BLOG 2014 Q2
Planned twin towers in Wuhan, China: 1 km tall, open 2018
Tiger 131 rolls again
Curiosity still at work after a Martian year on
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.
The number of
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.
A betrayal of philosophy
2014 June 30
The Islamic State
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
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."
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.
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?
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
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.
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."
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.
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?
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
Muslim children need to see they can succeed in
Britain in conventional ways.
2014 June 28
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."
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
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."
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
2014 June 27
Institut der deutschen Wirtschaft Köln
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)
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.
An excellent Kantian perspective.
Hacking the Soul
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.
Damasio won the Golden Brain Award in 1995. I enjoyed reading
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.
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 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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
2014 June 22
Today the Western world faces four main
1 China will soon
have the world's biggest economy.
Russia has made a geopolitical comeback.
Britain could exit from the European Union.
4 Political Islam is spreading its vision of reordering
Imagine Margaret Thatcher's response to these four
1 On China, she
would favor engagement, but not appeasement.
2 On Russia, she would urge us to make
more effective use of NATO.
Europe, she would say it was in neither British nor German interests
for the UK to leave the EU.
Islam, we have the most to learn from Thatcher:
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
2014 June 19
Don't Save Iraq
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."
Right. Let them struggle.
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.
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
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
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.
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
AR A good analysis.
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
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.
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 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
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.
To boldly rise above
Darker tan shows Sunni areas;
cities, from top down: Mosul, Tikrit, Samarra, Baghdad
moon of mythical oceans
New Scientist (1:26)
New Battle for Europe
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
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
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
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
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
Intervene in Iraq
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?
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
2014 June 14
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
From AQI to ISIS
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
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
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."
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 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.
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.
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."
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
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
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
2014 June 9
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.
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
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
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.
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.
Bombshell reports by
EFA and Ofsted
claim Muslim radicals conspired to infiltrate governing bodies of Birmingham
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
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.
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
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.
The Myth of the Strong Leader
By Archie Brown
Bodley Head, 466 pages
AR I'm reading it now.
professor of politics
at Oxford for decades.
The Beginning and the End
By Clément Vidal
Roman Catholics and Eastern
Orthodox Christians may return
to Nicaea, Turkey,
Early followers of Jesus met
there in 325 CE to try to
Vote for me!
2014 June 5
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
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
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
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.
The uncut essay is magnificent — if you like dense prose.
2014 June 3
European Reassurance Initiative
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
AR Most reassuring!
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
Europe, Wake Up!
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
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
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
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.
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
● Emotional, by
feeling valued and appreciated for their contributions
Mental, when they can focus on essentials and decide how to
● Spiritual, by
doing what they do best and feeling its link to a higher purpose
In the garden at Mottisfont, Romsey,
UK, May 31, 2014
"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 self-driving cars:
coming soon to our
Brain Mind Cosmos
Deepak Chopra (ed)
The eyes can detect light.
mind is aware of thoughts.
The soul can attest to God.
none of this is good enough.
Science must expand to embrace
consciousness. Theorists must plunge into the participatory
Conservative MEP Ashley Fox:
Voters have sent a message
that the EU has to change
2014 May 31
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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."
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.
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
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
AR He speaks as the
governor of the Bank of England. I agree with him.
2014 May 27
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
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
been an ardent EU federalist for too long to bend with the new
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
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.
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
2014 May 26
SW Region EP Election Results
Number of votes cast for each party in the South
|An Independence From
|English Democrats Party
|British National Party
Elected Members of the
1 William Dartmouth, UK
2 Ashley Peter Fox, Conservative Party
3 Julia Reid, UK Independence Party
McCulloch Girling, Conservative Party
5 Claire Miranda Moody,
6 Molly Scott Cato, Green Party
for the South West region was 37%.
2014 May 25
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.
Mr and Mrs Lockhart
with their respective daughters: Lizzie and Emma left of Jolyon, Jodie
right of Beverley
Get out and vote!
