What Is Islam?
but the boldest and best
thing I have read in
field in years."
"What Shahab Ahmed has
accomplished in this book
is to create a postcolonial
Ace of Spades
Ellen Handler Spitz
Fairy tales seek the truth
glimpse greater things.
We are hooked by the imagery
the gaps, by deep
yearning and terror.
They beckon us.
The Saudi ministry of finance
will roll out austerity
and privatization plans. The
Saudi budget deficit in 2015 is
about $100 billion
$160 billion. Fiscal discipline
may reduce the
deficit in 2016
with revenues forecast at
AR Stop funding Salafism.
China counters terrorism
AR Here in
Poole the warm
weather continues. Before
breakfast I ran miles along
the beach and returned to
where I'd parked my shoes
gone — I had
to run home barefoot.
Tough feet, old shoes,
AR Gray was at my Oxford
college, a year
ahead of me.
Once over brandy and cigars
in the SCR, I told Isaiah
that I was trying to reconcile
Hegel and Frege in logic via
set theory and he replied with
an ironic smirk: "Good luck!"
AI Aces IQ Tests
MIT Technology Review
IQ tests usually include verbal
reasoning questions that are hard for an AI. Huazheng Wang and
others at the University of Science and Technology of China and at
Microsoft Research in Beijing built a deep learning machine that
outperforms most humans at them.
Data mining techniques can
analyze huge bodies of texts to find the links between words they
contain. The statistics of word patterns show how words relate to
each other in a huge parameter space. Words are represented by
vectors in this space. Google language translation takes word
sequences in different languages represented by similar vectors as
translations of each other.
Words with multiple meanings make
IQ questions harder, so the new approach takes each word and looks
for other words that often appear nearby, then checks how their
vectors are clustered, then looks up the words in a dictionary and
matches the clusters to each meaning by comparing sample sentence
vectors to the clusters. An algorithm sets an approach for each
category of IQ question.
The team compared their AI scores on
IQ tests with human scores. Average human scores were lower. Human
performance on these tests tends to correlate with educational
background. The AI method scored better than most university
FRBs, fast radio bursts, are thought to
come from deep space. So far, 11 have been observed. They may be
signals from black holes behaving in a new way.
approach to quantum gravity, the quanta of spacetime are tiny
interlocking loops. A black hole might shrink to a density where the
loops press together and bounce. As the black hole shrinks, the
probability of quantum tunneling rises until it pops out as a white
hole, spewing out hot stuff.
Carlo Rovelli and others
calculated that an exploding black hole would emit signals at a
wavelength equal to its diameter. For primordial black holes, the
wavelength is between infrared and radio waves. Their predictions
for an exploding or bouncing black hole signal match the observed
Time slows down in a gravitational field. A massive
black hole with stronger time dilation would take longer to bounce.
Primordial black holes are generally tiny, like ticking time bombs.
The smaller ones will explode earlier in cosmic history, with FRBs
at shorter wavelengths. This could be tested.
ideas come to mind. FRBs may be emitted by young pulsars. Or they
may be the call sign of a distant alien civilization.
2015 December 30
Imperial Europe prizes effectiveness over
democracy and national sovereignty. The ship may sink. The best bet
for vassal states like Britain or France is to stay on board.
The imperial competition directorate is a
formidable bureaucratic weapon with prosecutorial powers. Charged
with maintaining the integrity of the single market, it defends
consumers against monopolies and protectionist governments and it can
levy fines that humble the biggest global companies.
Singlemarketland is the richest and most powerful economic entity in
The imperial eurozone is turning into the state of
Euroland, with an interventionist central bank, a bailout fund,
enforceable fiscal rules, and common banking supervision. North
European exporters will benefit from an artificially low exchange
rate and will subsidize the south Europeans to reform and regain
The imperial passport-free travel zone is
turning into Schengenland. With 26 countries, this incipient
superstate is a benefit that ordinary Europeans truly value. It has
come under threat from terrorism and uncontrolled migration, so
Schengenland now has its own army to protect its external frontier
and police to ensure an effective criminal justice system.
Most voters are not yet ready to accept imperial Europe and to
forswear national sovereignty. They could sink the ship. But the
consequences would be catastrophic.
