BLOG 2014 Q2

Chartered Architects
Planned twin towers in Wuhan, China: 1 km tall, open 2018


November 2014


AR
Tiger 131 rolls again
Tankfest 2014
Bovington


NASA
Curiosity still at work after a Martian year on Mars


Bitstrips
Philosophy:
I did it my way










Shine on you crazy diamond

Astronomers have found a faint white dwarf that has crystallized into a diamond the size of Earth. It is estimated to be 11 billion years old and is a partner to pulsar PSR J2222-0137. The astronomers noticed the dwarf when it regularly obstructed the pulsar signal. They say it is cold for a white dwarf: only 3 kK.



Winston Churchill

British Poverty
The Guardian

The number of UK households falling below minimum living standards has more than doubled in the past 30 years, despite the size of the economy increasing twofold, claims a PSE study on poverty and deprivation
in the UK.

AR This needs action.


Bitstrips
Danke,
Geist der Philosophie.


Heidegger's
Black Notebooks

A betrayal of philosophy


Bitstrips
Terminate ISIS.

 

2014 June 30

The Islamic State

CNN

ISIS now calls itself The Islamic State. ISIS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani al-Shami says Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai, a.k.a. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is the new Caliph.

The Independent quotes Quilliam researcher Charlie Cooper: "There hasn't been a Caliph since the Ottoman Empire outside of the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam, and the Caliph is appointed as the only legitimate successor to Prophet Mohammed."

American Colleges

Kevin Carey

Americans say their K-12 schools are mediocre or worse, while their colleges and universities are world class. Yet a recent study suggests that this view is wrong.

In 2013, the OECD published the results of a large international assessment of adult competencies. As with the measures of K-12 education, the United States battles it out for last place. Countries such as Japan and Finland have much higher levels of proficiency and skill among adults. The results for people with different levels of education show America still falls short of most other countries.

American dominance of higher education rests largely on global rankings of top universities. But the rankings focus on universities as research institutions.

Obamacare

Paul Krugman

The enemies of health reform made at least six distinct predictions about how Obamacare would fail, every one of which turned out to be wrong. The great majority of Americans buying insurance through the new exchanges are getting coverage quite cheaply, a lot of people have gained insurance through the program, and the age mix of the new enrollees looks pretty good.

Obamacare was closely modeled on Romneycare, which has been working in Massachusetts since 2006, and it resembles successful systems abroad, for example in Switzerland. Why should it fail?

Rant

Dave Eggers

We just spent five trillion dollars on useless wars. That could have gone to the moon. Or Mars. Or the Shuttle. Or something that would inspire us in some goddamned way.

2014 June 29

EU Debacle

The Times

David Cameron poses a "real and present danger" to the economy as he leads Britain toward an EU exit that could put up to 3 million jobs and thousands of businesses at risk, says Labour leader Ed Miliband.

EU Fundamental

The Observer

CBI director general John Cridland: "The EU is our biggest export market and remains fundamental to our economic future. Our membership supports jobs, drives growth and boosts our international competitiveness. Alternatives to full membership of the EU simply wouldn't work, leaving us beholden to its rules without being able to influence them. We will continue to press the case for the UK remaining in a reformed European Union."

UK Trident

The Independent

A commission including Lord Browne of Ladyton, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Sir Menzies Campbell, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, and Lord Guthrie of Craigiebank considered whether to spend £20 billion on renewing the Trident submarine nuclear deterrent. They argue for doing so if there is "more than a negligible chance that the possession of nuclear weapons might play a decisive future role" in defending the UK.

UK Muslims

Maajid Nawaz

In prison I changed. I am planning to become a Liberal Democrat MP. I was bought up in the bad old days of racism. I hated being attacked by skinheads but when we scared them away by becoming extremists it became more fun.

Only 3% of the population is Muslim, but 20% of the prison population is Muslim. If we send guys who have planned terrorist attacks to prison, do we let them just live out their sentences and then come out and continue on their mission or do we use the time to change them?

Islamism is not a religion. It is an obsessive, outdated ideology. We are still being too multiculturalist and politically correct about it. Islamists are homophobic, antisemitic, and sexist. White males can't be sexist and racist, so brown Muslims shouldn't get away with it either.

Muslim children need to see they can succeed in Britain in conventional ways.

2014 June 28

Brexit

The Times

UK PM David Cameron failed to block Jean-Claude Juncker from heading the European Commission.
Cameron: "I believe the British national interest lies in reforming the EU, holding a referendum and recommending that we stay in a reformed EU. Has that got harder to achieve? Yes."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel: "The idea of an ever-closer union, as it is stated in the treaties, does not mean that there is equal speed among the member countries, but there can be different speeds that member countries adopt to come to ever-closer union."

Israel

Bronwen Maddox

The population of Israel at the end of 2012 was just under 8 million, of whom 6 million were Jewish. But in the whole land controlled by Israel, including the West Bank and Gaza Strip, there are now about 12 million people. Jews now constitute a minority in the lands under Israeli rule — 5.9 million people compared to 6.1 million non-Jews — and the Arab birthrate is higher.

Israel can either shed the West Bank and retain its Jewish majority or it can continue to control the Palestinian territories but undermine its claim to democracy because it does not allow all those people equal civil rights.

International criticism is inflamed above all by the West Bank settlements, which are illegal under international law. The expansion of the settlements is the prime reason why Israel's relations with many other countries are becoming more difficult.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague: "We and our EU partners are clear: systematic, illegal Israeli settlement activity poses the most significant and live threat to the viability of the two-state solution."

Every Israeli government since 2000 has signed up to the principle of the two-state solution. But Israel has never had a negotiating counterpart on the Palestinian side who seemed willing and able to deliver adequate recognition of Israel's right to exist or its need for security.

2014 June 27

Lebenszufriedenheit

Institut der deutschen Wirtschaft Köln

Die Lebenszufriedenheit der Bürger in Deutschland hat einen neuen Höchststand erreicht. Wer einen Job hat und sich gesund fühlt, ist besonders zufrieden. Das geht aus einer jetzt vorgelegten Untersuchung des Instituts der deutschen Wirtschaft Köln (IW) hervor.

Science

Our research is fully conscious of its normative conditionality. We view humans as beings capable of living free and responsible lives and having a corresponding ability to decide and act for themselves.
In our understanding, open, free and democratic societies require a liberal and competitive economic order, whose constitutive elements include this responsibility both for oneself and for society.

AR An excellent Kantian perspective.

Hacking the Soul

Antonio Damasio

Humans make use of fundamental processes of life regulation that include things like emotion and feeling, but we connect them with intellectual processes to create a whole new world around us.

There are certain action programs that are installed in us so that we can survive, flourish, procreate, and die. This is the world of homeostasis, and it covers a wide range of body states. Once the action program is deployed and the brain has the possibility of mapping what has happened in the body, then that leads to the emergence of the mental state.

We must separate the component that comes out of actions from the component that comes out of our perspective on those actions, which is feeling. This is also where the self emerges, and consciousness itself. Mind begins at the level of feeling.

AR Damasio won the Golden Brain Award in 1995. I enjoyed reading his books.

2014 June 26

Cameron and Europe

The New York Times

UK PM David Cameron should make sure that his looming defeat over Jean-Claude Juncker does not turn into a forced march to British exit from the European Union.

Cameron objects that Juncker has been put forward by the European Parliament. He sees a shift of control over the European Union from national governments to Brussels. The European Parliament is the only directly elected EU institution. European Council members are elected in national elections.

But the other European leaders do not want to take on the Parliament. Cameron may have given British Eurosceptics more ammunition for the promised referendum.

The Tremendum

Terence McKenna

The 20th century saw a groping toward an archaic mentality. Psychoanalysis, cubism, surrealism, and national socialism can all be traced back to unconscious nostalgia for the archaic. A society in crisis looks back for a previous model that seemed to work. The breakup of medieval Christian eschatology led to classicism. People looked back to Platonic philosophy, Roman law, and so on.

An inchoate groping for yet another historical paradigm is sweeping over the world. Freudianism, surrealism, and the rise of electronic media are all insufficient. Once you zero in on the archaic mentality, you discover the psychedelic experience. That experience is as much a part of life as birth, death, making love, eating, and so on, except in the western European traditions.

AR Groovy!

2014 June 25

Word War at Ypres

The New York Times

UK PM David Cameron has set himself up for a public failure. Brussels veteran Jean-Claude Juncker is set to head the European Commission.

Cameron is fighting the Eurosceptic wing of his own party and the populist appeal of UKIP in national elections next May. Principled opposition to a Brussels appointment at odds with government hopes of negotiating a new relationship with the European Union may be better than bowing to a power grab by the European Parliament. Cameron: "I will go on thinking it is wrong right up until the end."

At the summit in Ypres, Belgium, in what was meant to be a symbol of European reconciliation, Cameron will defy German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Shia Revival

Vali Nasr

Saddam Hussein compared Baghdad's fall to the Americans in 2003 with its fall to the Mongols in 1258. That earlier conquest is remembered by Sunni Arabs as a calamity, when the rivers of the cultured Abbasid capital are said to have run black with ink from books and red with the blood of the Mongols' massacred victims. Saddam rang a change on a centuries-old Sunni grudge to appeal to sectarian prejudices defined by the feud between Shiites and Sunnis.

AR I guess Sunni Arabia will fight Shiite Iran over Iraq.

2014 June 24

Rights

John Searle

In the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, not all of the rights listed are negative rights like the right to free speech or the right to freedom of religion. The idea that every human being has a right to adequate housing seems to me nonsense. You can make a good case for universal human rights of a negative kind, but you cannot make a comparable case for universal human rights of a positive kind.

One exception is where life and safety are concerned. You have rights of survival. But I think it's a big mistake in contemporary political thinking to suppose that there is a list of universal human rights of a positive kind. As a professor in Berkeley I have certain rights, and certain obligations. But the idea of universal rights is fantastic. Why not extend the idea of universal rights to conscious animals?

2014 June 23

UK National Health Service

The Observer

Conservative health minister Jane Ellison says of running the NHS: "From a political point of view, it is a bit like being on a high wire without a net at times; it can be quite exciting."

Ellison says health secretary Jeremy Hunt has done a "brilliant job" of "turning the narrative round" from one focused on reform of NHS structures to one focusing on patients and patient care.

David Cameron and Nick Clegg said the Health and Social Care Act of 2012 was intended to make the NHS "more accountable to patients" and to free staff from "excessive bureaucracy and top-down control".

Department of Health spokesman: "Giving operational control for the day-to-day running of services to doctors was the right decision, but we have always been clear that ministers are responsible for the NHS, and we are proud of its performance in challenging circumstances."

AR Translation: Disaster narrowly averted.

2014 June 22

Political Islam

Niall Ferguson

Today the Western world faces four main challenges:

1 China will soon have the world's biggest economy.
2 Russia has made a geopolitical comeback.
3 Britain could exit from the European Union.
4 Political Islam is spreading its vision of reordering society.

Imagine Margaret Thatcher's response to these four challenges:

1 On China, she would favor engagement, but not appeasement.
2 On Russia, she would urge us to make more effective use of NATO.
3 On Europe, she would say it was in neither British nor German interests for the UK to leave the EU.
4 On Islam, we have the most to learn from Thatcher:

"The challenge of Islamic terror is unique. ... Perhaps the best parallel is with early communism. Islamic extremism today, like bolshevism in the past, is an armed doctrine. It is an aggressive ideology promoted by fanatical, well-armed devotees. And, like communism, it requires an all-embracing long-term strategy to defeat it."

The Soviet empire collapsed mainly because it lost a battle of ideas. Today secular democratic movements in the Mideast are failing to win the psychological war against the Islamists. Political Islam is the new communism. Freedom will win only if we are prepared to fight for it.

2014 June 21

Islam

Max Hastings

Muslims may justly say that their religion is not inherently violent: I recently read both the Koran and the Bible from cover to cover, and can assure you that the latter is more bloodthirsty. Evangelical Christians are almost as much of a menace to wise American governance as are Muslim jihadis half a world away.

On the whole, however, the Christian religion has adapted to modernity while most Muslim societies have failed to do so, whether by creating an educated mass workforce or producing scientific or technological genius.

The lessons of history are that we Westerners can do little to change the course of events in the Mideast. Here at home we must fight with every weapon in our hands to prevent the curse of Islamist militancy from spreading its pernicious influence within our own societies. There can be no compromise with such warped doctrines here, in the sorry name of multiculturalism.

"How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! ... The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property, either as a child, a wife, or a concubine, must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men."
— Winston Churchill, 1899

2014 June 20

School Uniforms

Holly Baxter

Ryde Academy headmaster Rory Fox sent 250 girls home for having skirts that were too short or trousers that were too tight. Boys were also sent home for wearing shoes not made of leather. If we want to enforce uniform policies then we have to apply sanctions equally to boys and girls. School is no place for sexist bullshit.

AR Uniforms are old hat and pants (to mix idioms). But the issue of distracting kids with sexuality at school remains. There was practical wisdom in segregated classes.

2014 June 19

Don't Save Iraq

William Saletan

People take responsibility only if they must. The more we intervene to prop them up, the less they do for themselves. We can't save them from their bad choices. They have to face the consequences and adjust their behavior accordingly.

Wolf Blitzer: "The US left behind a ton of equipment for the Iraqi military, spent billions of dollars training these guys, and gave them all the help that they possibly could for nearly a decade. The first semblance of a little tension, they take off their uniforms, they run away."

President Obama: "The United States is not simply going to involve itself in a military action in the absence of a political plan by the Iraqis that gives us some assurance that they're prepared to work together."

AR Right. Let them struggle.

Brainwaves

New Scientist

Our cognitive powers may lie in the musical hum of our brainwaves. MIT researchers used EEG to observe patterns of electrical activity in the brains of monkeys as they taught the animals to categorize patterns of dots.

At first, the monkeys memorized which dots went where, but as the task became harder, they shifted to learning the rules that defined the categories. Initially, brainwaves were forming independently in the prefrontal cortex and the striatum. But as the monkeys made sense of the game, the waves began to synchronize and hum at the same frequency, with each category of dots having its own frequency.

The synchronized brainwaves indicate the formation of a connection between the two brain regions. This may occur before the growth of new synapses, giving us time to reflect before our brains wire a memory. The study is the first to show specific patterns of synchrony linked to specific thoughts.

AR In my books I called such humming the music of the hemispheres.

2014 June 18

Irak

Jürgen Todenhöfer

ISIS spielt nur scheinbar in Irak die alles überragende Rolle. Der Aufstand wird in Wirklichkeit überwiegend vom FNPI getragen, dem "Nationalen, Panarabischen und Islamischen Widerstand" des Irak. Das ist eine säkulare Koalition mehrerer Gruppen, die schon gegen die US-Armee gekämpft haben.

