BLOG 2014 Q1
NSW Rural Fire Service
Bush fire near Sydney, Australia
Carnegie Institution for
The paths of Oort cloud
objects 2012 VP113 (red) and Sedna (orange)
outside the Kuiper belt (cyan) around the Solar
a.k.a. Biden, is 450 km across, about half the
size of Sedna. If it is made mostly of ice, then
its gravity probably pulls it into a spherical
shape, making it a dwarf planet.
How can I be happy?
British Humanist Association
In his TV documentary
Martin Amis, 64, says he finds
being English "a source of quiet pride". But he
describes the England of his younger days.
AR It's just a
like Roger Scruton's book
England: An Elegy
Photo of me with
after my mother's
UK TOP TEN
Most Satisfying Jobs
(plus mean income)
CEOs and senior
proprietors in agriculture and horticulture
Hotel managers and proprietors
Image: Andy Gilmore
Putin and the Surgeon
Dark Sector Lab
2014 March 31
A report from the UN
intergovernmental panel on climate change concludes that climate
change is already melting sea ice and thawing permafrost in the
Arctic, killing off coral reefs in the oceans, and leading to
heat waves, heavy rains, and mega-disasters. Climate change
also poses a threat to global food stocks and to human security.
could lead to dramatic drops in global wheat production as well
as reductions in maize. Fish catches in some areas of the
tropics are projected to fall by about a half. So climate change is
linked to rising food prices and political instability.
Our Climate Future
The new IPCC report is the second of
three parts of its fifth assessment of climate change. Part 1,
released last year, covered the physical science of climate
change. It stated that the climate is changing as a result of
our greenhouse gas emissions.
Part 2 focuses on how
people can adapt in the face of uncertainty. The IPCC says we
must become resilient against diverse changes in the climate:
"The natural human tendency is to want things to be clear and
simple. And one of the messages that doesn't just come from the
IPCC, it comes from history, is that the future doesn't ever
turn out the way you think it will be."
predictions include more rain in parts of Africa, more heat
waves in southern Europe, more frequent droughts in Australia,
and rising sea levels. Poverty makes the impacts worse, and the
report suggests adaptations for alleviating it. All countries
should diversify their economies, rather than relying on a few
main sources of income that could flood or blow over. Countries
should also find ways to become less vulnerable to the current
climate variability. Current global spending on adaptation is
tiny. But the unpredictability makes it difficult to prepare for
some of the threats.
Part 3, due out in April, is on how
to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing emissions now would
give us more time to adapt to climate change, as well as a
better chance of avoiding its worst effects.
2014 March 30
We have heard for years the
predictions that the uncontrolled burning of fossil fuels will
lead to an accelerated warming of the Earth. What is now
happening indicates that these predictions are coming true. Our
actions have had consequences that are deeply threatening for
many of the poorest communities in the world.
industrialized countries, including our own, have unquestionably
contributed most to atmospheric pollution. Both our present
lifestyle and the industrial history of how we created such
possibilities for ourselves have to bear the responsibility for
pushing the environment in which we live toward crisis.
Charles C. Mann
Technology for extracting the carbon
dioxide from a coal-fired power plant and channeling it away for
underground storage is known as carbon capture and storage
(CCS). At a 2008 meeting of the G8, the assembled energy
ministers backed an IEA recommendation to launch CCS
China burns almost as much coal
as the rest of the world put together. It emits a quarter of the
world's greenhouse gases. In 2006, Beijing established a
nationwide program to boost its coal production. Starting in
2010, Shenhua built a big facility to convert coal into liquid
fuel for automobiles. In 2013, the facility's CCS plant
sequestered more than 110 000 tons of CO2 in an underground
saltwater aquifer. By 2020, if all goes well, Shenhua could be
sequestering 2 million tons (2 Tg) of CO2 a year.
most developed technique for capturing CO2 is amine scrubbing.
The exhaust from burning coal is bubbled through a solution of
MEA in water. MEA bonds to the CO2 to form MEA carbamate. The
MEA carbamate and water are boiled or the pressure is lowered,
and the MEA carbamate breaks up into CO2 and MEA. The CO2 is
pumped away and the MEA is recycled.
This kind of CCS
will eat up about a quarter of the plant's thermal output. Given
that typical coal plants convert only half their thermal energy
into electricity, CCS-equipped power plants will consume a lot
Canadian CCS startup Inventys Thermal
Technologies has a better idea. A ceramic-coated drum rotates
inside power-plant smokestacks, and CO2 molecules adhere to the
drum by static electricity. Steam washes off the CO2. This
method is much cheaper than amine scrubbing.
2014 March 28
A new cold war is starting. President
Putin does not understand the west. His political technologists
have been priming Russian television viewers with alarming
images. One showed a millionaire fascist on a stage in the
Maidan (Independence Square in Kyiv, the cauldron of the
revolution) demanding that Russians be shot in the head.
When informed (incorrectly, as it turned out) that opposition
gunmen might have been responsible for the mass killings on the
Maidan in Kyiv that were the catalyst for the Ukrainian
revolution, the European Union high representative for foreign
affairs Catherine Ashton responded: "I didn't pick that up.
That's interesting. Gosh!"
Western leaders shuttled in
and out of Ukraine, taking decisions apparently way beyond their
competence. The US assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland
distributed cookies to the Maidan protesters, and discussed with
her ambassador which opposition leader should become prime
minister, as though she were viceroy of Ukraine.
first decade after the collapse of the USSR was a disaster for
Russia. Putin came to the scene so inexperienced he opened
himself up to all kinds of advice. He wooed western leaders and
mused about joining NATO one day. But then he began closing down
critical media and gathering power around himself and his KGB
comrades. The west took fright and began to build up its
defenses against Russia. NATO expanded eastward. In return the
Russians started building up their own defenses.
Talbott describes the upheaval in Ukraine today as Putin's
payback to the United States for "a quarter-century of
disrespect, humiliation and diplomatic bullying".
2014 March 27
Silicon Valley has become one of the
most ageist places in America. Even the best venture capitalists
fail most of the time, so the returns on successes must be
enormous. But the veneration of youth in Silicon Valley now
seems way out of proportion to its usefulness. However much age
and experience may grind down the rest of us, it is impossible
to generalize to that tiny fraction of people so brilliant and
driven as to be capable of creating the next Google.
Noam Scheiber paints a picture of
competent entrepreneurs unable to secure venture capital on
account of their age. Silicon Valley's startup scene is an
unparalleled hub of innovation, and the industry's most
successful founders have been young. The problem is the data
set. The young may be better at large-scale innovation. Or they
may not be. We don't have enough data to make that claim, and we
have plenty of evidence to the contrary. Plenty of
entrepreneurs, engineers, and business leaders in tech can
appreciate the wisdom of age, the strength of diversity, and the
value of experience.
You may have heard that Nymphomaniac,
the new movie by Lars von Trier, is pornographic.
discovers a woman lying beaten and takes her home. She says
she's Joe, a nymphomaniac and a horrible person. He says his
name is Seligman and he is Jewish. He urges Joe to tell her
story. A conversation starts. It is the conversation between
Judaism and Christianity.
Joe is Christ inverted. At 12,
she experiences an involuntary orgasm that mirrors the
transfiguration of Jesus. Her life becomes a quest for more
perfect forms of transcendence.
Seligman is her polar
opposite. Everything he learned in life, he learned from the
books that line his apartment. He offers Joe interpretation, to
turn her endeavors from a pursuit of salvation to a sensible way
of being in the world.
The film lets us all understand
the dangers inherent in Joe's spiritual appetites. As he had in
Antichrist and Melancholia, von Trier is arguing here that our
thirst for transcendence can only lead to disaster. We may yearn
for love, but we can't handle it.
Jewish eschatology. He believes that all attempts at redemption
must focus not on some desperate thrust heavenward but on a
series of small earthly steps.
Nymphomaniac is a godly
2014 March 26
Putin Saves NATO
Vladimir Putin is almost single-handedly
saving the moribund Atlantic alliance. President Obama is only a
day or two into his European trip and it is already clear that
something is going right again. We are thinking and acting
strategically for the first time in five years. The annexation
of Crimea took the West by surprise but has not shocked it into
paralysis. We are comfortable with this kind of enemy.
Beyond The Big Bang
The BICEP2 team saw hints of
gravitational waves in the CMB from 12 Ts ABB. Planck satellite
data depict an early universe that was almost uniformly smooth,
which seems to support inflation. The Planck team saw no signs
of gravitational waves. The BICEP2 gravitational wave signal is
twice what Planck suggested.
The BICEP2 results support
the simplest models of inflation. An inflaton
particle drove the process. In the chaotic inflation model, the
inflaton that decays quickly and allows quantum fluctuations to
trigger new bursts of inflation, giving rise to other universes.
In the natural inflation model, the inflaton retains its peak
energy for longer before decaying, to explain the smoothness of
the CMB. In Higgs-like inflation, the inflaton had a scalar
field like the Higgs boson.
If the Planck team sees weak
gravitational waves, the models get more complex. In one,
inflation starts out fast and slows down abruptly. In another,
inflation was faster in one direction, explaining the "axis of
evil" in the Planck data.
Or, in a variant of
string theory, there was no inflation. Picture the cosmos as a
rolled-up piece of paper held in place with rubber bands. The
paper is a 9D universe and the rubber bands are vibrating
strings. If two strings meet, their edges can form a single,
twisted loop, and release 4D spacetime to swell to the size of
our universe today. The BICEP2 results favor this model.
AR Oh, what fun!
2014 March 25
The Internet was begun in the United
States and it is based on American technology, but it's a global
activity. We in the United States feel it reflects free people,
free ideas, and free trade. The Russians and the Chinese want to
divide the Internet up into national domains and create barriers
I'm not prepared to apologize for
conducting intelligence against another nation. I am prepared to
apologize for embarrassing a good friend. I am prepared to
apologize for the fact we couldn't keep whatever it was we may
or may not have been doing secret and therefore put a good
friend in a very difficult position. Shame on us.
Munich Security Conference it was clear to me that Germans
regard privacy the way we Americans might regard freedom of
speech or religion. I think the director of national
intelligence, the director of the CIA, and the new director of
the NSA need to put Germany very early in their travel plans and
meet with the German service.
As a professional
intelligence officer, I stand back in awe at the depth, breadth,
and persistence of the Chinese espionage effort against the West
and the United States. The differences between us and the
Chinese: We're more sophisticated and we're self-limited. I
never claimed the moral high ground.
G8 is dead — long live G7
Russia is out of
the G7 following President Putin's landgrab in Crimea. President
Obama and the leaders of Britain, Germany, France, Italy,
Canada, and Japan decided to freeze Russia out of the G8 club,
boycott a planned G8 summit in Sochi, and meet as G7 in Brussels
AR All these Gn meetings, for n in N, are
precursors to GO meetings in
2014 March 24
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein wrote
Plato at the Googleplex to show us that figuring out how to
live a meaningful life is something very different from
understanding the meaning of special relativity or evolution.
She transports Plato into the 21st century and puts him into
fictional dialog with a variety of contemporary characters.
Goldstein's Plato is less interested in teaching those with
whom he converses than he is in helping them see that they don't
know what they think they know. In sending Plato to Google,
Goldstein deftly exposes the conceptual presumption at the heart
of what looks like the latest high-tech methodology.
Goldstein reminds us that virtually every scientific area of
inquiry began with a question or an insight from a philosopher.
The grand forward push of human knowledge requires each of us to
begin by trying to think independently, to recognize that
knowledge is more than information, to see that we are moral
2014 March 23
Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw
Inflation is the idea that
the visible universe expanded exponentially for a tiny fraction
of the first second, from a size very much smaller than an atom
to about the size of a grapefruit. The energy of the expansion
formed the particles that later formed our universe.
