BLOG 2013 Q3

Science vs. Humanities
The New Republic

"The promise of science is to enrich and diversify the intellectual tools of humanistic scholarship, not to obliterate them."
Steven Pinker

"Scientists can say anything they want ... But everything they say may not be met with grateful jubilation."
Leon Wieseltier

Saudi Arabian Madness

A leading Saudi Arabian cleric says women who drive risk damaging their ovaries and bearing children with clinical problems. Women are still banned from driving in the Islamic kingdom.

AR How about male drivers damaging their testicles? Or any passengers risking their gonads? Or clerics losing their minds?

HOT
UN

Human influence on the climate system is clear. This is evident in most regions of the globe, says a new assessment by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. The evidence for this has grown, thanks to more and better observations, an improved understanding of the climate system response and improved climate models.

Memory
Clive Thompson

Machines are becoming part of our transactive memory. Our brains are terrible at recalling details, so we rely on devices like search engines and smartphones to handle them for us. To retrieve information on the fly in daily life, we rely on transactions with other people. But as transactive partners machines have several advantages. Just as we learn who knows what in our families and offices, we are learning what computers store and how to access it. Our memory is all around us.

AR See Alva Noë:
Out Of Our Heads

Stop Snooping
The Guardian

Stephen Fry joins other authors and artists to demand an end to mass spying on citizens by US and UK agencies. Fry:
"Privacy and freedom from state intrusion are important for everyone. You can't just scream 'terrorism' and use it as an excuse for Orwellian snooping."

The London group Index on Censorship launched the petition urging government leaders to state their opposition to all systems of mass surveillance. Chief executive Kirsty Hughes: "Snooping and surveillance on this scale is not only an invasion of privacy, it also undermines the basis of democracy and free speech."

Biography
Nicolas Boyle

1
Never anticipate, as it will
make your narrative
anachronistic.
2
Take extra care with your
portrayal of secondary
characters.
3
Look for sources other than
those originating from the
subject.

Jingo
AA Gill

Science Britannica, with Brian Cox, was not just a kiddies' TV guide to Great British scientists but a sad, jingoistic embarrass-ment. Surely the point about science and discovery is that it's universal.

Cox wants to make science trendy and cool. He tells us that the really mad, bad, and dangerous-to-know lads weren't poets but scientists, but he needs to use the tools of drama and fiction to make his story halfway interesting. This rehash of the gulf between art and science shows how little he sees or understands.

AR Science deserves better.
The UK is better unsung.

Since David Cameron became Conservative Party leader in 2005, membership has almost halved. But mainstream party membership has declined throughout the Western world. In the UK, some 1% of the population is a member of a party, down from 3% three decades ago.

Pope Francis says the church has no right to "interfere spiritually" in the lives of gays and lesbians. He says women must play a key role in church decisions and brushed off critics of abortion and gay marriage. The church will "fall like a house of cards" if it fails to find a "new balance" between its spiritual and political missions, he warned in the magazine America.

Me
AR
Me in Mallorca

Something about the Muslim
cultural tradition seems to
be inimical to doing science.
Between 20% and 25% of
all Nobel prizes have gone
to Jews, who are less than
1% of the world's population.
It's nonsense to talk about
Jews being a race. That's
where Hitler went wrong.
Richard Dawkins

Science
Daniel C. Dennett

Steven Pinker published a manifesto on science and Leon Wieseltier attacked it.

In 1991, I wrote that the traditional American intellectuals were ignorant of many of the big intellectual accomplishments of our time. Their culture dismissed science, used its own jargon, and washed its own laundry.

Literary intellectuals are still not communicating with scientists. Scientists are communicating directly with the general public. Wieseltier's clueless attack on science is evidence that he doesn't know this, and doesn't even know that he doesn't know.




Death
The Times

UK patients in NHS hospitals
are 45% more likely to die than those in the US. Death rates in the NHS are higher than in six other developed countries.

AR I blame the rich who have private medical care outside the NHS. The UK has lost its social solidarity.




Adolf Hitler
A personal memoir

QS World University
Rankings


1
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
2
Harvard University
3
University of Cambridge
4
University College London
5
Imperial College London
6
University of Oxford
7
Stanford University
8
Yale University
9
University of Chicago
10
California Institute
of Technology

AR The Anglo-American
dominance is suspect:
check the ranking
criteria.

 

2013 September 30

UKIP

Nigel Farage

I am heading up to Manchester this morning to attend the Conservative conference. My message is that the 2014 European parliamentary elections are a huge opportunity. The rise of UKIP has changed the national debate. I now hear echoes of our policy platform coming out of the Tory machine.

Without the significant rise of UKIP across the country there would be no referendum pledge. I believe that at the coming Euro elections those Conservatives who believe in our national independence should lend their vote to UKIP. This will help to toughen up the referendum message.

A huge UKIP success next year will cause tremors in Brussels and could help Cameron with his negotiations. Speculations about possible deals between UKIP and the Tories are missing the point. UKIP is creating its own political ground. We are opposed to almost everything Cameron champions.

AR The UKIP agenda: Fortress UK. It must be stopped.

2013 September 29

Cyberwar

GOV.UK

UK defense secretary Philip Hammond has announced that the MOD is set to recruit hundreds of computer experts as cyber reservists to help defend UK national security. A new Joint Cyber Reserve will put reservists alongside regular forces to protect critical computer networks and safeguard vital data.

Hammond: "In response to the growing cyber threat, we are developing a full-spectrum military cyber capability, including a strike capability, to enhance the UK's range of military capabilities. Increasingly, our defense budget is being invested in high-end capabilities such as cyber and intelligence and surveillance assets to ensure we can keep the country safe. The Cyber Reserves will be an essential part of ensuring we defend our national security in cyberspace. This is an exciting opportunity ..."

Recruiting for the Joint Cyber Reserve will commence in October.

The Ottomans

Peter Popham

Greece, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Romania, and Ukraine were all under Turkish control for centuries, conquered and colonized by the Ottomans. Although the Ottomans were Muslims, large populations of Christians and Jews continued to live and prosper across the Ottoman empire.

The Turks came swarming across the Anatolian plain like many other fierce central Asian nomads both before and after them. But these predators got down off their horses and converted to Islam, then defeated the Byzantines in Constantinople in 1453 CE.

The Ottoman golden age endured for centuries. Ottoman emperors conquered half of Europe and the whole of the north Africa coast as far as Morocco. They also controlled the Islamic holy sites of Mecca and Medina and adopted the title of caliph, leader of all Muslims.

The Ottoman administration rested on the custom of kidnapping Christian boy children from the Balkans year after year, converting them to Islam, and turning them into soldiers or civil servants, depending on their gifts. Thus they built Europe's first functioning meritocracy.

In 1923, Kemal Ataturk, the Turkish hero of Gallipoli, buried the Ottoman empire and abolished all its symbols. This removed a central point of reference for Muslims everywhere. The Ottomans had developed laws for both Muslims and Christians, and sustained a model of Islamic moderation.

AR Buoyed by recent German trade and investment, the Turks could dominate the Mideast again.

2013 September 28

Historic

Iran

US President Barack Obama spoke by telephone Friday with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in the first direct conversation between leaders in Washington and Tehran since 1979. Obama: "While there will surely be important obstacles to moving forward and success is by no means guaranteed, I believe we can reach a comprehensive solution."

Syria

The UN Security Council voted unanimously Friday to require Syria to eliminate its arsenal of chemical weapons, or face consequences. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon: "Today's resolution will ensure that the elimination of the Syrian chemical weapons program happens as soon as possible and with the utmost transparency and accountability."

Fame

The Times

Professor Brian Cox is a pop star: "I really love that people, especially young people, are inspired by science. But ... I'm a greying bloke in an anorak. The star of the show should be the science."

As a boy, Cox used to go bus-spotting in Manchester. After that he started on planes. But in 1984 he had an epiphany at a Duran Duran concert. "My dad told me I had to go to look after my sister. I noticed that the hall was full of this incredible energy. And it was these girls screaming with desire. And I thought: that's what I want!"

Cox joined a rock band and toured with them for a couple of years. But he stuck with science. He got his PhD and various research fellowships, and still teaches quantum mechanics and relativity.

He steers clear of headline battles about the origin and meaning of life: "I gave a talk to some kids recently and the very first question one asked afterwards was: can I be a scientist and still believe in God? I said yes and meant to add more. But they all started applauding ... I'm not a guru on a mountain top passing down judgments."

2013 September 27

Breakthroughs

Iran

US secretary of state John Kerry and Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met at the UN in New York. It was the first substantive high-level US-Iran meeting since the 1979 Islamic revolution and a fresh start for nuclear negotiations. The meeting was chaired by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who said she and Zarif both wanted a deal concluded and implemented within a year.

Kerry: "I think all of us were pleased that the foreign minister came today, that he did put some possibilities on the table. Now it's up to people to do the hard work of trying to fill out what those possibilities will do."

Syria

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council have agreed on a compromise deal over Syria that largely meets Russian wishes. US ambassador to the UN in New York Samantha Power tweeted that there is now a UN draft resolution on the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons.

Israel

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani wants Israel to join the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Many Israelis agree about Israel finally owning up to its nuclear arsenal. Tel Aviv has for decades maintained a policy of deliberate ambiguity about its nuclear stockpile. Nonproliferation experts at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists estimate that Israel has 80 nuclear warheads and enough fissile material for many more.

Generations of Israeli leaders have refused to mention those weapons. Today a debate is raging within the country about whether the time has come to drop the facade and admit to being a nuclear power. Monterey Institute of International Studies professor Avner Cohen says the official silence prevents Israeli politicians from debating the merits of the program or from providing proper oversight.

Labour

Philip Collins

The Labour comfort zone is a place where the public is prized over the private, market failure is heralded but state failure is ignored, investments are made but no cuts, good things are free and bad things are banned.

Ed Miliband wants to freeze energy prices: "If competition fails and if there's evidence that it fails in particular markets, should a a regulator act? And if the regulator fails, as has happened in this market, should government act? Absolutely." He says this out of conviction. He sounds as if he thinks profit and profiteering are the same thing.

Miliband thinks business and the media are too powerful, the political class makes a fetish of markets, and money has become the measure of too much. His father Ralph wrote a book saying it is impossible to legislate your way to the promised land. As prime minister, Ed would surely prove his father right.

2013 September 26

Europe

Timothy Garton Ash

Can the European tortoise somehow outrun the American eagle and the Chinese dragon?

Angela Merkel's new government may be a grand coalition that eases German EZ policy, but the soft underbelly of Europe will continue to bleed. Merkel lacks a strategic partner in the European Union. France is weakened by domestic economic problems and slow reform. Britain is in thrall to Eurosceptics who have launched David Cameron on a foolish course of attempted renegotiation of the terms of UK membership of the EU.

The EU is a giant, weary tortoise, with chancellor Merkel sitting astride its shell, trying to steer its woozy head and coax its bleeding underbelly across stony ground. But the US eagle suffers shrieking brinkmanship in Washington, and faces deep problems of neglected infrastructure and imperial and welfare overstretch. And the Chinese dragon shows no signs of political reform to head off a deeper crisis over the next decade.

All the runners have problems.

2013 September 25

Friendship

Hassan Rouhani

I bring peace and friendship from Iranians to Americans. The supreme leader of Iran has said that should negotiations be necessary for the national interest of the country, he is not opposed to them. The supreme leader has given permission for my government to negotiate freely on these issues.

AR Seems an offer worth exploring.

Braneworld

Nature

In the standard Big Bang model, the universe exploded out of a singularity. But it is hard to explain the almost completely uniform temperature of the BB universe. Most cosmologists say the young universe inflated a small patch into what we see.

In an arXiv preprint, Perimeter cosmologist Niayesh Afshordi and team consider a model of our 4D spacetime universe as a brane floating in a 5D bulk universe. If the bulk universe contained stars, some of them could collapse into 5D black holes. In 4D spacetime, a black hole is bounded by a 2D spherical surface called an event horizon. But the event horizon of a 5D black hole is a 3D hypersphere. The team modeled the death of a 5D star and found that the ejecta would form an expanding 3-brane around the event horizon. The bulk universe could be old enough for the brane to be near thermal equilibrium.

Afshordi says our spacetime universe might be such a brane, and we might see its growth as cosmic expansion: "Astronomers measured that expansion and extrapolated back that the universe must have begun with a big bang, but that is just a mirage."

Out of the White Hole

Cosmic censorship hides most spacetime singularities behind event horizons, but we live in the causal future of the big bang singularity. Could the big bang be also hidden behind a horizon, hiding us from the decadence of a naked singularity? A braneworld cosmology with both 4D induced and 5D bulk gravity lets the universe emerge as a spherical 3-brane from a 5D black hole.

AR If the CMB detail fits, this is a runner.

Trident

Simon Jenkins

Trident is the most expensive project on the Treasury books. The renewal program is set to consume £20 billion and rise to a reputed £100 billion over 20 years.

The Trident nuclear deterrent bears no reference to any plausible threat to the UK. A former head of US Strategic Air Command once said it baffled him. Trident relies on US supplies and maintenance, yet its use is predicated on America hesitating to go nuclear against a hypothetical attacker. The British deterrent had to deter in case the US one did not. It made no sense.

Nuclear deterrence is rooted in the mad scenario of mutual assured destruction. But either the west would stand together under the US nuclear umbrella or it would be doomed. The idea that Britain is made one jot safer by a £100 billion Armageddon weapon lurking in the Atlantic is absurd.

AR Scrap it. Rely on US boomers.

2013 September 24

God

Pope Francis

I am a sinner whom the Lord has looked upon. I chose the Society of Jesus. A Jesuit is a person who is not centered in himself. The Society's center is Christ and his church. The image of the church I like is that of the holy, faithful people of God, on the journey through history.

The proclamation of the saving love of God comes before moral and religious imperatives. God manifests himself in history. Time initiates processes, and space crystallizes them. God is in the processes. We must initiate processes rather than occupy spaces. This gives priority to actions.

When we desire to encounter God, we would like to verify him immediately by an empirical method. But you cannot meet God this way. A contemplative attitude is necessary. God is always first and makes the first move. You never know where and how you will find him.

If the Christian is a restorationist, he will find nothing. Those who today always look for disciplinarian solutions have a static and inward-directed view of things. In this way, faith becomes an ideology. God has revealed himself as history, not as a compendium of abstract truths.

AR This suggests the neo-Hegelian concept of history I developed in CORAL.

War

Wired

Cliodynamics is the study of human history using big data to predict the future and to test theories about the past. You build a model of history and test it using real data.

Peter Turchin and his team analyzed how social norms spread that allowed societies to expand across millions of people. The standard story is that humans invented agriculture around 10 000 years ago, providing resources that freed people up for other ventures. Turchin disagrees: "Competitions between societies, which historically took the form of warfare, drive the evolution of complex societies."

The team built two mathematical models for predicting the spread of complex societies. One was based on agriculture, ecology, and geography. The other included those factors plus warfare. The team used data from historical atlases to test these models. The model with warfare predicted about 65% of the historical variance, while the agricultural model explained only about 16%.

The model is crude and includes no population data, but it predicted the spread of large states between 1500 BCE and 1500 CE. Later, when the Soviet Union was established, the United States still had raw capitalism. The Red Scare and its socialist ideas led the bosses to pay their workers more. A few decades later, economic competition forced the USSR to collapse and lose the Cold War.

Sex

Amartya Sen

Based on the news coverage, India has an extraordinarily high frequency of rape. Yet India has one of the lowest levels of reported rape in the world. The UN found the incidence of rape in India for 2010 to be less than 2 per 100 000 people, compared with over 25 in the US and the UK, and 120 in South Africa. India does have a huge problem in monitoring rape and taking steps to reduce it.

Indians tend to prefer boys over girls. The relatively higher mortality rates of girls compared with boys is mainly due to neglect of their health. Male priority in care continues to raise the mortality rates of adult women above those of men. The wide use of new techniques for determining the sex of fetuses has led to numerous selective abortions of female fetuses.

Female literacy and schooling cut down child mortality and work against neglecting the health of girls. They also help to cut down fertility rates. In India, 9 of the 20 largest states now have fertility rates below the replacement level. Yet educated mothers seem almost as keen on having boys rather than girls as uneducated mothers are, unaware of the oddity of seeing girls as inferior to boys.

There is a regional dimension to the problem. In the northern and western states, there is clear evidence of extensive use of selective abortion of female fetuses. In the states in the south and east of India, we do not typically find evidence of its widespread use. Any explanation will demand a fuller understanding of diverse traditional cultures.

AR The big regional difference is Islam (legacy of the Mughal empire) and its sexist patriarchalism.

2013 September 23

Kenyan Carnage

CNN

Monday: 68 dead so far, about 10 hostages remain with up to 15 Islamist Al-Shabaab gunmen. Kenyan military tweeted that most of the hostages had been rescued. Israeli special forces are at the scene.

American Carnage

Henry Porter

The annual toll from firearms in the United States is running at 32 000 deaths and climbing, even though the general crime rate is now 40% lower than it was in 1980.

For all the wars in American history since 1775, the death toll is about 1 171 000. The number killed by firearms in the US since the day Robert F. Kennedy was shot in 1968 is 1 384 000. So over 200 000 more Americans lost their lives from firearms in the last 45 years than in all US wars ever.

People are trying to make life safer. On US roads, there has been a huge effort in the past 50 years. By 2015, road deaths are predicted to fall below those caused by firearms (by 3%).

In the 12-year US war on terror, homeland security spending has added up to some $650 billion. But there have been fewer than 20 terror-related deaths on American soil since 9/11, compared with about 364 000 deaths caused by privately owned firearms.

The gun lobby is too powerful to challenge. People despair of the inaction. America is in a jam. International pressure may reduce future slaughter. The world cannot stand idly by.

Iraqi Carnage

Charles Bybelezer

In December 2011, the last US army convoy drove out of Iraq.

Since then, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has consolidated his rule. He has eliminated his leading Sunni rivals, tightened his control over Iraqi security services, violated an agreement on Sunni and Kurdish rights, and allowed Iran to fly weaponry into Syria through Iraqi airspace. Reports say Baghdad is helping Damascus conceal chemical stockpiles and is ready to help Tehran develop its nuclear program.

The United States lost the Iraq war. Iran won.

Israeli Carnage

The Observer

In 73 CE, after a Jewish revolt against the Romans, the last thousand or so rebels were besieged in the fortress of Masada, near the Dead Sea. As the Romans stormed the fortress, the rebels chose death before slavery. The men killed their wives and children, then each other, until the last man killed himself, according to historian Flavius Josephus.

After the declaration of the state of Israel in 1948, Masada became a symbol of heroism and sacrifice. New soldiers were taken there to swear that Masada would not fall again. But some now say the myth of Masada was either exaggerated or invented.

Hebrew University of Jerusalem professor Guy Stiebel: "If you put me in a corner and ask do you think they committed suicide, I will say yes. But this was not a symbolic act, it was a typical thing to do back then ... At the end of the day, it's an excellent story and setting, you can't ask for more."

AR Fundamentalist bloodbath.

2013 September 22

Triumph

David Cole

President Obama stuck to the US Constitution. By doing so, he opened the way for a much better resolution of the issue. Had he acted alone, he would have violated both the Constitution and international law. Instead, he is now pursuing a path that accords with the rule of law.

The deliberation prompted by Obama's appeal to Congress created the space for an alternative to force, as intended. The Constitution makes clear that the president can only run hostile military actions once they are authorized by Congress. The only exception is for national self-defense.

Congress should have a say on the difficult issue of whether to use military force against another sovereign. Claims to the contrary reflect a deep misunderstanding of the principle at stake. Avoiding immediate recourse to military action should be seen as a triumph for the Constitution.

Hubris

Ed Pilkington

In 1999, Eric Schlosser was invited to Vandenberg Air Force base in California to witness the launch of a Titan II missile: "My God! Watching that missile take off, seeing it soar over the coast of Mexico — it was visceral. These are real! They work! That ICBM was more powerful than any cold war story I'd heard."

Command and Control is his take on the terrifying and surreal world of nuclear weapons. He spent time with more than 100 bomber pilots, nuclear scientists, and weapons designers, as well as reviewing thousands of pages of newly released official documents: "I really went down the rabbit hole into the nuclear madness ... Our ability to create dangerous things exceeds our ability to control them. We are talking about hubris."

An IBM computer program called QUICK COUNT allowed war planners to identify "desired ground zeros" in Soviet cities so as to maximize the number of civilians killed in a nuclear strike. In 1961, the Pentagon instigated a war plan that would be unstoppable once the nuclear button was pushed, killing 220 million people in the Soviet Union and China within the first three days.

Schlosser: "I've spent six years in the most crazy nuclear shit imaginable, that at times made me question mankind. But ... I wouldn't have written this book if I thought we were doomed."

Humbug

Heather Horn

Why do people keep entering doctoral programs in the humanities? As graduate students they are risking six years of their lives and a mound of debt to get a shot at a tenure-track job. It's a lottery.

Most reputable doctoral programs are funded. Tuition is free and the student gets a stipend to live on. Students are taking five years to study something they're passionate about, for a shot at a tenure-track position years down the line, and a shot at a tenured position in the long run with unbeatable benefits and job security. The downside is that it's extremely unlikely that they'll get the job.

Consider what my colleagues and I accepted in journalism. Our shot at making a living wage is not necessarily better than a shot at making a living wage in academia. Hardly any job in journalism even approaches the five-year security of a doctoral program, let alone of a tenured faculty position.

Anyone saying humanities programs are a terrible bet is buying into the idea that a tenured job is so desirable that not getting one equals failure. If after years as a grad student, you can't land a tenure-track job, or after the next few years don't get tenure, you've still been getting paid for five to twelve years. Whether you're less employable than otherwise depends on what you'd have done instead.

The job market outside academia right now is scary. Most humanities doctoral students are unlikely to have busted their asses to land secure and well paid jobs in nursing or accounting. Perhaps they would have done something with equally poor pay and prospects, like music or hitch-hiking to nirvana.

One Atlantic editor with a doctorate wasn't excited about academia by the time he graduated, and he wouldn't advise most people to follow him. But now I work for him, so there are worse ways to go.

2013 September 21

Benjamin Disraeli

Daisy Hay

Benjamin Disraeli began his career as a lawyer. But the law bored him, and in 1826 he published the first of many novels. In 1837, at age 32, he was elected to Parliament as the Tory member for Maidstone. He rose slowly and first served briefly as prime minister in 1868. He was prime minister again from 1874 to 1880 and enacted major social reforms. He died in 1881.

Disraeli stands outside convention. His romantic attitude toward Queen Victoria is reflected in his political career and his early novels. In his youth, he wanted to be a poet of genius and a political thinker of fire and imagination. Like Shelley he saw poets as hidden kings, and sought to show that a man of genius could reform a corrupt society through clarity of vision.

One Nation Tories

Wikipedia

Benjamin Disraeli coined the notion of One Nation Conservatism to engage workers and bridge the social divide. One Nation Tories say societies live and grow organically, and the upper classes have paternalistic obligations to the lower classes.

Disraeli's government passed big social reforms. Later the Tories moved away from paternalism toward free market capitalism. But ONC survived into the Reagan-Thatcher years. David Cameron called Disraeli his favorite Conservative.

AR Good idea, but let's see more convincing implementation.

Labour

Ed Balls

We have a leader now. Ed Miliband won the leadership election, I lost. We spend our time wanting Ed to succeed. We think it would be a good thing for Labour to win the next election. My political career will end without me having been leader of the Labour party and prime minister, I expect, and that's fine. I don't think Ed Miliband spends any time thinking I'm trying to get his job.

Finally after three years we are starting to get some growth. The government is complacent that they've got a recovery when there are a lot of risks out there. Everyone in the shadow cabinet today would find it difficult to go into coalition with Nick Clegg, but if there is a hung parliament then I'd be willing to be part of a coalition with the Liberal Democrats if that was the only way forward.

AR One Nation Labour? Unions versus the rest, more like.

2013 September 20

Iran

Hassan Rouhani

A constructive approach to diplomacy means engaging with one's counterparts to address shared concerns and achieve shared objectives. More than a decade and two wars after 9/11, al-Qaeda and other militant extremists continue to wreak havoc. The unilateral approach, which glorifies brute force and breeds violence, is clearly incapable of solving issues such as terrorism and extremism.

My approach to foreign policy seeks to resolve these issues by addressing their underlying causes. We must work together to end unhealthy rivalries and interferences. The vicious battles in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria are over the nature of those countries' identities and their consequent roles in the world. Without comprehending the role of identity, many issues we all face will remain unresolved.

AR A good basis for a good solution, imho.

Intelligence

Simon Jenkins

In response to the Snowden revelations, Barack Obama pleads for debate and a review of the Patriot Acts. Al Gore calls the NSA snooping "obscenely outrageous", John McCain says a review is "entirely appropriate", and the Senate holds public hearings to expose security chiefs as shifty mafia bosses.

In the UK, nothing. The Snowden dumps show US and UK agents up to the same tricks. They shared data via Prism and circumvented national domestic oversight regimes. The GCHQ tapped submarine cables to gather mass data, and the NSA paid £100 million to let a crowd of US officials access the data.

Britons seem to see the GCHQ as a club of amiable gentlemen in shabby tweed jackets who behave badly but have hearts of oak. In fact they have created a monster. Britons are subject to massive unwarranted surveillance that is insecure and unaccountable. They should learn from the American response.