Ich habe in den letzten Tagen mehrfach mit Führern des FNPI gesprochen. Nach ihrer Auffassung spielt ISIS als Juniorpartner des Aufstands zwar militärisch eine wichtige Rolle. Diese Dschihadisten aus aller Welt verbreiten wegen ihres Todesmuts und ihrer Härte Furcht und Schrecken. Das hat große psychologische Wirkung. Aber mit ihren etwa tausend Mann vor Mossul hätten sie keine Chance. Der Nationale Widerstand hingegen ist in Mossul mit über 20.000 Mann präsent und wird von der Bevölkerung getragen.

Der FNPI rekrutiert viele Leute aus der ehemaligen irakischen Elite. Es sind Leute, die nach dem 2003 US-Einmarsch entlassen wurden. Das militärische Zweckbündnis zwischen ISIS und dem FNPI im Irak ist allerdings sehr labil. ISIS will einen Gottesstaat, der FNPI eine säkulare Demokratie.


AR A good analysis.

Neuroscience

Stephen S. Hall

Optogenetics had its origins at Stanford in 2004. Researchers in David J. Anderson’s laboratory at Caltech inserted a genetically modified light-sensitive gene into specific cells at particular locations in the brain of a living male mouse. Using a fiber-optic thread inserted into that brain, they turned the neurons in the hypothalamus on and off with a burst of light to activated aggressive behavior.

Anderson: "The ability of optogenetics to turn a largely correlational field of science into one that tests causation has been transformative."

2014 June 17

ISIS

Fred Kaplan

The United States and Iran have a common interest in keeping Sunni radicals from taking over Iraq. Forming an alliance with Iran to beat back ISIS would leave Iran stronger. We have to decide which prospect we dislike less: an Islamist state in Iraq and Syria or a strengthened expansionary Iran.

Consider an analogy. Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill teamed up with Stalin to defeat Hitler. One outcome of this grand alliance was that, at the end of World War II, the Soviet Union controlled all of Eastern Europe. But the alternative would have been for Nazi Germany to control all of Europe.

Iran is not the only possible ally. Turkey has a deep interest in staving off an ISIS triumph. Nor can the rise of ISIS be pleasing to the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, or Egypt. The United States can coordinate action. The opportunities are there, with Iran, Turkey, and others to do something smart.

2014 June 16

UK—China

The Guardian

UK PM David Cameron believes that Britain must forge a strong political and economic relationship with China. But Chinese ambassador Liu Xiaoming says Britain now ranks behind Germany and France among the powers in Europe.

AR Take note, Brits: The EU leaders outrank us.

The BBC

The Times

The BBC TV licence fee of £145.50 per year is "a large amount for many families up and down the country," said UK culture secretary Sajid Javid, in a TV interview.

AR Quite large enough, thank you. Cut BBC fat cat perks.


Bitstrips
To boldly rise above war


NYT
Iraq
Darker tan shows Sunni areas;
red dots cities, from top down: Mosul, Tikrit, Samarra, Baghdad

Simplify Everything.
Do Anything.

SAP
(2:00)

ISIS
ISIS

Titan
VIMS/ESA/NASA
Titan

Fly-by Titan: Saturn's
moon of mythical oceans
New Scientist (1:26)

New Battle for Europe
Jean-Claude Juncker

It is wrong if we give in to the British here. I am more confident than ever that I will be the next European Commission President.

 

2014 June 15

China: Ecological Civilization

New Scientist

China is considering limiting its greenhouse gas emissions so that they peak in 2030, then fall. Premier Li Keqiang has declared war on pollution and his government has drawn up a philosophical framework called ecological civilization. Chinese carbon trading schemes will form the world's second largest carbon trading initiative after Europe's. China has set targets to make more wealth using less energy.

AR A good precedent if it works.

No War, Low Growth

Tyler Cowen

The world has not had much warfare lately. Today's casualties pale in light of the tens of millions of people killed in the two world wars. The greater peacefulness of the world may make the attainment of higher rates of economic growth less urgent and thus less likely. War focuses attention.

Nuclear power, the computer, and jet aircraft were all pushed along by Americans eager to defeat the Axis powers and win the Cold War. The Internet was initially designed to withstand nuclear war. The Soviet launch of Sputnik spurred American science and technology, and later growth.

Ian Morris has revived the hypothesis that war is a significant factor behind economic growth. But today a big war would be a big disaster. Living in a largely peaceful world with 2% GDP growth has advantages you don't get with 4% growth and many more war deaths.

Intervene in Iraq

Tony Blair

It is in our interests for ISIS to be stopped in its tracks. It is vitally important that we realize what is at stake here and act. The fundamental cause of the crisis lies within the region, not outside it. We have to act now to save the future.

Where the extremists are fighting, they have to be countered hard, with force. 9/11 happened for a reason. That reason and the ideology behind it have not disappeared. This is, in part, our struggle, whether we like it or not.

AR The next big war?

Earth: Ocean Water

New Scientist

A reservoir of water three times the volume of all the Earth's oceans has been discovered deep beneath the Earth's surface. The finding could help explain where the oceans came from. The water is hidden in rock called ringwoodite 700 km underground in the mantle.

Steven Jacobsen: "It's good evidence the Earth's water came from within."

2014 June 14

Iraq

Benjamin Wallace-Wells, Laura Smith-Spark and Arwa Damon

ISIS has captured much of the Sunni homeland in Iraq and is now threatening Samarra. Iraqi Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani called Friday for volunteers to fight back. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki: "Samarra will be the starting point, the gathering station of our troops to cleanse every inch that was desecrated by footsteps of those traitors."

The United States is considering intervention. But the Iraqi state is Shiite. The Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds force is moving in to support it. Americans would be on the same side as Iran. Events may be birthing a sectarian split into states for the Kurds, the Shiites, and the Sunni, baptized in a bloodbath.

Iraqi military spokesman General Qassim Atta: "The security in Baghdad is 100% stable ... The morale of the security forces is very high."

AR Reminds me of the "Baghdad Bob" bombast in 2003.

From AQI to ISIS

Peter Bergen

The 2003 Iraq war precipitated the arrival of al Qaeda into Iraq. In 2004, its brutal leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi launched Iraq down the road to civil war. By 2007, Al Qaeda in Iraq, or AQI, had become the de facto government of the western Iraqi province of Anbar and controlled a good chunk around Baghdad, the "Triangle of Death" to its south, and many of the towns up to the Syrian border. A Sunni backlash fought AQI down to a rump. Then the Syrian civil war transformed AQI into the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS. Now ISIS has marched back into western and northern Iraq.

2014 June 13

Quantum Gravity

Michael Brooks

Theories of quantum gravity seem to reach a primal instant when spacetime is disconnected. Space was split into discrete chunks in the first 10^-43 seconds of the universe, each separate from the others.

In causal dynamical triangulation (CDT), the universe is composed of tetrahedral grains of spacetime. The way they fit together gives spacetime its curvature. The grains can all be different, and computer simulations combine them in billions of different ways. The scenarios that appear most often are the most likely histories of the universe.

Renate Loll: "We hope that our simulations will give us an indication of how the universe wants to behave near the initial singularity without arranging things by hand."

In loop quantum cosmology (LQC), spacetime is a woven fabric of braids and knots and the cosmos grew from a point where light could not travel, so spacetime was disconnected here too. It will be a long time before we can properly test these models against reality.

2014 June 12

Google

Wired

Google has built a business that generates tens of billions of dollars a year. With the $500 million purchase of Skybox, a startup that shoots high-res photos and video with low-cost satellites, Google can extend its reach far across the offline world. Thanks to its knack for transforming mass quantities of unstructured data into revenue-generating insights, the unprecedented stream of aerial imagery to which the company is gaining access could spark a whole new category of high-altitude insights into the workings of economies, nations, and nature.

AR Google is great!

2014 June 11

Merkel Versus Cameron

The New York Times

The European People's Party headed by Jean-Claude Juncker won the European Parliament elections last month. Blocking the EPP candidate for the presidency of the European Commission would undermine the parliament and its elections.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned UK PM David Cameron: "I am for Jean-Claude Juncker ... But when I made that statement in Germany, I also made the point that we act in a European spirit ... Threats do not belong in that spirit."

Merkel: "Britain is really no cozy partner."

ISIS

Slate

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is coming closer to statehood. ISIS began only about a year ago as the Syrian offshoot of al-Qaida in Iraq but now effectively governs a nation-size tract of territory that stretches from the Syrian city of Aleppo to Fallujah in western Iraq. Now it also includes Mosul.

ISIS is focused less on the overthrow of the Assad regime than on enforcing its harsh and austere brand of Islamic law. Its brutal brand of Shariah law including beheadings and amputations seems to be provoking resentment among the people who live under its black flag. Opposition to ISIS is a rare cause that the leaders of United States, Iran, and even al-Qaida can agree on.

US Department of State spokewoman Jen Psaki: "The United States is deeply concerned about the events that have transpired in Mosul."

AR ISIS is Jihadistan. It symbolizes the heralded Shariah Caliphate. It must be terminated.

Ganz oben Ganz unten

Christian Wulff

Bild ist niemals der ganze Skandal, aber ohne Bild ist der ganze Skandal nichts. Muss ich wirklich das Privateste preisgeben, um politisch überleben zu können? Es war schamlos und entwürdigend. Der politisch motivierte fehlerhafte Beginn der Ermittlungen erklärt für mich die Maßlosigkeit und die mangelnde Objektivität der Staatsanwälte.

2014 June 10

Being British

The Times

UK education secretary Michael Gove pledged to act as Ofsted found evidence that several Birmingham schools had been targeted by Muslims in an organized campaign to impose Islamic ideology.

Gove: "We will put the promotion of British values at the heart of what every school has to deliver for children. What we have found was unacceptable. And we will put it right."

2014 June 9

Dawn Raids

The Times

PM David Cameron has ordered education secretary Michael Gove to start "dawn raid" school inspections after officials found evidence of covering up Islamist infiltration in Birmingham schools.

Ofsted found staff at one of the schools involved used the notice period given before an inspection to stage "hastily arranged shows of cultural inclusivity" to include lessons on Christianity.

Cameron: "Protecting our children is one of the first duties of government and that is why the issue of alleged Islamist extremism in Birmingham schools demands a robust response."

Destruction Porn

CNN

Our global neighbors watch our big budget films and see America as a country where scenes of mass destruction are the norm, where carnage is preferred over peace, love, and understanding. Let's call it what it is: destruction porn. Our delight in seeing things blown up should make us worry about the mental health of society.

2014 June 8

Extremist Subversion

The Observer

PM David Cameron ordered education secretary Michael Gove to issue humiliating apologies and told home secretary Theresa May to sack her closest adviser, following their public row over policy on combating extremism in schools.

Islamist Infiltration

Camilla Cavendish

Britain has a long history of underestimating the determination of those bent on subverting the West. After the 2005 bombings, the Labour government created a "preventing violent extremism" strategy, known as Prevent, which funded councils and police to work with community groups. But it focused mainly on preventing acts of terror, not stifling the ideology behind them.

The coalition hardened things up in 2011. David Cameron gave a powerful speech arguing that all forms of extremism can create an atmosphere conducive to terrorism. He intervened in a row between the independent reviewer of Prevent and the Home Office. The reviewer believed it was unacceptable to appease extremism and Cameron backed him.

Hellfire Preaching

Daily Mail

Bombshell reports by EFA and Ofsted claim Muslim radicals conspired to infiltrate governing bodies of Birmingham schools.

Oldknow Academy has around 600 pupils, more than 95% Muslim. It holds Islamic prayers on Friday, teaches Arabic, and organizes trips to Mecca. Extremists allegedly pushed out head teacher Bhupinder Kondal because she opposed Islamization. Teachers used terms such as "white prostitute" and "hellfire" in school assemblies. Teacher Samir Rauf accused Ofsted inspectors of "having an agenda".

Golden Hillock school has been taken over by Islamists and fails to shelter students from extremist views. Inspectors say the school did little to mitigate against cultural isolation, leaving students vulnerable to marginalization from wider British society. Chairman of governors Mohammed Shafique: "Ofsted's views are completely unfounded. We do not practice isolationism or segregation."

2014 June 6

Niedergang der Siegermächte

Sebastian Hammelehle

Am 70. Jahrestag D-Day haben sich die Gewichte entscheidend verschoben. Frankreich und Großbritannien haben den Zweiten Weltkrieg gewonnen, die entscheidende europäische Macht aber ist heute Deutschland. Für die Statik der EU könnte das gefährlich werden.

In Großbritannien zirkulierte während einer Wirtschaftskrise der Spruch, das Land habe zwar den Zweiten Weltkrieg gewonnen, den Frieden aber verloren. Über Deutschland lässt sich 70 Jahre nach dem
D-Day wohl das Gegenteil sagen.

Das Bild von der deutschen Vorherrschaft befeuert den europäischen Populismus. Das D in D-Day, 1944 die Abkürzung für "decision", steht 2014 nicht nur für Deutschland, sondern auch für eine gewisse Demut im Ausgleich der europäischen Interessen.


Wikimedia

The Myth of the Strong Leader
By Archie Brown
Bodley Head, 466 pages


AR I'm reading it now.
Brown was professor of politics
at Oxford for decades.

The Beginning and the End
By Clément Vidal
(1:50)


Wikimedia
Nicaea 2025
Roman Catholics and Eastern
Orthodox Christians may return
to Nicaea, Turkey, in 2025.
Early followers of Jesus met
there in 325 CE to try to
unite Christendom.


Bitstrips
Vote for me!

 

2014 June 5

Memory Implants

New Scientist

Wiring up a rat brain with electronics that replay memories from trained rats into the brain can give it new skills. This research could help many people living with brain damage.

Memories can be lost when damaged parts of the brain fail to pass information from one area to another. An electronic implant that interprets the signals from one area and writes them into a second area can help. But first we have to know what a memory looks like. The neural code that represents a memory is thought to lie in the firing pattern of interconnected neurons.

A technique called multi-input/multi-output, MIMO, can be used to pick out meaningful signals from the noise of millions of neurons firing. A chip containing electrodes in rat hippocampus uses MIMO to isolate and record the neural code as rats recall a memory to act. In rats drugged to forget, the same electrodes deliver the same firing pattern back to the neurons, restoring memory.

MIMO has been used to record the code for a task in a group of rats and replay it in other rats, giving them new memories. DARPA is pushing the research into human trials.

2014 June 4

Government

Roger Scruton

American conservatives say there is too much government. Government is the other side of freedom, and what makes freedom possible. A free relationship grants rights and duties to either party in a mutuality of interests.

The liberal conception of government is that the state exists in order to allocate the social product, and government is the art of seizing and then redistributing the good things to which all citizens have a claim.