Ahmed on Islam
Shahab Ahmed was a scholar of Islamic
studies at Harvard. He argued that the interpretation of Islam
through western scholarship obscured the historical and human
phenomenon of Islam. He died this year aged 48.
Ahmed studied the Satanic Verses incident in which the Prophet
Muhammad was said to have mistaken some verses suggested by Satan as
being part of the divinely revealed Koran. Ahmed found a consensus
on the event in contrast to the doctrinal rejection that emerged
At Harvard, Ahmed taught graduate seminars.
He covered a tremendous braid of narratives in an intellectual
tradition spanning over a millennium. He left the Satanic Verses
project incomplete but wrote an introduction:
What Is Islam?
A belt of Muslim societies stretched for five centuries from eastern
Europe and southern Asia into northern India. Islam embraced the
rationalism of Avicenna, Sufi mysticism, a celebration of art, a
taste for literary ambiguity, and distinctions between public and
private selves and legal and other norms.
the idea of a superior truth accessible to philosophers and a lesser
version of that truth communicated via such prophets as Muhammad.
This understanding of the relationship between reason and revelation
prompted charges of heresy, but Avicenna won the argument across the
Ahmed defines Islam as an engagement with the
larger reality within which the Koran was revealed. The history of
Islam comprehends not only literalists who hold to the Koran and the
Hadith but also Islamic philosophy and Sufism, and everything in
between. The challenge facing modern reformers is to use the history
to explore Islam.
2015 December 29
The Year in Review
US Department of State
US foreign policy achievements in
• Diplomatic relations
re-established with Cuba
Winning fight against violent extremists
Protecting Arctic climate and communities
Iran peaceful nuclear program ensured
Stemming tide of Ebola outbreak
Committing to ambitious development goals
Open door to free trade
Protecting health of our ocean
Strongest climate agreement ever negotiated
Bringing peace, security to Syria
Uh? This is Orwellian.
US vs Daesh
In a 2007 report, Professor Joseph Nye and
former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said that to solve
its problems the United States needs a mix of hard and soft power.
Their commission included former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel;
Senator Jack Reed, now the ranking member of the Senate Armed
Services Committee; Representative Mac Thornberry, now the chairman
of the House Armed Services Committee; and former CENTCOM commander
Marine General Tony Zinni. The big line in the report: "Soft power
is the ability to attract people to our side without coercion."
A smart power campaign directed against Daesh might look like
1 Recognize that the cost will
2 Seek a collective, truly
international strategy for the region.
Focus on drafting and resourcing a powerful collective strategic
4 Jobs, jobs, jobs.
Some cynics will say that this sounds laughable.
AR Well, yes: A narrative is more than a
Germany vs Daesh
When Germany recently signed up
to the coalition against Daesh, the world took note. Its postwar
polity had saddled Germany with the reputation of being shackled by
remorse for the second world war and the Holocaust or even of
freeloading on defense and security.
Germany inched its way
into post-cold war military deployments only cautiously and slowly.
It refused to join US-led coalitions in Iraq or Libya. But since
1999 Germany has committed thousands of troops to missions worldwide
and is doing its bit in NATO operations.
Germany is not alone
in struggling to articulate security strategy in a changing global
order. We must make our democracies more resilient. But we must also
make clear that we stand with our allies. Attacks or provocations
will have consequences.
Responses need not always be
military. Sanctions and diplomacy have worked against both Iran and
Russia. The mass flight of Syrians from their homeland has alarmed
and infuriated Daesh. Germany has responded well.
AR True: Without people Daesh is dead.
Saudi Arabia vs Daesh
Daesh is at war with the Saudi religious
establishment to determine who espouses the purest tenets of Sunni
Islam. As the custodian of the holy sites and the host for the hajj,
Saudi Arabia leads all Muslims in fighting Daesh. Its new Muslim
coalition to fight terrorism confirms that it is neither the source
of Daesh nor aligned with Daesh. Consider:
1 Both Saudi
Arabia and Daesh claim to be Salafi. This is how the Prophet's
followers under the first three caliphs practiced Islam. The kingdom is
Salafi, but the Daesh claim to be Salafi has no theological basis.