Reply
Malcolm Rifkind

Simon Jenkins says GCHQ circumvented the law. The intelligence and security committee I chair has investigated that claim and reported to parliament that GCHQ had legal warrants in every case. UK intelligence agencies have to go through a lengthy legal procedure before they can examine any British citizen's email or phone conversations.

Sir Simon accuses the US of "aping the totalitarian regimes it professed to guard against" in its collection of intelligence data. Does he believe that there are independent Russian and Chinese judges and committees empowered to examine the secret files of their intelligence agencies?

The government has now conceded the need for greater powers for the intelligence and security committee. The intelligence agencies will no longer be able to refuse it any information it seeks. We now have the statutory power to investigate MI6, MI5, and GCHQ operations. Our budget is being almost doubled and our staff strengthened.

The British public are well aware that its intelligence agencies have neither the time nor the remotest interest in the emails or telephone conversations of well over 99% of the population who are neither potential terrorists nor serious criminals. Modern computer technologies permit the separation of data of interest from the rest.

AR Let's see how many UK citizens take up the debate.

2013 September 19

Just back from 3 days in Mallorca. Didn't need a beach break but relished the influx of observational data for an anthropological analysis of seaside holiday traditions then and now. And found the time to read: The Drunkard's Walk by Leonard Mlodinow

Iran

Terri S. Lodge, Matthew Wallin

Iran's new President Hassan Rouhani has signaled his government's interest in addressing the world's concerns over his nation's nuclear program: He said Iran will never develop nuclear weapons.

Also, President Barack Obama and Rouhani have exchanged letters. Obama: "Negotiations with the Iranians is always difficult. I think this new president is not going to suddenly make it easy."

A final deal will probably look like this: Iran will retain a small level of enrichment capability under a very strict regimen of inspections by the IAEA, which will also have ready access. Some would rather continue to fight for complete Iranian capitulation and zero ability to conduct nuclear activities. But this is not realistically attainable by means short of a major military intervention.

AR Go easy: A peaceful nuclear Iran is far better than a regional war.

Russia

John McCain

I am pro-Russian. I respect your dignity and your right to self-determination. I believe you should live according to the dictates of your conscience, not your government.

President Putin and his associates punish dissent and imprison opponents. They rig your elections. They control your media. They foster rampant corruption.

President Putin has given you an economy that is based almost entirely on a few natural resources that will rise and fall with those commodities. Capital is fleeing Russia.

President Putin rules by corruption, repression, and violence. He rules for himself, not you.

I believe in the greatness of the Russian people. I believe you deserve a government that believes in you and answers to you.

AR Pravda readers may smirk ironically.

2013 September 16

Appetite

Richard Dawkins / John Crace

Abstract: I was born in 1941 and went to Oundle boarding school. Shortly after my confirmation I may have been foolish enough to believe in the possibility of an intelligent designer, but I have long since exposed the pathetic fallacy of that belief. In the early 1970s, I started work on The Selfish Gene. I had no idea when I was writing the first chapter just how remarkable the book would be ...

Keywords: Me me meme

2013 September 15

Rescue

David Miliband

When you're in government, you're in a goldfish bowl. Every reverberation means you lose some perspective. But once you've gone it's very different. At the International Rescue Committee, you're not governing the fate of countries in the same way. But I've been frustrated for two or three years. I've had a feeling that I've got experience and ideas and things to say, and I've not really been able to say them. As I was telling the IRC staff, the non-profit sector can do some things much better than government, and one of those things is innovation. It's incredibly refreshing.

AR Good luck, David.

2013 September 14

Atonement last night: watched Der Untergang (for the n-th time)

Syria

CNN

Russia and the United States have agreed a framework to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons.
Syria has applied to join the Chemical Weapons Convention.

AR Well, that's a relief.

2013 September 13

Jihad

Uwe Klussmann

Russian President Vladimir Putin is a key player in the Syrian conflict. Moscow is concerned that Islamist extremism in Syria could have serious consequences for Russia, as he explained in The New York Times.

Russia wants to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons for three reasons:

1 The weapons could trigger US-led intervention in Syria, which Moscow opposes.
2 The poison gas could fall into the hands of fundamentalist extremists.
3 Armed Syrian rebels could use these weapons against Israel.

US President Barack Obama and his secretary of state John Kerry see that the Moscow proposal is an opportunity to avoid war. Despite Washington's recent frustrations with Russia, Obama knows he needs a partnership with Putin.

Militant Islamist extremism is growing in strength from Kabul to Damascus, but is more of a threat to Russia that it is to the United States. Centers of Islamism such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar support Syrian rebels and subsidize the militant underground in the Russian Caucasus.

Jihadists in Central Asian countries such as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are also a threat. Kremlin fear of armed jihad is a key factor in Russian foreign policy. Islamist victory in Syria is in the interests of neither Russia nor America, not to mention Israel.

Jesus

Graham Cray

The Fresh Expressions initiative is a partnership between the Church of England and the British Methodist Church, and has been taken up around the world. Its principles: listening, service, incarnational mission, and making disciples.

Cultures are never static. Accelerated change, the complexity of a joined up multicultural world, and the fluidity of the resulting cultures make our times profoundly unpredictable. In the praxis of mission, one size cannot fit all.

The incarnation of Christ is unique. This is the basis for our salvation. The church is Christ taking flesh in a context. But mission is a voyage of discovery. Not knowing the outcome at the beginning is normal for Christian mission.

Rowan Williams defined church as "what happens when people encounter the Risen Jesus and commit themselves to sustaining and deepening that encounter in their encounter with each other".

Christ is the unchangeable foundation for all mission. Our world needs a foretaste of a future secured by Christ.

AR Curious metamorphosis: Christ becomes a psychosocial icon, a limiting ideal (supremum, math) for self and social life, a hub for a cloud cluster, and a zero (infimum, math) in a space of souls, conceived as eternal shapes analogous to blobs (binary large objects) in (Hilbert) space. That sounds raving mad, I guess, so let me just say — psychon woo-woo!

2013 September 12

Syria

Vladimir V. Putin

Syria is witnessing an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multireligious country. There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists battling the government.

Russia advocates peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are protecting international law. We need to use the UN Security Council to keep international relations from sliding into chaos.

No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian army but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists.

Military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force. We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.

A new opportunity to avoid military action has emerged in the past few days. Judging by the statements of President Obama, the United States sees this as an alternative to military action. We must work together to keep this hope alive.

I disagree with American exceptionalism. It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional. God created us equal.

Choice

Kenneth M. Pollack

The case for staying out:

1 The United States has no vital interests in Syria.
2 Any intervention in Syria could repeat the Iraq experience.

The case for intervention:

1 Humanitarian: Absent decisive foreign intervention, the Syrian civil war will probably roil on for
    years and will likely result in many more killed.

2 Terrorism: Horrific terrorist groups find comfortable bases and breeding grounds amid civil wars.
    The longer the Syrian civil war burns, the worse this gets.

3 Geostrategic: The United States has strategic interests in the region. Spillover from the Syrian
    civil war is threatening the stability of neighbors.

Israel

Peter Beinart

The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel is based on a dangerous and inaccurate analogy between Israel and apartheid South Africa. It is often fueled by interactions with Palestinians living under Israeli control. American Jewish leaders fail to understand the power of such interactions because they rarely have them.

The Hillel organization oversees Jewish life on US college campuses. Its 2010 guidelines urge local chapters not to host speakers who deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders; delegitimize, demonize, or apply a double standard to Israel: or support boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against the State of Israel.

For centuries, when Jews lived in the Diaspora as a persecuted minority, we had to understand the societies around us. Because we lacked power, we had to be smart to survive. Have we forgotten the importance of listening?

2013 September 11

Syria

CNN

President Barack Obama: "Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria, along with our leadership of a world where we seek to ensure that the worst weapons will never be used."

Obama called the Russian proposal encouraging and asked Congress to postpone a vote on authorizing military force against Syria, also giving more time for UN inspectors to report their findings.

Maryland Democrat Congressman Elijah Cummings: "I thought he made a great moral argument."

Rogue

George Monbiot

The United States

Has for decades resisted calls to reform the UN Security Council. It defends a system that grants
    the US, UK, Russia, China, and France a veto over world affairs.

Agreed in 1997 to decommission its 31 kilotons of sarin, VX, mustard gas, and other agents within
    10 years, but failed to do so. In 2012 it claimed they would be gone by 2021.

Pushed a law through Congress in 1998 forbidding international weapons inspectors from taking
    samples of chemicals in the US and allowing the president to refuse unannounced inspections.

Used millions of gallons of chemical weapons in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. It also used them
    during its destruction of Falluja in 2004, then lied about it.

Provides cover for Israel's weapons of mass destruction. Israel has developed its nuclear arsenal
    in defiance of the NPT, and the US supports it.

Remains outside the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, after declaring its citizens
    immune from prosecution. Gitmo defies international justice.

AR The United State has no moral case in Syria.

Morals

The Times

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has engaged a philosopher to help with its next report on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Oxford University professor John Broome is a lead author of the IPCC report due out next April. Broome:
"Many people, some living, others yet to be born, will die from the effects of climate change. Is each death equally bad? How bad are those deaths collectively? Many people will die before they bear children, so climate change will prevent the existence of children who would otherwise have been born. Is their non-existence a bad thing?"

Global Warming Policy Foundation director Benny Peiser: "I don't think philosophers are good advisers on these questions because they haven't got a clue."

AR So every day I don't father a child is bad? Who can I sue?

Stories

One thing that sets humans apart from other animals is our capacity for counterfactual thinking. Stories are complex counterfactual explorations of possible outcomes. These surrogate experiences build up our knowledge and help us adapt to new situations. Almost a quarter of our waking lives are spent in imagined worlds. They are as useful to us as lived experience.

Trades Union Congress
Bournemouth International Centre
8-11 September 2013

Richard Dawkins
The Times
Richard Dawkins, 72, says in his autobiography that a master at his prep school was a pedophile: "I don't think he did any of us any lasting damage."

An Appetite for Wonder

Higgs Kills Space Brains
New Scientist

Models of universal expansion suggest a future filled with Boltzmann brains. Endless time and energy let anything happen, so conscious entities would pop out of the vacuum.

But if the Higgs field is metastable, it can end the universe before the brains take over. When the Higgs field flips into a lower energy state, a new big bang bursts and destroys our universe.

It seems physical laws favor a metastable Higgs. If the field flips and the new bubbles grow faster than the universe is expanding, it will kill off the brains.

100

Sir Cliff Richard releases his 100th album, featuring classic rock'n'roll tracks, in November.

Cliff, 72, released his debut album in 1959. He is the only artist to have had at least one UK top five album in each of the last seven decades: 14 of them reached #1 in the UK and a further 54 made the top 10. He has also sold 21.5 million singles in the UK.

AR Respect!





5774

Diana Nyad
Sky News
Diana Nyad, 64, completes
Cuba-Florida swim, 35 years after first trying.

Her advice:
"Never, ever give up.
You're never too old to
chase your dreams."











Burning Man 2013
Nevada

BAF
The record breaking sixth Bournemouth Air Festival drew to a spectacular close with the general view that it was greatest show yet. An action-packed show together with glorious sun drew 1.3 million visitors to the
4-day event.

 

2013 September 10

Syria

CNN

US secretary of state John Kerry mooted that a US attack might be avoided if Syria were to give up its chemical weapons. Kerry had spoken to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. Syrian foreign minister Walid Moallem said Lavrov had proposed that Syria's chemical weapons be put under international control as a way of forestalling an attack.

Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton called the idea that Syria might give up its chemical weapons an "important step" if the Russians and the Syrians followed up on it. She said she would support Obama.

Breakthrough

President Barack Obama: "It's certainly a positive development when the Russians and Syrians both make gestures towards dealing with these chemical weapons."

German newspaper Bild reported that German intelligence intercepted communications that indicate Syrian president Bashir al-Assad had repeatedly denied his military approval for chemical attacks.

A French defense ministry official said al-Assad ordered the attack because he feared a major rebel attack from the suburbs that could have endangered his control of Damascus.

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said the Russian proposal "deserves a thorough examination".

UK

The Guardian

Today in Bournemouth, Ed Miliband will say: "I respect those who worry about change. I understand, but I disagree. It is the right thing to do. Change can happen. Change must happen. And I am absolutely determined that this change will happen."

Many union leaders demand a collective link between the party and the unions. Miliband: "I want to make each and every affiliated trade union member a real part of their local party, making a real choice to be part of our party so they can have a real voice in it."

Labour still relies on the unions for most of its funding. Miliband will attack David Cameron: "One Nation Conservatives would be turning in their graves if they could hear the nasty divisive small minded rhetoric of the leader of a once great party."

AR One Nation Conservatism was created by Victorian prime minister Benjamin Disraeli. Modern Tories would do well to recall his achievement.

2013 September 9

Syria

Al Jazeera

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem says Syria welcomes the Russian proposal that it put its chemical weapons under international control. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said that to avert military strikes Syria should put its chemical weapons under international control and join the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

AR Good move. Perhaps Obama can respond.

BoreCons

Tim Montgomerie

New Australian PM Tony Abbott was portrayed as a misogynist reactionary dimwit. But he left outgoing PM Kevin Rudd stonkered and wombattered. The Australian economy is strong after 22 years of growth, but not strong enough to save the Labor government Abbott destroyed.

Boringsville conservatism won. Exciting conservatism slashes government spending. BoreCons look for efficiencies, protect key public services, and plot slow but steady paths to balanced budgets. They’re more interested in cutting household electricity bills than (futile) attempts to stop climate change. They respect ordinary voters more than clever critics.

BoreCons — Abbott in Australia, Stephen Harper in Canada, John Key in New Zealand, and Angela Merkel in Germany — know ideologues don't win elections. Abbott was portrayed as a Catholic fundamentalist, but he didn't push his personal views. Because voting is compulsory in Australia and because of the alternative vote electoral system, he had to reach beyond his core supporters.

Abbott is positive about government. Nearly every time he finds a way of cutting Australia's budget deficit, he finds a way to spend it. He capped foreign aid spending but will spend that saving on roads. He proposes a new tax on big business but will use the revenues to fund a parental leave scheme. Asked to choose between fulfilling spending pledges and hitting deficit targets, he would spend.

Abbott wants government to be the friend of the Australian people, not their enemy. After announcing a subsidy in Tasmania, he said market capitalism is not the only conservative belief: jobs, fairness, and family are at least as important. He wants to increase defense spending and curtail immigration. He rejects same-sex marriage. And he rejects green climate change policies. He refuses to accept inflated energy prices, fewer manufacturing jobs, and higher carbon taxes as the price for a futile gesture.

At some point BoreCons may need to become BolderCons. The breakdown of the family, the decline of traditional industries, the rise of economic superpowers in the East, and aging populations are big challenges. But at least Abbott won.

AR A victory for common sense.

Miliminor

Boris Johnson

Labour leader Ed Miliband has run up the white flag. At the Trades Union Congress in Bournemouth this week he will doubtless pose as independent, but in battling Unite he has shown the decisiveness of a dishcloth.

Look at the election of Miliband minor to the party leadership in 2010. As you will recall, his older brother got more votes both from MPs and Euro-MPs and from ordinary Labour Party members. David Miliband won on the first ballot, on the second ballot, and even on the third ballot. He only lost on the fourth ballot, by 1.3%, because of thousands of orchestrated votes from the likes of Unite and the GMB, which sent out ballot papers in envelopes marked "Vote Ed".

Labour has taken £12 million from Unite since the election. Ed Miliband depends on the union barons. Yet he could still become prime minister. Unite cannot bully the present government. Ed Miliband is a different story.

AR Labour will flounder, then David will ride to the rescue.

Circumcision

Brian D. Earp

Does the religious circumcision of young boys violate their constitutional rights to bodily integrity and autonomy? A German court said yes, and Muslim and Jewish commentators were outraged.

Ritual circumcision is an ancient tribal tradition. Both the Jewish and the Islamic versions stem from patriarchal tribalism. Both brand a child with a religious affiliation. Both are equivalent in medical ethics to criminal assault of a minor.

The religious metaphysic does not square well with the normative basis of secular ethics. Even religious freedom has its limits. But the Muslim and Jewish commentators cried Islamophobia and antisemitism.

In the modern world, we are entitled to conclude that a religion has its dark side or that a moral norm it favors is preposterous and harmful. One such norm is to cut off healthy and functional parts of the genitals of girls or boys.

There seems no good reason to refrain from criticizing an idea or custom just because it is rooted in religion. Reasoned criticism is not equivalent to prejudice against a religion. It must be allowed.

AR Hear, hear. Circumcision is barbaric. I was thus mutilated.

2013 September 8

No

James Fallows

President Obama said 11 years ago: "What I am opposed to is dumb wars."

Obama was headed toward unilateral action. It lacked UN, NATO, EU, UK, or other backing. His going to Congress made the plan presumptively more legitimate.

A No vote would offer a legitimate if temporarily "humiliating" way out of what is looking more and more like an inexplicable strategic mistake.

No one contests that hideous events are underway in Syria, that someone has gassed civilians, and that something should be done. But no one has shown that US military action is an effective response.

After 9/11

Matthew d'Ancona

The errors made in the West after 9/11 exposed a contempt for democratic due process given teeth by the digital revolution. The financial crash increased the focus on domestic security.

The true lesson of 9/11 is that globalization means more than market opportunities and economic problems. Pathologies respect no borders. Even if you ignore Islamist fanatics, they will attack you.

Syria is an opportunity to shape a Mideast polity that is stable and democratic.

Autism

David Mitchell

Naoki Higashida invites you to imagine living without your faculty of speech. Explaining basic needs is as beyond your powers as a chat with a friend. Now imagine that your mind is a room where radios tuned to different stations are all blaring out voices and music. The radios have no controls, the room has no exit, and relief comes only with exhausted sleep. Sensory input is flooding in too, unfiltered and overwhelming. Even your sense of time has gone. This is autism.

Naoki was born in 1992 and was only 13 when he authored The Reason I Jump. His autism was severe, but thanks to an ambitious teacher and his own persistence, he learned to spell out words on an alphabet grid. Naoki communicates by pointing to the letters on the grid to spell out words a helper transcribes. His book offers proof of a mind as curious, subtle, and complex as any. Naoki has empathy and likes company. People with autism are people too.

2013 September 7

Iran

Frida Ghitis

Iran reportedly plans to attack American targets in Iraq in response to US intervention in Syria. Iran already supports President Bashar al-Assad and coordinates with the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside him.

An Iranian decision to attack Americans makes no strategic sense. Shiite Tehran wants to see al-Assad emerge victorious in his civil war against a Sunni opposition. But the rulers in Iran are pushing ahead with nuclear enrichment. Starting a war with the United States now would defeat their purpose.

New Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his team look milder. Rouhani tweeted a Jewish New Year greeting and his foreign minister condemned the Holocaust. Rouhani: "If something happens to the Syrian people, the Islamic Republic will do its religious and humanitarian duties to send food and medicine."

Meanwhile, the Revolutionary Guards elite Quds force head Qasem Suleimani warned that a US attack on Syria would result in the destruction of Israel. Suleimani reportedly instructed Shiite militias in Iraq to target the US embassy there.

Me

Richard Dawkins

You can't condemn people of an earlier era by the standards of ours. I look back to my childhood and see things like caning, like mild pedophilia, and can't find it in me to condemn it by the same standards as I or anyone would today. We must beware of lumping all pedophiles into the same bracket.

Archbishop Rowan Williams is a lovely man, extremely kind, intelligent, and nice. I'm just baffled by his entire belief system. The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser. Former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is a nice man too, but he seemed to tell me my attacking God was antisemitic, as though God were a Jew. The God of the Old Testament is nastier than the God of the New Testament, as Christians never tire of telling us.

I wasted my time at school. The school had a squash court and I became obsessed with squash. I liked knocking the ball against the wall by myself. I would watch games of squash from the gallery, waiting for the game to end. One day, when I was about 11, there was a master in the gallery with me. He pulled me onto his knee and put his hand inside my shorts. He did no more than have a little feel, but it was extremely disagreeable as well as embarrassing. Many of my friends had the same experience with him. I don't think he did any of us any lasting damage.

2013 September 6

G20

The Times

UK prime minister David Cameron said Russian president Vladimir Putin was "miles away" from the truth about the gas attack in Syria: "This G20 was never going to reach conclusions on Syria. The divisions are too great."

Abyss

John Arquilla

Friedrich Nietzsche: "If you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you."

American seem indifferent to the deaths of more than 125 000 Syrians, all too many of them noncombatants, but outraged that a small percentage died in chemical weapons attacks. What this says about the American moral compass is troubling.

It has taken more than two years for the White House to come up with a strategy toward this conflict. The war may continue to rage. Regime change is not the immediate goal. Our missiles will achieve very little. The best case for the use of force is that punitive strikes may somehow inhibit the future use of chemical weapons. There is little conceivable threat to our vital national security interests here, but Congress has never yet turned down a presidential request to authorize the use of force.

UN ambassador Samantha Power is a strong advocate of the "responsibility to protect" the innocent from systematic killing. In the case of Syria, she is chiming in about the culpability of the Assad regime in the matter of chemical weapons use.

The abyss asks us how we see our power. Gazing into it can be good for the soul.

Inhuman

Leon Wieseltier

Science is not philosophy. The credibility of physicists and biologists and economists on the meaning of life cannot be owed to their work in physics and biology and economics, however distinguished.

A few weeks ago Steven Pinker (blog August 7) published a defense of scientism. The translation of nonscientific discourse into scientific discourse is the central objective of scientism. It is also the source of its intellectual inadequacy.

Pinker rejects the momentous distinction between the study of the natural world and the study of the human world. But the relations among the facts of the world of human spirit are incommensurate with the uniformities of natural processes. We are animals, but we are animals who live in culture.

Pinker proposes for the humanities a "consilience" with science, where the beneficiary would be the humanities. Consilience is not so much a convergence of the sciences with the humanities as a convergence of the sciences upon the humanities.

Science is rational, but science is not all that is rational. Philosophy and literature and history and critical scholarship also espouse skepticism, debate, precision, and empirical tests. The suggestion that only science recognizes the complexity of the world betrays a contempt for humanistic exertion.

AR The claimed incommensurability may be spurious. This is Pinker's bold claim.

2013 September 5

Syria

CNN

President Barack Obama took his case for attacking Syria overseas and gained momentum in the Senate. His deputies faced tough questions from lawmakers and Russia warned against unilateral action. Top 5:

1 The president challenged other nations to join him in upholding global treaties banning the use of chemical weapons. A number of countries support action if the allegations hold up.

2 Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said they wanted no US ground forces in Syria. JCS chair Martin Dempsey: "I can never drive the risk of escalation to zero."

3 The Senate Foreign Relations Committee gave Obama some momentum on proposed military action in Syria. They set a 60-day deadline for use of force, with an option for an additional 30 days.

4 Russian President Vladimir Putin said he "doesn't exclude" backing a UN resolution for military action given irrefutable proof Syria's government is behind the attack.

5 The politics of seeking congressional approval have favored bipartisanship. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee plan was put together and approved across party lines.

Vulture

David Aaronovitch

Labour leader Ed Miliband became the agent of Britain bowing out of any military response to the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime. The vote was the biggest moment of his leadership and says more about him than anything else he has done.

Miliband also rejected the call by President Obama that Assad be held accountable, turned down the US appeal for a punitive response, and decided not to heed President Hollande. Yet Labour backed Obama in 2008 and 2012 and celebrated Hollande as French president. These men are their natural friends.

Everyone knew where David Cameron stood, but Labour said they wanted evidence. The government motion was opposed and defeated. Now Labour will only back action if there is a "very significant change" such as a direct threat to national security.

Ed Miliband could have accepted the government motion gracefully. But no. His technique for victory is to follow behind the leader, wait for a slip, and exploit it. He did it to his brother. He hopes to do it to David Cameron. He is a political vulture. As prime minister he would be a disaster.

Antisemitism

David Mikics

Jews are unwelcome in many parts of the world. Public opinion surveys show that almost 90% of the citizens of Egypt, Lebanon, and Jordan have a very unfavorable opinion of Jews and less than 3% a positive impression.

The very existence of Israel is understood as a provocation by many in the Muslim world. Many people are outraged by Palestinian suffering at the hands of Israel who are untroubled by oppression of Palestinians in Lebanon and Syria, or the fate of the Kurds, Tamils, Tibetans, or Chechens.

Christian and Muslim notions of Jewishness have little or nothing to do with the behavior or beliefs of actual Jews. The more indebted Christianity and Islam are to Judaism, the more they turn against their Jewish sources.

Awareness of anti-Judaism seems distinct from appreciating Jewish traditions. Hannah Arendt and Isaiah Berlin showed that Jews can use and invert antisemitic prejudices. It's hard to imagine Disraeli or Proust, not to mention the history of American comedy, outside of this dynamic. A central aspect of Jewish history is the way Jews react to what the world thinks about them.

AR Arabs are Semites. So Arab anti-Zionism and anti-Judaism are not antisemitic.

2013 September 4

Syria

The Times

President Obama promised Republicans that US strikes against Syria would be part of a wider push to boost the rebels and "degrade" the Assad regime. A draft resolution authorizes the use of force but sets a time limit of 60 days and bars US ground troops from combat operations.

