BLOG 2013 Q2
Pakistan is a young country with a lot
of psychoses. India has never accepted it, but India never started a
war. Most of Pakistan's problems are psychological.
weapons have not made us secure. Now we're like the guy who keeps buying
guns to protect himself, and then finds he can't sleep because he's
afraid somebody will steal them.
Sartre was a novelist, playwright, philosopher,
and activist. His existentialism was a philosophy of liberty: We can
always rebel against our circumstances by asserting our free will.
But Sartre began to worship at the altar of Communism. He became an
apologist for oppression, so long as it came waving the banner of
liberation. A great intellect does not make a great man.
2013 August 10-26
Marxian communism was an elemental response
to the productive forces unleashed by the industrial revolution. Lack of
money vexed Karl Marx and shaped the fury of his philosophy. He sought
to accommodate his Hegelian ideas to a more scientistic era, beginning
with applying the dialectic to Darwinism. Engels redacted his ideas to
iron out his ambivalence on positivism and to pass over his Hegelian
critique of the conceptual foundations of the natural sciences.
2013 June 30
European Secrets Revealed
National Security Agency worker Wayne Madsen has
revealed that six European Union countries, in addition to the UK, colluded
in mass harvesting of personal communications data. Denmark, the
Netherlands, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy had secret deals with the
United States under SIGINT agreements to hand over data to the NSA if
International intelligence agreements recognize
three trust levels. The US is the first party, the UK, Canada, Australia,
and New Zealand enjoy second party relationships, and Germany and France
have third party relationships. Madsen said the NSA gets "the lion's share"
of the SIGINT take, while the third parties get "highly sanitized
Madsen remarked on the "sanctimonious outcry" of
political leaders who were "feigning shock" about the revelations. German
politicians had even accused the UK of spying. Madsen: "I can't understand
how Angela Merkel can keep a straight face, demanding assurances from Obama
and the UK while Germany has entered into those exact relationships."
US Spying On EU
Claus Hecking and Stefan Schultz
Revelations that the US National
Security Agency targeted the European Union and several European countries
with its spying activities have led to angry reactions in Europe.
European Parliament President Martin Schulz: "We need more
precise information. But if it is true, it is a huge scandal. That would
mean a huge burden for relations between the EU and the US. We now demand
Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean
Asselborn: "The EU and its diplomats are not terrorists. We need a guarantee
from the very highest level that it stops immediately."
Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger: "If media reports are
correct, then it is reminiscent of methods used by enemies during the Cold
European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Elmar
Brok: "The spying has reached dimensions that I didn't think were possible
for a democratic country. Such behavior among allies is intolerable."
CSU MEP Markus Ferber: "A democratic constitutional state that uses
Stasi methods sacrifices all credibility as a moral authority. It has
Green Party MEP Daniel Cohn-Bendit: "A simple note
of protest is not enough anymore. The EU must immediately suspend
negotiations with the US over a free trade agreement."
Satel Sally and Scott O. Lilienfeld
The brain is a masterwork of
nature endowed with cognitive powers that far outstrip the capacity of any
silicon machine built to emulate it. Containing roughly 80 billion neurons,
each of which communicates with thousands of other neurons, a human brain
has more connections than there are stars in the Milky Way. How this neural
edifice gives rise to subjective feelings is a mystery.
images are not photographs of the brain in action in real time. Those
beautiful colored images represent areas in the brain that are consuming
most oxygen when a subject performs a task such as reading. If biological
roots can be captured on a brain scan, it is too easy to assume that the
behavior under scrutiny must be involuntary or uncontrollable.
Scientists have made great strides in showing how human thought and action
unfold. A lower level of explanation is the neurobiological level. Genes
direct neuronal development, neurons assemble into brain circuits.
Information processing and neural network dynamics hover above. At the
middle level are conscious mental states. Social and cultural contexts
occupy the highest levels of the hierarchy.
Sam Harris says inquiry
into the brain will eventually and exhaustively explain the mind and human
nature, so ultimately neuroscience will dictate human values. But this is
mindless hyping of neuroscience. The neurobiological domain is one of brains
and physical causes. The psychological domain is one of people and their
motives. Both are essential to a full understanding of why we act as we do.
Anthony Pagden is an Enlightenment evangelist. For him,
if the Enlightenment has been implicated in 20th-century crimes, that can
only be because its values were misunderstood and misapplied, or else
deliberately perverted. Enlightenment evangelists respond to the fact that
some of the worst modern crimes have been committed by militant secular
regimes with incredulity.
He is a fierce critic
of moral relativism and attributes its spread to the Romantic movement.
Modern relativism is at least as much a child of the Enlightenment as of the
Romantics. He also dismisses the idea that Enlightenment thinking played a
part in the development of scientific racism and scientific socialism. In
fact, the potential for such crimes was latent in Enlightenment thinking.
Pagden is aware that we are still far from realizing Enlightenment
ideals. But he is convinced it is because the lessons of the great
Enlightenment thinkers have not been properly applied. His Enlightenment
seems to have come into the world owing nothing whatever to western
monotheism. In reality, some strands of Enlightenment thinking were
inherited from religion.
Baroness Susan Greenfield has just published a
novel. She already has 30 honorary degrees and, at 62, is still in the
laboratory every morning at 7.30. The professor never takes a holiday. A few
years ago, she coined the term "mind change" to describe the effects of
internet use on the brain. 2121 is a dystopian novel influenced by 1984 and
Brave New World.
Greenfield: "The evidence is there. What I've done
is pull together the science, and suggested there is a new phenomenon that
has analogies with climate change, in terms of being unprecedented,
controversial, and global."
Greenfield doesn't like conventional activities, like cooking or gardening,
and prefers to spend the weekends thinking. In her Oxford lab, she is
working hard to find a cure for Alzheimer's. She's not a conventional
scientist. Her A-levels were in classics and maths, and her first degree at
Oxford was in philosophy and psychology. She only became a scientist because
her tutor said it would be a laugh: "Oxford at that time put a premium on
enthusiasm and motivation as opposed to box-ticking."
She was married
to Peter Atkins, but they divorced in 2005. Her father was Jewish and her
mother Christian, but both rejected religion. "I feel I'm spiritually like
an autistic person. I have great respect for people with faith. I feel they
have a dimension to their lives that I can't buy in on."
AR I met
Susan in Sweden in 2001. She was fun to talk with.
2013 June 29
The American Dream is fading. Inequality is
rising. Average income for the top 1% is roughly 30 times higher than the
average income of the rest. The top 1% owns a third of the total US net
worth and even more of the financial wealth. And social mobility is falling.
Most Americans raised in the top fifth of incomes end up staying in the top
two fifths. Most of those born in the bottom fifth end up staying in the
bottom two fifths.
An elite of one or two million people dominate
admissions to the top US colleges. They marry one another and live in fewer
than a thousand exclusive neighborhoods. At the other end, there are dumps
where nobody has more than a high school diploma, ever more children live
with a single parent, ever more men are unemployed or work part time, and
crime is rampant. If you were born there, you stay there, unless you go to
Medicare is the federal government's most
expensive welfare program. Federal spending on health care is around 5% of
GDP but is forecast to double by the 2040s. Worse, the current share of
federal spending on the young is around 10%, compared with over 40% for
adults. Per capita government spending for the elderly is roughly double
what it is for children. The child poverty rate is more than double the
poverty rate for seniors.
American education is failing too. A third
of high school graduates fail the mandatory Armed Services Vocational
Aptitude Battery. The United States is now halfway down the international
league table for mathematical aptitude at age 15. A far higher proportion of
kids are functionally illiterate in the United States than in Canada. Elite
US educational institutions are reverting to their old role as finishing
schools for the children of a hereditary elite.
The episode of the much-loved political forum
hosted by Sir David Dimbleby in which I participated was broadcast from the
glistening riverside titty from which Boris Johnson presides over London
life. Boris had invited the panel for drinks in his office. I was allowed a
plus one, so I took my mum.
BoJo is kerfuffling around with beverages, jugs and
glasses. I wind up chatting to Melanie Phillips. Melanie is beautiful. It is
surprising and bizarre to see her contort on air into a taut, jabbing
figure, untutored index finger fucking the audience in the face. Her
opinions are like an arbitrary appurtenance that she pops on in public, like
a daft hat that says "Immigrants Out" on the brim.
Ed and Tessa are a couple of lovely labradors with wagging tails and wet
noses, fetching the party line. Sir David is statesmanlike and twinkly. Only
Boris concerns me. I liked his voice, his manner, his name, his vocabulary,
his self-effacing charm, his humor, and of course his hair.
the most popular politician in the country. When I met him in his office,
the nucleus of his dominion, I glanced at his library. Among the Wodehouses
and the Euripides there were fierce economic tomes, capitalist manuals,
bibles of domination. Eye-to-eye, the bumbling bonhomie appeared to be a
lacquer of likability over a living obelisk of corporate power.
Johnson is the most dangerous politician in Britain,
precisely because of his charm. The members of the Conservative party that
are rallying to install him as leader are those to the right of David
Cameron. In this age where politics is presented as entertainment, it's the
most entertaining politicians who ascend.
2013 June 28
Progress: A certificate of compliance is on its way for the car and I can go
ahead with the headlights investment. But all this will take time. Perhaps I should
sell it and buy a cheap car.
Why It's Good To Be Wrong
Human beings can be mistaken in anything they think
or do. This is fallibilism. The fallibility that arises from the way our
ideas connect with reality raises issues such as logical paradox and the
limits of reason. A fallibilist cannot claim to be infallible even about
We are inclined to seek
solid foundations. But experience is never direct. It is a sort of virtual
reality, created by our brains using sketchy and flawed sensory clues. And
the idea that your reminiscences are infallible is also heresy. If you take
ideas seriously, there is no escape from the obligation to use reason and to
give it priority over dogma, faith, and obedience. Nothing can infallibly
tell you what is infallible.
Karl Popper proposes to assume there is
no ideal source of knowledge, so we should replace the question of the
sources of our knowledge by that of how can we detect and eliminate error.
He says we can hope to do so if we set up traditions of criticism. Our
systems of checks and balances are steeped in traditions that survive not
because they are deferred to but precisely because they are not.
Fallibilism implies the possibility of knowledge. The very concept of error
implies that truth exists and can be found. The inherent limitation on human
reason, that it can never find solid foundations for ideas, is no limit on
knowledge or progress.
Research by GE Capital and Warwick Business
School shows that UK mid-market businesses, defined as having turnover of
£15 million to £800 million, grew almost as well as German companies last year. The survey predicts they will grow more next
year than German, French, or Italian companies:
2013 June 27
More car frustration here. Britain can learn a lot from Germany about
creating a dynamic and efficient business culture that truly supports
customers instead of merely extracting their money.
Hostility between India and Pakistan lies at
the heart of the war in Afghanistan. Many Afghans view the war as a Pashtun
rebellion against President Hamid Karzai's regime. Tajiks make up 27% of the
Afghan population but 70% of the officers in the army, so many Pashtuns
support the Taliban.
Pakistan supports the Taliban because Pakistani
generals fear being squeezed from north and south by India. After Americans
ousted the Taliban, the government of Afghanistan became an ally of India.
Karzai hated Pakistan, and India seized the opportunity to increase its
influence in Afghanistan.
Pakistani generals have long viewed jihadis
as a cheap and covert means to control events in Afghanistan. General Ashfaq
Parvez Kayani, the commander-in-chief of the Pakistan army, is obsessed by
India. A senior British diplomat in Islamabad: "Afghanistan is ... an
Indo-Pak proxy war."
Indian hawks want to take on a more robust
military role in Afghanistan, to fill the security vacuum left by the US
withdrawal, advance Indian regional interests, compete with China for
influence in the country, and thwart Pakistan.
C. S. Lewis was born in Belfast in 1898, served as
an infantry officer in the first world war, earned firsts in classics and
English at Oxford, and worked as college fellow there until 1954. In 1955,
he became Professor of Medieval and Renaissance English at Cambridge, and
died in 1963.
As a young man, Lewis converted from atheism to Christianity,
and went on to write lively works of popular theology. His best known such
work is Mere Christianity, published in 1952. American Christians regularly
cite Mere Christianity as the most influential religious book of the
In 1948, Lewis debated with Catholic philosopher
Elizabeth Anscombe. He had attacked the thesis that nothing exists that is
not part of nature. He maintained that it was self-refuting, since a thought
or belief could not be true or rational if it were simply the undesigned
product of cerebral motions. Anscombe replied that his argument confused
reasons and causes. Defeated, Lewis lost confidence in his ability as a
rational apologist for religion, and began to write Christian propaganda as
fiction. He wrote The Chronicles of Narnia as a series of seven novels for
Lewis had a famous argument for Christianity. Jesus said he
was God. Jesus was neither a deceiver nor deceived. Therefore Jesus was
indeed God. Lewis wrote that Christ was not simply a great moral teacher and
that a man who said the sort of things Jesus said was either the Lord or a
liar or a lunatic. Yet biblical scholars today think it unlikely that Jesus
made any claim to divinity, so the argument fails.
Sometimes Lewis felt a
joyous need he met through God: "If I find in myself a desire which no
experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that
I was made for another world."
2013 June 26
Wrote to BMW explaining my headlights idea.
Robert W. Merry
Progress is the thesis that mankind has advanced
from a state of cultural backwardness and folly to ever more elevated stages
of enlightenment and civilization, and that this will continue into the
John Gray rejects it utterly. The
fundamentals of his critique:
1 The idea of progress is merely a
secular religion. Gray: "Humanists like to think they have a rational view
of the world; but their core belief in progress is a superstition."
This humanist impulse is based upon a false view of human nature. Gray:
"Technical progress leaves only one problem unsolved: the frailty of human
3 The underlying nature of humans is bred into the species.
The instinct for survival is placed on hold under civilization but is never
far from the surface.
4 The power of the progress idea stems in part
from Christian doctrine. Classical thinkers saw humanity as reflecting the
rest of the natural world, rather like the seasons.
mysticism cannot escape the finality of tragedy, or make beauty eternal. It
does not dissolve inner conflict into the false quietude of any oceanic
calm. All it offers is mere being."
John and I were at Oxford together.
Data collectors in the US and UK have no right
to investigate German citizens. The Five Eyes alliance seems to have
gotten completely out of control. A totalitarian security policy
jeopardizes our security by the very actions that are
supposed to protect it.
The German government must see to it that
the intrusive 5E "protection" of German citizens ends immediately. The
government has a fundamental obligation to protect its own citizens from
the grasp of foreign powers.
betraying nationalist fallacy
should have overcome
Sukhoi Su-35S: Flight demo,
analysis by Bill Sweetman
Paris Air Show 2013
Bring Back National Service
Tory diehards say bring back national service.
Remove the automatic association with the armed forces, apply it to both
sexes, call it citizenship training or community service, and it
could be good.
Future students could benefit from a year or two
working in a hospital, the police, or the like. It would give them
skills for university life. Disadvantaged youngsters and young people
inclined to antisocial behavior would also benefit.
UK reintroduced national service, many young people would opt for the
armed forces. Many others would choose civilian service. They could run
food banks, get involved in aid programs, or work in schools or with the
elderly, the sick, and the marginalized. They would learn a lot.
Communications Headquarters (GCHQ)
"The National Security
Strategy sets out the challenges of a changing and uncertain world and
places cyber attack in the top tier of risks, alongside international
terrorism, a major industrial accident or natural disaster, and
international military crisis. GCHQ, in concert with Security Service
(also known as MI5) and the Secret Intelligence Service (also known as
MI6) play a key role across all of these areas and more."
A monumental trilogy
by Jonathan Israel:
When comedian Russell Brand appeared on Question Time, the BBC took
no chances. What if young Russell canceled his date on safety grounds,
as he did yesterday with his Messiah Complex tour of the Mideast? The
Beeb also rolled on London mayor Boris Johnson, Daily Mail jihadi
Melanie Phillips, Lib Dem beefcake Ed Davey, and Labour sunshine Dame
Tessa Jowell. Russell seemed to be thinking: "Who are these old people?
Why are they dribbling on my show?"
Russell took a populist line,
with his own distinctive dash of Hare Krishna. It was a great success.
His forays against politicians were cheered enthusiastically. Everyone
else was dull. When the audience laughed at a remark, Melanie scolded:
"You're trivial and ignorant."
Faces in the Fire
Frank Holl, 1867
Frank Holl: Emerging
From The Shadows
Watts Gallery, Guildford
2013-06-18 — 2013-11-03
2013 June 25
My immigration news: my car dealer told me how much it will cost to make my
German car UK-street legal by replacing the steerable xenon headlights with
mirror-transformed beam profile units: GBP 1667.51. I shall write a long
letter to BMW outlining how they can save production costs, acquire a
valuable patent, increase the penetrating power of German businessmen in
British markets, and delight British BMW customers who take their car on
vacation in Europe, all by developing bilaterally enabled steerable xenon
units that can be mirror-transformed with a simple software toggle. They can
make the speedometer similarly mph-capable while they're at it. My proposed
consultancy fee: a mere GBP 1667.51.
The UK will be much better off if immigrants
learn English soon after arriving, participate fully in the labour market,
and send their children to schools that are not dominated by a single ethnic
Economic liberals believe that markets are
usually the best way to allocate resources, so a more open approach to
migration and trade will deliver better outcomes. We gain from free trade in
cars with the European Union because trade increases competition between
different producers, diversifies the supply chain across the EU, improves
incentives for technological innovation, and has all sorts of other
difficult to measure but important effects that increase productivity in the
medium to long term.
The same is likely to be true of immigration. We
will never know precisely how immigration impacts growth. But we do know
enough to set a clear direction for policy.
2013 June 24
"Catastrophe — Unbearable"
German justice minister Sabine
Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger: "If these accusations are correct, this would
be a catastrophe. The accusations against Great Britain sound like a
Hollywood nightmare. The European institutions should seek straight away to
clarify the situation."
Germans are highly sensitive to government
monitoring, having lived through the Stasi secret police in communist East
Germany and with lingering memories of the Gestapo under the Nazis.
German Social Democrat parliamentary leader Thomas Oppermann: "This is
unbearable. The government must clarify these accusations and act against a
total surveillance of German citizens."
The Anglo-American surveillance program Tempora
is historic. Intelligence agencies have secretly built Big Brother. Their
aim is to "master the internet" by scanning private and personal information
about much of the population of the developed world. The potential for evil
The British GCHQ and the American NSA can eavesdrop on
all transatlantic data traffic. The agencies cooperate in copying and
caching data from the fiber optic cables and filtering it for analysis. In
effect, every home is bugged, every letter is read, every phone is tapped.
The readers of this data don't even bother to deny what they are up to.
The GCHQ spies don't comment on such things but say it serves the fight
against terrorism and is subject to strict laws. NSA representatives say
they only analyze the data they scan if they deem it necessary. All eyewash.
Would a free public agree to spy cameras in every living room, just in
case a terrorist appears? Would we be happy to be told the image is only
viewed when a spy considers it necessary? Of course not. Any government
proposing such a program would be hounded out of office, and rightly so.
The fact that Anglo-American spies have been given untold power without
public accountability is a scandal. The future will show whether we are
strong enough to defeat this vast totalitarian project. National governments
have deceived their voters. We must force them to defend our freedom.
The European convention on human rights (ECHR)
implies that a system of secret surveillance for the protection of national
security may undermine democracy. Legislation allowing the secret monitoring
of communications entails a threat of surveillance. Secret and unpublished
rules are fundamentally contrary to the rule of law, and surveillance based
on them always violates the ECHR.
The US and UK systems of internet
surveillance violate these minimum safeguards. The US FISA allows the US
authorities to spy on the internet activities and communications of anyone
outside the country to monitor activities "of interest" to the government.
The UK RIPA allows the UK government to do the same whenever a communication
begins or ends in the UK.
Under the Human Rights Act, the British
courts can at most declare the incompatibility of a British act of
parliament with the HRA and the ECHR. So in the UK there is no effective
remedy against the abuse of our rights that RIPA represents, and individuals
who have a reasonable ground to believe their communications may have been
caught can take their case directly to Strasbourg.
AR A perfect storm: The USUKCANZ Five Eyes (5E)
spynet needs public debate and control.
2013 June 23
Blog junkie delays unpacking because room is too small — stuff is compacter
in boxes for now — and despairs of filling out DVLA "Application for a first
tax disc and registration of a used motor vehicle" — "See leaflet V355/5 for
notes on filling in, as incomplete forms will be rejected".
Freedom and security are mutually reinforcing. I
think you're more secure if you have more freedom. Therefore I think we
should be on guard for abuses of the use of technology by our government.
The most important thing is that we have accountability.
Secret surveillance is subject to abuse if people lie to the courts or if
the wrong people get hold of the information and try to use it to embarrass
This is one of those areas, which in my opinion will always
be blurry and grey and make people uncomfortable. You can destroy freedom with
false claims that you have to do it to make everybody secure, but usually
when somebody's doing it, they don't give a rip about security, they're just
trying to get more power.
Cutting US Nukes
President Barack Obama proposes deep cuts in US and Russian
nuclear weapons arsenals while Pentagon war planners are working to make
these weapons more accurate and deadly. The USAF plans to put nuclear cruise
missiles on board B-2 stealth bombers and to field new and improved cruise
missiles. Nuclear gravity bombs will get new tail kits to give them
Heritage Foundation think tank nuclear weapons analyst Michaela Dodge
says cutting nuclear arsenals will reduce US security. Fewer weapons allow
fewer targets, so the Pentagon won't be able to cover military targets
in Russia, China, and elsewhere and war planners will target civilian
Federation of American Scientists nuclear weapons
analyst Hans Kristensen says the strategy of using delivery systems to
improve the military capability of the US nuclear arsenal is undercutting
the spirit of the president's promise to reduce the role of nuclear weapons
in national strategy.
Preventing the use of nuclear weapons nowadays
is much more complicated than it was in the days when Washington and Moscow
kept the peace with the MAD idea of mutually assured destruction. But the
horrifying damage nukes leave behind after the mushroom clouds blow away
remains. Nuclear weapons produce fallout that can cause cancers, birth
defects, and genetic damage for decades afterwards.
foresee a new generation of stealthy nuclear cruise missiles capable of
surviving and penetrating advanced air defenses. Present US cruise missiles
date back to the cold war. By the mid-2020s, the USAF will deploy the new
cruisers aboard a new long range strike bomber.
Readers of popular physics don't understand quantum
physics. It requires mastering mathematics that is beyond us. Lee Smolin
reacts to this challenge by leaving out the math. Without the equations it
is impossible to follow his arguments, because he is putting forward a
speculative new foundation for the whole of theoretical physics.
Smolin believes that the best
hope for bringing gravity into line with the rest of the currently accepted
picture of reality lies in reaffirming the reality of time. Timelessness is
a feature of mathematics. But physics concerns itself with things that exist
in time. Smolin: "Either the world is in essence mathematical or it lives in
The universe of general relativity is represented by a
mathematical object. Einstein: "People like us, who believe in physics, know
that the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubbornly
persistent illusion." Most of us may not need persuading that time is real,
but there are those who do.
For most of my 20s and 30s I equated love with pain.
Then I discovered that I could write. It was the writing that really put an
end to failure. It is possible to recover from failure: to digest it, make
use of it, and forget it.
— Diana Athill
Failure is just
another name for much of real life: much of what we set out to accomplish
ends in failure. My own personal failure list is a long one. Get back on the
horse that threw you, as they used to say. You learn as much from failure as
you learn from success.
— Margaret Atwood
When I was
growing up, failure presented itself as something clear and public. Later, I
realized that failure could also be private and hidden. It took me a long
time to understand the nuances of success and failure. Early on, I knew that
the primal sin of the artistic life was the sin against your own talent.
— Julian Barnes
Failure is easy. I do it every day, I have
been doing it for years. The zen of it is that success and failure are both
an illusion. The problem is that success and failure are also real. I still
have this big, stupid idea that you can make a book that shifts between its
covers and will not stay easy on the page, a real novel, one that lives,
talks, breathes, refuses to die. And in this, I am doomed to fail.
You have to see failure as an opportunity. If the
world doesn't value us, we won't value the world. We seek solace in books. One of the best ways of
achieving mastery over failure is to relive it, over and over, in words.
What writers at their best achieve is a saturation of shame, triumphing over
it by excluding or extenuating nothing, possessing it as theirs, and handing
it back again in comedy.
— Howard Jacobson
dominates my working life. To continue writing is to accept failure as a
part of the experience. I prize this sense of failure. A creative life
cannot be sustained by approval, any more than it can be destroyed by
criticism. People say my writing is dreadful, pretentious, self-seeking
shit. Other people say my writing is brilliant, beautifully crafted and
freighted with the most sublime meaning. The criticism has long since ceased
to bother me, but the price of this is that the praise is equally
meaningless. Failure is perhaps the only success there is.
Most people fail. We celebrate success, hope for the best,
and admire determination. So we shy from acknowledging that there's a point
at which it's pretty clear that whatever it is we're so determined to
achieve is not going to happen. There's something to be said for giving up.
— Lionel Shriver
2013 June 22
Austerity Has Failed
Austerity in the UK and in much of the EZ is a
blunder. The British economy has now stagnated for almost three years. The
EZ economy is forecast to expand by a mere 0.4% between 2010 and 2013, and a
quarter of the labor force in Greece and Spain is unemployed. Maybe the EZ
countries had to retrench, but:
— Germany and others could have used
low interest rates to expand demand.
— The ECB could have offered more
support sooner for sovereign debt crises.
— The emphasis could have been
more on structural reforms and less on reduced spending.
government could have increased public investment, cut taxes, and delayed
It did not do so because it believed:
1 Monetary policy alone could do the job. But
fiscal policy works more directly and is easier to calibrate and undo later.
2 Its fiscal plans would reduce interest
rates. But these are determined by the state of the economy, not that of the
3 Government deficits
would crowd out private borrowing. But private firms were already reluctant
to invest and consumers reluctant to spend.
The UK had too much debt. But the UK government started the crisis with very
low net public debt relative to GDP. It still has a debt ratio way below its
5 The UK could not
afford more debt. But that depends on the cost of debt. When debt is as
cheap as it is today, the UK can hardly afford not to borrow.
6 The UK has very little excess capacity. But it
is hard to accept that the UK is fated to produce less than its previous
growth trend suggested.
Austerity has made things worse. The right
approach is to strengthen the banking system, increase private sector
incentives to invest, expand the money supply, and continue government
borrowing and spending. It is not too late.
British Spy Agency GCHQ
NSA whistleblower Edward
Snowden exposed what he called "the largest program of suspicionless
surveillance in human history": "It's not just a US problem. The UK has a
huge dog in this fight."
Together with the US National Security
Agency (NSA), the UK agency GCHQ taps the fiber optic cables carrying phone
calls and internet traffic worldwide. GCHQ says it has the "biggest internet
access" of any member of the Five Eyes electronic eavesdropping alliance,
comprising the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. GCHQ lawyers: "We
have a light oversight regime compared with the US."
"Essentially, we have a process that allows us to select a small number of
needles in a haystack. We are not looking at every piece of straw. There are
certain triggers that allow you to discard or not examine a lot of data so
you are just looking at needles. If you had the impression we are reading
millions of emails, we are not."
GCHQ operates legally under UK law.
The 2000 Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) requires the tapping
of defined targets to be authorized by a warrant signed by the home
secretary or foreign secretary. But the foreign secretary can sign a
certificate for the interception of broad categories of data if one end of
the monitored line is abroad. Modern communications relay a proportion of
internal UK traffic abroad and back.