2014 May 24
Marriage of Jolyon and Beverley
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.
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 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?"
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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
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
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.
Democracy needs an update.
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.
2014 May 20
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
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."
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
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.
(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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
2014 May 15
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
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.
Maguire et al.
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.
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.
Pearson / EIU
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.
NASA Z-2 suit for
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.
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
2014 May 13
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
2014 May 12
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.
be having a referendum, where I'll be recommending: Look I've
got these changes, I believe we should stay in this reformed
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.
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
Are revamped British membership terms possible
without a treaty change by 2017?
FS member Chris
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
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
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?"
I argued for this view in my book
2014 May 9
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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."
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.
Bekenstein also did good work with Stephen Hawking on
black hole thermodynamics.
Push Your Kids
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
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
German sociologist Ulrich Beck: "The
most pro-European voices in Britain today are business and the
Brits are in a funk. Vote for Europe and get real.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Saul Kripke was
my logic guru from 1972 to 1977. I studied his works and was
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
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
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:
term: World militaries are considering autonomous weapon
— Medium term: AI may transform our economy to bring
both great wealth and great dislocation.
— Longer term: An
explosive transition is possible, triggering the
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.
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
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."
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
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
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
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
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
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.
can change: see
"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."
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.
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.
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.
All work and no pay
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
Taxpayers deserve better.
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."
I think "xenophobia" is the right word.
2014 April 28
UKIP Hits Labour Vote
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.
Class consciousness is the curse of UK life and a millstone for
What is to be done about UKIP? Three
ways to fight back:
faith in the facts. They matter.
Use gentle mockery. MEP Nigel Farage is no champion of the
3 Beat populism by being
clear and direct and appealing.
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:
Exclusive emphasis on individual choice can blunt sympathy and
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
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
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
Cameron may be relying on a UKIP blowout to
come to his rescue. This looks like wishful thinking.
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.
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
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."
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
2014 April 25
Ukraine: Russia Wants WW3
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
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.
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.
My review of "War: What is it good for?" by Ian Morris
PDF: 2 pages, 74 KB
2014 April 24
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.
War on Islamism
Tony Blair is once more demanding
military action against the threat of radical Islam.
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.
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
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
2014 St George's Day
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
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,
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
one proper view of it, and that this
view should, exclusively, determine the nature of society
and the political economy.
There speaks a militant Christian.
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.
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
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
AR History is not
destiny. The UK is a secular institution.
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!
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
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.
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
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.
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.
Kingdom Tower, Saudi Arabia: 1 km high,
building starts next week
And of politics?
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?
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
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
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".
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
AR So UKIP may be
corrupt. And the EU is beset with corruption. What's new?
Cannabis Alters Brain
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
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
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
Sam and Dan Harris
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
SH The illusoriness
of the self is potentially of great interest to everyone,
because this false construct really is our most basic problem in
My book is a great prolog to
AR Sam and Dan are
not related, apparently.
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.
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.
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
"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
about has been defeat
in war, or fear that such a
Vikings: Life and Legend
2014-03-06 — 2014-06-22
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.
Mens agitat molem
2014 April 13
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
Capitalism Isn't Working
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
should be as eager as socialists to avert a plunge into the
2014 April 12
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
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.
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.
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
2014 April 10
How Western Is Germany?
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.''
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
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
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
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
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."
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."
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.
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
Dorset millionaire beach peninsula
Sandbanks is now the world's fourth most expensive place to
live. But some of the millionaires are furious.
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.
"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
AR My jogging trail,
my MP, my sympathies.
2014 April 8
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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 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.
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
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
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.
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.
will turn right and give Muslims a hard time.
2014 April 5
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
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
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.
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.
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
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:
"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."
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."
"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
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."
The Conservative coalition covers the left but leaves an exposed right
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.
In the story of
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
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
2014 April 2
UK Nuclear Warheads
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
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
2014 April 1
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.