Obama flew to Europe last night to meet President Putin of Russia, the host of the G20 summit in St Petersburg. Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev urged both leaders to sit down and reverse a "dangerous" cooling of relations between Washington and Moscow.

Crisis
We are not yet anywhere near the nadir of the humanitarian crisis already consuming five countries at the heart of the Mideast. Much of Syria could become a dangerous no man's land. This is one of the terrible consequences of failure to break the diplomatic and military deadlock.
David Miliband

Israel

Jerusalem Post

The Israeli Ministry of Defense and the US Missile Defense Agency held a defense drill on Tuesday. An Israeli Air Force F-15 launched a Blue Sparrow missile resembling a Scud to test Arrow systems.

Israel is developing four layers of missile defense: Iron Dome for short and medium range rockets, David's Sling for medium and long range rockets, Arrow 2 to hit projectiles in the upper atmosphere, and Arrow 3 to hit missiles in space.

AR The systems are a wise investment for a neighbor of Syria.

2013 September 3

Syria

The Times

UK military chiefs are being ejected from US meetings about Syria following the vote against military action. At US Central Command in Tampa, Florida, British officers are no longer trusted with high-level intelligence about the conflict. An official: "No British officers are now engaged in military planning for Syria at Central Command and none of them will be involved in the execution of the operation."

AR After the vote a Downing Street source called Ed Miliband a "f****** c***" (to quote the Times) — now the UK top brass will no doubt continue the chorus of epithets.

Christians

Robin Harris

The debates about attacking Syrian targets will waste no time on the impact on Christians in Syria.

Christians in the Mideast have understood, after centuries of experience, that western promises are worthless. They reckon that their only guarantee of survival is stability, their only hope for equality is secularism, and their two great enemies are Islamic zeal and anarchy. Wherever a strongly Islamic regime is in power, Christians suffer.

In Iraq, murders, kidnappings, intimidation, and expulsions have reduced the Christian community to total ruin. Many Iraqi refugees left to join the Christians of Syria and are now persecuted by the rebels. Large areas of Syria are under sharia law administered by Saudi judges. Christians are required to pay the jizya, the tax imposed on infidels.

In Egypt, the West tolerated the Muslim Brotherhood, not a party but an unreconstructed Islamist movement, which sought to reshape Egypt until the army intervened. Muslims assume that Egyptian Christians are second-class citizens. Since the intervention, Christian churches, convents, monasteries, and schools have been looted and burned.

Western refusal to acknowledge the maltreatment of Christians by Islamic governments is shameful.

Brains

Adam Gopnik

Star Trek persists because it captures a deep and abiding divide. Mr Spock speaks for the rational self and thinks the mind is a mechanism that works logically, Captain Kirk for the belief that what governs our life is not only irrational but inexplicable, and the better for it.

Writers on mind and brain tend to divide into Spocks and Kirks, either embracing the idea that consciousness can be located in a web of brain tissue or debunking it. For the past decade, the Spocks have been running the Enterprise. Now we have a Kirkist backlash.

The Kirks argue that brain science promises much and delivers little. The left-right brain split insisted on a far neater break within our heads (Spock bits to the left, Kirk bits to the right) than is now believed to exist. Mirror neurons were used to explain the origins of human empathy and sociability. But our selves shape our brains as much as our brains our selves.

Once upon a time, a father began to obsess over child pornography and then to molest his daughter. He had a tumor, pressing on the piece of the brain associated with social and sexual inhibitions. When it was removed, the wayward desires vanished. Later the tumor began to grow back, and with it the urges. You have to respect the power of the meat to change the morals.

Autism is a wiring problem, not a result of refrigerator mothers. Schizophrenia looks more likely to be cured by getting the brain chemistry right than by looking for traumas in childhood. We are in better shape in our mental breakdowns if we understand the brain breakdowns that help cause them.

Philosophy may dissolve into psychology and then into neurology, but Spocks and Kirks will go on.

2013 September 2

Syria

The Times

UK prime minister David Cameron faces mounting pressure to reverse his decision to rule out military intervention in Syria. Senior figures from each main party urged him to seize on President Obama's decision to delay military action.

US foreign secretary John Kerry said Syrian government forces used sarin in the Damascus attack:
"Bashar al-Assad now joins the list of Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein who used these weapons."

Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal: "The Syrian regime has crossed all the lines with its tyranny ... It's time for us to ask international community to carry out its responsibility and put an end to this tragedy that is entering its third year."

Approval

Malcolm Rifkind

Barack Obama's decision to seek the approval of Congress before initiating international action against Syria has profound implications for both David Cameron and Ed Miliband. Far from the president questioning the prime minister's judgment, he has decided to follow his example. What could better demonstrate the common political values that bind the United States and the United Kingdom together?

As opposition leader, Miliband must be concerned at the battering that Britain's reputation as a robust ally has taken. He should acknowledge that his concerns about premature military action are now being met. He and Cameron should meet privately and discuss whether there is now sufficient common ground that would allow them to agree a common British policy together with our international allies.

Tribute

Boris Johnson

Britain's period of global irrelevance only lasted about 24 hours. We had flunked the global virility test, and in military terms we were a bunch of useless, toothless eunuchs. The French were tougher than us, for goodness' sake!

Barack Obama decided that the views of London were too important to ignore. He iced the plan to bomb today and announced a postponement. That delay is a huge tribute to the prime minister.

After due consideration, I bet Washington will endorse a limited and punitive strike against Assad. The government should lay a new motion before parliament, inviting British participation.

Help

Peter Bergen

Barack Obama came to Washington to end wars, not to start them. In his keynote speech on May 23 at the National Defense University in Washington, he called for an end to the "boundless war on terror" and "perpetual wartime footing" that has existed in the US since 9/11.

In going to Congress for authorization of any military operation in Syria, we see Obama as both former law professor and pragmatist. He could have justified attacking the Assad regime on humanitarian grounds to prevent further massacres of the Syrian people with chemical weapons. But a congressional authorization on the use of force in Syria will help Obama to authorize any additional military actions down the road in Syria. It will also help him over Iran.

AR With this decision Obama earned his 2009 Peace Prize.

2013 September 1

Air Festival day 4

Great day out with the folks at Miramar Hotel on the Bournemouth seafront cliffs. We sat on a terrace overlooking a crowded lawn enjoying drinks and snacks and applauded as if we were at a cricket match.
The fly-by went on for 5 hours. A series of aircraft flew great stunts over Poole Bay, where several big Royal Navy ships including HMS Northumberland were anchored among a flotilla of yachts.

The show opened with a bang as an RAF Typhoon performed astonishing feats of climbing and turning.
The last flying Fairey Swordfish biplane then trundled by a few times and the compere reminded us that just such a "Stringbag" had delivered the torpedo that crippled the Bismarck in 1941. A few modern RN helicopters accompanied a noisy Royal Marines assault landing onto the crowded beach.

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight came by, the big Lancaster flanked by a Hurricane and a Spitfire. The Spit was the PR Mk XIX maintained by Rolls-Royce, and had a Griffon engine, which has a different and harder sound than the unforgettable purr of the Merlins on the other two planes. A Meteor and a Vampire jet then reminded me of my schooldays, when they flew over my school regularly.

The Flying Fortress "Sally B", star of the movie Memphis Belle, flew smoothly by for us, slowly enough for me to check it out carefully through my 7x50 naval binoculars. Hawker Hunter "Miss Demeanour" made a few fast runs and closed the show with a bang as it zoomed past at transonic speed. Sea Vixen "Foxy Lady" and Avro Vulcan "Delta Lady" had mechanical troubles and couldn't make the show.

OK

CNN

President Barack Obama is asking Congress to vote on whether to use military force in Syria "to deter, disrupt, prevent and degrade the potential for future uses of chemical weapons or other weapons of mass destruction."

Obama: "While I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective."

AR Good move. Perhaps he wants a no.

Miss Demeanour Patrouille Reva Foxy Lady
Hawker Hunter "Miss Demeanour" Patrouille Reva Sea Vixen "Foxy Lady"
Spitfire PR Mk XIX Avro Lancaster Sally B
Spitfire PR Mk XIX Avro Lancaster B-17 Flying Fortress "Sally B"
BAF

My room: a graphic

Globalization

Daniel Goldhagen argues that anti-Semitism is an almost pathological prejudice that spans centuries and cultures and therefore is a uniquely destructive force that has redoubled its strength thanks to a new age of globalization and information sharing.

AR Look for the reason in Judaism. Originally a racist religion, it often underpins
a Jews-first polity. This can be okay, even benign, but it can look bad. By the way, Arabs are Semites too, so
"anti-Semitism" is a poorly chosen term.

Centralasia
(my coinage)
could be the
final fortress
for Islamists

Zealot
Andy Ross

Reza Aslan has performed a public service with this readable review of the life and times of Jesus the Nazarene ...

>> more

Noise
Arthur Schopenhauer

Noise is the archenemy of any serious thinker. A great mind can have great thoughts only if all its powers of concentration are brought to bear on one subject, in the same way that a concave mirror focuses light on one point. A great mind becomes ordinary the moment its energies are dispersed. Even people who are not philosophers lose whatever ideas their brains can carry in consequence of brutish jolts of sound.

AR Schoppi —
wotta grump!

 

2013 August 31

Air Festival day 3: Swimming in the warm waters of Poole Bay, I looked up to see the Hawker Hunter "Miss Demeanour" doing a fast low pass over the sea, its Rolls-Royce Avon jet engine on reheat pumping out a wall of noise as the jet passed, plus a happy streak of black smoke across the skyscape.

Later, at home in the garden, I looked up to see and hear the old Avro Lancaster bomber lumbering low overhead. I discovered that an estimated 400 000 people had packed the beaches to watch the show.

Syria

CNN

President Barack Obama said he was "war weary" but determined to hold Syria accountable for using banned chemical weapons. He is considering a limited response to the Syrian attack. A military strike could entail cruise missiles fired from US Navy ships at Syrian command targets.

US Intelligence Report

1 A chemical weapons attack killed more than 1400 people August 21.
2 The Syrian government launched a rocket attack on the area.
3 Confidence is high that the regime was responsible for the attack.
4 The Syrian opposition was not capable of staging the attack.
5 The Syrian regime tried to clear the area to end opposition attacks.

Lessons of Defeat

The Times

Cameron needs to explain why the Western alliance matters and why Britain matters to it. He needs to argue that our role in enforcing treaties and protecting civilians from tyrants is in the national interest. He needs to persuade his own party that to be simultaneously Eurosceptic and unwilling to act together with America is to risk irrelevance.

Catastrophic Failure

The Guardian

David Cameron is facing calls from ministers to overhaul his political operation after a "catastrophic failure of intelligence" led to the first government defeat on the possible deployment of British troops in generations. Tories concerned that he will emerge as a weakened leader of a diminished country are calling for a shakeup.

Four Lucky Breaks

Dave Goldberg

You and I are impurities in the physical universe. Physics uses simple symmetry principles to construct complicated laws of the universe. A thing is symmetrical if there is something you can do to it so that after you have finished doing it, it looks the same as before. Four lucky broken symmetries:

1 The laws of physics seem to act equally in all directions. This symmetry gives rise to the inverse square law of gravity. Lights seem to drop off in brightness as the inverse square as well. But the farther away we look, the more galaxies we can see. Taken to the logical extreme, in every direction you look you should eventually see a star, and the entire sky should appear as bright as the surface of the sun. An asymmetry in time darkens the sky. There were no stars when time began.

2 Antimatter is the mirror image of ordinary matter. A positron is like an electron except that it has a positive charge instead of a negative one. Every type of particle has an antimatter version. The laws of physics seem to be almost exactly the same for a universe filled with matter or antimatter. Matter and antimatter should have annihilated one another long ago. But in the very early universe, a symmetry broke, and about a billion and one particles appeared for every billion antiparticles.

3 The second law of thermodynamics says the universe gets more and more disordered over time. We say entropy increases. Time seems to acquire an arrow when we track complicated systems. Your brain distinguishes between past and future. New memories make your brain more complicated over time. If entropy increases, the early universe started off in a state of low entropy. In space you can go forward and backward, but in time we can only go forward. This is a broken symmetry.

4 A symmetry breaks to give particles mass. In the Higgs model, Higgs bosons pop out of the vacuum and allow particles to acquire mass. Quarks and electrons get their mass from the Higgs. Proton mass is much higher than the mass of its quarks, but electrons need their mass, since a world with a massless electron is far different from our own. Electrons allow for a flow of electricity, and for sharing between atoms. Without electrons binding to protons, there would be no you or me.

AR Perspectivizes Syria, does it not?

2013 August 30

Bournemouth Air Festival day 2: Sitting at home minding my computer, I found the peace interrupted by the joyously thunderous roar of a Eurofighter Typhoon doing a fast low pass over the neighborhood as it turned back to entertain the spectators on the seafront.

NO

For 272 Against 285

UK PM David Cameron was humiliated as MPs rejected action against the Syrian regime. Labour opposition leader Ed Miliband condemned Cameron's "cavalier and reckless" leadership and said action was now off the agenda. Liberal Democrat president Tim Farron: "There should be no rush to take military action."

US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel: "Every nation has a responsibility to make their own decisions, and we respect that of any nation."

Realpolitik

Nicky Woolf

America is not interested in regime change in Syria. Obama does not want to be a wartime president. His red line of the use of chemical weapons is ridiculous. The death toll in Syria stands at more than a hundred thousand people. Who cares whether people were killed with shells, mortar, or gas?

The West has been evening the odds in Syria by drip-feeding supplies and weaponry to rebel forces. This has turned the conflict into an interminable meat-grinder, in which no side has the decisive edge. Flattening out some more of Assad's tactical advantages will only maintain this grisly status quo.

The conflict in Syria is a black hole for extremists. Assad's army is supported by Hezbollah and Iran. On the rebel side, the Free Syrian Army includes the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) faction, and Jabhat Al-Nusra is linked with Al-Qaeda. Victory for either side would be bad for the West.

AR Sad but true.

2013 August 29

Bournemouth Air Festival 2013 day 1: Moments after swimming in Poole Bay, I looked up to see an Avro Lancaster bomber fly by, flanked by a Hawker Hurricane and a Supermarine Spitfire, their total of six unmuffled Rolls-Royce Merlin V12 engines purring in perfect harmony.

Syria

President Barack Obama says the United States has concluded Syria carried out chemical weapons attacks against its people: "If in fact we make a choice to have repercussions for the use of chemical weapons, then the Assad regime will have received a pretty strong signal that in fact it had better not do it again."

Syrian UN ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari: "We are not warmongers, we are a peaceful nation seeking stability in the area. The Syrian government is against the use of chemical weapons by all means — this is a moral obscenity."

UN and Arab League special envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi: "Syria is now undoubtedly the most serious crisis facing the international community."

China Daily: "Any military intervention into Syria would have dire consequences for regional security and violate the norms governing international relations." Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi: "A political resolution has, from the very beginning, been the only way out for the Syrian issue. China calls on all sides to exercise restraint and remain calm."

US officials stress that America will not act unilaterally. France has pledged to take part in any action, but the UK will wait for the UN report. UN officials say they need a week or more to produce it. The US and UK will today publish a summary of intelligence on Syrian responsibility for the gas attack.

In the UK, public opposition to military intervention in Syria has hardened, as support for punitive action dropped yesterday to 22% and opposition grew to 51%. British prime minister David Cameron will open a parliamentary debate today on delaying any military action.

— with reporting by CNN, The Times, and The Guardian

James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies researcher Amy Smithson: "Not doing anything tells Assad he's not going to get punished, go out and use the chemicals. Striking the chemical sites presents a very real risk of releasing toxic chemicals over nearby civilian populations. Not striking the chemical sites leaves Assad with potent weapons in his hands that he's shown he's willing to use."

University of Michigan history professor Juan Cole: "This is more about Washington saving face, it seems to me, than it is a consequential intervention in the Syrian conflict. When you're in a position where it is assumed that the United States must do something, a couple of Tomahawks make a statement."

A Problem From Hell

Peter Bergen

Syria is de facto breaking up into jihadist-run "emirates" and Alawite rump states. It is also the scene of a proxy war that pits al Qaeda affiliates backed by Qatar and Saudi Arabia against Hezbollah, backed by Iran. It's a problem from hell.

The issue now is the use of neurotoxins as weapons against civilians. It seems inconceivable that the United States will not respond. But Russia and China will almost certainly veto a UN resolution on Syria. Russia is a Syrian ally, and Russia and China are generally staunchly against any kind of international intervention in the affairs of other countries. Although the United States regularly infringes the sovereignty of countries such as Pakistan and Yemen with CIA drone strikes, the Syrian regime is not threatening the United States.

The Arab League has not endorsed any military action against Assad. NATO member Turkey could invoke Article 5 because Syria has often fired into its territory. So far, the Turks have not done so, but the new atrocity might change that.

The Muslim Brotherhood

Christopher Dickey

Syria is the epicenter of a widening regional conflict. Saudi Arabia sees Iran as a threat to its security. In many respects the Syrian war is a proxy war between the Saudis and Iran. The Saudis can weaken Iran by depriving it of its Syrian allies.

In Syria, the Muslim Brotherhood fights beside al Qaeda jihadists. The House of Saud is concerned that the Brotherhood could threaten its religious and political legitimacy. Since 2011, the Saudis have worked to undermine the Brotherhood in Egypt. Turkey supports the Brotherhood and may dominate Syria if the Saudis fail to act.

Saudi Arabia and Israel have parallel interests in Syria. Both want to see Iran weakened, neither wants to see Assad last, and neither want to see the Brotherhood or al Qaeda take control. An American attack on Syria will do nothing to help.

2013 August 28

Syria

The Guardian

The Arab League threw its weight behind the judgment that the Assad regime was responsible for the chemical attack last week as US and UK preparations for military intervention in Syria continued.

British CDS General Sir Nick Houghton will outline options for targeted attacks at a meeting today of the UK NSC. He is expected to tell ministers the UK could assist US forces with cruise missile strikes.

Action

Daniel Finkelstein

The Syria that will emerge if Bashar Assad wins will be a dangerous place. Assad will rule a rump country in Western Syria, with the support of Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. They will be engaged in a running battle with Sunni insurgents who will turn to foreign allies to assist a jihadist struggle, which will spread through the region and fuel international terror.

Are we being urged to act just for show? Much of what we did in the Cold War was just for show. It demonstrated that the Western allies were united and committed to resisting tyranny. The Korean war was hugely unpopular in America, yet it signaled to the Soviet Union that the United States would act if pushed too far. So if all we now do is act for show it will still be worthwhile.

The Limits of Action

Aaron David Miller

Q What are US objectives in Syria?
A Pretty limited.

The Obama administration cannot hope to play the lead role in stopping the Syrian civil war and become the dominant architect in replacing the Assad regime with a democratic polity. The United States can try to make a difference on the humanitarian side, the political side, the military side, and the diplomatic side. The president hopes to restore credibility to his own red lines on chemical weapons and keep on the right side of history.

Q Does a military strike serve US interests?
A Yes, but very imperfectly.

The United States must contend with a fragmenting state that's spewing sectarian violence, hemorrhaging refugees, offering up opportunities for extremists, and spreading instability to its neighbors. If the United States is going to use military force, it must go well beyond symbolic warnings. Assad must go. But getting rid of Assad by no means guarantees stability, the end of civil war, or a victory for the pro-Western opposition in Syria.

Q How important is Syria to President Obama?
A So far, not very.

Syria is a breeding ground for extremism, sectarian violence, and proliferation and use of chemical weapons. The Syrian civil war is a cruel and bloody war that America can't end, and it shouldn't be stuck with the enormous bill for cleaning up. Assuming the lion's share of responsibility for getting rid of Assad and supporting whatever government replaces him is neither a vital American value nor a vital national interest. Obama knows it.

2013 August 27

We Must Act

Tony Blair

Consider the Mideast: Syria is mired in carnage, Egypt is in chaos, Iran is a theocratic dictatorship.

In Egypt, the military have aborted a democratically elected government and are repressing a political party. But the Muslim Brotherhood was changing the constitution and taking control of the commanding heights of the state in pursuit of values that contradict everything we stand for.

Egypt is imbued with a fierce national pride. Its people are disdainful of naive Western critics. Condemning the military will not get us any nearer to a return to democracy.

Think of Syria disintegrated, divided in blood, the nations around it destabilized, waves of terrorism rolling over the population of the region, with Assad in power, Iran ascendant, and bitter sectarian fury. It is time we took the side of the people who want what we want.

A struggle is going on for the future of Islam. Extremists are attempting to create a political Islam at odds with the modern world. They must be defeated.

AR Blair is a Christian and works for Israel. But he is right.

Syrian War

Those who jump into humanitarian wars for moral reasons should also want to win them. Cruise missiles fired from destroyers can send a message but they cannot decide the outcome of a war. There has to be a strategic motivation behind the moral one. Whatever is done should be well considered. Starting a war is easier than winning it.
Handelsblatt

Those who can see the images of murdered Syrian children and not feel the impulse to invade the country have lost their humanity. But the emotions triggered by pictures of dead children cannot be the decisive factor. Military successes do not always bring improvements for the people involved. Alternatives to a military strike must be considered.
Die Tageszeitung

The United States will decide for or against a military reaction. President Obama is concerned about securing Syrian chemical weapons. But he will also consider the consequences for the region. The Syrian war has long since crossed the borders into Lebanon and Iraq. Berlin wants to be on the side of its allies, without military involvement.
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

2013 August 26

Punish!

Paddy Ashdown

The present task is to get UN inspectors into Syria. The evidence of this crime degrades fast. We need something sharp, quick, specific, punishing, and preferably legitimized by the UN. Syria is far more complex and has far greater geostrategic consequences than Bosnia ever had. Iraq, Afghanistan, and the economic crisis have robbed us of both the credibility and the capabilities we had then.

If Russia and China still veto sanction against this terrible crime, we are faced with a choice:
1 We can acquiesce in a breach of international law and damage the UN.
2 We can take unilateral action and damage the UN.

AR Punishing Syria like this will only worsen World War IV. The UN is broken by its democracy of unequal partners. We need a GO reflecting demographic and economic clout.

Gott

Pro-Medien Magazin

Kurt Gödel ist vor allem bekannt für seinen 1933 veröffentlichten Beweis, dass die Mathematik letztendlich nicht eindeutig widerspruchsfrei ist.

Gödel hat auch "bewiesen", dass Gott existiert. Sein Gottesbeweis verwendete eine Variation des ontologischen Gottesbeweises. Demzufolge gehört es zu einem vollkommenen Wesen wie Gott, dass es auf jeden Fall auch die Eigenschaft besitzt, zu existieren. Denn sonst wäre es nicht vollkommen. Der Gott der Logiker besitzt die Eigenschaft, vollkommen zu sein.

Gödels Beweisführung beginnt etwa so:
Axiom 1. Entweder eine Eigenschaft oder ihre Negation ist positiv, niemals aber beides.
Axiom 2. Eigenschaften, die notwendigerweise aus einer positiven Eigenschaften folgen,
   müssen ebenfalls positiv sein.
Definition. Ein Wesen ist Gott-artig, falls es alle positiven Eigenschaften aufweist.

Christoph Benzmüller und Bruno Woltzenlogel Paleo haben eine Variante von Gödels Gottesbeweis formalisiert und im Computer überprüft. Ergebnis: "Wir können nun also mit großer Gewissheit behaupten: Die logische Argumentationskette in diesem Gottesbeweis ist nachweisbar korrekt."

AR Hanebücherei! Gödel hat sich mit logischer Wortspinnerei zum Wahnsinn amüsiert.

2013 August 25

Syria

The Syrian foreign ministry says Syria will cooperate with UN inspectors "to expose the false allegations of the terrorist groups accusing the Syrian forces of using chemical weapons". The government said its soldiers had found chemical supplies when they entered a rebel stronghold near Damascus.

International aid group Doctors Without Borders said that on the morning of the reported attack, medical centers received about 3600 patients with symptoms indicating exposure to a chemical nerve agent. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the deaths of 322 people, most killed by toxic gas.

An audio message posted on YouTube, purportedly from al-Nusra leader Abu Muhammad al-Joulani, accuses the Syrian regime of bombarding the site "with tens of missiles" carrying a "suffocating chemical agent" and killing hundreds.

US President Barack Obama and UK PM David Cameron have discussed "a serious response" to the attacks. US Secretary of State John Kerry called his regional counterparts and the secretary general of the Arab League. Western defense chiefs including US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Martin Dempsey, US commander in the Mideast General Lloyd Austin, UK armed forces head General Sir Nick Houghton, and a French chief meet in Jordan Monday to discuss options.

The US military is positioning assets in the region. Naval destroyers USS Ramage, USS Mahan, USS Gravely, and USS Barry, all equipped with Tomahawk cruise missiles, are now deployed in the eastern Mediterranean Sea. UK capability in theater includes a nuclear-powered Trafalgar-class submarine on patrol. RAF Tornados can use Cyprus as a base to launch attacks.

A Syrian government information minister dismissed the possibility of an attack: "The basic repercussion would be a ball of fire that would burn not only Syria but the whole Middle East."