But the liberal state no longer embodies the ethos of a nation. As in the EU, public displays of patriotism dwindle to a few desultory spasms, and the political class begins to be looked upon with sarcasm and contempt.

Conservative Americans can still see their government as an expression of their national unity. They need to map out the limits beyond which action by the government is a trespass on the freedom of the citizen.

AR The uncut essay is magnificent — if you like dense prose.

2014 June 3

European Reassurance Initiative

CNN

President Barack Obama wants his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to take steps to rebuild the trust shattered by Russia's actions in Ukraine. Speaking alongside Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, Obama announced that he is asking Congress for a fund of up to $1 billion for a European Reassurance Initiative to bolster the security of NATO allies in Europe.

AR Most reassuring!

Political Islam

Mustapha Tlili

The Obama administration has made a strategic error stemming from a failure to grasp the nature of political Islam. During the decades of dictatorship in the Arab world, political Islamists marketed themselves in the West as "moderate" movements that sought to reconcile Islam with democracy. In reality, they were proponents of a messianic ideology. The Obama administration bought into the fallacy and failed to invest in civil society groups and secular democratic parties in the Muslim world.

2014 June 2

Off to work for the
Poole Conservatives

Europe, Wake Up!

Tony Blair

The election results matter. They are a wake-up call to Europe and to Britain. Our response in Europe as in Britain should be to lead, not follow. We should make the debate about more than the repatriation of certain competences and rules.

There is a keen sense that the moment is right for Europe to think carefully about where it goes from here, how it reconnects with the concerns of its citizens, and how it changes in order better to realize its ideals in a changing world. It has to be a debate elevated to a Europe-wide level, with Britain playing a leading role, not just a negotiation of Britain's terms of membership. It has to be about what is good for Europe as well as what is good for Britain.

2014 June 1

The Soul of Islam

Mona Siddiqui

There is no single Islamist threat. The battle is among Muslims for the soul of Islam. There is a fear of diverse ways of thinking and living in Islamic societies. There is also a propensity among many people in Islamic societies to undermine any kind of intellectualism or critical inquiry.

The radical ideology of "Islam versus the West" is based on a toxic distinction. To make this distinction meaningless, we must engage in conversations in public life. I wonder whether part of the appeal of terrorism lies in boredom and the constant search for a new struggle.

Work

Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath

Employees are more satisfied and productive when four core needs are met:

Physical, through regular opportunities to renew and recharge at work

Emotional, by feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions

Mental, when they can focus on essentials and decide how to tackle them

Spiritual, by doing what they do best and feeling its link to a higher purpose
 

Andy Ross

HR
In the garden at Mottisfont, Romsey, UK, May 31, 2014

Rising Star

"Dr Fox presents an overall composition that melds seamlessly with those of the best minds of his generation. On the evidence presented in this book, he would make an eminently capable foreign secretary in a future Conservative government."

My review of Rising Tides


Google
Google self-driving cars:
coming soon to our streets

Brain Mind Cosmos
Deepak Chopra (ed)

The eyes can detect light.
The mind is aware of thoughts.
The soul can attest to God.
But none of this is good enough.
Science must expand to embrace consciousness. Theorists must plunge into the participatory universe.



Conservative MEP Ashley Fox:
Voters have sent a message
that the EU has to change

 

2014 May 31

Radoslaw Sikorski

Jan Puhl

Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski has a big role in Europe's response to Russian aggression. He studied in Oxford, speaks perfect English, is married to Anne Applebaum, and has led the Polish foreign ministry since 2007. His role has become crucial since the eruption of the crisis in Ukraine.

Sikorski says NATO has neglected its eastern flank and must stand up to Moscow. He grew up under Communism and mistrusts Russia. Anne Applebaum: "The Red Army was deterred by a large number of American soldiers, weapons, tanks, and nuclear weapons. Diplomacy had nothing to do with it."

Sikorski's polished English and intellectual wife are not always appreciated in Poland. He sees his future at the head of an international institution, for example as NATO secretary general. He sees that Europe is becoming less important to the United States and calls on Berlin to show greater leadership.

2014 May 30

Globorg

The Emerging Global Organism

My print copy of the issue of the Kozminiski University journal Transformations with my 2013 article in it arrived yesterday. Rrereading it, I see that it is likely to become the definitive expression of my mature philosophy. The journal version incorporates only minor changes from the preprint and ends with an incorrect e-mail address.
PDF preprint: 16 pages, 175 KB

Transformations 3-4, 2013
PDF, 446 pages, 3.6 MB

2014 May 29

US Foreign Policy

Barack Obama

America has rarely been stronger. Our economy remains the most dynamic on Earth. From Europe to Asia, we are the hub of alliances unrivaled in the history of nations. America must always lead on the world stage. The military is the backbone of that leadership.

America's support for democracy and human rights is a matter of national security. Democracies are our closest friends and are far less likely to go to war. Economies based on free and open markets perform better and become markets for our goods.

American leadership requires us to see the world as it should be: a place where the aspirations of individual human beings really matter, where hopes and not just fears govern, where the truths written into our founding documents can steer the currents of history in the direction of justice.

Brains

Carl Zimmer

Researchers have made a detailed comparison of metabolism in humans and other mammals. Both our brains and our muscles are metabolically unusual. Humans have greedy brains that consume a fifth of our daily energy intake.

Each tissue has a different metabolic fingerprint. In chimpanzees, monkeys and mice, the metabolic fingerprint for a given tissue is usually more similar in more closely related species. Two exceptions:

The human prefrontal cortex uses energy quite differently from other species. Its expansion over the past six million years of our evolution accounts for much of the extra energy demand our brains make.

The metabolic fingerprint of muscle is even more distinct in humans. Chimpanzees and monkeys are far stronger, for their weight, than athletes. Perhaps our ancestors traded strength for endurance, to gather more food for their brains.

2014 May 28

Big Bossy Brussels

The Times

David Cameron opposes the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the European Commission. Cameron: "We need an approach that recognises that Brussels has got too big, too bossy, too interfering."

EU leaders are under pressure to endorse a bid by the European parliament to anoint Juncker as the successor to José Manuel Barroso at the commission. Cameron: "We need people running these organisations that really understand that and can build a Europe that is about openness, competitiveness and flexibility, not about the past."

Capitalism

Mark Carney

We cannot take the capitalist system, which produces such plenty and so many solutions, for granted. Prosperity requires not just investment in economic capital, but investment in social capital.

Unchecked market fundamentalism can devour the social capital essential for the long-term dynamism of capitalism itself. To counteract this tendency, individuals and their firms must have a sense of their responsibilities for the broader system. Consideration should be given to developing principles of fair markets, codes of conduct for specific markets, and even regulatory obligations within this framework.

There were scores of too-big-to-fail institutions operating at the heart of finance. Bankers made enormous sums in the run-up to the crisis and were often well compensated after it hit. Taxpayers picked up the tab for their failures.

AR He speaks as the governor of the Bank of England. I agree with him.

2014 May 27

European Democracy

Nikolaus Blome

For the first time in EU history, the major parties in the European Parliament launched top candidates who campaigned for the job of European Commission president. Jean-Claude Juncker won the election. Leaders of EU member states will find it hard to prevent him from becoming the next EC president.

Jean-Claude Juncker
The Times

Former Luxembourg PM Jean-Claude Juncker is now the elected candidate for the presidency of the European Commission: "During the next five years, we will have to find solutions for the political concerns of the UK. We have to do this to keep the UK in the EU. As commission president ... I will be ready to talk to [David Cameron] in a fair and reasonable manner."

AR Juncker has been an ardent EU federalist for too long to bend with the new wind.

Capital

Paul Mason

Thomas Piketty argued that rising inequality is the central contradiction of capitalism. FT critic Chris Giles challenged his data. But the attack does not quite come off. For Sweden and France the FT all but agrees with Piketty, but its UK and US data become incoherent after 1970 — because the rich avoid declaring their wealth, and after 1979 capitalism was restructured to promote wealth accumulation.

Piketty sees a clear upward trend to inequality in the UK since then, but the FT uses official data that shows nothing much. The HMRC currently estimates that the top 10% of the population own 70% of the wealth, while the ONS thinks they own just 44%. Bank data suggests that UK asset wealth grew from £4.7 trillion to £7.8 trillion in the decade to 2013, with most of the rise driven by financial portfolios. The FT data is from government tax data.

If Piketty is right, only taxes on current wealth and an end to opaque "wealth management" trails that end up in tax havens will prevent capitalism generating levels of social inequality that destroy it.

2014 May 26

SW Region EP Election Results

Bournemouth Echo

Number of votes cast for each party in the South West:
 

UK Independence Party 484 184
Conservative Party 433 151
Labour Party 206 124
Green Party 166 447
Liberal Democrats 160 376
An Independence From Europe 23 169
English Democrats Party 15 081
British National Party 10 910

 
Elected Members of the European Parliament:

1 William Dartmouth, UK Independence Party
2 Ashley Peter Fox, Conservative Party
3 Julia Reid, UK Independence Party
4 Julia McCulloch Girling, Conservative Party
5 Claire Miranda Moody, Labour Party
6 Molly Scott Cato, Green Party

Turnout for the South West region was 37%.

2014 May 25

Germany

The Observer

British Museum director Sir Neil MacGregor is to lead a big project on the history and culture of Germany. He will write and present a series of 30 BBC4 radio programs, launching in September. The museum will mount an exhibition, Germany: Memories of a Nation, starting in October.

MacGregor studied in Hamburg as a schoolboy and went on to read German at Oxford. He will not shy away from "the unspeakable 12 years" from 1933 to 1945. The aim is to approach German history from the Holy Roman Empire to the present day through a selection of artifacts.

AR
Mr and Mrs Lockhart with their respective daughters: Lizzie and Emma left of Jolyon, Jodie right of Beverley


Bitstrips
Get out and vote!

 

2014 May 24

Marriage of Jolyon and Beverley

European Union

Roman Herzog

The European Union is in a deep crisis. The bigger an institution becomes, the more fragile its inner homogeneity. Political and ideological consensus was present for all the new entrants but economic homogeneity was awry. In a modern economy, he who decides the money decides the politics. We face constitutional issues.

European foreign policy reflects the shared interests and values of EU members. The EU states share the basic foundation of Western political thinking that the state is there for the people, and not vice versa. European values need more resonance in the evolving multipolar world of superpowers and large blocks of states.

The democratic deficit of the EU calls for action. Democracy demands a bond of trust and understanding between EU bodies and EU citizens. But the European Parliament is still relatively weak in the face of the European Council and the European Commission. All three bodies have to win the trust of the citizenry.

2014 May 23

Europe

Roger Cohen

Europe at the centenary of the war that devoured it is at a nadir. There is anger about high unemployment, pessimism over the future, irritation at immigration, and alienation from the EU. Anyone who believes in freedom, democracy, and the rule of law is a warmonger.

Protest parties from right and left have expressed admiration for President Vladimir Putin and his homophobic irredentism. Europe is suddenly full of what Germans call Putinversteher, who understand Putin or are Putin apologists. In France, top NF eurocandidate Aymeric Chauprade declared that Russia had become the hope of the world against new totalitarianism.

Meanwhile, on Kiev's Independence Square, known as the Maidan, "Europe is a promise of liberty," said Nataliya Popovych, an activist in the Maidan movement. "As for Putin's Eurasian Union, we have been in that cage before. Why would we go back?"

Russia

Andrew Kramer

Most years, Russian officials use the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum to woo foreign investment. This year is different. The meeting was largely dominated by officials, policy wonks and executives from Russia, as well as Chinese investors. The debate centered on whether Russia even needs Western finance, hinting at the return of a heavily state-dominated economic system.

Citigroup chief economist Ivan Tchakarov: "The key question now is whether we will see a permanent downward shift in the economic growth."

Lord Mandelson of Foy: "Russia has not only forfeited political trust, but, as seriously, and perhaps more seriously, Russia has forfeited market confidence, and Russia could be frozen out of international markets."

Leviathan

Peter Bradshaw

Andrei Zvagintsev's Leviathan is a sober and compelling tragic drama of corruption and intimidation in contemporary Russia, set in a desolate widescreen panorama.

The movie shows a world governed by drunken, depressed, aggressive men. What counts is money and power. Its hero is Kolia, a car mechanic with a teenage son and a beautiful second wife. He owns a modest property on prime real estate, but a crooked mayor wants the land to build a luxury dacha. Kolia finds himself in a perfect storm of poisoned destiny.

2014 May 22

European Union

Leif Johansson

European elections remind us that the 28 member states of the European Union have much to be proud of. The EU has brought peace to a continent long ravaged by war and become the world's largest economy, generating €12 trillion annually, more than the United States.

The elections represent a huge opportunity for the EU to strengthen its position. There is much the EU could do better. EU researchers estimate that realizing the single market could gain €800 billion annually. And the EU needs a common energy policy. All this can be achieved.

Gas Bill

The Guardian

Russia and China have made a 30 year, $400 billion deal to deliver Russian gas to China. The contract for 38 cu km of gas annually was signed in the presence of presidents Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping in Beijing.

Global Sustainability Institute director Aled Jones: "Russia's new pipeline to China will increase competition for natural gas from 2018 and will most likely increase the cost we pay for natural gas here in the EU."

Google vs Apple

CNET

Apple's brand value has diminished by 20% to $148 billion. Google's has soared by 40% to $159 billion. Apple has phones and tablets, Google has self-driving cars and scary glasses. Millward Brown Global BrandZ director Peter Walshe: "To gain more of our mind space, brands such as Google are making ambitious plays across existing category boundaries."

2014 May 21

Freedom

David Brooks

Freedom House says freedom has been in retreat around the world for the past eight years. Across the Western world, people are disgusted with their governments.

The Guardian State is gaining strength. In places like Singapore and China, the best students are culled for government service. The technocratic elites play a big role in designing economic life. The safety net is small and unforgiving. Work is rewarded. People are expected to look after their own.

Guardian States have some disadvantages compared with Western democracies. They are more corrupt. Because the systems are top-down, local government tends to be worse. But they have advantages. They are better at long-range thinking and can move fast. And they are more innovative.

American politics has become neurotically democratic. Politicians are campaigning all the time and can scarcely think beyond the news cycle. Unrepresentative groups have disproportionate power in primary elections. If the Guardian State has speed at the top, democracy has speed at the bottom.

AR Democracy needs an update.

 

US Navy
Another Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the USS George H.W. Bush

Another Great Day at Sea is the latest book by Geoff Dyer. He describes the world of the ship as a kind of idealized America, "each person indispensable to the workings of the larger enterprise, no friction between the person and the task". But it's also a version of America very different from the one back on the beach. The sailors do very little other than sleep and work long hours at jobs they're proud of.
Many of them are both deeply patriotic and deeply religious, and alcohol and displays of affection are strictly forbidden.
Dyer: "What really surprised me was the lack of leisure."
 