Cosmic microwaves have been flying free almost since the Big
Bang 13.8 billion years ago. When the universe was just under
400 000 years old, hydrogen atoms formed and there were no
longer free particles to scatter the light. The light from that
time now bathes us as microwaves. They appear much the same
wherever you look in the sky. We explain that fact with
Quantum theory predicts ripples in the fabric
of spacetime. They are stretched by inflation and dimple the
grapefruit. As the Big Bang unfolds, the ripples clump particles
together under gravity, in time leading to stars and people.
Inflation predicts the average properties of how the matter
should be distributed, and the agreement between prediction and
observation is terrific.
The BICEP2 telescope tests for
the existence of gravitational waves from the primordial
universe. BICEP2 sees their imprint on the cosmic microwaves as
a distinctive swirling pattern in their polarization. The amount
of polarization is a measure of the energy once stored in the
vacuum. BICEP2 sees a lot of swirl, so the vacuum energy was
near the grand unification energy.
have long dreamt of grand unification of the electromagnetic
force and the strong and weak nuclear forces. The forces seem to
fuse at the energy levels about a trillion times above those in
the LHC. The new results could help turn the dream into reality.
2014 March 22
Christopher de Bellaigue
Turkish prime minister Recep
Tayyip Erdoğan leads the AKP government and works in Ankara.
Turkish preacher and moral didact Fethullah Gülen lives in
seclusion in Pennsylvania and presides over an empire of
schools, businesses, and followers.
The AKP government
and the Gülen movement share a modernizing Islamist ideology,
but relations between them have deteriorated. Erdoğan has purged his entourage and replaced half his
cabinet. Thousands of policemen have been moved from their
posts, as well as judges and bureaucrats.
Before all this, in early 2013, Turkey's modernizing Islamist
current enjoyed much goodwill. Erdoğan came to power in 2003,
after a long struggle by Islamists against the country's secular
institutions. Erdoğan reformed the economy and reined in the armed
The AKP was in an unofficial coalition
with Islamists such as the movement of Fethullah
Gülen. His schools turned out well-behaved, patriotic, pious
Turks, and the government welcomed them into the bureaucratic
and business elites. The Islamists promised high standards
of ethics and behavior.
Erdoğan has reacted to the
dissatisfaction of a largely secular minority with police
violence. He talks of "false prophets, seers, and hollow
pseudo-sages" and his target is clear. Gülen, in one of his
frequent sermons broadcast to big audiences in Turkey, recently
placed a malediction on his enemies, as the Gülenist media
spread allegations of government corruption.
that he heads a movement. His followers share his vision of a modern and
tolerant Islam. He has been winning followers since he was a
young imam preaching that humanity needs to be saved from sin
and shown the path of Koranic revelation and prophetic example.
The Gülen movement controls numerous Turkish schools and
universities, proselytizes energetically, and has infiltrated
secular institutions such as the police force. The AKP
government launched a huge investigation in 2007, which ended in
2013 with the jailing of 242 people.
2014 March 21
The European Union has a resurgent rival
to its east. Russia badly needs Europe as a partner, but Putin
is positioning it as a rival. The spontaneous uprising of the
Ukrainian people must have taught Putin that his dream of
reconstituting what is left of the Russian Empire is
After the collapse of the Soviet Union,
there was a brief moment when the United States emerged as the
undisputed leader of the world. It abused its power, but the
oligarchs who control much of the Russian economy have no
confidence in the regime. That is what makes the economy so
Russia is trying to reassert itself as a
geopolitical player. Ukraine and Crimea are of great interest to
Russia. The West cannot reverse the annexation of Crimea.
Ukraine is a potentially attractive investment destination, but
realizing this potential requires improving the business
Paul de Man
Paul de Man was one of the fathers of
deconstruction. The critic Louis Menand said deconstruction was
"like digging a hole in the middle of the ocean with a shovel
made of water".
During the Second World War in Belgium,
de Man published an essay titled "The Jews in Present-Day
Literature" arguing that European civilization remained healthy
despite Jewish attempts to soil it and that it may be best for
the Jews to move far away so as not to pollute the purity of the
master race. He behaved badly in his personal life too.
There was a correlation between the man and the theory. The
catastrophic effects of this mindset have been widely
documented. A big contribution of Judaism to the advancement of
civilization was to abandon crowds of little gods and replace
them with one God, to whose service all are called. Such a
worldview has lapsed among the thinking classes.
atomization of the American mind is a moral failure. Academics
champion individual rights and set up bulwarks of divergence.
But once you have deconstructed, problematized, and tortured the
notion of the common good beyond recognition, any act is as good
as the next one and all are bowed in the service of radical
If this mentality is horrible for all
mankind, it is particularly horrible for Jews. The story of Paul
de Man is a cautionary tale of what bad ideas can do to erode
the pillars of civilization.
God is dead — long live
Globorg, our destiny.
2014 March 20
Funeral of Liz's consort Don (1924-06-26 — 2014-03-09)
Physicists are searching for a theory of quantum
gravity. Most physicists believe that gravitons give rise to
gravity. But calculations of graviton interactions yield
Supergravity posits the existence of new
particles that mirror graviton effects. It has long been assumed
to suffer from the infinity problem, but no one was sure. Using
new tools, UCLA physicist Zvi Bern and his team are now
calculating these gravitational interactions and making sense.
In one approach to calculating scattering amplitudes in
supersymmetric quantum physics, gluon scattering amplitudes are
computed by measuring the volume of an amplituhedron. The
amplituhedron corresponds to interactions between gluons. The
fact that gravitons behave like two copies of gluons could point
the way forward.
Quantum field theory would be simpler if interactions
previously calculated with long formulas matched the volume of
the corresponding amplituhedron. The amplituhedron encodes
scattering amplitudes representing the probability that a
set of particles will turn into certain other particles
upon colliding. The amplituhedron research could show how our
universe emerges out of pure geometry.
2014 March 19
In general relativity, gravity is the
curvature of spacetime. Gravitational waves are ripples made by
accelerating objects. The discovery of primordial gravitational
waves supports inflation. For some theorists, proving that
inflation happened is a sign of the multiverse.
Linde: "If inflation is there, the multiverse is there. Each
observation that brings better credence to inflation brings us
closer to establishing that the multiverse is real."
simplest models of inflation require a particle called an
inflaton to inflate spacetime. Inflatons decay over time, so for
inflation to work, they need to last longer than the period of
inflation. Then they continue to drive inflation in their
location, blowing new universes into existence that rapidly
inflate before settling down. This "eternal inflation" produces
new universes in a multiverse.
Frank Wilczek: "For the
first time, we're directly testing an aspect of quantum gravity.
We're seeing gravitons imprinted on the sky."
Peter Watson interprets Friedrich
Nietzsche's 1882 declaration "God is dead" as a turning point in
intellectual history. Nazis drew on Nietzsche and writers like
Martin Heidegger for philosophical heft.
have seen a theological understanding of humankind replaced by a
psychological one. The new atheists say evolution and biology
disprove the existence of God. Religious belief fails to explain
the modern world and the idea of God has been debunked.
Watson implies that full engagement with the project of being
human in the modern world leads to atheism. But the vast
majority of the world believes in God or some sort of higher
power. If the age of atheism started in 1882, most people still
haven't caught on.
2014 March 18
A majority of the residents of Crimea
were happy to abandon Ukraine and join the Russian Federation.
The overall outcome reflected popular wishes and was crudely
democratic. So it is unwise of US President Barack Obama and the
Europeans to declare they will "never" recognize the Crimean
In his telephone conversation with Obama on
Sunday, Russian President Vladimir Putin quoted the "Kosovo
precedent" of a 2008 declaration of independence by the
provincial assembly in Pristina, when Kosovo was still a part of
Serbia. Putin's question to Obama was: So what's the difference?
The right of self-determination of peoples is guaranteed
under the UN Charter. It is a mistake to make of the secession
of Crimea an issue of principle on which there can never be
compromise. The key challenge for Obama and the EU is what the
departure of Crimea implies for the wider region. The sanctions
should pivot on what Moscow does next, especially in eastern
Ukraine but also in Moldova, the Baltic states, and Georgia.
Alexander Zaldostanov is the Surgeon. He
leads the Russian motorcycle gang the Night Wolves, who crossed
to Crimea from Kerch and set up camp near Sevastopol. Their base
is straight from Mad Max. Zaldostanov: "We are seeing victory
here today, victory for Russians and victory for Sevastopol."
Amid his fans he added: "We've come to protect Russians from the
Banderas and fascists, and I hope Britain and America learn
Big Bang To TOE
Discovery of primordial ripples in
spacetime provides a deep connection between general relativity
and quantum mechanics. University College London cosmologist
Andrew Pontzen: "This is a genuine breakthrough. It represents a
whole new era in cosmology and physics as well."
provides the first direct evidence for inflation. BICEP2
collaboration lead John Kovac: "Detecting this signal is one of
the most important goals in cosmology today. A lot of work by a
lot of people has led up to this point."
The BICEP2 team
spent three years analyzing the polarization in the CMB signal.
The work could offer clues on the way to a quantum theory of
gravity and the theory of everything (TOE).
2014 March 17
Big Bang Ripples
Gravitational waves in spacetime let us
peer back to the first slivers of a second after the big bang.
Scientists working with the BICEP2 collaboration at the South
Pole (image left) announce the first clear sign of gravitational waves
in a pair of
papers published today. The results still need to be
confirmed by other experiments, but physicists say the results
Alan Guth: "No experiment should be
taken too seriously until there's more than one that can vouch
for it. But it does seem to me that this is a very reliable
group and what they've seen is very definitive."
Cosmologists say a growth spurt in the baby universe called
inflation would let us see traces of short gravity waves in maps
of the cosmic microwave background (CMB). Guth proposed
inflation in the 1980s to explain the fact that CMB variations
are too uniform for subluminal expansion.
should have stretched the first gravitational waves to a size we
can detect in the CMB. The CMB is polarized as it scatters off
electrons in the cosmos. Rippling gravitational waves would
twist the polarization pattern into distinctive swirls called
B-modes (diagram below). The BICEP2 result supports the simplest
models of inflation and matches the predictions of grand
unification theory (GUT).
The detection is also the first
whiff of quantum gravity. Guth: "If gravity were not quantized,
inflation would not produce gravitational waves. So we really
are seeing a direct effect caused by the quantization of
Scientists operating a sensitive
microwave telescope at the South Pole announced the discovery of
polarization distortions in the CMB. The distortions appear to
be due to gravitational waves dating back to 10^-35 s after the
Big Bang (ABB). By comparison, the CMB was created 10^13 s ABB.
Where this may lead, no one knows. But it should be cause for
In 1979, Alan Guth proposed what he
called inflation: that the universe expanded in size by over
thirty orders of magnitude in a tiny fraction of a second ABB.
Inflation explains how the universe is likely to have grown back
then. Within a few years, Guth and others demonstrated that
quantum effects during this period could have resulted in the
formation of all observed cosmic structures.
is also subject to quantum mechanics, then quantum fluctuations
in gravity would appear today as gravitational waves. Now a CMB
probe that measures how primordial light might be polarized by
gravitational waves apparently sees precisely the signal
expected from inflation. The amplitude of the effect
is about as expected if the scale of inflation is the GUT scale.
for a soft landing
The philosopher's cone?
Viktor Yanukovych had an
obscenely opulent palace
for his presidential
from the mental
fog of a bleak winter
The Times Higher Education
University of Cambridge
University of Oxford
Academic Fat Cats
vice-chancellors defend mega-pay as the going
rate for "talent" and pocket as much cash as
they can get away with. Higher education
managers pose as CEOs and claim similar pay and
perks. Open University boss Martin Bean is on
£407,000. University of Birmingham VC David
Eastwood is paid almost three times as much as
the prime minister.