With reporting by CNN, The New York Times, and The Sunday Times

Secrecy

Government routinely abuses its power to classify information. But there are many legitimate reasons for governments to keep secrets. Most of what Manning and Snowden leaked shows US agencies working hard at their jobs. America has been aggressively collecting mass data to discover and derail terrorist attacks in advance.
Duh.

Intelligence
The Independent

Snowden documents reveal that Britain runs a secret station in the Mideast to intercept and process vast quantities of emails, phone calls, and web traffic. The station extracts data from the underwater cables in the region. The data is processed for intelligence, then passed to GCHQ and shared with the NSA.


Google
Worldwide internet traffic plunged by 40% as all Google services went down for a few minutes Friday night.

NHS Checks Useless
The Times

UK National Health Service health checks offered to millions of people over 40 are a useless waste of money that may do more harm than good, say reviewers. Royal College of GPs chairwoman Dr Clare Gerada: "You always find something that you can't explain and then you do more tests. We're constantly having to explain to patients that actually there's nothing wrong."

 

2013 August 24

Elysium

Wired

Elysium has a message. In 2154, the poor live in squalor on Earth while the rich live in space station Elysium. Earth man Max (Matt Damon) gets a lethal dose of radiation and asks his buddy Spider to get him up to Elysium for a cure. Spider prepares Max for a mission. An Elysium governor has asked a boss to write a reboot program for Elysium. The boss uploads the code to his brain and becomes the target. Max wins. A point is made.

AR I liked it. As a critique of apartheid it worked. Rich and poor are one species and must share. As an action movie it hit the usual notes — too much gory violence and not enough technoclarity — but I'm a gourmet technopurist with a dislike of bloody primitivism so don't listen to me on that. It was formulaic and reckless, sure, but it worked. I suspect it was written in precise accordance with the Blake Snyder Beat Sheet (blog July 19) by someone who thought no one cares about technoplausibility but everyone likes a script heavily salted with profanity, gore enough to sicken a surgeon, and fight scenes that would soon kill any real protagonists. What turned me on were the hints of technowizardry on show in Elysium. I guess I'm losing the testo-fueled savagery of my younger years.

Chelsea

Jane Fae

Bradley Manning wishes to transition and to be known henceforth as Chelsea. In June 2013, there were at least 61 trans prisoners in the US prison system.

In the United States, more than 200 000 men are raped behind bars each year. Trans prisoner Cece McDonald wrote recently of the unique torture inflicted on one trans woman in prison, including "sexual harassment during cross-gender strip searches" that "included ridiculing her anatomy, threatening her, and exposing her to male inmates".

Many things are torture to the trans individual. Through forced strip searches, the US government started to torture Chelsea in 2011. Her ordeal has only just begun.

Microsoft

Wired

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is stepping down. As of noon Eastern, Microsoft stock climbed nearly 6%. Since 2000 when Big Steve took over from Bill Gates, the company dug itself a hole.

Under Ballmer, Microsoft should have done more than just mimic Apple and Amazon and Google. Some say Surface and Azure and Bing are superior to what came before. But they came too late.

Microsoft was squeezing its own Windows customers. The perception was that the company was giving them shoddy software and forcing them to use it. Microsoft needs new leadership.

Retirement

Jen Diski

Working hard to earn a living is not an ideal way of life. Even those with a work ethic concede that a lifetime of work earns an easeful retirement early enough in life to allow you a few years to enjoy it.

The state has reasons of its own for requiring everyone to keep busy. Economists and politicians fret about the cost of an aging population. If their bodies can be kept going, the old folk can stay in work for longer and cost less. But keeping those bodies going is expensive, and the longer the old work, the fewer jobs there are for the young.

Leisure is so terrifying in our culture that we cut it up into small chunks throughout our working year in case too much will drive us mad, and leave most of it to the end, in the hope of an early death.

AR Work and rest — not my idea of a life choices dichotomy. How about mission accomplished and then rounded to a harmonious whole?

2013 August 23

Complacency

Alan Rusbridger

We at the Guardian had been having a perfectly cordial conversation with British government officials when they suddenly changed their mind. I had already made arrangements in the United States, and I tried to persuade the officials that smashing hard drives was pointless. But they wouldn't be persuaded. So I moved the reporting out of London and destroyed the material in London.

The British are complacent about these things. An Englishman's home is his castle, and they can't imagine the police coming through the front door. But the police may already be inside their homes. They don't even need to go through the front door.

AR Unless British citizens wake up and defend their freedoms, the establishment will proceed with stealth toward a Big Brother state behind a smokescreen of paranoid propaganda about Europe and mindless monarchism. Arise and be (not) counted!

Christians

CNN

Christians are fleeing the Mideast. Today over 10 million Christians in the Mideast make up some 5% of the regional population. A century ago they made up 20%. The fall is due to emigration, high Muslim birth rates, and marginalization and targeting of Christians in Arab countries.

Egypt. Islamist thugs have attacked and burned down churches across Egypt. Christians, who make up 10% of the Egyptian population, had complained that a new constitution passed by the Morsi government infringed on their rights. An estimated 100 000 of them left Egypt in 2011.

Syria. Syrian Christians tacitly supported the regime of President Assad, which historically favored and protected religious minorities. About a third of the Christians in northeastern Syria have fled the country in the past two years.

Libya. Around 60 Christians were rounded up by extremists on suspicion of immigrating from Egypt. The militants tortured several of them and killed one. Earlier this year, four Christians were accused of proselytizing to Muslim Libyans. Now there is an exodus of Christians.

Iraq. Since 2003, the Christian Iraqi population may have dropped by half, according to the CIA. Half the Iraqis who fled the country in 2010, about 200 000 people, were Christians. Only 3% of the Iraqi population are now Christian.

The region boasted a sizable Jewish population a few decades ago. But then things changed. Around World War II there were 100 000 Jews in Egypt, in a community with roots going back to the pharaohs. Now only a few dozen remain. First the Jews, then the Christians.

AR This is war, World War IV. The West should respond ethically by restricting Muslim immigration and taking in Christians as political refugees.

Cinema

Martin Scorsese

Whenever I hear people dismiss movies as fantasy and make a hard distinction between film and life, I think this is just a way of avoiding the power of cinema. What is it about cinema? My answers:

1 Light. Cinema is created with light. Most creation myths start with darkness, and then light, which leads to distinguishing one thing from another, and ourselves from the rest of the world. Light is at the core of who we are and how we understand ourselves.

2 Movement. The desire to make images move, the need to capture movement, seemed to be with us in stone age cave paintings. I think this need to recreate movement is a mystical urge.

3 Time. The pioneers of cinema were taking reality and interpreting it, reshaping it, and trying to find meaning in it. The cut from one image to another is a shift from one vantage point to another, still within one continuous action.

4 Language. We have no choice but to treat all these moving images coming at us as a language. We want to understand what we see and find the tools to sort it all out. We agree that verbal literacy is necessary. Now we need to stress visual literacy in our schools.

Archaeologists have made many discoveries by studying the refuse of earlier civilizations. We have to do the same thing with film. We need to take pride in our cinema, our great American art form.

AR Yes! Tonight Elysium.

2013 August 22

Causation

George Ellis

When you work on your computer, electrons work for you. Your brain causes your fingers to press keys and so on to cause electrons to flow in the processor and onward to the screen. This kind of causation is all around us. In Darwinian evolution, the environment works on genetic structure from the top down.

Causation from the top down allows the emergence of complex systems with new kinds of behavior from simpler ones. Thus computers and brains can have causal power in their own right, despite being made up of transistors or neurons. Reductionists insist the physics at the bottom is causally closed. But:

1 Top structure channels bottom interactions. Computer wiring constrains the motion of electrons to create new possibilities that do not exist for free electrons. Such constraints underlie the emergence of computation. The physics makes things happen, but the context determines what will happen.

2 In billiard ball mechanics, balls with fixed behavior interact via fixed laws to determine behavior at the top. But in quantum physics or biology, context affects the lower entities and shapes how they behave. A neutron lasts about 15 minutes when free, but for billions of years when bound in a nucleus.

3 Some things only exist in higher structures. Symbiotic partners cannot survive when separated. The Cooper pairs in superconductors are pairs of electrons that would normally repel each other, but the lattice structure lets bound pairs form. We cannot deduce superconductivity bottom up.

Reductionists ask how neurons can have causal powers when their behavior is fixed by superstring physics. The higher levels like electrons and neurons are riders on this underlying causation. Causation from neurons to electrons acts top down.

Wittgenstein

Giles Fraser

In Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein dismantled a myth. The myth was about the nature and primacy of interiority and has been at the heart of western thought since Augustine. It was that thinking is something we do in our heads. It then becomes language and emerges in speech.

Wittgenstein said thinking is like language and follows rules: "It is not possible to obey a rule 'privately': otherwise thinking one was obeying a rule would be the same thing as obeying it." Thinking is a social activity. The public realm has priority over the private and inner. Meaning is use.

Wittgenstein urged students to give up philosophy and go do something useful. Philosophy is not about building intellectual foundations but about creating better maps of what people are doing when they say the things they do. Philosophers are like therapists, trying to undo muddles.

2013 August 21

Mideast

Roger Boyes

Egypt is grappling with its own ungovernability. It signals a more general collapse of statehood in the Mideast. The region cannot sustain wars in Syria and Egypt without wrecking peace treaties and risking wider conflict. If things go badly, Israel will be drawn into the fire.

Mohamed ElBaradei resigned as Egyptian vice-president. He has abandoned the fight for the middle ground between a military dictatorship, an Islamic autocracy, and the roar of the crowd. For most Egyptians, he was a symbol of a doomed engagement with the West.

Syria may be sliced up, with the Alawites claiming a heartland. Thousands of Syrian Kurds, have been crossing into Iraqi Kurdistan. They are keen to form a Kurdish statelet, perhaps with Turkish Kurds. in Libya, eastern Cyrenaica wants greater autonomy. Yemen is a failed state.

The spreading Mideast crisis is as ominous as the prelude to war in 1914. Egypt risks a long civil war. Regional governments are lining up. Supporting the Egyptian military are Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and even Israel. Supporting the Muslim Brotherhood are Turkey, Qatar, and Iran. We all lose if war and insurrection spread.

China

Der Spiegel

The Chinese government aims to upgrade the environmental sector to the rank of a key industry. The sector is expected to grow at twice the rate of the wider economy and to earn over $700 billion by 2015.

Beijing wants to make more energy-efficient power plant equipment, more cars and buses running on liquefied natural gas, and more wind and solar farms, as well as nuclear power plants. Other priorities include treating waste water, expanding the power grid, and constructing subway systems. The Chinese are looking at modern German control technology and machines.

NSA

The Guardian

Threat of legal action could have stopped reporting on the American and British government surveillance revealed by the Snowden documents. Government officials visited the Guardian offices to demand the destruction or surrender of all the NSA files held there. GCHQ technicians watched as Guardian employees pulverized the hard drives and memory chips that had stored the encrypted files.

2013 August 20

Angela Merkel

Daniel Johnson

Angela Merkel looks set to win another term as German chancellor. She will boast a record matched by only two of her postwar predecessors: Konrad Adenauer, who restored respect for the Germans, and Helmut Kohl, who reunited them. Adenauer created her Christian Democrat creed and Kohl was her mentor, but they were both patriarchs. Merkel wears her nickname "Mutti" as a badge of honor.

Merkel, 59, grew up in East Germany and takes Europe seriously. She has cultivated an unthreatening, homely image, but her integrity, intelligence, and insight lend her words weight. Last week she gave notice that the EU might have to "give something back" to nation states. German talk about restoring powers to national governments suggests that something is finally stirring in the eurozone.

Polls suggest that half of all Germans would ditch the euro and stop bailouts tomorrow. The markets have been calmer since the Germans underwrote the ECB promise to do whatever it takes to prevent the eurozone from collapsing, but the gap is widening between north and south. Migration from the south toward Britain and Germany have pushed immigration and welfare to the top of the agenda.

Neurobabble

Benjamin Y. Fong

The Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative promises fine control over the seat of consciousness. One day, having monitored the active brain from birth to adulthood and uncovered both the constitutional and environmental factors of various disorders, we may be able to tell the developmental story in which selves emerge in neurological terms.

The trouble with the BRAIN initiative is in how it impacts human problems. For example, low socioeconomic status at birth is associated with a greater risk of developing schizophrenia, but most research into schizophrenia today is carried out by neurobiologists and geneticists. This reflects an assumption that it is better to change the brain than to change the environment that spoils it.

Psychology has looked at how we engage with the world and grow into social beings with the hope of improving our lives. Neuroscience is a harbinger of a new psychological paradigm that replaces the socially formed self with the active brain. Neuroscientists repress all that we know about the alienating and dissatisfying world in which we live and the harmful effects it has on the psyche.

Writer: Take A Break

Colin Robinson

I'm a publisher. I know many writers and admire their work, but I prefer readers. Readers want to find something new. Writers have found it and seek to deliver it to the world. Not all can write well. Nearly everyone wants to be an author, but readers are an endangered species. The literary equivalent of channel surfing is replacing the prolonged concentration required to tackle a book. Books are suffering in the reduced attention spans of readers.

As ever more writers dive into the shrinking pool of readers, the laws of the market threaten to turn the cash nexus in book publishing on its head. Increasing numbers are paying to write. The point where readers are being paid cannot be far off. Sometimes it seems that my job as an editor comprises little more than hacking away at the tangle of poorly crafted words to admit sunlight for the few that are left. I propose a Year of Not Writing.

AR Perhaps this is good advice. A blog should be enough for now.

Elysium













Emirates Executive invites you to charter a luxury Airbus. Emirates SVP Adnan Kazim: "We have seen an increasing demand in the private travel segment, especially in the Middle East and Europe."








Das letzte Kapitel:
Wenn ein Mensch stirbt
Spiegel TV (84 min)


Reza Aslan
RA
Reza Aslan


AR
My car has British plates:
The epic fight with the GB
gatekeepers is thus won.

Cars: A Rant
(PDF, 4 pages, 432 KB)











Human-relevant levels of added sugar consumption increase female mortality and lower male fitness in mice
Nature Communications


BlueBella
Fifty Shades Of Pants

The E.L. James novel
Fifty Shades of Grey has sold more than 70 million copies
and is the fastest-selling paperback of all time.
BlueBella is joining the
bandwagon with a new line of lingerie.






Worse Than Kafka
Hugo Rifkind

US surveillance programs are secret. The court proceedings that enable them and the legal rationales that justify them are secret too. The reasons for all this secrecy are also secret.
Google is fighting for the right to disclose exactly what cooperation it provides to security services, but having to do this without admitting that it provides any.
Nobody knows how much this is happening because no one can talk about it.

 

2013 August 19

Multiculturalism

Jonathan Sacks

The social covenant creates society. To strengthen it:

1 You construct an environment of strong families.
2 You create a very strong environment of supportive communities.
3 You focus intensely on the education system.
4 You expect those who succeed to share with those who have less.

The danger in a multicultural society is that every ethnic group and religious group becomes a pressure group, putting our people's interest ahead of the national interest. The lessons:

1 You don't try to impose your views on the majority population.
2 You are Jewish and you're English and you have to negotiate that.
3 You realise there is such a thing as anti-Semitism.

A very individualistic self-centred society doesn't really have space for God.

AR Lord Sacks, 65, will soon step down as Chief Rabbi.

2013 August 18

HS2: £80 000 000 000?

The Times

The Institute of Economic Affairs predicts that the cost of the projected high-speed rail link HS2 linking London with the North will rise to at least £80 billion. Special interest lobbying could add around £30 billion in costs for route changes and tunneling to protect the environment and buy off opposition.

IEA author Richard Wellings: "It's time the government abandoned its plans to proceed with HS2. The evidence is now overwhelming that this will be unbelievably costly to the taxpayer while delivering incredibly poor value for money."

Department for Transport: "HS2 is absolutely vital for this country, providing a huge economic boost which will generate a return on investment that will continue paying back for generations to come."

AR Scrap it and improve the road system. That's where the real economic boost lies. Consider the loss every day due to traffic congestion, slow and bumpy roads, dirty and inefficient vehicles, poor routes and junctions, inadequate parking, and decades of planning neglect. Tens of billions can turn the tide.

Oxbridge

Carole Cadwalladr

When I was 18 years old, I won a place at Oxford University. I experienced the sort of confidence and entitlement that the combination of money, status, and a private education confer. Yet I've come to believe that Oxford and Cambridge are part of the problem, not the solution.

Oxbridge graduates dominate British public life, and those graduates are largely drawn from private schools. Oxford and Cambridge are part of the mechanism by which the elite consolidates its power and augments its influence. An Oxbridge degree is still a golden ticket to the best careers and prospects.

We, the people, pay for Oxford and Cambridge. And yet the people are barely even getting a look in. Without fairness and equality, Oxbridge will continue to provide the stamp of quality that a privileged elite uses to tighten grip on jobs, wealth, property, power, and influence.

AR Societies have always bred hereditary elites. The challenge is to give those elites enough social conscience to behave fairly toward the masses. The British elite serves a corrupt and ingrown establishment that shows little understanding of progress, fairness, or even common decency.

2013 August 17

Eylsium

The Guardian

Elysium director Neill Blomkamp has a vision of 2154. The top 1% has abandoned Earth for luxury space station Elysium. Earth is a totalitarian nightmare slum in which citizens live like rats.

Blomkamp decided that the only contemporary location that could accurately convey the grimness of life on Earth in century 22 was a garbage dump in Mexico City: "It was pretty goddamn terrible."

Elysium runs with that idea, its bleak future Earth looking less lived-in than royally shat on: "Battered, fucked up, hammered on. I love that, though. It makes it feel real. My main thing is realism."

In his worlds, robots and aliens mix with humans, high-tech body modification is rife, and society is screwed. He grew up in apartheid-era Johannesburg and fell for sci-fi early, notably Alien and its sequel.

"The only way things will change is if we're smart enough to develop technology that can think us out of this, meaning augmenting ourselves genetically to be smart enough to change shit."

AR That's not the only way, but things will certainly change that way.

Broken

Die Welt

In the last three years, British wages adjusted for inflation fell by an average 5.5%. Across the European Union, wages declined by 0.7%. In Germany wages rose by 2.7%.

Many companies in the UK now rely on part-time and "zero hours" contracts with no guaranteed minimum working week. These companies pay by the hour, and if there is no work there is no pay. Some 1.4 million Britons are underemployed, on top of 2.5 million registered as unemployed.

Low wages and underemployment hit hard after the recent round of UK government spending cuts. Social welfare is set for an annual rise of 1%, but inflation now runs at 2.8%. Finance minister George Osborne said the British social system is "broken" and called for reform.

Although workers with an annual income of less than £10 000 no longer pay taxes, the government has cut the top tax rate from 50% to 45%. Critics see a war of rich against poor.

AR I feel like I've landed on a blighted island where a corrupt elite preys on human dregs. The social extremes at both ends have become loathsome and the middle is tearing apart.

Israel

Noam Chomsky

The options:
1 A two-state settlement
2 A demographic Palestinian majority in a single state
3 Israel carries forward its current policies with full US support.

The 1993 Oslo Accords determined that Gaza and the West Bank are an indivisible entity. Israel moved at once to separate them and to create a vastly expanded Greater Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Meanwhile Israel is incorporating the territory on the Israeli side of the separation wall.

Israel has also been clearing the Jordan Valley of Palestinians and preparing for eventual integration of the region within Israel. That will complete the isolation of any West Bank Palestinian entity. The areas that Israel is taking over will be virtually free of Arabs. There will be no demographic problem.

Israel has made its intentions clear by announcing new construction in East Jerusalem and in scattered settlements, while also extending its list of settlements that receive special subsidies to encourage building and inducements for Jewish settlers.

There is an overwhelming international consensus in support of option 1.

AR I vote for option 3. Progress beats a lazy consensus based on past realities.

Infinity

Amanda Gefter

MIT cosmologist Max Tegmark: "Inflation is saying, hey, there's something totally screwed up with what we're doing ... All of our problems with inflation and the measure problem come immediately from our assumption of the infinite."

Rutgers mathematician Doron Zeilberger wants to do away with infinity altogether. There is a largest number. Start at 1 and just keep on counting and eventually you will go to a kind of limit. Zeilberger: "I call it N0." If you try to add 1 to N0, you get either an overflow error or a reset to zero. Zeilberger: "We can redo mathematics postulating that there is a biggest number and make it circular."

Tegmark: "When quantum mechanics was discovered, we realized that classical mechanics was just an approximation. I think another revolution is going to take place, and we'll see that continuous quantum mechanics is itself just an approximation to some deeper theory, which is totally finite."

>> more

2013 August 16

Pericles by William Shakespeare
Brownsea Open Air Theatre

AR A charming and extremely enjoyable performance

Egypt

Der Spiegel

Egypt under General Abd al-Fattah al-Sissi is so polarized that people no longer feel empathy for others. The intellectuals spout propaganda, those who ask critical questions risk violent attack, and the Muslim Brotherhood, instead of seeking to limit violence within its ranks, is amplifying its rage.

National Salvation Front spokesman Khaled Daud says the attack on Muslim Brotherhood camps was no massacre: "The majority of Egyptians think the Brotherhood should be dealt with even more severely."

Since opposition leader Mohammed ElBaradei resigned from the transition government after the bloodbath on Wednesday, Egyptian liberals have been blasting him as a traitor.

April 6 Youth Movement co-founder Ashrif Arubi: "People are happy that the Brothers were killed ... The Egyptians no longer see the authorities as their opponents."

Rebuke

The New York Times

In a rebuke to Egypt's military-backed government for its brutal crackdown on supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi, President Obama has canceled longstanding joint military exercises with the Egyptian army.

AR Get real, Obama: Crushing the deathwish fanaticism of hardcore Islamists takes a brutal crackdown. Egyptians may thus learn that even tolerating intolerance in their midst is dangerous. This paradox is the price of disentangling passionate faith in a transcendent godhead from politics.

Coincidences

Amir D. Aczel

The question is not why unlikely coincidences occur in our lives but how to define the unlikely. Probabilities are defined as relative measures in a sample space, which is the set of all possible outcomes of an experiment. We generally assume that every elementary outcome of the experiment has an equal likelihood. If we can define a sample space in a situation, then we can measure probabilities.

Extremely unlikely coincidences embody the blade of grass paradox. If you were to stand in a meadow and reach down to touch a blade of grass, there are millions of grass blades that you might touch. But you will, in fact, touch one of them. The a priori fact that the blade you touch will be any particular one has an extremely tiny probability, but such an occurrence must take place if you touch a blade of grass.

The devil is in the details of how we interpret what we see in life. Psychology plays a key role. We tend to remember coincidences and conveniently forget the rest. We also need to identify the correct sample space. Since there may be no correct way to do so in many cases involving rare events, the occurrence of startling coincidences in everyday life may well remain a mystery.

AR In 2001, Aczel wrote the excellent popular physics book Entanglement. Einstein famously said quantum entanglement was "spooky" and Erwin Schrödinger found it so absurd he told a notorious cat story to lampoon it. It is the manifestation in quantum theory of the pervasive appearance among quantum phenomena of mathematically interesting coincidences.

Spirituality

Rowan Williams

Speaking from the Christian tradition, the idea that being spiritual is just about having nice experiences is rather laughable. Most people who have written seriously about the life of the spirit in Christianity and Judaism spend a lot of their time telling you how absolutely bloody awful it is. The last thing it is about is the placid hum of a well-conducted meditation. At the very least, spiritual care means tending to every possible dimension of sense of the self and each other. It is about filling out human experience as fully as possible.

2013 August 15

Aslan Divorced Jesus

The Guardian

Reza Aslan lives with his Christian wife and their twin sons in Hollywood Hills. He runs a production company that develops content about the Mideast, is a consultant for movies, and appears regularly on television.

"There are times when I'm invited to dinners or parties at celebrities' homes — no I don't want to name names — and I'm like: 'Ooh, all these cool celebrities!' But nobody wants to talk to anybody but me. In LA, the celebrities view the intellectuals as the celebrities."

Aslan was born to ostensibly Muslim parents in Tehran in 1972. The family fled to the United States in 1979. Aslan had no religious instruction as a child, yet he went on to attend Harvard Divinity School. He now teaches creative writing at University of California, Riverside.

Aslan: "Jesus and I are like a married couple that are divorced but will always be friends — more than friends. You can't spend your life studying the world's religions and take any one of those religions all that seriously."

AR The secret is all in the packaging. My CORAL was too dull. Watch out for the movie treatment of Zealot, starring a handsome young stud with smouldering Jewish looks.

Micropayments

New Scientist

Traditional payment systems charge merchants a fee for every sale. The fee is too high for small sums.

Coinbase lets anyone with a US bank account make free micropayments in Bitcoins. It will handle tiny Bitcoin transactions "off-blockchain" to skip algorithmic validation across the network and instead send them directly between two accounts and validate them later.

The big innovation with Bitcoin was not the currency but the network around it and the process of moving sums from one account to another. The virtual currencies before Bitcoin all required a central authority to move and confirm transactions.

AR If every surfer made a micropayment to read this page, I'd have a business model that makes sense for this blog. More to the point, if the big banks had stirred themselves to implement micropayments already instead of paying themselves criminally big bonuses, I'd be in business already.