AR Seems OK to me.


Bitstrips
Hardworking voter

Vote!
James Cracknell

 

2014 May 20

NATO

Der Spiegel

NATO has 28 member states. An attack against any member is considered an attack against all. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen: "Our commitment to collective defense is rock solid, now and for the future."

A new draft NATO assessment: "Russia's ability to undertake significant military action with little warning presents a wider threat to the maintenance of security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area. Russia can pose a local or regional military threat at short notice at a place of its choosing. This is both destabilizing and threatening for those allies bordering or in close proximity to Russia."

Military officials say NATO has dangerously forfeited its ability to conduct a ground war with large troop formations in Europe. But if NATO were incapable of resisting Moscow in the event of a Russian incursion into the Baltic countries, the alliance could disintegrate.

Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski: "NATO must do in Poland what it has done in other countries. There are bases in Great Britain, Spain, Germany, Italy, Kosovo and Turkey. Those are safe places. But there are no bases where they would be truly necessary."

Central Africa

Graeme Wood

This year, the Central African Republic (CAR) has collapsed in a grisly carnival of factional and religious slaughter that has left it one of the very worst places on Earth.

The CAR is a landlocked former French colony between Chad to the north and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the south. A quarter century ago, Jean-Bédel Bokassa, its self-appointed emperor, faced public trial for, among other crimes, keeping a freezer full of half-eaten human bodies.

Now, most Central Africans would happily trade their problems for a mere outbreak of plague, or some light cannibalism. The current caretaker president, a Christian ex-lawyer named Catherine Samba-Panza, is ineffectual at best, and the countryside towns are fast polarizing, with Muslims being expelled by the thousands. In the capital, Bangui, the expulsion of Muslims is nearly complete.

African Union (AU) peacekeepers zoom around town in APCs or Toyota Land Cruisers with heavy machine guns mounted on the back. If the conflict in CAR were as simple as shooting dead all the people running around with freshly hewn human limbs, the peacekeepers might be able to keep things under control. But the war has a separate front between the AU and the French peacekeepers also in Bangui.

Christians and Muslims in this conflict share a sense of grievance that has curdled into bloodlust. Any ideas that don't start or end with genocide qualify as good ones.

2014 May 19

Vote For Your MEP

Chris Huhne

European parliament elections are held on Thursday. Most EU law is decided by both ministers and MEPs. Each minister in the council casts votes depending on their country's size. But any legislation adopted by this body can then be amended or rejected by a simple majority of MEPs.

EU law is like the secondary legislation that often goes through the UK parliament on the nod, providing that a minister has powers delegated by a full-blown act. It is often mind-bogglingly technical, but it still matters and it still engages fierce arguments about values.

In a globalized world, more and more issues have to be dealt with by international institutions because the national writ no longer runs. You either have institutions like the EU with an explicit capacity for political decision-taking, or you leave it to the bureaucrats and lawyers.

EU spending is less than 1% of GDP, compared with 48% for the 28 national governments. The EU is an important layer of governance, no more. The European parliament is far from perfect, but it is worth your vote.

2014 May 18

Ever Closer Union

The Guardian

Gunther Krichbaum: "I can't imagine that the member states would allow Britain to extricate itself from the 'ever closer union' clause. ... If you want more influence in Europe, then you need closer cooperation. Britain should try to exert more influence in the EU — I for one would welcome it."

Axel Schäfer: "Would Germany allow Britain to wiggle out of the 'ever closer union' clause in the Rome treaty? That's out of the question. ... If Mr Cameron thinks he has Germany and Mrs Merkel on his side on this question, I can assure him that he is wrong."

Elmar Brok: "If Cameron is still concerned about the language, I would be open to discussions. But you can't suddenly question the basic principles."

UK Rich List

The Sunday Times

The wealth gap between Britain’s richest and average households is getting wider. The personal fortunes of the thousand richest Brits have boomed in the past year and now add up some £519 billion, equal to a third of UK GDP. Some 104 billionaires are now based in the UK, with a combined wealth of more than £301 billion. London hosts 72 sterling billionaires, more than any other city in the world.

2014 May 17

India

The New York Times

Discrimination against Muslims in India is so rampant that many barely muster outrage when telling of the withdrawn apartment offers, rejected job applications, and denied loans that are part of living in the country for them. As a group, Muslims have fallen badly behind Hindus in recent decades in education, employment, and economic status.

After the landslide electoral triumph of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, some Indian Muslims say they are worried that their place in India could become even more tenuous.

AR Some Muslims have politicized their religion and poisoned it for the rest. Pakistan discriminates against non-Muslims.

2014 May 16

Living on £1 a Day

Rowan Williams

When Christian Aid asked me to take up the Live Below the Line challenge by living on just £1 a day for five days, I readily accepted. The first thing that hit me was just how expensive fresh fruit and vegetables are. Still, learning that you can live without certain things is a positive experience. Fasting or giving up some of your luxuries can be liberating, which is one of the reasons it is common across many faiths.

2014 May 15

Consciousness Robots?

Anil Ananthaswamy

Giulio Tononi and his colleagues have developed a mathematical framework for consciousness called integrated information theory, IIT. They argue that in conscious minds, integrated information cannot be reduced into smaller components.

Phil Maguire and his colleagues define integration in terms of how difficult information is to edit. Integrating snapshots into memories makes it hard to manipulate single images. Computers can't handle a process that integrates information completely, so if consciousness means total integration then computers aren't conscious.

Is Consciousness Computable?
Phil Maguire et al.

AR Irrelevant to IIT. Of course conscious integration is lossy. Otherwise we'd drown in data as soon as we woke up.

2014 May 14

The Trouble with Europe

Why the EU isn't working, how it can be reformed, what could take its place
By Roger Bootle

"Roger Bootle perceptively analyses what is wrong with the European Union as presently constituted, both politically and economically; what reforms are needed to make it wise for the UK to remain a member; and how we can most sensibly conduct ourselves outside the EU, should those reforms not be undertaken. It is essential background reading for any future in/out referendum."
— Boris Johnson

AR I'm reading this next.


 

 

GRAPHICS:
PEW RESEARCH CENTER

Nuclear Power
The New York Times

Civilian nuclear disasters have not overcome the allure of nuclear power as a source of clean and abundant energy. The dangers of nuclear power are real, but the accidents that have occurred do not compare to the damage to the Earth being inflicted by the burning of fossil fuels. Reducing carbon emissions must be an urgent priority and nuclear energy must be part of the mix.


Bitstrips
Digital immortality:
Autopoietic selfie
20140507

Education Systems
Top Ten

Pearson / EIU

1
South Korea
2
Japan
3
Singapore
4
Hong Kong
5
Finland
6
UK
7
Canada
8
Netherlands
9
Ireland
10
Poland

Walls
Slavoj Žižek

The principal contradiction of the new world order is the impossibility of creating a global political order that would correspond to the global capitalist economy.

What if, for structural reasons, and not only due to empirical limitations, there cannot be a worldwide democracy or a representative world government? What if the global market economy cannot be directly organized as a global liberal democracy with worldwide elections?

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of the global market, new walls have begun emerging everywhere, separating peoples and their cultures.

AR Dialektik vom feinsten.


Bitstrips


NASA
NASA Z-2 suit for
Mars astronauts

Black Holes

Evidence of fractal growth on the surface of a feeding black hole comes from a mathematical duality between the equations of general relativity and fluid dynamics.

Allan Adams and his colleagues modeled a turbulent fluid system and then moved into the black hole regime. They found that the horizon of the black hole appeared to have developed an infinite surface area. If black holes grow fractal skins when they feed, this may show up in their gravitational waves.

 

2014 May 13

EU Support

Pew

Support for the European Union may be rebounding just in time for the European Parliament elections on May 22, according to the Pew Research Center. EU favorability is now on the rise in France, the UK, and Germany. Faith that European economic integration is good for their own country is up in the UK, Poland, and Germany. But Europeans overwhelmingly think their voice is not heard in Brussels. They complain that the EU does not understand their needs and is intrusive and inefficient.

2014 May 12

EU Renegotiations

David Cameron

Others in Europe need change to the European Union. The Eurozone needs change. It needs a banking union, it needs more fiscal union, and so we're perfectly legitimate to ask for our changes.

You've already seen other leaders in Europe, including for instance Chancellor Merkel in Germany, not rejecting out of hand what Britain is saying but saying yes, we can discuss these issues.

We'll be having a referendum, where I'll be recommending: Look I've got these changes, I believe we should stay in this reformed organisation.

I'm tremendously upbeat, bullish, and optimistic about what Britain can achieve in terms of our economy and also about our place in Europe.

2014 May 11

UK vs EU

The New York Times

UK PM David Cameron plans to renegotiate British ties to the European Union. But those plans hit a roadblock when he called for a rewrite of the EU treaty.

A group of Conservative Euroskeptics called the Fresh Start Project now accept that an early treaty change is neither likely nor necessary in order to change UK ties to the EU.

FS member Tim Loughton: "We are not going to get full-blown treaty change on all these things by 2017. What we can do is a whole load of things that do not require treaty change, and there would be an understanding that treaty change will have to come in time."

Are revamped British membership terms possible without a treaty change by 2017?
FS member Chris Heaton-Harris: "Yes."

Mideast Success

Shmuel Rosner

US Secretary of State John Kerry hoped to "achieve that final-status agreement" between Israel and the Palestinians. But they only proved that some things are more important for them than peace.

Israelis and Palestinians want many things. Many Israelis would rather not have peace than relinquish control over the Old City of Jerusalem and surrounding holy sites. Many Palestinians would rather not have peace than be forced to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. And while many Israelis would not accept a peace deal that acknowledges a Palestinian "right of return" for Palestinian refugees of past wars, many Palestinians would not accept peace if it doesn't include this right. Time and again, Israelis and Palestinians have shown they are adamant about these choices.

Whenever the parties negotiate and are required to make a concession, they balk and return to fighting at the negotiating table. They have priorities other than those imagined by the mediator.

2014 May 10

QBism

Matthew Chalmers

Quantum Bayesianism says quantum weirdness is all in the mind. David Mermin: "It really is that simple."

Measurements do not cause things to happen in the external world; they cause things to happen in our heads. The classical world is where acts of measurements are continuous, because we see things with our own eyes. The quantum world is where we need an explicit act of measurement with an appropriate piece of equipment to gain information. For a QBist, the quantum-classical boundary is the split between what is going on in the real world and your subjective experience of it.

By abandoning the idea that nature can be described adequately from the perspective of a detached observer, QBism recalls Immanuel Kant's critique of pure reason, in which even spacetime is a tool we use to categorize the phenomenal manifold.

Mermin: "Why promote space-time from a 4D diagram, which is a useful conceptual device, to a real essence?"

AR I argued for this view in my book Mindworlds.

2014 May 9

No Baggage

Nigel Farage

UKIP proclaims itself a non-racist, non-sectarian party. The offensive and racially prejudiced comments of a handful of idiots were unrepresentative of our party. I have been noticing a surge of support and new members from Britain's ethnic minority communities.

UKIP would have a stringent immigration policy but also a fair one. The Conservative party is a snooty party of and for the establishment, favouring the wealthy, the powerful and the already well connected. UKIP does not carry such baggage.

AR We all deplore racism. But a British party can only flourish if it understands and works with the establishment. Spurning the "baggage" is no way to win.

Ed No PM

Philip Collins

Labour leader Ed Miliband's reach exceeds his grasp. When he decrees that rents must be lower and banking, energy and train fares should all be cheaper, he is wishing the ills of the world away without any idea how a market really works. His combination of a tendency to utopian unreality and natural caution means that, in office, he would likely be a lukewarm version of himself in opposition.

The Tories have no prospect of convincing anyone that Ed Miliband is Hugo Chávez. But they might well persuade people that he is a man with his head in the clouds, if not up his backside.

AR No hope for a British renaissance from Red Ed, then.

Chimerica Line

The Guardian

China has a plan to build a high-speed railway line to the United States. The "China-Russia plus America line" would be 13 000 km long, from northeast China through Siberia, through a 200 km undersea tunnel beneath the Bering Strait, then through Alaska and Canada to Seattle. The trip would take two days at an average speed of 350 km/h.

China plans three other big high-speed rail lines:
1 From north China via Moscow to London
2 From west China via Central Asia and Turkey to Germany
3 From south China to Singapore

AR China rails the globe, Britain chokes on HS2.

2014 May 8

Nuclear Fusion

The Guardian

UKAEA CEO and CCFE director professor Steve Cowley says controlled nuclear fusion is one of the "great quests" in science. Engineering the process that powers the stars means confining hydrogen nuclei at temperatures over 100 MK so that they fuse into helium nuclei, to release more energy than is needed to hold and heat them. Nuclear fusion would be a practically limitless source of energy that is clean, safe, and cheap.

The science is solid but the engineering challenge is enormous. The CCFE JET tokamak used magnetic confinement to generate a world record 16 MW of fusion power. The new ITER tokamak is under construction in the south of France. ITER involves 35 nations and is expected to release 500 MW of power from a 50 MW input and may even achieve ignition.

Cowley: "When ITER gets to self-sustainment that will be one of those moments in science that happen very rarely. I think we will then be able to say it's completely scientifically possible to make a commercial fusion reactor. The real question then is cost and scale."

MOND

Mordehai Milgrom

My theory of modified Newtonian dynamics (MOND) describes the motion of stars in the outer regions of spiral galaxies with a departure from Newtonian dynamics when the acceleration of stars drops below 10 pico-g. With a single parameter, MOND can predict the rotation curves of all galaxies with no need for dark matter.

MOND correctly predicted the velocities of stars in about 30 dwarf satellite galaxies of Andromeda. The main dark matter paradigm has no such predictive power. I asked whether gravitational dynamics changed at a critical acceleration more than 30 years ago, and Jacob Bekenstein made MOND compatible with Einstein's principles of relativity in 2004.

AR Bekenstein also did good work with Stephen Hawking on black hole thermodynamics.

Push Your Kids

The Times

Pearson chief education adviser Sir Michael Barber: "In the Pacific Asian cultures there is a strong belief that effort will be rewarded and if you try harder and work harder you will achieve higher standards. Pressure from parents for students in Pacific Asian systems to achieve well in school, to spend long evenings on their homework, is very, very high, some would argue too high. There is a contrast between those attitudes and here where some parents don't exert that kind of pressure for achievement, don't expect that effort to be rewarded, do think that either their child is really clever or isn't, and sometimes reinforce that in a way that is unhelpful."

Sir Michael was speaking at the launch of an updated global ranking of education systems in which Britain, at #6, trails the top five by a big margin.