GCHQ used the RIPA certificates
to gather and process data relating to fraud, drug trafficking, and
terrorism, but the criteria at any one time are secret. GCHQ audits its own
compliance with the certificates and keeps the results secret.
is well placed to tap transatlantic cables. In 2011, GCHQ had probes on more
than 200 internet links, each carrying data at 10 Gbps. The internet
buffering program Tempora can store 3 days of content data and 30 days of
The processing centers achieve massive volume reduction by
filtering the data. The first filter dumps high-volume, low-value traffic.
Others pull out data packets based on "selectors" of interest (40 000 for
GCHQ and 31 000 for NSA). A training slide for new users: "You are in an
enviable position — have fun and make the most of it."
AR Fun indeed — the technical challenges are
fascinating for a search engine veteran like me.
The Enlightenment cleansed the European mind of medieval
superstition and allowed the light of reason to shine upon human problems.
For those who say it brought on the Holocaust, its rationalism was racist.
Jonathan Israel says there were two Enlightenments. Kant, Locke,
Voltaire, and Hume provided its public face. But d'Holbach, Diderot,
Condorcet, and Spinoza provided its heart and soul. The mainstream
sought to limit reason by faith and tradition, while the radicals insisted
on the supremacy of reason in human affairs.
Spinoza was a monist. He
held that the entire cosmos, matter and mind, body and soul, is made of one
substance: Deus sive Natura (God or Nature). For Israel, Spinoza "is only
centrally important to the Enlightenment if you accept the premise that
there is a connection between one-substance philosophy, the kind of
philosophy which verges on materialism, and radical ideas about freedom and
Like the Enlightenment, the Reformation had its radical
and moderate wings. Luther and Calvin were conservative. They insisted on
the absolute sovereignty of God over His creation. Magisterial Protestants
accepted the divine right of kings. The radicals challenged monarchs too.
They asserted the moral equality of all humans and pursued ideas of equality
and democracy to their logical conclusions.
In this age of information abundance and
overload, those who get ahead will be the folks who figure out what to
leave out, so they can concentrate on what's really important to them.
Nothing is more paralyzing than the idea of limitless possibilities. The
way to get over creative block is to place some constraints on yourself.
When it comes to creative work, limitations mean freedom. Don't make
excuses. Work with what you have, right now. The right constraints can
lead to your best work.
2013 June 21
I need more Europe to simplify the burocratic nonsense standing between me
and a quieter life back here in the rotting old UK.
Decades ago, the United Kingdom was
prosperous and London became a global financial center. The financial and
real estate sectors grew to become the leaders among British industries.
Then the crisis erupted in 2008.
Things have been going
downhill ever since. Unemployment is now at almost 8%, and about a third of
the population lives precariously. Millions of Britons don't eat properly
and can't heat their homes in winter. The gap between rich and poor is
growing, political debates are getting more heated, and a new party has
emerged. The anti-Europe UK Independence Party (UKIP) won 23% of the vote in
local elections in May.
In Lincolnshire, a few hours' drive northward
from London, Victoria Ayling, Kevin Couling, and their three sons live in
the village of Stickford. Ayling is a local politician and a member of UKIP.
Public sentiment in their part of the kingdom is slipping from moderate
conservatism to bulldog patriotism. Ayling says the success of UKIP is a
symptom of a much larger cultural change. Her father made a fortune in
furniture and her family had servants. She grew up in a country where old
class distinctions were still intact and life was good for those on top.
But the working class began to rebel. Ayling believes this change
roughly coincided with Great Britain's accession to the European Community
in 1973, and hopes that UKIP will help the realm regain its old strength.
She says the government should crack down on illegal immigrants and
criminals, and that Cameron should block immigration from eastern Europe:
"He has to declare a state of emergency and close the borders." Couling
adds: "We are an island nation, and now we want to withdraw to our island."
The Scots, too, want independence. Dennis Canavan, 70, lives in the
hills northeast of Glasgow. He was elected to the House of Commons for
Labour in 1974. After 33 years in the British and Scottish parliaments he
retired, but then Scottish Prime Minister Alex Salmond asked him to lead a
new project. Canavan is now chairman of the "Yes Scotland" campaign and
fighting for Scottish independence. He says Scotland would be better off
without England. It would be richer and more peaceful and it could reverse
recent cuts to social benefits. Canavan thinks Scotland is oppressed.
The Scots will vote in a referendum on independence from the UK in 2014.
Across the realm, the edges are drifting away from the center, both among
the regions and between the top and the bottom of society. The kingdom is
Some 80 years ago, Allen Lane found himself
stuck on a train with nothing to read. Having seen the first paperback books
in London, Lane decided to create his own portable, inexpensive version of
the format. He founded Penguin and published the first 10 titles in 1935.
In 2009, Penguin Group
published The Book of Penguin: "This is a book about the most advanced form
of entertainment ever. You can pause it at any time. Rewind and replay it if
you miss a bit ... It'll fit in your pocket. It's interactive ... It's
pretty cheap. It's completely free to share. And it lasts a lifetime. This
is a book about books."
The 2012 BookStats survey revealed that in
2011 e-book net sales were double those of 2010. In the adult fiction
category, e-book revenue outpaced that of print. Amazon reported higher 2011
sales of e-books than paperbacks and hardcovers combined. The 2013 BookStats
report shows that e-book sales have grown 45% since 2011 and now constitute
20% of the trade market. Between 2011 and 2012, total mass market paperback
sales fell by over 20%.
But the paperback is not dead. Penguin Books
vice president and associate publisher Patrick Nolan: "Everyone in
publishing talks about discoverability, and no one would argue that it's
easier when there aren't physical copies of books around. There's no
2013 June 20
Junk everywhere, half of it in a drop-box a few miles away ...
The Old World patronizes America. But America and
Europe are far more similar than they are different. The threads of the Old
World are woven into the New. America is built out of European ideas,
understanding, aesthetic, morality, assumptions, and laws. America grew tall
out of old Europe.
A generation ago, there was a lot of talk of a
brain drain. Brains were being lured to California by mere money. Mere money
and space, and sun, and steak, and Hollywood, and more money and opportunity
and optimism and openness. The brain drain was symbolic of a postwar
The real brain drain was already 300 years old. The idea
of America attracted the brightest and best from all over Europe. In 1776
the white and indentured population of America was 2.5 million. A hundred
years later it was nearly 50 million. In 1890, America became the biggest
industrial economy in the world. It now accounts for a quarter of the
Europeans cultivate a snobbery about the
parochialism of America. Apparently, only 35% of Americans have passports.
That many! Why would you go anywhere else?
Indeed. Provincial Britain looks shabby and run down compared with
2013 June 19
My truckload arrives today, with clothes, desk, books, armchair ...
Transatlantic Trade and Investment
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment
Partnership (TTIP) is a big deal. TTIP aims to harmonize regulations on both
sides of the Atlantic. Duplication of regulatory effort in the United States
and the European Union impedes international commerce. According to
proponents of TTIP, the gains of broad regulatory harmonization could amount
to an economic boost of more than $100 billion a year in the United States
and somewhat more than that in Europe. TTIP makes for freer trade.
AR Gets my vote: G8 meets pay their way with
this sort of thing.
2013 June 18
Iranian president elect Rohani spoke of improving
relations with the West, of establishing a ministry for women's affairs, and
of creating more opportunities and freedoms for Iranian youth.
Rohani presided over the secret advance of the Iranian nuclear program and
once boasted: "While we were talking with the Europeans in Tehran, we were
installing equipment in parts of the facility in Isfahan. In fact, by
creating a calm environment, we were able to complete the work in Isfahan."
Rohani also presided over the crackdown on student protesters in 1999
and referred to Israel as "the great Zionist Satan" last year. He won in an
electoral charade as one of a vetted group of candidates, all supreme
loyalists to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
G8 leaders made a sweeping commitment to strengthen
international corporate tax rules. They signed a 10-point Lough Erne
Declaration calling for tax authorities around the world to share
information and to change the rules that let multinational companies shift
profits across borders to avoid taxes and require them to report what tax
they pay where. At present, companies use shell companies in tax havens to
hide their true ownership and avoid tax.
British PM David Cameron
said the deal had "the potential to rewrite the rules on tax and
transparency for the benefit of countries right across the world". A new
mechanism "will identify where multinational companies are earning their
profits and paying their taxes" and will "track and expose those who aren't
paying their fair share". The declaration will help tax authorities to deal
with multinationals and to develop a global model for information exchange.
AR More good news, assuming they really do
2013 June 17
Well, here I am in Poole, online at home thanks to Virgin media, enjoying
weather 10 K cooler and urban streets with less class than those in Germany.
But the local supermarket is well stocked and the sea looks inviting, so
this little life goes on.
The stunning election victory for reform and
moderation in Iran this weekend recalls the election in 1997, when the
moderate cleric Mohammad Khatami won. He was the first since the 1979
Islamic Revolution to call for reform at home, and for a type of detente
with the West and the rest.
The Iranian people say they want their
next president to improve the dire economy that has plunged approximately
half the country into poverty. But they also say they want better relations
with the rest of the world, including the United States. They are tired of
sanctions, isolation, and lurching from crisis to international crisis.
Hassan Rouhani calls for more moderate policies inside Iran and for
constructive engagement abroad. He is a close ally of former Iranian
Presidents Khatami and Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Both swung their
support behind Rouhani.
Back in 1997, President Khatami became the
first Iranian leader to apologize for the 1979 hostage crisis, to denounce
terrorism and the killing of civilians including Israeli civilians, to
address the nuclear program, and more.
After 9/11, President Khatami
sent condolences to the American people. Later when President George W. Bush
sent forces into Afghanistan to despatch the Taliban and al-Qaeda, Iran
played a crucial role for the United States in pulling together the
political solution for the new Afghanistan.
But right after that
mutual co-operation came President Bush's "Axis of Evil" speech, lumping
Khatami's Iran with Iraq and North Korea. Blowback came in the form of
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's 2005 election, and the past eight excruciating years.
Now there is a new day, and a new chance.
Good news at last.
Will physicists divorce
space and time?
The Nikkei 225 sank 5.6% in morning trading and the yen
broke through Y95 per dollar. BNP Paribas chief Japan equity strategist
Shun Maruyama: "Japan is a developed country, but in equities it is like
an emerging market ... hot money is getting out of emerging
markets, including Japan."
Abenomics is risky.
Like my move to the UK,
land of the credit
99 Years Ago
World War I broke out 100 years ago next summer.
Most young Britons today learned to think of it as a pointless tragedy
in which Britain's idiot generals committed mass murder. But the western
Allies could only have avoided war by accepting German domination of
The Britain sacrifice to stop German militarists should
be a matter of pride. I can think of no greater betrayal than to pretend
it was all for nothing.
AR A greater
betrayal is to forget it was futile mass murder. It didn't prevent WW2.
Does math exist?
British comic Russell Brand,
38, will tour the Mideast presenting his new Messiah Complex show in mosques and synagogues. He plans to cover "various social and religious
figures and the reality of their lives" and to portray the complex as a
mental disorder. The tour opens in August in Abu Dhabi.
We start to think like
songwriters, and once you get that habit, it
stays with you all your life. It motors along in your subconscious, in
the way you listen. ... You start looking round, and everything's a
subject for a song.
2013 June 14
Today the fridge goes, I pack up my electronics, and the hot silence of
summer takes over.
Goodbye cruel world!
The Muslim Brotherhood
President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood has
forced Egyptians to question the compatibility of Islamism and democracy.
Many critics now view the Brotherhood as a monolithic radical organization
bent on domination and the imposition of Islamic law and values through
During the Sadat and
Mubarak eras, the Muslim Brotherhood experienced reversals of fortune,
developed a political machine, and waged ideological debates. In its
disagreements about democracy, leadership, and engagement with society, the
more moderate factions almost always lost.
The Muslim Brotherhood
could avoid the tension between democracy and religious law so long as it
was not in government. But once in power, it made error after error.The
Brotherhood has utterly failed to build a broad national consensus.
British Girls in the Third Reich
Sending your daughters to finishing school in
Germany was the thing to do in the 1930s. Germany was probably our closest
European partner at that time.
maternal grandmother went to Bavaria as a schoolgirl. She was Jewish. She
fell in love with a ski instructor from Freiburg, a member of the National
Socialist party. Their relationship went wrong and she came back to England.
The women I interviewed said: "We had the best time of our lives." They
felt fantastic being in Germany during the Third Reich. "It was the
highlight of my life," one told me. They had everything, including sex. I
asked them: "Were you in love at that time?" And they said: "All the time,
with everybody." They typically spent six months there, went to parties and
They would see a sign at a swimming pool saying "No
Jews," and they'd think: "What's a Jew?" They didn't know any Jews. Also,
they were upper-middle class English girls, so their fathers were probably
quite anti-Semitic. My mother-in-law's father was chairman of the
Anglo-German Alliance. He would make speeches in the House of Lords saying
Hitler is a sound chap.
"Hitler was marvellous, the problem was, he
went a little bit too far," one of the women told me. They didn't know what
the regime was doing, they didn't know about the Nuremburg laws. Nobody
became suspicious. It was wilful blindness.
Things changed in
September 1939, after the invasion of Poland.
2013 June 13
China Foreign Affairs University researcher Li
Haidong: "For months, Washington has been accusing China of cyberespionage,
but it turns out that the biggest threat to the pursuit of individual
freedom and privacy in the US is the unbridled power of the government."
China Foundation for International and Strategic Studies
researcher Zhang Tuosheng: "Beijing and Washington, instead of criticizing
each other while hiding their own problems, should work together to
facilitate a series of well-observed regulations."
Washington should dump its practice of seeking "absolute safety" for itself
while potentially damaging the interests of other nations in the process.
The Obama administration persuaded the European Commission
to strip its data privacy legislation of a measure limiting the ability of
US intelligence agencies to spy on EU citizens. The measure was known within
the EU as the "anti-FISA clause" after the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance
Act authorizing the US government to eavesdrop on international phone calls
AR By "eavesdrop" we mean
filter with a search engine.
Pope Pius XII
Eugenio Pacelli was Pope Pius XII from 1939 to
1958. He failed to condemn the Nazi Holocaust. Pacelli worked as a canon
lawyer before he was ordained bishop and dispatched to Germany.
By 1930, he had returned to the Vatican
as Cardinal Secretary of State. He urged Heinrich Brüning, the Catholic
Chancellor of Germany from 1930 to 1932, to enter a coalition with Hitler.
In early 1933, Hitler put out feelers for a
Reichskonkordat. He offered a guarantee of Catholic rights to religious
practice in exchange for Church withdrawal from all social and political
action and associations.
Pacelli declared the Reichskonkordat a
triumph for the code of canon law, since it shifted governing authority over
German Catholics to the Vatican. Hitler said the treaty meant Vatican
recognition of the Nazi state and created a "sense of confidence" that would
be "especially significant in the urgent struggle against international
Pope Pius XII behaved toward the Nazi cause with what could
be interpreted as moral indifference. He failed to excommunicate Hitler or
Nazi Catholics, though later he excommunicated Italian Communists.
AR Another nail in the coffin of Catholic
2013 June 12
Turkey is a major regional power and a strong
NATO partner. Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan has personal and political
bonds with President Barack Obama and many Western leaders in Europe.
The protests started in Istanbul almost two weeks ago and
have now spread across the country, with police using water cannon and tear
gas and protesters throwing Molotov cocktails and fireworks.
has been in power for more than a decade. But many Turks believe he has
grown too authoritarian and arrogant. He said the protesters were riff raff
but plans to talk to them today.
for Turks to step back from Islamism and embrace Europe again.
2013 June 11
US Security Scandal
Bundesjustizministerin Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger
Präsident Obama: "You can't have 100 percent security and also then have 100
privacy and zero inconvenience."
don't agree. A society is less free the more its citizens are monitored,
checked, and observed. Security in a democratic state based on law is not an
end in itself but serves to secure freedom.
The Patriot Act signed
into law days after 9/11 shifted the balance of freedom and security to the
cost of freedom. Further laws quickly followed. They made significant
inroads on American civil rights.
Franklin: "People willing to trade their freedom for temporary security
deserve neither and will lose both."
The global internet is
indispensible for business, information sharing, and the fight for human
rights in authoritarian states. Trust in these technologies is threatened by
The Science Delusion
Curtis White is infuriated by neuroscientists: "Freed
at last from the limits imposed by religion, science has extended its
ambitions beyond the debunking of Christian dogma. It has now turned its
attention to another old competitor, the secular world of the humanities and
adamant that scientists are creating a monster: "The thing that I find most
inscrutable about all of the recent books and essays that have sought to
give mechanistic explanations for consciousness, personality, emotions,
creativity, the whole human sensorium, is how happy the authors seem about
But he fails to make a case that science is a matter of faith.
2013 June 10
All my furniture trucked off today. Now I sit on a plastic Klappstuhl in a
bare room with a WAN cable snaking across it. The neswhound reports:
United Stasi of America
Edward Snowden's leak of NSA material on PRISM is
big. The government claims it has a court warrant — but it is from a
kangaroo court with a rubber stamp. The intelligence committees in Congress
have been co-opted by the spy agencies.
United States is not now a police state. But it does have the full
electronic and legislative infrastructure of such a state. There is no
legitimate reason to hide programs that are blatantly unconstitutional in
their breadth and potential abuse.
The Stasi were the secret police
in communist East Germany (the DDR). Snowden reveals that the US intelligence
community has become the United Stasi of America. The NSA surveillance
programs are dangerous and unconstitutional.
Born in 1596, Descartes learned Aristotelian
philosophy at one of the top Jesuit colleges in France.
He was a
brilliant mathematician who asked the right questions.
Nadler: "The exhaustive and exclusive division of mind and body —
everything is either mental or physical — provides a metaphysical foundation
for his new mechanistic picture of the world. Whatever takes place in the
physical world is to be explained by material principles alone."
Descartes' Meditations are like a diary in which the narrator goes from
doubting everything to understanding reality:
He resolves to discard all the beliefs that he can doubt.
2 He is left with just one statement: I think,
therefore I am.
6 He knows the nature
of mind and body, their duality, the existence of God, and
the sure path to knowledge.
By constructing the Meditations around an
undisclosed protagonist, Descartes invites the reader to become the
meditator. The first letter in the Cartesian alphabet is I.
2013 June 9
I pursue the things that I like. I figure if I like
it, somebody else is going to like it. I always feel like I carry an
audience around in my mind and I can hear them arguing with each other about
whether it's good or not. You've got to be merciless on yourself. Opinions
are like assholes, everyone has one.
2013 June 8
John Gray loathes the idea of progress. Human
beings are killer apes that long to find a meaning to life. The idea that
they can save the planet from environmental devastation is hubris. Human
beings cannot be trusted because they will always deploy violence and terror
in the name of some metaphysical project. The Earth is suffering from a
plague of people. Homo rapiens is a filthy pest.
The Silence of Animals includes an argument for godless mysticism. The
highest value in existence is to know that there is nothing of substance in
the world. The forms of askesis that attempt to nullify the self occasion a
turn toward the nonhuman world in its mere being. A godless mysticism does
not redeem us, but it redeems us from the need for redemption, the need for
Gray is the Schopenhauer figure of our age. His passive
nihilist looks at the world with a highly cultivated detachment and finds it
meaningless. We are cracked vessels glued to ourselves in endless,
narcissistic twittering. We are like moths wheeling around the one true
AR But let's try and make the best
2013 June 7
The New Digital Age, by Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen, tells us: "The
best thing anyone can do to improve the quality of life around the world is
to drive connectivity and technological opportunity."
Cohen believe in the existence of "an online world that is not truly bound
by terrestrial laws" but ignore how Google keeps running into trouble with
pesky terrestrial laws. They say the digital revolution "is the first that
will make it possible for almost everybody to own, develop and disseminate
real-time content without having to rely on intermediaries" — as senior
executives of the world's most powerful intermediary.
The new digital age sounds
familiar: "To be sure, governments will always find ways to use new levels
of connectivity to their advantage ... Of course, there will always be the
super-wealthy people whose access to technology will be even greater ... there
will always be some companies that allow their desire for profit to
supersede their responsibility to users ... there will always be truly
malevolent types for whom deterrence will not work."
Cohen are at their most shallow in their discussion of the radicalization of
youth: "The most potent antiradicalization strategy will focus on the new
virtual space, providing young people with content-rich alternatives and
distractions that keep them from pursuing extremism ... Only when we have
their attention can we hope to win their hearts and minds."
Google too will fall.
The US National Security Agency has direct access
to the central servers of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL,
Skype, YouTube, and Apple. The NSA program PRISM allows officials to mine
data from audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and
connection logs. A top secret PowerPoint presentation dated April
2013 describes the program.
2013 June 6
Physics: The Limits
String theory is a
model, a framework, part of quantum field theory. And there are frustrating
theoretical problems in quantum field theory that demand solutions. Our
model of spacetime might be a derived concept. It seems to emerge from a
more fundamental physical process that informs the mathematical pictures
drawn by string theory and quantum field theory.
David J. Gross
at the subatomic level are simultaneously particles and waves. They appear
to us as two different categories of being. Physics itself is riven by the
competing frameworks of quantum theory and general relativity, whose
differing descriptions of our world mirror the wave-particle tension. Where
quantum theory describes the subatomic realm as a domain of individual
quanta, all jitters and jumps, general relativity depicts happenings on the
cosmological scale as a stately flow of smooth spacetime.
2013 June 5
Children talk to themselves while playing. This
private speech seems to develop out of social dialog with parents and
caregivers. Over time, it is internalized as inner speech.
The inner commentary resembles a dialog between different points of
view. Most adults report that their inner speech goes back and forth like a
conversation. It is also abbreviated compared with external speech. People
reporting their inner experience show it unfolding more quickly than normal
speech would allow, suggesting compression.
Functional MRI studies
show that inner speech activates the same neural networks external speech.
One view is that inner speech is just external speech without articulation.
The brain plans an utterance but stops short of firing motor neurons for
Perhaps words in inner speech function as psychological
tools to help us think and plan. Putting our thoughts into words gives them
a more tangible form that makes them easier to use. Verbal thought may also
facilitate communication between other cognitive systems in the brain.
Awareness of inner speech may be important for metacognition. People who
use inner speech more often show better understanding of who they are as
individuals. People with autism seem to use inner speech for different
purposes. One neuroscientist reported reduced self-awareness after a stroke
that damaged her language system.
An inner monolog can reinforce
anxiety and depression by recycling thoughts it would be better to dump.
People with schizophrenia can experience hearing a person speak when there
is no one present. Auditory verbal hallucination may occur when individuals
fail to recognize their own inner speech and attribute it to an alien voice.
Scientific study of inner speech will help us understand how thinking,
language, cognition, and consciousness work together.
Israeli politicians say Israel has the right
to prevent weapons reaching Hezbollah in Lebanon. Hezbollah leader Hasan
Nasrallah warns of a strategic response to Israeli attacks.
Russia will deliver S300 missiles to Damascus. Israel threatens to
destroy them. Defence minister Moshe Ya'alon said Israel will "know what
to do" if the missiles are delivered.
In the Golan Heights, Ziv
Peretz says: "I hope there's a war. Then we can kill them all, finish
them all off. I doubt anything will happen, because the Arabs know they
New Mental Case
The psychiatry manual DSM-5 now lists "caffeine
as a condition with symptoms including fatigue, headache,
and difficulty focusing.
Next time I can
call a psychiatrist.
Casper David Friedrich
The Wanderer Above
the Sea of Fog
2013 June 4
SAP Annual General Meeting
SAP Arena, Mannheim
SAP is riding high. The company now has a market cap of €72 billion, and
its stocks rose by nearly 50% in 2012. Revenue for 2013 is expected to be
close to €6 billion, and SAP projects that by 2015 its turnover will exceed
€20 billion, with an operating margin of 35%. SAP co-CEO Bill McDermott says
some 80% of Fortune 500 companies and almost all the top global brands use
SAP software. The SAP brand is among the Top 100 global brands, and the
"most valuable brand" on the DAX index.
The flagship SAP product is
SAP HANA, "the fastest-selling business in history," which SAP co-CEO Jim
Hagemann Snabe says runs up to tens of thousands of times faster than
previous database software, and generated almost €400 million revenue for
SAP in 2012.
AR I guess my six years as a
developer in the SAP HANA development team count as the peak of my
professional career. I'd be hundreds of kiloeuros richer if I'd stayed on,
and also if I'd put all my savings into SAP stocks. Instead I'm serving the
world as an unpaid philosopher!
Something completely different
Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz — "law for
the delegation of monitoring beef labeling" — was a valid German word until
a regional parliament repealed it following the lifting of an EU recommendation
to carry out BSE tests on healthy cattle.
2013 June 3
Europe is capable of change and reform. But we need
to speed up European decision making and cut red tape. Europeans generate
less than a quarter of global economic output but consume just under half
the world total of social benefits. We need to ask how this can go on.
Attitudes toward aging are changing and many old people have a lot to
offer, so we extended the retirement age to 67.
For us in Germany,
much depends on what happens in southern Europe. We are all in the same
boat. No European country can be strong in the long term if others are not
doing well. Budget consolidation and reform mandates were negotiated with
the crisis-hit governments and are offset by our solidarity with them. The
German government is planning a loan program for countries in southern
Economic coordination in Europe must be strengthened. This
does not mean giving more power to Brussels. One day it might be worth
strengthening the European Parliament, but now we face more pressing issues.
These include how we intend to pay our way in future, how we can create new
jobs, and much more. Once we have answered these questions, we can think
about EU institutions.
The Problem Within Islam
There is a problem within Islam. A strain within Islam
has at its heart a view about religion and about the interaction between
religion and politics that is not compatible with pluralistic, liberal,
open-minded societies. At the extreme end of the spectrum are terrorists,
but the world view goes deeper and wider.
The seeds of future fanaticism and terror, possibly even major conflict, are
being sown. We have to help sow seeds of reconciliation and peace. But
clearing the ground for peace is not always peaceful.
revolutionary communism by being resolute on security, but we defeated it by
a better idea: Freedom. We can do the same with this. The better idea is a
modern view of religion and its place in society and politics. There has to
be respect and equality between people of different faiths.
to start with how to educate children about faith, here and abroad. Now,
more than ever, we have to be strong and we have to be strategic.
The idea of liberal education came to America from
England. In Georgian England, a liberal education gave students the
opportunity to make the right sort of friends. Teachers prized sociability
above study. In the Victorian era, universities revived competitive exams
and commissions investigating Oxford and Cambridge concluded: "It is the
sole business of the University to train the powers of the mind."
The growth of industry and democracy led to a demand for a
more practical schooling. The German idea of academic freedom made the
university a place where knowledge was discovered and generated. Scientific
method and the new values required specialist training rather than general
education. The new champions changed the definition of liberal education in
ways that shape our universities today.
The education provided at a
typical American liberal arts college today comes closest to achieving the
goals sought by English gentlemen in the eighteenth century. The search for
universal knowledge has long since been abandoned. So has the pursuit of
knowledge as an end in itself. The education fails to enhance students'
understanding of their role as free citizens of a free society, with rights
A liberal education today should include a common core of
studies for all its students. The core would include literature, philosophy,
and history. It would show the student times and worlds quite different from
our own. It would reveal that a good society requires citizens who
understand and share its values. Colleges claiming to offer a liberal
education must make their commitment to freedom clear.