AR UK HE starves students:
Checking the unrest in
2014 March 17
UK Agenda for EU Reform
I am putting forward an ambitious
agenda for a new European Union:
Powers flowing away from Brussels, not always to it.
2 National parliaments able to work
together to block unwanted European legislation.
3 Businesses liberated from red tape
and benefiting from the strength of the EU market to open up
greater free trade with North America and Asia.
4 UK police forces and justice
systems able to protect British citizens, unencumbered by
unnecessary interference from the European institutions,
including the European court of human rights.
5 Free movement to take up work, not
6 Support for
the continued enlargement of the EU to new members but with new
mechanisms in place to prevent vast migrations across the
7 Ensuring Britain
is no longer subject to the concept of ever closer union
enshrined in the treaty signed by every EU country.
AR All sound domestic politics, but
will it fly across Europe?
2014 March 15
Crimeans vote Sunday in a referendum that
effectively gives them two options: either to become independent
or join the Russian Federation. But Crimea is integrated into
Ukraine's mainland economy and infrastructure: it imports 90% of
its energy, and 90% of its water, 80% of its electricity, and
roughly 65% of its gas come from the rest of Ukraine. Crimea
gets 70% of its $1.2 billion budget from Kiev. Moscow plans to
invest over $5 billion in Crimea, but local people dependent on
tourism will suffer.
Nietzsche said God is dead. Science,
notably Darwinism, had revealed a world with no inherent order
or meaning. With theism no longer credible, meaning would have
to be made in future by human beings.
The idea that religion
is separate from culture is a Christian notion. Christianity may
be a more tragic creed than Nietzsche's doctrine, but neither
the Christian religion nor Nietzsche's philosophy can be said to
express a tragic sense of life. According to Christianity, there
is nothing that cannot be redeemed by divine grace and even
death can be annulled.
Nietzsche wanted to revive the
tragic worldview of the ancient Greeks. Tragedy requires a
conflict of values that cannot be revoked by any act of will.
But Nietzsche ended up producing a hyperbolic version of
2014 March 13
WWW @ 25
All the people who have been part the
Word Wide Web can be proud of what has been achieved. The Web
has become an important technology for everyday life and almost
everything we do. So there is a strong tendency for governments,
big organizations, and companies to try to control it.
The lack of oversight over the spying systems both in the UK and
the US needs to change. Any country that has a part of the
government or the police spying on the Internet must demonstrate
that they have a very solid level of accountability and that the
information they get is never abused.
webwewant.org to define the values that we as Web users insist
on. I would like every country to debate what that means in
terms of their laws. The right to privacy must be in there, the
right not to be spied on and not to be blocked. Access to the
Web is a fundamental right.
2014 March 12
In the multiverse scenario, our universe
is one of an infinity of space-time patches, each one outside
the causal reach of any other. In infinite space, universes
indistinguishable from ours are repeated infinitely, as is every
conceivable configuration of mass-energy permitted by the laws
of physics. Even the laws of physics may vary across the
multiverse. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that
everything that can happen will happen, infinitely many times.
Support for this scenario stems from the fine-tuning of our
surroundings. A cosmological constant much different from the
observed value would make life as we know it impossible. If it
has different values in each of the universe domains in the
multiverse, then somewhere there has to be a universe with the
value in our universe. But it is not clear whether we can
calculate the odds for anything to happen in an infinite volume
AR The fallacy
here is that everything that "can" happen will happen in an
infinite multiverse. Lots of things might never happen, however
far out we go.
2014 March 11
In 1882, Nietzsche declared that God is
dead, adding that we had killed him. Darwin's Origin of Species
was the greatest blow to Christianity, but Nietzsche's work was
a near-second. Darwin said his ideas had gone down better in
Germany than anywhere else.
Religion is a psychological
adjustment to our predicament. Worship is best understood as a
sociological phenomenon. Religion is prevalent among the poor
and in decline in the more prosperous parts of the world. It is
less that religion is on the rise as poverty is.
no one secret to life, other than that there is no one secret to
life. If you must have a transcendent idea then make it a search
for the good or the beautiful or the useful, always realizing
that your answers will be personal and never final.
2014 March 10
Stanislas Dehaene studies consciousness
and the brain at his lab near Paris. He sees an "avalanche in
the brain" when the threshold for conscious awareness is
crossed. Electrical activity in certain centers is suddenly
amplified and spread into regions of the parietal and prefrontal
cortex. Activation surges on into a much larger expanse of
cortex, and distant brain regions start showing tightly
Dehaene sees consciousness as the process of brain-wide
information sharing. Your brain is constantly creating millions
of short-lived mental representations of your world by
unconscious processing. When one is broadcast to decision
systems distributed around the brain it enters consciousness.
The global workspace supports a kind of collective intelligence.
But the "hard problem" of consciousness remains.
AR See my book
Michael S. Malone
Memories are created by a
biochemical reaction in neurons. Short-term or working memory
operates at a number of different locations around the brain.
Long-term memory takes up much of the landscape of the upper
brain. The memories are often stored in the same neurons that
first received the stimulus. Memories are made when certain
proteins are synthesized in the cell. Frequent repetition of
signals makes the record stable and permanent.
Memory is explicit or
implicit. Explicit or declarative memory is all the information
in our brains that we can consciously bring to the surface.
Episodic memories occurred at a specific point in time. Semantic
memory lets us understand how the world works. Implicit or
procedural memory stores skills and memories of how to function
in the natural world.
2014 March 9
Henry A. Kissinger
Ukraine has been part of Russia
for centuries. The Western part was incorporated into the Soviet
Union in 1939. Crimea became part of Ukraine only in 1954. The
west is largely Catholic, the east largely Russian Orthodox. The
west speaks Ukrainian, the east speaks mostly Russian. Any
attempt by one wing of Ukraine to dominate the other would lead
eventually to civil war or breakup.
The problem lies in
efforts by Ukrainian politicians to impose their will on
recalcitrant parts of the country. Ukraine should:
1 Have the right to choose freely
its economic and political associations
2 Not join NATO
3 Be free
to create any government compatible with the expressed will of
It is incompatible with the rules of the
existing world order for Russia to annex Crimea.
Peter W. Singer
Americans are more afraid of
cyberattack than attack by Iran or North Korea, climate change,
or China or Russia. Some 40 trillion emails are sent a year, 30
trillion websites now exist, 9 new pieces of malware are
discovered every second, and 97% of Fortune 500 companies admit
they’ve been hacked. The complexity of the issue overwhelms
Cybersecurity is crucial but is treated as
an area only for IT folk. The technical community understands
the hardware and software but not the human side. An ounce of
prevention is worth a pound of cure. Very basic cyber hygiene
would go a very long way. They would stop 90% of all cyber
Snowden exposed three kinds of NSA activity:
1 Smart and strategic espionage
against American enemies
Questionable mass collection of data from American citizens
3 Unstrategic targeting of close
American allies and leaders
2014 March 8
Karl Marx called for the overthrow of
the capitalist order. But he identified capitalism with Judaism.
For Marx, the overthrow of capitalism will emancipate mankind
Anti-Judaism, David Nirenberg argues that Marx appropriated
a powerful language of opprobrium. Marx had Jewish origins and
might have questioned the association of Judaism and capitalism,
but instead he stoked old fears about Jewishness.
identification of Judaism with materialism predates the
appearance of capitalism in Europe by at least 1500 years. The
enemies are mostly not Jews but Judaizing non-Jews who take on
Judaism's negative characteristics. Real Jews have little to do
with all this.
Joseph Goebbels proclaimed that the age of rampant Jewish
intellectualism was at an end. He was making an argument that
begins in the Gospels. Arguments about how Christianity
superseded Judaism were based on oppositions: law superseded by
love, the letter by the spirit, the flesh by the soul.
German idealist philosophers repeated many of the arguments of
the early Christians. Kant understood the moral heteronomy he
sought to overcome in Jewish terms. Hegel said Kantianism was
simply a new version of the Jewish principle of opposing thought
to reality. These philosophers used the language of anti-Judaism
to resolve the ancient tension between the ideal and the real.
The Bolsheviks were widely understood as Jewish, and many of
them were Jews. Jewish bankers can rule the world and Jewish
Bolsheviks can aspire to overthrow and replace the bankers. In
some alcoves of the Western imagination, the two groups can
almost appear as co-conspirators.
Nirenberg argues that a
certain view of Judaism lies deep in the structure of Western
2014 March 7
The death of a star more than 20 times
the mass of the sun is spectacular. It collapses in a colossal
burst of energy, its core plunges inward, and temperatures soar.
Gravity pulps atoms into quarks and leptons and gluons, and so
on until no one knows. The star has become a black hole.
At the center of most galaxies is a teeming bulge of stars and
gas and dust. At the very hub of the bulge, in virtually every
galaxy looked at, including our Milky Way, is a black hole. The
one at the center of the Milky Way is 4.3 million times more
massive than the sun. It is currently tranquil. But it's pulling
a gas cloud toward it. Radio telescopes around the world are
waiting to observe the black hole in action. We will see the
accretion disk, a ring of debris outlining the edge of the hole.
This should be enough to dispel most doubts that black holes
Matter falling toward a black hole produces a lot
of frictional heat. Black holes also spin, and the combination
of friction and spin results in a lot of matter being flung off.
This hot stuff is channeled into jet streams that spurt out at a
tick below the speed of light. The jets can drill straight
through a galaxy. Eventually they cool and the gas forms new
At the center of a black hole is a singularity.
Something is there, extremely small and dense. Our universe
began, 13.8 billion years ago, in a tremendous big bang. The
moment before, everything was packed into a small, dense
singularity. A singularity was the seed of our universe.
2014 March 6
Hillary on Putin
Former US secretary of state Hillary
Clinton: "All ... the Germans by ancestry who were in places
like Czechoslovakia and Romania and other places, Hitler kept
saying they're not being treated right. I must go and protect my
people, and that's what's gotten everybody so nervous."
In the eyes of many ethnic Russians, the Ukrainian nationalists
are the Nazis. The revolution overthrew a democratically elected
leader and elevated Russophobe fascists into key government
positions. Ukraine was a part of the Soviet Union until two
decades ago and Crimea was part of Russia until 1954. The
country contains millions of ethnic Russians and has Russian
military installations that are key to Russian strategic
The Ukrainian Nazi movement is small, and
Ukraine is dwarfed by Russia, which puts Putin in the role of
the dominant regional power picking on a small country and
exploiting its extremist politics for the purpose of propaganda.
But Putin is still no Hitler.
German anti-Islamists say Islam is a
political ideology. CDU delegate Hans-Jürgen Irmer warned Hesse
state parliament that "Islam is set on global domination" and
that Muslim groups could not be trusted because deceiving
non-Muslims is central to Islam.
There are about four
million Muslims in Germany. An estimated 42 000 of them are
fundamentalists. According to the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, 5%
of Germans say Islam is an "archaic religion, incapable of
fitting into modern life" and want to restrict religious freedom
Politically Incorrect is a popular
German-speaking anti-Islam website: "The spread of Islam means
that our descendants — and probably us too — will live in an
Islam-dominated social order oriented towards the Sharia and the
Koran and no longer towards the constitution and human rights."
Muslims are rising to higher positions in German society.
Mosques are being built in city centers, as in Leipzig. Yasemin
Shooman from the Academy of the Jewish Museum in Berlin says
continuing Muslim integration is strengthening anti-Muslim
2014 March 4
Russia vs. Ukraine
CNN, 1002 GMT
Russian President Vladimir Putin may
have overplayed his hand by sending troops into Crimea. The
United States and many European countries demand that Moscow
scale back its deployment.
Carnegie Europe scholar Ulrich Speck:
"Putin's broader plan is to recreate some kind of Soviet Union
lite ... If Moscow succeeds in Ukraine, it will come to the
conclusion that it can act like an empire ... Inside the EU
there is no unity about the proper reaction."