Sir Michael: "In the end it is about communicating with people how much the 21st century is going to be different from when they were at school and how that needs different preparation. Basic skills are going to change in a quite dramatic way and only people who are well prepared, knowledgeable, well informed, able to solve problems, take responsibility for themselves, are going to be able to succeed, but if you have got those 21st-century skills it is going to be full of opportunity."

2014 May 7

UK vs EU

Katrin Bennhold

Britain holds European Union elections on May 22.

The UK joined the European Common Market in 1973. When the Labour Party called a referendum on membership in 1975, Margaret Thatcher campaigned in favor. As prime minister, she signed the Single European Act in 1987, a huge surrender of British sovereignty.

German sociologist Ulrich Beck: "The most pro-European voices in Britain today are business and the Obama administration."

AR Brits are in a funk. Vote for Europe and get real.

Race

Charles Murray

A computer given a random sampling of bits of DNA that are known to vary among humans will cluster them into groups that correspond to the known race or ethnicity of the subjects. The clusters identify the five major races: Asians, Caucasians, sub-Saharan Africans, Native Americans, and the original inhabitants of Australia and Papua New Guinea. If the subjects all come from European ancestry, the clusters will instead correspond to Italians, Germans, French, and other European ethnicities.

As yet we know little about the substance of racial and ethnic differences. Humans who left Africa moved into environments that introduced radically new selection pressures. The genes under selection include a wide variety of biological traits affecting everything from bone structure and diet to aspects of the brain and nervous system involving cognition and sensory perception.

Nicholas Wade contrasts the polities and social institutions of China, India, the Islamic world, and Europe. He presents evolutionary explanations for the outsize Jewish contributions to the arts and sciences. Then he incorporates genetics into an explanation of the rise of the West in the past 600 years.

2014 May 6

Why Germans Love Russia

Clemens Wergin

In a recent poll, 49% of Germans said they wanted their country to take a middle position between the West and Russia in the Ukraine crisis, and only 45% wanted to be firmly in the Western camp.

The drift is on both sides of the political spectrum. Part of the left is instinctively anti-American and sides with anyone who challenges the status quo and the US superpower. The populist right agrees with Russian propaganda that Europe has become too gay, too tolerant, too permissive, and unchristian.

What unites them is disregard for the fate of the people in the lands between Germany and Russia. When German public figures dismiss Ukraine as "not a real country anyway" they evoke memories in Eastern Europe of the days when the Nazis and Soviets turned the region into a killing field.

In a more recent poll, 60% of Germans said that their country should stand with the West in the Ukraine crisis. So Russian aggression is having some effect on public opinion.

2014 May 5

Goldilocks

Matt Ridley

The Copernicus principle says that our planet is just an ordinary one of an estimated sextillion similar objects orbiting suns like ours. So there should be enormous numbers of planets old enough to be transmitting interstellar pop music. Yet not a peep.

The anthropic principle says that planets unfit for life don't evolve sentient life forms, so we are bound to wake up on a planet that's just right. This observational bias works against the Copernicus principle. Our case may seem typical, but it might actually be extremely rare.

A long string of coincidences seems to needed for life. Primordial anti-gravity, nuclear and electrical forces, the strength of molecular bonds — all just right for us. The Earth almost froze over several times but recovered each time, unlike Venus or Mars, and for the last half billion years we've had good weather. Catastrophes have set us back but not wiped us out.

David Waltham says there are three possible explanations for all this: God, Gaia, and Goldilocks. God is inscrutable. Gaia says living things somehow control the thermostat. And Goldilocks says it's just dumb luck that Earth is neither too hot nor too cold, but just right.

The Moon seals the case for Goldilocks. It is most unusual for a small planet to have such a huge moon. The Moon stabilized the Earth's spin to give us fairly long days and regular seasons to defrost the poles. Had it been only slightly different, we wouldn't be here.

A Goldilocks moon is unlikely. Earth might be unique in the visible universe. We could be alone.

AR Usually with such "fine-tuning" arguments, we find good reasons later to dispute them. My guess is that the Moon story is far from over. See a book I recently edited: The Beginning and the End by Clément Vidal (Springer 2014).

2014 May 4

Manifesto for Europe

Thomas Piketty and 14 others

The European Union is in crisis. The eurozone countries are mired in distrust and the debt crisis is far from over. The existing EU institutions are dysfunctional and need to be rebuilt. Democracy and the public authorities must regain control of globalized financial capitalism. Our proposals:

1 To bring tax justice and political will into the globalization process, Eurozone countries must share their corporate income tax (CIT). A sovereign European authority needs to establish a common tax base. Each country might then continue to set its own CIT rate on this common base.

2 To approve the tax base for the CIT, we must establish a parliamentary chamber for the eurozone. A new European chamber, based on grouping a portion of the national MPs and representing the states through their national parliaments, would complement the existing European parliament.

3 To put the debt crisis behind us, we need to pool the debts of the eurozone countries. Then the European Central Bank can conduct an effective and responsive monetary policy. The pooling of debt has already begun, but it is time to clarify the democratic legitimacy of these mechanisms.

Debate over Europe's political institutions has all too often been pushed aside, which ultimately means accepting the omnipotence of market forces and competition and abandoning all hope of controlling capitalism. We need to start a debate so that we finally have a social and democratic Europe.

AR A post-communist manifesto!

Rabbi Myer Kripke

The New York Times

Rabbi Myer Kripke and Warren Buffett were neighbors in Omaha. When Rabbi Kripke and his wife Dorothy had saved about $67,000, Dorothy said: "Myer, invest the money with your friend Warren."

When their investment had grown to more than $25 million, they gave most of it away. They stayed in their apartment and Rabbi Kripke remained at his synagogue.

Myer Samuel Kripke was born in 1914, in Ohio. He was ordained in 1937. He met Dorothy in a class taught by Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, founder of the Reconstructionist movement, a branch of Judaism that stresses the religion's historical context instead of a supernatural God, and married her in 1937.

Rabbi Kripke died in April 2014, aged 100. Dorothy had died in 2000. They are survived by their two children. Their son Saul Kripke has been called the world's greatest living philosopher.

AR Saul Kripke was my logic guru from 1972 to 1977. I studied his works and was hugely impressed.

2014 May 3

NATO and Russia

Diana Magnay, CNN

Russian President Putin's popularity has soared since the annexation of Crimea. US Secretary of State John Kerry accused Russia of behaving in a 19th century fashion in the 21st century.

NATO had tried to make Russia a "privileged partner" and worked with Russia on a range of issues from counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics to submarine rescue and emergency planning.

Accession of Ukraine to NATO now seems unimaginable. A membership action plan had been discussed for both Ukraine and Georgia at the Bucharest Summit in 2008.

2014 May 2

Artificial Intelligence

Stephen Hawking, Stuart Russell, Max Tegmark, Frank Wilczek

AI research is progressing rapidly. Success in creating AI would be the biggest event in human history. It might also be the last, unless we learn how to avoid the risks:

— Near term: World militaries are considering autonomous weapon systems.
— Medium term: AI may transform our economy to bring both great wealth and great dislocation.
— Longer term: An explosive transition is possible, triggering the Singularity.

Synthetic Biology

Richard C. Lewontin

The J. Craig Venter Institute works with fuel companies and the pharmaceutical industry to create microorganisms to produce new fuels and vaccines. Craig Venter: "There's not a single aspect of human life that doesn't have the potential to be totally transformed by these technologies in the future."

By one estimate, 2% of the US economy at present is derived from genetic engineering and synthetic biology. This proportion is growing at an annual rate of 12%. We see such genetically engineered products as corn and tomatoes, and new microorganisms for detecting toxic environmental pollutants.

By manipulating the genomes of plants and animals we could, in principle, increase the productivity of farms and forests, of lakes, rivers, and seas, which would be of benefit to human existence. The NSF and the NIH depend on scientific experts to decide which research programs should be funded.

Poland

Remi Adekoya

Between 2007 and 2013, Poland received £56 billion in EU development funds. The 2014-20 EU budget earmarks £60 billion more for the Poles. Also, Polish farmers receive billions in EU agricultural subsidies. Poland joined the EU in 2004. In 2003 Polish GDP was £130 billion. By 2013 it was £305 billion. GDP per capita rose from 44% of the EU average to 67% today and may reach 74% by 2020.

Young Poles today travel to study and work all over Europe. After the fall of Communism, times were hard and Poles were often coarse and gruff in their behavior. A decade of EU money has helped to civilize them. Foreigners no longer need fear attack by skinheads. But some Poles say Polish traditions are being eroded by nihilistic western pop culture. Poland is 99.9% white and 95% Roman Catholic.

Radek Sikorski

Michael Weiss

Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski was educated at Oxford and a member of the Bullingdon Club. Now he is seen as a possible successor to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Poland is the only EU country to share a border with both Russia and Ukraine. As a NATO member, it dispatched troops into combat zones in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Now Polish security doctrine envisions an end to foreign wars in favor of homeland defense. Sikorski: "NATO needs to go back to basics because whereas conflict inside the European Union has become unthinkable, conflict on the periphery of the European Union is not just all too thinkable but is rather a very concerning reality."

In 2012, Sikorski delivered a speech near Oxford: "I was making the same argument about the EU as the UK government makes about remaining in Scotland: Together we're stronger."

AR Britain should stay in the EU.

2014 May 1

Life

Barbara J. King

Anthropologist Eduardo Kohn worked among the Runa people in the Upper Amazonian forest: "Tropical forests amplify and thus can make more apparent to us, the ways life thinks."

Kohn invites us to see how forest creatures without language think, represent the world, and make meaning on their own. When we link signs with all of life, we break out beyond "the conflation of representation with language" that characterizes most of anthropology. Thinking goes on in the forest, but not because of human agency: "The world beyond the human is not a meaningless one made meaningful by humans."

This perspective carries with it enormous power for any society that wants to break out of the solipsism of considering linguistic mediation of the world as a sort of evolutionary pinnacle. Kohn stresses his certainty that of all thinking creatures, only humans are moral. This distinction implicates us uniquely in a web of responsibility toward the living world.

AR Forests think on Pandora: see Avatar.

Religion

Graham Lawton

To most of the people who have ever lived, belief in god comes naturally. Certain features of human psychology that evolved for non-religious reasons also create fertile ground for god. So when people encounter religious stories and claims, they find them intuitively appealing and plausible.

Analytical atheism is one route to irreligion. It flourishes in places where people are exposed to science and logic. Apathetic atheism is for people who don't need the comfort of belief in god. Religion thrives on existential angst, and as societies become more prosperous and stable, people don't need it.

Pascal Boyer claims that atheism is psychologically impossible because of the way humans think. Even people who claim to be committed atheists hang on to traces of religion, such as belief in an immortal soul. We need to find new solutions to the perennial problems of life that religion tries to solve.

AR Beliefs can change: see Mindworlds.

 F-35
Lockheed Martin

"The essential aspects of democracy are the freedom of the individual, within the framework of laws passed by Parliament, to order his life as he pleases, and the uniform enforcement of tribunals independent of the executive. As long as these rights are defended, the foundations of freedom are secure."
Winston Churchill
January 1939


Adolf Hitler regularly ate "Führerkuchen" after staying up late talking to guests. Elisabeth Kalhammer, now 89, worked as a maid from 1943 at his Berghof retreat in Bavaria. She says he kept to a strict diet but secretly feasted on chocolate biscuits and cream scones. A Führerkuchen apple cake was baked each day and left out at night for him to raid while others slept.

War
Keith Lowe

According to Ian Morris, war is good for us. Man has always been a selfish, brutal species. All life is competition, and those who combine together to form bigger, more sophisticated organisms tend to win. The logical conclusion is for all human beings to merge into a single global being. This is one of the most fascinating histories I have read for years.

AR See my review

Cosmic inflation explains why the background of the universe is so smooth. The BICEP2 team saw its traces imprinted on the CMB as polarization patterns. Quantum fizzing made waves in spacetime, inflation amplified the waves, and surfing the waves polarized the CMB photons. Proof of inflation is now writ large across the sky.


Bitstrips
All work and no pay

Antisemitism
William Saletan

UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia executive secretary Rima Khalaf: "Israel's adamancy that it is a Jewish State ... violates the rights of both the Muslim and Christian indigenous populations and revives the concept of state ethnic and religious purity, which caused egregious human suffering during the 20th century."

Calling her an antisemite
only cheapens the term.

JOY

Aristotle said there were two kinds of joy: hedonia (having fun) and eudaimonia (helping others and doing good work). The latter is more likely to last.

Researchers studied a group of teenagers to see whether their reactions to eudaimonic or hedonic rewards correlated with how depressed they felt over time. Brain scans of the teens while choosing a hedonic reward or a eudaimonic one and while playing a hedonic game of chance were compared with self-reported depressive symptoms both initially and again a year later. Teens whose brain responded more to the eudaimonic choice showed declines in depressive symptoms. Teens who liked the hedonic game grew more depressed.

 

2014 April 30

Problem: Europe

Simon Jenkins

Polls everywhere indicate rising disillusion with the European Union. Consent to the union is collapsing. A third of the seats in the new European Parliament could be taken by sceptical or rejectionist parties. All reflect a concern for Europe's nation states. Dissident groups across Europe seek to repatriate the ideals of self-government and democratic citizenship.

The European Parliament is a noncombatant. Brussels oligarchs tend to do what they want and leave consent and democratic accountability to national governments. A patrician contempt for its subject peoples is the occupational disease of privileged rulers throughout history. Dismissing populists as racists is the desperate cry of a political class on the run.

AR The Eurocrats need to be taught a lesson. If the European Parliament won't do it, the people will.

2014 April 29

F-35 Not So Stealthy

Bill Sweetman

The F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter is not stealthy for new Russian and Chinese radars. Defense departments worldwide are paying billions for a fighter that will need extra help to reach its target.

The F-35 is susceptible to detection by radars operating in VHF bands. Saying the F-35 is VHF-stealthy is like saying the sky is not blue. The physics is the same.

No one knew how to make a supersonic fighter VHF-stealthy back in 1983 when the JSF was conceived. The aircraft has a jamming capability and an expendable radar decoy to disrupt a missile engagement, but active electronically scanned array (AESA) VHF radars are harder to beat.

A highly mobile counter-stealth radar system with VHF AESA is now being delivered to the Russian armed forces. And new Chinese warships carry a VHF search radar, said to be an AESA.

AR US and NATO forces have waited too long for the trillion-dollar F-35. Taxpayers deserve better.

Euracism?

The Guardian

Leader of a cross-party campaign to condemn UKIP as racist and former Labour immigration minister Barbara Roche: "UKIP's campaign needs to be exposed for what it is, a racist campaign. The party is practising what is in effect a form of Euracism. They are deploying the same language and tactics used by openly racist parties like the BNP, but instead of targeting migrants from Africa and Asia they are targeting migrants from within the EU."