2013 June 2
Yesterday I sold a
wardrobe and dusted the space it vacated. Watching the little dust bunnies
dance in the wake of the brush reminded me irresistibly of the movements of
small spiders with long legs. That evening, I dined in Heidelberg and
enjoyed an animated discussion with SAP colleague Otto about the dynamics of
history and the inevitability or otherwise of the cyclic rise and fall of
civilizations, before watching a big municipal fireworks show over the Old
Bridge. The complex dynamics of the sparks in the aerial explosions reminded
me of the growth and movement of trees and similar life forms. Last night, I dreamt of discovering a secret so profound it gave new meaning to the search
for a dynamical understanding of life and consciousness. The secret was
revealed when the dreamer watched a little plastic spring bounce along in
the turbulent wake of a moving person. The little plastic spiral of just one
or two turns had a radius that went smoothly from zero at the front end to a
maximum and then to zero at the back end, like a typical quantum wave packet
traced as a temporal sequence of cross sections in the complex plane to form
a 3D object. The trick, said the dreamer, was to hold the ends of this
little spiral and give it a good spin before releasing it to dance in the
wake of the observer. Then its dynamical behavior as it bounced along
irresistibly recalled the joyous gait of a happy puppy. The dreamer
thought that unpacking the scientific content of this phenomenon would give
us the key to understanding life as we know it. I offer this anecdote now as
a small contribution to the enterprise of understanding the psychology of
Islamic Republic of Turkey
Turkey is booming. Much of the new wealth comes from
Mideast oil money. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) wants to
make Turkey more Islamic, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to
change the Turkish constitution from a parliamentary to a presidential
system. The AKP regime has built 17,000 new mosques since 2002. It plans an
enormous mosque that will loom over Istanbul. Opposition MP Mehmet Ali
Ediboglu calls it a step toward an Islamic republic.
In Taksim Square, Istanbul, tens of thousands of
rioters demanded the resignation of prime minister Erdogan. Police have
arrested almost a thousand protesters.
2013 June 1
How To Read Literature, by British literary theorist Terry Eagleton,
sets out to revive the dying art of literary analysis. Eagleton provides
practical tips for understanding style, characterization and narration, and
for interpreting and evaluating literature. He argues that literary
evaluation must be learned through practice. You have to learn the public
criteria for what counts as excellence. His new book works well enough as a
primer on literary analysis, but as an argument for the importance of that
skill it fails.
Martin Amis is grappling with
evil. The Holocaust is the subject of his new novel, now in its third draft.
It is set in an unnamed Auschwitz. The genesis of the work was a bolt from
the blue. "It was a very counter-intuitive one. It was imagining love at
first sight at Auschwitz."
Amis confesses that he refined the evil
and made it even worse. "I think that's what the Holocaust was: a very
thorough, Germanic exploration of evil: we're in it now, let's see how evil
we can be."
Critics will consider whether this novel deserves the critical acclaim Amis enjoyed for his earlier books. His 2012 novel
Lionel Asbo received distinctly mixed reviews. Lionel Shriver: "I hate to
say this, because my hopes were high, but this novel becomes well and truly
Amis on younger novelists: "I don't read the younger ones. I only read the
AR See my gloss on the
descent into the Holocaust abyss in
Afghan War Will Cost UK
£40 000 000 000 by 2020
So far, the war in Afghanistan has cost Britain
at least £37 billion. By 2020, the UK will have spent £40 billion on its Afghan campaign, equivalent to £2000 for every taxpaying
household in the country and enough to pay for the entire careers of
over 5000 police officers or nurses, or to fund free tuition for all
students in British higher education for 10 years.
AR For ungrateful Afghans? This is suicidal
SAP says it intends to gain "a competitive
advantage" over its rivals by employing people with autism
spectrum disorder. It plans to employ 650 autistic people by 2020,
about 1% of its workforce. Research shows that aspies make more
rational decisions than "neurotypicals" because they're less
biased by emotion. SAP: "People with autism tend to be really good
at identifying mistakes and sensing patterns, and turned out to be
very good matches for software testing."
Alain De Botton
In 1876, Friedrich Nietzsche,
adopted a philosophy
that revered Ubermenschen.
The notoriety of
the word owes
less to Nietzsche's philosophy
than to his sister
Elisabeth's subsequent enchantment with National Socialism. Nietzsche's
Ubermenschen were curious, artistically gifted, and sexually vigorous.
Despite their dark
sides, they laughed, and they possessed what he
Nietzsche: "Art is the great stimulant to life."
"Israel is the most threatened state in the world," said PM Binyamin
Netanyahu to kick off national emergency week. It starts with a two-day
chemical warfare drill.
Netanyahu: "In recent years we have
significantly increased the preparedness of the home front vis-à-vis
such attack. We are investing billions so that the home front will be
better protected and better
Lee Smolin contradicts
Ross on retooling God
2013 May 31
Humans 2 Mars
At the Humans 2 Mars Summit at George Washington University, scientists,
NASA officials, private space company representatives, and others discussed
the challenges of a human mission to Mars:
Getting off the Earth
2 Fuel storage
3 Advanced propulsion
Landing on Mars
5 Keeping the crew healthy
6 Protecting ourselves and the planet
7 Dealing with dust
Making the plan
Mind Over Brain
Addiction is now labeled a brain disease because it
is tied to changes in brain structure and function. Repeated use of drugs
alter the neural circuits that mediate the experience of pleasure,
motivation, inhibition, and so on. But the brain story leaves the addicted
person in the shadows. To treat addicts and guide policy, we need to
understand how addicts think. Details of their brains are irrelevant.
The brain defense is now common in the courtroom. But neuroscientists
cannot yet go from aberrant brain function to the legal distinction between
failing to control oneself and being unable to do so. The law excuses
criminal behavior only when a causal factor produces an impairment so severe
that it deprives the defendant of his or her rationality. Bad genes or bad
parenting are no excuse.
No Better Place
MIT Technology Review
Better Place has run out of financing and will liquidate its assets. It was
a bold effort to wean the world from oil by innovating with software and
business models on top of existing electric vehicle technology. The big idea
was hatched in 2005 when SAP golden boy Shai Agassi spoke at Davos. Agassi
made a bold start in 2007 with Better Place. The failure highlights the
challenges of innovation in the car market.
2013 May 30
An economic boom is gripping Saudi Arabia. The
world's largest oil exporter is spending its money more freely than ever
before, thanks to rising oil income, a big government spending program, and
sweeping measures to get nationals into work. The al-Saud family plans to
head off the economic discontent that triggered unrest in other Arab
countries with growing populations, creaking infrastructure, and job
shortages. Record oil receipts and a $130 billion spending program will fuel
non-oil private sector growth of an estimated 7.6% this year, and hard
currency reserves are now estimated to total over $500 billion.
Arabia is much less affluent than its smaller Gulf neighbors. Per capita GNP
in 2012 was less than a third that of Qatar. There immigrants predominate,
but in Saudi Arabia foreign nationals form less than a third of the
population. Historically, immigrant workers have done low-paid jobs spurned
by nationals taking life easy. That has begun to change, but the new policy
of "Saudization" has its critics. Saudi workers are guaranteed good pay and
enjoy generous subsidies in areas such as housing and fuel, which lowers
their motivation and productivity. The boom is mainly in cities, which
outgrow their amenities.
Last month, Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal said
Saudi Arabia is set to increase its production capacity by 20% by 2020. But
then Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi said he didn't see that even by 2040.
Naimi is a former engineer in Saudi Aramco, but Turki is a member of the
royal House of Saud. How much oil to produce is a political decision.
Saudi Arabia contains civil unrest with high spending. The kingdom
consumes more oil than Germany, leaving little over half for export. To
meets its needs, it sets a "fair price" for oil, which has risen sharply in
recent years. To balance its budget in future, Saudi Arabia will need to
drill more at low prices or drill less and raise the price.
Arabia may have overstated its oil reserves by up to 40%, meaning that
production at current levels is unsustainable. If so, the only way for the
kingdom to make ends meet is to keep prices high. If the United States
drills more, Saudi Arabia will drill less. Will we all pay a rising "fair
price" for oil to fund Saudi Arabian spending?
Does Spelling Matter?
Oxford English professor Simon Horobin spoke out at
the Hay Literary Festival: "People like to artificially constrain language
change. For some reason we think spelling should be entirely fixed and never
changed. I am not saying we should just spell freely. But sometimes we have
to accept spellings change."
lets go fonetic and lose the apostrofes.
2013 May 29
The Euro Hawk debacle has cost many millions of euro.
German defense Minister Thomas de Maizère has shelved the issue until after
the parliamentary elections in September. But the debate drones on.
Experts say combat drones should be equipped with "small, agile, and
appropriate effectors" to minimize collateral damage. The defense industry
is working hard to shrink drones and their weapons. European arms company
MBDA makes a 6 kg Enforcer missile that could be mounted on a drone. Smaller
missiles not only reduce collateral damage but also ease restrictions on
The obstacle for Euro Hawk was that the US
Air Force and Northrop Grumman were unwilling to release details to German
authorities for type certification. Approval to fly over Germany is another
In January, the Al Jazeera network acquired the Current TV network from Al
Gore for some $500 million. Al Jazeera America will bring a
lot of fresh energy as well as controversy to the TV news scene.
Al Jazeera Arabic satellite television network launched in Doha, Qatar, in
1996. It was dubbed "terrorist TV" during the George W. Bush administration.
The original AJ was once a mouthpiece for al Qaeda and has always been close
to the Muslim Brotherhood. Al Jazeera English started broadcasting in 2006
and now claims to reach 260 million households worldwide.
Few cable providers carried Al Jazeera English in
the past. Typically, subscribers buy collections of channels, and Current
TV was well bundled. That positioning is basically what AJ paid for.
World Wide Web English is not really the kind
people want to read in a book, a magazine, or even a newspaper. But a
struggle against the abuse and impoverishment of English online is what
George Orwell called "a sentimental archaism" when he said English was "in a
bad way" in 1946.
Time for a new covenant. Among the guardians of
contemporary culture (cyber and otherwise), Orwell remains a talisman. Those
who assert the "democratic" and "free" qualities of the World Wide Web would
probably cite his 1946 essay with approval in any discussion of English
AR Covenant, like
commandments for "good" English? Pfui!
2013 May 28
Stay out of Syria!
Syria has largely disintegrated. The government
and its Alawite and Christian supporters have secured the west and the
Islamist rebels are in the east.
A spate of recent
articles suggest the US foreign policy elite is pushing for American
military intervention in Syria. John McCain published a piece titled "Syria:
intervention is in our interest" with detailed suggestions for action.
The Obama administration is choosing not to arm the rebels. Zbigniew
Brzezinski: "The various schemes that have been proposed for ...
intervention from around the edges of the conflict ... would simply make the
Qatar and Saudi Arabia pay for the rebels to fight
Hezbollah and the Alawites. Turkey supports the rebels. The entire region is
hit with 1.5 million refugees.
Send arms to
Britain and France have forced a lifting of the EU
arms embargo against Syrian rebels. All the other 25 out of 27 EU states
opposed lifting the ban, but UK foreign secretary William Hague blocked a
compromise deal. Arms deliveries can begin in August.
UK: Trident Best?
A Whitehall review of the British Trident nuclear
deterrent concludes that continuing with a full like-for-like replacement is
must decide by 2016 whether to replace all 4 Vanguard submarines that carry
Trident. Lib Dems may back reducing the number of submarines to 2. Scaling
down to 2 boats saves money but loses the continuous at-sea deterrence of
the current system.
Conservatives and military chiefs say the UK
needs 4 submarines at a capital cost of £20 billion. Cutting back from 4 to
2 could save £5 billion in capital costs and £1 billion in ongoing costs.
Trident will soon take about a third of the UK defense procurement budget.
The review says more radical Lib Dem ideas, such as cruise missiles in
Astute submarines, would cost more than replacing Trident.
AR Trident is heavy artillery for a total war of
British national survival in a nightmare world of nuclear apocalypse. The
capital cost of this "insurance" is £1000 for every taxpaying
household in the UK.
2013 May 27
Yasmin Alibhai Brown
Around the world one finds disaffected
Muslims who are consumed with bloodlust, who have lost the capacity for
dialogue and compromise. Grievances have mutated into generalized
Countless European Muslims oppose western
policies. But we do so in democracies. The awful truth is that I could never
work or write the way I do here in any Muslim country. They would silence me
These nations do not understand freedom and democracy.
Resistance by those who do is quickly snuffed out. Power is tied to
domination and violence. Dependence on strong leaders has become hereditary.
The political is also personal. The fanatical
followers are incapable of having fulfilling relationships with women. They
bully and dominate their wives and sisters and see white females as sluts.
I see a connection between the violators and possessors of females and
religious militants. Their masculinity is noxious, confused, untamed, and
dangerous. We must change them.
AR This is
a perceptive analysis. The danger of this male pathology stems from
Abrahamic patriarchy but has been greatly reduced in Judaism and
Christianity. Islam must either reform its male chauvinism (a possible but
unlikely change) or go under (in blood and chaos, most likely).
Lady Gaga: "When you make music or write or create, it's really your job
to have mind-blowing,
irresponsible, condom-less sex with whatever idea
it is you're writing about at the time."
Is this advice I can use?
2013 May 26
Last week, Stockholm was rocked by six nights of
disorder, with countless cars set ablaze, fires in schools, police stations,
and restaurants. Police estimate that more than 300 young people were
directly involved, of whom 30 were arrested.
Sweden has taken in
more than 11,000 refugees from Syria since 2012, and it has absorbed more
than 100,000 Iraqis and 40,000 Somalis over the past two decades. First or
second generation immigrants make up about a fifth of the population.
The riots were ignited when police shot dead an old Portuguese man. His
neighbor: "They had a shitload of police here. You would have thought there
was a huge group of terrorists, not a man with a little knife. If he was
Swedish they never would have shot him."
Tax cuts and reduced welfare
spending have raised inequality in Sweden. Unemployment is three times
higher in Husby than in Stockholm as a whole, and those that do have jobs
earn far less than the city average.
Esmail Jamshidi, a medical
student born and raised in Husby: "It's a very recent development, this
ghetto mentality. Immigrants come here, and most leave after a decade or
two. A very small percentage of them don't, and this last group are left."
A Swedish handyman is busy repairing riot damage: "These people, they
should integrate in this society and just try a little bit more to be like
Susan Greenfield, 62, Oxford professor of
pharmacology, former director of the Royal Institute, holder of lots of
honorary degrees and awards, and since 2001 baroness in the House of Lords,
has 3 priorities:
research: She sees the amyloid plaques or tau protein tangles that build up
in patients' brains as secondary effects of neurodegeneration and identifies
the culprit as AChE peptide, a molecular fragment that breaks off from the
2 Consciousness. Some unknown system
must meld all our neuronal assemblies, coming and going across the brain,
into conscious subjectivity. Greenfield feels that an explanation will
depend on physics as well as biology: "I'd love to work with a physicist to
look at consciousness."
3 The impact of new digital technologies on
the way we process information, the degree to which we take risks, our
interactions with others, and even our own sense of identity. Greenfield:
"Mind change is comparable to climate change, as a controversial,
multifaceted, pervasive global issue."
2121: A Tale From the Next Century will be released on July 1, 2013.
Defence League said the brutal killing in Woolwich shows Britain is "at
war" with Islamic extremism. A previously scheduled EDL march in Newcastle
on Saturday, sparked by plans to open an Islamic school, drew well over 1500
people, three times as many as expected. A counter-demo by a group called
Newcastle Unites drew about 400. Riot police kept the two marches apart.
Addressing the crowd in
Newcastle, EDL leader Tommy Robinson said: "We cannot allow this soldier's
death to be in vain." EDL chants of "Whose streets? Our streets" and "RIP
Lee Rigby" rang out. Regional flags were on display, along with one marked
"Taliban Hunting Club". Newcastle Unites supporters chanted: "Nazi scum, off
British National Party leader Nick Griffin called for a
show of strength by activists in Woolwich next Saturday under the banner
"United against Muslim terror". The BNP national organizer claims a "line
has been drawn in the sand and it signals the beginning of the civil war we
have predicted for years".
Islamophobic hate crimes are running at
more than 10 times their usual rate. They include 9 attacks on mosques,
assaults, racial abuse, and anti-Muslim graffiti. A petrol bomb was thrown
at a mosque in Milton Keynes during Friday prayers. Muslim leaders accuse
far-right extremists of capitalizing on the "sick and barbaric" murder of
Rigby to fuel racial hatred.
The Tell Mama group monitors incidents
of anti-Muslim abuse. Coordinator Fiyaz Mughal said Saturday 162 incidents
had been reported in 48 hours, some 16 times the average before the Woolwich
attack. Mughal said people are scared, particularly female
Muslims in headscarves. A spokesman for Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks
said: "Muslims at this moment are feeling a real and pervasive sense of
A new poll shows nearly two-thirds of Britons believe there
will be a "clash of civilizations" between British Muslims and white
Britons, and over a third believe British Muslims pose a serious threat to
democracy. But another third view Muslims as compatible with modern Britain,
and two-thirds said they felt negatively about protests led by the BNP or
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe is
considering whether to apply to UK Home Secretary Theresa May to ban EDL and
BNP demonstrations. Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper: "We stand together
against violent extremism, intolerance and hatred, whether it comes from
Islamist extremists, the EDL, the BNP, or extremists of any kind."
Nearly 100 imams and Muslim groups have signed a letter condemning the
"outrageous attack" on Rigby: "We share the absolute
horror felt by the rest of British society at the sick
and barbaric crime that was committed in the name of our religion. We
condemn this heinous atrocity in the strongest possible terms. It is a
senseless act of pure depravity worthy of nothing but contempt."
reporting from the
Michael Adebolajo behind
Al Muhajiroun preacher
Anjem Choudary, 2007
Choudary said Friday that
Adebolajo was "making his
voice heard in blood"
The Association of German Chambers of Commerce
and Industry (DIHK) released the results of a survey showing that
exporting companies are losing their optimism. While 30% still expect
overseas turnover to rise, 12% believe it will fall. EU statistics for
2013 Q1 show that 9 of 17 EZ states are now in recession: the EZ economy
as a whole shrank by 0.2% and the German GDP grew by only 0.1%. The DIHK
lowered its projection for German GDP growth for 2013 from 0.7% to 0.3%.
Lee Rigby, 25, a drummer in
Royal Regiment of Fusiliers
who had fought in Afghanistan,
was butchered in Woolwich by Muslim fanatics. He leaves a widow and a
Photo: Bettina Strauss
Human Universal Load
NASA X-1 exoskeleton
Big Data: Google
Google X Labs built the world's largest
artificial neural network. It watched YouTube videos for a week and learned
all about cats. Then it learned to recognize voices and interpret Google
StreetView images. The work could boost Google Glass, Google image search, and even Google web search.
Big Data: SAP
The SAP HANA platform
uses a new generation of
columnar databases resident
in memory and running on
America braces for a plague
of billions of
University of Connecticut
biologist John Cooley:
who say that it's
gross are probably the same people who are quite happy
to catch the subway in
Manhattan in close proximity
to a million-plus
Give me cicadas any day."
2013 May 25
In around 2004, Woolwich fanatic
Michael Adebolajo became Mujahid. He converted to Islam and took a new name.
Mujahid means jihadist on the way of Allah.
Adebolajo, 28, and fellow suspect
Michael Adebowale, 22, are in hospital after being shot by armed officers
following the death of Lee Rigby. The initial police response was slow.
Police arrived to find two men who had apparently just butchered another
man, speaking relatively calmly to passers-by. Facing dangerous and armed
suspects, they then waited for firearms teams to arrive.
Adebolajo complained of harassment by the British security service MI5,
which had been observing him since 2005. Officials knew both suspects were
involved on the fringes of militant activities. A friend of Adebolajo, Abu
Nusaybah, said in a BBC Newsnight interview that Adebolajo had told him six
months ago that MI5 had been "knocking on his door" and had added: "They are
bugging me — they won't leave me alone." Nusaybah is now in police custody
under the Terrorism Act.
Adebolajo grew up in England. His parents
came from Nigeria and he went to church regularly. After he left college in
2003, his mother said he hung out with a bad crowd and joined a violent
street gang. He then converted to Islam and began to attend meetings and
demonstrations of the group Al Muhajiroun, which calls for imposition of
sharia and restoration of the caliphate. The group was founded by Omar Bakri
Mohammed, who said of the future assassin: "I knew him as Michael when he
came to our meetings. He asked many questions about the religion."
In 2007, Bakri Mohammed called for his followers to kidnap British soldiers
in Iraq and Afghanistan and kill him them on video. His audio message: "If
you meet Westerners, cut their throats." Pictures (left) show Adebolajo that
year among protesters outside a London police station, behind Al Muhajiroun
leader Anjem Choudary.
On Friday, Choudary said he had known Adebolajo: "He attended
our meetings and my lectures ... He was a pleasant, quiet guy. He converted to
Islam in about 2003. He was just a completely normal guy. He was interested
in Islam ... He disappeared about two years ago."
Choudary added: "We must concentrate on why this incident took place. That is the
presence of British forces in Muslim countries and the atrocities they've
committed, and how the Muslim community in this country are under pressure
due to draconian laws which have tried to silence them ... Some members of the
Muslim community struggle to express themselves and he is making his voice
heard in blood."
British National Party leader Nick Griffin visited
Woolwich on Friday. He tweeted that the killers should be wrapped in "pig
skin" and shot again. The English Defence League said the killing shows
Britain is "at war" with Islamic extremism. It will stage a march on
Saturday in Newcastle.
Ministers see the need to do more to prevent
young people from getting involved with extremist groups. They will ask universities to draw up guidelines
on how to handle unwelcome preachers.
Conservative Muslim forum
vice-chair Mohammed Amin urged the government to publish a list of
proscribed preachers: "Too many times institutions say they would have
banned someone if they had known about their background, but by then it is
too late. Only government has the resources to publish this list and to be
free of the threat of legal action."
MI5 head Andrew Parker will
report to the parliamentary committee probing what the service knew of the
Woolwich terror suspects.
With reporting from Daily Mail, The
Guardian, The Independent, and Der Spiegel
Ian Stewart + AR
In his 1959 Rede Lecture, C.P. Snow famously
deplored what he saw as a gulf between the two cultures of arts and
A third culture overlapping art and science is mathematics.
Though often called queen of the sciences, mathematics itself is not quite a
science because mathematical truths are established by logical proof, not by
experiment. But it lacks the freedom of expression so central to art,
because it is constrained by the need to be consistent with established
Although mathematics is rightly counted among the sciences
for the purposes of government funding and educational administration, the
nature and importance of mathematics do not rest solely on its practical
uses. Mathematics may be one of the most creative areas of human activity.
Bertrand Russell: "Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only
truth, but supreme beauty."
Jay Elwes + AR
author Lee Smolin says Einstein was wrong about time. We need to rethink the
idea that physics is the search for timeless laws of nature.
mathematization of physics and the reduction of the universe to a
mathematical object have confused physicists. Smolin sees multiverse theory
and other such concepts as nonsensical because they fail to take time into
account. He thinks time has been pushed out of physics, and now is the time
to pull it back in.
Smolin admits his diagnosis may be wrong. But he
says only a falsifiable thesis is scientific. And too much physical theory
today is metaphysics.
2013 May 24
Matthew J.X. Malady
John Richards is the
founder and chairman of the
Apostrophe Protection Society: "The apostrophe
plays a vital part in written English. Just take the sign outside a block of
flats: Residents' refuse to be placed in bins. Remove the apostrophe and you
see a very different notice."
But the trend looks unpromising for
apostrophes as a standard in written English. Corporations remove them from
their brand names. Texting teenagers drop them. Writers and language nuts
have been saying they are unnecessary for decades.
Eats, Shoots &
Leaves author Lynne Truss says the apostrophe was first used in the English
language as a signifier of omitted letters during the 16th century, then for
possessives in the 17th century, and its plural possessive form came in the
18th. Truss: "Getting your itses mixed up is the greatest solecism in the
world of punctuation."
English is full of confusing expressions, but
we manage. University of Michigan language historian Anne Curzan: "The level
of consistency we now have come to expect in terms of spelling and
punctuation is a relatively new phenomenon."
MIT cognitive scientist
Ted Gibson created the
Kill the Apostrophe website. It claims the apostrophe
"serves only to annoy those who know how it is supposed to be used and to
confuse those who don't" and says apostrophes are redundant, wasteful,
snobbish, and anachronistic.
Gibson points out that language is full
of ambiguity, but again we manage: "We use whatever information sources
there are — word frequencies, syntactic frequencies, local context,
knowledge of what's possible and what’s impossible, world knowledge — to
Gibson: "If we just had some time to learn the new
writing of she'll or he'll, without the apostrophe, there'd be no problem.
The context in which hell is used versus he'll are so different that there
is just no way that people would have any trouble learning that."
Curzan: "In that instance, it's true that the apostrophe is useful. Removing
it there would be a loss. Would people be hopelessly confused and unable to
Chairman Richards made no comment.
Alok Jha, Marcus du Sautoy
Eric Weinstein has a new
theory to explain dark matter and dark energy, the generation problem in
elementary particle physics, and the unification of quantum mechanics and
general relativity. His 14D "observerse" has our 4D spacetime continuum
embedded in it, has no missing dark matter, has dark energy as a fifth
fundamental force, and includes more than 150 new elementary particles.
Boltzmann brains are
free-floating conscious entities that form spontaneously in outer space
Expel The Extremists!
Senior Tory MP Bob Stewart, a former Army colonel,
called the Woolwich attack depraved and disgusting. He said the Human Rights
Act should be scrapped immediately to allow the authorities to take tougher
action against terror suspects and those who encourage them: "Personally I
would like to see anyone who advocates violence out of our country on the
first airplane back to wherever they came from. These people are advocating
violence and I hate it. I have fought all my life as a soldier against
terrorism and this actually irritates the hell out of me."
2013 May 23
The murder in London is a horror. The suffering of
Muslims offers no excuse for it, of course, but the traditions of jihad and
of halal slaughter don't exactly head off the danger of such
Pennies From Heaven
Internet prophets predict that machines will soon
outstrip humans and uplift us all to nerd nirvana. Skeptics are welcome to
take a $25,000 course at Singularity University in Silicon Valley.
To Save Everything, Click Here
Evgeny Morozov aims to debunk the belief that all
problems can be fixed through logic and data. He was raised in Belarus
during the waning years of the Soviet Union. The vogue for turning everyday
activities into computer games that spit out token rewards has for him an
unpleasantly familiar ring.
Internet zealots envision the internet as
an autonomous entity with its own inherent logic and development. This
ideology is a religion. Its proselytizers seek to reconfigure life by
eliminating its bugs with their new tools. But not all bugs are bugs. Some
bugs are features.
Morozov: "Technological amnesia and complete
indifference to history remain the defining conditions of contemporary
Who Owns the Future?
By Jaron Lanier
Jaron Lanier is a repentant Silicon Valley
pioneer. He sees danger in its ideology of freedom and empowerment.
Information only appears to be free on the internet. In reality, users give
personal data to companies and get services in return. The companies turn
this data into Big Data and sell it to advertisers. They are getting filthy
rich as they fob off users with treats.
Lanier says capitalism can
survive only by monetizing all information. To balance the information
economy, anyone who provides information that supports a profitable
enterprise should receive a micropayment. We would have to pay for browsing
online, but we would also be paid in turn with pennies from heaven.
AR Beware Neosoviet seduction by data-driven rationalism
(DDR) but build out the information
economy so that I can live on pennies from heaven — Thus spake Zaross.
"In American popular culture and
opinion, Iran remains the embodiment of an extremist Islam that is no more
rational than ... the Salafi extremism of Al-Qa'ida and the Taliban."
1 Free Will
Free will is
the most difficult and the most important philosophical problem confronting
us today. It's important because of the longstanding tradition that free
will is a prerequisite for moral responsibility. Our system of law and
order, of punishment, and praise and blame, promise keeping, promise making,
the law of contracts, and criminal law all depend on one notion or another
of free will.