Dark Energy From Higgs

Lisa Grossman

The Higgs field may explain dark energy. The known particle fields create an energy density in the universe, but the simplest versions of the standard model predicted an enormous energy density. Observations show that galaxies are accelerating away from each other, and the dark energy is much weaker than predicted.

A new scalar field outside the standard model, without the Higgs, would have zero energy density. But if the fundamental fields merge at extremely high energies, a unified high-energy field exists out there. If the new scalar field can use the Higgs to link up to this field, it can gain energy.

A Higgs seesaw mechanism would relate the two fields. Since the unification field is so energetic, the new scalar field would have the same order of magnitude as the observed dark energy.

Higgs seesaw mechanism as a source for dark energy
Lawrence M. Krauss and James B. Dent

2013 August 14

Bibi's World

Carlo Strenger

Benjamin Netanyahu believes Israel is at the forefront of the clash of civilizations between the West and Islam. He finds the international community's focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict shortsighted and wrongheaded. He also believes Israel's retreat to the 1967 borders will not solve the core issue. Israel will still be surrounded by a civilization that intends to erase Israel. He is a man with a dark world view.

AR It saddens me to say I think he's probably right.

What Jesus Wasn't

Allan Nadler

Reza Aslan says the foundational Christian belief about Jesus, namely that he was both human and divine, is "anathema" to Jewish tradition. Judaic doctrine about this matter is not nearly so simple.

Aslan offers an ambitious and polemical counter-narrative to what he imagines is the New Testament portrayal of Jesus Christ. His core thesis is that the "real" Jesus of Nazareth was an illiterate peasant from the Galilee who zealously aspired to depose the Roman governor of Palestine and become the King of Israel. But the only novelty in Zealot is its reductionist portrayal of Jesus as a political radical.

Aslan dismisses the NT accounts of the early life and teachings of Jesus prior to his "storming" of Jerusalem and his subsequent arrest and crucifixion. He even insists that Jesus' zealous assault on the Jerusalem Temple is the "singular fact that should color everything" we read about Jesus. For Aslan, his crucifixion for the crime of sedition against the Roman state is "all one has to know" about Jesus.

Aslan portrays Jesus as a faithful Jew intent on being crowned King of Israel. He offers a stereotype of Jesus as an intolerant nationalist prone to violence toward Gentiles and whose charity and love extend only to other Jews. This distorted and unflattering depiction creates an image of the Jews as intolerant of the presence of others in their land.

Aslan distorts or ignores portrayals of both the Jews and their religion in Jesus' day. He seems to think that no trace of Judaism was allowed to survive in the Holy Land after 70 CE. In his account, rabbinic Judaism is entirely a product of diaspora Jews who many decades later began to develop a less virulently racist version of the Jewish religion.

Aslan must know that Jews and Christians reject his interpretation of history.

AR I haven't read Aslan's book yet, but I get the impression he spins the whole story as a parable for the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with Israelis as Romans and Palestinians as Jews. I was tempted to spin the story that way in my 2012 book draft CHRIST, but soon saw that it was a travesty. Christian emphasis on peace and love — an inheritance from Buddhist tradition in my spin — ruins the political reading that seems dominant among Islamists, and indeed Muslims generally. Reza needs to get out more, intellectually speaking. But I shall say more when I've read his book.

Aslan The Zealot

Elizabeth Castelli

Fox News anchor Lauren Green challenged author Reza Aslan for writing Zealot. Aslan made a show of insisting that he possesses not only the academic credentials but also the professional duty to do so. For scholars of religion, the conflation of the academic study of religion with personal religious identification is a familiar misunderstanding.

Aslan would probably have been cut more slack by specialists had he simply said that he was working as an outsider to the field. His claims are more grandiose, but his reconstruction of the life of Jesus invests a surprisingly literalist faith in some parts of the gospel narratives. His historical reconstruction is partial in both senses of the term.

In 1906, Albert Schweitzer published a dense academic book reviewing dozens upon dozens of lives of Jesus. It makes the decisive point that efforts to reconstruct the life of Jesus are bound to fail both because the historical archive is so irreparably fragmentary and because every life of Jesus inevitably emerges as a portrait with an uncanny resemblance to its author. Lives of Jesus tell us far more about those who create them than about the historical Jesus.

Zealot is a remix of existing scholarship, sampled and reframed to make a culturally relevant intervention in the post-9/11 world. The whole spectacle has been painful to watch.

AR Mention of Schweitzer has triggered my memory: In August 2010 I mailed Aslan a review copy of my book G.O.D. Is Great. He didn't reply, but he may well have tracked my blog, in which case he would have seen my promotion in July 2012 of my failed book CHRIST with the back cover text:

Jesus the Nazarene was a Palestinian. After training in the Mideast and India, he almost got himself martyred as a freedom fighter in Jerusalem. But he survived, and traveled back east to continue his work under the name Yus Asaf and become a revered old sage in Kashmir.
  If this was the real story, Christianity is only a chapter between Buddhism and Islam in a saga that continues with science, communism, and globalization. Behind the scenes is an ongoing search for a deeper understanding of who we are and why we are here on this planet.
  This critical manifesto will shock traditional Christians. They need to wake up and face the facts.

Then I read Schweitzer's magisterial tome and saw the light. A cathartic rethink later I wrote CORAL. Aslan will have missed that twist, but perhaps he was prompted or at least encouraged to write Zealot by my CHRIST manifesto. Sorry, world!

Consciousness After Death In Rats?

Wired

For a brief time after their hearts stop beating, electrical activity that some scientists have linked to consciousness in humans continues in the brains of rats. Jimo Borjigin of the University of Michigan led an experiment with this result described August 12 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The team implanted electrodes on the surface of the brains of nine rats, then injected the animals with potassium chloride, causing their hearts to stop beating and blood to stop flowing. For up to 30 seconds, the electrodes detected gamma waves. In humans, scientists say gamma waves could play a role in consciousness.

In earlier rat research, Borjigin observed a sudden release of neurotransmitters at the moment of death. If what they see in rats has human analogs, she said, the combination of neurochemical surge and continued electrical activity could be involved in near-death experiences, NDEs.

Borjigin et al.: "By presenting evidence of highly organized brain activity and neurophysiologic features consistent with conscious processing at near-death, we now provide a scientific framework to begin to explain the highly lucid and realer-than-real mental experiences reported by near-death survivors."

Electrical activity in the rats lasted no longer than 30 seconds. The signals recorded have not been detected in human patients monitored as they died, perhaps because the signals are relatively weak, and the EEG machines used to detect brain activity in patients take readings from their scalps, not directly from brain tissue.

Borjigin says the study raises questions about the nature of consciousness.

AR Something like this result reduces NDE reports to triviality, I'm glad to say.

2013 August 13

This blog needs an upgrade to feature more of my immortal thoughts in long format. The effort of composition will be amply rewarded by syndication of the reproduction and translation rights.

Hyperloop

Elon Musk

If Californians are to invest in a new transportation system, it should ideally be:
Safer
Faster
Lower cost
More convenient
Immune to weather
Sustainably powered
Resistant to earthquakes
Tolerable to those along the route

The Hyperloop (or something similar) is, in my opinion, the right solution for the specific case of high traffic city pairs that are less than about 1500 km apart. Around that inflection point, I suspect that supersonic air travel ends up being faster and cheaper. With a high enough altitude and the right geometry, the sonic boom noise on the ground would be no louder than current airliners. A quiet supersonic plane immediately solves every long distance city pair without the need for a vast new worldwide infrastructure.

Hyperloop (PDF: 57 pages, 3.9 MB)

Pods

Kevin Bullis

Elon Musk's "hyperloop" would convey passengers from San Francisco to LA in half an hour. A pod would carry 28 passengers through a tube at speeds of up to 760 miles per hour, propelled by a linear motor and riding on a cushion of air.

The system is an alternative to the high speed rail system planned in California. Musk says that at $6 billion, his hyperloop would cost a tenth as much as the planned California project, and be much faster and safer. His estimate is a guess.

The idea of pushing pods along with air in a pneumatic tube is old. The hyperloop system operates under low pressure, which will require a lot of energy. Each pod will suck in air at the front and duct it around its body so that it rides on air.

Religion and IQ

The Independent

A scientific review has concluded that religious people are less intelligent than non-believers. The analysis, led by University of Rochester professor Miron Zuckerman, found a reliable negative relation between intelligence.

One of the studies analyzed the beliefs of 1,500 children with with IQs over 135. The study began in 1921 and continues today. Even in extreme old age the subjects had much lower levels of religious belief than the average population.

The review of 63 studies conducted between 1928 and 2012 found that 53 of the studies showed a negative correlation between intelligence and religiosity, while 10 showed a positive one. Gender and education were not correlated with belief. The weakest correlation with IQ was among the pre-college population.

Attempts to explain the relation say religious beliefs are irrational, unscientific, untestable, and hence unappealing to intelligent people who know better.

Freeman Dyson on Robert Oppenheimer

Truth
Jiddu Krishnamurti

I don't mind what happens.
Truth is a pathless land.








Bayes Rule

The posterior probability of a hypothesis H is a function of its prior probability and its compatibility with the
evidence E:

P(H|E).P(E) = P(E|H).P(H)

P is a function such that
P(H|E) = posterior probability
  of H given E
    P(E) = prior probability of E
P(E|H) = posterior probability
  of E given H
    P(H) = prior probability of H

Martin Amis:
Why I Quit


Martin Amis recalls why
he quit as New Statesman
literary editor in 1979:
"I had to give it up because I didn't write a word of fiction once I was editor. It gave me so much satisfaction to open the paper on Friday when it was all done that I thought I'd better give this up because I won't write another word."

iCub
New Scientist
iCub

Open Education Database

OEDb is a comprehensive online education directory for both free and for-credit learning options.

Open Courses in Math

 

2013 August 12

Atomic Clocks — Quantum Sims

Lisa Grossman

Many problems in physics feature quantum behavior too complex for computers to simulate. Examples include high-temperature superconductivity and magnetism, both involving electron behavior in solids. This can be modeled using atoms cooled to picokelvin temperatures. But that's cold.

Atomic clocks work at microkelvin temperatures, which is much warmer. In an atomic clock based on an ensemble of strontium atoms trapped by a series of lasers, a laser pumps in energy and the atoms oscillate between their ground state and an excited state, providing a regular tick.

But the frequency changes with the number of atoms, which is bad for a clock but good for a simulation. The atoms behave like electrons in magnetic materials. The strontium atoms in the ground state can be used to simulate spin-down electrons, and the excited atoms spin-up electrons.

2013 August 11

Jesus

Kirsten Powers

Reza Aslan is an Iranian-American and a Muslim. Reviewers spanning the theological spectrum have reacted with hostility toward Zealot, his new academic book about the historical Jesus.

Aslan: "About 90% of the scholarly historical study of Islam is written by Christians or Jews. Very few scholars of religion who are Muslim write about Christianity."

The academic world is hostile to believers and Aslan is a believer. But in his book he rejects the virgin birth of Jesus and concludes that Jesus was in fact crucified, putting him at odds with mainstream Islam.

Aslan: "I don't know why everyone isn't obsessed with Jesus. He is the most interesting person who ever lived."

It's life, Jim, but not as we know it

Douglas Heaven + AR

For years, Artificial Intelligence was dominated by grand plans to build machines that performed like the human mind. Now we have made them, but their reasoning is unfathomable to us.

At frst, AI researchers tried to emulate human thinking with programmed rules. Write enough rules and success would follow. But it was too hard, and the funding dried up.

Then the researchers embraced machine learning. Now computers teach themselves from big data. With enough data, machines can learn to do things that look intelligent. Many of them use Bayesian statistics (see left).

Take language translation. Twenty years ago, IBM used machine learning to teach a computer to translate between English and French by feeding it bilingual documents containing millions of sentences translated into both languages. The system spotted correlations between words and phrases in the two languages and reused them for fresh translation. But the results were still full of errors. They needed more data.

Like IBM, Google started by training algorithms to cross-reference documents written in many languages. But they soon saw that the results would be better if the translator learnt how people actually spoke the languages. Google turned to its vast web indexes. They let the translator access every sentence written on the internet in the target language. The translator knows the relative frequency of a vast number of word sequences and calculates the probability of what comes next. Its power comes from big data.

In the early days of AI, explainability was prized. When a machine made a choice, a human could trace why. Yet the reasoning made by a data-driven artificial mind today is a massively complex statistical analysis of a vast number of data points. Even if a skilled technician could trace the code, it might not be meaningful, because the decision was not made from a set of rules that a human can check.

Some say it is time to give up on expecting human explanations. The danger is that we give up asking questions. Then the human story goes black.

2013 August 10

Weed

Sanjay Gupta

Marijuana is classified as a schedule 1 substance in the United States. Yet marijuana does not lead to significant addiction in the medical sense, or lead to morphine, heroin, or cocaine addiction.

In fact marijuana leads to dependence in fewer than one in ten users, a lower rate than cocaine or heroin. Tobacco does so in around a third of smokers, many of whom go on to die because of it.

Some marijuana users get withdrawal symptoms, but the physical symptoms of marijuana addiction are nothing like those of other drugs. A caution: Regular teenage use may reduce IQ and risk psychosis.

Medical marijuana is not new. Hundreds of journal articles, mostly from before 1930, describe its use to treat neuralgia, convulsive disorders and so on. Most papers since then are on the harm it can do.

Until 1943, marijuana was prescribed for neuropathic pain. When marijuana became a schedule 1 substance in 1970, there was a void in our knowledge. Since then we have made progress.

IBM Brains

Wired

IBM researcher Dharmendra Modha is trying to build a brain. In 2006, he founded the Almaden Institute of Cognitive Computing in Silicon Valley. Since then, he and his team have worked to recreate biological intelligence with computer hardware and software. At first they tried to clone the brain using everyday chips and code, but now they're building a new type of chip core and a new programming language.

Their neurosynaptic core mimics neurons and synapses. Modha: "This tiny little neurosynaptic core really breaks from the von Neumann architecture. It integrates processor and memory and communication."

Their new programming language lets apps run on neurosynaptic cores. Modha: "It is not meaningful to adapt languages from the past era to this architecture. It is like forcing a square peg into a round hole."

Modha compares the project to the creation of FORTRAN, designed over half a century ago at IBM.

Dawk Tweets

Nelson Jones

Richard Dawkins tweet: "All the world's Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though."

People with a connection to Trinity College have won 32 Nobel Prizes. If you exclude the peace prize and the prize for literature, only two Muslim scientists are laureates: Abdus Salam for physics and Ahmed Zewail for chemistry. And only 17 women have ever been awarded one of the scientific prizes.

Since the prizes were first awarded in 1909, of 863 individual winners, 338 have been American or based in the United States. A further 119 have been British, 101 German, and 65 French. Most of the remainder come from other Western nations. The contrast is greater if peace and literature are omitted. As for university affiliations, US institutions and Oxbridge dominate the lists. Harvard has 147 winners.

Modern science is a Western phenomenon. To ask about Muslims is to miss the point. China has just 8 Nobel laureates, 6 of them affiliated with Western universities. Japan has 20.

Richard Dawkins tweet: "Why mention Muslim Nobels rather than any other group? Because we so often hear boasts about (a) their total numbers and (b) their science."

President of the British Humanist Association Jim Al-Khalili: "The comfortable compatibility between science and religion in medieval Baghdad contrasts starkly with the contradictions and conflict between rational science and many religious faiths in the world today."

2013 August 9

Robot Mind

Celeste Biever

The first robot with an emergent theory of mind is iCub. A team at INSERM in Lyon, France, gave iCub a biomimetic architecture, with an episodic memory and a semantic memory.

The iCub has both a self and a simulated internal self. When iCub moves its arm, it instructs the arm to move and records the result. In parallel, it gives the same instructions to simulated iCub, which uses knowledge to predict the outcome and updates its knowledge base by comparing predictions and real outcomes. The team then linked the simulated iCub to a person, rather than itself, by synchronizing simulated iCub to that person.

Humans typically acquire theory of mind around the age of 3 or 4, as shown by the Sally-Anne test. In it, a child is shown two characters, Sally and Anne. Sally puts her ball in a basket and leaves, then Anne moves Sally's ball into a box. The child is asked where Sally will look for her ball when she returns. Children who have theory of mind will correctly say that Sally will look in the basket, even though they know the ball is now in the box.

In the test, iCub passed by comparing its own record of events with the record belonging to simulated iCub. Team leader Peter Dominey: "We get theory of mind for free."

Reflections

A.N. Wilson

Raymond Tallis was the Professor of Geriatric Medicine at the University of Manchester. He calls the reduction of human minds to brain activity "one of the world's fastest growing faiths" and says that while Homo sapiens can be understood in biological terms, people cannot.

Tallis exposes the nonsense talked by religious people who support the idea of a just war yet believe it is sinful to take a life in the case of terminal illness: "I believe it is not those who support assisted dying but those who oppose it who have a moral case to answer."

AR They shoot horses, don't they?

2013 August 8

The Brothers Karamazov

Reza Aslan

When I was 16 years old, I read The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. In the Grand Inquisitor scene, Ivan tells Alyosha a story about Jesus coming back to earth during the time of the Inquisition. Jesus begins performing miracles, and he's arrested by the Inquisitors, who sentence him to death.

The night before the burning, the Grand Inquisitor visits Jesus in his cell. Jesus doesn't speak, but the Grand Inquisitor says the Church has become more important than Jesus himself: "Anyone who can appease a man's conscience can take his freedom away from him."

Jesus simply walks up to the Grand Inquisitor and gives him a kiss. With that scene, Dostoevsky opened my eyes to the notion that the Church's conception of Jesus is inextricable from its political, religious, and economic interests.

Jesus refused to recognize the power of the Jewish authorities to define the Jewish religion for him. His ministry was founded upon the idea that the kingdom of God he envisions is a reversal of the social order. It's not just about the meek inheriting the earth. It's about the powerful disinheriting the earth.

That is an enormous threat, as Dostoevsky says, to those whose authority comes from their ability to appease a man's conscience. Submit to our authority, and we will give you salvation. Jesus said salvation is an internal matter.

AR Keep calm, and those in power lose their air of authority.

2013 August 7

Lib Dems: Ban Cars

The Times

Liberal Democrat policy makers want to ban most cars from British roads by 2040. Their plan to stop all but the lowest carbon emitting vehicles from domestic use will be discussed at the party conference next month in Glasgow. They also propose to introduce road pricing.

Over 162 000 new cars were registered in the UK in July 2013, 12.7% more than in July 2012. The 2013 total so far is over 1.3 million, 10.3% more than the same period in 2012.

AR Absolutely wrong policy, illustrating the perverted thinking that got Britain into its austerity mess. The right response of our political servants to the burgeoning popularity of cars, despite the numerous and painful obstacles put in the way of car owners and drivers, is to reflect that since cars are essential to modern life as most people live it, policy should nudge car makers to civilize cars (by making them smaller, cleaner, safer, and so on) and should manage the environment to contain them (by building more and better roads and user-friendly parking facilities). To their credit, Germans have done this, and are reaping the benefits not only in a cleaner and more modern street scene but also in flourishing industrial activity to support and sustain car culture. The British propensity to deny and dismiss as dirty a healthy expression of human nature is also manifest in other areas of life.

Science

Steven Pinker

This is an extraordinary time for the understanding of the human condition. Intellectual problems from antiquity are being illuminated by insights from the sciences of mind, brain, genes, and evolution. The defining practices of science are designed to circumvent the errors and sins to which scientists, being human, are vulnerable. Science is not an imperialistic drive to occupy the humanities. Science is distinguished by an explicit commitment to two ideals:

1 The world is intelligible. The phenomena we experience may be explained by principles that are more general than the phenomena themselves. These principles may in turn be explained by more fundamental principles, and so on. The commitment to intelligibility gradually validates itself as more and more of the world becomes explicable in scientific terms.

2 The acquisition of knowledge is hard. The world does not go out of its way to reveal its workings, and even if it did, our minds are prone to illusions, fallacies, and superstitions. Most of the traditional causes of belief are generators of error and should be dismissed as sources of knowledge. To understand the world, we must cultivate workarounds for our cognitive limitations.

The moral worldview of any scientifically literate person requires a radical break from religious conceptions of meaning and value. Political debates have traditionally been deliberated through case studies, rhetoric, and "Hippo" (highest-paid person's opinion), and the controversies have careened without resolution. Our conceptions of politics, culture, and morality have much to learn from our best understanding of the physical universe and of our makeup as a species.

AR Science done right represents the highest peak of our achievement as a species. If we deny its authority or dismiss its verdicts, we diminish ourselves.

Peter Capaldi
BBC
Peter Capaldi is the
12th Time Lord, a.k.a.
the next Doctor Who


Armpits 4 August
A4A

Meaning Is Healthier
Than Happiness


A new study shows that people who are happy but have little or no sense of meaning in their lives have the same gene expression patterns as people who are enduring chronic adversity. While being happy is about feeling good, meaning is derived from contributing to others or to society in a bigger way.

A functional genomic
perspective on human
well-being

X-KEYSCORE
The Guardian

A top secret NSA program allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats, and the browsing histories of millions of individuals worldwide.

AR I find this a reassuring benefit of modern search technology.






Jan Mieszkowski on
the banality of intellect

 

2013 August 6

Germany

Josef Joffe

As national elections loom, the Christian Democrats poll 42%, a shade ahead of the combined opposition. Angela Merkel is heading for four more years. Her liberal coalition partners are hanging in there at the minimum 5%.

Merkel is the ultimate survivor. When Fukushima erupted, she decreed a shutdown for German reactors, even though she had just extended their lives. She made a U-turn toward the Promised Land of sustainable energy.

She is deliciously diffuse in her rhetoric. She lulls the other side. A former apostle of free markets and low taxes, she has yielded to same-sex marriage and gender quotas and showered the populace with social-welfare goodies.

Peer Steinbrück is the Social Democrat candidate for chancellor. He is an honorable man, but his jokes backfire and his arguments fall flat. In a direct vote, 58% would vote for Merkel and only 27% for Steinbrück. Merkel will win.

German-US Spying

Der Spiegel

American NSA agents work at the spy base in Bad Aibling, Germany. The facility includes giant golf ball radomes for surveillance hardware. They were officially closed in 2004, but the Americans there were secretly replaced by German military specialists. The Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) hosts NSA agents there in a windowless building called the Tin Can. The BND lets them send mass metadata to US databases for storage and analysis.

America: A Rigged Game

Conor Friedersdorf

The American economic system is frequently rigged by those at the top. Rich Americans are gaming the system to increase their wealth, they are pulling up the ladder behind them, they insulate themselves from the people over whose lives they wield great influence, and they aren't even punished like regular people when they break the rules. Remedies:

The financial industry sucks money away from other activities. Its profits are increasingly
    disconnected from the success of the economy. Reform it.

Housing policy: Change tax law to treat renters and owners equitably, rather than permitting
    mortgage interest but not rent to be deducted.

Corporate welfare: End subsidies that protect big multinationals more than taxpayers.

Teacher incentives: Fire the worst teachers and reward better teaching with pay.

The payroll tax: This is a tax on employment. Abolish it.

Occupational licensing: Change laws that disadvantage small entrepreneurs who have
    little capital or have trouble navigating the bureaucracy.

The tax code: End the complexity that rewards tax attorneys, accountants, and the people
    rich enough to pay them, at a huge deadweight cost to the economy.

The patent system: A property system that exposes anyone who enters an industry to
    unavoidable and potentially crippling legal liability is an affront to justice. Change it.

Drug prohibition: The black market it spawns imposes high costs on poor Americans. End it.

American public policy should redistribute ill-gotten wealth away from rich rent-seekers who game the system. It should not take earned wealth from people who accrued it by creating value for others. In 2017, a new president will enter the White House and inherit a system where redistribution is discouraged and he or she has tremendous discretion to redistribute wealth. We're likely to see more patronage than honesty.

2013 August 5

Mideast Hope

Tony Blair

Syria is a living nightmare. Egypt hovers on the brink. But the fundamental problems of the region are finally being brought to the surface in a way that allows them to be confronted and overcome. Reviving the Mideast peace process is a huge achievement.

The status quo in the region will not hold. The choice is between evolution and revolution. Evolution is definitely preferable if it is attainable. In Syria, people have had a taste of politics conducted by firestorm. Across the region, there is a fatigue with wild disorder.

There is a burgeoning acceptance that religious freedom is a necessary part of free and open societies. This issue is at the core of Mideast problems. Neither do closed economies fit with open societies. The need for economic reform to provide jobs is absolute.

Zealot

The Economist

Reza Aslan wrote Zealot not to contemplate Jesus of Nazareth as a source of ultimate meaning, but to investigate and describe the story of his life. So Jesus was the leader of a nationalist revolt against Rome who was punished for sedition, not blasphemy: "I have not come to bring peace, but the sword."

Aslan argues that the universalist pacifism ascribed to Jesus was superimposed on him in the climate created by the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE. Once Jewish resistance to Rome was quashed, followers of Jesus revised their faith to promote meek acceptance of imperial authority.

Aslan emphasises the explanatory power of context. His approach refuses to acknowledge prophecy, when individuals discern important truths about the world in ways that rise above the circumstances of their lives. Belief that not all concepts can be reduced to historical context is central to religious faith.