AR I think "xenophobia" is the right word.

2014 April 28

UKIP Hits Labour Vote

The Times

Lord Glasman, who was ennobled by Labour leader Ed Miliband, says Labour voters are defecting to UKIP because Labour has become too middle class. He said there was a feeling of "dispossession and abandonment" in the working class and that UKIP would hit Labour in the heartlands. He urged Labour to win back working class support by addressing concerns about immigration and welfare.

AR Class consciousness is the curse of UK life and a millstone for Labour.

Beating UKIP

John McTernan

What is to be done about UKIP? Three ways to fight back:

1 Have faith in the facts. They matter.
2 Use gentle mockery. MEP Nigel Farage is no champion of the people.
3 Beat populism by being clear and direct and appealing.

Obesity

Theodore Dalrymple

Is obesity a disease? The recent increase of obesity resembles a pandemic. But the existence of circumstances for obesity does not mean absence or abrogation of choice. This is often avoided in discussions of obesity for three main reasons:

1 Exclusive emphasis on individual choice can blunt sympathy and become censorious.
2 The limits of intervention do not flatter those who would save the victims from their fate.
3 In assigning people responsibility for their downfall, one may seem to refuse sympathy.

If people with bad habits are victims of circumstances, the solution lies outside themselves, so they can indulge without guilt or shame. The effort people make in any endeavor is proportional to how much they believe that they influence its outcome.

2014 April 27

UKIP

The Sunday Times

UKIP victory in European Parliament elections on May 22 would challenge UK PM David Cameron.

All publicity is good publicity. UKIP leader Nigel Farage faces questions over his EP allowances and UKIP is accused of scaremongering, but a new poll shows the party is in the lead for the EP elections with 31% of the vote, ahead of Labour at 28%, the Conservatives at 19%, and Liberal Democrats at 9%.

UKIP won 12 EP seats in 2004 and 13 in 2009. In neither case did it help UKIP in subsequent UK general elections. In 2005 it won 2.2% of the vote and no seats. In 2010 it won 3.1% but again no seats.

Cameron may be relying on a UKIP blowout to come to his rescue. This looks like wishful thinking.

Christianity

A.C. Grayling

David Cameron said the UK is a Christian nation. He wished to draw upon those magnanimous and liberal characteristics once connoted by the term "Christian" to mean being tolerant, forgiving, considerate, and kind. We should not think that uses of "Christian" to suggest kindly attitudes entail that we are a nation of believers in the dogmas and legends of the religion.

The British Empire was run by graduates of the ancient universities, where the main studies were the classics. So the British governing class was brought up on the literature, philosophy, and history of classical Greece and Rome. This was a fine education in government, military strategy, ethics, political theory, management of an empire, social conditions, education, law, and much besides.

If you go to the New Testament for instruction on how to live, you are told to give away all your possessions, make no plans for the future, reject your family if they disagree with you and stay celibate if you can. This is an unlivable ethic. Help came from Greek philosophy, not least from the Stoics, and the Roman republican virtues of probity, honor, duty, restraint, respect, friendship, and generosity. Christian values are largely Greek and Roman secular values.

2014 April 26

Poles Save Southampton

Daily Mail

Poland joined the EU in May 2004. Now 25 000 Poles live in Southampton, more than 1 in 10 of all its citizens and more than in any other UK city outside London. Polish roots in the city go back to WW2 when Polish pilots fought in the Battle of Britain.

Greengrocers Andy and Pam Phillips employ a Polish woman who came to the UK seven years ago. Andy: "If it wasn't for the Poles, I would have closed down years ago. They're much healthier than the Brits, more old-fashioned. They eat loads of fruit and veg, and they cook from scratch."

Pawel Krasinski buys carrots and celery for his fresh fruit and vegetable juice business: "I came from southwest Poland seven years ago. I worked as a nutritionist there, but over here I found work with a food manufacturer and learnt everything I needed to know to set up my own food business. I could never have done that in Poland. There are better opportunities here if you're prepared to work hard."

Southampton City Councillor Simon Letts: "Southampton is used to waves of immigration ... Our school results were falling slightly, but they're now up to the national average. I think that is partly due to the ethos of hard work that's come with the new immigrants."

2014 April 25

Ukraine: Russia Wants WW3

The Times

Ukraine PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk: "Attempts at military conflict in Ukraine will lead to a military conflict in Europe. The world has not yet forgotten World War 2, but Russia already wants to start World War 3."

AR This is hyperbolic rhetoric betraying a weak politician who is in over his head. The Ukrainians have lost control of political developments in their country. Russian forces can now move in under the pretext of providing friendly assistance to neighbors in need.

New Tech in WWI

Felix Bohr

On the battlefields of Flanders in April 1915, German troops launched a chlorine gas attack in the first ever large-scale use of chemical weapons. It was just one of the technical innovations in World War 1.

The father of chemical warfare was Fritz Haber. German troops deployed 150 tons of chlorine gas in combat near Ypres in Belgium. French soldiers thought it was smoke until they were gasping for breath. Some 1200 were killed and 3000 wounded as Haber observed them from a safe distance. He was promoted to the rank of captain following this success. All told, both sides used 112 000 tons of gas between 1914 and 1918.

By the end of 1914, both sides were stuck in trenches and looking for a breakthrough. They introduced a lot of new technology: mobile radio telephones, artillery with a range of 120 km, and combat-ready fighter aircraft. The flamethrower had been patented by a Berlin engineer in 1901, but the German army first deployed it on a large scale in February 1916 at Verdun. The weapon had a range of 35 m.

The tank developed too, but the British took the lead. In 1906, Austrian Kaiser Franz Joseph I had declared the Austro-Daimler armored vehicle to be useless. In 1916, British tanks fought in the Battle of the Somme. The Central Powers were too slow with their own tanks.

During the war years, the telephone became the most important means of army communication. By 1917, the German army had installed a 920 000 km cable network for field telephones. The lines could be cut in trench warfare, so radio gear was deployed. The first mobile phones weighed 50 kg.

In 1914, aircraft were mainly used for reconnaissance over the front. But in 1915, a French pilot installed a machine gun on his Morane-Saulnier monoplane. In response, the Germans developed a Fokker fighter with synchronization gear that let it fire its guns between the spinning propeller blades. Allied planes were reduced to "Fokker fodder" until the French flew Nieuport biplanes in 1916.

On War

My review of "War: What is it good for?" by Ian Morris
PDF: 2 pages, 74 KB

2014 April 24

Islamism

Douglas Murray

Radicalized and politicized views of Islam have a long tradition. The extremists make their claims on a plausible reading of the texts and traditions that have existed within the religion since its founding. To confront this and defeat the extremists, we cannot simply pretend that these problems do not exist. Non-Muslims must be unafraid to point them out and to say that there are extremist attitudes that remain permissible in mainstream Islam but go wholly against our own most deeply held beliefs. And it is vital that Muslims do everything they can to face up to the challenges these extreme elements pose within their faith. It is incumbent upon Muslims everywhere to do all they can to anathematize the extremists and to chase them and their readings out of the religion. This is a matter of urgency.

AR Hear, hear.

War on Islamism

Seumas Milne

Tony Blair is once more demanding military action against the threat of radical Islam.

UK education secretary Michael Gove is hunting down extremists in Birmingham. Locals say the reality is that Muslims have been getting more involved in the schools to raise standards. The uproar poisons community relations and deters ordinary Muslims from taking part in civic life.

UK PM David Cameron has announced an investigation into the Muslim Brotherhood and its links with violent extremism. The UK ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Sir John Jenkins, was appointed to head it. The Saudi and Egyptian regimes both regard the Brotherhood as a mortal threat.

AR Fair comment in part.

War

New Scientist

Archeological evidence suggests that 10—20% of people in the late stone age met their end at the hands of others. The figure for homicide today is just 0.7%.

Ian Morris suggests that over the sweep of history, war made states, and states made peace. This may mean pacifism runs not only against our nature but also against our self-interest.

Alternatively, the chain of global conflicts of the 20th century shaped an interconnected world in which war is increasingly unthinkable. The threat of mutually assured destruction has kept the peace in many places. So the hope that those wars represented the end of all wars may yet prove correct.

Group violence is common among social animals. But we humans are perhaps uniquely capable of shunning it. Peace on Earth may be in reach.

AR I have just read War: What is it good for? by Ian Morris and am writing a review.

2014 St George's Day

Radical Islam

Tony Blair

The threat of radical Islam is growing. It is destabilizing communities and even nations. It is undermining the possibility of peaceful coexistence in an era of globalization.

We have to take sides. Underneath the turmoil is a struggle between:

Those with a modern view of the Mideast, one of pluralistic societies and open economies,
    where the attitudes and patterns of globalization are embraced

Those who want to impose an ideology born out of a belief that there is one proper religion and
    one proper view of it, and that this view should, exclusively, determine the nature of society
    and the political economy.

AR There speaks a militant Christian.

Philosophy

Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

Philosophy is not a science. Philosophy once claimed physics, cosmology, biology, psychology, neuroscience, linguistics, and mathematical logic. But the view of philosophy as failed or immature science denies it the possibility of progress, as does the view of philosophy as a species of literature. Philosophy is really about rendering our human points of view ever more coherent.

The reasons we give in accounting for our behavior make no mention of the selfish gene. Coherence work of the moral kind commits us to making ourselves coherent to others. Having reasons means being prepared to share them. The progress in our moral reasoning has worked to widen both the kinds of reasons we offer and the group to whom we offer them. This is progress.

AR For me, philosophy is cognitive integration of science and human values.

2014 April 22

Christian Britain

The Independent

UK PM David Cameron is under attack for saying that Britons should be "more confident about our status as a Christian country". Critics say Britain is less Christian: 59% of those in England and Wales said they were Christian in 2011, compared with 72% in 2001. Parliamentary researchers predict that there will be more non-believers than Christians in the UK by 2030.

National Secular Society president Terry Sanderson: "If you put forward the idea that this is a Christian country with the implicit idea that Christians are somehow superior to other citizens then its leads down a dangerous path of prioritizing one group's belief ahead of others."

Catholic bishop Mark Davies: "Christianity is the single most important element in England's history. From our legal system to our constitution, it is at the very foundations of national identity."

AR History is not destiny. The UK is a secular institution.

British Muslims

The Telegraph

Ofsted will examine allegations that radical Islamists had sought to infiltrate the governing bodies of secular schools in Birmingham. Head teachers were said to be pressured into segregating pupils, abandoning un-Islamic sections of the biology syllabus, and neglecting non-Muslim pupils. Birmingham MP Khalid Mahmood: "There is most definitely a plot by a small group of individuals and the plot actually affects the majority of the Muslim community in Birmingham."

Former UK Home Secretary Jack Straw: "The parents have to accept ... that we also live in the United Kingdom and that alongside values that are religiously based, there has to be a clear understanding that this is the UK, and there are a set of values, that are indeed Christian based, which permeate our sense of citizenship."

AR This needs firm action fast. No Islamic schools for British kids!

British Infrastructure

The Times

More than 200 projects to rebuild Britain by improving the roads and rail network, broadband coverage, and flood defenses will begin this year, say prime minister David Cameron and chancellor George Osborne. Taking advantage of improving economic figures before European and local elections, they will announce £36 billion of new investment in infrastructure this financial year. More than 200 schemes are to be completed in 2014-15. Most of the £36 billion costs are being covered by the private sector.

Cameron: "Ensuring Britain has first-class infrastructure is a crucial part of our long term economic plan: supporting business, creating jobs and providing a better future for hardworking people."

AR Buying votes, but that's OK if they resurface the roads I use before my car wears out.

2014 April 21

A Mystical Moment

Barbara Ehrenreich

In 1959, when I was 17, I stepped out alone one day and and saw the world suddenly flame into life. This was a furious encounter with a living substance that was too vast and violent to hold on to, too beautiful to let go of. I felt ecstatic and somehow completed.

Historically, the range of people reporting such experiences is wide. On the religious end of the spectrum, people have tended to describe their experiences as encounters with familiar deities or spirits, while nonbelievers are likely to speak of a more generic living presence.

One explanation is that such experiences represent some sort of encounter. My scientific training nudged me to consider this possibility. The universe could be pulsing with a kind of life, and capable of bursting into something that looks to us momentarily like the flame.

2014 Easter Sunday

Humanism

Theo Hobson

Atheism is now about more than just not believing in God. Today it aspires to a moral system too. The problem is that our morality has religious roots. When God is rejected, the entire moral tradition of the West is put in question. This was the insight of Friedrich Nietzsche. What we mean by good and bad is rooted in Christianity.

Richard Dawkins says humans have evolved to be altruistic. He believes that morality is natural, yet he believes in moral progress. He explains that there has been a major advance in our moral conventions "from biological science, especially evolution". But biological science and evolution can be used to authorize eugenics and racism. The real issue is the triumph of humanism, an ideology of equality.

A.C. Grayling says humanism is necessarily anti-religious: with the withering of religion, "an ethical outlook which can serve everyone everywhere, and can bring the world together into a single moral community, will at last be possible". He claims that humanism naturally arises from clear unprejudiced thought about human life. But the universalism of modern humanism is rooted in Christianity.

Terry Eagleton says rational humanism is rooted in the Protestant passion for reform: the Enlightenment "inherited its brave campaign against superstition partly from Christianity itself, with its rejection of all false gods and prophets, all idols, fetishes, magical rituals, and powers of darkness, in the name of human flesh and blood".

AR Historically, Eagleton is right.

Mace Group
Kingdom Tower, Saudi Arabia: 1 km high, building starts next week


FB
And of politics?

Social Physics
MIT Tech Rev

MIT Human Dynamics Lab director Alex Pentland says in his new book Social Physics that our enhanced ability to gather behavioral data will enable scientists to develop a causal theory of social structure and ultimately discover the basic mechanisms of social interaction.

 

2014 April 19

Are Atheists the New Mormons?

Michael Schulson

The American Atheists are gathering in Salt Lake City for their annual conclave. The event is taking place at a downtown Hilton, just three blocks away from Temple Square, spiritual and administrative capital of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). The convention opens on Good Friday and concludes on Easter.

AA PR director Dave Muscato: "We can actually get quite a bargain at convention centers, because few other groups want to have a convention on Easter weekend." He explains that the goal of the convention is to reach suppressed atheists in Salt Lake City, not to convert Mormons. The convention is intriguing for three reasons:

1 Atheists and Mormons are both American insiders and persistent outsiders, trying to assert a public identity while holding principles that baffle most Americans. The LDS church mixes Protestantism with new rituals and founding documents by a New York-born prophet. Meanwhile, the AA has helped transform atheism from a theological position to a movement, an identity, and a culture.