Neuroscientists, physicists, and philosophers say that science
has shown us that free will is an illusion. They don't shrink from the
implication that our systems of law are built on foundations of sand. In
fact, there is nothing we have learned from neuroscience that undercuts the
foundation for both the law of contract and criminal law. We don't have
ultimate responsibility because our choices are always in some ways the
result of things we didn't choose.
Spokespeople for religion chastise the new atheists for attacking the
most simplistic forms of religious belief and leave their most
intellectually subtle versions untouched. There's a smidgen of truth in
that, but they bring it on themselves by changing the rules and shifting the
goalposts. I have made a concerted effort over the years to understand
sophisticated philosophical theology and have never come up with anything
that I thought could sit in the light of day and be defended.
If I go to a scientific conference I come
away with a bunch of new things to think about. If I go to a philosophy
conference I may come away just having learned four more wrinkles in the
debate about something philosophers have been thinking about for all my
The history of philosophy is a history of very tempting
mistakes made by very smart people, and if you don't learn that history
you'll make those mistakes again and again. One of the ignoble joys of my
life is watching very smart scientists reinvent second-rate philosophical
AR DD near enough verbatim
2013 May 22
Richard Wagner was born 200 years ago today. Regarded as one of the greatest
Germans of all time, he divides Germans as much as he delights them.
Welt cultural commentator Manuel Brug: "Only Jesus, Napoleon, and Hitler
have had more written about them."
UK — EU
Euroskeptics claim that the euro crisis
will lead to a more federal EU. But divisions within Europe are widening.
Most EU countries outside the EZ will stay there. A United States of Europe
is not inevitable.
Lord Lawson says the real economic opportunities
for Britain now lie in emerging markets, and will be better exploited if the
UK withdraws from the EU. But Britain still sells a lot more to Europe than
to emerging markets. Norway and Switzerland are outside the EU, and to get
access to the EU single market they have to accept rules they have no say in
making. This is a bad deal for them.
Lord Lawson says EU membership
has led British industry to miss opportunities in Asia. But German
manufacturers have done very well exporting to China from inside the EU. And
if Euroskeptics find the bureaucrats of Brussels high-handed, they should
try Beijing. China would find it easier to push the British around if they
left the EU, the world's largest trading bloc.
Other BRIC countries
are no better. European law may be annoying, but it is a lot better than the
Indian or Russian legal systems. The idea that Britain can do better in Asia
by leaving the EU is absurd.
emulating the USA with a USE. Perhaps a People's Republic of Europe?
Proving the hardest Weil conjecture won
Pierre Deligne the 2013 Abel Prize
The Color of
Money: Reclaiming our Humanity
WPC 14, Seattle, WA, April 10-13, 2013
Paul Gorski: "I got married. I participated in an oppressive tenure
system at my university. I used big banks. These are some of the things that
make me a racist, a sexist, and a heterosexist."
2013 May 21
The Stillborn God: Lilla is too indulgent of old theological confusions
for my taste. After a good run-up to the Third Reich, his account falls
apart and ends in confusion. The old ideas just don't work for
see Coral for a new account of the more recent years.
EU — UK
Berlin plans limited EU treaty changes to streamline EZ
decision making. Angela Merkel is unhappy with the slow pace of EZ
banking union but doesn't want to give the UK an opening to renegotiate
the terms of its EU membership. David Cameron had planned to derail EZ
reform to repatriate powers from Brussels.
Tools For Thinking
1 Use your mistakes
Whenever you make a mistake, take a deep breath and then examine it
ruthlessly and dispassionately. Savor your mistakes, delight in uncovering
what led you astray. Then you can set them behind you and go on to the next
big opportunity. Scientists make their mistakes in public so that everybody
can learn from them. This way, you get the benefit of everybody else's
experience, and not just your own. You can make big mistakes in public and
emerge none the worse for it. People love it when somebody admits to making
a mistake, and they love pointing out mistakes.
2 Respect your opponent
If there are obvious
contradictions in your opponent's case, then you should point them out. If
there are hidden contradictions, you should expose them to view and then
dump on them. But don't overdo it. The thrill of the chase encourages
uncharitable interpretation, which gives you an easy but irrelevant target.
The best antidote I know for poor targeting is to (1) rephrase the target
position as clearly and fairly as you can, (2) list any points of agreement,
(3) mention anything you have learned, and (4) only then go ahead and
rebut or criticize the position. Your targets will appreciate it.
When you're reading arguments, look for
"surely" in the text and check each occurrence. The word "surely" marks the
edge of what the author is sure about and hopes readers will also be sure
about. The author makes a judgment call and has plumped for bald assertion,
anticipating agreement. This is where you might find a "truism" that isn't
Answer rhetorical questions
Develop a sensitivity
for rhetorical questions in any argument or polemic. They represent an
author's eagerness to take a short cut. A rhetorical question is not meant
to be answered. That is, the author doesn't bother waiting for you to answer
since it's supposed to be obvious. But try to find a less obvious answer.
If you find a good one, surprise your interlocutor with it.
A modern form of this old rule of thumb is:
Don't multiply entities beyond necessity. Don't concoct a complicated theory
if you can find a simpler one that works as well. But extensions of the
principle are sometimes met with disagreement. Turning it into a
metaphysical principle or fundamental requirement of rationality is
ludicrous. It's just an old saying, like: Don't put all your eggs in one
6 Don't waste
your time on crap
Sturgeon's law: 90% of everything is crap.
A good moral to draw from this observation is that when you criticize
anything big or difficult, don't waste time hooting at the crap. Go after
the good stuff or leave it alone. We can agree that there is a great deal of
deplorable, second-rate stuff out there, of all sorts. So concentrate on the
best stuff you can find, not the dregs.
7 Beware of deepities
A deepity is a
proposition that seems both important and true, and profound, but does so by
being ambiguous. On one reading, it is manifestly false, but it would be
earth-shaking if it were true; on the other reading, it is true but trivial.
The unwary listener picks up the glimmer of truth and the devastating
importance and thinks: Wow, that's profound. Here's a deepity: Rowan
Williams described his faith as "a silent waiting on the truth, pure
sitting and breathing in the presence of the question mark".
AR Good man, Dan.
2013 May 20
The Stillborn God by Mark Lilla.
Much of my perspective in the
orange, green, and yellow chapters of Coral seem to me now to fall in
shadow Lilla cast and hence invite more insightful thought and elaboration. For example, I
should discuss Hobbes
and Rousseau, say more about Kant and Hegel, quote Schleiermacher and
Troeltsch. But a new edition will soon turn into a new book, with a more
academic orientation. Then my hopes of wider sales will evaporate. Ah, the
perils of authorship.
I started Storyline after I’d accomplished all my
goals and still wasn’t happy. I’d become a New York Times bestselling author
and yet I was less happy after accomplishing my goals than I was before. So
I began researching what really makes people happy and content. I found that
it has nothing to do with fame or money and everything to do with the health
of our relationships and our interest in our own work. Serving people rather
than trying to impress them is the foundation. So I created a life plan for
myself, then shared it with others and found that it helped them heal and
recover from a life of pursuing success. Now I consider it my life's work.
It fills my life with a deep sense of meaning.
Storyline is basically
a company that helps people tell better stories with their lives. Through
conferences, websites, and individualized training, we create life plans and
career paths for people who want to live meaningful lives. What we all want
most is a deep sense of meaning. When we find that, our emotional health
stabilizes and we can enjoy life, regardless of our life circumstances.
Every human being is searching for a deep sense of meaning and yet we're all
Meaning is something we experience more than we
attain. It's like finding a current in a river that carries you through
life. And we begin to experience it when we have three things:
1 A project to work on that captures our
passions and in some way serves others
community, family, or partner to share love with
A redemptive perspective on our suffering
If we have those three
things, we experience a deep sense of meaning. It sounds simple but it
AR Unusually for a live feed, I
found this piece needed almost no editing. So it must be good.
Most Scots oppose leaving the EU. For them, UKIP
might as well be named English Independence Party. Scotland can avoid the
risk of being cast out of the EU by voting for independence from the UK
before the English get the chance to vote on Europe.
Scotland will hold a referendum in September 2014 to decide
whether to stay in the UK. A poll shows 36% of Scots support independence
from the UK now (with 44% opposed), but 44% do (with 44% still opposed) if it looks like the UK will leave the EU.
With Nigel Farage and the
"swivel-eyed loons" riding high in the English charts, Scots now have to
consider passport controls and currency exchanges along the Tweed. Scots
wait a lifetime for a referendum, and then two of them come along at once.
Islam is not a race, yet Islamophobia has racist
characteristics. Most Muslims are born into their religion, but there are
more than a billion variations of lived belief among people who call
themselves Muslim. Islamophobes refuse to acknowledge these variations.
Lived religion is an individual thing. Very few people of
any faith live their lives as literalist interpretations of scripture. Many
people have little or no knowledge of scripture at all. Many others choose
to interpret what they know in ways that fit their own moral sense of what
is good. Still others live their lives divorced from any sense of faith.
People say my novel
Fundamentalist is about a man who becomes an Islamic fundamentalist. He
is a Pakistani student at Princeton. When he gets his dream job in New York,
he exclaims, "Thank you, God!" That's the only real hint that he's
religious. He doesn't quote scripture, he drinks and has sex out of
marriage, and he could have secular views. And yet he calls himself a
Muslim, and is angry with US foreign policy, and grows a beard. That leads
people to read him as an Islamic fundamentalist.
Taylor Swift scooped 8 out of her 11 nominations at the Billboard music
awards in Las Vegas,
including top artist and top Billboard 200 album for
Police hustled UKIP leader
Farage to safety in
Edinburgh after protesters
scum off our streets!"
$300 000 000 000
David Cameron told Tories
to "stop banging
on about Europe".
while he is in the US,
about 114 Conservative MPs
voted in Parliament for
amendment to the Queen's
Speech regretting the lack
of a bill
Labour and Lib Dems voted against
the amendment, and
it was defeated by 272 votes
Cameron had ordered
his ministers to abstain but
free to vote for it.
On May 13, a big flare erupted from
the Sun, shown here on
the left edge.
2013 May 19
There cannot be a unilateral solution in Syria.
The rebels are hundreds of different groups and bands. Each group has its
local leader. We can't discuss a timetable with a party if we don't know who
they are. Many are linked to foreign countries and cannot make a decision
for themselves. They say they don't want a dialog with the Syrian state.
Believing that a political conference will stop terrorism on the ground is
unreal. In any case, to resign would be to flee.
The west lies and
falsifies evidence to engineer wars. People from Hezbollah and Iran have
been coming and going in Syria since long before the crisis. Intervention is
a clear probability, especially after we've managed to beat back armed
groups in many areas of Syria. As for excessive force, the issue is not the
extent of the force used or the type of weapon but the nature and extent of
the terrorism we have suffered, and thus what is a proper response.
Israelis In Golan
When Israel allegedly bombed weapons sites in
Syria in early May, the Israeli government reacted coolly to Syrian threats
of war and said Bashar al-Assad was too beleaguered to retaliate. But Israelis
in the Golan Heights think differently. Alonei Habashan community manager
Israel Bar: "We've lived here quietly for years, and all the sudden we feel
Elisha Yelin was among the young pioneers who founded
Kibbutz Merom Golan, on the Syrian border, soon after Israel captured the
Golan Heights from Syria in the Six-Day War in 1967. On the night of the Yom
Kippur War in 1973, Yelin told me all the women and children were evacuated
and the men were driven off to fight at the front. A Syrian division blazed
into the Golan Heights, then stopped to wait for a second division to catch
up. That delay cost Syria the Golan.
Yelin drove me down to the
border crossing between Syria and Israel. Israel Radio played tape of
Syria's minister of information saying the Golan Heights belong to Damascus.
Yelin looked at the Syrian flag flying high: "I have no problem with the
Syrian flag. This is a sign of government, of control, of something you can
trust. I will be afraid if there will be no Syrian flag."
2013 May 18
Big Data is the next big thing. It promises
both total control and the logical management of our future lives. An
estimated 2.8 ZB of data was created in 2012, with a predicted volume of 40
ZB by 2020. This exponential growth doubles every two years.
and Facebook are giants of Big Data. But many other organizations are
analyzing all this data. Memory is cheap, so new computers can analyze a lot
of data fast. Algorithms create order from chaos. They find hidden patterns
and offer new insights and business models.
At a TED conference in Oxford in 2009, Henry Markram announced a plan to
deliver a sentient hologram within a decade. He hoped to wipe out all mental
disorders and create a self-aware AI. And he said he would do all this by
building a complete model of a human brain and running it on a supercomputer. In January 2013, the
European Commission awarded him a billion euros to try.
Far Side cartoon: I'm a magazine editor, and the
galley of an article comes back from a proofreader with a word circled and a
comment in the margin like "Does this word exist?" Usually the word is
simple and its meaning is obvious. Yes, of course it exists. There it is, on
Or the reader asks, "Is this word in the dictionary?" I
like dictionaries and use them often. But no dictionary contains every word
in the language. New fields constantly generate words that aren't in a
dictionary. Foreign words appearing in English are left out too. Words are
invented all the time.
Some readers see dictionaries as legal code
for language with verdicts on spelling and meaning and grammar. Others see
them as less. A person of wide reading rarely needs their help. If you write
for a living, you might occasionally stop and see what the dictionary has to
say about a word. The lexicographer has boiled the entry down to basics, but
you ask yourself if a given sense matches yours.
A committed writer
should be wary of substituting a lexicographer's sense of a word for his
own. There is always much more to know about a word than what a dictionary
can tell you. A good writer tries to avoid saying what has already been
said. Nothing worth writing is written from a dictionary.
Temple Grandin is a professor of
animal science at Colorado State University, a successful businesswoman, and
one of our most astute interpreters of autism.
2013 May 17
ER Want Brexit
Philip Stephens + AR
On the question of Europe, David Cameron is
in office but not in power. The Eurosceptic Right (ER) is bundling him along
the path to Brexit. British voters are cool on the EU and stone cold on the
UKIP-ER line is that British troubles are down to Johnny Foreigner.
Brexit would be a hard blow to the EU as well as
the UK. But the German and other EU governments have their own red lines.
They can offer Britain assurances about the future, but they can't just let
a member opt out of things it finds inconvenient. That way lies madness.
Some in the ER would consider staying in the EU on radically different
terms. But the terms challenge such basic EU tenets as free movement of
people, the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, and the single
market. Britain's partners can only say No.
Cameron must win the next
election to deliver on his pledge. Labour looks weak and its poll lead is
soft. Ed Miliband could be pushed into promising a referendum too. A Labour
government might well lose it. So even in opposition, the ER could get
Vince Cable + AR
British Conservatives should know better. Global
companies will ponder the wisdom of staying or investing in a country where
they can expect years of debate over whether to tear up Britain's main
trade and investment network.
A soft exit
would keep access to the single market in return for a payment, like Norway.
The UK would face the same regulations but have no vote in shaping them.
A hard exit from the single market would put the UK behind the same
tariff wall as Turkey or Ukraine.
The net costs of EU membership are
tolerable. So why should Britain leave the EU? Conservatives care about the
City of London. They dislike EU financial services regulation, despite the
crisis of 2008.
After eight years as chancellor, Angela Merkel
defines an era.
candidate Peer Steinbrück says we are living in a second Biedermeier era.
The first began in 1815 and ended in 1848. The era featured conservative
monarchies in Germany. The Biedermeier style of the period furniture
symbolizes a quiet, homey torpor. But revolution broke out in 1848, and by
1871 a new nation state was born.
Merkel is no absolutist monarch,
but she has silenced dissent in Germany and created a torpid republic. She
has built a cosy home and Germans seem to like it. The German economy is
growing and incomes are rising. This nationalization of outlook is a
hallmark of the Merkel era. The chancellor endorses European solidarity but
Merkel would like other Europeans to learn from
Germany. Thus Germany can extend its influence in the world. This attitude
goes down well with German voters: Defend homeland values by working hard
to enjoy a quiet life. The second Biedermeier era is even more Biedermeier
than the first. As chancellor, Merkel quickly became Mommy.
sit back and enjoy life with Mommy? Two reasons:
We need conflict and commotion to stay awake.
There's still plenty worth changing in Germany.
Empathy is an instinctive mirroring of others'
experience. Psychopaths lack empathy. Simon Baron-Cohen equates empathy
erosion with evil. Maybe we should go for global empathic consciousness. But
1 Empathy needs an identifiable
victim. Psychologists asked subjects how much money they would give to help
develop a drug that would save the life of one child, and asked others how
much they would give to save eight children. The answers were about the
same. A third group was told a child's name and age, and shown her picture,
then donated far more.
2 Empathy doesn't help in politics.
Politicians fight over whom we should empathize with. Liberals argue for gun
control by focusing on the victims of gun violence. Conservatives point to
the unarmed victims of crime. Liberals in favor of federal safety
regulations invoke injured employees. Conservatives talk about small
businessmen bankrupted by petty rules.
3 Empathy can pull us in the
wrong direction. It can drive a lust for retribution heedless of
consequences. People were asked how to punish a company for
making a vaccine that killed a child. Some were told a big fine would make
the company work harder on safety. Others were told a big fine would
discourage it from making the vaccine, so lead to more deaths. Most wanted a
big fine anyway.
Our best hope for the future is to see that even if
we don't empathize with distant strangers, their lives have the same value
as the lives of those we love. Empathy will have to yield to reason in
Karl Marx had good ideas and bad ones. We should
separate them. The bad include the labor theory of value, the tendency of
the rate of profit to fall, and the Hegelian view of human history as
inevitable progress, for Marx from from slavery to communism. The good:
1 Ideas and their political movements are
closely tied to social structures and their economic interests. Marx got the
idea from Hegel.
2 Ostensibly free and
voluntary market exchanges contain elements of domination and exploitation.
Marx got the idea from Hegel.
capitalist market economy isn't an automatically self-regulating system but
periodically has crises. The latest one was in 2008.
AR I added the Hegel references.
2013 May 16
Japan Is Back
Japan grew faster than other G7 countries in 2013
Q1. Prime minister Shinzo Abe came to power in December and flooded the
economy with cash. The yen has fallen by about 20% since he took over, and
the stock market is up 70% in six months. Preliminary data show a real GDP
increase of 0.9%, or 3.5% annualized, so Japan has outpaced the US, where Q1
GDP grew by an annualized 2.5%. Analysts say Abenomics has accelerated the
AR A lesson for all Austerians
Google All Access
Google has launched an on-demand
subscription music service with web and mobile interfaces. It features
millions of songs to play, recommendations, charts and playlists, and
instant radio stations.
Everything from your Google Music locker is
automatically pulled into Google Play Music All Access. Everything else an
artist has on All Access is listed beneath your content and plays at a tap.
All Access is among the news at the Google I/O
conference in San Francisco. Google launched its music locker service two
years ago. Now Google Play users have a choice to stream rather than
The Next 100 Years
John Gray + AR
The next 100 years may too closely resemble the
last 100 for comfort. We still don't have world peace or global government.
Geopolitical rivalries merely have new players and higher stakes.
dwindling significance of Europe as a global player is a fact. The European
project produced 40 years of peace and prosperity. But austerity policies
have plunged the southern half of the continent into a state of permanent
depression. On the geopolitical map, Europe doesn't exist.
is less important. Today it boasts only natural resources. The country is
ruled by spy services and organized crime. Russia is an extractive state,
like China and India. Any new prosperity is distributed narrowly within a
Upheaval in the Arab world was fueled by the financial
crash, which raised food prices. The cost of buying off mass discontent in
Arab countries is rising. Oil-producing countries need high oil prices to
fund public spending. Saudi Arabia heads off unrest with repression and
Renewable energy may undermine the global
stranglehold of the oil cartel. Higher oil prices boost other energy
sources. Russia and Mideast producers depend on oil and will face crises.
The United States has renewable energy, domestic oil and gas, and other
sources of wealth, and so will emerge stronger.
The United States may
rebound as a major manufacturing economy. It remains the global haven for
capital. With huge inequalities of wealth, an endangered middle class, and
many poor people, American capitalism is flawed. Yet Americans can cope
better with low growth than any other people.
Without growth, the
tacit compact on which democracy is based may break down. When the social
product shrinks, issues of distribution become politically explosive,
particularly if people see government working to transfer wealth to the few.
Authoritarian regimes are also at risk, as in China.
factors are at work. The population of many poorer countries will rise, but
many societies are aging fast. In Europe, Japan, and the United States, debt
is left for future generations. When the next generation is smaller and
poorer than the last, the pyramid scheme stops.
The Chinese government relies on
growth to head off mass unrest. Corruption and elitism have hollowed out the
state. Order could break down if the rate of growth falls for a few years in
a row. But China is not going the way of the former Soviet Union. The idea
that China has replaced the Soviet Union in a bipolar world is incorrect.
China has returned to the role it played several centuries ago, as has
Democrats say their values are universal. Slavery and
persecution are bad. Freedom and tolerance are good. But democracy can also
work against human rights and universal values. Globalization has helped
billions of people, but volatile global markets leave them as insecure as
ever. We need new ideas.
AR My cut of a long text has changed its tone
and tendency so far Gray may not recognize it.
Hans Christian von Baeyer + AR
Physicists have grappled with
quantum paradoxes for about a century. Quantum theory is still considered
bizarre, a powerful recipe book for building gadgets but impossible to
understand. Confusion about the meaning of quantum theory makes people think
what it seems to be telling us about our world is irrelevant to everyday
life and too weird to matter.
Bayesianism (QBism, "cubism") combines quantum theory with probability
theory to recast the paradoxes and make them look less troubling. QBism
recasts the the wave function as a mathematical tool that any observer can
use to assign their justified belief that a quantum system will have a
specific property. So the wave function reflects an individual's
AR This, more or less, has been my take for many years. If I were a
young student again, I would study the view properly and map it to
foundational work in modal logic. But I think von Baeyer in his account has
confused subjective perspectives with personal and mental ideas that mess up
the view. In my take, quantum mechanics reflects the logical necessity to
model nature from within, to leave a part called the future unknown. But
"cubism" is cute.
A number p is prime if it's indivisible by anything
but 1 and p. Twin primes are pairs of prime numbers such that their
difference from each other is 2, so they are a distance of 2 apart. The twin
prime conjecture states that there are infinitely many such pairs.
A new proof affirms the easier conjecture
that there are infinitely many primes that have a neighboring prime a finite
distance d away, for some d larger than 2. Yitang Zhang has shown that there
is an infinite number of prime pairs for which d is at most 70 million. Now
we only need to cut d down to 2 to prove the twin prime conjecture.
The Goldbach conjecture is that every even number greater than 2 is the sum
of two primes. Harald Helfgott has now proved a related problem: the odd
Goldbach conjecture, which states that every odd number above 5 is the sum
of three primes.
AR No one said math was
Northrop Grumman X-47B UCAV makes historic flight
from CVN-77 USS George H.W. Bush.
has lifted Dante's Inferno
to the top of UK retailer
Brown: "Dante has had enormous influence on the Christian view of hell."
is released today.
Chinese Wing Loong drone
U.S. Reaper drone
Photo: J.T. Huber
Fairyflies are tiny
wasps that lay their eggs inside the eggs of bugs, beetles, flies, and
so on. Tinkerbella nana (above) is the smallest known insect: 7 males
could line up in 1 mm.
A new viral video
The British Psychological Society Division of Clinical
Psychology calls for a "paradigm shift" on mental health to change the
psychiatric model of mental distress as treatable by doctors using
drugs. The DCP has "fundamental concerns about the development, personal
impact and core assumptions" of psychiatric diagnoses.
DSM-5 is coming soon.
Austerity in the UK
Then and Now
Syria is awash in arms and rife
with divisions. Hardline Islamists are fierce and effective rebel
fighters. Violence will continue if the regime falls. Chaos,
criminality, and warlordism beset the liberated areas. We should resist
calls to supply the rebels with heavier weapons.
Photo: Dan Courter
Dan Brown releases
Inferno next week
Dante's Divine Comedy has three acts: Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso.
Nicholas Lezard recommends a cartoon version of Dante's Inferno.
Father of long tails
Against the Brahmins
U.S. Department of Defense
Annual Report to Congress
Military and Security
Developments Involving the
Photo: Eddie Mulholland
UKIP leader Nigel
People who are alert and engaged, who are eager
to debate, and who have some expertise to offer, drive the
Some public intellectuals have a committed
political stance. Others try to occupy neutral ground. The danger is
that people who emerge on the strength of expertise in a specialty are
seen as oracles on everything else.
Public intellectuals have
intelligence and engagement, and they speak out. Their ideas are the
cogs of history, and drive its progress.
Quantum Gravity and LIGO
Freeman Dyson has doubts
UKIP leader Nigel Farage
2013 May 15
Many British eurosceptics and European federalists
say there's no point in the UK staying in the EU but outside the EZ. They
say the EZ will set the agenda for the EU.
UK government can still reshape the EU. The scope of the EU goes beyond the
EZ to include the single market, competition, trade, energy, transport,
climate, the environment, farming, fishing, regional development, overseas
aid, foreign policy, defense, enlargement, justice, and home affairs. The UK
would have more clout in these areas if it:
Improved its economic performance
2 Strove to
maintain the authority of the European Commission
Did a better job of making friends in the EU
Grasped that the EU has commitments as well as rules
5 Took the initiative and showed leadership
where it has expertise
David Cameron has not shot the UKIP fox with his
promise of an EU referendum by 2017. The rise of UKIP is a xenophobic
response to austerity and impotence.
British opponents of the EU
lampoon Europe but are happy to bow down to the United States and the City
of London. Their agenda after leaving the EU would be to protect the
financial interests that led to crisis and ditch the social benefits that
most British people like about the EU. An EU exit would risk unleashing a
carnival of reaction, xenophobia, attacks on social rights, and lurches to
The British EU debate has largely ignored the progressive
case for change that is central to the struggle for change in Europe. The EU
has entrenched a failed neoliberal model of capitalism with deregulation,
privatization, and enforcement of corporate power over employment rights.
Its undemocratic and dysfunctional structures have been exposed by the EZ
crisis and the imposition of austerity.
Labour should back a
referendum. Ed Miliband has argued for comprehensive EU reform. He needs to
go a lot further to prevent the nationalist right dictating the EU agenda.
2013 May 14
Improve European Union
All Conservative cabinet ministers agree that we
should be spending the next period improving the EU and improving our
relations with the EU and then putting that choice to the British public in
a referendum. That is our policy.
The speech I made
on Europe had a very good reception from the business community in Britain,
who support it by and large, and a very good reception right across the
Conservative party and Conservative supporters. It also had a reasonable
reception in Europe, with a number of key European players recognizing this
was a legitimate agenda. That's a good start to the process.
AR I agree: Work to improve the EU. Let the UK
be a good neighbor.
Stephen Battersby + AR
Dark energy makes up more than two-thirds
of the universe, but we have no idea what it is or where it comes from.
"Nature has not been ready to give us any clues yet."
What we know so
1 Dark energy pushes. Space seems to
be expanding ever faster, as if repelled by antigravity.
2 There's a lot of it. We can see how much
matter there is in the universe, and the CMB from 12 Ts after the big bang
lets us work out the total density of matter plus dark energy. About 68% of
the universe (or 1 nJ/m^3) is dark and repulsive.
3 It's mysterious. As space expands there is
more and more of it, pushing against the fading gravity of the rest. Maybe
it's weird stuff called quintessence.
If dark energy keeps going, the
stars and galaxies will accelerate off into the distance, leaving us in the
dark. If it gets stronger, we might even be shredded in a Big Rip. We guess
the dark energy density is fairly stable.