States has halted trade and investment talks and military
engagements with Russia. Nobody in Washington appears eager for
a military confrontation. US Secretary of State John Kerry: "The
last thing anybody wants is a military option in this kind of
Ukraine's interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk says his
government will not give up Crimea. Former Ukrainian PM Yulia
Tymoshenko said that if diplomacy fails to persuade Moscow to
withdraw its forces from the Ukrainian region of Crimea, the
world should apply the "strongest means" on Russia.
Russia says ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych
requested that Russia send in military forces. Russian soldiers
wearing no insignia have deployed around the region and
blockaded Ukrainian troops in their bases. Russian forces have
complete operational control of the Crimean peninsula.
2014 March 3
In Crimea, unbadged, troops have
seized key buildings and strategic points. It is pretty obvious
that most of them are Russian. President Putin has obtained
authority for a military intervention to protect Russian
interests and nationals. There could be war between Ukraine and
Russia. Some have begun to draw comparisons with Hitler's
invasion of the ethnically German Sudetenland in 1938.
Crimea became part of the Russian Empire more than 200 years ago
under Catherine the Great. For Russians, it is the scene of two
historic episodes of heroic resistance: firstly in the Crimean
War of the 19th century and then to the German army in the
Second World War. Add the great naval base at Sevastopol and you
can see why Putin sees a clear national interest in what
transpires in Ukraine.
There will be costs for Obama and
NATO if we cannot deflect Putin from his path. Obama has gained
the reputation of being a weak president, who will not take a
stand against aggressors. But foreign policy should be based on
a cold calculation of national interest. As Putin knows, the US
and NATO are not going to war to stop Russia taking Crimea or
the eastern Ukraine under Russian control.
The Age of Nothing by Peter Watson surveys and summarizes
20th-century philosophical and moral thought on "how we have
sought to live since the death of God".
secular lack — Watson paraphrases and quotes Charles Taylor — "a
sense of wholeness, fulfillment, fullness of meaning, a sense of
something higher; they have an incompleteness ... 'a massive
blindness’ to the fact that there is 'some purpose in life
beyond the utilitarian' ".
Clifford Geertz: "The drive to
make sense out of experience, to give it form and order, is
evidently as real and pressing as the more familiar biological
AR Seems worth
reading: Watson was good on Germans.
2014 March 2
CNN, 0949 GMT
The Ukrainian National
Security Council ordered a mobilization as
Russia appeared to mass troops for military
intervention in Crimea. Ukraine's acting
President Oleksandr Turchynov announced that
intervention would lead to war.
President Barack Obama and Russian President
Vladimir Putin spoke for 90 minutes to express
concern over the crisis, according to separate
statements released by their respective
UN spokesman for the Ukraine
mission Yegor Pyvovarov says Russia now has 15
000 troops in Crimea. Russia's UN ambassador
Vitaly Churkin rejected Ukrainian calls to stop
Russian intervention and said reports of Russian
troop deployments were only rumors.
Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen tweeted
that NATO ambassadors meet in Brussels today to
discuss the situation.
Project Fear is the
political campaign to keep Scotland within the
United Kingdom. It bombards Scots with warnings
about what they will lose if they vote in
September to secede:
1 The three main
Westminster political parties reject monetary
union with an independent Scotland. Scottish
National Party leader Alex Salmond wants
Scotland to keep the pound, but it would have no
support from the Bank of England as lender of
President of the European Commission Jose Manuel
Barroso said it would be "extremely difficult,
if not impossible" for an independent Scotland
to rejoin the European Union.
3 Westminster may
not accept the existing border between Scotland
and England in the North Sea. An Oxford
professor: "It is this line only that assigns
almost all the oil to Scotland and Alex Salmond
disingenuously talks as if that line would
survive genuine separation. It could not. No one
knows how international arbitration would go,
but the best guess seems to be that about half
would go to Scotland."
amounts to a dry run for a campaign against
British voters during a referendum on
EU membership in 2017. Those who seek British
liberation from the EU should take note.
Woodland Burial and Memorial Gardens
Funeral of Elizabeth Pigdon,
13:30, 28 February 2014
My Mother Liz: A Tribute
PDF, 2 pages, 250 KB
Tool for Drivers
UK road traffic reports
Cranach the Elder (c 1525)
Masters of the German Renaissance
2014-02-19 — 2014-05-11
Living in the
ice cream cone
Sam Adams Award
Edward Snowden posts a video message as Chelsea Manning wins the Sam
Adams award for "integrity in intelligence"
Edward Snowden on
2014 February 28
Merkel in London
In her speech before parliament,
Chancellor Angela Merkel praised the UK and its role as a
liberator in the world wars, as the cradle of parliament, and as
a leading European power. She even cited Richard von Weizsäcker
that "Britain does not need to prove its European vocation".
As for the European Union, she agreed it need change. Its
laws should be checked regularly. National parliaments should
get more attention and failures must be exposed. But the EU is
working well and only needs readjustment here and there. So a
cold shower to Tory Eurosceptics.
After the revolution in Ukraine, tension flared
in Crimea. Five facts:
Russia gave Crimea to Ukraine in 1954, when both Russia and
Ukraine were part of the Soviet Union. After 1991, lawmakers in
Ukraine and Crimea voted for it to stay part of Ukraine.
2 A lot of Russians still live in
Crimea. There are three main groups in Crimea: ethnic Ukrainians
in the north, Russians in the south, and Tatars in the middle.
3 The Russian Navy has had a
base at Sevastopol for 230 years. Russia is expanding its Black
Sea port of Novorossiysk but Sevastopol is still the home of the
Black Sea Fleet.
Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing, became known as the
Lady with the Lamp in the Crimean War when Britain, France, and
Ottoman Turkey fought against Russia.
5 In 1945, US President Franklin D.
Roosevelt, British PM Winston Churchill, and Soviet leader
Joseph Stalin met in the Crimean resort of Yalta to carve up
Europe for the Cold War.
If Russia takes Crimea, East-West relations freeze again.
2014 February 27
Merkel Wants UK in EU
German Chancellor Angela Merkel will set
out the case for Britain to stay in the European Union in her
address to both Houses of Parliament today. Germany and Britain
have a common interest in reforming the single market, but the
free movement of workers is a core principle of the market. She
will say she is sympathetic to measures to stop the misuse of
free movement for benefits tourism.
Downing Street was
keen to stress its gratitude for the Chancellor's visit to
London. Mrs Merkel is the second German Chancellor to address
both Houses of Parliament after Willy Brandt did so in 1970.
President Richard von Weizsäcker also did so in 1986.
AR When Brandt came he visited
Oxford and I saw him speak live. Inspirational.
715 New Planets
NASA announces the discovery of 715 new planets.
About a thousand planets had been identified in our galaxy
previously. Four of the new planets are in the habitable zone.
The planets orbit 305 different stars and were discovered by the
Kepler space telescope. A
new technique allows scientists to make new planetary
discoveries more often and in more detail. The new batch of
planets was verified using data from the first two years of the
Kepler mission, so there may be many more to come.
astrophysicist Douglas Hudgins: "Kepler has really been a
game-changer for our understanding of the incredible diversity
of planets and planetary systems in our galaxy."
AR These are
historic times for planetology.
2014 February 25
Science consists of facts and theories.
Facts are discovered by observers or experimenters. One wrong
fact is enough to ruin a career. Theories are free creations of
the human mind, intended to describe our understanding of
nature. Since our understanding is incomplete, theories are
provisional. Mistakes are tolerated.
The most exciting
and creative parts of science are concerned with things that we
are still struggling to understand. Wrong theories are not an
impediment to the progress of science. They are a central part
of the struggle. In every century and every science, I see
The key to enjoyment of any sport is
to be a good loser. The greatest scientists are the best losers.
As Einstein said, God is sophisticated but not malicious.
2014 February 23
Jesus of Nazareth proclaimed a
radically simplified version of the law of Moses and the
religion of the Hebrew prophets. The early community of his
followers was shaped by charismatic phenomena and social rituals
that reinforced the familial bonds of the group.
A steady drift away from the
Jewish faith followed. The Christian community developed a
complex system of cosmology in which Jesus became a divine being
manifested on Earth. This synthesis was different from the
religion of Jesus and his first followers.
refuses to follow earlier German scholars in their negativity
toward Judaism and is familiar with the entire spread of Jewish
thinking in the age of Jesus and Paul. His Jesus represents an
intensified version of Mosaic and prophetic faith.
gospel has to be treated as a bit of an aberration. Vermes is
inclined to see Platonic themes working the alchemical change in
Christianity. The basic alteration is a matter of turning the
faith that Jesus himself held into a faith about him.
Traditional Christian creeds are the product of a secular chain
of influences, serving to obscure the historical core of what
was new in Jesus' life and work. Vermes shows how the sort of
thing that was being claimed in the creed of 325 CE had
antecedents within a century of Jesus' crucifixion.
authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls thought of their community in
its remote desert setting as the real temple. Something of this
carries over into the New Testament: God lives among those who
associate themselves with Jesus. This develops into the idea
that Jesus is the divine power incarnate.
AR Thanks, Rowan: I shall read a few
books by Vermes.
Robert M. Price
According to Joseph Atwill, Titus
Caesar and Josephus devised a plot to seduce Jews into
worshipping Titus, son of Vespasian, under the guise of a
fictitious Jesus. The four gospels and Josephus' history were
written to be read together as a Flavian Pentateuch for a new
and pacifist Judaism.
Accepting that a committee wrote the gospels and the history
seems absurd. Only an obtuse reader can fail to appreciate the
sublime quality of much of the New Testament. Atwill's claim
that the gospels are black satires merely reveals his own
inability to appreciate what he is reading.
connects widely separated dots and collects correspondences from
gospel to gospel and between the gospels and Josephus, then uses
them to create parallel accounts. But the natural way to deal
with the parallels is to say the gospel writers wrote late
enough to have borrowed from Josephus.
AR OK: Atwill has got it all wrong.
2014 February 21
Sam Harris says we are biochemical
puppets. Unconscious associations and attitudes hold powerful
sway over our lives. Such statements assault religious belief,
traditional morality, and common sense.
nature of the universe is fully compatible with neural systems
that analyze different options, construct logical chains of
argument, reason through examples and analogies, and respond to
the anticipated consequences of actions, including moral
consequences. These processes are at the core of rational
If you doubt the power of reason, consider the
lives of those who have less of it. The relationship between IQ
and success is hardly arbitrary. High intelligence is also
related to kindness. Self-control can be seen as the purest
embodiment of rationality and benefits not just individuals but
Morality is seen as the paradigm case of
insidious irrationality. Intellect seems largely irrelevant when
it comes to our sense of right and wrong. But the existence of
moral dumbfounding is less damning that it might seem. Our moral
attitudes show systematic change over human history. The moral
circle has expanded toward inclusiveness.
us to confront those who disagree with us. If you want to see
people at their worst, press them on the details of complex
political issues that correspond to political identity. But such
instances of irrationality need not cloud our view of the
rational foundations of our everyday life.
underlies much of what matters in the world. We can use reason
to invent procedures that undermine our explicit and implicit
biases. This is how moral progress happens.
AR This is elegant but hardly fatal
to Sam's views.
2014 February 20
My Amazon review
This bloodbath comedy reinvents the end
of the Third Reich in a slapstick assassination of the top Nazis
in a little cinematic holocaust planned and perpetrated by
American and French Jews. The trademark Tarantino gore is
splashed in abundance and the dextrous wit of the multilingual
screenplay is a joy to the ears. Christoph Waltz plays an
exuberantly garrulous "Jew hunter" SS colonel in a virtuoso
performance that holds the plot together with dazzling panache.