Daesh follows a sect known as the Kharijites, who defected from the
ummah during the reign of the fourth caliph Ali (whom they
assassinated). The Kharijites said anyone who disagreed with them
should be murdered as infidels (takfir), including women and
children (isti'rad), or tortured to test their faith (imtihan).
2 Daesh has committed an act of disobedience that nullifies its
Salafi pretenses. In original Islam, the highest authority is the
guardian of the ummah (wali al amr). Saudi Arabia is this authority
today. King Salman is the wali al amr. The proclamation (bay'ah) is
a contract between the ruler and the ruled in which the ruler swears
to promote Islam and the welfare of the ruled, and the ummah swears
to obey (ta'ah) the tenets of Islam and follow the wali. The bay'ah
is fundamental to Salafism. Daesh has broken the bay'ah.
3 Daesh and
Saudi Arabia are locked in a theological struggle from which only
one can emerge victorious. The core mission of Daesh is to restore
the caliphate. Given that Saudi Arabia is the epicenter of Islam,
the Daesh road to the caliphate lies through the Saudi kingdom and
Daesh is a threat to the entire world. Only a
coalition led by Saudi Arabia can both defeat and delegitimize it in
the eyes of all Muslims.
AR We need to rid the world of
2015 December 28
Daesh in Iraq
Iraqi troops have retaken the city of Ramadi from
Daesh. Iraqi TV showed Iraqi soldiers celebrating the "liberation"
of the city, about 110 km from Baghdad. Ramadi fell to Daesh in May.
It citizens are mostly Sunni and the Iraqi troops are mostly
US-led coalition spokesman Colonel Steve Warren:
"The clearance of the government center is a significant
accomplishment and is the result of many months of hard work by the
Iraqi Army, the Counter Terrorism Service, the Iraqi Air Force,
local and federal police and tribal fighters."
Daesh in Afghanistan
US commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan
General John F. Campbell says Daesh has surfaced in Afghanistan.
President Obama says the US "commitment to Afghanistan and its
people endures" and Afghan forces are "fighting for their country
bravely and tenaciously" as they try to hold urban areas. UK General
Dannatt last week on the fall of Sangin: "We left Afghanistan in a
situation where the Afghans were in control and the future was in
their hands. It is not a great surprise that the Taliban have
continued to push in southern Afghanistan."
Afghanistan to destroy al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Now we want the
Taliban to fight against Daesh.
Daesh in Gaza
Hamas runs the de facto government of Gaza.
Its members are seen as infidels by Daesh because they place the
battle for Palestine before the campaign for a caliphate. Daesh
supporters in Gaza have been firing rockets into Israel.
video posted online by Daesh on June 30, 2015, shocked Hamas: "The
point of jihad is not to liberate land, but to fight for and
implement the law of God ... We will uproot the state of the Jews
and you [Hamas] and Fatah [the PLO faction] ... and you will be
overrun by our creeping multitudes."
In recent months, Hamas
has persuaded moderate Salafi sheikhs to help convince jihadists
that their interpretation of Islam is wrong. Sheikh Omar Hams,
director of the Saudi-sponsored Ibn Baz Institute: "A Salaf means an
original ancestor, one of those who lived close to the Prophet and
observed his actions intimately, followed his ways and his words
The nightmare of being locked inside Gaza with
Daesh is worse than all other nightmares the Gazans have faced. If
Daesh gains a foothold there, Israel will have to find a solution.
The United States is far from alone in
dealing with deadly, destructive weather at the moment.
rains in parts of South America, blamed on El Nino, have displaced
more than 150,000 people across Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and
Swaths of northern England have disappeared under
mammoth flooding, prompting evacuations and dozens of urgent
Authorities in Spain and Australia, meanwhile, are
fighting to get devastating fires under control.
2015 December 27
Well over a million asylum seekers
gatecrashed EU borders in 2015.
In Hungary, prime minister
Viktor Orban stopped the influx with border fences, ignoring threats
of sanctions from Brussels and Berlin. In Poland the nationalist Law
and Justice party swept to power in October on an anti-immigration
Countries across Europe blame Germany for the
migration crisis. British Labour MP Frank Field: "Defending our
borders will become the dominant issue in British politics. It will
be the defining issue in the forthcoming EU referendum."