The Ross Ploy

Bob Greene

Chuck Ross had written a mystery novel that had been turned down everywhere he sent it. So he retyped an award-winning novel — Steps, by Jerzy Kosinski — and submitted it to 14 major publishers and 13 top agents. But he didn't put a title or Kosinski's name on it. They all turned it down. None recognized what they were rejecting.

Ross had written his mystery novel in his spare time. He put a little seal on the last few pages of the manuscript, so that editors would have to remove the seal to read the climax. But when they all sent the manuscripts back to him, with letters of rejection, the seals on the last few pages were all unbroken. No one had read to the end.

Then he got the idea to send Kosinski's prize-winning book in without Kosinski's name on it. He wanted to see if even a proven bestseller, without a well-known byline, would get a fair shake. He found out. When the news of his ploy was publicized, none of the publishers and agents took any more interest in his own work than before.

Ross wrote a terrific piece about the Kosinski stunt for a magazine. It got a good reception, and he did more work for the magazine. He went on to writing and editing jobs at a series of publications. He has made a lifelong career from the work. Along the way, he got married and has four children. He is now 61 and has no regrets.

AR The arts publishing "industry" is a swamp of cronyism, laziness, groupthink, and demented greed.

2013 August 4

Kindness

George Saunders

As a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.

Each of us is born with a series of built-in confusions:
1 We're central to the universe,
2 We're separate from the universe,
3 We're permanent.

We believe them viscerally, and live by them, and they cause us to prioritize our own needs over the needs of others, even though what we really want, in our hearts, is to be less selfish, more aware of what's actually happening in the present moment, more open, and more loving.

How might we become more loving, more open, less selfish, more present, less delusional, etc, etc?

There are ways. Education, art, prayer, meditation, a frank talk with a dear friend, establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition — all these are good. Most people, as they age, become less selfish and more loving. As you get older, your self will diminish and you will grow in love. Hurry up. Speed it along. Start right now.

Sexual Philosophy

The New York Times

University of Miami philosopher Colin McGinn has agreed to leave his tenured post after allegations of sexual harassment brought by a graduate student. In his blog, McGinn tried to defend himself in convoluted posts that struck even his friends as unhelpful.

McGinn, 63 (left), says he had "a warm, consensual, collaborative relationship" with the student, a doctoral candidate who worked as his research assistant in 2012. They exchanged "banter referring to sexual matters" but not "sexual banter" — a crucial distinction.

The student is concerned that the affair might damage her academic career. Her boyfriend said she had been subject to months of unwanted innuendo and propositions from McGinn, documented in numerous e‑mails and text messages of an explicit sexual nature.

The case hints at a bigger problem. Women have been unwilling to discuss it publicly, lest it harm their careers. Philosophy has a tradition of developing ideas through face-to-face and sometimes brutal debate. People call it the combat sport of academia.

AR Colin may recall the sexual politics of his sparring partner Ted Honderich.

2013 August 3

Solar Apollo

David King and Richard Layard

The accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is now 400 parts per million and rising. Normal politics and diplomacy are unlikely to solve the problem of climate change. We can still save the planet, but the effort needs to be international.

We suggest a project to produce bulk electricity more cheaply by solar energy than by any fossil fuel. The scientific challenges involved in achieving this goal are great. They involve the collection of the energy, its storage, and its distribution.

A timetable is essential. We suggest 2025 as a target date. By then we should expect to see bulk solar electricity supplied commercially at an unsubsidized price. A good target for then would be at least 1 GW supplied to cities worldwide, 24/7.

All G20 countries would be invited to join in. The United States and China would play leading roles. Each country that joins the project should spend the money on research and development at home, but within the context of a globally agreed plan.

Collection of solar energy by photovoltaic cells is getting cheaper and is already nearly economic in sun-rich environments. Every continent has areas with such environments. The cost of electricity distribution is also falling. For storage, we need breakthroughs in the science of batteries.

Vested interests in the oil and gas industry limit President Obama's ability to tax carbon or subsidize clean energy. But science is different. The project could be financed from the research budget. This is far more important than putting a man on the moon.

2013 August 2

Germany

Timothy Garton Ash

The Federal Republic of Germany is as solidly bourgeois liberal democracy. It has not only absorbed the huge costs of unification but also made economic reforms by consensus and restored its global competitiveness. Asked what feelings Germany awakes in her, Angela Merkel once replied: "I think of well-sealed windows. No other country can make such well-sealed and nice windows."

According to a BBC poll, Germany is the most popular country in the world. It also has a rapidly aging population. Without immigration, its population might fall from over 80 million today to under 60 million in 2050. Its economy is brilliant at making things that people want to buy but weaker in services. German companies are outstanding at incremental technical improvements but less good at disruptive innovation. The country has many good universities, but none to compete with Oxford or Stanford.

European monetary union was not a German project to dominate Europe but a European project to constrain Germany. The Germans were never asked in a referendum if they wanted to give up the Deutschmark, but Germany accumulated a trade surplus with the rest of the EU, from the birth of the euro up to 2011, of more than $1 trillion. Germany had not sought this leadership role in Europe.

We are approaching a moment of truth in the European Union. Fritz Stern described German reunification in 1990 as Germany's second chance. Its first chance came in the years before 1914. But it blew that chance in two world wars and the Holocaust. Domestically, Germany has used its second chance well. The European question is upon it now, in the years before 2014.

>> more

AR I heartily endorse Angela Merkel's windows sentiment.

Neuro

Daniel Engber

Brain science helps fill the hole left by the atrophy of theology and philosophy, but the brain is not the mind. Neuroscience is as vibrant as ever, and it still has a big pull on research funding. But as a cultural dish, the brain is almost cooked. The woo peaked in 2008. Pop neuroscience began to wither.

2008 may also have been the high point for critical neuroscience blogging. Neuroskeptic wrote his first posts that autumn, in the darkest moments of the neurobabble epidemic. If peak neuro has already come and gone, then the recent rash of brain bashing may be too late.

Brainwashed: The Seductive Appeal of Mindless Neuroscience

AR I finished composing my Godblogs in the summer of 2008. It felt like a peak experience.

2013 August 1

Jesus

Winston Ross

Reza Aslan, bestselling author and scholar of religion, is now a liberal folk hero. He rhetorically demolished Fox News host Lauren Green in an interview last week about his book Zealot, after Green demanded to know what gave a Muslim the right to write a book about Jesus. The clip went viral and sales of Zealot shot up.

Aslan presents Jesus as a rebel: "That's a guy I want to know. Hopefully it's a guy you want to know. If I do have some kind of philosophical objective — behind my secret Muslim objective — I want to show people you can be a follower of Jesus without necessarily being a Christian."

People think of Jesus as a pacifist, but the real Jesus challenged the Roman occupation of Jerusalem, and he was executed for it. A rebel who died instead of recreating the kingdom of David was disqualified from being the Jewish messiah. Aslan: "Jesus was a Jew, remember, and according to Judaism ... a dead messiah is not the messiah anymore."

Wealthy, cosmopolitan, Hellenized Jews who were able to travel and who could buy into the concept of a godlike man then took up his story. Aslan: "It kind of makes sense to them, actually. They start to adopt it, and as a result, something very interesting happens. The Hellenists are ultimately kicked out of Jerusalem for preaching this message, and the more they preach it in this Greek and Roman culture, the more Greek and Roman the message becomes. The less Jewish the message becomes."

The Gospel writers decided to downplay not only the fact that Jesus was a Jew but also his revolutionary zeal. Aslan: "If you're a Christian in 70 CE, and you want to continue preaching this gospel, you don't want to keep preaching it to Jews ... What you really want to do is preach it instead to the Romans."

Music

Iain McGilchrist

The similarities between music and language suggest a common origin. Many aspects of language are mediated by regions of the right hemisphere that also mediate the performance and experience of music. These right hemisphere regions correspond to areas in the left hemisphere involved with language production and comprehension.

The control of voice and respiration needed for singing apparently came into being long before it was needed for language. But the syntax of music is simpler, less highly evolved, than that of language, suggesting an earlier origin. In infants, musical aspects of language such as intonation and rhythm develop first, and syntax and vocabulary come later.

Music communicates emotion. Our love of music reflects our ancestral ability to make and hear basic emotional sounds. In traditional societies, making music plays an integral and integrative role in rituals and daily life. It binds people together by helping them to feel their shared way of life. Human vocal skill evolved from song to poetry to prose.

Bournemouth
Poole Bay

ZEALOT

Reza Aslan is a scholar
of religions and a Muslim.
His new book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth
is a New York Times bestseller and #1 on Amazon.

Pope Francis on gays:
"Who am I to judge?"


gov.uk
GO HOME
India Knight

The British Home Office has launched a campaign to tackle illegal immigrants. Vans tour immigrant areas in London bearing a billboard (photo).
Why not simply give volunteers pots of paint and ask them to brand homes and shops with a special sign? (Tip: Yellow stars have been done already.)
UKIP leader Nigel Farage:
"I think the tone of the bill-boards is nasty, unpleasant, Big Brother."


 Live Long In Dorset
The Times

East Dorset is has the highest life expectancy in the UK for men (average 83) and women (86), according to data from the Office for National Statistics. Close to both forest and coast, the area is fast becoming the country's most desirable neighborhood. Residents enjoy a long and healthy life as well as the highest marriage rate in the country.

AR Glad I live in East Dorset, then.

Operation Gomorrah

The RAF bombed Hamburg repeatedly in the last week of July 1943. Some 3 000 Allied aircraft dropped 9 kilotons of bombs and created a firestorm that killed or wounded some 80 000 civilians and destroyed 250 000 homes and houses in the city. Warm dry weather helped create a tornado of fire that rose 500 m. British officials called it the Hiroshima of Germany, and the USAAF estimated the raids did more damage than the atom bomb on Nagasaki.

 

2013 July 31

The Blip

Benjamin Wallace-Wells

For most of human history, average people had a quality of life that was little better than in ancient Rome. Then the first industrial revolution, beginning in 1750 or so in England, and the second industrial revolution, beginning around 1870 and centered mostly in the United States, accelerated progress.

Between 1969 and 1974 this great acceleration began to taper off. The rate at which life is improving in America has slowed. Most economists say the machinery of innovation is now more organized and sophisticated than ever and human intelligence is more efficiently marshaled by spreading education and expanding global connectedness, so progress will continue. Others are more pessimistic. One view is that for the next decade or two the US economy will grow at less than half the rate it averaged in the twentieth century, and that the social transformations brought by the information and robotics revolution will not rival those of the past.

We think of the desire to be American as a form of idealism, but it also relates to economic growth. The certainty that the future will be much better than the past is the American Dream.

AR Two centuries of Anglo-American (AA) global hegemony are coming to an end. The entire world is catching up, now and in the coming decades. The Globorg era is about to begin. The third industrial revolution (computers and robots) will be followed by a fourth, the biotech revolution, to bring on the Nietzschean superman. For the trend, see Coral.

2013 July 30

Home Ownership

Adam Posen

The UK government is pushing its Help to Buy scheme and the US Congress protects the home mortgage interest tax deduction.

But the OECD Better Life Index shows no correlation between home ownership and housing satisfaction and quality. Mexico, Nepal, and Russia all have home ownership rates of more than 80%, while the French, German, and Japanese rates are 40 to 50%. The US and the UK rates are about 65 to 70%.

For many American and British households, their home equity is their primary financial asset. They put the bulk of their savings into a highly volatile asset that is subject to disaster risk and which should return at best the average rate of local wage and population growth.

Average individuals cannot calculate the running costs and financial risks of their housing investment as opposed to renting and putting their savings in other assets. Investment in housing is less productive than that in new businesses, infrastructure, or research and development.

Israel

Nathan Thrall

Most Israelis have concluded there is no Palestinian partner for peace. Limited Palestinian self-governance protects Israel from having to choose between being a Jewish state or a democratic state.

Jewish nationalist attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank have crossed into Israel, with arson, vandalism, and violence against Palestinian citizens of Israel. Jewish activists in the West Bank have expanded their demographic battle to cities in Israel, buying homes in Palestinian neighborhoods.

Israeli Jews but not Palestinians have collective rights to land, immigration, symbols such as their own flag, and commemorations. Jews and non-Jews cannot legally marry. Residents of Jerusalem homes have been evicted to make room for Jewish former owners and their descendants.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has concentrated on 1967 issues such as borders and security. If the talks break down, Israelis may ask whether the time has come to abandon hopes of a full peace.

AR Jewish racism is as ugly as apartheid.

2013 July 29

Healthcare

The Independent

British National Health Service medical director Sir Bruce Keogh says the NHS must adopt the huckster mentality of electronics hardware businesses and change the "inbuilt mindset that better quality costs more" to survive in the era of austerity: "My challenge is: every other aspect of industry has to improve the quality they offer for less. So we need to change that mindset."

AR Electronic devices work or they don't. Health is human.

Wagner

Simon Callow

Richard Wagner's antisemitism is repulsive to a degree that is almost toxic to deal with. He was a visionary, but a ruthless one, and a pretty unsavory human in many ways. That was what made him who he was, and what drove him. It's partly why we listen to Wagner. It takes the audience into dark, murky, unsettling places.

In 1881, Wagner wrote to King Ludwig II of Bavaria: "I hold the Jewish race to be the born enemy of pure humanity and everything noble in it." His argument was disgusting. Yet many of his closest colleagues and friends were Jews.

AR Can of worms it takes a philosopher to open cleanly.

2013 July 28

NSA: The Decision Problem

George Dyson

The ultimate goal of signals intelligence and analysis is to learn not only what is being said, and what is being done, but what is being thought. Search engines bring this goal within reach. The machine does not need to know what you think. A reasonable guess is good enough.

Data mining, on the scale now practiced by Google and the NSA, is the realization of what Alan Turing was getting at in 1939 when he wondered "how far it is possible to eliminate intuition, and leave only ingenuity" in reducing intuition to a mechanical procedure.

Turing knew it is the metadata that counts. If you capture enough links, over time, you can establish meaning, follow ideas, and reconstruct someone's thoughts. In 1936, aged 24, he wrote a mathematical paper on the question of whether there could ever be any systematic mechanical procedure to determine, in a finite number of steps, whether any given string of symbols was a provable statement or not.

The answer was no. No matter how much digital horsepower you have at your disposal, there is no systematic way to determine, in advance, what every given string of code is going to do except to let the code run, and find out. For any system complicated enough to include even simple arithmetic, no firewall that admits anything new can ever keep everything dangerous out.

The United States has established a coordinated system that links suspect individuals to dangerous ideas. But it will never be entirely possible to systematically distinguish truly dangerous ideas from good ones that appear suspicious, without trying them out. Any system with the power to protect itself against dangerous ideas will also block original and creative thoughts. This is the fatal flaw in the ideal of a security state.

We need to conduct our data collection and data mining in the open, where it belongs. Reasonable people might well support the maintenance of a global Internet memory buffer for law enforcement purposes, with access to the repository controlled under open rules by an open court. We need to be wary.

LearnIng From The Germans

Jeevan Vasagar

Compared with Britain, Germany has stronger notions of communal welfare and communal oversight. The British see Germany booming while Britain has lost its way, and look for a secret recipe for this success. Just under 100 000 Britons live in Germany, around a third of them British soldiers and their families.

Germany has a renting culture. Tenants enjoy secure and affordable accommodation and can treat a rental flat as a home. Over half of all Germans own their own homes, but few Germans see their home as their main investment. Around half of the home owners own them outright, with no mortgage or outstanding loan. Germans are smug about this.

In industry, workers have accepted years of wage restraint. A desire for consensus underpins the German business model, which emphasizes harmonious relations between unions and employers. The German apprenticeship system is excellent. Despite the crisis in the country's European export markets, the unemployment rate in Germany is the lowest in Europe.

Germany is a society driven by rules. These often serve to enhance communal life at the expense of individual freedom, such as the restriction on Sunday trading. Customer service can be dismal. A more serious problem is the attitude to immigration. There are few non-white faces in positions of authority. Turks form the largest ethnic minority group.

There is much to admire about Germany: the quality of the childcare, the relish with which Germans enjoy their beautiful countryside, the freshness and seasonal rhythm of German food, and the success of their manufacturing industry. By comparison, Britain often seems a more fragmented society.

AR The social solidarity may be correlated with ethnic uniformity.

2013 July 27

They Know

James Bamford

The National Security Agency keeps track of phone calls, monitors communications, and analyzes Google searches and other online activity. It can access virtually all communications entering, leaving, or going through the United States. About one third of all international telephone calls in the world enter, leave, or transit the country, and virtually all Internet communications in the world pass through the United States. The NSA has direct access to the fiber-optic cables that now carry most communications data. The cable-tapping operation is codenamed UPSTREAM. It appears to be both far more secret and far more invasive than the PRISM program revealed by Edward Snowden.

The NSA has secretly installed filters on the telecommunications switches throughout the country. For example, much of the communications to and from the northwestern United States pass through an AT&T building on Folsom Street in San Francisco, where a secret room is filled with computers and software from Narus, a company that specializes in spyware. Fiber-optic cables feed into a prism that creates a copy of the data. The duplicate beam goes into the Narus equipment, which scans the traffic for selectors in messages to be retransmitted in full to the NSA for further analysis. Both UPSTREAM and PRISM may be only the tips of a much larger system.

Atheists

Jeffrey Tayler

Larry Alex Taunton and his Christian organization asked a number of students who had left the church during high school to share their stories. According to Taunton, they mostly had personal disappointments with the church, rather than disagreements with Christian dogma or religion as a whole.

Taunton's analysis in effect dismissed these atheists' nonbelief and foreclosed other possible explanations for their apostasy. When he interviewed members of atheist societies: "With few exceptions, students would begin by telling us that they had become atheists for exclusively rational reasons."

Christianity involves believing in virgin birth and tales of a man performing various improbable miracles. It requires belief in a god who chose to redeem humankind by means of a human sacrifice. Belief in these stories is a prerequisite for membership in the church. Atheists don't believe them.

2013 July 26

Car papers done, weather cleared, planning next book.

Evolutionary Economics

David Sloan Wilson

Economics is caught between the idea that we need market processes to proceed unhindered and the idea that a healthy economy requires regulation. Evolutionary theory can help. The traits that maximize the advantage of an individual, relative to the members of its group, are typically different from the traits required for the group to function as a whole. This potential for conflict lies behind theories of social evolution.

The biological world has its own version of the invisible hand. Cells, multicellular organisms, and social insect colonies are all higher-level social units that function without the lower-level units having the welfare of the higher-level units in mind. Selection operates on the higher-level units. Evolutionary economics can reconcile self-organizing processes with regulation. The evolutionary paradigm provides a new set of tools.

AR This is the only sensible way to repair economic theory.

2013 July 25

Mood lifted: Rain overnight, garage roof good, went swimming this morning (overcast, air temp 17 C).

How To Spend £50 000 000 000

Matt Ridley

The cost of the high speed train project HS2 is now well over £42 billion and will likely rise over £50 billion. For this, UK taxpayers get 20 minutes off the journey time from London to Birmingham in 2030. Less than 5% of British passenger travel is by rail. Other ways to spend the money:

1 Potholes: The asphalt industry says it needs £10.5 billion to fix crumbling roads and fill potholes
    around the country. Let's give them £5 billion.

2 Rail improvements: A study on upgrading rail infrastructure between London and Manchester for
    £2.6 billion calculated a benefit-cost ration of more than 5. Let's improve other rail lines and local
    rail networks for £10 billion on rail altogether.

3 Spend £10 billion on roads bypassing villages and making A-roads dual carriageway.

4 A third runway at Heathrow: cost £17 billion.

5 Add £2 billion for cycle paths nationwide.

6 Spend the last £6 billion on more broadband networks, so we can work at home and forget the train.

These projects will provide work in the construction industry right away and start bringing benefits soon.

AR I'd dump HS2 too, but double the spend on fixing roads (1) and halve the spend on rail (2).

Psychopaths Have Feelings Too

The Times

In research reported in the journal Brain, a team from Groningen University, the Netherlands, suggests that psychopaths can turn their empathy on or off at will.

The study compared 18 convicted criminal psychopaths with a group of ordinary individuals. They were asked to watch film clips of one hand touching another in loving, painful, socially rejecting, or neutral ways. Their responses, shown on brain scans, were compared with those seen when they engaged in similar hand interactions themselves.

The result was that when watching the clips, psychopaths generally displayed a reduced level of brain responses linked to empathy. But when asked to empathize, they were able to activate the circuits.

The study focused on the brain's mirror neurons, which activate the same brain regions that contribute to our own pain and distress when we see another person suffering the same way. In psychopaths, the mirror system seems not to be automatic but to be deliberately switched on or off.

Jesus The Zealot

Adam Kirsch

Zeal is a jealous passion for the sanctity of God and a fierce desire for revenge on God's enemies. In Judea at the time of Jesus, zeal was both a religious passion and a political one. God had promised the land of Israel to his people forever, yet now the Romans were in charge. Religion and politics combined in the idea of the Messiah.

Reza Aslan says the real Jesus bears little resemblance to the Christian image of the gentle shepherd. The Christian gospel writers tried to make their story conform with Jewish expectations about the Messiah. Jesus: "Give back to Caesar the property that belongs to Caesar, and give back to God the property that belongs to God." Aslan interprets Jesus as demanding that the land and people of Israel be returned to God and freed from Roman control. Jesus was crucified next to fellow rebels.

The Jesus of the Gospels is much more than a Jewish nationalist. His words had a broader and more mysterious application. Jesus radicalized the language of Jewish messianism in such a way that it could be turned against Judaism itself. This act of religious creativity led to the Christian notion of the son of God.

AR This is more or less my take on Jesus in CORAL.

2013 July 24

Misery and despair: Dull weather, car and unpacking issues still unresolved, the prospect of living on a nation-sized scrap-heap off the map of places where good things are happening, bombarded daily with royal trivia under a government that sees fit to impose a secretive and heavy-handed regime of spying and censorship on its citizens, combine to make me yearn to break free of this penal servitude.

New York v Detroit

Daniel Finkelstein

New York was in a bad way by 1993. Then it elected Rudy Giuliani as mayor. He set about reducing the city establishment and reforming welfare. He transferred money to cleaning the streets and policing them properly. He backed the police against the protesters and rights extremists. He cut taxes for businesses and for people. He attracted back the wealthy and the mobile.

In Detroit they didn't do that. Greater Detroit contains some of the wealthiest places and people in the United States. Yet these people don't want to live in the city. The tax and welfare policies and above all the failure of crime policy have driven them out and bankrupted the city.

Insanity

Ian Hacking

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, replaces DSM-IV, which appeared in 1994. Everyone in North America who hopes their health insurance will cover or defray the cost of treatment for their mental illness must first receive a diagnosis that bears a DSM numerical code.

The DSM presents itself as a manual for clinicians. Hence it came as a bombshell when, a week before DSM-5 was published, US National Institute for Mental Health head Thomas Insel announced that the NIMH was going to abandon the DSM because it dealt only with symptoms. He wanted science.

The DSM is a living, organic creature. About a thousand individuals served as work group advisors. Many thousands of students, technicians, secretaries and so on must also have been involved. This enterprise is fully supported by the immense American Psychiatric Association, with its 36 000 members.

The classification of mental illnesses is not at all like the classification of animals, vegetables, or minerals. Perhaps the DSM will be regarded as a reductio ad absurdum of the botanical project in the field of insanity. The DSM does not represent the nature or reality of the varieties of mental illness.

AR No indeed: Neuroscience is still young and unripe. Give it time.

Peter Sloterdijk
UNESCO
Peter Sloterdijk
Adam Kirsch

Sloterdijk follows Nietzsche in seeing the plight of humanity after the death of God as a catastrophe the true dimensions of which we do not yet fully appreciate. His impatience with Marxism evolves into a defense of liberal capitalism. He presents communism and Christianity as ideologies driven by resentment and fantasies of revenge.




NASA
NASA
Earth and its moon seen by
Cassini spacecraft orbiting
Saturn, 1440 Gm (80 light
minutes) away, 2013-07-19

"Look again at that dot.
That's here. That's home.
That's us. On it everyone
you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever
was, lived out their lives ...
on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam."
Carl Sagan

UK v EU
Japanese View
Sunday Times

The Japanese government
hints that 130,000 British jobs could be at stake if the UK pulls out of the European Union. It warns that Japanese companies invest in the UK because they see it as a gateway to European markets. Europhile MPs agree, Eurosceptics are angry.

THE BEAT SHEET

1
Opening Image
2
Set-up
3
Theme Stated
4
Catalyst
5
Debate
6
Break Into Act Two
7
B Story
8
The Promise of the Premise
9
Midpoint
10
Bad Guys Close In
11
All is Lost
12
Dark Night of the Soul
13
Break Into Act Three
14
Finale
15
Final Image

THE END


Success is stumbling from
failure to failure with no
loss of enthusiasm.
Winston Churchill


David Irving
Die Welt

The British Holocaust denier David Irving has announced that he will visit Berlin. In 1993 he was banned from entering Germany, but the ban was recently lifted. Now he plans to address a small meeting in Berlin.

Green parliamentary leader Volker Beck called on the Berlin association of hotels and guest houses (Dehoga) to refuse Irving accommodation or a conference room. Dehoga complied.

This kind of belated resistance to "fascism" and the Third Reich is trite and naive.

AR Such a ban only makes cheap publicity for a bad historian.