Brad Pitt by contrast looks out of place as a drawling hillbilly
US lieutenant leading an inglorious pack of Jewish
scalp-hunters. Still, with Tarantino chapter breaks and applied
graphics to put a modern gloss on what could easily have sunk
into another fictional war story, the production sings along
What worried me at the outset and
still worries me now two viewings later is that the moral
standpoint the movie as a whole represents is both well worn in
countless previous movies and philosophically inadequate to the
loathsomeness of the evil it reflects. The Nazis were beastly to
the Jews, so let a bunch of Jews be equally beastly to the
Nazis, and let them kill Hitler too, to end the war nine months
earlier and save the world, as it were. This is fine as a first
introduction to the issues for innocent youngsters, if there are
any left, who have not yet gone deeper. But brutality was not
the unique horror of the Nazi phenomenon, and ending the horror
show nine months earlier would have saved far more Germans, who
had collectively voted to stage the spectacle in the first
place, than Jews, who had suffered their worst attrition already
by then. Hypotheticals are anyway moot in history.
the unique horror of the Nazi phenomenon was its deep
intellectual roots in a culture that saw history in racist terms
and was prepared to suffer mightily to showcase its view in
historical fact. Some six million Germans were killed in the
war, in circumstances as hideous as those in which six million
Jews also died, and the Germans knew from 1943 at the latest
that their furious revolt against the rest of the world was
doomed to spectacularly bloody failure. But they did it anyway,
in an operatic celebration of the martial arts armed with the
latest high-tech weapons that may well stand as unparalleled in
history since the astonishing career of Alexander the Great in
antiquity. That the feat left the stench of genocide in its wake
is troubling, and nothing in Tarantino's movie helps us to
digest or reprocess that obstinate fact of history.
This replaces the review I posted in January.
2014 February 18
A simple ceremony and a woodlands burial, later this month.
2014 February 16
She selflessly did her best for me all my life. That's what mums
do. They do it for no other reason than love. Not for reward.
Not for recognition. They create you. From nothing. Miracle?
They do those every day.
My Mother Liz
1924-09-28 — 2014-02-16
"I chose to do it, OK?"
Unauthorized summary of
Caesar's Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus
Flavian Signature Edition
PDF: 10 pages, 131 KB
Severe flood warnings in force
as rain shows no signs of abating
The Grand Mufti
Amin al-Husaini, the Grand Mufti
of Palestine, close pal of Hitler, champion of Islamist radicalism, and
leader of the Palestinians until 1968, frequently said the Mideast
needed to get rid of its Jews, spent the war years in Berlin, met often
with Eichmann and Himmler, recruited for the SS in Bosnia, and opposed
the UN partition of Palestine in 1947, which led to the creation of
Israel. He still inspires those who dream of annihilating Israel and
establishing a purely Muslim Mideast cleansed of Jews and Christians.
Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia)
Norén (Sofia Helin)
2014 February 14
The imminent withdrawal from
Afghanistan is being hailed as the first moment when the UK has
not been at war since 1914. A strategic pause may ease budget
problems. The UK long ago ended its independent operational
capacity and is entirely dependent on the Americans. The
Pentagon has laid down three elements that a British government
must maintain: the Trident nuclear deterrent, the GCHQ
intelligence capacity, and special forces. The rest is optional.
AR The UK pays its dues for the
US strategic nuclear force and NSA surveillance and lets
Washington run the show. Now perhaps we can rebuild the old
country along new lines.
2014 February 13
People think they have control over what
they believe. But the popular sense of free will is primarily a
1P fact, not a 3P account of how human beings function. The
philosophical problem of free will arises from the fact that
most people feel that they author their own thoughts and
actions. The moment you show that a person's thoughts and
actions were determined by events that he did not and could not
see, feel, or anticipate, his 3P account of himself may remain
unchanged, but his 1P sense of autonomy comes under pressure.
Something in our moral
attitude changes when we catch sight of antecedent causes. A
person is unlucky to be given the genes and life experience that
doom him to psychopathy. That doesn't mean we can't lock him up.
We don't demand that mosquitoes and sharks behave better than
they do. We simply take steps to protect ourselves from them.
The same futility prevails with certain people.
AR This is in response to Dan
Dennett (blog Jan 28).
2014 February 12
Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld
In America today, some
groups are more upwardly mobile than others. Indian-Americans
earn almost double the national figure. Mormons have become
leaders of corporate America. Jews make up only about 2% of the
US adult population but account for a third of the current
Supreme Court and about a third of US Nobel laureates.
The most successful groups in America today share three traits:
1 A superiority complex. Mormons
see their group as an island of morality in a sea of moral
decay. Many Iranians refer to a Persian superiority complex.
Most Jewish children hear that Jews are the chosen people, a
moral people, a people of law and intellect, a people of
2 A sense of
insecurity. Immigrant kids frequently feel motivated to achieve
because of an acute sense of obligation to redeem parental
sacrifices. Chinese immigrant parents frequently impose
exorbitant academic expectations on their children.
3 Impulse control. This runs against
the grain of contemporary culture, but every one of the most
successful groups inculcates habits of discipline from a very
The three qualities are open to anyone. The
way to develop this package of qualities is through grit. It
requires the ability to work hard, to persevere, and to overcome
The United States was born a Triple Package
nation. But by 2000, all that remained was a culture of
entitlement and instant gratification. The trials of recent
years have been good for America.
The Triple Package looks at eight groups and uses financial
metrics as indicators of success. Chua and Rubenfeld say all
eight groups share the three traits essential for success.
Kindness, creativity, and happiness may not be as easy to
measure as household income, but it's sad to see "success"
defined so narrowly.
2014 February 11
UK R&D Spend 5x More For WMD Than Renewable Energy
We at Scientists for Global
Responsibility have compared recent R&D spending by the UK
government on major weapons systems with public R&D spending on
measures to tackle major drivers of armed conflict, such as
resource depletion, social and economic injustice, and climate
During the three financial years spanning 2008 to
2011, annual R&D spending on all aspects of UK nuclear weapons
systems was over £320 million per year. In the same years,
annual British public R&D spending on renewable energy was only
Comparing total public
spending on military R&D with that on work for sustainable
security (international development and poverty alleviation,
climate change impacts, sustainable energy technologies, food
security, international relations, natural resource management,
biodiversity, environmental risks and hazards, sustainable
consumption, and other measures to mitigate and adapt to climate
change), we found that on average during 2008 to 2011, the UK
spent nearly £1.8 billion a year on military R&D, while for
sustainable security research it spent less than £1 billion.
The huge UK R&D spend on nuclear weapons is particularly
bizarre. Detonating half the nuclear missiles carried by a
Trident submarine could disrupt the climate so badly through the
injection of smoke into the stratosphere that about 2 billion
people would be threatened by famine due to crop failure.
Against a backdrop of growing political instability driven
by climate change, the imperative should be global abolition of
nuclear weapons as soon as possible. Yet the UK spends much more
to maintain the nuclear threat than it does for the tools to
tackle climate change.
UK nuclear deterrent policy was forged in the cold war and has
never been properly reconsidered since then. No plausible
security nightmare warrants an independent British capability to
obliterate a score of cities worldwide in nuclear firestorms within minutes. Only
desire for solidarity with the United States and for parity with
France dictates such madness.
It is time for UK decision
makers to wake up and reflect on (a) what image and heritage the UK should
seek to project and leave for posterity in a rapidly growing and civilizing world and (b) how they
can defend squandering scarce resources on weapons that no
rational person would wish to use.
defense versus civil welfare bankrupted the
former Soviet Union. Overspending on UK defense now impoverishes
British citizens who must suffer substandard healthcare and
education plus a vainglorious public obsession with
"punching above our weight" — compare a person
esteems his muscles and his handgun more than his civil skills
2014 February 10
The Oldest Star
Astronomers at the Australian
National University have found the oldest known star in the
universe. The star SMSS J 031300.36-670839.3 is only 60 Em away
from us in the Milky Way and is roughly 13.6 billion years old.
The Big Bang occurred some 13.8 billion years ago.
star is thought to have been formed in the wake of a primordial
supernova. Key to determining its age was an analysis of its
iron content. Lead researcher Stefan Keller: "It's giving us
insight into our fundamental place in the universe. What we're
seeing is the origin of where all the material around us that we
need to survive came from."
So close and yet so old — glory be!
2014 February 8
The Second Thirty Years War
The years between 1914 and 1945 formed
one long war. Germany lost two million soldiers in Part I and
more than double that in Part II. Conversely, more than twice as
many Britons and four times as many Frenchmen died on the
battlefields of Part I than in Part II. The long war killed 70
For most of Part I, the Germans were
tactically superior to their opponents. In 1917 France was on
the verge of collapse. The United States turned the tide. By
August 1918, some 1.3 million men had been shipped from the
United States to Europe. When in September the Allies penetrated
the Siegfried Line, the war was lost. General Erich Ludendorff
asked the Kaiser to approve cease-fire negotiations.
Under the Treaty of Versailles, Germany was forced to concede
that it was solely responsible for the war. The United States
became noninterventionist, Germany was defeated, Britain was in
debt to the United States, and France was no longer a major
military power. The peace ignited a desire among Germans for
For the war veteran Adolf Hitler, the dream of
exacting revenge became an obsession. He rose by angrily
declaiming the "shameful and humiliating" Treaty of Versailles
in his speeches. The German economy struggled with depression
for years, until Germans voted for the Third Reich. In 1940
German troops defeated France in six weeks. It was the desired
victory, but for Hitler it was merely the start of a much wider
war of conquest.
In 1945, the victorious Western Allies
chose generosity. Germans who lived in the Western occupation
zones benefited from a reconstruction funded by the Marshall
Plan. Those trapped in the eastern part of Germany bore a
heavier burden for another 44 years, until reunification. The
nation that had twice plunged the continent into war was now a
model democracy and a force for European integration.
Ironically, as Niall Ferguson pointed out, the burden Germany
took on for European integration roughly matches that imposed on
the country by the Treaty of Versailles. Altogether, Germany
paid about as many billions to the rest of Europe between 1958
and 1992 as it had earlier in war reparations.
2014 February 7
Toward a Science of Morality
A critique by Andy Ross
PDF: 2 pages, 51 KB
People with schizophrenia often have to
agree to take antipsychotic drugs for the rest of their lives.
We now know these may do little to aid recovery while trapping
people in a mental miasma that ruins their chances of living a
normal life. Adding to the cruelty, people with serious mental
health problems are often denied adequate healthcare for
physical illnesses because their symptoms are assumed to be
delusional. Recent research suggests that people weaned off
antipsychotics are much more likely to live productive lives.
insight at its best
2014 February 6
I hereby plead guilty to a selective,
provocative slant on the region. Everything I said on the grim
truth behind the "Scandinavian miracle" was true, and backed up
by the OECD, the IMF, and the UN. In my book, I reflect on the
many positive aspects of the Nordic societies. Nearly all the
negative views originated with the many local experts I
interviewed during my years of research.
Put it to a
referendum and the Danes would always vote for the system we
have versus, say, the US one. There are nuances in British
culture that don't resonate here. Class matters a lot in
Britain. Denmark is a more homogenous society. We stick
together. There is a greater sense of community. Sure, we Danes
are very happy.
We Finns have a
great sense of humor. We may not be big talkers, but if a Finn
likes you he will eventually open up. How do you tell the
difference between a Finnish introvert and a Finnish extrovert?
One looks at his own feet when he's talking to you, the other
will looks at yours.
On all lists
measuring quality of life, the Nordics tower over the UK.