2 The two groups occupy, in many ways, a position of social privilege. Both groups are overwhelmingly white, comprise about 2% of the American population, and tend to be more affluent than the American population as a whole. Close to two-thirds of those who identify as atheist or agnostic are men. Both Mormons and organized atheists have a history of heavily male-skewed leadership.

3 The LDS and AA both have good PR. BYU scholar J.B. Haws says new LDS campaigns are "less scripted, and a little more trying to individualize Mormonism" than previous outreach efforts. Recent AA billboards took the "I'm a Mormon" campaign and recast it as "I'm an atheist" with atheists looking friendly and ordinary. Muscato says they were "supposed to be cute" but not meant to anger Mormons.

AR What a fun idea!

2014 April 17

Bad Times

Nigel Farage

The Times has grossly misled the British public in its smear campaign against me. The use by The Times of the word "expenses" is a deliberate and cynical attempt to conflate the anger over MPs expenses with the way that MEPs work. All MEPs are given a fixed allowance of £3,580 per month. They do not have to provide receipts for any of that expenditure. Like other UK MEPs, I publish a list of the types of things on which the allowance is spent. I recognize that it is public money. I have always said that I will use all legal means to get us out of the EU, and I make absolutely no apologies for using EU money to do it.

2014 April 16

UKIP

The Times

Nigel Farage and other UKIP officials tried to silence colleagues who questioned how UKIP handled its funds. Farage called a senior female UKIP official a "stupid woman" and told her to "shut up" when she asked for an independent audit into party finances. He dismissed criticism over his EU spending as "yet another politically motivated attack".

The party faces an investigation into a "missing" £60,000 in EU allowances. Former UKIP member Ian Gillman was once "physically threatened" for airing concerns. Tony Ellwood witnessed the threat and said that when he was asked to reconcile the UKIP accounts he found that 95% of its funds were being withdrawn as cash for unknown purposes.

Former UKIP national treasurer Bruce Lawson said he was "wholly uncomfortable" with how UKIP MEPs handled allowances. He wrote to Farage: "MEPs [get] an office allowance of about £30,000. No receipts are required ... everyone relies on the MEPs' honesty. There are no checks that any of them actually do repay this money."

MEPs vote in the European Parliament today on a plan to reform European allowances.

AR So UKIP may be corrupt. And the EU is beset with corruption. What's new?

Cannabis Alters Brain

The Telegraph

Harvard Medical School researchers scanned the brains of 20 students who used cannabis casually and compared them with those of 20 who had never used it. They found changes in areas involved in emotion, motivation, and addiction.

Rethink Mental Illness chief executive Mark Winstanley: "For too long cannabis has been seen as a safe drug, but as this study suggests, it can have a really serious impact on your mental health. Research also shows that when people smoke cannabis before the age of 15, it quadruples their chance of developing psychosis."

Imperial College London professor David Nutt: "Whatever cannabis does to the brain, it's not in the same league as alcohol, which is a proven neurotoxin."

AR What are the psychosocial data for people who smoke cannabis at age 15? Nutt is right.

2014 April 15

Islamophobia

Ali A. Rizvi

Extremism in any ideology is an informed, steadfast adherence to its fundamentals. In a true religion of peace, the extremists would be nonviolent pacifists to an extreme. The main reason that terrorism is linked with Islam is that jihadi terrorists link themselves with Islam. Parts of their religion undeniably promote armed jihad.

New atheists judge religions by the contents of their sacred texts. Reading the Abrahamic holy books reveals endorsements of virtually all the oppressive and discriminatory systems that civil and human rights movements have tried to dismantle over time: patriarchy, misogyny, slavery, tribalism, xenophobia, totalitarianism, and homophobia.

Ethnicity, gender, age, nationality, educational status, financial status, citizenship status, marital status, and family background have little to do with Islamist terrorism. The only common denominator is Islamic belief and religious fervor, which is not a race or ethnicity. Muslims use the "Islamophobia" label against critics of bigotry.

2014 April 14

Meditation

Sam and Dan Harris

DH I was skeptical about meditation. My parents are both physicians and scientists at academic hospitals in the Boston area, and my wife is also a scientist and a physician. I was raised in a very secular environment. I work out because I want to take care of my health, and meditation seemed like it could fall in the same bucket. But my first taste of it was miserable.

SH Imagine that the goal of meditation is to see your own reflection clearly in each moment. You are looking through the very thing you are trying to find. People who have done a lot of meditation practice often develop a misconception that the truth is somewhere deep within. But non-duality is right on the surface. You just need to know where to look. The trick is to become sensitive to what consciousness is like the instant you try to turn it upon itself. Consciousness is already free of the ego, the thinker.

DH Most people will see the value of having more self-awareness so that they can have more emotional intelligence. However, I don't know that it will be apparent to most people why it would be desirable to see the self as an illusion.

SH The illusoriness of the self is potentially of great interest to everyone, because this false construct really is our most basic problem in every moment.

DH My book is a great prolog to yours.

AR Sam and Dan are not related, apparently.

USS Zumwalt
US Navy

DDG-1000 USS Zumwalt, christened Saturday, displaces 15 000 tons and cost $3 billion. The stealth destroyer features electric propulsion and will mount a Mach 7 electromagnetic rail gun, currently in development, and perhaps a future laser weapon.


Bitstrips
Ah, partnership

Belsen
Daily Mail

On April 15, 1945, SAS Lieutenant John Randall was the first British soldier to drive into the Nazi concentration camp at Belsen. One prisoner he spoke to was a Hungarian girl called Mady Goldgruber. Six decades later, John and Mady met again in London and talked for hours.

Pax Americana
Reihan Salam

I believe that the United States should maintain an overwhelming military edge over all potential rivals, and that we ought to be willing to use our military power in defense of our ideals as well as our interests. Global stability depends on US global leadership. This costs money: US defense spending in 2012 surpassed that of China, Russia, the UK, Japan, France, Saudi Arabia, India, Germany, Italy, and Brazil combined.







Borough of Poole
Sandbanks

"People hardly ever give up
their freedom, including their
rights to kill and impoverish each other, unless forced to
do so, and virtually the only
force strong enough to bring
this about has been defeat
in war, or fear that such a
defeat is imminent."
Ian Morris

Vikings: Life and Legend
British Museum, London
2014-03-06 — 2014-06-22





Bitstrips

NASA
NASA
NASA spacecraft Cassini suggests Saturn moon Enceladus has a subsurface water ocean. Enceladus is about 500 km across and at the north pole has an ice shell 50 km thick over solid rock. The south pole ice is thinner, over an ocean 10 km deep.


Bitstrips
Mens agitat molem

Noah
Paramount
Noah
(2:25)

 

2014 April 13

Russian Revanchism

Robin Niblett

Many think Europe and the United States provoked President Putin into annexing Crimea. But his belligerence stems from problems at home. Despite recent high global oil prices, he presides over an economy in reverse. Russia's current account surplus will disappear this year, capital outflows amounted to $63 billion last year, and growth is projected to fall in 2014 to 0.6%.

Putin's notion of national security is to surround Russia with a string of economic black holes (such as Ukraine and Belarus) and frozen conflicts (as in Transnistria, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia). These areas depend on Russia for their economic survival and hinder Russian economic growth. Europe and the United States should not accept the way Russia threatens its neighbors.

Capitalism Isn't Working

Will Hutton

Rising wealth inequality imperils the future of capitalism. Once the return on capital exceed the real growth of wages and output, the stock of capital will rise as a share of output. Inequality of wealth in the West is broadly twice the inequality of income. Historically, war and depression arrested the inequality dynamic and progressive taxes kept social peace. But now the process of capital concentration is accelerating on a global scale.

Almost no new entrepreneurs can make enough new money to challenge existing concentrations of wealth. Property owners will get richer in an era when the returns exceed those of wages and output. Their incentive is to be a rentier rather than take risks. The rich can forget frontier innovation or investment in production. They just need to harvest their returns and tax breaks, and tax shelters and compound interest will do the rest.

The rich protect their wealth from taxation, so the burden of paying for public goods such as education, health, and housing is increasingly shouldered by average taxpayers. Wealth inequality thus becomes a recipe for sluggish rentier economies, tougher working conditions, and degraded public services. No solution is in sight.

AR Conservatives should be as eager as socialists to avert a plunge into the abyss.

2014 April 12

Romanticizing Russia

Christian Neef

Germans understand little about the Russians. Russophiles say that the West slighted Russia after the Cold War and that Moscow is now taking revenge. They say we should be more inclusive of Russia. We did that in 1996 when, in the midst of a war in Chechnya that had been launched by Moscow, Russia applied for membership in the Council of Europe. The appeasers said it would prevent Moscow from any further acts of military force. The second Chechen war began three years later.

German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble compared the occupation of Crimea with the Nazi occupation of the ethnic German Sudetenland in the former Czechoslovakia. Of course it is absurd to compare Putin with Hitler. But the coverage on Russian television leading up to the annexation of Crimea, with all its lies and agitation, was reminiscent of Joseph Goebbels.

Germany needs a new way to deal with Russia.

AR We all do.

2014 April 11

Consciousness

Max Tegmark

I contend that consciousness is the way information feels when processed in certain complex ways. Giulio Tononi argues that for an information processing system to be conscious, its information must be integrated into a unified whole. This is his integrated information theory (IIT).

IIT explains why the cerebellum is unconscious. The cerebellum is mainly a collection of feed-forward neural networks, but without feedback there is no integration and no consciousness. For many integrated systems, one can design a functionally equivalent feed-forward system that IIT says is unconscious. So zombies that behave like a human yet lack conscious can exist. But systems with feedback typically require far fewer computational resources than their zombie equivalents, so evolution has made us conscious.

IIT says why we are unconscious during seizures, sedation and deep sleep, but not REM sleep. Although our neurons work during sedation and deep sleep, their interactions are weakened, reducing integration and consciousness. During a seizure, the interactions between neurons get too strong, reducing their independent information content. A consciousness index (CI) measured from EEG traces showed that awake and dreaming people had high CI, and those sedated or in deep sleep had low CI.

IIT is based on bits. But there should be a way of identifying consciousness from the particle motions alone. A conscious system must strike a balance between too little integration and too much.

If our neurons form a Hopfield network, they can only support about 37 bits of integrated information. Viewing them as a quantum system, I calculate the maximum drops to about 0.25 bits. We seem to be conscious of more than that.

AR As Max says, IIT is not fundamental. The feedback criterion for escaping zombie status would delight Douglas Hofstadter because it confirms the relevance of strange loops. It would interest David Chalmers because it lets us prove we are not zombies. I explored the loop theory in my 2009 book Mindworlds.

2014 April 10

How Western Is Germany?

Christiane Hoffmann

Germans and Russians have a special relationship. The connection reaches deep into German history. German families still share stories of cruel, but also kindhearted and soulful Russians. So for Germany, the Ukraine crisis goes right to the core of the question of German identity.

Some Germans charge that the EU and NATO snubbed Moscow with their recent eastward expansion. Germans have always idealized Russia, and they were thrilled when glasnost and perestroika brought the end of the Cold War. Finally it was acceptable to love Russia again.

German opposition to Western superficiality is seen as part of the Russian soul. During the First World War, Thomas Mann sought to differentiate Germany from the West: "Being German means culture, soul, freedom, art and not civilization, society, the right to vote, literature."

War guilt created a link between Germans and Russians, with the Second World War as an experience shared on both sides. After 1945, the Eastern way of thinking was pushed aside in West Germany, but Russia remained a country of longing for East Germans.

Old questions about a special role for Germany have resurfaced. No German would question membership in the EU or NATO, but in the Ukraine crisis almost half of all Germans want the country to adopt the middle ground between Russia and the West.

Anti-Zionist Jews

Ben Lynfield

The ultra-Orthodox young men at the Hebron Yeshiva are holding out against plans to draft them into the Israeli military and the workforce, and to make them follow the Zionist ideology of the state. The young men at the yeshiva say they are fulfilling the divine will by spending their days poring over sacred texts. But many secular Israelis call them parasites.

Secular Israelis face 3 years of mandatory military service from age 18 and reserve duty for another 20 years. The Israeli Knesset has now passed the Equal Service Bill, which would draft many yeshiva students and reverse their previous exemption.

Ultra-Orthodox haredim say their learning and prayers help defend Israel. Yeshiva student Moshe Saler: "The Torah holds the world together, and because of the Torah and prayers, the IDF succeeds.''

Yeshiva students say they would rather go to jail than serve. Yeshiva student Yaacov Halevy: "I hope I go to jail. That is my aspiration if those are the choices. Even if the army provides a framework for haredim, it will not satisfy us because we have a central goal in life: studying Torah."

Following the last Israeli elections, the secularist Yesh Atid party became part of the ruling coalition. Yesh Atid education minister Shai Peron: ''Military and civilian service is a symbol. It is one of the symbols of the togetherness, of the nationalism of Zionism. In dodging and evasion there is a divorcing from the Israeli public life.''

AR Many of us want to study all day. I say no legal exceptions on religious grounds.

The Story of the Jews

G.W. Bowersock

Simon Schama starts in the early fifth century BC, moves into the rise of Christianity and the growth of a rich Jewish tradition of philosophy and law in the Arabic language, and concludes in 1492 in Spain. For the encounter of the Jews with Greeks and Romans he relies upon the account of Flavius Josephus.

Jesus of Nazareth is part of the story of the Jews. The Greeks who listened to Paul had instant access to Greek versions of the Hebrew Bible. Christians accepted the Hebrew Bible as sacred scripture.

The arrival of Islam as a new monotheist religion in the seventh century was fraught with consequences for Jews. The new faith was not only monotheist but recognized that it shared this conviction with the Jews. The future of the Jews after the Islamic conquests was tied to the new faith and its language.

Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon wrote with equal facility in Arabic and Hebrew. He became known in Hebrew as Rambam and in Western languages as Maimonides. He settled in Cairo, where his authority made him effectively the Rabbi of all Israel in the Islamic world. Maimonides made a compendium of written and oral law known as the Mishneh Torah. Jews and Muslims agreed about Christian idolatry.


Heartbleed

The Heartbleed bug is a serious vulnerability in the popular OpenSSL cryptographic software library. This weakness allows stealing the information protected, under normal conditions, by the SSL/TLS encryption used to secure the Internet.

The Heartbleed bug allows anyone on the Internet to read the memory of the systems protected by the vulnerable versions of the OpenSSL software. This compromises the secret keys used to identify the service providers and to encrypt the traffic, the names and passwords of the users, and the actual content. This allows attackers to eavesdrop on communications, steal data directly from the services and users and to impersonate services and users.

As long as the vulnerable version of OpenSSL is in use it can be abused. Fixed OpenSSL has been released and now it has to be deployed.

2014 April 9

Spintronics

PC Pro
British researcher Stuart Parkin has been awarded the €1 million Millennium Technology Prize for his research into spintronics in hard drives.