The Dark Energy
Survey aims to look for signs of dark energy over a wide swathe of the
sky. It will see lots of supernovas pumping out photons that are more or
less redshifted by cosmic expansion. This lets us plot expansion over time
and gives us a sky map of a few hundred million galaxies. Sound waves in the
infant cosmos herded vast superclusters of galaxies that we can measure to
work out a better history.
If photons interact with dark energy, it
could rotate their polarization as they fly across the universe.
The Planck team plans to measure the polarization of CMB photons.
Carroll: "It is conceivable they will announce they have detected
John Templeton Foundation (JTF) supports research into the "Big Questions of
human purpose and ultimate reality" and likes to promote the idea that
science and religion are gradually reconciling.
Due to the efforts of many smart
people over the course of many years, scholars who are experts in the
fundamental nature of reality have by a wide majority concluded that God
does not exist. We have better explanations for how things work. The shift
in perspective from theism to atheism is arguably the single most important
bit of progress in fundamental ontology over the last five hundred years.
In my view, we have a responsibility to get the word out. And when we
blur the lines between science and religion, we do the world a grave
disservice. Religious belief exerts a significant influence over how the
world is currently run. Understanding the fundamental nature of reality is a
necessary starting point for productive conversations about morality,
justice, and meaning.
The JTF has done its best to spread the
impression that science and religion get along just fine. This impression is
false. But if anyone is tempted to award me the Templeton Prize, I will
totally accept it!
AR Keep dreaming,
2013 May 13
Former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind accused
Conservatives pushing for an amendment to the motion welcoming the Queen's
speech that laments the absence of an in/out referendum on EU membership of
"showing very poor judgment".
Rifkind accused (Conservatives pushing for (an amendment to (the motion
welcoming (the Queen's speech)) that laments (the absence of (an in/out
referendum on EU membership)))) of ...
Jacob Aron + AR
sells quantum computers. They use an adiabatic approach on qubits to allow
exponential speedup. But to be truly quantum, the qubits must be entangled.
Tests of the D-Wave device show indirect evidence for entanglement.
Catherine McGeoch has shown that a D-Wave computer can beat regular
machines. D-Wave hardware is designed to solve the traveling salesman
problem, which lies behind many practical applications.
the problem on a D-Wave Two computer, which holds 439 qubits in
superconducting niobium loops, and also ran it using three leading
algorithms running on a high-end PC. She gave each system roughly half a
second to find the best solution to a version of the problem, and repeated
the trial with 100 different versions. She then did the experiment for
problems involving even more variables and a more complicated equation.
The D-Wave machine was much faster. It found the best solution every
time within half a second. The three regular algorithms struggled to keep up
for problems with more than 100 or so variables. The best of the three,
CPLEX, had to run for half an hour on the largest problems.
Liel Leibovitz + AR
The BBC TV series Doctor Who has aired going
on 800 episodes since it began in 1963. The Doctor, a member of a superior
race called the Time Lords, occasionally slips into a new body, acquiring a
new face and a new personality. Eleven actors have played him thus far.
Doctor Who was created by Sydney Newman, who was born in
Toronto to Russian Jewish immigrants. Newman worked with the Canadian
National Film Board and spent World War 2 making propaganda films. He
eventually got a job at the BBC. In 1963, a few months after his arrival, he
came up with the idea for the Doctor Who series.
Newman's hero is wildly
intelligent and intergalactically cosmopolitan, with a biting sense of humor
and a commitment to putting things right. He is constantly wandering, never
at home. His relation is not to space but to time. Once he said his family
sleeps in his mind, a haunting intimation of loss.
The Doctor is
surrounded by a host of warlike species who view him as pesky and effete yet
oddly omnipotent. Most celebrated among these baddies are the Daleks,
crackly-voiced aliens who trundle around in armored turrets with little guns
sticking out of them. Their creator was Terry Nation, who recalled the
wartime terror of watching Germany led by a murderous maniac and who gave
Daleks the catchphrase: "Exterminate!"
With this timeless conflict of
the canny Jew versus the canned Nazis, Doctor Who ran for 26 seasons,
finally fading away in 1989. By 2005, the British were ready for more. All
the old enemies were back for another run, but new and more terrifying foes
joined the party, making the Jewish theme even more obvious.
among them was the Silence, a religious order devoted to ancient prophecies.
Their terrifying quality is that people forget them immediately after seeing
them. They travel the world with the sole purpose of assassinating the
Doctor, lest he answer the oldest question in the universe. Recall that
Exodus chestnut in which the creator says no man shall see his face and
live: Doctor Who?
How To Make Sex Boring
Lisa Levy + AR
Alain de Botton is the author of How To Think More
About Sex, an amusing little study of contemporary assumptions about sex,
marriage, and relationships, regarded strictly from the point of view of a
bored, married, middle-aged man who dabbles in philosophy and fancies
himself an intellectual.
The man does not interrogate what a queer theorist
might call heteronormative practices and he never explores any type of
relationship outside of monogamous marriage. In fact his book utterly lacks
imagination and a sense of curiosity. It might be the most boring book ever
written about sex.
On eros: "The more closely we analyze what we
consider 'sexy,' the more clearly we will understand that eroticism is the
feeling of excitement we experience at finding another human being who
shares our values and our sense of the meaning of existence."
only stands on show are against pornography and for adultery. The author advocates
censorship of the internet but likes a bit of nookie on the side: "That a
couple should be willing to watch their lives go by from within the cage of
marriage, without acting on outside sexual impulses is a miracle of
civilization and kindness for which they ought both to feel grateful on a
AR Thumb firmly down.
2013 May 12
The conflict in Syria is dragging in the
entire region. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is now more vulnerable than
ever. Analysts say Syria is in danger of becoming the next Somalia. But Syria
would be worse. Its religious and ethnic fault lines extend across borders
in every direction. Somalia never had chemical weapons, missiles, or modern armor. And Somalia never hosted a vicious struggle between Sunnis and Shiites. Why Syria suddenly looks more
Israelis look on
anxiously. They have not admitted carrying out air strikes, but they need to
prevent the transfer of advanced missiles to Hezbollah. Assad has a history
of not retaliating against Israel. But in weakening the Assad regime, Israel
may strengthen well organized and potent jihadist groups.
Syria has descended into sectarian horror. Moderates have
been sidelined. The Free Syrian Army coexists with a strong Sunni jihadi
element. The regime is mobilizing irregular Alawite militia and Hezbollah
fighters. The Syrian opposition sees Iran and Hezbollah everywhere.
3 Existential Endgame
The Syrian regime is launching counterattacks against
areas controlled by rebel factions. Assad relies on shabiha loyalists with
an existential stake in the regime's survival. Some say give the rebels more
missiles and communications and pick off regime forces from the air.
4 Chemical Weapons
For much of last year, Obama's "red line" seemed
largely hypothetical. But as the regime grows more desperate and control
of chemical weapons more difficult, it seems chemical agents have been
used. How much, of what, by whom?
Iraq: Weapons cross
border for Syrian resistance, Syrian and Iraqi
Turkey: Hosts 322,000 Syrian refugees, with another 100,000
clamoring to cross.
Jordan: Trying to cope with 450,000 Syrian refugees
in makeshift camps.
Lebanon: Hosts 455,000 Syrian refugees.
Salafists declare jihad against Syrian regime.
The United States and
Russia are calling for an international conference. Secretary of State
John Kerry: "The alternative is that Syria heads closer to the abyss, if not
over the abyss and into chaos."
Freedom of speech is essential to democratic life.
We can develop our human capacities more fully if we participate in
self-government and deliberate about important public questions.
Participating in self-government is character building. When we concern
ourselves with public affairs and take responsibility for the fate of the
community as a whole, we exercise faculties that would otherwise lie
Economics presents itself as an autonomous science.
Economists often assume that markets don't touch or taint the goods they
exchange. But the market mechanism changes the meaning of an activity and
crowds out other attitudes and norms. We need to ask whether people making
deals are acting voluntarily or are coerced by their circumstances, and
whether what they do is degrading. We have to reason together in public
about the right way to value goods.
Justice is a virtue of social
institutions. Other virtues to do with community, fellow feeling,
solidarity, self-government, and the scope and quality of public
deliberation may all have a bearing on justice. What counts as a good
society embroils us in questions of virtue and the good life.
Brain surgery requires at least two frightening qualities
in its practitioners: the will to make forcible entry into another person's
skull, and the hubris to believe you can fix the problems inside.
— Luke Dittrich
Brain images of twin girls joined at the head reveal
a bridge between the thalamus of one girl and the thalamus of her sister.
The thalamus joins the neural loops that create consciousness. The sensory
input that one girl receives might cross that bridge to the other. One girl
drinks, another girl feels it.
— Susan Dominus
professor of psychosomatics gave a lecture with two halves. In the first, he
showed images of fleas, lice, people scratching, and the like. The second
half showed soft down, baby skin, and bathers. Video cameras recorded the
audience. People were scratching themselves much more during the first half
than during the second.
— Atul Gawande
We are our connectomes. Our unique
selves are etched into the wiring of our brains. Connectomes are forever
being molded and remolded by life experience. The connectome is where nature
meets nurture. Advances in brain science and computer simulations of neural
networks may mean a cure for death.
— Evan R. Goldstein
criminal stands in court today, the legal system asks whether he is to
blame. This is the wrong question to ask. The choices we make arise from our
neural circuitry, and we have no meaningful way to tease the two apart. The
more we learn, the more complicated blame becomes.
— David Eagleman
Through studies of split-brain patients, neuroscientists regard the
healthy brain as two different machines, cabled together and exchanging a
torrent of data. When the primary cable is cut, information presented to one
hemisphere goes unnoticed in the other.
— David Wolman
To keep a
donor's organs viable, the respirator is left on and the heart keeps beating
until the surgeon removes the organs. Brain death is an artificial
distinction constructed on an unsound conceptual foundation. Perhaps
brain-dead patients aren't really dead at all.
— Gary Greenberg
2013 May 11
Paul W. Ragan
Men who use abuse to control a woman are termed
batterers. They have been studied for the presence or absence of alcohol or
drug abuse, whether or not the violence is intrafamilial or extends outside
the family, the presence or absence of criminality, and the presence or
absence of personality disorders.
They often grow up in families
fraught with strife, conflict, neglect, and violence. The theory is that
early life experiences cause developmental arrest of their psychological
maturation and personality formation. They are left with deep emotional
needs they feel totally inadequate to satisfy. Their self-concept is so
impaired and their self-esteem so low that they feel unable to compete in
the adult game of attracting and keeping a mate. When their attempts are met
by failure, their moral impairment and lack of empathy coupled with
unbridled anger and rage drive them to brutal sadism.
Anne Norton denies that Islam and the west are
involved in a clash of civilizations. She agrees with Jacques Derrida that
Islam is "the other of democracy" because Muslim states could retain their
distinctiveness while promoting democratic values.
that valid differences of orientation exist. But she sees options for
addressing the differences presented by a Muslim minority in a western
country. One could defer to their distinctiveness. Or the majority could try
to nudge "them" in the direction of being more like "us". Or one could try
to move "us" closer to "them". She prefers the third option.
Common ground is not always easy to find. But perhaps if we just pretend to be
receptive to our Muslim neighbors and no one disrupts our mutual
inattention, we can all go about our separate lives, ignorant of our
differences. Perhaps we can trust that all troublesome distinctiveness will
drop out of the equation. But many will suspect that this is neither the
most likely nor even the most desirable outcome.
the need for camouflage in the face of suspicion. But living as a chameleon
may be harder now that we all notice each other noticing each other.
Anonymity is stifling. We may avoid the clash at the cost of a
Alex Ross: "In the classical field it has long been
fashionable to fence music off from society, to declare it a self-sufficient
Ross assumes a
dichotomy between high and low art that leads him into reformulating the
position he seems to renounce. The fact of Hitler's undoubted musicality
torments Ross. Hitler was indeed a great music lover. He loved Wagner's
music. The real shocker is that Alex Ross still believes there can be
something morally ennobling about music.
Stalin had narrow but by no
means vulgar musical tastes. A frequent attendee at the Bolshoi, he also
listened to classical music on the radio, sang folksongs with a fine tenor
voice, and audited every single recording made in the Soviet Union, writing
judgements on the sleeves. Ross reads Shostakovich's Fourth
and Fifth symphonies to refute the idea that music is a non-representational
art form. He detects sarcasm and irony in many pieces
Shostakovich composed during the early Stalin years.
The problem for
classical music in the age of the dictators remains the same one that
classical music retains to this day: it remains an art form tainted by
association with vertiginous social hierarchies.
Ross offers a
fascinating narrative of classical music under the tyrannies of Hitler and
Stalin. But developments in compositional theory were irrelevant to what
music was saying, or being made to say. Marshall McLuhan: "The medium is the
Daniel Dennett says specialists can try talking to others:
"To explain their position under these conditions helps them find better
ways of making their points than they had ever found before."
Dennett presents intuition pumps to help
us think more clearly, or with more insight, about such topics as
consciousness, free will, meaning, and intentionality. Intuition pumps
condense a complex technical scenario into a vivid story that makes a point.
But we should beware of over-inflation. A flawed intuition pump, like
Occam's Broom, sweeps inconvenient facts under the rug.
Hofstadter is best known for his 1979 book Gödel, Escher, Bach. Together
with Emmanuel Sander, he now teases out the paradoxes and contradictions of
analogy, which is vastly more complex than we tend to assume. When we try to
make sense of an experience, we do so using a quick cognitive shorthand,
forging analogies between the latest and past experiences.
of analogical thinking is its odd recursiveness. Analogy as a rhetorical
device is an almost endless source of such entanglements. Analogies can be
creative, or mere wordplay.
2013 May 10
Say No To UK EU Referendum
Half of all Tory MPs want out of the European Union
now. David Cameron says he can win "fundamental reform" in Europe. His claim
that it "is in Britain's interest to remain the country that is uniquely
well connected to the world" is now the thin blue line between his party and
deliberately fudged. The UK will get no opt-outs, and any universal reforms
must be small enough not to need treaty change. No one wants any referendums
until the crisis is over. Austerity leaves rich Germany angry at paying for
poor nations, and poor voters outraged at the cuts.
Voters who want
out can vote for a party that wants out. Reasons to stay in are clear. US
banks and financiers only stay in the City as a gateway to the EU. Japanese
companies stay to trade in the EU. Trade with the EU from outside means
obeying the rules with no say on them.
Labour is staunch on staying
in Europe. Hold the line and hope to win through honesty and conviction.
That way lies democratic legitimacy. If Labour fails to change the
conversation and make the economy, growth, and jobs the great decider in
2015, it will have failed anyway.
War and humanity have evolved together from the
beginning. But humans are fallible. Drone pilots sit at their consoles for
hours analyzing video streams and suffer cognitive overload. Neuroscientists
are being called in to help.
The systems will become more autonomous. By 2015, drones
will be able to detect nearby aircraft and avoid them. They will soon
process their own video streams and dock unaided with tankers for flight
refueling. The pilots will be supervising robots.
Legal and moral
debates about drones forget the speed of war. The digital world is outpacing
human neural processing capabilities. Neurons for empathy and compassion in
the prefrontal cortex are bypassed under stress. Moral behavior emerges from
The US military plans to program machines with moral
heuristics to serve as a conscience. Empathy and compassion will be beyond
them, but they will be consistent. The reduction of inhumanity will balance
the loss of humanity.
DARPA says it is
blending the best of man and machine.
Neurohumanities (NH) may save the arts. Combining neuroscience with art
offers instant credibility.
UC Berkeley philosopher Alva Noë, a
neuroskeptic, sees the trend as a reaction to postmodernism. He argues that
NH is a rejection of the critical theory that dominated the American
humanities until the Sokal affair in 1996. Physics professor Alan Sokal
submitted a spoof paper on science to Social Text, then revealed all to show
the editors had no clothes. As critical theory dies, NH and literary
Darwinism are growing.
Critical theory made a fetish of haze and
ambiguity and what Noë calls "an allergy to anything essentialist". NH
offers mastery and is highly reductive. Neuroscience is now the way to
explain almost all human behavior.
London professor Semir Zeki, with the
Neuroesthetics in London and UC Berkeley, organized a study in which 10
people were shown 300 paintings while their heads were in a functional MRI
machine. They were asked to label the paintings as neutral, beautiful, or
ugly. The paintings they thought were beautiful led to increased activity in
their frontal cortex, while the ugly paintings led to a similar increase in
their motor cortex. Zeki's latest paper: "The neural sources of Salvador
Literary Darwinism recently scored against
feminism. Jonathan Gottschall compared over 1400 folktales from a range of
cultures to examine the claim "that European tales reflect and
perpetuate the arbitrary gender norms of western patriarchal societies" and
found biosocial norms that all cultures perpetuate.
the NH trend reduces people and culture to things "to be manipulated or made
AR I know Alva Noë. See
my Amazon review of his book Out of Our Heads.
2013 Ascension Day
Japan's new prime minister Shinzo Abe is ending 15
years of stagnation. Stock market gains have added nearly $1.5 trillion to
the market capitalization of Japanese companies. Toyota tripled its net
profits last year and sales at large retailers have posted their biggest
gains in 20 years. The central bank predicts economic growth of 2.9% for
2013. As to why, two catalysts stand out:
The 2011 tsunami was a shock. The Japanese headed off a crisis by cutting
energy consumption. Concern about energy caused businesses already full of
complaints to talk of a mass exodus.
China's economy overtook Japan's in 2010. Beijing is pressing claims to the
Japanese-administered Senkaku islands known as Diaoyu in China. Japan's new
sense of purpose might be its reply.
Abe responded to the slogan
"rich country, strong army" that rallied Japan after 1868. In Washington in
February he said: "Japan must stay strong, strong first in its economy, and
strong also in its national defense." After years of drift, Japan is
Israel and Syria
Syria was Israel's most feared enemy. But Syria cannot match Israel militarily and has found new ways to circumvent IDF superiority. The
regime has focused on defensive weapons that can hinder an Israeli attack
through the Golan Heights. And it supports Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic
The strategy persuaded Israel to withdraw from Lebanon
in 2000. Both sides maintained a balance of deterrence. But the balance was
wrecked by the Arab Spring. Suddenly, Israel stopped being afraid of Arab
strength and began to be worried about Arab weakness. In Syria,
revolt became civil war.
A quick end to the Syrian war would be a
problem for Israel. A failed state along the border is harder to
deter than a police state. If the Syrian opposition wins, it will quickly be
dominated by jihadists.The longer the fighting continues, the
more the regime is weakened. It looks like win-win.
Israel will act
if Syrian weapons go to Hezbollah or fall into the hands of
extremist rebels. IDF generals tend to take advantage of tactical
opportunities. So far, Syria has not retaliated. Analysts believe the Syrian
regime has no room to move. Retaliation would let the IDF destroy the Syrian
Israel should consider the possibility of an Iranian or
Lebanese response. Hezbollah is deeply involved in the civil war in Syria.
Iranian Revolutionary Guard units are also present. Analysts say Syria's
allies are too busy helping Assad fight for his survival and won't waste
time on clashes with the IDF.
Moths Hear Bats
Greater wax moths have good hearing. They are also a
pest. They grow up in beehives and eat beeswax. Adult moths gather in trees,
where males sing high-pitched sunset songs to females.
Their predators are bats. While the male moth's calls range from 90-95
kHz, bats echolocate at over 100 kHz, and some bats can squeak at over 200
Researchers tested the hearing of 20 adult greater wax moths by
playing sounds and measuring the moths' tympanal membrane vibrations and
auditory nerve signals.
Each sound was at 90 dB, less loud than most
bat squeaks. All the moths' tympanal membranes vibrated strongly to 300 kHz
sounds, and 15 of the 20 also showed strong neural signals.
need to detect bat calls quickly to survive. A sensor with a faster response
time will respond to higher frequencies. The moths' tympanal membranes are
2013 May 8
Israel's recent attacks risk retaliation and
further destabilization of its neighborhood. The first attack sought to deny
the transfer of arms that could alter the balance of power between Israel
and Hezbollah. Iran provides Hezbollah with funding and weaponry. Syria
serves as a transit route for Iranian forces and weapons. Israeli
strategists are gambling on three things:
1 Syria will not respond. Israel is a whipping
boy for Arab regimes seeking to distract attention from their own failures,
and Assad is too embattled to risk escalation. The Syrian opposition charges
that Assad has failed to protect Syrian soil. If Assad becomes desperate, he
may attack Israel.
2 Hezbollah will not
retaliate. Since 2006, Israel's border with Lebanon has been quiet. But now
Hezbollah forces are fighting beside Assad and have lost popularity in the
Arab world. Israel striking at Hezbollah's weapons damages its credibility.
They may be tempted to react.
Syrian regime will collapse. For Israel, the only thing worse than Assad's
regime in Syria would be chaos in Syria. The country would become an
incubator of jihad on Israel's border. Jihadists might use Syria's arsenals
against Israel. The border would again be a war zone.
can't resolve the chaos and uncertainty in Syria and Lebanon. Washington
Mideast Catastrophe Looms
Fawaz A. Gerges
The Syrian struggle has not only spread into
neighboring lands but is now a battlefield for Israel and Iran. The conflict
is in danger of escalating into a regional war pitting Iran and Hezbollah
against Israel, other regional powers, and the West.
involvement embarrasses the Syrian armed opposition because it not only puts
them on the same side as Israel but also reinforces President Bashar
al-Assad's claim that the struggle in Syria is a wider conspiracy
spearheaded by Israel and its regional allies and Western powers.
Iran is unlikely to retaliate
directly against Israel. Israel and its allies would have the upper hand.
But it is likely to deepen its involvement in Syria to support Assad. Only a
political solution can prevent a wider catastrophe in the Mideast.
No Referendum Now
From a letter to John Baron, MP, dated April 30:
"I completely understand the serious case you make for
legislation. You know, however, that this Government's legislative programme
is founded on the Coalition Agreement which did not include legislating in
this Parliament for an In-Out referendum. For the Government to be able to
bring forward the type of legislation you propose, we would require the
agreement of our Coalition partners which, as things stand, is not
Billions of cicadas will overrun the eastern
United States this spring. After 17 years underground, they will crawl out
of the earth in search of sex. The 25 mm bugs will make a big noise, up to
94 decibels, as the males sing for mates. After a few weeks, they will die
and their offspring will go to ground.
The males will come out first and climb up trees to grow wings and sing.
When a female comes close, the male changes his song, does a dance, and
mates. Each mated female lays 600 or so eggs on a branch. The offspring fall
out of the trees and burrow into the earth, to emerge in 2030.
mass emergence overwhelms predators. Ordinary cicadas come out every year
around the world, but these are red-eyed magicicadas, unique to the US east
coast. This year's invasion, Brood II, is one of the bigger ones. Experts
estimate there are 30 billion cicadas lurking underground.
2013 May 7
CORAL is due for a new edition, with
estimated release date 2014. The Right Reverend and Right Honorable Baron
Williams of Oystermouth, a.k.a. Dr. Rowan Williams, formerly Archbishop of
Canterbury and now Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, says it's "a
lively, provoking and hugely original essay" but feels the need for a more
focused conclusion. I see scope to add cameos on medieval theology, imperial
French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, late German Protestantism and the
Frankfurt school, existentialism and postmodernism, quantum mysticism and
possible worlds, Sloterdijk bubbles, computational mathematics, the rise of Facebook and
Twitter, and more besides. I guess the page count will rise to 400, but the
main change will be a new summary and conclusion.
Carsten Volkery + AR
British socialists have long admired the German
social market economy with its system of giving workers a say in corporate
decision-making, its state-owned savings banks that promote public welfare,
and its small and medium enterprises that plan for the long term.
Now the Conservative-Liberal
coalition is using at German ideas to get the British economy growing again.
It has launched apprenticeships for businesses to train their own employees,
a new state-owned business bank to give loans to small and medium
enterprises, and credit guarantees for exports.
The rethink began
after the 2008 financial crash. The British economy was heavily reliant on
banking and has yet to recover, but the German economy rebounded quickly.
Manufacturing accounts for 21% of GDP in Germany but only 11% in Britain.
Labour Party leader Ed Miliband likes to talk about responsible
capitalism. After learning how the German Sparkassen operate, he wants to
set up similar regional banks if he is elected PM. He is also considering
Mitbestimmung to add worker representatives to company boards. The British
introduced the system in Germany after WW2.
New Atheists brought the Enlightenment back to life.
They traced all that was worth defending in our world to rationality,
science, secularism, and democracy.
In 1784, Immanuel Kant saw the
Enlightenment as humanity learning to think for itself, the start of a slow
but inexorable triumph over myth and superstition. Some 20 years later,
Hegel blamed the Enlightenment for sacrificing spirituality and tradition at
the altar of reason and absolute freedom. Historians since then have failed
to break the stalemate between Kantians and Hegelians.
Anthony Pagden argues that the Enlightenment was distinctive not for
holding the humanities hostage to reason but instead for recognizing our
common humanity. Cosmopolitanism arose as a way for humans to live together
in harmony instead of killing each other. He imagines that without the
Enlightenment, Europe could have been conquered by the Ottomans and
converted to Islam. The Enlightenment discovered a timeless truth that had
been obscured by religion.
Enlightened cosmopolitanism rejects
religion as having any role to play in human understanding and organization.
It is a hopeless model for modern global governance.
AR I think
it's quite a good one.
2013 May 6
Britain's obsession with "punching above its
weight" in the international arena is one cause of its pitiable present
condition. Overblown and ill-configured defense forces, continuing
post-imperial involvements around the globe, obsession with pomp and
ceremony, and a surfeit of absurd institutions from the Knights of the
Garter to the Lord Privy Seal, hold Britain back.
The United Kingdom
could soon fragment. If Scotland becomes independent and Northern Ireland
looks toward Eire, the rump state of Britain will no longer be Great.
Perhaps this is an opportunity to revamp the state from top to bottom.
Reducing the role of the monarchy, replacing the House of Lords with an
elected chamber, and introducing a written constitution would be a start.
The most reasonable destiny for Britain thus reduced is as a member of a
Nordic community including the Scandinavian states and others, and perhaps
embracing Germany too. But the European Union needs an overhaul. Not before
the fiscal showdown with the southern states finds a convincing resolution
should the British public relax its Euroskepticism.
Lord Renwick of Clifton + AR
Margaret Thatcher's critique of the
European Union has become commonplace today. Hyper-bureaucracy, lack of
accountability, over-regulation, and the stifling of job creation and
enterprise should worry all member states. She would say Europe today is
failing its citizens.
Today she would make a huge effort to change
the EU from within before abandoning it. She would not resist further EZ
integration, recognizing that Germany is determined to impose much greater
discipline on the other participants.
But she would launch a crusade
with Angela Merkel, the Dutch and Swedish prime ministers, and some of the
East Europeans to change the direction of EU policy to foster growth and
jobs and restore competitiveness. She would do so with such zest that UKIP
would be roadkill.
2013 May 5
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's decision not to
attend today's Coptic Easter mass was no surprise. It follows a Brotherhood
fatwa prohibiting Muslims from wishing Christians a happy Easter, because
Muslims deny that Jesus was killed or crucified, whereas wishing Christians
a merry Christmas is permissible, because Muslims accept that he was born.
The Easter ruling contrasts with the Brotherhood's otherwise vacuous
approach to interpreting sharia. In 2012, Brotherhood leader Farid
Ismail said sharia "means peace, security, equality, citizenship, freedom,
and giving rights for people despite their religion or ethics or color or
sex" but declined to be more specific. Brotherhood local governor Saad
al-Husseini: "Everything I'm doing is sharia!"
