January 5
Robert W. Merry
Der Untergang des Abendlandes (Vol 1, 1918; Vol
2, 1922) by Oswald Spengler hit the German market like a boulder tossed upon
an anthill. It sold a hundred thousand in eight years.
Spengler works by historical analogy. He rejects the notion that the
West holds center stage in world history as the Ptolemaic system of history
and posits his own Copernican discovery in the historical sphere, with no
special position for the classical or Western civilizations relative to
He sees the great cultures as organisms whose phases of
emergence, development, and decline are similar from culture to culture.
Each civilization is born when a people develops a distinctive way of
looking at the world. The new culture runs on for a thousand years or so
unless interrupted by external forces. Then begins the civilizational phase,
characterized by the deterioration of the culture.
distinguishes between culture and civilization. The former is the phase of
creative energy. The latter is a time of materialism and imperialism. His
civilizations: Western (Faustian), Greco-Roman (Apollonian), Indian,
Babylonian, Chinese, Egyptian, Arabian (Magian), and Mexican (Aztec).
Spengler thought Germany would be the last nation of the West, spawning
the Führer who would lead the West to its final civilizational glory of
world dominance. But he rejected the Nazis.
America is the last nation of the West. America is destined to fulfill the
vision of hegemonic zeal and a push toward dictatorship. Spengler's work
stands as a great warning to Americans.
Harold Bloom was born in 1930. Yiddish was his first
language. He discovered Kabbalah, then embraced Gnosticism as his personal
religion. The Gnostic sees the divine as a spark within the self: a radiant
imagination buried under the rock of everyday existence.
Bloom lived through a cataclysmic midlife crisis, followed by his most
famous book, The Anxiety of Influence, which he wrote in a few days in the
summer of 1967. Bloom discovered that writers, when they create new work,
always misread their precursors. The insight is a Freudian one, as Bloom
The original parent is the Jewish God, who for Bloom is the
strangest and most absolute literary character of them all. This God comes
too close to the self, and such intimacy is dangerous. In The Book of J,
published in 1990, Bloom said the first author of the Hebrew Bible was a
woman at the court of King Solomon. The book was a bestseller.
has taught in Israel and esteems Israeli writers. But his truer love is for
Yiddish rather than Hebrew literature. As Yiddish culture waned, Bloom came
to praise the works of Philip Roth, whom he has called our greatest living
novelist. Being a Jew is for Bloom an emblem of the lone self, brooding
powerfully over its status as wanderer and outcast.
In a recent book,
The Anatomy of Influence, Bloom turns to the gospel of Mark, with its Jewish
hero. Bloom takes us from Romanticism to religion and back again. Bloom is
still our most inspirational critic, still the man who can enlighten us by
telling us to read as if our lives depend on it. They do.
2013 January 4
The Brigade of Death barreled through the
countryside like a medieval army with modern weaponry, attacking village
after village with helicopters and tanks. Soldiers and hired militias looted
the houses and then burned them down. People were tortured and shot. After a
few hours, the marauding troops would move on, leaving their scrawls on the
Aziz taught English at the University of Idlib before
returning to his village. Laughter helps against the horrors, he said. With
his moustache and habit of rolling his eyes, he resembled Groucho Marx. He
now wants to booby-trap washing machines, microwave ovens, and TV sets,
turning them into hidden bombs.
Yassir owned a café. He discovered
that his refrigerator had been blown open with hand grenades and that his
desk was perforated with bullets from a machine gun. He also found the
omnipresent words written by the regime troops, which he photographed before
they were whitewashed: "Assad forever! Or we'll burn the country down!"
Robert Gordon sees three periods of growth from new
electrification, cars and airplanes
Computing and communications
He thinks the IT revolution is over:
social media don't add much.
Most people who work in computing disagree. The robot
revolution has barely begun. The march of technology is a seamless advance
from wheels and pumps to robots.
Japan sees robotics as the future
and is investing accordingly. We are a long way from the sort of fully
functioning human robots you see in science fiction movies, but the
direction is clear. Artificial intelligence is coming on in leaps and
bounds. Robots should free humans from everyday chores and power unlimited
economic growth. The more robots you have, the more you can make.
Some see an apocalyptic threat. But as robots spread deeper into the
workforce, we find ways of sharing the spoils more equitably, and robots
create more new jobs than they destroy old ones.
AR Robots will change everything. The revolution
has just begun.