Iceland's eternal post-colonial project is guarding our
sovereignty. But Iceland isn't really Nordic. Just look at the
map. We are an Atlantic state. Culturally we are spot-on
British. Even our black and dry Icelandic humor is horribly
In the global
economy, it is almost impossible to maintain fully social
democratic policies, but the newly elected rightwing government
is launching deliberate attacks on collective and sustainable
solutions. None of these challenges to Norwegian society, or the
resistance to them, is mentioned by Booth. Yet the country
remains a good place to live.
seeks to balance the deep existential desire for individual
freedom and social cohesion. The state promotes laws and
policies that have freed individuals from unequal and
patriarchal forms of community. But Swedes are currently no more
successful in handling the conflict between rights of citizens
and human rights than anyone else.
2014 February 5
The Military Balance 2014
Institute for Strategic Studies
Asian defense budgets
rose again. Defense budgets in the West continued to contract.
Defense spending is shrinking in European countries when the
reorientation of US defense policy toward the Asia-Pacific
places a greater share of the international security burden on
NATO allies have made progress
on interoperability. This will be difficult to maintain in the
face of decreasing spending and following the 2014 ISAF
drawdown. The NATO agenda now includes ballistic missile
defense, cyber security, and out-of-area maritime security
Missile defense remains a key priority area for
states in the Mideast. Gulf states such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia,
and the UAE have bought, or are buying, the most advanced
Western missile and air-defense and strike systems, including
standoff air-launched munitions.
Asian defense spending
in 2013 was 11.6% higher in real terms than in 2010. China,
Japan, and South Korea accounted for more than half of all the
real increases in Asian defense spending in 2013. Asia lacks
security mechanisms that could defuse regional crises.
AR The UK should press for more NATO
2014 February 4
MIT Technology Review
The UK has a large stockpile of
plutonium. The UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA)
planned to mix it with uranium to form mixed oxide ceramic (MOX)
fuel for a nuclear power plant, but the project was too
technically challenging and put on hold. Now the authority says
the GE Hitachi Power Reactor Innovative Small Module (PRISM)
provides a credible alternative. PRISM is small and modular
enough for key parts to be made in factories, speeding
construction and reducing costs, and it features good passive
safety. The reactor could burn not just plutonium but all
hazardous nuclear waste, to generate low-carbon electricity at
prices competitive with other nuclear reactors.
AR Memo to NDA: Go for PRISM.
Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahir is exasperated
with the ISIS group fighting in Syria and blames it for "the
enormity of the disaster that afflicted the Jihad in Syria".
When ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi said ISIS was absorbing
the al-Nusra Front, both al-Nusra and Zawahiri rejected the bid.
Between 40 000 and 50 000 jihadists in the new Islamic Front are
clashing with ISIS. Zawahiri: "Our hearts are bleeding, the
heart of our Islamic nation is bleeding when we see the internal
strife among the mujahedeen in Syria." Baghdadi demanded that
his opponents "repent or suffer consequences".
AR Let Baghdadi crush Zawahiri and
let Iran back Assad. Then let Turks and Persians vie to rule the
Arabs, who seem unable to rule themselves.
The American Philosophical
Association Committee on the Status of Women reports sexual
misconduct and a female-unfriendly environment of sexual
harassment in the University of Colorado Boulder department
of philosophy. Its report cites 15 official complaints of
harassment and inappropriate sexualized professional behavior at
alcohol-soaked extracurricular activities as well as divisive
and bullying behavior to members of various underrepresented
groups. Chair Graeme Forbes has been ousted and replaced by a
faculty member from linguistics, and recruitment and admission
of new graduate students has been halted until 2015.
AR I studied with Graeme at grad
school in Oxford. Our research supervisor pushed Graeme into a
career and left me cold, apparently because my ideas were still
2014 February 3
UK defense secretary Philip Hammond has
told his junior ministers to lobby shipbuilding unions after the
ministers said that parliamentary support for the £80 billion
Trident renewal program was waning.
The huge cost of
building four new submarines for SLBM CASD has led MPs in
Westminster to question whether at a time of austerity the UK
can afford such "wildly paranoid cold war madness" (AR).
Former Tory defense minister James Arbuthnot, now chair of
the defense select committee: "Nuclear deterrence does not
provide the certainty that it seemed to in the past. It's not an
insurance policy, it's a potential booby trap."
2014 February 2
The Bridge stars detectives Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia) and
Saga Norén (Sofia Helin), a Dane and a Swede, in a Scandinavian
crime drama set in Malmö and Copenhagen (between which runs the
Öresund or Øresund Bridge — see below).
Belatedly I watched the last
4 hours of the second 10-hour series and loved it. The
heroine Saga displays the symptoms of Asperger's syndrome and was a treat to see in action, racing
around in her combat duds and her scruffy old Porsche. Ah, to be
in Scandinavia now that wisdom's here!
2014 February 1
The average age at which current United
States retirees say they stopped working is 61, up from 59 in
2003 and 57 in 1993. But a January Gallup poll of baby boomers
found that 49% didn't expect to retire until age 66 or older.
Many cited financial concerns as the main reason they aren't
Financial experts warn that baby
boomers, who are often caring for ailing parents and supporting
their fiscally challenged children while trying to navigate
their own lives, are in over their heads. Aside from money
worries, many baby boomers continue working because they want
to, and because they can.
I need to earn more, and I can.
Soerfm (Creative Commons)
Öresund or Øresund Bridge between Malmö in Sweden and
Copenhagen in Denmark:
I have driven across this bridge at least four
Sierra Nevada Corp.
Astronauts' sweet new
Sierra Nevada Corporation
pencils Dream Chaser first
orbital flight — 2016-11-01
Now it gets tricky
"There is no such uncertainty
as a sure thing."
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit
Curious thriller with
a financial meltdown
plot set in Russia.
But well made.
Of Wall Street
Official trailer (2:14)
amusing movie, but
is amazingly good.
Another text almost ready
join the corpus
Rosetta and its comet lander
Rosetta was 18 minutes late
phoning home Monday. The
on-board alarm clock went off at 1000 GMT as
planned, but instead of waking up, the craft woke fully only after a
second reboot. ESA says the problem won't affect the rest of the
2014 January 31
Adult cells can be made to turn into
any type of body tissue just by tweaking their environment.
Harvard Medical School team co-lead Charles Vacanti: "The
implication is that you can very easily, from a drop of blood
and simple techniques, create a perfect identical twin."
Vacanti and team rewound adult cells by stressing them. They
took lymphocytes from 7-day-old mice and exposed them to an
acidic environment (pH 5.7) for 30 minutes. When they grew the
cells in the lab, by day 7 two-thirds of the surviving cells
showed genetic markers of pluripotency. They call the new cells
"stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency" (STAP) cells.
The team injected the STAP cells into a blastocyst (an
early-stage mouse embryo). The embryos developed into pups with
the STAP cells in every tissue in their body. The pups later had
offspring with STAP cells too. The team also injected STAP cells
into an adult mouse to form a teratoma (a type of embryonic
tumor) and found the acid-bath technique worked on brain, skin,
muscle, fat, bone marrow, lung, and liver tissues from 7-day-old
mice. And the team put STAP cells together with growth factors
to form STAP stem cells, which they injected into a very early
embryo and implanted into a mouse, where the cells grew with the
Vacanti: "We can use the technology that we have
demonstrated today and come up with ways to perfuse tissues with
healthy cells. That way we can boost function and transform it
from a failing organ to an organ which will survive."
2014 January 30
Coriolanus by William Shakespeare
National Theatre Live,
Tower Park, Poole
The Great Catastrophe
The Great War broke out in the summer of
1914. The Concert of Europe had been established a hundred years
earlier. New alliances undermined the concert and crises
hardened them. By 1913 the major powers were staring into an
July 1914 saw a unique concatenation of events.
All imagined war would be limited and short, but all swiftly
accepted the dictates of total war. The war left 16 million
killed and 20 million wounded. Few in July 1914 could have
Biggest Error In Modern History
Britain could have lived with a German
victory in 1914. If Britain had not gone to war in 1914, it
would still have had the option to intervene later.
Creating an army more or less
from scratch and then sending it into combat against the Germans
was a recipe for disastrous losses. And if one asks whether this
was the best way for Britain to deal with the challenge posed by
imperial Germany, my answer is no.
Even if Germany had
defeated France and Russia, it would have had a pretty massive
challenge on its hands trying to run the new German-dominated
Europe and would have remained significantly weaker than the
British empire in naval and financial terms. Given the resources
that Britain had available in 1914, a better strategy would have
been to wait and deal with the German challenge later.
The cost of the first world war to Britain was catastrophic, and
it left the British empire at the end of it all in a much
weakened state. It had accumulated a vast debt, the cost of
which really limited Britain's military capability throughout
the interwar period. Then there was the manpower loss.
Arguments about honor resonate today as they resonated in 1914,
but we should think of this as the biggest error in modern
AR I agree: Britain
and Germany could have been the team of the century.
2014 January 29
Sir Iain Lobban will stand down in November after more than six years
as head of GCHQ. The Snowden revelations led to GCHQ being
accused of mounting mass surveillance. But intelligence
professionals say they show that under Sir Iain's leadership the
listening post has punched above its weight and helped thwart
hundreds of terrorist plots by tracking covert communications
across the web.
GCHQ surveillance programs are probably
illegal and breach European human rights and privacy laws,
according to a parliamentary legal opinion. RIPA 2000 sanctions
GCHQ activity but has been left behind by advances in
technology. The opinion says GCHQ staff are potentially able "to
commit serious crime with impunity" and proposes that the UK
clarify what the data may be used for under British law.
The Shock Of The Fall
A novel by Nathan Filer
Costa Book of the Year 2013
Nathan Filer's debut novel
The Shock Of The Fall has earned
high praise from comedian and former nurse Jo Brand, who said it
was the best fiction about mental illness she had ever read.
Nathan Filer won the 2013 Costa book
award for a moving account of schizophrenia and grief. Filer,
33, has worked in psychiatric wards for more than a decade. He
now lectures in creative writing at Bath Spa University. Last
year a fierce bidding war left publisher HarperCollins
with the novel in a 6-figure deal. Novelist Rose Tremain: "For a
first novel it is astonishingly sure-footed ... It is about grief
and this is a subject we all have experience of. It is grief
analyzed but treated absolutely without sentimentality."
"It feels very nice indeed. I'm delighted.
I wrote this book because I wanted to share it, not for myself.
I always wanted people to read it and winning this prize means I
know this will happen more and more."
2014 January 28
Daniel C. Dennett
Harris wants to persuade us all to abandon the idea of free
will. He says the idea is a major obstacle to social reform. His
main objection is that what everyday folk mean by free will is
demonstrably preposterous and he thinks "free will" has to be
given that incoherent sense.
Harris: "It may seem
paradoxical to hold people responsible for what happens in their
corner of the universe, but once we break the spell of free
will, we can do this precisely to the degree that it is useful.
Where people can change, we can demand that they do so. Where
change is impossible, or unresponsive to demands, we can chart
some other course."
Harris is the author of
book. He is responsible for its virtues and its vices. But
then we can hold Harris at least partly responsible for his
character, since it too is a product — with help from others —
of his earlier efforts. He can't take credit for the luck of his
birth or education, but those born thus lucky are informed that
they have a duty or obligation to preserve their competence, and
grow it, and educate themselves, and Harris has responded
admirably. He can take credit for that.
Harris: "But a
neurological disorder appears to be just a special case of
physical events giving rise to thoughts and actions.
Understanding the neurophysiology of the brain, therefore, would
seem to be as exculpatory as finding a tumor in it."
Harris says there is no morally relevant difference between the
raving psychopath and us. We have no more free will than he
does. Well, we have more something than he does, and it looks
very much like what everyday folks often call free will.
AR Dan is grooming Sam for a bright
future in philosophy.
2014 January 27
Leaky Black Holes?