By keeping its sharia vague, the Brotherhood prevents
internal fissures from emerging that could undermine its power. The
Brotherhood frames its views in sharia terms only when it seeks to justify
theocratic ideas on which its cadres broadly agree, such as opposition to
alcohol, bikinis, and Easter.
Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard was born 200
years ago today. For all his existential exertions, he will forever be
associated with the "leap of faith" he made to live with the absurd idea
that Jesus was simultaneously divine and yet much like other young men of
found the subjects he cared most about were hard to discuss. So he found a
new way to do so, letting his various pseudonymous "authors" say what a
pedagogical doctor of theology could not. Perceptive readers got the idea
without being told explicitly what it was.
This technique is familiar
today. Political candidates know that telling voters precisely what they
stand for is asking for trouble. There are more effective ways to air their
views. For Kierkegaard, subjectivity is truth. He became drawn to the
mystery of silence.
The United States has a complicated relationship with
imperialism. It spread the gospel of life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness less with gunboats than with missionaries and money men.
Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman sees not an
American empire but a story of how democratic capitalism and the armed
strength of American ideals built a world order more just than any in
history. The United States cooperated in building the United Nations and led
efforts to create international peace organizations and international law.
Americans enforced the law. They took on this responsibility because
their domestic experience taught that an institution sometimes has to step
in to keep order. In the early republic, the federal government was seen as
an umpire between the states. This idea filtered through the history of the
United States at home and abroad.
But the United States cannot be
seen as a neutral arbiter. International politics has no umpires, only
players strong and charismatic enough to impose their idea of what the rules
should look like.
2013 May 4
Sack The Toffs
The Conservatives must break the impression they are
"privileged and out of touch" if they are to stand a chance of winning the
next UK general election, says former party leadership contender David
Davis: David Cameron should stop surrounding himself with fellow Old
Etonians and show he understands the concerns of ordinary people.
UKIP kippt UK
The UK Independence Party emerged as a serious
nationwide threat to Britain's three main parties after making unexpectedly
big gains in local elections. BBC projected share of the national vote:
Labour 29%, Conservatives 25%, UKIP 23%, Liberal Democrats 14%, others 9%.
UKIP supports withdrawal from the European Union. It
now expects more than 100 councillors across the country. UKIP leader Nigel
Farage: "This is a real sea-change in British politics. The people who vote
for us are rejecting the establishment and quite right too. I don't think
these votes are going away quickly."
Conservative MP John Baron urged
David Cameron to table a bill in the next parliamentary session for an
in/out referendum on Europe after the 2015 general election.
Conservative MP Kenneth Clarke said UKIP has
"fruitcakes, loonies, waifs, and strays" in its ranks and among its
supporters. He added: "The political class are regarded as having got us
into a mess. It's very tempting to go for a collection of clowns or
indignant, angry people who promise that somehow they'll allow you to take
revenge against the people who caused it."
UKIP leader Nigel Farage
admitted his party was overstretched in vetting its 1,700 candidates.
Independence Party: "The European Union seemed a good idea in the 1970s
but it's gone very, very wrong. Brussels has become a bureaucratic monster,
strangling us all in red tape and massive waste. It's not just Britain that
wants out of the EU. Many other Europeans would vote to leave, if given the
New York Times
Suicide rates among middle-aged Americans have
risen sharply. Baby boomers facing years of economic worry and with easy
access to prescription painkillers may be vulnerable.
Americans now die of suicide than in car accidents. In 2010 there were
33,687 road traffic deaths and 38,364 suicides. From 1999 to 2010, the
suicide rate among people aged 35 to 64 rose by nearly 30%. Most suicides
are men, by a ratio of over 3 to 1. Rates for men in their 50s jumped by
Rutgers University sociologist Julie Phillips: "The
boomers had great expectations for what their life might look like, but I
think perhaps it hasn't panned out that way."
A low resting heart rate is a characteristic of
aggressive and violent behavior and reflects a lack of fear. Mothers who
smoke or drink during pregnancy are 2-3 times more likely to give birth to a
child who will grow up to be violent. Lead exposure early in life damages
the brain and increases the likelihood of adult crime. Men with
cavum septum pellucidum are more likely to be psychopathic and criminal.
The amygdala is shrunken by 18% in adult psychopaths and functions more
poorly in psychopaths during moral decision making. Children lacking fear of
punishment were more likely to be convicted 20 years later.
A pitiless new day is dawning. A generation that
tamed the threat of nuclear war now faces the human bomb. The revelation of
9/11 is that human bombs claim the power to strike anywhere, anyhow, any
time. A traditional war, however savage, comes to an end. Terrorist war
knows no cease-fire. For the show of force it substitutes the show of
hatred. Nourished by its own atrocities, it is inextinguishable. A contagion
of hatred moves like a plague. Soon we may view the last century with
nostalgia, despite Auschwitz and Hiroshima. Terrorists strive to mix these
two ingredients into new cocktails of horror.
JP An Israeli official says air strike targeted Syrian weapons
shipment headed to guerrillas in Lebanon; Syrian chemical weapons facility
nuclear complex is like a fortress. The enrichment centrifuges are
underground and the facility is built into a mountain range. But
Boeing has developed a new version of its bunker buster, the Massive
Ordnance Penetrator, that can penetrate deeper, even through granite
and steel, before it explodes. The MOP weighs about 14 tons and fits
in B-2 and B-52 bombers. A new targeting system allows several bombs
to hit exactly the same spot. The new version has not been drop
tested, but Israeli Defense Force officials have seen videos of
earlier drop tests.
New Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, 52, joined Intel
in 1982 as an engineer and managed a "fab" that fabricates processor
chips. Pundits speculate that Intel will
focus on this side of its business. Intel makes 80% of all CPUs sold for
PCs, but that market slumped 14% in Q1 as consumers turned to tablets
and smartphones. Krzanich says Intel is well placed to expand
into mobile markets.
The journal Porn Studies debuts next spring. A call for papers
solicits submissions for "the first dedicated, international,
peer-reviewed journal to critically explore those cultural products and
services designated as pornographic". The journal is open to work from
sociologists, criminologists, technologists, and experts in cultural,
media, and gender studies.
Her first screen kiss in 1939
made global headlines
Dan Dennett has been in troubled
waters with his yacht Xanthippe: "But I do know what I'm doing!"
2013 May 3
Less Is More
Nils Klawitter + AR
Berlin social psychologist Harald Welzer points
out that if everyone on Earth used the resources that Westerners do, we
would need three planets. He accuses economists of seeing the world in terms
of maximizing consumption. He wants to phase out the "totalitarian
consumerism" that inflames desires people never knew they had.
British economist Tim Jackson is an expert on sustainable
development and a professor at the University of Surrey. He calls capitalism
a "gluttony machine" that asks us "to spend money we don't have on things
that we don't need to create impressions that won't last on people we don't
Economists have largely disregarded the environmental
consequences of growth. Their benchmark of prosperity is gross domestic
product. GDP does not factor in the overexploitation of resources, the
destruction of biological diversity, air pollution, noise, soil degradation,
or poisoned groundwater.
A wealth model built on chronic growth is no
longer everyone's goal. But can we have prosperity without growth and growth
without environmental damage? How can a shrinking economy work? A German
parliamentary commission spent two years on these questions. It has now
presented its report.
Oldenburg economist Niko Paech advocates a
shrinking economy and preaches a new frugality. He attacks our "autistic
faith in progress" and wants less material, less energy, less waste, and
less pollution. The parliamentary commission finds growth with declining
resource consumption nowhere at present.
Heidelberg economist Hans
Diefenbacher has developed a national prosperity index that treats the
negative impacts of economic activity as a reduction in welfare. The
parliamentary commission used the index in a new way of measuring
growth with an indicator called W3 based not only on wealth but also on
Rock music involves a lot of posing. No one did it
better than David Bowie. Born in 1947 in London and raised in a dreary
suburb, young David was roused by American rock and roll. His pop career
took off when Lindsay Kemp taught him to dance and introduced him to Kabuki.
Bowie became a great poseur.
David and his wife Angela had a polymorphous perverse marriage. Androgyny
was central to Bowie's freakish image in two movies. The Man Who Fell to
Earth (1976) stars Bowie as a space alien. Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence
(1983) casts him as an army officer in a Japanese POW camp during WW2.
British rock in the 1970s became very camp. Bowie created his most
famous role, Ziggy Stardust, as a kind of alter ego. Ziggy was a rock-n-roll
messiah from outer space who is torn apart by his fans. Bowie moved on and
started quoting Nietzsche on the death of God. But he never lost his sense
Bowie moved to Berlin and created some of his best music.
His voice deepened and the lyrics darkened. By 2004, it looked as if it was
over. He was married to Iman and they lived in New York. Then he made
another album, The Next Day, announced on his 66th birthday. It is a highly
The translations of Richard Pevear and Larissa
Volokhonsky (known as PV) span the golden age of Russian literature. It is
easier to list the canonical prose authors they have neglected (Turgenev and
Nabokov) than all of those they have translated. From the war against
Napoleon to the heyday of Communism, the PV project is unique.
The husband and wife team works
in two steps. Larissa makes a literal English rendition of the original, and
Richard shapes the words into literary English without anachronisms. Now at
last they have reached the end of Lev Tolstoy's major writings.
hundred years ago, Constance Garnett was the main Russian interpreter of her
generation. Her translations of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky were landmarks. But
Vladimir Nabokov loathed her treatment of Tolstoy. He said the mortal sin of
the translator was to sacrifice "absolute accuracy" for readability:
"The clumsiest literal translation is a thousand times more useful than the
Russian writers thought Garnett churned out
her translations with a meat grinder. All that came out was the insipid
narrative voice of Constance Garnett. Nabokov: "The person who desires to
turn a literary masterpiece into another language has only one duty to
perform, and this is to reproduce with absolute exactitude the whole text,
and nothing but the text."
Larissa: "We want to recreate Tolstoy in English. We want to bring the
English reader to Tolstoy, not Tolstoy to the English reader."
Richard cites the FitzGerald translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.
Robert Graves tried to correct its distortions but made it dull: "And then
you go back to FitzGerald and it sings. It sings the wrong song, but it
sings. These are some of the ironies of translation."
AR I imbibed Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky via
Garnett. Now I must start again with PV.
2013 May 2
Simplify your life to get a fresh feeling back into your day. I trashed more
old papers and smashed a few old crocks today to clear up the clutter. The
outlook is improving.
Live Long And Prosper
A mechanism that controls aging has been
identified in the hypothalamus. Researchers have used it to change the
lifespan of mice.
The hypothalamus is the interface
between the brain and the rest of the body, and is involved in controlling
our automatic responses, hormone levels, sleep-wake cycles, immunity, and
Dongsheng Cai at the Albert Einstein College of
Medicine in New York and his colleagues noticed that aging mice produce
increasing levels of nuclear factor kB (NF-kB), a protein complex that plays
a big role in regulating immune responses. NF-kB is barely active in the
hypothalamus of young mice but becomes very active in old mice.
team tested three groups of mice: group 1 was given gene therapy that
inhibits NF-kB, group 2 had gene therapy to activate NF-kB, and group 3 was
left to age naturally. Group 3 lived between 600 and 1000 days, group 2 all
died within 900 days, and group 1 lived for up to 1100 days.
that lived longest also remained mentally and physically fit for longer.
Post-mortem exams showed they had many chemical and physical qualities of
NF-kB reduces the level of the gonadotropin-releasing
hormone (GnRH) produced by the hypothalamus. GnRH levels regulate egg
production and fertility. The team gave another group of mice daily injections of GnRH for several weeks. These mice lived longer
too, by similar lengths of time.
GnRH injections also resulted in new
neurons in the brain. When injected into the hypothalamus, GnRH reversed
widespread aging decline in other brain regions too. The injections even
delayed aging in the mice in NF-kB group 2 that would otherwise have aged
quickly. No mice showed serious side effects.
We could see drugs that
slow aging in the next 20 years.
AR Too late for me then.
Is social psychology in crisis? Diederik Stapel
committed fraud in at least 54 scientific papers. Ap Dijksterhuis found that
thinking about a professor before taking an exam improves your performance,
while thinking about a soccer ruffian makes you do worse, but his finding
may be weak or wrong.
Many key results of social psychology have been endlessly
replicated, like the Milgram effect, where subjects apparently administered
electrical shocks strong enough to injure others, simply because they'd been
asked to do it. People are still extending that result. In one recent study,
experimenters found that people would shock robots under similar
Something positive has emerged. For years, it was
difficult to publish a direct replication, or a failure to replicate an
experiment, in a good journal. Now, the scientific culture has changed.
Leading researchers in psychology have announced major efforts to replicate
previous work, and to change the incentives so that scientists can do the
right thing without feeling they are wasting time.
Psychological Science is accepting submissions for a new section of each
issue devoted to replicability.
Social Psychology is planning a special issue on replications of key
results in social psychology. Other journals in neuroscience and medicine
are making similar efforts.
AR The Roman calendar, with its year count going
back to 1 CE, is a great way to remind us that time, the dimension of human
experience, goes beyond our personal experience. That the old Romans saw fit
to christen the calendar with a human sacrifice was no more than a reflection of
the times. They could hardly have imagined how much bad metaphysics that
gesture would lead to.
Once upon a time, I packed all my essential
papers into a big silver case I called the ark of the covenant. I then moved
to Germany, where I condensed the stuff in the ark and enriched it with new
stuff. The process led to my production of this year's Coral bomb. Today I
sealed a new condensate of essential stuff in a set of eight boxes I call
the core archive. The boxes are surfaced in crimson linen, like quality
books, and contain a critical mass of texts and images. Together they form a
cuboid, with a volume of rather less than a fifth of a cubic meter, holding
the accumulated wealth of my first sixty years. If fortune smiles, I shall let
the Coral bomb trigger data fusion in the core archive and live
happily ever after.
Arwa Damon, CNN
Sectarianism has returned with a vengeance in
Iraq. Observers fear that tensions between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq could
escalate into war. Tensions are higher now than they have been for years.
The Sunni minority is demonstrating more actively against the predominantly
The conflict in Syria adds fuel to the fire. Iraq
and Syria are battlefields for a power struggle between Sunni Saudi Arabia
and Shia Iran. The Iraqi security forces are seen as protecting Shias and
targeting Sunnis. The government was built on sectarian lines and has failed
to forge a national identity.
AR A shooting war of Gulf states versus Iran
would not only be as hideous as the Iran-Iraq war during the Reagan
years but also impact us all via the price of oil.
Martin Wolf + AR
Austerians say a financial crisis is a mark of moral
turpitude, to be redeemed only by suffering. Latvia was hit by the crisis,
recovered, and is now blooming. Is it?
When financial apocalypse
hit, the Balts pegged their currencies and embraced austerity. A rescue
package was negotiated for Latvia in 2008, with support from the European
Union, the IMF, the Nordic countries, and others.
Latvia achieved a
public surplus of 0.8% in 2012. But its GDP shrank by 25% from 2007 Q4 to
the trough and then grew by only 16% to 2012 Q4, for a net shrinkage of 12%
over 5 years. The cumulative 5-year loss of output was 43% for Estonia, 77%
for Latvia, 44% for Lithuania. The Latvian population shrank by 7.6% in the
5 years to the end of 2012 and the unemployment rate was still 14%.
Latvia suffered one of the biggest depressions in history. It is recovering.
But the Balts had four huge advantages:
1 Latvian labor costs per
hour, in 2012, were a quarter of the EZ average.
2 The Baltic economies are small and open.
External adjustment is a more potent alternative to
domestic stimulus than in larger economies.
3 Foreign-owned banks play a central role in the Baltic
4 The Balts prefer an EU destiny to Russian domination.
Other EU countries are less committed.
Latvia may be a model for tiny
countries, but it is not one for Europe.
Daniel Dennett may be America's greatest
living philosopher. At 71, he is the co-director of the Center for Cognitive
Studies at Tufts University. He has presented himself for decades among his
philosophical colleagues as a ruthless slayer of metaphysical fancy. He is
famous in public for his blunt-talking atheist activism: "There's simply no
polite way to tell people they've dedicated their lives to an illusion."
Dennett studied at
Harvard with W. V. O. Quine and at Oxford with Gilbert Ryle. He says the
mind is a collection of computerlike information processes, the self is a
center of narrative gravity, and the elusive quality of subjective conscious
experience is an illusion. If he had to do it all over again, he says, he'd
still rather tackle free will and consciousness as a philosopher than as a
scientist. That way, he says, he can think about all the cool theories and
lab experiments without ever having "to do the dishes".
AR A fine philosopher in the gadfly tradition of
The Art of Bravery
If you know where to look, it is easy to find
forbidden work online. But artists are in increasing danger, and not just
artists. Rising numbers of journalists are being killed in pursuit of their
Violent and authoritarian regimes don't like the glare of
negative publicity. If you can make them sufficiently uncomfortable, they
frequently respond by setting people free or ceasing arrests.
Authoritarian rulers have an inflated sense of themselves and don't like
being deflated. It is all the more important to continue to deflate them.
Courageous people poke fun from inside these societies.
for story is very deep in human beings. We are the only creature in the
world that tells stories. Sometimes those are true stories and sometimes
those are made up stories. The larger stories, the grand narratives that we
live in, are part of the way in which we conduct the discourse of our lives.
Free expression is the right
from which all other rights are derived. If you can't articulate ideas and
if you can't articulate critiques of other peoples' ideas, then you're
powerless. Authoritarian regimes increase their power by preventing people
from expressing themselves.
AR Is it just
me, or is SR getting rather self-important?
Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands and his Queen Maxima
wind-powered hydrofoil racing yacht designed by Alain Thébault, can sail
at 100 km/h
A new biography
President of Lithuania
THU in Top Universities
Bank of England
New UK £5 note
Departing Bank of England
Governor Sir Mervyn King: "Sir Winston Churchill was a truly great
British leader, orator, and writer. Above that, he remains a hero of the
entire free world. His energy, courage, eloquence, wit, and public
service are an inspiration to us all."
Martin Amis worked on
the NS as literary editor in the late 1970s, he was baffled by
the political commitment of
and James Fenton.
thought the status of art had reached a pinnacle in ancient Greece but
collapsed into vulgarity and silliness in his day. The artist of the
future would fuse the genius of Beethoven and Shakespeare into the new
form of musical drama.
World Thinkers 2013
"God for Harry, England,
and Saint George!"
The Obama administration will spend $10 billion on
upgrading nuclear bombs stored in Europe. Nearly 200 B61 gravity bombs
stockpiled for use against the Soviet Union will get new tail kits to
turn them into guided weapons for delivery by stealthy F-35
fighter-bombers. The Life Extension Program will produce B61 Mk12 bombs
with 50 kiloton tactical yield. East European states welcome the bombs
to deter Russia.
VW engineer Rolf Hofbauer
invented the 2-stroke OPOC (opposed piston, opposed
Now Eco Motors founder Peter Hofbauer and others
investing $200 million
to build them in China.
Red China has deployed DF-21D
anti-ship ballistic missiles that can take out US aircraft carriers near
Taiwan. This will counter US Navy assets that Taiwan relies on in
case of a crisis.
The Real Karl Marx
2013 April 30
Graphene is a one-atom thick layer of carbon atoms
arranged in a honeycomb lattice. Electrical currents move faster in graphene
than in any other known material. Graphene is also the best thermal
conductor we have. It is much lighter and stronger than steel. The "2D"
layers are transparent and flexible.
The first application for
graphene is probably as a replacement for indium selenide in solar cells.
After that, we may see products such as cell phones integrated into the
likes of the clothes and pieces of paper. Another direction is transparent
displays. We could embed electronic displays almost everywhere.
We are working on how best to manufacture graphene. Several techniques
look promising. Samsung recently made a single layer of graphene 75 cm in
diameter. We hope to make graphene in the same way we print newspapers, in a
roll to roll process. This will transform the economics of the industry.
Theodore Berger, at the University of Southern
California in Los Angeles, has designed silicon chips that work like memory
neurons. He wants to restore the ability to create long-term memories in
people whose brains have suffered damage by implanting the chips in their
The hippocampus makes short-term memories into long-term
memories. Berger has developed equations that describe how
electrical signals move through the neurons of the hippocampus to form a
long-term memory, and he has shown that his equations match reality.
Berger defines memory as a series of electrical pulses over time that are
generated by a number of neurons. You can put an electrode in and record
something that matches this definition of a memory. You can find the set of
neurons that make up this memory.
graduate school at Harvard, Berger's mentor was Richard Thompson, who
studied learning-induced changes in the brain. Thompson used a
tone and a puff of air to condition rabbits to blink their eyes and aimed to
deduce where the new memory was stored.
Thompson and Berger published
the results in 1976. They inserted electrodes into rabbit hippocampus to
monitor single neurons. They recorded the electrical spikes in the as
rabbits developed a memory. The spikes formed patterns that revealed the
code used to form a memory.
In the early 1990s, Berger and colleagues
made computer chips that mimic the signal processing in the hippocampus.
They input random pulses into the hippocampus, recorded the signals at
various points to see how they were transformed, derived equations for the
transformations, and implemented those equations in computer chips. Then
they put electrodes into a brain slice, let their chip perform the
transforms, and sent the output via other electrodes back to the brain
Then they trained rats to push
one of two levers to get a treat and recorded hippocampus traces. They
modeled the signal transforms as the rats laid down memories as well as the
code for the memory, and checked that their device could generate the
memory code from the recorded input. When the rats were given a drug that
blocked the ability to lay down memories, they forgot which
lever gave the treat. The researchers pulsed the rat brains with the code
and they again chose the right lever.
Last year, the scientists
published primate experiments involving prefrontal cortex, which retrieves
long-term memories created by the hippocampus. They put electrodes in monkey
brains to capture the code in prefrontal cortex that the monkeys used to
remember an image. Then they drugged the monkeys to impair that part of the
brain. With implanted electrodes sending the correct code to prefrontal
cortex, the monkeys succeeded at the image task.
Berger and his
colleagues now plan human studies.
Russia vs. Japan
Four islands north of Japan, known in Russia as
the Kuril Islands and in Japan as the Northern Territories, were occupied by
the USSR at the end of WW2. Japan has made their return a condition for
signing a WW2 peace treaty with Russia.
president Vladimir Putin and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe met in
Moscow and agreed to restart negotiations intended to resolve the dispute.
AR My 1996 novel
LIFEBALL, set in 2013, used this
issue as a plot driver.
2013 April 29
During my spare time, I run a popular blog. It started
out small and grew organically. By 2012, my blog wasn't just a hobby
anymore, but a monster of my own making. I'd lost the passion.
You might not realize it until that moment of clarity when the light bulb
flashes in your head. I didn't want to waste all those years of hard work. I
had to change it into something I was happy with.
I went back to
basics. I looked to my audience and considered what they want. I got rid of
anything they might find irrelevant and boring, and instead brought in new
stuff I enjoy.
It's probably the best thing I ever did. I've got my
passion back and I'm enjoying it again. Change is essential for any creative
project. Listen to your gut feelings.
EZ Tax Shenanigans
The Netherlands and Luxembourg had booked foreign
direct investment of $5.8 trillion by the end of 2012 — more than the US,
UK, and Germany combined. The Netherlands attracted FDI of $3.5 trillion, of
which $573 billion ended up in the real Dutch economy. Luxembourg booked
$2.28 trillion in FDI but $122 billion entered the real economy. The
"unreal" economy covers the finance and holding companies that help big
businesses avoid tax.
OECD secretary-general Angel Gurría said
business cannot be blamed for using the rules that policy makers have set
up: "Tax planning strategies that exploit loopholes are mostly legal" yet
"constitute a major risk to tax revenues, tax sovereignty, and tax
This is shameless abuse of weaknesses in EZ policy coordination. No
wonder Chancellor Merkel wants standardization of EZ fiscal and monetary
policy. The present shambles amounts to massive and cynical fraud against every
honest EZ taxpayer.
New York Times
In the Syrian city of Aleppo, rebels aligned with
Al Qaeda control the power plant, run the bakeries, and head a court that
applies Islamic law. Elsewhere, they have seized government oil fields, put
employees back to work, and now profit from the oil. Across Syria,
rebel-held areas are dotted with new courts.
This is the landscape President Obama confronts as he
considers how to respond to growing evidence that Syrian officials have
crossed his red line.
The Islamist character of the opposition
reflects the failure of mainstream rebel groups to secure regular arms
supplies. The rebel movement includes Qaeda-aligned jihadis seeking to
establish an Islamic emirate, political Islamists inspired by the Muslim
Brotherhood, and others who want Sharia law.
extreme groups is the Al Nusra Front, which cooperated with Al Qaeda in Iraq
and claims responsibility for a number of suicide bombings. The group has
set up camp in a former children's hospital in Aleppo and helped establish a
Sharia commission in the eye hospital next door to govern the city's
rebel-held neighborhoods. The commission runs a police force and a Sharia
The United States has designated Nusra a terrorist
organization. As for the red line, the Obama administration says it needs
more conclusive information before it acts.
President Assad is ineffectual. The rebellion is a tragedy.
2013 April 28
We're in the midst of a bionic revolution. The age
when prostheses were largely inert pieces of wood, metal, and plastic is
passing. Advances in microprocessors, interfaces with the human nervous
system, and in battery technology are turning replacement limbs into active
parts of the body.
These new prostheses will
enhance human abilities. They will give us new powers and augment those we
have. While present prostheses are still primitive, we can already see the
trend when a monkey moves a robotic arm on the other side of the planet just
by thinking about it.
We can now enhance brain function. The
hippocampus helps make memories. If it's damaged, people have difficulty
forming long-term memories. Researchers in 2011 created a chip that when
implanted in brain-damaged rats could not only repair memory but also
improve their ability to learn new things.
A 2012 study demonstrated
that brain chips can boost intelligence in monkeys. Scientists implanted the
chips in a set of monkeys and trained the monkeys to play a picture game.
When the implant was activated, it raised their scores by an average of 10%.
The implant made them smarter.
boosting memory and intelligence are in very early stages, in animal studies
only, and decades away from wide use. But the technology will sneak up on
us, starting with people with disabilities, the injured, and the ill. Soon
we'll be doing more and making us superhuman.
Perhaps humans lost their fur, started to walk
upright, and developed big brains because they took to living by the water's
edge. We have subcutaneous fat and a descended larynx, features common among
aquatic animals but not other apes. The aquatic ape theory is backed by a
growing group of scientists.
The theory was first proposed in 1960 by Alister
Hardy, who believed apes learned to live on river banks and beaches. To keep
their heads above water, they evolved an upright stance, freeing their hands
to make tools for fishing. Then they lost their body hair and grew fat to
keep warm in the water.
Peter Rhys Evans: "Humans have particularly
large sinuses, spaces in the skull between our cheeks, noses and foreheads.
But why do we have empty spaces in our heads? It makes no sense until we
consider the evolutionary perspective. Then it becomes clear: our sinuses
acted as buoyancy aids that helped keep our heads above water."
Michael Crawford: "DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid that is found in large
amounts in seafood. It boosts brain growth in mammals. That is why a dolphin
has a much bigger brain than a zebra, though they have roughly the same body
sizes. The dolphin has a diet rich in DHA. Without a high DHA diet from
seafood we could not have developed our big brains."
Forty years ago,
Elaine Morgan wrote a popular account of the theory,
The Descent of Women, which became a bestseller.
2013 April 27
Lithuania is a small country. Our business
community trades mostly with the eurozone, so we want to be part of the
currency union. Our currency has been pegged to the euro since 2002, and a
quarter of our national budget comes from the European Union. We understand
the value of solidarity.