Spintronics uses the magnetic spin of electrons to store bits, and is "one of the most successful fields of nanotechnology yet," said award sponsor Technology Academy Finland (TAF). Parkin's innovations have led to a huge expansion of data acquisition and storage capacities. TAF: "Another key spintronics advance is magnetoresistive random-access memory (MRAM), which Parkin proposed in 1995. This technology is based on magnetic tunnel junction (MTJ) memory cells. The MTJ, a close cousin of the GMR spin valve, has become standard in hard disk drive read heads."

Phys.org
Japanese researchers found a way to use nonvolatile spin-transfer torque magnetoresistive random access memory (STT-MRAM) technology to create faster computers back in 2001. Now Japanese researcher Koji Ando says: "STT-MRAM no longer requires an electromagnetic coil for both writing and reading information. We're excited by this paradigm shift and are working on developing a variety of technologies for next-generation electronics devices."

Devices that consume zero power during inactive intervals would find use in mobile computing and wearable or embedded electronics.

AR From electronics to spintronics to photonics — physics just keeps on giving.

Spreadsheets

Wired

A spreadsheet is a giant grid of rows and columns filled with letters and numbers and symbols. It gives you countless tools for manipulating and reformating this data, but these are relics of a time when computing was the domain of engineers and geeks willing to tinker with their software.

Two Stanford dropouts and a former investment banker hope to change this. Ari Dyckovsky and Ryan Atallah, both 20, quit Stanford to found Arktos. Dyckovsky had done quantum entanglement research and then worked as a quantitative researcher, or quant, at a stock market outfit. Atallah had interned at Facebook. Andrew Vigneault, 24, brought a college degree to the mix and experience in the world of venture capital and investment banking. Arktos has no product and no funding, just an idea.

The idea is to create a tool that lets you organize data in what are essentially nested images. Dyckovsky calls this a data browser. You see no more than you need to understand the data at hand. Arktos aims to bring data analysis to our personal devices.

AR My SAP team made such a tool. We offered a dashboard where CEO types could play around with huge multidimensional cubes of their business data to get to know it at the gut level. But we needed some awesome hardware behind the scenes.

Sandbanks

The Independent

Dorset millionaire beach peninsula Sandbanks is now the world's fourth most expensive place to live. But some of the millionaires are furious.

Poole MP Robert Syms (Conservative) says constituents are angry at revelers who hire houses for a weekend and bring extras ranging from naked butlers and prostitutes to inflatable phalluses and flying beer bottles. Current laws fail to halt the "party house" fad plaguing Sandbanks, and homeowners now dread Friday nights when carloads of rowdies show up for the weekend.

Syms: "I really think this needs to be acted upon, otherwise the situation will get worse and I fear that the anger of my constituents is such that some of them will take the law into their own hands, because they spend all their life working for a home and they find it's being disturbed weekend after weekend after weekend. It is running people down and they are very angry indeed."

AR My jogging trail, my MP, my sympathies.

2014 April 8

Syria

Tony Blair

We have not intervened in Syria. The consequences will be a huge problem not just for the Mideast region, but for us in the years to come.

You have to compare the fact and the consequences of intervention with the fact and the consequences of non-intervention. Supposing you had left Saddam. Arguably, you would have had the Arab spring come to Iraq. If it had come to Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, it was going to come to Iraq and you would be facing what you are facing in Syria now in Iraq. When you remove the dictatorship, that is the beginning not the end.

AR ME horrorshow — keep out.

Stress

Jonathan Heaf

Stressed? Ask: "What would Liam Neeson do?" Neeson represents everything decent and honorable about a man who doesn't fret. One thing that Neeson wouldn’t do if he were a little stressed at work, say, dealing with an airborne hostage situation or disarming a nuke, is get in a huddle with his work colleagues, steep a teabag, and politely begin fielding opinions.

Neeson would make an executive decision. He would trust his fast thinking: your first instinct is the right one. Like the very best chess players, strong, silent men succeed. Look at Clint Eastwood. Or James Bond. Dealing with stress is all about making clear, concise decisions rather than endless wittering. And, yes, sometimes this means raising your voice.

SermonSlam

Rachel Delia Benaim

The SermonSlam aims to give Jews an outlet to explore Jewish thought and ideas through spoken word poetry. The second SermonSlam in New York featured 16 performers. Their given topic was freedom.

Mordechai Martin, who introduced himself as Mo, was the winner. He gave a heartfelt sermon that intertwined ideas about the freedom of the Jews with his own experience at a mental health clinic.

SermonSlam is the brainchild of David Zvi Kalman, 26, a graduate student in Jewish and Islamic law at the University of Pennsylvania.

Another SermonSlam was held last week in California. Future slams are scheduled in other cities. Columbia Medical School student Raphy Rosen: "It's publicizing the word of God."

2014 April 7

Rwanda

Tony Blair

My foundation, the Africa Governance Initiative, has been operating in Rwanda since 2008. Progress has been extraordinary.

When the new government took power in 1994, Rwanda was a shell of a nation. Some 800 000 people had been killed in 100 days of genocide, and millions more displaced from their homes. Security and stability came first, with humanitarian relief, and then improved health, education, and incomes.

In little over five years, more than a million Rwandans have lifted themselves out of poverty. The proportion of children dying before their fifth birthday has more than halved, and when they reach seven years old, they can nearly all go to school. Most of the population is covered by health insurance, and malaria deaths have fallen. Rwandans are united in patriotism and belief in the government.

Vikings

Patrick Cockburn

Vikings waged war against the Anglo-Saxons from the time of their first recorded raid on the British east coast in 789 CE. These escalated by 865 CE into invasions by hundreds of ships bent on conquest and settlement. The kings of East Anglia and Northumbria were defeated and apparently killed in a ritual known as "the blood-eagle" in which the victim's lungs were ripped out of his ribcage and draped on his shoulders like wings. In 1002, the Anglo-Saxon king Ethelred the Unready ordered the deaths of all Danes in his kingdom. The Vikings stormed and sacked the city of Canterbury in 1011. They held the archbishop as a hostage, then beat him to death at a drunken feast.

Failure

Scott A. Sandage

Failure is a gift that keeps on giving. Sarah Lewis: "Managing the gap between vision and work, which often looks to others like being swallowed by failure, is a lifelong process."

Failing well is the best revenge. Megan McArdle: "Failing well can't be that hard, because America spent several centuries being really good at it. We're the descendants of failures who fled to these shores from their creditors, their failed farms, their disastrous love affairs."

2014 April 6

France

Matthew Campbell

President François Hollande named a new government last week. Ségolène Royal, the mother of his four children, now heads the environment super ministry. In the three decades of their relationship she was suspected of wearing the trousers — in those days his nickname was "Monsieur Royal" — and there is mirthful speculation about whether she will end up back in the cockpit.

New prime minister Manuel Valls will outline a rescue plan for cuts of €50 billion before parliament next week. The new economy minister is Arnaud Montebourg, a former criminal lawyer with a taste for oratory and a hatred of globalization, whose conquests range from TV anchor Audrey Pulvar to actress Elsa Zylberstein. Finance minister Michel Sapin worries that Montebourg could derail his job of convincing Brussels that France is fiscally responsible.

France

Nabila Ramdani

In an admission of socialist failure, President François Hollande has appointed Manuel Valls as France's new prime minister. Valls built his reputation as interior minister by clamping down on undesirables. He said the Roma should be deported, razed squatter camps, and supports anti-Muslim measures such as the ban on women wearing veils and restrictions on the sale of halal meat.

Hollande chose Ségolène Royal, the mother of his four children, as new environment and energy minister. Royal was rejected in parliamentary elections in 2012 and in the presidential poll five years earlier.

AR France will turn right and give Muslims a hard time.

2014 April 5

European Union

Mehdi Hasan

Norway (pop. 5 million), Liechtenstein (pop. 36 000), and Iceland (pop. 326 000) are members of the European Economic Area. EEA membership has some of the pros and most of the cons of being in the European Union.

Norway has had to implement 75% of EU laws and its total financial contribution to the EU each year is about €340 million. Norway pays more per capita to the EU than the UK does. Unlike the UK, Norway is also a signatory of the Schengen Agreement, which scrapped internal borders.

Switzerland (pop. 8 million) makes its own bilateral deals with the EU. It is under no obligation to implement all EU internal market legislation. It has a free trade agreement in goods with the EU but no agreement on services, including financial services. And it contributes about €450 million a year to the EU budget.

Inside the EU or out, the UK will have to follow EU rules and regulations. Eurosceptics say they like the single market but not the EU regulations. There is no single market without regulations. EU members can change them.

2014 April 4

European Protest

The Independent

After the recent Dutch election, Geert Wilders took to the stage when his Party for Freedom (PVV) won seven seats: "Do you want more or fewer Moroccans in this city and in the Netherlands?" His supporters: "Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!" Wilders: "We'll take care of that."

Wilders won over voters with promises of a European alliance of right-wing MEPs who would bring down the European Union. The alliance includes PVV, Vlaams Belang in Belgium, and the National Front in France. Parties in Italy, Austria, and Sweden may join too. UKIP leader Nigel Farage has declined. A quarter of the vote at the European Parliament elections in May could go to protest parties.

Islamophobia

Robin Yassin-Kassab

Arun Kundnani sees two dominant security approaches to Muslim citizens: culturalist and reformist. Culturalists see Islam as a totalitarian culture or ideology incompatible with democratic modernity. Reformists see the problem as a perversion of Islamic doctrine and categorize Muslims as extremists or moderates. Both culturalism and reformism neglect the basic political question. British Muslims were ghettoized as a result of industrial collapse, discriminatory housing policies, and fear of racist violence. The new European far right embraces Zionism and Islamophobia.

Turin Shroud

Linda Geddes

The Turin Shroud is a piece of linen cloth imprinted with the faint image of a naked man with what appear to be streams of blood running down his arms, and other wounds. Some believe it wrapped the body of Jesus after crucifixion. Carbon dating suggests the shroud is a medieval forgery.

Researchers have found that the marks on the shroud correspond to a crucifixion only if the arms hung above the head in a Y and not a T pose. Someone crucified in this way would die from asphyxiation. Similar positions were used during medieval torture. A forger making the shroud must have been skilled to create the correct blood spatter for a crucifixion.

2014 April 3

Farage Versus Clegg

UK deputy prime minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg faced UKIP leader Nigel Farage for a second BBC TV debate. Farage won the debate on personality and sound bites but took a position with many weak points. Clegg floundered and was often reduced to rhetorical hyperbole defending a reasonable and potentially strong case. Outtakes:

NF "You were absolutely hellbent on getting involved militarily in the war in Syria, and I personally am delighted we didn't go to war in Syria, and we're not going to get involved, I hope, in military conflict in the Ukraine. The British people have had enough of endless foreign military interventions."

NC "I just think if your hatred of all things to do with the European Union leads to such a morally perverse conclusion — that you admire the one leader in the world who could have reined in President Assad — it really shows quite how extreme his views have become."

NF "The British people have had enough of endless foreign military interventions. I don't admire Putin. What I said was he had outwitted and outclassed you all over Syria."

NC "Nigel Farage doesn't want to work with the Americans, to work with the EU, he only wants to work with Vladimir Putin."

NF "Let's take back control of our our borders. Let's stop giving £55 million a day as a membership fee of a club we don't need to be part of. Let's free ourselves up. I know the people are behind this. Come and join the People's Army. Let's topple the establishment that led us into this mess."

NC "What next? Are you going to say we should return to the gold standard or a pre-decimal currency, or maybe get W.G. Grace to open the batting for England again?"

NF "I want the EU to end but I want it to end democratically. If it doesn't end democratically, I am afraid it will end very unpleasantly. We are already, in some countries, beginning to see the rise of worrying political extremism. If you take away from people their ability through the ballot box to change their futures because they have given away control of everything to somebody else, then I'm afraid they tend to resort to unpleasant means."

NC "I think a referendum now would put the economic recovery at risk."

AR The Conservative coalition covers the left but leaves an exposed right flank.

More Planets

Aviva Rutkin

Last week astronomers reported the discovery of 2012 VP113, nicknamed Biden after the US VP. This potential dwarf planet was spotted in the inner Oort cloud. Days later, the same team reported two more potential dwarfs: 2013 FY27 and 2013 FZ27. Both are in the Kuiper belt, which is also home to Pluto and three other known dwarf planets. FZ27 is 50 AU from the sun and about 600 km wide. FY27 is probably about 1000 km across and 80 AU from the sun. Astronomers suspect the Kuiper belt is littered with dwarfs.

Noah

Brook Wilensky-Lanford

In the story of Noah, Darren Aronofsky has found the quintessential thought experiment: If God asked you to save the world, but lose your soul, would you do it? What kind of person is able to save the animal kingdom and his own family, but leave the rest of humanity to drown?

Noah makes a decision that turns him into the villain for a good bit of the film. The Ark is basically a giant wood box. There's something heartbreaking about watching it tumble about in the waves. During the Flood, there are a couple of shots of the wreckage that gave me apocalyptic shivers.

In addition to the Bible, Aronofsky and his co-writer Ari Handel consulted the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Book of Enoch, and the Book of Jubilee, as well as modern scholarly analysis. God is always referred to as the Creator. Aronofsky insists that he is just trying to make blockbuster entertainment.

2014 April 2

UK Nuclear Warheads

Hugh Chalmers

The UK SLBM force is based on US Trident D5 missiles and their nuclear warheads. The reliability of the warheads will decline, but replacing the UK warheads would take about 17 years and cost around £4 billion at 2012 prices. After 2015, the next government may have to decide on a replacement.

The Trident entered service in Vanguard submarines in 1995. The UK has an estimated 225 Trident warheads, now being cut to 180. Up to 120 warheads are kept operational for the Vanguard submarines. Each submarine on patrol carries 8 active Trident missiles and a total of 40 warheads.

The UK Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) occasionally removes warheads from the stockpile for maintenance. About once a year, a warhead is removed for breakdown and examination. The results update an AWE virtual warhead, which is detonated in various ways for reliability assessments.

2014 April 1

Me

Freeman Dyson

I used to be a scientist and did a lot of calculations. It was a competitive world, and when I got older, I decided I wouldn't compete with the bright young people anymore, so I write books instead.

I was trained as a mathematician, and I remain a mathematician. That's really my skill, just doing calculations and applying mathematics to all kinds of problems. I look for interesting problems that I can solve. I translated Feynman's ideas into mathematics, and as a result I became famous.

The next exciting thing I did was to work with a company in California called General Atomics for a couple of years building a spaceship. We decided we would go around the solar system with a spaceship driven by nuclear bombs. We were very disappointed when the Orion never flew.

I have strong views about climate. I think the majority is wrong. We don't understand climate. The majority don't understand what they're seeing. It will take a lot of hard work before that question is settled.

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