2013 January 3
Burma was a battleground for Britain and Japan
during World War II. In a 1962 coup, General Ne Win nationalized the economy
and established military rule. In 1988, Burma became Myanmar, and the junta
became the State Law and Order Restoration Council. SLORC ruled until 2011.
In 2013, Myanmar will host the World Economic Forum. In
2014 it will chair the ASEAN regional group, and in 2015 it may enter a new
ASEAN Free Trade Area. By 2020, the population of Yangon might double from
the current 5 million. Mobile penetration is 3 million but the population is
Foreign investment is now pouring in, but Myanmar lacks
the infrastructure to absorb it. Overseas Indians and Chinese make up 5% of
the population. For China, Myanmar is a way to evade dependence on shipping
via the Straits of Malacca. In 2011, China was by far the largest foreign
investor in Myanmar.
Myanmar is now playing the field. India sees
Myanmar as crucial for its Look East policy. Europe is a large investor.
Russia may be a new arms supplier. Japan may produce cars in Myanmar.
President Barack Obama visited in December. Myanmar may participate in Cobra
Gold military exercises.
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain, examines the
experience of a squad of soldiers on their return from Iraq: "I wanted to
capture people talking past each other and this systemic dysfunction. That
was the tone I was going for. A lot of things going on at once and not much
Birds, by Kevin Powers, explores two individual soldiers and the hurried
promise that one made to the other to keep him alive through their tour of
duty: "It is a story about making a promise that you cannot keep."
Fire and Forget, edited by Matt Gallagher and Roy Scranton, displays in
a range of stories the depth and breadth of the experience of the Iraq war.
There is a tale of a soldier shooting an Iraqi boy, another of a recently
returned Marine visiting a shopping mall while haunted by trauma, a
description of a lost patrol, and a study of a veteran's harrowing search
for a job on his return from war.
Fountain: "This was a bullshit
2013 January 2
The Internet is the great revolution of our time.
The story of the cold war began with the nuclear bomb and ended with the
Internet. But the Internet has quickly evolved into an even more effective
weapon against totalitarianism than nuclear deterrence.
Internet's Gutenberg moment was the development of the Transmission Control
Protocol and Internet Protocol, TCP/IP, where IP deals with addressing and
forwarding and TCP contends with flow control and error correction. In 2005,
Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for the
invention of TCP/IP.
In 1990, Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide
Web. His CERN team developed the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP).
Facebook, Twitter, Google, Paypal, Skype, and YouTube all emerged thanks to
HTTP, which in turn operates through TCP/IP.
to Internet-based information requires personal computer interfaces,
routers, digital storage devices, broadband connections, and electricity.
Good: The mutable quality of online information permits collaborative
databases such as Wikipedia. Bad: Online information is volatile. As more
and more data enters the cloud, a systemic loss could be catastrophic.
Google Art Project gives us access to visual artifacts as never before.
But few would claim that the Metropolitan Museum should move its paintings
to storage. The integration of digital maps, satellite images, 3D rendering,
and street views can provide an unparalleled overview of a landscape. But
Google Earth is no substitute for traveling.
2013 January 1
The U.S. military is using or developing a wide range
of technologies meant to give troops mutant powers: greater strength and
endurance, superior cognition, better teamwork, fearlessness.
But the risks and ethics of these military human
enhancements, including drugs, special nutrition, electroshock, gene
therapy, and robotic implants and prostheses, are poorly understood, say the
authors of a new report for The Greenwall Foundation.
"With military enhancements and other technologies, the genie is already out
of the bottle: the benefits are too irresistible, and the
military-industrial complex still has too much momentum. The best we can do
now is to help develop policies in advance to prepare for these new
Report: "Somewhere in between robotics and biomedical
research, we might arrive at the perfect future warfighter: one that is part
machine and part human, striking a formidable balance between technology and
The United States military is making
substantial investments to develop technologies that would enhance the
ability of warfighters to complete their missions safely and effectively.
Driven by neuroscience, biotechnology, nanotechnology, robotics, and other
emerging technologies, this research includes combating sleep deprivation,
improving cognitive performance, increasing strength, reducing muscle
fatigue, and other enhancements to the human body and mind.
enhancement technologies challenge existing laws and policy, as well as
underlying ethical values. But while the implications of human enhancement
generally have been widely discussed, little analysis currently exists for
the operational, ethical, and legal implications of enhancing warfighters.
AR Sounds like great news for