Bournemouth
Top 10 budget restaurants

Dosa World
Chez Fred
Genève
South Coast Roast
Bournemouth Pizza Co
Flirt Café Bar
Kino Lounge
Deli Rocks
Little Pickle Deli Cafe
Goat & Tricycle




Derrida
Scott Krane

The young Jacques Derrida fell in love with the work
of Jean-Paul Sartre:
"I recognize my debt, the filiation, the huge influence, the huge presence of Sartre in my formative years." But he found Being and Nothingness to be philosophically weak, outshone by his readings of Hegel, Husserl, and Heidegger. From 1960, Derrida lectured in Paris on Heidegger's Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics and What Is Metaphysics.

Dying
The Times

In 2008, the UK Department of Health recommended the Liverpool Care Pathway as a model of good care. It would give doctors and nurses a structure for managing terminally ill patients. People destined to die in a hospital bed would get the same care as at a hospice.

But the LCP became a byword for negligence. Patients were treated callously, like items on a conveyor belt. Some were left without proper food or water and inappropriately sedated.

Baroness Neuberger: "Caring for the dying must never again be practised as a tick-box exercise and each patient must be cared for according to their individual needs and preferences, with those of their relatives or carers being considered too."





Life in Poole

 

2013 July 23

Car drama: All forms done except HMRC form NOVA, which requires an astonishingly opaque series of registrations and inputs through a blizzard of online pages that still leave me baffled, all designed to secure the tax authorities against VAT fraud but all too much for a naive innocent like me. At least the promised rain has held off for long enough to let me finish sealing the garage roof.

2013 July 22

Hint of rain overnight: Now the weathermen warn of flooding.

Britain Should Copy Germany

Boris Johnson

Berlin is now the capital of a united Germany. I see not the slightest sign of German militarism. I see a culture so generally cool and herbivorous that the bicycle is king. The most serious public order problem at the moment is the tendency of Berliners to pursue the logic of FKK by fucking in their magnificent parks, and such is the climate of political correctness that the fines for it are means tested.

Berlin doesn't feel like the new imperial capital. What hits you is how much of the city was pulverized. This was the city at the center of Europe's two worst bouts of psychosis, fascism and then communism. I can understand why my grandfather's generation felt as it did, but it is time to embrace the new Germany. We have much to learn and to understand, to admire and to copy, and nothing to fear.

SAP

Financial Times

SAP co-CEO Jim Hagemann Snabe moves up to the supervisory board in May 2014. His American partner Bill McDermott will become sole CEO. Snabe, a mild-manned Dane, complemented dynamic market man McDermott since the pair took over in 2010. McDermott is based in the United States, Snabe in Europe.

SAP chairman Hasso Plattner: "I am incredibly proud of what Jim and Bill have achieved together since they took the lead as co-CEOs in February 2010. They have exceeded my expectations in expanding SAP's market leadership and profitable growth through a relentless focus on innovation and customer success."

Microsoft

The Observer

Once upon a time, a young man named Bill Gates had a vision. He saw "a PC on every desk, and every machine running Microsoft software". And it came to pass, and Bill became the richest man on Earth.

Microsoft wrote the software for the operating system and the Office applications that made personal computer hardware work. Software is expensive to write, but then costs nothing to copy. And because for a long time Microsoft Windows had a monopoly, Bill and his friends made money and got rich.

But then came the internet. A little company called Netscape rose to exploit it with a program called a web browser.

In 1995, Bill composed a famous internal memo: "Developments on the internet over the next several years will set the course of our industry for a long time to come ... I want to make clear that our focus on the internet is crucial to every part of our business. The internet is the most important single development to come along since the IBM PC was introduced in 1981."

Gates saw that every part of Microsoft should become network focused. And he made it happen. He turned the company on a dime. But in his determination to destroy Netscape he landed Microsoft in court. Microsoft appealed, and survived.

In 2000, Gates stepped down from his position as CEO and began to disengage from the company. The folk he left in charge, chief among them Steve Ballmer, lacked his vision.

Microsoft is set to change. Last week, in a long internal memo, Ballmer announced a "far-reaching realignment of the company that will enable us to innovate with greater speed, efficiency and capability in a fast-changing world ... to execute even better on our strategy to deliver a family of devices and services that best empower people for the activities they value most and the enterprise extensions and services that are most valuable to business."

Men's Sandals

Hadley Freeman

I am not a fan of the male sandal. Feet are funny looking things at the best of times, and men don't attend to their feet in the way many women do. Flip-flops on hot pavements are not an acceptable match. Such an open and flimsy shoe on grubby city pavements can only do a foot harm. I say deck shoes and I say boat shoes. Espadrilles are OK. Loafers count as acceptable summer shoes. Men's sandals: no.

AR This is absurd. Are men expected to torture their feet all summer long in stinky, sweaty cages just to meet this prissy concept of looking good? Flip-flops are fine on city streets for me. They add just enough distance from dirt and discomfort. What's not fine is public tolerance of filthy streets. Clean them! Direct your rhetoric streetward, Hadley.

2013 July 21

Hard and dirty work: Got up onto the old garage roof and put down a new waterproof layer.

Fantasy UK

Will Hutton

The UK recovery is the slowest for more than a century. Exports are effectively unchanged, despite a 25% devaluation. Company investment is down by 34%. Real wages are 9% below their peak. The British are running down their savings and taking on mortgages. They debate the inadequacies of the public sector, not those of the private.

Outside London and the southeast, the regions show virtually no private sector entrepreneurial activity. An average British-owned manufacturing company in the regions has 14 employees. Their owners are too focused on income, and the financial system that supports them too focused on commissions. This is no basis for recovery.

Britain needs to see a sustained growth of demand. We have to get serious about infrastructure. The housing market needs root and branch reform. Above all, there has to be a sense of mobilization. Instead we get nonsense babble about the EU and endless nostalgic festivals about world wars one and two. Welcome to Fantasy UK.

Analyst Alarm

MoneyNews

Swiss economist and investor Marc Faber is certain a global recession will follow the US Federal Reserve policy of printing money. Faber: "I think somewhere down the line we will have a massive wealth destruction. I would say that well-to-do people may lose up to 50% of their total wealth."

Euro Pacific Capital CEO Peter Schiff says the collapse in 2008 was just a foretaste of the crash to come. Schiff: "If we keep doing this policy of stimulus and growing government, it's just going to get worse for the average American. Our standard of living is going to fall."

Real estate mogul Donald Trump warns that the United States could soon go down like Spain or Greece, teetering on the edge of financial ruin. Trump: "When you're not rich, you have to go out and borrow money. We're borrowing from the Chinese and others."

Investment adviser Robert Wiedemer foresees much more widespread economic destruction in his best-seller Aftershock. Wiedemer: "The data is clear, 50% unemployment, a 90% stock market drop, and 100% annual inflation ... starting in 2013."

2013 July 20

No news is good news: The sun shines and the beach this morning was great, with enough surf to make the simple act of bathing fun again.

2013 July 19

Blair Wars

The Times

The UK Ministry of Defence banned the new Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), General Sir Nick Houghton, from contributing to a book criticizing British military performance in Iraq and Afghanistan. MoD officials suppressed six chapters written by serving generals for the book British Generals in Blair's Wars, which includes essays by 26 senior military and civilian figures, some critical of senior command and the political leadership of the campaigns.

General Houghton, who took over from General Sir David Richards this week, had been invited to contribute an analysis of how to conduct strategy. Book co-editor Professor Sir Hew Strachan: "It was vital for the book and almost impossible to replace ... If we are going to go into lessons learned there has to be serious discussion, not one that is simply silenced because of some sort of orthodoxy about how civil-military relations should be conducted."

AR The ministry should relax. All those knights of the realm are surely respectable enough to be trusted to debate policy in an academic book. If not, the queen needs to reconsider her generosity with titles.

Wearable Tech

Richard Waters + AR

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich says smart devices like watches and glasses are the next big thing. Digital intelligence and connectivity will creep into many different personal items, as well as the things in the internet of things. Devices for the ears, eyes, wrists, and fingers will pervade our world.

The benefits of such things will likely overcome resistance to adoption. People will get comfortable with them and develop new cultural and social norms for their use. The Apple iWatch may herald a generation of smart watches next year, and Google Glass is stirring debate about spectacles that can monitor and record everything in front of the wearer. Two visions of wearable tech:

1 It will seep into everyday life, through gadgets that perform a function but remain largely invisible. Wristbands made by Nike and Jawbone are examples, collecting data and reporting back to apps for tracking and analyzing fitness and health.

2 It will take on personal computing by hosting many of the killer apps on smartphones. By opening up the new devices as platforms for third party developers, their makers will open a space to come up with must-have apps for the gadgets.

Personal computers and the internet took years to tame. For anything that has to be integrated into personal life so completely, the key is seamlessness. Things that make life simpler are likely to lead the way, so long as their hardware is invisible and their functions are automatic.

Early apps for such gadgets will civilize the smartphone. Mobile phones tyrannize us by crashing into conversations and turning pedestrians into absent-minded hunchbacks. The revolution will follow when enough people wear their devices, creating a constellation that gives new meaning to the cloud.

Save the Cat!

Peter Suderman

Summer movies are often described as formulaic. A formula lays out what should happen when in the screenplay. The formula came from a 2005 guidebook by Blake Snyder called Save the Cat!

Snyder broke down the classic three-act structure into a detailed beat sheet, 15 key story beats that have to happen, and then gave each of those beats a name and a screenplay page number. Each page of a screenplay is expected to equal a minute of film, so the guide is a minute-to-minute movie formula.

The beat sheet has taken over Hollywood screenwriting. Movies big and small stick closely to the beats and page counts. The formula threatens the world of original screenwriting as we know it.

You can find the beats, as prescribed, in virtually every major release in theaters today. The big studios increasingly rely on a few blockbusters for their profits. But big budgets mean big risks. And the best way to reduce the risks is to stick with the formula. Even Steven Spielberg is complaining.

Education

Alain de Botton

Politicians say education needs to get better, particularly in maths. In this account, the point of education is to make you a good worker, able to pull in a good salary and help the GDP of the nation.

The true purpose of education is to help us with the many ways in which we end up less than we can be. Entering adult life without any technical or professional skills is a disaster, but there are other problems, such as emotional health. Our education system leaves us woefully unprepared for such challenges as how to be a good partner, how to stay sane, and how to put the time we have on this planet to good use.

We need to grow more used to the idea of transmitting wisdom down the generations. Educationalists often say that wisdom is not something that one person can ever teach another. But there is more than enough information about it in the canon of culture. We just need to get it out in time.

Arab League Backs Kerry Plan

BBC

US Secretary of State John Kerry's plan for restarting peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians has won the backing of the Arab League. The last round of direct talks broke down two years ago over the issue of settlements. Kerry says the plan gives Israel the promise of peace with the Arab world.

Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas says Israel must freeze settlement building before stalled peace talks can resume. Israel gave final approval Wednesday for the construction of more than 700 new settlement homes halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Palestinian negotiator Mohammed Ishtayeh: "It has become a trend to see such Israeli behavior each time an American or an international official visits the region to push forward the negotiation track."

AR If Israeli settlements are an outrage, then so are Palestinian babies. Flooding the region with angry new mouths lacking education is no peace plan.

2013 July 18

Israel

Yuval Diskin

We are approaching a point of no return regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The relative security calm that we have recently enjoyed creates a dangerous illusion that our problems have been solved.

Among the Palestinians there is a growing sense of anger and frustration. At the end of the day, the Palestinians will take to the streets, leading to another round of bloody violence. And the construction of settlements is not stopping. Soon no Israeli government will be able to dismantle them in an orderly fashion.

In the long term the Palestinians will not lose from the shift to the one remaining reality, a state from the sea to the river, one state for two nations. When we get there, we will face an immediate existential threat of the erasing of the identity of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and in a few years the reality of the country's demographics will become a Palestinian-Arab majority and a Jewish minority, along with all that entails.

If our leaders in Israel and the Palestinian leadership both lack the willpower to lead us to a two-state solution, then it would be best to begin thinking about the bi-national alternative in realistic terms.

If we don't wish to continue ruling over another people and thus turn into an ostracized apartheid state, there is no alternative but to grant full rights, including the right to vote, to Palestinians. In such a scenario, there is no need to hold further discussions about the future of the Jewish and democratic vision as put forth by our founding fathers. It will melt away and disappear.

Everyone knows what a settlement will entail:
— Establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state along 1967 lines with territorial swaps
— Symbolic right of return for refugees, with financial compensation to diaspora Palestinians
— Dismantling of settlements beyond agreed borders and compensation to evicted settlers
— Political partition of Jerusalem
— A solution regarding sovereignty over the holy sites in the Old City
— A diplomatic solution over the contours of Israel's eastern border and the Jordan Valley.

This is Benjamin Netanyahu's moment of truth. He can prove that he is a leader who is capable of grasping the gravity of the situation, a leader capable of understanding the critical need to rise above himself and establish a proper set of priorities, and a leader capable of shepherding the nation to the right path.

2013 July 17

Relative peace descends on me here: British authorities issue a health alert after four consecutive days of hot sunny weather. It hasn't rained for over a week, and soon they'll declare a drought.

Afghanistan

Anatol Lieven
Part 1
Part 2

India fears that Pakistan backs the Afghan Taliban to create a Pakistani client state, and Pakistan fears the prospect of Afghanistan becoming an Indian client state. If India pours in resources to prop up the Afghan state, Pakistan will ramp up its support for the Taliban. But Indian aid cannot enable the ANA to reconquer the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan, nor can Pakistani aid enable the Taliban to conquer the rest of Afghanistan.

Pakistan and Afghanistan blend into each other. Around 35 million Pashtuns live on either side of the border, most of them in Pakistan. Pakistan needs to prevent more Pakistani Pashtuns joining the Islamist revolt, as the Afghan Taliban try to recover the Pashtun areas of Pakistan under the banner of jihad. Pakistanis assume the present Afghan regime is doomed and think they need the Afghan Taliban to combat the Indian influence.

Pakistan wants peace in Afghanistan. The Pakistani military has pressed the Afghan Taliban to join in the peace process. A lasting settlement will have to be between the Taliban and a mixture of other forces. The Taliban do not have enough support for outright victory, but some of them expect it anyway. If the Afghan presidential elections next year fail to produce a legitimate and credible victor, the Afghan state could implode.

Arab Spring

Daniel Finkelstein

The Arab Spring was a product of the youth bulge. It was an unfocused, chaotic, exuberant, violent, adolescent temper tantrum forged into a political movement, and it has failed to produce immediate liberal democracy. But when teenagers become adults, the youth bulge becomes a demographic dividend, leaving everyone better off. This is what will happen next in much of the Mideast.

Bitcoin Winkle Wrinkle

Financial Times

The Winklevoss twins lost out to Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook. Now they plan to launch an Exchange Traded Fund that tracks Bitcoin. The Winklevoss Bitcoin Trust will expose investors to the virtual currency. But the fund may never hit the market because Authorized Participants are needed to build the funds and it is too hard for them to profit from it.

Never Give Up

Bernard Marr

Successful people have one thing in common. Their ferocious drive and hunger for success makes them never give up. Many have failed numerous times, but they pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and carry on trying. If you want to succeed you should expect failure along the way. Failure can spur you on and make you try harder. Every failure increases the hunger for success. Don't be beaten, take responsibility for failure, and start all over from a stronger position. The one thing successful people never do is give up.

2013 July 16

Atheists

Andrew Brown

A University of Tennessee study finds six kinds of atheist:

1 The largest group comprises cultural nonbelievers and intellectual atheists. They take it as obvious that exclusive religious truth claims must be false.

2 Anti-theists score high on measures of anger, autonomy, narcissism, and dogmatism but low on measures of positive relations with others.

3 Non-theists find religion is completely irrelevant.

4 Ritual atheists find utility in tradition and ritual. They see them as practices for living and achieving happiness. This covers many American Jews.

5 Seeker agnostics are spiritual but not religious. They treat religious practices as effective even though the explanation is obvious nonsense.

6 Activists hold strong beliefs on ethical and environmental issues.

AR This is a simplistic and superficial typology.

Books

Anis Shivani

The top-down model of publishing is doomed. The landscape of huge bureaucratic trade houses, with multiple layers of editors, vast publicity departments, and books fed to them by literary agents, that survive thanks to a few star authors, is bound for extinction. We need to rethink the entire business model. Five principles for fixing things:

1 Decentralization: It seems mad to let giant conglomerates rule the world from New York. Regional publishing can revitalize reading. The gatekeeping function of a centralized elite is a barrier to the flourishing of vital writing.

2 Autonomy: All concerned need to be freed from production lines for literary products with marketing plans and corporate strategies. Writers should write for new audiences, and readers should decide what they read.

3 Responsiveness: Nearly everything from the major trade houses is junk, creations of marketing strategies. The best of the independent publishers are on the right track.

4 Smallness: Bigness is the bane of any creative activity. The giant organizations have hierarchies that need to be flattened. Writing is corrupted by authors who want to be at the top of the heap.

5 Risk: Publishers overestimate risk and go with the existing formula. The best university presses are exceptions. Publishers would soon make money if agents and editors lost their veto on new ideas.

We need a revolution.

AR This is no manifesto for a revolution.

A miscellany of jokes
for mathematicians,
physicists, psychologists,
and philosophers


Security Degree Hub






Atlas
Boston Dynamics
Boston Dynamics unveils its humanoid robot Atlas:
height 1.9 m, mass 150 kg

Eurofighter
AFP
Eurofighter

EADS cut corners making the Eurofighter. The German government faces billions in added costs. By the end of this year, Germany will have spent almost all of the €14.7 billion approved for the program. The estimated cost for the 143 Eurofighters ordered to date is now €16.8 billion by 2018. A planned 37 further jets will cost billions more.

German voters will not learn the full truth until after the election in September.

 

2013 July 15

The car saga goes on. Before the car can be taxed and registered, it needs a commission notice from the Vehicle Notification Agency. This in turn requires exact documentary proof of the changes made to the headlights, the speedometer, and the fog lights. Since the fog lights are already okay, they cause another delay because I need documented proof of their okayness. The form payment is another GBP 100. I am slowly going crazy with this pettifogging bureaucratic nightmare.

Abandoned Books

Peter Wild

A Goodreads infographic looks at how we abandon our reading of a book. Almost 2 in every 5 readers always read on to the end, even if the book is bad, or dull, or difficult. The rest will quit some books at some point. Their main reason is that life is too short. The Goodreads top five abandoned books is currently topped by The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling and Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James.

2013 July 14

Mind Change

Cosmo Landesman

I have just read Susan Greenfield's novel 2121, and it sent me to sleep. Professor Baroness Greenfield may not find a cure for Alzheimer's, but she has found a cure for insomnia. As a novelist, she is a fabulous pharmacologist.

Greenfield: "My personal view is that social networking and video games and endless surfing are leading to a society I personally would like to be different. I want people to think, to have a strong sense of individuality, to have a private life that nobody shares or hacks into."

Old People

The Observer

Martin Amis caused a stir in 2010 by suggesting "euthanasia booths" for elderly people. His response now: "It's going to be the biggest demographic change in the history of the world. The subterranean dialog in government throughout the west is how are we going to pay for the old? And the only way to do it is to tax the young. ... I don't want my children to spend their lives slaving to maintain an elderly population."

Kindness

Camilla Cavendish

Healthcare is also about human relationships. Being helpless in a hospital bed and having someone hold your hand or speak kindly to you is like feeling the safety rope on the cliff edge. Being in a hospital bed and feeling that no one is in charge or gives a damn is one of the most frightening things I have ever experienced.

2013 July 13

British Politics

Matthew Parris

Labour leader Ed Miliband's promise to reform his party's relationship with its union paymasters will cost it millions. The alleged attempt by the Unite union to rig the selection of a parliamentary candidate was the tipping point.

Collusion between Labour and the unions to diddle millions out of trade unionists by inertia selling is indefensible. The Conservative Party has not protested because its growing dependence on a small number of very large private donors is a shabby business too.

A big donation to either main party can ease a rich man's passage on to the Honours List and into the Lords, where he becomes a legislator. Nobody approves of this. Cash gets you access at Westminster. It taints public life.

Within five years Labour will be facing bankruptcy. Tory fund raising will then come under attack. Half a century of truce on funding will shatter. Both parties will discover an interest in the idea of regular state funding for their administration and campaigning costs.

Commonwealth

Timothy Noah

Commons are things that are widely shared as a matter of law or convention. A common is a public park, a work of timeless literature no longer under copyright, an invention of societal value on which no patent is pending, silence, an ocean beach, the air we breathe, the water we drink. The commons is a realm of wealth for all.

The tragedy of the commons is a parable that market fundamentalists take as demonstrating the futility of public or shared ownership. When everybody is responsible, no one is. But back in the days when farmers really did share land, they didn't behave like the clods in the market model. They worked together to maintain the land.

The commons' single biggest contemporary success story is the World Wide Web. Wikipedia is a similarly social phenomenon, enabling people to share expertise free of charge. We must never, ever take the commons for granted.

AR This blog is a common, until I can monetize it.

2013 July 12

British car parks are behind the times. All the German car parks I recall let you pay after parking for the time you used, and have machines that take coins or notes and give change. All the British ones make you pay in advance for a period likely exceeding your stay, require payment of awkward amounts in heavy coins, don't give change, and involve leaving tickets in cars announcing how long they will be unattended. Many British car parks are open lots, or cramped buildings with narrow ramps, poor layouts, and evidence of neglect. Most of the German Parkhaus interiors I recall were clean and fresh, with the sites in a city linked to street signs giving updates on free places.

So Brits need to brace up and demand better parking. Zero tolerance for slack in such minor aspects of daily life can begin to buck up an entire culture. Perhaps then we can fix British roads, where potholes and patches on patches make a bumpy ride that ages cars and distracts and annoys drivers. Perhaps then in turn we can update British houses, which on average are way behind German ones in build quality and ergonomic design detail. Perhaps then in turn I can begin to enjoy living in the land of my childhood, where typical local street scenes still look alarmingly similar to those of my youth.

Internet Censorship

Perry Link

Every day in China, hundreds of messages are sent from government offices to website editors around the country. Authorities have a toolbox of phrases to guide website editors on how to deal with sensitive topics.

Xiao Qiang and his staff at the School of Information, Berkeley, have assembled an archive of more than 2,600 directives that website editors across China have received during the last ten years.

In late June, ten scholars of Chinese law, politics, society, and language attended a workshop at Berkeley to join Xiao and his staff in analyzing the archive. Highlights:

A principal aim is to prevent unapproved groups from organizing through the Internet.

Because political power and commercial interests are commonly intertwined in China,
    censorship often merges with something that resembles commercial reputation management.

A directive to block an item of news may come out before the news itself appears.

The regime still lumps political speech together with pornography.

Officials tend to be more protective of their own jurisdictions than those of others.

Editors may be instructed to report on a trial but not on the subsequent execution.

News of suicides are blocked.

China's rulers have built a gargantuan Internet censorship system, many times larger than any comparable effort. The efforts of the NSA are not nearly as far reaching.

EZ Problem

Niall Ferguson

Germans say they reformed their jobs market and controlled their unit labor costs, while peripheral EZ countries gorged themselves on cheap euro credit. When the crisis struck, EU agencies sought to bail out the peripheral countries at the expense of German taxpayers.

This narrative has popular appeal. But it understates how much Germany has gained from the euro and how much it would lose from its collapse. The EZ crisis arose from a transatlantic banking crisis. Now Europe is in a mess that cannot be solved by deflation on the periphery. The situation in the south is politically unsustainable.

The solution is to go ahead with banking union and deepen fiscal integration. EZ states need structural reform. Federalism is more likely to lead to institutional convergence than mere confederation.

EZ Writer

Clive James

The author of The Da Vinci Code has done it again. He makes you want to turn the pages even though every page you turn demonstrates abundantly his complete lack of talent as a writer.

A canny bad writer keeps out of the way so that the reader's mind can get to work with its own stock of clichés, but Dan Brown shows deadly signs of an ambition to add poetry to his prose. He has put prodigies of effort into mugging up the scholarly background of his story, but his learning has been hard won. It must have been, because it is so heavily worn.

Dante was a bad choice, I think. Most of Brown's huge audience won't have a clue what he's talking about. If they want to find out, I recommend my new translation of The Divine Comedy.

2013 July 11

Spying

Der Spiegel

Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel says we can only prevent terrorist attacks by allowing telecommunications monitoring: "The work of intelligence agencies in democratic states was always vital to the safety of citizens and will remain so in the future."

China

Martin Wolf

Peter Nolan says the world has hosted the emergence of a limited number of dominant businesses, almost entirely rooted in advanced countries. Systems integrator companies, with strong brands and superior technologies, are at the apex of value chains that serve the global middle classes.

Global production and distribution is organized under the aegis of these companies: 100 giant firms, all from the high-income countries, account for over three-fifths of the total R&D expenditure among the world's top 1400 companies. They are the fount of progress in the era of global capital.

Take China. In 2007-09, foreign-invested companies were responsible for 28% of its industrial added value, 66% of its output from high-tech industries, 55% of its exports, and 90% of its exports of new and high-tech products. China is a crucial contributor to systems managed by foreigners.