After 2009, the Baltic
states had to implement very radical austerity measures. In Lithuania, we
consolidated 12% of GDP in 2 years. We cut public salaries by 20% and
pensions by 10%. Our adjustment was a lot deeper than what we see now in
southern Europe. And we saw growth return after 2 years.
As for the
crisis in Europe, the bottom line is that debt levels have to come down. The
German people are largely responsible for paying for the bailouts. I cannot
imagine a head of government whose country is paying for something not
asking for certain conditions. It is legitimate that Berlin leads the way.
Chancellor Angela Merkel knows exactly how much every policy move costs
for Germany. She is interested in the facts and tries to find a consensus.
Because Germany pays for the bailouts and sets the conditions, she becomes a
target. But if it weren't for Germany, the indebted countries would be
Garry Wills asks how the priesthood become so central
to the Roman Catholic Church. The early Christian community was an
egalitarian movement without priests. Then Catholic priests used concepts
provided by Thomas Aquinas to claim they transformed bread and wine into the
body and blood of Christ. The doctrine of transubstantiation sought to
impose a literal interpretation on a symbolic idea. Wills wants to restore
the Eucharist to its original meaning as a thanksgiving meal. This opens the
way to abolishing the priesthood entirely.
American billionaire philanthropist Stephen A. Schwarzman, founder and
chairman of the private equity firm Blackstone, has launched a scholarship
program to send 200 graduates a year to study in China.
Scholars will fund scholarships for students from overseas to attend classes
at Tsinghua University, Beijing. The endowment will fund the studies of
10 000 students over 50 years, 45% from the United States, 20% from China,
and the rest from other parts of Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Each year,
200 students will take a one-year master's program at Tsinghua in public
policy, economics and business, and international relations or engineering,
starting in 2016.
The $300 million program will be jointly governed
by the Schwarzman Education Foundation and Tsinghua University on matters
including curriculum and faculty, and will enjoy full academic freedom, with
no topic off limits in the classrooms. The students will take classes in
English at Schwarzman College, which will be a new building on the Tsinghua
The Schwarzman Scholars program aims to rival the Rhodes
Scholarship program, which for over a hundred years has enabled foreign
students to study at the University of Oxford, UK. A generation from now,
the president of the United States will have been on a Schwarzman to
Tsinghua, instead of a Rhodes to Oxford, as Bill Clinton did a generation
Schwarzman is donating $100 million of his own $6.5 billion
fortune to the fund. A further $100 million comes from private donors,
including BP, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Boeing, GE, JPMorgan Chase,
Bloomberg Philanthropies, Caterpillar, Credit Suisse, and Deloitte.
Schwarzman is hoping to raise the remaining $100 million by the end of this
The program's advisory board includes Tony Blair, Henry
Kissinger, Brian Mulroney, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Kevin Rudd,
Nicolas Sarkozy, and Yo-Yo Ma.
Tsinghua was founded in 1911, when the
United States used Chinese government money to establish a school to prepare
students sent to study in America. The university has graduated many Chinese
leaders, including current President Xi Jinping and former President Hu
Schwarzman: "For future geopolitical stability and global
prosperity, we need to build a culture of greater trust and understanding
between China, America and the rest of the world ... A win-win
relationship of mutual respect between the West and China is vital,
benefiting Asia and the rest of the world, and enhancing economic ties that
could lead to a new era of mutual prosperity ... The board shares my belief that
fostering connections between Chinese students, American students, and
students from around the world is a critical aspect of ensuring geopolitical
stability now, and into the future."
With input from
Huff Post Business
The Rise of Big Data
Kenneth Neil Cukier and Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger
Fact 1 Big data: Today our world is
flooded with well over a zettabyte of digital information.
Fact 2 Datafication: We can "datafy"
many aspects of the world that we never could before.
Fact 3 Cheap hardware and powerful
software enable us to use data in new ways:
— We can collect and
use all the data rather than trying to extract random samples.
We can shed our preference for cleaned and curated facts and accept dirty
— We can give up our quest for the real causes
and make do with correlations.
Datafication is not the same as
digitization, which takes analog content and reduces it to lots of bits. Google Glass datafies the gaze and Twitter datafies stray
thoughts. Once we datafy things, we can transform their purpose and enhance
data will change how governments work. It will help them generate economic
growth, provide public services, and fight wars. Open data initiatives will
give public access to vast amounts of previously hidden government data.
Antitrust laws are hard to apply to big data, but governments will need to
protect personal privacy against companies like Amazon or Facebook.
Government with big data could become Big Brother. Big data exacerbates the
asymmetry of power between the state and the people. It even allows
authorities to track potential wrongdoers before they do wrong. Predictive
systems may soon be able to drill down to individuals. Prevention is better
than punishment, but it overrides free will. Big data will rock our world.
2013 April 26
The European Dream
The European Union has lost the support of two thirds of its citizens.
Perhaps this is blowback from the politics of austerity, but anti-federalism
was growing across Europe even before the credit crunch. The European dream
is badly in need of a reality check.
A united Europe was the dream of
bad men for many centuries. Today it cloaks the meddling and fraud of the
EU. The idea that such an empire can wield power with the euro and still win
the consent of European people is absurd. Democratic deficits are
The great achievement of modern Europe is national
democracy. There is no way the EU can supplant it through the present EU
parliament, which has no ministerial responsibility, no governing party
discipline, and no identifiable political culture. It is a Potemkin
The introduction of the euro has forced a stark choice
between more Europe and less Europe. But even after the EU, the nation
states of Europe must discipline their dealings with each other, or they
will lapse back into trade controls and mutual hostility.
Euroskeptics need a new vision of Europe. Closer European union started as
an answer first to war and then to communism. So far so good. But then
federalists pretended that a single currency could paper over economic
differences. We need more respect for diversity.
The New Digital Age
Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen
Connectivity encourages and enables
altruistic behavior. The best thing anyone can do to improve the quality of
life around the world is to drive connectivity and technological
opportunity. Most of the world’s population will soon enjoy open online
communications and access to information.
We will soon live in a world where repressive states
will have a dangerous advantage in targeting their citizens. People living
in such places will have to fight harder for their rights. But they will
have at their disposal tools and software designed to help safeguard
citizens living under digital repression.
For every negative, there
will be a counter-response that has the potential to be a substantial
positive. People who try to perpetuate myths about religion, culture,
ethnicity, or anything else will struggle to keep their narratives afloat
amid a sea of newly informed listeners.
2013 April 25
Less Trust In European Union
Public confidence in the European Union has fallen to
historic lows in the six biggest EU countries.
Percentage of nationals who said they tended not to
trust the EU:
The European Council on Foreign
Relations (ECFR) analyzed Eurobarometer polling data for Germany, France,
Britain, Italy, Spain, and Poland: In 2007, trust prevailed over mistrust in
all the countries except the UK, but by 2012 mistrust prevailed over trust
by big margins in all but Poland.
ECFR Madrid office head José
Ignacio Torreblanca: "The damage is so deep that it does not matter whether
you come from a creditor, debtor country, euro would-be member or the UK:
everybody is worse off. Citizens now think that their national democracy is
being subverted by the way the euro crisis is conducted."
Commission president José Manuel Barroso: "At a time when so many Europeans
are faced with unemployment, uncertainty and growing inequality, a sort of
European fatigue has set in, coupled with a lack of understanding. Who does
what, who decides what, who controls whom and what? And where are we heading
German chancellor Angela Merkel: "We still haven't found the
answer to the question of whether we're actually now prepared to unite on
common economic parameters inside the single currency area. If we want to
have a common currency, a common Europe, we have to be ready to give up our
hard-won habits ... That means we have to be prepared to accept that in the
end Europe has the final word in certain things."
Polish PM Donald
Tusk: "We can't escape this dilemma: how do you get a new model of
sovereignty so that limited national sovereignty in the EU is not dominated
by the biggest countries like Germany, for example."
AR Europe needs a new democratic revolution to
sweep away the fat cats in Brussels and Strasbourg. I volunteer to draft the
manifesto — can I get an EU grant to sponsor me?
2013 April 24
Iran Nears Red Line
Former Israeli military intelligence head Amos
Yadlin: "By the summer, Iran will be a month or two away from a decision
about the bomb ... we are on a course of collision towards the end of the
Yadlin stressed that without a drastic
change in the sanctions placed on the Islamic Republic, Iran would continue
buying time and expanding its nuclear program. He added that of American
military credibility is needed for negotiations. "This credibility will be
achieved if the US aims a precise strike to stop the Iranian nuclear program
and show that it can deal with the escalation that would follow this
Iran has kept its stockpile of uranium enriched to 20% below
250 kg, the amount needed, if further processed, to make one nuclear bomb.
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu set the 250 kg mark as the "red line" for a
military strike in a UN speech last year. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayayollah
Ali Khamenei has reportedly decided to rein in the country's nuclear
progress in order to avoid crossing the red line.
AR Grasp the nettle: Humiliate the Islamic
Republic, give the Iranian people a chance to break free of the mullahs,
contain the blowback from Islamists worldwide, and declare victory in time
for President Obama to cut a new deal with Gulf Arabs to cooperate with
Israel in rebuilding the Mideast. But I don't see Obama doing it without a
big jolt from Tehran.
2013 April 23
Barroso, Europe, Austerity
European Commission president José Manuel Barroso
said that while he still believed in the need for sweeping economic reforms
and drastic cuts in budget deficits, political and social acceptance of such
policies was now at risk: "While this policy is fundamentally right, I think
it has reached its limits in many aspects. A policy to be successful not
only has to be properly designed, it has to have the minimum of political
and social support."
My next austerity step is to stop eating to cut costs.
Thomas de Maizière
If the UK were to leave the EU, it would be a
great disappointment to us in Germany. It would weaken NATO and weaken the
British influence within NATO. From a military point of view, the
disadvantages for Britain would be bigger than the advantages.
Germany would lose a strong partner for transatlantic cooperation with
America and a pragmatic British approach to security issues. For the last
five years, the German defense budget has been quite stable. In the future
too, it will remain stable. This is nearly unique in Europe. Of the bigger
countries, only Poland is in a similar position. I see reductions in Britain
In the euro crisis, some countries call for German
leadership. They criticize us when we say leadership means we Europeans
shouldn't spend so much raising debts, and they say this is not good
leadership. But when the leader only fulfills the wishes of the others, that
is not leadership.
Liberal Democrat former armed forces minister Nick Harvey
says Britain cannot afford a new Trident fleet. Lib Dems were infuriated by
the PM's recent claim that the UK needed to retain a "continuous at-sea"
deterrence to protect the country from rogue states such as North Korea.
Harvey calls Trident as a "fantastically expensive insurance policy" that no
longer makes sense: "Trident is, quite simply, a burden that distorts the
AR Merge the British and
French nuclear deterrents and let Europe pay —
America The Skittish
Stephen M. Walt
I am troubled about our collective inability to
keep dangers in perspective and to respond to them sensibly. The speed with
which the Tsarnaev brothers were identified was remarkable, but public
officials shut down the entire city of Boston and several surrounding
suburbs for most of the day, at an estimated cost of roughly $300 million. A
teenage amateur paralyzed an entire American metropolis. Terrorists want a
lot of people watching, and that's what the American media gave them.
Ever since 9/11, our political leaders
have kept us disrobing in security lines, obsessing over every bizarre
jihadi utterance, and constantly fretting about the Next Big One. Terrorism
"experts" keep us on the edge of our seats, even though many other dangers
pose a far greater risk. Bad things happen to good people, and it is the
task of our political leaders to help us keep our heads even when awful
things occur. The reaction to the Marathon attacks was grossly
Richard Dawkins: "Mehdi Hasan admits to
believing Muhamed flew to heaven on a winged horse. And New Statesman sees
fit to print him as a serious journalist."
Tom Watson: "You really
are a gratuitously unpleasant man."
no. Just frank. You'd ridicule palpably absurd beliefs of any other kind.
Why make an exception for religion?"
Watson: "You are gratuitously
unpleasant; I am just frank."
Dawkins: "A believes in fairies. B
believes in winged horses. Criticise A and you're rational. Criticise B and
you're a bigoted racist Islamophobe."
2013 April 22
US GDP To Grow 3%
The US GDP will become 3% bigger in July as
billions of dollars of intangible assets enter the accounts. The revision
adopts a new international standard in the biggest update since 1999 and
rewrites history back to 1929. Bureau of Economic Analysis national accounts
manager Brent Moulton: "We're capitalizing research and development and also
this category referred to as entertainment, literary and artistic originals,
which would be things like motion picture originals, long-lasting television
programs, books, and sound recordings."
To Boldly Go
Subjects that were once in the realm of science
fiction are now serious. Predictions:
With big new telescopes, we can look for planets like Earth orbiting stars
like our Sun.
2 Space trips for tourists
around the Moon are likely soon, with round trips to Mars later.
3 In this century, flotillas of tiny robotic
spacecraft will map the Solar System, initially for minerals.
4 In a century or more, human colonies are
likely to be living independently on asteroids or on Mars.
5 Humans will be redesigned to cope with
hibernation or suspended animation for interstellar travel.
6 New computers will create virtual universes
containing artificial life, allowing virtual time travel.
2013 April 21
Andrew Zak Williams
New Atheists have recently been accused of
Islamophobia. Sam Harris imagines a radical Islamist state acquiring long
range nuclear weaponry. An avowedly suicidal regime makes nuclear deterrence
a worthless currency. Harris anticipates the possibility that the United
States may find itself having to press the button first. But so do we all.
One can dream up allegations about any religion that are so obscene that
no believer should be expected to respond. But Islam's holy book, taken
literally, demands an embrace of violence and reprisals that wouldn't be
tolerated by any humanist ethos. These tenets and precepts have real
consequences and repercussions for all of us.
We are used to seeing
Muslim spokespersons choosing the aftermath of a terrorist attack carried
out in the Prophet's name to practise mealy-mouthed equivocation at the
price of heartfelt sympathy. Then again, many moderate Muslims are at the
front of the queue deploring much that is done in the name of their faith.
The atheist community will not be bullied by lazy allegations of bigotry
leveled against those who point out that a religion that harbors such extremes
has some explaining to do. Resort to the tag "Islamophobia" is justified
only if you adapt a bizarre definition of the word that is satisfied merely
if the religion is held up to scrutiny.
2013 April 20
The Tsarnaev Brothers
Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was
originally from Chechnya and came to the United States with his family in
either 2002 or 2003. He studied engineering at a community college in
Boston. He was also a boxer, participating in a national Golden Gloves
competition, and dreamed of fighting in the Olympics.
Tamerlan was a
Muslim. He did not drink or smoke and said "there are no values anymore" and
"people can't control themselves". After five years in the United States, he
said: "I don't have a single American friend. I don't understand them."
YouTube he subscribed to a channel called "Allah is the One."
His brother Dzhokhar, 19, entered the U.S. at the same time and attended a
public high school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he became a Greater
Boston League winter all-star for wrestling. He also won a scholarship of
$2,500 from the city of Cambridge in 2011.
The area near Chechnya
where the brothers originate has been a hotbed of Islamic insurgency. Their father Anzor Tsarnaev described
Dzhokhar as "a true angel" and "a second-year medical student" in the
"He is such an intelligent boy. We expected him to come on holidays here."
Douglas Yoffe: "I met him almost 10 years ago, I was down at one
of the boxing gyms and he was boxing ... I said he must have had some fights
in Russia, he was too polished for such a young kid. He was very relaxed,
very smooth in the ring ... But he did have an arrogant, disdainful
hatte Tamerlan Zarnajew schon 2011 im Visier
Tamerlan Zarnajew ist Anfang 2011 vom FBI befragt worden. Er soll
"Anhänger eines radikalen Islam" gewesen sein und sich darauf vorbereitet
haben, die USA zu verlassen, um sich Untergrundorganisationen anzuschließen.
AR Face facts: Islam again. We have a clash of
civilizations. Nominative determinism: The original Tamerlane was the "Sword
of Islam" in the 1300s who led Mongol hordes on rampages that killed an
estimated 17 million people. See Coral.
UK and IMF to Fight
A Battle in May
UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne
is preparing an aggressive battle with the IMF in May over the
credibility of his Plan A for austerity in the UK. Osborne fears IMF
officials will criticize his plan as part of a proxy attack on US
AR He should be proud to
do battle on behalf of US capital.
The NASA Kepler orbiting
telescope has found three
good candidates for habitable worlds outside our solar system:
Kepler-62e and Kepler-62f are the outermost of 5 planets around
Kepler-62, which is 11 Em away.
Kepler-69c is on the edge of the habitable zone of Kepler-69, which is
25 Em away.
1 exameter = ca 105 light years
TMT Observatory Corporation
The Thirty Meter Telescope has go for construction on the summit of
Mauna Kea, Hawaii. TMT will join 13 others on the peak but will dwarf
them all: the biggest now are the twin 10 m Keck telescopes. If all
goes well, its astronomy will start in 2021.
NK supreme leader Kim Jong-un
and his new
wife Ri Sol-ju
SK president Park Geun-hye
Professor Jean-Denis Rouillon has been
studying women's breasts. He has found that, after a year, the bosoms of
young bra wearers sag an average of 7 mm more than free-range boobs. A
Japanese experiment from 1990 had similar results. Science has blown the
claim that all women need lifelong surgical supports across their upper
torsos. Is it time to sack the straps?
Lose the bras, girls.
US To NK
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says NK is "skating
very close to a dangerous line" as it heats up the rhetoric: "Their actions
and their words have not helped defuse a combustible situation." He said the
USSK is "fully prepared to deal with any contingency".
Skate and burn —
Seen in Belfast, Northern Ireland
Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead
(YouTube, 0:31) now has over
a million views.
2 preview files,
20 book pages each,
are now available
2013 April 19
A sane man's contempt for the United States Senate
must now be certain and complete. Given its null response to the mass murder
of schoolchildren, those who still believe that our governance represents
popular will are suckers or worse.
The higher house of our bicameral
farce is one in which 40% of the American population choses 60% of the
representation. And the lower house is gerrymandered to a point where a
majority of American votes are guaranteed to achieve a minority of the
representation. But focus on the money.
We have given our democratic
birthright over to capital. The risk to political careerists from individual
Americans who want stricter gun laws pales beside that from a lobbying group
backed by those who profit from the fear and violence in our culture. Only
cash has meaning to those who claim to represent us.
It isn't the American presidency that's
broken, it's the legislative branch. The sin was the equivocation that
declares money to be speech. The government has elevated money and guns over
German power was central to Europe even before
the principalities of the Holy Roman Empire were soldered together by Otto
von Bismarck. Unification, and then reunification, turned the German
question into the abiding dilemma of European geopolitics.
The euro was the price Helmut Kohl paid to
Francois Mitterrand to win his blessing for reunification. It is not
responsible for the financial mess in the British economy. But it is easy
for those suffering from austerity to see the euro as a sinister German
The progressive integration of the German economy with those in
the east plays to the same conspiracy theory. In the early stages of the
euro crisis, the gripe was about an absence of leadership. Yet many of those
who fear Germany complain that Berlin prefers the role of a greater
Switzerland to that of a big player in European defense.
criticism of Germany that sticks is about the idea that all would be well if
others behaved like Germans. Adjustment has to be symmetrical. For others to
cut their deficits, Germany must shed some of its surplus and learn to carry
Lawrence Wright tells a scary story in
Going Clear. The Church of Scientology started as a method of
psychological self-help, but now has at least $1 billion in liquid assets
and property estimated at about the same amount, making it among the richer
Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, born in 1911 in
Nebraska, had some talent as a writer and a good deal of personal charm.
Though his life may have been spoiled by his own frailties, he apparently
needed to see himself as a serious thinker, and maybe even was one.
In his book
Dianetics, Hubbard describes the procedures to master in order to
progress. Many members and former members claim to have gotten some benefit
from the Scientology training. The people who grew up in the church were
taught to despise "wog" (without goals) society.
lawsuits as a weapon. When in 1993 the IRS sent a bill to Scientology for $1
billion in back taxes, Scientologists infiltrated it, IRS agents were
threatened, and their lives became a sea of legal and domestic torments. The
agency capitulated and granted Scientology the status of a religion.
Sid Kouider at the ENS Paris and colleagues used
EEG to record electrical activity in the brains of 80 infants while they
were briefly shown pictures of faces.
awareness of a stimulus is linked to a two-stage pattern of brain activity.
Areas of the visual cortex fire immediately after a visual stimulus. About
300 ms later other areas light up, including the prefrontal cortex.
Conscious awareness emerges when the second stage reaches a threshold.
Kouider and colleagues put EEG caps on groups of babies aged 5, 12, and
15 months, to record brain activity as the babies were shown a series of
rapidly changing images. Most of the images were randomly patterned ovals,
but among them was a face, flashed for between 17 and 300 ms.
group responded to the face with the two-stage pattern. In the babies aged
12 and 15 months it arrived 800 to 900 ms after the image display. In the
5-month babies, there was a delay of more than 1 s before the second pattern
appeared. In adults, it appears after 300 ms, on average.
are not direct evidence of subjective experience. We don't know how short
the delay must be for awareness.
2013 April 18
The Digital Public Library of America is launched
today. The holdings of U.S. research libraries, archives, and museums
become available to everyone online and free of charge.
expresses an Enlightenment faith in the power of communication. Thomas
Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin both believed that the health of the
Republic depended on the free flow of ideas. Thanks to the Internet, we now
can realize their dream. We can make all the collections of all our
libraries accessible to all. That is the mission of the DPLA.
DPLA will be a distributed system that will make the holdings of public and
research libraries, archives, museums, and historical societies available
via the web. The user-friendly interface will enable readers to consult
works that used to be stored on inaccessible shelves or locked up in
treasure rooms. Readers will simply navigate to the
2013 April 17
The Magaret Thatcher state funeral today was a classic British exercise in
imperial pomp, the greatest
since the funerals of Winston Churchill in
1965 and the Queen Mother in 2002.
Top Ten Internet neologisms:
1 Avatars — This word
for our digital incarnations has a mystic origin in the Sanskrit term
avatara for a god descended from the heavens into earthly form.
2 Hashtags — Once an American shorthand for weight in pounds, the # sign was
adopted by Bell engineers as the function symbol on their phones. Hashtags have come into their own on Twitter.
problems — Entirely innocent words can fall victim to machine filth-filters
thanks to unfortunate sequences of letters within them. The effect was
labeled in honor of Scunthorpe in 1996, when AOL temporarily prevented any
Scunthorpe residents from creating user accounts.
4 Trolling — The Old
French verb troller means to wander around while hunting, and "trolling"
entered English to describe fishing by trailing bait around. This idea of
baiting the unwitting led to online trolling, where net users simulate naivety to ensnare the naive. Trolls are also monstrous
— Richard Dawkins coined the term "meme" in
his 1976 book The Selfish Gene to signify a unit of cultural transmission.
6 Spam — The
most enduring gift of British comedy series Monty Python's Flying Circus may
be the reuse of the brand name used since 1937 by the Hormel Foods
Corporation for spiced ham. Spamming came to describe any process of
drowning out "real" content.
LOLs — If you type "LOL" or "lol",
you're not literally laughing out loud. You're offering a kind of stage
direction: dramatizing a move in a conversation through written words.
8 Meh — The supremely useful "meh" expresses a
contemporary species of indifference. It suggests something like "OK, whatever" and was apparently first recorded in a 1995 episode of The
9 Cupertino errors
— Also known as "auto-correct errors", a
Cupertino error occurs when your computer thinks it knows what you're trying
to say better than you do. The name comes from the California city where
Apple has its headquarters.
— In Low German, a geck is a
crazy person. In 1952, Robert Heinlein used "geek" in the sense of a
freakishly adept technology enthusiast.
2013 April 16
Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt: "For every
person online, there are two who are not. By the end of the decade, everyone
on Earth will be connected."
About 38% of the world's population uses
the internet in 2013, up from about 35% last year, according to the ITU.
Poor and developing nations around the world are isolated by crumbling or
nonexistent Web infrastructures, and others are hindered by factors ranging
from geography to censorship.
Google supports a project called Geeks
Without Frontiers, a nonprofit group that donates computers and related
technology to poor areas around the world. The group now aims to bring
wireless access to regions with no traditional Web access. In Africa, more
people have access to a mobile phone than have access to electricity.
Samsung is backing a project to turn old shipping containers into
solar-powered, web-enabled classrooms in places like South Africa and Sudan.
Privacy is so last century!
The Facebook Home app integrates all
of the social network's services into Android. Instead of having to download
apps, access is consolidated on the user's home screen. Facebook says the
data Home would collect is no different from what the site already tracks.
Privacy is fast becoming an outdated concept.
David Rowan: "Our
concept of privacy is very much a 20th century idea. All that personal data
you are giving to these private companies they are making money on and they
decide how it's going to be used. You lose control of that data."
Jaron Lanier says we pay for the big online services such as Google and
Facebook by giving away information about ourselves that can be turned into
Andrew Keen: "Facebook wants to know everything we do, so
they can sell more advertising. It shows that Facebook has absolutely no
respect for our privacy." He foresees a "scary, nightmarish, dystopian
future" of "radical transparency" where every aspect of our existence is
recorded: "Data distribution and the invasion of our privacy is the
pollution of the big data age."
NK engineers launched a satellite into space December
2012. After the launch, US Navy ships recovered the front section of the
rocket and found clues about NK warhead design. US officials say the NK
missile cone had dimensions to fit a nuclear warhead for atmospheric
The Defense Intelligence Agency, in a classified assessment,
expressed "moderate confidence" that NK "has nuclear weapons capable of
delivery by ballistic missiles". Intelligence has been building for years
and now suggests NK has mastered miniaturization and warhead design.
2013 April 15
NK Has Won
NK nuclear and missile technology has already found
its way to the Mideast. The regime helped Syria develop a nuclear reactor.
It has sold its wares to anyone willing to pay and works closely with Iran.
The crisis has already broadcast a message of encouragement to tyrants
and regimes considering nuclear weapons. If you have nuclear capabilities,
it doesn't matter how outrageously you behave, how horribly you mistreat
your people, how flimsy your economy is. Superpowers are afraid of making
As NK threatened a "preemptive nuclear attack" on the US,
the "final destruction" of SK, and a "nuclear attack" on Tokyo, world powers
held talks with Iran over its nuclear program. The talks went nowhere.
Last September, Tehran and Pyongyang signed a cooperation agreement like
the one NK signed with Syria a decade ago, which brought NK technicians to
help Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad build a nuclear reactor that Israel
destroyed in 2007. Iranian scientists observed the third NK nuclear test
earlier this year.
AR If Obama were to
nuke the NK nuke site, that would send a message too.
2013 April 14
News Is Bad 4U
News is to the mind what sugar is to the body. News
flashes are bright-colored candies for the mind.
Today, we are beginning
to recognize how toxic news can be:
● News is irrelevant
News has no explanatory power
● News is
toxic to your body
● News increases
● News inhibits
● News works like a drug
News wastes time
● News makes us
● News kills creativity
Books are good.
This just in:
Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens are accused of
All are accused by
Nathan Lean, Murtaza Hussain, and Glenn Greenwald of New Atheist bigotry.
2013 April 13
SK Leader Battle Ready
New York Times
Her mother was shot by an assassin. Her father, a
staunchly anti-Communist dictator, was similarly killed. And she survived a
vicious razor attack to the face.
New SK president Park Geun-hye, 61,
is as hard as they come. On learning that her father had died, her first
concern was over an NK invasion. Her first question after an operation for
the razor attack in 2006 was how her party was campaigning.
so tough that her gender is a nonissue. Choi Jin, head of the Institute for
Presidential Leadership in Seoul: "She dispelled whatever doubt there had
been about a female president by showing that she was a strong-minded
But she may go too far in hanging tough. She filled the top
security posts in her cabinet and staff with former generals and plays
hardball with the NK regime.