Stephen Hawking says black holes may
not have event horizons. An event horizon is the boundary of a
black hole, where gravity is just strong enough to drag light
back and prevent it escaping. Now Hawking suggests that apparent
horizons would only hold light and information temporarily
before releasing them back into space in garbled form. So black
holes do not have an event horizon to catch fire.
paradox formulated by Joseph Polchinski and others concerns the
fate of an astronaut who fell into a black hole. The astronaut
would hit a wall of fire at the event horizon and burn to death
in an instant. But if there are no event horizons, there are no
black holes from which light cannot escape. Quantum theory lets
energy and information escape from a black hole.
Information Preservation and Weather Forecasting for Black Holes
Firewalls around black holes would break the
CPT invariance of quantum gravity. My proposal that
gravitational collapse produces apparent horizons but not event
horizons that lose information is supported by ADS-CFT and is
the only resolution of the paradox compatible with CPT. The
collapse to form a black hole will in general be chaotic and
information will effectively be lost, but not unitarity.
Osama Bin Laden
Bin Laden looked forward to the
establishment of an Islamic caliphate. From his last known
private letter, dated April 25, 2011: "What we are witnessing
these days of consecutive revolutions is a great and glorious
event ... thanks to Allah things are strongly heading toward the
exit of Muslims from being under the control of America."
Bin Laden had unique strategy for using the United States to
reshape the Mideast in a way that would undermine the Arab
regimes the jihadists sought to overthrow. He saw that while the
jihadist movement was far too weak to overthrow the Arab regimes
directly, the "far enemy" was strong enough to make the ground
shift beneath the feet of Arab rulers.
Following the 9/11
attacks, Bin Laden said: "The goal is to weaken America until it can no
longer interfere in Muslims affairs. Once the American enemy has
been defeated, our next step would be targeting the region's
leaders who had been the pillars of support for that American
Sunni Versus Shiite
The Mideast is taking shape along
religious lines. The House of Saud and the Ayatollahs in Iran
are fighting each other in a war between Sunnis and Shiites.
The Syrian civil war is a confrontation inflamed by
religious sectarianism. The Shia militia of Hezbollah were sent
by their masters in Iran to fight on the side of Bashar
al-Assad. Across Europe and the Mideast, many thousands of young
men listened to the call of religious leaders who declared that
Hezbollah is not the army of God but the army of Satan.
The region as a whole has started to fall into a maelstrom. In
Iraq, Fallujah fell back under jihadi control under the black
flag of al Qaeda. Some Syrian cities are also now under al Qaeda
control. The Saudis are now supporting groups as close to al
Qaeda as to make little difference.
The result may be
like what Europe went through 400 years ago, when Protestant and
Catholic states battled it out. This is a conflict that will
2014 January 26
The issue of religious extremism is an
issue about religion as well as politics. We need to go to the
roots of where a false view of religion is being promulgated and
to make it a major item on the agenda of world leaders to
combine effectively to combat it. This is a struggle that is
only just beginning.
All over the Mideast region and including in
Iraq, where sectarianism threatens the right of the people to a
democratic future, such a campaign has to be actively engaged.
It is one reason why the Mideast matters so much and why any
attempt to disengage is so wrong and short-sighted.
AR On this issue I back Blair.
2014 January 25
Type Ia supernova SN2014J is only 11.4
million light-years from Earth. A group at the University of
London Observatory discovered it by accident:
Steve Fossey: "The weather was closing in, with increasing
cloud. So instead of the planned practical astronomy class, I
gave the students an introductory demonstration of how to use
the CCD camera on one of the observatory's automated 0.35 meter
Student Tom Wright: "One minute we're eating
pizza, then five minutes later we've helped to discover a
supernova. I couldn't believe it."
President Bashar al-Assad is more
powerful today than he was 15 months ago. His Baathist machine
remains the only stable feature in Syria. Despite the carnage,
daily life in Damascus largely continues as before. There have
been no major defections, and the Syrian Arab Army continues to
pledge its allegiance to al-Assad.
tethered to its policy goal of removing al-Assad from power. But
the opposition that hopes to wrest power from al-Assad does not
have a significant constituency in Syria. Much of the territory
outside the government's control is held by groups linked to al
2014 January 24
Searching For U
Bill Wootters says we can make
quantum mechanics work with real numbers, but only if we use a
universal bit U that interacts with everything else.
root i of minus 1 lets us define 2D complex numbers with both
real and imaginary components. In quantum theory, a thing like
both a particle and a wave is represented by a wave function
that describes it using complex numbers coding probabilities.
The wave function collapses into a real number when you make a
measurement. Squaring the wave function gives a real
probability. Something is lost in the measurement.
Quantum information theory uses qubits. Wootters and his
colleagues replaced qubits with real-number equivalents, plus U
as a master bit. U is represented by a vector in a 2D plane and
replaces all the complex numbers in quantum theory. U makes even
an isolated quantum system decohere in a way not predicted by
standard quantum theory. In conventional quantum mechanics,
entanglement is limited to two objects. In the new formulation,
U entangles with everything.
Real-Vector-Space Quantum Theory with a Universal Quantum Bit
We replace the complex phase appearing in quantum states by
a single binary object, the ubit. We recover ordinary quantum
theory from this model by restricting Stückelberg's rule. We
obtain a family of modifications of standard quantum theory with
the parameter ratio s/omega, where s quantifies the strength of
the ubit's interaction with the rest of the world and omega is
the ubit's rotation rate. The parameter governs spontaneous
decoherence of isolated systems.
Information Transfer and Real-Vector-Space Quantum Theory
Born's rule for computing quantum
probabilities maximizes mutual information relative to other
conceivable probability rules when modeled with a real state
space but not with the full set of complex states. This result
generalizes to higher dimensional Hilbert spaces.
AR Years ago I thought seeking to
replace complex numbers with real ones in quantum theory was
just a game for philosophers (such as David Albert). Now I sense
serious potential advantages.
2014 January 23
Kazakh mathematician Mukhtarbay
Otelbayev says he has proved the Navier-Stokes existence and
smoothness problem. The Navier-Stokes equations are used to
model fluids but may not always have solutions. Otelbayev says
he worked on the problem on and off for 30 years. He writes in
Russian, so the international mathematical community is having
difficulty evaluating his proof. The Clay Mathematics Institute
has offered $1 million to anyone who could prove the problem.
Existence and Smoothness of the Navier-Stokes
Charles L. Fefferman
2014 January 22
Depression + Anxiety x Madness = Genius?
William Lee Adams
Edvard Munch, who died 70 years ago
today, created his masterpiece "The Scream" after a sinister
vision: "The sun began to set. Suddenly the sky turned blood
red. I stood there trembling with anxiety, and I sensed an
endless scream passing through nature."
Simon Kyaga and a
team of researchers in Sweden used a registry of psychiatric
patients to track nearly 1.2 million Swedes and their relatives.
The patients had conditions ranging from schizophrenia and
depression to ADHD and anxiety. They found that people working
in creative fields were 8% more likely to live with bipolar
disorder. Writers were 121% more likely to suffer from the
condition, and nearly 50% more likely to commit suicide than the
general population. And people in creative professions were more
likely to have relatives with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder,
anorexia, and autism.
Last year neuroscientist Andreas
Fink and his team in Austria published a study comparing the
brains of creative people and people living with schizotypy, a
milder form of schizophrenia without delusions or disconnection
from reality. The team used functional magnetic resonance
imaging and found that among those high in schizotypy
and those who scored highest on originality, the right precuneus
kept firing during idea generation. Normally this region
deactivates during a complex task.
Scott Barry Kaufman: "It seems that the key to creative
cognition is opening up the flood gates and letting in as much
information as possible ... sometimes the most bizarre
associations can turn into the most productively creative
2014 January 21
Those in the Conservative Party who
want to leave the EU demand a referendum. The point of a
referendum is to get what they want. But:
1 No one is going to buy British
products that do not meet international standards. If the UK
wants to be at the table when the standards are set it has to
belong to the EU.
2 From the
point of view of realpolitik, a permanent coalition of European
states to which we did not belong is the nightmare of British
policymakers through all the ages.
Together, the EU and NATO are the most successful collaboration
among sovereign states ever achieved. Altruism and self-interest
tell us to remain.
Much in the EU needs to be fixed. With
28 sovereign states at the table, that will be a slow and clumsy
process. Working with others for a program of reform makes
sense. A referendum makes none.
Selling Medical Data
Drug and insurance companies will from
later this year be able to buy detailed NHS England medical data
on patients from a single central database.
for everyone in England will be harvested from NHS records and
uploaded to a central repository. The data will include NHS
numbers, date of birth, postcode, ethnicity, and gender.
Citizens will have no say in who sees their data or how it is
Organizations such as university research labs,
insurers, and drug companies will apply to
access the care.data database of "pseudonymised" data (scrubbed
of some personal identifiers but not completely anonymous).
HSCIC public assurance director Mark Davies said there was a
"small risk" buyers could re-identify patients by matching the
scrubbed records against their own medical data. HSCIC will not
discriminate between applicants in access requests.
England said a key aim of care.data was to "drive economic
growth by making England the default location for world-class
health services research".
Making money by selling intimate access — there's a name for
that. Worse, if the NHS dies, private insurers will doubtless
discriminate in whom they insure.
2014 January 20
A heterarchy is multiplicity of
overlapping, interacting, connecting, and networking structures.
The World Economic Forum evidently sees the new world order
thus. The 2014 Davos strap line:
The Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics
2014 January 19
Britain today: at the bottom, a world of
food banks, payday lending, and quiet desperation; and at the
top, an extravagantly paid elite. Social ills ranging from
obesity to depression become ever more entrenched. Yet this same
inequality creates a fragile, enterprise-averse banking system,
an escalating credit boom, overpriced homes, and a
low-investment, low-innovation economy. Inequality is also
behind extra public spending: on housing benefit, policing,
care, and remedial interventions.
Societies as unequal as
Britain's are profoundly dysfunctional. Inequality must be
tackled head on.
Ross salutes the flag of
freedom from his vantage on the V-cone.
The Northrop Grumman RQ-180 is the
new USAF UAS. Unlike Global Hawk or Reaper, it is designed to penetrate
denied airspace with unprecedented persistence. With an estimated
wingspan of 40 m, the craft is a step toward the USAF
Ran the beach today during
a raging storm. A hailstorm soaked my backside, then a sandstorm blasted
my front, but at last came blue sky.
The cone is not the answer.
2014 January 16
2014 January 15
There are no real boundaries between
science and philosophy. When you are adhering to the highest
standards of logic and evidence, you are thinking
scientifically. Consciousness may always seem like a miracle. In
philosophical circles, this is known as the hard problem of
consciousness. Should consciousness prove conceptually
irreducible, remaining the mysterious ground for all we can
conceivably experience or value, the rest of the scientific
worldview would remain intact.
2014 January 14
A Japanese supercomputer with 705 024 processor
cores and 1.4 PB of memory has simulated 1 s of human brain activity in
The project was run by the Japanese research group RIKEN, the
Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University, and
Forschungszentrum Jülich in Germany, and was the largest neuronet simulation
to date. It used the open-source Neural Simulation Technology (NEST) tool to
replicate a network consisting of 1.73 billion nerve cells connected by 10.4
trillion synapses, representing 1% of the human brain.
the whole brain at the level of the individual nerve cell and its synapses
will be possible with exascale computers, perhaps within the next decade.
2014 January 13
The gap between the richest and poorest
Americans is growing wider. The top 10% took in more than half of all income
in 2012, the highest share since the data series started. Yet the United
States has among the highest child poverty rates of any developed economy.
My personal vision is of a renewed America that cares. The care paradigm
starts from the premise that human beings cannot survive alone. Our progress
as a species flows from our identity as social animals. Caring is part and
parcel of building community.
An America that puts an equal emphasis
on care and competition would be a very different place. We would build a
social infrastructure that allows people to care for one another, in the
same way we provide the basic physical infrastructure that allows them to
The pursuit of happiness is the most personal of American
founding values. Happiness can certainly be achieved through individual
achievement, through winning the competition. But it is equally reached
through a web of of connectedness and care.