But China is not buying the world. Between 1990 and 2012, the global stock of outward FDI soared from $2.1 trillion to $23.6 trillion. High-income countries still accounted for 79% of this in 2012, when annual FDI for the US was $5.2 trillion, the UK $1.8 trillion, and China $509 billion.

Hardly any globally significant companies are Chinese. The Chinese economy remains dependent on the know-how of others. This explains China's desperate efforts to acquire know-how. In the end almost all global companies are likely to become deeply involved in China.

Progress

Thomas Nagel

John Gray condemns humanism, which he defines as three ideas:
1 The human animal is the site of some kind of unique value in the world.
2 The human mind reflects the order of the cosmos.
3 History is a story of human advance, with rationality increasing over time.

"Human uniqueness is a myth inherited from religion, which humanists have recycled into science ... Science and the idea of progress may seem joined together, but the end result of progress in science is to show the impossibility of progress in civilization."

The hope for progress can consist only in the belief that there is some form of collective human life in which the capacity for barbarism will rarely find expression, and in which human creative and cooperative potential can be realized without hindrance. Hope is a virtue, and we should not give it up so easily.

History

Joseph J. Ellis

Edmund Morgan was revered among historians. He was a tough editor who believed that the cogency of your argument was inseparable from the lucidity of your prose. His most frequent marginal comment: "What is the story?" Let the story drive the narrative. The most important decision is what to leave out.

AR Good advice.



Saints
Garry Wills

Pope Francis is canonizing John Paul II in record time. John Paul II presided over the church during its pedophile scandal, and he gave the handling of that problem to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. John Paul II stood firm on such matters as homosexuality and married or female priests.

Modern popes use canonization to give the popehood a kind of infallibility. Each time a pope canonizes a pope he closes a circuit of authentications.
It is sad to see Pope Francis play the same old game. In promoting John Paul II he is exalting a man who resisted change.


MoneyWeek
Long and disturbing promotional video packs some hard truths in a scary shell. The message is urgent: Get your money out of Britain and avoid tax hikes, devaluation, economic collapse, and total ruin. The comparison with Weimar Germany strikes me as alarmist.












The history of typography
Stop-motion animation
(5:09)

 

2013 July 10

British Public Wrong

The Independent

A new survey for the Royal Statistical Society and Kings College London shows public opinion is wrong about major social issues:

Benefit fraud: People think 24% of benefit spending is fraudulently claimed. In fact 0.7% is fraudulent.

Immigration: People think 31% of the population are recent immigrants. In fact 13% are, or about 15% including illegal immigrants. People think black and Asian people make up 30% of the population. In fact they make up 11%.

Crime: People do not believe crime is falling. In fact crime incidents were 19% lower in 2012 than in 2006/07 and 53% lower than in 1995. Most people think violent crime is rising. In fact it has fallen from almost 2.5 million incidents in 2006/07 to under 2 million in 2012.

Teen pregnancy: People think 15% of of girls under 16 get pregnant every year. In fact about 0.6% do.

Foreign aid: Many people think foreign aid is in the top three items of Government spending. In fact it makes up 1.1% of spending.

Pensions: Many people think more is spent on Jobseeker Allowance than pensions. In fact 15 times more is spent on pensions.

Book Publishing

Boris Kachka

The creation of Penguin Random House shrinks the Big Six, which publish most books in the United States, to the Big Five: PRH, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and Macmillan.

Consolidation carries costs. Writers and agents have lower advances and fewer options to turn their manuscripts into money. Legacy publishing does best in nonfiction by providing the resources for research, editing, and marketing. In more commercial genres, writers are winning with self-publishing, often with an agent who packages a book with freelance editors and marketers.

Whether literary culture is best served by the Big Five is moot. Publishers may need to revive their brands by making them more distinctive for consumers, or be left with Random Penguin.

2121

Martin Robbins

Susan Greenfield has written a shonky science fiction novel set in 2121.

A lot of bad stuff happened. We fixed climate change by banning all cars, but Internet porn replaced sex and social networks replaced meeting. Society fragmented into two groups. The Neo-Puritans spotted what was happening, migrated to a new land, and live like Mormons. The Others like dancing and shiny lights.

The chapters are narrated by various lifeless caricatures that regurgitate Greenfield's theories. The plot: a government guy decides the Others are a problem. He sees three options: change their brains to be more like N-Ps, keep them as pets, or commit genocide. He goes for brain change. We can skip the rest.

As fiction, it sucks. As for science, what science? Greenfield's hypothesis is that an unquantified level of exposure to an unspecified subset of modern technologies may be affecting an indeterminate number of people's brains in an undefined way, with a number of results. She calls it mind change.

Greenfield thinks humanity is in decline, and my generation proves it.

AR Sorry, Susan.

2013 July 9

British Banking

John Lanchester

UK Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards: "The public have a sense that advantage has been taken of them, that bankers have received huge rewards, that some of those rewards have not been properly earned, and in some cases have been obtained through dishonesty, and that these huge rewards are excessive, bearing little or no relation to the work done."

The payment protection insurance (PPI) scam is the biggest scandal in the history of British banking. First, two warm-up scandals:

1 Libor, the London Interbank Offered Rate, is a range of interbank lending rates, set after consultation between the British Bankers Association and a host of participating banks. In global markets, $360 trillion of deals are pinned to Libor. The risk is that a bank on a Libor panel might make a manipulative input, trying to move Libor up or down so as to influence interest rates or the value of its swaps portfolio. After the crisis, it turned out that that was exactly what had been happening, across an entire swath of the industry. It was criminal fraud. So far, Barclays has paid fines of about £290 million and RBS paid a total of about £390 million in fines. Since RBS is 82% owned by the taxpayer, we pay.

2 British banks were involved in money laundering and drug dealing. In August 2012, the New York State Department of Financial Services accused Standard Chartered of scheming with the Iranian government to hide more than $250 billion in deals. In September the bank paid a total of $667 million in settlements and accepted deferred prosecution. HSBC was next. US prosecutors said the bank had laundered at least $881 million in money for Mexican and Colombian cartels, and another $660 million in sanctions-avoiding transfers with Iran, Cuba, Sudan, Libya and Burma. They paid a fine of $1.92 billion and also accepted deferred prosecution.

3 The PPI scandal is a shocker because it involves systematic cheating of bank customers. Payment protection insurance covered customers who owed payments which for one reason or another they were no longer in a position to make. But most of the people who bought the policies would not have been able to use them. Two categories of people who were not eligible to make claims against PPI were the self-employed and anyone with a pre-existing medical condition. They were sold it anyway. They weren't told the basic facts about the insurance they were buying. It was a scam, designed to extract extra revenue from gullible punters. The latest estimate for the cost of the scandal is £16 billion.

Banking is based on trust. In the PPI scandal, banks broke that trust. That makes it the worst scandal in the history of British banking.

Japan

Felix Martin

Japan is back. In December 2012, a new government under prime minister Shinzo Abe promised bold measures to beat deflation. Abe appointed a new governor of the Bank of Japan, Haruhiko Kuroda, who learned his economics at Oxford. Kuroda aims to double the money supply within two years.

Abenomics is closely modeled on Japan's economic program of 1931-36. Faced with the consequences of the crash of 1929, finance minister Korekiyo Takahashi took Japan off the gold standard, ramped up government spending, and ordered the central bank to finance it. The effect was the fastest recovery of any major economy.

The UK too executed a bold policy experiment. In 1932, the new chancellor, Neville Chamberlain, announced that sterling would be devalued to return the price levels to those of 1929. A boom in housebuilding gave Britain the thousands of semis that line the streets today and made British GDP grow at 4.5% a year up to 1936.

Takahashi and Chamberlain were elected ministers of finance, not appointed central bank governors. Monetary policy became a tool of government. An elected politician is better able to commit to a high inflation target to inflate away the value of its debts. In both Japan and the UK, the government got serious about beating deflation.

In the new world of Abenomics, the Bank of Japan is independent in name alone. By contrast, the UK stumbles on with fiscal austerity combined with a low inflation target overseen by an independent central bank. Future generations will be astonished. Japan is showing the way back to the future.

AR The UK needs a boom in housebuilding today. Compared with the German housing stock, the British stock is a national disgrace.

2013 July 8

The National Security Agency

Edward Snowden

The NSA is tasked to know everything of importance that happens outside of the United States. We're in bed together with the Germans the same as with most other Western countries.

Some Five Eye Partners go beyond what the NSA does. The British GCHQ system Tempora is the SIGINT community's first full-take Internet buffer. It snarfs everything, in a rolling buffer to allow retroactive investigation without missing a bit.

The NSA and its partners do full dragnet data collection for telephone calls, text, and data. At present, full-take collection ages off quickly due to its size, unless an analyst has tasked a target or communication. The metadata ages off less quickly.

After the NSA targets a user, the analyst can do whatever they want. The target's machine belongs to the US government.

The Guardian NSA files


NYT
Chinese president Xi Jinping and Russian president Vladimir Putin

Lords
Nigel Farage

On House of Lords reform in the UK, the coalition first wanted to abolish the lot of them and replace them with a directly elected chamber. Their next idea was to appoint Lords to reflect the national vote share in the previous general election.

The House of Lords has provided a more coherent and successful opposition to recent governments than the opposition in the Commons has, even though its quality has been diminished by stuffing of the benches with failed and retired politicians.

USA

US-EU Spat

The spying row threatens to overshadow US-EU trade talks.

EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmström: "Mutual trust and confidence have been seriously eroded and I expect the US to do all that it can to restore them ... Should you fail to demonstrate the benefits of the terrorist financing tracking program and passenger name record instruments for our citizens and the fact that they have been implemented in full compliance with the law ...
I will be obliged to reconsider if the conditions for their implementation are still met."

Washington had lobbied Europeans for the agreements as part of the GWOT.

COUP
Gideon Rachman

If it looks like a c*** and has the effect of a c*** then it probably is a c***. President Obama's inability to use the "c" word in relation to Egypt is because as soon as the United States declares that the Egyptian government has been overthrown by a coup it is legally bound to cut off aid to Egypt.

AR
AR




Being An Animal
Brandon Keim

Evolution places humans among animals, not only in body but in mind. Charles Darwin: "Even insects express anger, terror, jealousy, and love." But his views on animal consciousness were rejected. Primatologist Jane Goodall was mocked by her peers for speaking of chimpanzee emotions.

These days, studies of animal intelligence are ubiquitous. And the environmental challenges that might prompt the evolution of consciousness are widespread. Among these is sociality. Consciousness is necessary to be an individual, and the animal kingdom teems with it.

USS Jimmy Carter
US Navy
USS Jimmy Carter

Former US President Jimmy Carter won the 1998 UN Human Rights Award and the 2002 Nobel Peace Prize. The $3 billion sub USS Jimmy Carter monitors global Internet traffic by tapping undersea fiber optic cables. The US Navy says it carries advanced technology for naval special warfare and tactical surveillance. It violates the civil liberties Carter cherished.

 

2013 July 7

Money

David Priestland

Economists and their followers brought the world to the brink of catastrophe in 2008. For them, money is a medium of exchange. Most western macroeconomic policies up to 2008 were designed to stop governments spending money and to make central banks control inflation.

Money is a socially created system of transferable credit, a way of keeping account of what people owe each other. The financial crisis was caused by banks creating money beyond government control. On the eve of the crash, they had made some $25 trillion in the United States alone.

But the banks were not virtuous guardians of monetary purity. They took advantage of deregulation to print money that funded property and other asset bubbles. These assets were massively overvalued. Financiers say taxpayers should pay back debts at face value through austerity.

Felix Martin argues that mainstream economics is seriously flawed. He says "the current strategy of trying to sweat these debt mountains off over time" is neither feasible nor desirable. He favors "engineering a few years of significantly higher inflation" to write them off.

Anti-American Axis?

Leslie H. Gelb and Dimitri K. Simes

Russia and China cooperated in the Snowden affair. Their policies toward Syria have paralyzed the UN Security Council. Their hacking and cyberattacks cause concern in Washington. They have slowed efforts to end Iran's nuclear weapons program. And China is now carrying out its largest ever joint naval exercises with Russia.

Russia and China appear to be seeking greater clout at the expense of the United States. They seem to see less cost in challenging the United States and fewer rewards for partnership. These calculations stem from two perceptions:

1 They see American decline and decadence. The United States is holding on to ties with Europe and parts of Asia but losing economic leverage and moral authority in the rest of the world. Disengagement from Iraq and Afghanistan without victory seems to devalue US military superiority.

2 Russian and Chinese elites consider American foreign policy objectives fundamentally hostile to their vital interests. They view American democracy promotion not as reflecting a commitment to freedom but as a selective crusade to undermine governments threatening to the United States.

China and Russia have a history of mutual distrust as well as conflicting economic interests. But they share an interest in maintaining partnerships with the United States and the European Union. These are powerful reasons for staying on good terms with Washington, but not enough to halt the anti-American tack in Beijing and Moscow.

President Obama should see China and Russia as significant powers with their own interests. Washington can only manage security threats around the world with their cooperation. To gain that cooperation, the White House must show that American leadership is essential to solving world problems.

What Do Women Want?

Daniel Bergner

Anthropology professor Sarah Blaffer Hrdy says female promiscuity among monkeys and baboons evolved to mask paternity. A male that was unsure which babies were his would be less prone to murder them.

Her idea revolved around orgasm. Female climax in humans has been viewed by many evolutionary psychologists as biologically meaningless. Hrdy says it evolved in primates to ensure that females are libertines, that they move efficiently from one round of sex to the next and frequently from one partner to the next, building toward climax. The advantages range from the safeguarding against infanticide to gathering more varied sperm and so raising the odds of genetic compatibility and healthy offspring.

Female desire is not mostly sparked or sustained by emotional intimacy and safety. The assumption that female eros is much better made for monogamy than the male libido is scarcely more than a fairytale.

2013 July 6

Big Data

Mark P. Mills

What makes Big Data useful is software. When the first microprocessor was invented in 1971, software was a $1 billion industry. Software today has grown to a $350 billion industry. Big Data analytics will grow software to a multi-trillion dollar industry.

Isaac Asimov called the idea of using massive data sets to predict human behavior psychohistory. The bigger the data set, he said, the more predictable the future. With Big Data analytics, we can see beyond apparently random data points to the big picture.

Big data sets can reveal trends that tell us what will happen without the need to know why. With robust correlations, observational data can yield enormously predictive tools. The why of many things that we observe, from entropy to evolution, has eluded physicists and philosophers. Big data may amplify our ability to make sense of nearly everything in the world.

Business plans $3 trillion in global information and communications technology (ICT) investment over the next decade. This puts Big Data in the same league as Big Oil, projected to spend $5 trillion over the decade. All this is bullish for the future of the global economy.

Perfection

Robert Chandler

An Armenian Sketchbook is a memoir by Vasily Grossman about the two months he spent there in 1961. Earlier that year the KGB had confiscated his typescripts of Life and Fate, in which he compared Soviet and Nazi concentration camps and said the Stalin and Hitler regimes were mirror images.

The sketchbook is the most personal of Grossman's works. It reads as if he is chatting to the reader about the landscape and the people he meets. He was preoccupied with the Shoah and sensed a fellow feeling between Jews and Armenians. Awareness of the Armenian genocide informs the memoir.

Grossman: "Perfection is always simple, and it is always natural. Perfection is the deepest understanding and fullest expression of what is essential. Perfection is the shortest path to a goal, the simplest proof, and the clearest expression."

2013 July 5

The American Revolution

Paul Pirie

To see whether the United States would have been better off without its revolution, look at Canada.

In Canada, the abolition of slavery began almost 20 years earlier than in the United States. In the United States, more than 2 million people were incarcerated in 2011. The United States ranks first in the world in the number of prisoners per capita. Canada ranks 136th.

Most Americans work longer hours and have fewer paid vacations and benefits than their counterparts in most advanced countries. The United States ranks 51st in life expectancy at birth, and this year tied for 14th in life satisfaction in an OECD study. Canada was 8th, Australia 12th. Another report ranked the United States 10th in the world for happiness, again behind Canada and Australia.

The Canadian, Australian and British governments have shown they can get things done. Washington is paralyzed by partisanship and gridlock. The American Revolution wedded us to practices or institutions that seem counterproductive or dysfunctional today.

Jefferson: "Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind."

The Declaration of Independence

Gordon S. Wood

United States citizens have built a temple to preserve and display the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. At the National Archives in Washington, these sacred scriptures are enshrined in bronze-framed, bulletproof, moisture-controlled glass containers that have been drained of all harmful oxygen. During the day, these Charters of Freedom are on display in the rotunda of the National Archives. At night, the containers are lowered into a massive sealed vault of concrete and steel.

For Pauline Maier, the shrine resembles the altars of her Catholic girlhood. On the new altar's surface are spread out the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but at the center of the shrine, held up in what looks like a tabernacle or monstrance, is the most holy document of all: the Declaration of Independence. The erection of a shrine for the worship of the Declaration of Independence strikes Maier as idolatrous.

The Declaration of Independence was a workaday document of the Second Continental Congress in 1776. In essence the Congress replaced the British Crown in American political life. Congress was the entire central government for the colonies. At the time, most Americans still favored reconciliation with Great Britain, within the British Empire but tied as separate colonies only to the King, not Parliament. The colonists anticipated by nearly two centuries the commonwealth theory of the British Empire.

The Declaration was the product of many busy men working under very tight time constraints. Thomas Jefferson wrote the initial draft, then Congress edited the committee's draft into a distinguished document. Jefferson's preamble with its ringing phrases about equality and rights made the Declaration the most sacred of all American political documents.

2013 July 4

Glorious Fourth — busy day 4 me.

Mil Bag MB MB

The Guardian

Egyptian military arrest Muslim Brotherhood supreme leader Mohammed Badie for inciting violence against protesters outside MB HQ, Cairo, Sunday, when 8 protesters were killed.

AR Bye bye baddy Badie!

Egypt: Coup?

Jonathan Steele

Whether the Egyptian army's actions amount to a military coup can be debated. But they amount to a ruinous intervention into politics. Rejecting the results of elections and setting aside a country's basic law is a step that no army should ever take.

President Mohamed Morsi is not blameless. The political charge sheet against him is long and detailed, but to make him entirely responsible for the disappointments of the past two years is absurd. He should not be blamed for the failure of the Egyptian economy to provide enough jobs. Morsi went along with the IMF plans for an end to subsidies on food and utility prices that would only create more austerity, but so did most of the opposition. As for reviving the tourism sector, the main obstacle is the unrest.

The Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters are social conservatives who pose a threat to civil rights. But the biggest and most immediate danger to the country is to the political rights that all Egyptians won with the overthrow of Mubarak.

AR I back the army for now. Islamist extremism has no place in democratic politics. I look forward to the presidency of Mohamed ElBaradei.

Rethinking Surveillance

Kenneth Roth

The Supreme Court ruled in 1979 that we have no reasonable expectation of privacy in the phone numbers we dial, as opposed to the content of the calls. Today I see an urgent need to rethink. US law has not kept up with the new intrusions on our privacy made possible by current technology.

The rationale for the distinction between the contents of a communication and its participants originated in the view that we expect our phone conversations to be private but not the numbers we call. The lack of a legally recognized privacy interest allows the NSA to vacuum up metadata wholesale.

The claim that we have no privacy interest in our metadata because we share it with communications companies is a fiction. These companies should be viewed as custodians with a duty to protect confidentiality. Only in extraordinary circumstances should this confidentiality be broken.

Our conversations with lawyers and doctors are protected because our legal and medical systems cannot work unless communications shared within them retain presumptive confidentiality. The law should recognize our legitimate expectations of privacy in a wired world.

2013 July 3

Busy getting getting into some sort of order for the new life of austerity in England. If the mind dwells on higher things, the whole adventure can work out. Much has been sacrificed but much remains to be won. Meanwhile, the portrait at left shows how I look after 16 days in the town of my earliest memories. The beard is untrimmed because I temporarily mislaid the recharger for my shaver in the jumble of boxes currently cluttering my room and my lockup a few miles away.

Snowden Shelter

Jürgen Trittin

Edward Snowden has done us all a great service. The extent of surveillance by American and British security services is staggering. For years the US has been accusing China of stealing intellectual property. Do we need to suspect the US now? In the UK the Tempora program violates the EU data protection directives, which are law in Britain. Snowden needs shelter. Germany should offer it.

Mideast Plague Goes Global

Foreign Policy

When the Black Death exploded in Arabia in the 14th century, killing a third of the population, it spread across the Islamic world via infected religious pilgrims. Today, the world is threatened with a new plague: Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). This coronavirus was discovered in Jordan in March 2012, and as of June 26, there have been 77 confirmed cases. Saudi Arabia had 62 of them, 34 fatal.

This fall, millions of devout Muslims will descend upon Saudi Arabia's holy sites in one of the largest annual migrations in history. In 2012, about 6 million pilgrims came to Saudi Arabia to perform their holy rituals, and this number is predicted to rise in 2013. In Mecca alone, millions of pilgrims will fulfill the religious obligation of circling the Kaaba, and will spread their pathogens as they do so.

MERS kills more than half of all its victims. The MERS coronavirus is new to our species, and the human immune response to infection is so extreme it can be deadly. The virus spreads between people via close contact, shared medical instruments, and coughing. Once inside the human lung, it sparks a series of reactions that all but destroy normal lung function. Survivors may need years of rehabilitation.

Controlling the spread of the virus is only half the battle. We have is no MERS vaccine, drug, or simple diagnostic test. And once MERS patients are identified, caring for them presents its own challenges. Not only is the treatment for MERS intensive and complicated, but health care workers must carefully protect themselves so as to minimize the risk of contracting or unwittingly spreading infection.

The WHO praises Saudi Arabia for "urgently taking crucial actions" in this crisis. But the Saudi Ministry of Health is understaffed and in need of assistance. Participants at a recent WHO meeting in Cairo agreed on the urgency of the situation and agreed that the world is at a critical point in the trajectory of the MERS outbreak. We could be dragged into another Black Death as MERS spreads worldwide.

2013 July 2

NSA Bugs

Der Spiegel

The NSA program Boundless Informant processes connection data from all incoming telephone calls in near real time. It records just the metadata for the calls, but this is a gold mine for investigators. The NSA also bugged the building of the EU diplomatic delegation to the United States and infiltrated its internal computer network. It did the same for the EU mission at the UN in New York.

US Cyber Command chief General Keith Alexander is the director of the NSA. It has long had close and secret relationships with many telecommunications companies. Alexander recently spoke at a technology symposium in Washington: "As great as we have it up there, we cannot do it without your help."

Voices

German Chancellor Angela Merkel: "The monitoring of friends — this is unacceptable. It can't be tolerated. We are no longer in the Cold War. Trust has to be the basis of our cooperation."

French President François Hollande: "We cannot accept this kind of behavior between partners and allies. We ask that this stop immediately."

US Secretary of State John Kerry: "Every country in the world that is engaged in international affairs and national security undertakes lots of activities to protect its national security and all kinds of information contribute to that."

NSA History

William Saletan

The NSA report leaked by Ed Snowden is really about the mellowing of the surveillance state. In the aftermath of 9/11, the program was authorized solely by the White House. Everyone was worried about security, not privacy. In 2004, the Department of Justice concluded that NSA collection of bulk Internet metadata was illegal. In 2007, the president's surveillance program officially ceased. In 2008, Congress passed the FISA Amendments Act facilitating NSA surveillance but mandating the report Snowden leaked. In 2011, bulk collection of Internet metadata stopped. Government surveillance is subject to bureaucratic bogdown. Leaks are a crucial part of this ecosystem of restraint.

The New Theist

Nathan Schneider

William Lane Craig has a devoted following among evangelical Christians. Some of them say "God is working something" in his philosophy of religion.

Craig found Jesus at high school in Illinois. In due course he wrote a doctoral dissertation on theology at the University of Birmingham, England, and another one at the University of Munich. He held the presidency of the Evangelical Philosophical Society, which lets philosophers present the latest deliverances of analytic philosophy as they pertain to defending the Christian faith in the vernacular world, from 1996 to 2005. During that time, the society began holding an apologetics conference alongside the annual scholarly meeting. For many, Craig is the man who saved their faith.

The Bible Institute of Los Angeles — Biola — invited Craig on board. The school was soon attracting more than 100 master's students at a time. Craig: "More often than not, it is what you are rather than what you say that will bring an unbeliever to Christ."

2013 July 1

Revise, Revise, Revise

Craig Fehrman

Revision as we now understand it — where authors, before they publish anything, will spend weeks tearing it down and putting it back together again — is a consequence of the typewriter. As our technology changes once again, that literary style may be undergoing another transformation.

Ernest Hemingway changed the typescript of his novels dramatically from one version to the next. He invoked the iceberg: "There is seven-eighths of it under the water for every part that shows. Anything you know you can eliminate and it only strengthens your iceberg."

Most Modernist writers, like Hemingway, wrote by hand and then painstakingly typed up the results. That took time, but seeing their writing in such dramatically different forms encouraged them to revise it aggressively. Modernism became a new literary ideal. Modernists were united in the belief that careful and substantial reworking would ultimately produce the best literature.

Today, most of us compose directly on our computers. Instead of generating physical page after physical page, which we can then reread and reorder, we now create a living document that, increasingly, is not printed at all until it becomes a final, published product. We now revise in real time. Perhaps this is encouraging more spontaneous and conversational kinds of literary writing.

AR A hint to revise Coral — thoroughly.

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