Richard Wagner the prophet and Adolf Hitler the disciple?
cut of the troubled history of the Wagner family
2013 April 12
Cameron and Merkel
David Cameron will discuss European reform with
Angela Merkel on a visit to Germany this weekend.
Cameron: "We need a Europe that is more open, that is more
competitive, that is more flexible, that thinks more about the cost that
it's putting on businesses, particularly small businesses; we want a world
that wakes up to this modern world of competition and flexibility. That is
CDU deputy parliamentary chairman Michael Meister: "We want
to unify Europe and we have to do it together, and I think there are a lot
of common ideas with the British side and the German side on it."
If someone robs your house, you don't say: "I
disagreed with the burglar's policy of tying me to a chair. But I did admire
Maggie's supporters are insulting her memory with a
funeral paid for by the taxpayer. They should say: "If you can't stand on
your own two feet, you can't expect help from the state."
The impasse over the Iranian nuclear program may
have reached a balance. Each party is more comfortable with the status quo
than with any available alternative. Tehran is more inclined to stand its
ground than make a deal, and Washington prefers the present impasse to war.
Israel may feel less comfortable, but the risks of a unilateral Israeli
strike might convince Israel to hold its fire. Iran has stopped short of
their red line.
Pentagon Security Breach
Sensitive information about the NK nuclear program from a
classified March 2013 report was discussed during an open hearing on Capitol
In a hearing to discuss the Pentagon
budget, Representative David Lamborn read a sentence in a report by the
Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA): "DIA assess with moderate confidence the
North currently has nuclear weapons capable of delivery by ballistic
missiles, however, the reliability will be low."
Officials said after
the hearing that the sentence he read was "mistakenly" marked as
AR All this reminds me of
the foreplay to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Graft In China
The Little Red Book is gone. With the loss
of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, China no longer has an ideology. New
President Xi Jinping appeals to patriotism, but before the Chinese dream can
move the masses, the country needs to fight corruption. New Premier Li
Keqiang: "Since we have chosen public office we should give up all thought
of making money."
So far, Xi and Li have pursued easier objectives,
ordering officials to abandon high-style living. It seems some official
departments are turning their canteens into luxury restaurants so that they
can continue to enjoy their banquets. The regime goes after the small fry
but is leery of targeting corruption in the higher ranks. Investigations
reveal vast wealth accumulated by relatives of the party's inner circle and
by the descendants of the old revolutionaries. The upper ranks of Chinese
society form a robber baronage.
Officials bundle peasants off the
land to sell it and get business kickbacks for factories that pollute the
air and rivers. Transforming so corrupt a system from top to bottom has dire
political implications. If the Chinese people don't tackle corruption, China
will be doomed, but if they do tackle corruption the party will be doomed.
China needs leaders who put people above party.
The artist formerly known as Johnny Rotten, John
Lydon, says those now celebrating Margaret Thatcher's death are "loathsome".
The former Sex Pistol added: "I'm not going to dance on her grave." He also
denied being a misogynist and a Nazi.
Good theology helps one to live for a while in
silence. Apophatic theology is often called negative. It is a habit of mind
that we have lost sight of in our talkative age of information.
theology takes us through speech to another dimension of reality. The
apophatic moment can only occur after a feast of noise. God is not goodness,
not soul, not intellect. But a vigorous affirmation of God is an essential
part of the process.
When we speak of God we have no idea what we are
talking about. It is all too easy to turn what we call "God" into a being
like ourselves, writ large, to give our prejudices a seal of transcendent
approval. Apophatic silence is good.
Armstrong is nearly there. Zen is apophatic: Let silence peak in a moment of
satori. Bang — all over. No God. No more blabber, just clarity and calm.
2013 April 11
NK: "War can break out any moment"
North Korea has erected at
least one Musudan missile into its firing position. A US official said the
erection may be a trial run to check everything works. The missile is an
untested No-Dong-B BM-25 Musudan MRTBM (based on the Soviet R-27 SLBM) with
a range up to 3,500 km (3.5 Mm) and 1.6 km CEP for its 1,200 kg (1.2 Mg)
China Forex $3.4T
China is again facing heavy capital inflows after its foreign
exchange reserves jumped to $3.44 trillion — about as big as the German
GDP — in Q1.
Money fled China in 2012. Its return stoked fast
credit growth in Q1. The People's Bank of China has stepped up liquidity
withdrawals to blunt the inflationary effect of the inflows. Beijing has
capital controls to prevent speculative inflows, but investors are sneaking
China's GDP grew at 7.9% in Q4 2012 and is
expected to be higher for Q1 2013.
Would that we could share such pain.
OMG: English Evolves
OMG has a long history. In a
1917 letter from First Sea Lord Admiral Sir John Arbuthnot Fisher to First
Lord of the Admiralty Winston Spencer Churchill, the old admiral wrote: "I
hear that a new order of Knighthood is on the tapis — O.M.G. (Oh! My God!) —
Shower it on the Admiralty!"
As for LOL, the textual speech act of
laughing out loud is a stage direction for transient feelings. ROFL (rolling
on the floor laughing) exceeds lolling in intensity, while ROFLMAO (rolling
on the floor laughing my ass off) is more ironic. Or I can LMFAO (laugh my
fucking ass off).
This is memetic evolution in action. Within a
few letters and characters, deep layers of meaning are gathering.
Texting was originally a test tool for network operators. But it caught on
with young users who found its cryptic characters an ideally minimal
medium in an era of information overload.
Some texters act
"for the lulz". The lazy lower case letters and use of the "internet z" as a
typo for "s" convey a shift of meaning. They connote subversion, as the name
of the hacker collective LulzSec (Lulz Security — "the world's leaders in
high-quality entertainment at your expense") suggests.
acts are performative. Typing for lulz signals membership of a tribe. It
adds wit to communicative intent. And it puts an exchange in a shell of
self-reference. Even if the texted me resembles my true self, "I" remain an
elaborate self-invention, performed letter by letter.
sometimes outsource the composition of crucial text messages and status
updates to their more eloquent friends. Their 140 characters are crafted and pitched to sound spontaneous — poetry.
Johnny Rotten Sexist Pig
Former Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten, now known as
John Lydon, 57, told Australian TV anchor Carrie Bickmore to "shut up when a
man is talking". Lydon insulted Bickmore when she cut in with a question.
He went on: "Stop it. You sound like one of them dreadful loud birds I don't
When she said he was offensive, he
replied: "So are you when you do that. You have to learn what manners and
respect is." A fellow TV anchor: "He was a flat-out sexist, misogynist pig."
2013 April 10
The euro crisis threatens to destroy the European
Union. Eurozone countries are indebted in a currency they don't control.
They are held guilty and the structural defects of the euro go uncorrected.
The blueprint for the euro created two problems. The
political problem is that Germany did not seek the dominant position into
which it has been thrust and it is unwilling to accept the obligations and
liabilities that go with it. The financial problem is that Germany is
imposing the wrong policies on the eurozone. Austerity doesn't work. You
cannot shrink the debt burden by shrinking the budget deficit.
In the bailout of Cyprus, Germany went too far.
Attention focused on the impact of the rescue on Cyprus, but the impact on
the European banking system is far more important. Banks will now have to
pay risk premiums that fall more heavily on the weak.
for problems of the eurozone is eurobonds. Countries that abide by the
fiscal compact could be allowed to convert their entire stock of government
debt into eurobonds. Germany has no right to prevent this. If Germany is
opposed to eurobonds, it should consider leaving the euro.
left, the euro would depreciate. The debtor countries would be more
competitive and their debt would become sustainable. By contrast, if Italy
left, its debt burden would become unsustainable and would have to be
restructured. This would plunge the global financial system into a meltdown.
Germans should choose between accepting eurobonds or leaving the euro.
Authorizing eurobonds would benefit Germany. The cost of leaving the euro
may be the end of the European Union.
When Margaret Thatcher came to power, she faced a Britain still dreaming of
being a world power but blocked by the power of the trade unions. With
aplomb, she neutered the unions and woke up the UK. But she also set up
Britain for the growth of financial market capitalism and drove it to the
brink of deindustrialization. She discredited the EU in the UK. She helped
Ronald Reagan win the cold war, but on German reunification she was cold.
— Die Welt
The social coldness that is making Britain
shiver once again today is her legacy. After her forced resignation in 1990,
she was asked what she had changed as leader of the country, and she
answered: "Everything." That crowing answer is the key to understanding her.
She was always a rebel.
— Süddeutsche Zeitung
Thatcherism stands for
deregulation, privatization, and the destruction of the welfare state. No
one divided British society as much as Margaret Thatcher. She destroyed the
trade unions and ruined the public sector. As soon as she gained office, she
lowered the top tax rate from 83% to 60% and raised VAT from 8% to 15%.
During her time in office she used up more than 100 ministers and surrounded
herself with yes-men. Only one women made it into her cabinet.
Thatcher liberalized the British financial sector. The move
triggered the massive boom of the City of London. Between 1993 and 2006, the
British economy grew by 2.8% on average per year while unemployment fell
from 9% to 4%. But since then, the world has learned that faith in free
markets was a mistake. The Big Bang was followed by the Big Bust. Today
prime minister David Cameron and his finance minister George Osborne look
with envy at the industrial heart of the German economy.
Christopher Hitchens, December 1990
Margaret Thatcher, November 1990: "I make up my mind about people in the
first 10 seconds, and I very rarely change it." Within minutes of first
being introduced to me, Thatcher lashed me across the buttocks with a
rolled-up parliamentary order paper.
It happened in 1977, when she
was still leader of the opposition and was pandering to South African
racists. I made the mistake of bowing as if to acknowledge some point of
hers, and she took swift advantage of my posture by shrieking, "Bow lower!"
and spanking me. Later, in 1979, she reversed her position and oversaw the
transition of Rhodesia into Zimbabwe.
It is easy to summarize the
foulness of the Thatcher years: the combination of Malthus and Ayn Rand that
went to make up her social philosophy; the police mentality that she evinced
when faced with dissent; the awful toadying to Reagan and Bush; the
indulgence shown to apartheid; the coarse, racist betrayal of Hong Kong; the
destruction of local democracy and autonomous popular institutions.
Thatcher was a radical and not a reactionary. She has shown that there is
power and dignity to be won by defying the status quo.
2013 April 9
"Maggie! Maggie! Maggie! Out! Out! Out!"
Maggie Thatcher forced us to dislike her. She seemed intent on
monetizing human value and famously cared little for the impulses that bind
individuals into a society.
But before her reign TV schedules were a
state secret not shared with daily newspapers. A special license was granted
exclusively to the Radio Times. It was illegal to put an extension lead on
your phone — you had to wait six weeks for an engineer. There was only one
state-approved answering machine available. Electricity was a state
monopoly. Thatcher swept all this away.
We live in a world that is
harder and more competitive, and certainly more intently aware of the lure
of cash. It is doubtful that we will ever undo her legacy.
With Denis Thatcher
David Cameron: "Margaret Thatcher succeeded against all the
odds, and the real thing about Margaret Thatcher is that she
didn't just lead our country, she saved our country, and I
believe she will go down as the greatest British peacetime prime minister."
Tony Blair: "Margaret Thatcher was a
towering political figure. ... Her global impact was vast."
Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013)
The Iron Lady was the most charismatic British prime
minister since Winston Churchill.
She was PM from 1979 to
With Ronald Reagan
Barack Obama: "The world has lost one
of the great champions of freedom and liberty, and America
has lost a true friend. Here in America, many of us will
never forget her standing shoulder to shoulder with President Reagan, reminding the world that we are not simply
carried along by the currents of history — we can shape them with moral conviction, unyielding courage and iron will."
Cyprus was partitioned in 1974. Its northern third remains under Turkish control.
Greek Cypriots in the south built a freewheeling banking center.
grew rich on chaos in
Lebanon, the former Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union.
capita Cypriot income quadrupled between 1975 and 2011. In US
dollars, earnings per head rose by a factor of over 20 over the same
Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004 and the euro in
2008. But tax havens and
brass plaque economies fell out of favor.
Wesley Clark on NK
Big Nuts Rise Faster
On Earth Than On Mars
MIT Technology Review
TU Braunschweig physicist
Guttler and colleagues have shown that Brazil nuts in a shaken container
of mixed nuts would rise to the top more slowly on Mars than on Earth,
and even more slowly on the Moon.
The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer was installed on the
International Space Station in 2011 and has recorded more than 25
billion particle events, including 400,000 positrons. The results show
"unexpected new phenomena" and will be published Friday.
matter is unknown stuff that in total has six times more gravity than
ordinary matter. Scientists think dark matter particles should
occasionally hit one another, annihilating into positrons and electrons,
which AMS can detect at higher energies (up to 350 GeV) and better
precision than previous experiments. AMS has observed a uniform positron
excess across the sky, suggesting a single explanation.
John Kerry, Tuesday:
"The bottom line is simply that what Kim Jong Un
is choosing to do is provocative. It is dangerous, reckless. The United
States will not accept the DPRK as a nuclear state."
AR Right on,
Korea rattled off fresh volleys of bombast over the weekend, declaring
that it had entered a "state of war" with SK and calling the US mainland
a "boiled pumpkin".
2013 April 8
Leslie H. Gelb
President Obama has told Iran's leaders that if
they come close to marrying a nuclear warhead with a missile that can hit
the United States or our allies, they should expect a U.S. military attack,
yet he's not nearly as tough with North Korea.
Is North Korea more or less dangerous than Iran?
Is President Ahmadinejad more or less crazy than
President Kim Jong-un?
Is Pyongyang too far
gone toward nukes to stop, while Tehran is not?
Israel more important to American security than South Korea and Japan?
Obama made his strongest statements against Iranian nukes to AIPAC,
suggesting that Israel and oil count for more than Seoul and Tokyo. American
tolerance of Kim's nukes may push South Koreans and Japanese toward their
AR The US umbrella is effective against NK,
which is constrained by China, but not against Iran, which wants a
Zen and the NHS
MIT grad Jon Kabat-Zinn discovered Zen in 1965:
"That first class took the top off my head. I found a sense of largeness
beyond my little preoccupations of what would happen to my future, or my
relationships. It opened up a new dimension of being which could offer more
meaning and enable me to interface more effectively with society in a way
which could be healing and transformative."
Kabat-Zinn developed the Mindfulness Based Stress
Reduction (MBSR) program: an eight-week course of meditation and yoga that
train practitioners to pay close attention to the current moment. Since
then, a steady stream of academic papers, books, and randomized control
trials led to hundreds of MBSR programs across the US.
years, Kabat-Zinn has collaborated with psychologists in the UK who have
adapted his work for Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), now
recognized by NICE as a treatment
for depression. Kabat-Zinn and others say mindfulness has unlimited
applicability to healthcare issues. UK policymakers are keen to hear more.
AR Excellent move: I like
The EZ risks drifting into prolonged stagnation.
A recovery now looks fanciful. Even Germany has run out of steam. Growth
will not come fast enough from structural reforms. Rich EZ countries need to
help their poor partners.
SMEs are the engine of job creation. Yet
they find loans hard to get and expensive. The ECB should lower its policy
rate. It could offer cheap loans to banks or lend directly to SMEs.
AR Yes, lend me what I need to create an SME.
2013 April 7
Ban Killer Robots
Some say robots could be more accurate in battle
than human soldiers. But current machines have no way to conform to
international law. Their sensing systems are not up to that. They lack the
vital components of battlefield awareness and common sense reasoning to make
decisions about whom to kill.
Robots do not have the agency to decide
if striking a target is proportional to the expected military advantage.
There is no metric for this. Much of war is art and not science. A military
commander must make a qualitative decision about the civilian lives that can
be risked for a military objective.
A robot has no moral agency. Some
would hold the commander who sends a robot on a mission responsible. But the
problem could lie with the mission programmer, the manufacturer, or an
unknown subcontractor. Maybe the device was tampered with in the industrial
supply chain or damaged in action. Forensics are difficult with complex
The United States has the opportunity to take a lead. We
need to think about how:
1 An adaptive
enemy will exploit the weaknesses of robot weapons with spoofing or hacking.
2 Unknown computer programs will interact when
swarms of robots meet.
3 Autonomous weapons
could destabilize world security and trigger unintentional wars.
month in London, a group will launch a civil society campaign to stop killer
AR A ban would be hard to
enforce, worse than a nuclear proliferation ban.
2013 April 6
In 2004, Google co-founder Larry Page predicted
that online search "will be included in people's brains" so that "when you
think about something and don't really know much about it, you will
automatically get information".
Google didn't set out with a strategy
for world domination. When last year Google announced it would bring the
data collected through its online services together, the move made business
sense. By tracking our every email, appointment, and social networking
activity, Google Now can predict where we need to be, when, and with whom,
to relieve us of making decisions. But six European countries are asking if
Google's data policy violates their national privacy laws.
defending personal privacy as a human right. Google Glass is a line of smart
glasses that privacy advocates compare to stylish CCTV cameras that people
and cover self-driving cars and Google Glass, our internet searches might be
linked to our driving routes, and all the ads we saw linked to the scenery
might be based on everything that Google already knows about us.
many, this may be an enticing future. Only by understanding it can we get
Google to act more responsibly. For an engineer, the past and the present
are just raw materials for making a better future. Let's make it right.
The Cairo subway was one of Hosni Mubarak's
proudest achievements. It cost several billion dollars and was beautifully
appointed. A special police unit kept the stations clean and safe. Then came
the Egyptian revolution. Today, the subway is a wreck. The tile walls of its
central hub, Tahrir Square, are chipped and filthy. Platforms are strewn
with litter and passageways stink.
Egyptian women now fear shopping
or taking cabs at night. Cairo police sit in their precinct houses and
refuse to provide security. Tourists have vanished. Youth unemployment and
inflation are high and rising, and much of the economy is unregulated and
unofficial. Egypt imports roughly $60 billion worth of goods and services
per year but exports under $25 billion.
Egypt spends about 20% of its
budget on fuel subsidies, and Egyptians spend 70% of their income on
subsidized food. But to secure the IMF loan Egypt needs to unlock more aid
and investment, it must cut its subsidies and plan for growth. Many
Egyptians blame the mess on the incompetence of President Mohammed Morsi and
his ruling Muslim Brotherhood.
I deeply regret going to graduate school. It was
a terrible idea. After years of trying, I will not get a job. Tenure-track
positions in my field have about 150 applicants each. Multiply that chance
by the 10 or so appropriate positions in the entire world, and you have
about 6% chance of success. You wouldn't bet your life on such ludicrous
Just go do something else. By the time you finish graduate
school, you academic self will be the culmination of your entire self, and
thus you will believe that not having a tenure-track job makes you
worthless. You will believe this so strongly that when you do not land a
job, it will destroy you, and nobody outside of academia will understand
Don't resent the generation of full professors teetering toward
retirement, cleaving resolutely to their positions. Their tenure lines will
die with them. You don't need to put yourself through 5 to 10 years of the
hardest work you will ever do, followed by years of rejection and dejection,
simply to regret it. When it comes to graduate school, just say no.
AR Cheer up, Rebecca, write a rom-com screenplay
2013 April 5
Narratives Of War
Emile Simpson sees two kinds of war. Traditional
bipolar conflicts are fought to establish military conditions for a
political solution. A new kind of war seek political outcomes directly,
usually via counterinsurgency. In the former, strategy is largely driven by
the operational needs of warfare. But in the latter, operations are
themselves political tools, used to undermine the adversary, deprive him of
political support, and if possible to convert him. In both, the war aim is
to convey a message.
In old wars, the primary audience
was the enemy population. In new conflicts, the adversary is disparate, the people at home may be puzzled and divided, and a much of the
audience is global. An operation that conveys one message to one
audience may mean something else to another. The operations of
the United States and its allies in the Mideast were intended to convey a
message of liberation to local populations. But for many on the
receiving end, and for many global observers, they were imperialist.
No responsible government now uses armed force without calculating the
global impact of doing so. A strategic narrative is needed that explains why
one is at war at all, and how the military operations can help. The
narrative must not only be reasonable but also appeal to the emotions. Above
all, it needs an ethical foundation. The wider audience must believe that
one is fighting a just war. The genius of Winston Churchill in 1940 was to
devise a strategic narrative that not only inspired Britons but also won the
support of the United States. By contrast, Hitler had no good strategic narrative.
AR The Kim
Jong Un strategic narrative fails too.
UK PM David Cameron defended his decision to
retain the Trident nuclear deterrent by citing the threat of an NK nuclear
strike against the UK: "North Korea does now have missile technology that is
able to reach, as they put it, the whole of the United States and if they
are able to reach the whole of the United States they can reach Europe too.
They can reach us too, so that is a real concern."
AR If NK can nuke the UK, then I'm a
billionaire. If this is the best defense Cameron can find for Trident, then
scrap it. If this is an acceptable threat claim, then what Tony Blair said
about the Iraqi WMD threat was acceptable too.
2013 April 4
Lost In The Cloud
Clusters of servers scattered worldwide now hold
our music, photos, and mail. We are moving toward living our entire digital
lives in the cloud. Your digital stuff now sits in vast data centers owned
by the likes of Amazon, Google, or Microsoft. The cloud lets us access
online services and digital possessions from any of our devices. It seems
that by 2020 the cloud will run all digital life.
Storing your stuff with a service offered by a third party is like dumping
your things in someone else's warehouse. But service agreements that would
be unacceptable for a physical warehouse are standard for cloud storage.
Though you technically retain copyright for stuff you create and upload, in
fact the service terms generally reserve many rights. The services can
delete files, or lose your stuff with impunity.
Our understanding of
property is based on material objects, but digital information has no fixed
physical existence. A digital file exists as a state of matter rather than
matter itself. And your cloud possessions rarely exist in just one location.
There is no way you can track them. If your file has already been uploaded
by someone else, Dropbox will just link you to the existing files instead of
uploading a duplicate. Your relation to your cloud property is confusing.
Some say we should restructure the basic
architecture of the cloud to help bring it closer to traditional notions of
property. One idea is modeled on a deposit box. For example, you would keep
a photo on a small local server. There would be no doubt that you legally
own a photo stored in your box. A Facebook image would be uploaded from your
box whenever it was needed.
A cloud "doomsday event" such as a
massive and widespread loss of data would jog our ideas.
Offshore Tax Haven
Millions of internal records have leaked from
Britain's offshore financial industry. Thousands of holders of anonymous
wealth are exposed by the British Virgin Islands (BVI) data leak, involving
some $30 trillion stashed in overseas havens. Naming names may be damaging
for many of the world's wealthiest people.
The BVI has incorporated
more than a million offshore entities since it began marketing itself
worldwide 30 years ago. The UK Foreign Office depends on the licensing
revenue to subsidize the BVI, while lawyers and accountants in the City of
London benefit from a lucrative trade as intermediaries. The 200 GB of BVI
data covers more than a decade, as well as offshoots in Singapore, Hong
Kong, and the Cook Islands.
AR All this
is rank corruption. The BVI should be closed down immediately, by force if
2013 April 3
Young man: "She told him that she loves me, which
is an important data point." Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier
would call this datafication: "To datafy a phenomenon is to put it in a
quantified format so it can be tabulated and analyzed."
analysis is a branch of digital analytics that seeks to identify the
viewpoint(s) underlying a text span. This is accomplished by identifying the
words in a proposition that originate in subjectivity, and thereby obtaining
an accurate understanding of the feelings and the preferences that animate
the utterance. This finding can then be tabulated and integrated with
millions of similar findings, to create a vast repository of information
about inwardness, which can be mined to detect patterns that will enable
prediction, for example using the Good Grief Algorithm to detect
We are ambiguous beings. We frequently have mixed
feelings, and are divided against ourselves. We use different words to
communicate similar thoughts, but those words are not synonyms. Our meanings
are often obscure. A choice is often a coarse and inadequate translation of
a feeling. In an election, what matters is that I vote. The same is true of
what I buy. A business wants my money. Its interest in my heart is owed to
its interest in my money. In the scholarly papers on sentiment analysis, the
examples given are restaurant reviews and movie reviews — a Rotten Tomatoes
view of life.
Mayer-Schönberger and Cukier: "With the help of big
data, we will no longer regard our world as a string of happenings that we
explain as natural and social phenomena, but as a universe comprised
essentially of information." The religion of information is here.
Union of Concerned Scientists
We put rigorous,
independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. We
combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative,
practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.
began as a collaboration between students and faculty members at MIT in 1969
is now an alliance of more than 400,000 citizens and scientists. UCS members
are people from all walks of life. Our members understand that scientific
analysis should guide our efforts to secure responsible changes in
government policy, corporate practices, and consumer choices.
AR Digital analytics is what the engine I worked
on at SAP did. But data — even big data — needs a lot more than a few "good
grief" algorithms to become real science.
2013 April 2
The Meme Hustler
Tim O'Reilly, founder and CEO of O'Reilly Media, gave us
such memes as open source, Web 2.0, government as a platform, and
architecture of participation. He is a smooth and stylish self-promoter as
well as a prolific blogger and tweeter. He says his company's vision is to
"change the world by spreading the knowledge of innovators" and his personal
credo is to "create more value than you capture".
As a young man, OR had hopes of writing deep books that
would change the world. In 1978, he launched a consulting firm that
specialized in technical writing. The growth of open source software was his
first big break. He hosted a summit to define the concept, wrote provocative
essays on it, produced a host of books and events to popularize it, and
cultivated a network of thinkers for it.
To support his narrative
about open source software, OR produced an account of the Internet that
became the standard way to talk about its history. He saw that as software
migrated from desktops to servers — now the cloud — it was counterproductive
to fixate on licenses. As he saw it, many of the key developments of
Internet culture were driven by open source behavior.
In 2004, OR hit
on the idea of Web 2.0. He said Silicon Valley companies should heed the
lesson of the 2001 market crash and find a way to make collective
intelligence part of their business model. The label caught on, and OR ran
events with titles like "Gov 2.0".
In public, OR presents himself as
someone who just happens to excel at detecting emerging trends. He does so
by monitoring a group he dubs the "alpha geeks" and promoting their ideas:
"Just as gene engineering allows us to artificially shape genes,
meme-engineering lets us organize and shape ideas so that they can be
transmitted more effectively, and have the desired effect once they are
With the election of Barack Obama in 2008, OR turned
his attention to government reform. His writings on Gov 2.0 reveal the same
talented meme-engineer who gave us open source and Web 2.0.
to redefine participation to something that arises from individual
frustration with bureaucracies and usually ends with citizens using or
building apps to solve their own problems. Debates about the content and
meaning of specific reforms and institutions are replaced by governments
calling on their citizens to help find spelling mistakes in patent
applications or use their phones to report potholes. That politics can
aspire to something more ambitious than bug-management is not an insight
that occurs after politics has been refracted through the prism of open
As The New Yorker reported in 2010, British PM David
Cameron is using the OR memes in his BS:
David Cameron's Big
The Big Society is Cameron's plan to devolve power
"from the elites in Whitehall to the man and woman on the street". The
program comprises public-service reform (cutting red tape), community
empowerment (transferring authority to the local level), and social action
(encouraging voluntarism and philanthropy — getting people to do things for
nothing that they used to get paid for).
This is Wikipedia
government, intended to mend Broken Britain by way of piecework.
Qualitatively, the goal is to compel a more robust citizenship, in which
people must not only pay taxes and refrain from doing ill but actively seek
to do good.
2013 April 1
SK President Park Geun-hye: “If there is any provocation
against South Korea and its people,
there should be a strong response in
initial combat without any political considerations."
Guardian Goggles: because life's too short to think for yourself