2014 January 12
Nietzsche and the Third Reich
David B. Dennis
The Nazis used culture to define and promote
their broadest ambitions. Their claim on Friedrich Nietzsche shows how
culture became entwined with politics and war in Nazi propaganda. Their
newspaper, the Völkischer Beobachter, made his ideas appear to coordinate
Nietzsche rejected nineteenth-century nationalism: "Nationalism as
it is understood today is a dogma that requires limitation." But he said of
himself: "I am perhaps more German than the Germans of today." And he valued
the "earnest, manly, stern, and daring German spirit".
The VB said
Nietzsche "hated and fought every form of democracy, both political and
spiritual" and considered the rule of the humble to be a blow against life
itself. He set forth an outlook that “handled contemporary things harshly
and tyrannically” in the interest of the future.
identity under the Nazis did not merely justify anti-Semitism or policies of
extermination, it led to them. Hitler's racist ideas were grounded in
cultural terms. Yet Nietzsche was no anti-Semite, and had criticized the
anti-Semitic views of Richard Wagner and others.
According to the
VB, Nietzsche often said struggle rules throughout nature and that life
itself is an outcome of war. In the words of Nietzsche's Zarathustra: "And
if ye will not be fates and inexorable ones, how can ye one day — conquer
with me? ... For the creators are tough."
2014 January 11
Anglo-Jewry had a very distinguished past. We were
in demographic decline for forty years, but now we've turned that around.
Judaism has enormous gifts to offer: strong sense of community, supportive
families, a dedicated approach to education. We do well with our children.
We are great givers. The best way to contribute to humanity as a whole is to
be strong in your own traditions.
A European Union report in November
2013 showed that three-quarters of the Jews interviewed throughout Europe
were of the view that anti-Semitism has increased in the past few years.
There are worries about the state of the European economy, and people turn
to somebody to blame. Jews have always been blamed. It should concern the
European political leadership very seriously.
The transformation of
Jewish-Catholic relations has been one of the real signs of hope in my
lifetime. It shows that you can heal wounds that may have existed for
centuries. I am a firm admirer of the Catholic church and its leadership for
having done so. Jews have always believed that you don't have to be Jewish
to win salvation. That's an important doctrine in an age of religious
2014 January 10
With an estimated lifetime cost of GBP
20 000 000 000, the proposed renewal of the British strategic nuclear SLBM
deterrent based on American Trident missiles may seem like a waste of money.
But it is not, given just one simple premise.
If we wish to retain a
military alliance between the UK and the USA that binds closer than the NATO
alliance, a renewed Trident commitment is the natural way to do so. In the —
hopefully unlikely — eventuality that British voters elect to leave the
European Union, and that the EU then develops in a more federalist direction,
which may even invite comparisons with the former USSR, tensions between the
member states of NATO could neutralize it as an effective military alliance
in a conceivable future scenario where EU quiescence in face of Russian military power seems
In that nightmare fantasy scenario, a tight UK-USA
alliance could shield Anglo-American interests from nuclear blackmail.
British participation in the Trident deterrent would thus insure the UK
shame of subjection to an evil EUSSR empire.
Lake Naval Air Warfare Range Tour
2014 January 9
Iraq and Afghanistan
Robert M. Gates
President George W. Bush always detested the
notion, but I believe our later challenges in Afghanistan were significantly
compounded by the invasion of Iraq. I hoped we could stabilize Iraq so that
when US forces departed, the war wouldn't be viewed as a strategic defeat
for the United States or a failure with global consequences. In Afghanistan,
I sought an Afghan government and army strong enough to prevent the Taliban
from returning to power and al Qaeda from returning to use the country again
as a launch pad for terror.
President Barack Obama simply wanted to
end the "bad" war in Iraq and limit the US role in the "good" war in
Afghanistan. Bush was willing to disagree with his senior military advisers,
but he never (to my knowledge) questioned their motives or mistrusted them
personally. Obama was respectful of senior officers and always heard them
out, but he often disagreed with them and was deeply suspicious of their
actions and recommendations.
In recent decades, presidents confronted
with tough problems abroad have too often been too quick to reach for a gun.
Our foreign and national security policy has become too militarized, the use
of force too easy for presidents. There are limits to what even the
strongest and greatest nation on Earth can do.
2014 January 8
More live images of the Aurora Borealis from a darkened aircraft
circling over Norway.
Former US defense secretary Robert M. Gates was a
Republican holdover from the George W. Bush administration who served for
two years under President Barack Obama. In his new memoir, Gates praises
Obama as a rigorous thinker who frequently made decisions "opposed by his
political advisers or that would be unpopular with his fellow Democrats."
Gates recalls that at a White House meeting in March 2011 called to
discuss the withdrawal timetable, Obama opened by expressing doubts about
General David H. Petraeus and questioning whether he could do business with
Afghan president Hamid Karzai. Gates: "As I sat there, I thought: The
president doesn't trust his commander, can't stand Karzai, doesn't believe
in his own strategy and doesn't consider the war to be his. For him, it's
all about getting out."
Gates writes that Obama's White House staff
"took micromanagement and operational meddling to a new level" and says of
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr: "I think he has been wrong on nearly
every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four
decades." Altogether, Gates writes: "I was deeply uneasy with the Obama
White House's lack of appreciation — from the top down — of the
uncertainties and unpredictability of war."
Gates holds the George W.
Bush administration responsible for misguided policy that squandered the
early victories in Afghanistan and Iraq. He began public service as a USAF
AR I always had
great respect for Gates' professionalism and competence.
2014 January 7
Wonderful live images of the Aurora Borealis from Tromsø, Norway. Wow —
bright green and lively.
The Conservative economic plan builds a stronger, more competitive economy and
secures a better future for Britain by:
deficit so we deal with our debts, safeguard our economy for the long term
and keep mortgage rates low
● Cutting income taxes and freezing fuel
duty to help hardworking people feel more financially secure
more jobs by backing small business and enterprise with better
lower jobs taxes
● Capping welfare and reducing
immigration so our economy delivers for people who want to
work hard and
play by the rules
Delivering the best schools and skills for young
people so the next generation can succeed
in the global race
is working. For the first time in a long while, there's a real sense that
Britain is on the rise. But it's far too soon to say job done — it's not
even half done.
AR This much austerity
seems callous, but it just might work.
2014 January 6
The National Association of Evangelicals was
founded in St Louis in 1942. NAE members sought to establish that "the
Christian world-life view ... explains reality and life more logically and
comprehensively than do modern alternatives" (in the words of Carl Henry,
following Gordon Clark).
In Apostles of
Reason, Molly Worthen defines modern American evangelicalism by a crisis
of authority: "how to reconcile faith and reason; how to know Jesus; and how
to act publicly on faith after the rupture of Christendom." She recounts
their evangelical Weltanschauung: "They intoned it whenever they wrote of
the decline of Christendom, the decoupling of faith and reason, and the
needful pinprick of the gospel in every corner of thought and action."
A Secular Age, Charles Taylor argued that the Reformation laid the
groundwork for secularization. NAE members were naive to think they could
simply formulate a worldview, as if it were a matter of choice, but they
recognized that the default options for understanding lived experience had
changed. As Taylor argues, it is not the same thing to be a Christian in the
21st century as it was to be a Christian in 1500.
A consequence of
this shift is that atheists reach for rather gross error theories to explain
religious belief, and we are subjected to ignorant books by the likes of
Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Daniel Dennett.
AR And Sam Harris. These Four Horsemen triggered
my 20-month outburst of passionate online debating in
Godblogs. An acolyte of Gordon
Clark trolled the debate and prompted some of my rhetoric. Coincidentally,
this week I'm reading Charles Taylor's book (I studied Hegel with him at
2014 January 5
Henry Louis Gates
Steve McQueen's film 12 Years a Slave or
Quentin Tarantino's film
Unchained address slavery in polar opposite ways. Quentin made a
postmodern slave spaghetti western. Steve's film is a realist take on
slavery. It's hard to think of how much more brutal slavery could have been.
We now know there were more than 36 000 voyages from Africa to the new
world: 12.5 million Africans got on the boats; 10.7 million got off the
boats. The rest died at sea. Of the remainder, 388 000 came to the United
States. To get some perspective on that, Jamaica got 1 million and Brazil
6 million. The reason we think of it as an American phenomenon is the
visible power of the civil rights movement in America. After the importation
of slaves was made illegal in the US in 1808, slave owners turned to
breeding slaves. In 1860, when the last federal census before the civil war
was held, there were 4.4 million African Americans, only 10% of whom were
free. Today, the percentage of blacks living under the poverty line is about
the same as when Martin Luther King was killed.
2014 January 4
Survival of the Richest
Social class essentialism is the belief that
surface differences between two groups of people can be explained by
differences in their fundamental identities. Most people hold essentialist
beliefs about categories such as gender, race, and sexuality, and some too
about more cultural ones such as nationality, religion, and political
If you’re doing well, you believe success comes to those
who deserve it, and those of lower status must not deserve it. The higher
people perceive their social class to be, the more strongly they endorse
such beliefs. If you feel you’re doing well, you want to believe success
comes to those who deserve it, so those of lower status must not deserve it.
Social Darwinism is the idea that since only the fit survive and thrive,
this process should be accepted or even accelerated by public policy. Social
class essentialism entails belief in economic survival of the fittest as a
fact. It might also entail belief in survival of the fittest as a desired
end, and reducing support for restorative interventions.
2014 January 3
Amazon is still cool. Ebooks now account for a third
of fiction sales in the UK, and this year will rise to half. These sales go
mostly to Amazon, which promoted its Kindle e-reader with low prices and now
has at least 90% of ebook sales in the UK. Overall, its UK book sales are
about as high as sales through all terrestrial bookshops put together.
Book publishers have three main fears:
Piracy. For digital entrepreneurs, copyright is no longer sacrosanct. People
want to get things for free or cheaply, but they are also happy to pay what
they see as fair prices.
2 Lower prices.
The average price paid for an ebook in the UK is about £3, for a bestselling
paperback novel about £4.20, and for a bestselling hardback novel about £11.
3 Irrelevance. Authors have the increasingly
viable choice of self-publishing. Internet distribution has vastly reduced
the cost and difficulty of publishing a digital manuscript as a book.
Kindle Direct Publishing encouraged many thousands of aspiring authors
to self-publish their work. It pays from 35% to 70% of the returns from
sales. Book publishers paid authors just 15% of the returns until they were
pressed to pay 25%. Amazon has been welcome for readers and authors.
2014 January 2
Volgograd suicide bomber suspect and former ambulance
paramedic Pavel Pechyonkin:
"I am not inventing anything from the Koran; I
am reading it. Why should we follow those Christian commandments, when Allah
— all glory to him — urges us to fight those kaffirs [infidels]? Why
shouldn't we leave their children orphaned?"
AR This is evidence for
the hard Sam Harris line on Islam.
2014 January 1
The answer to the meaning of life,
the universe, and everything is 42, said Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker's
Guide to the Galaxy. In the second novel of that trilogy, the hero Arthur
Dent tried to discover the question to which 42 was the Answer. When someone
playing Scrabble spelled out "forty two" Arthur pulled more letters from the
bag, but only made the string: "What do you get if you multiply six by
nine?" He despaired: "Six by nine. Forty two." When told on a BBC forum in
2007 that in base 13 arithmetic six by nine is 42, Adams responded, "I may
be a sorry case, but I don't write jokes in base 13." As it happens, 42
equals 101010 in binary code, but this is still a joke.
of human attempts to find big answers is fascinating, to me at least, and
seems well worth a longer look. More to the point, I have a big answer of my
own, which is about as practical as 42 and rather less amusing, but at least
more helpful in one interesting way. ...
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