Europe has a problem with the integration of Islam. Countries with
the largest Muslim minorities have been the least successful at
integrating them. Tighter border controls are clearly necessary for
the prevention of terrorism.
Border anxiety looks certain to
BASIC advocates delaying the UK Trident renewal project. The
risk of delay has been overstated. The underwater battle space is
under major transition, and it is far from clear how new Trident
submarines will be able to evade detection from emerging ASW
A focus on CASD is a symbolic test of
commitment to nuclear deterrence. CASD is grossly extravagant. The
case for CASD centers on crisis stability. A future government may
not be able to scramble an SSBN onto patrol fast enough. But a
surprise attack on the UK is unlikely.
New underwater drones could torpedo Trident
Gott und die Welt verleugnet
von Andy Ross
Warum es die Welt nicht gibt
von Markus Gabriel
Die Welt existiert nicht, weil sie zu groß
und unbegrenzt wäre - so Gabriel. Die Welt ist die Summe aller
Sinnfelder aber nur Sinnfelder existieren. ...
... Durch diesen Mangel zu schauen ist für uns in Richtung Gott und
die Welt zu bewegen, schon wieder in einer Dialektik. Meiner Ansicht
nach könnte man die Ideen von Hegel soweit modern umsetzen. Dies
scheint mir aber wesentlich weiter als Gabriel zu gehen gewagt hat.
Fazit: Gabriel hat anscheinend Gott und die Welt noch nicht
2015 December 26
John Gray, Isaiah Berlin
John Gray (Exeter, 1968) on Isaiah
Berlin (Corpus, 1928): "I revere and even love him."
the Bolsheviks in Petrograd in 1920, Berlin's wealthy Jewish family
went to Riga and then to London. He was 11. He went on to outscore
the future philosopher A.J. Ayer at finals, take a second first in
PPE with less than a year's study, win a Prize Fellowship to All
Souls aged 23, and many years later become the inaugural President
of Wolfson College and the President of the British Academy.
Gray enjoyed his undergraduate and graduate years at Exeter, where
he studied PPE before completing a D.Phil. He left Oxford for the
London School of Economics when the chair of Professor of European
Thought was created for him. He retired in 2008. He has written more
than 30 books and hundreds of reviews and essays.
The Silence of Animals (Gray, 2013) begins with a citation by
Arthur Koestler, imagining civilized apes living in harmony with the
treetops, while the Neanderthals trampled the forest. From the point
of view of the apes, says Koestler, the humans were a barbaric
relapse of history. Gray: "Whereas the Victorians retched at the
idea of being among the apes, it is in fact humans who have turned
out to be the most destructive species."
Gray is scathing
about political progress. Getting rid of Hussein in Iraq or Gaddafi
in Libya did not result in greater freedoms and democracy. Gray
predicted that al-Qaeda would be followed by something worse, he was
laughed at, and now we have Daesh. He sees no steady advance toward
greater civilization or even human decency. His ethics are based on a negative concept of liberty: "Negative freedom is true
freedom because it best captures what makes freedom valuable, which
is the opportunity it secures to live as you choose."
Isaiah Berlin: An Interpretation of His Thought (Gray, 1996)
cites Berlin: "[T]o sacrifice the present to some vague and
unpredictable future is a form of delusion which leads to the
destruction of all that alone is valuable in men and societies ...
the purpose of life is to be lived."
Forget your delusions,
says Gray, and you will be much happier.
2015 Christmas Day
Der Sinn der Religion
Die Welt gibt es nicht. Auch Gott
kann es demnach nicht geben, wenn wir unter "Gott" ein solches
Prinzip verstehen. Wir wissen nicht einmal, wer wir selbst sind,
sondern befinden uns auf der Suche. Wie Kierkegaard und Heidegger
erkannt haben, sind wir genau diejenigen Wesen, die sich auf dieser
Religion ist das Gegenteil einer
Welterklärung. ... Man könnte leicht provokativ sogar sagen, dass
der Sinn der Religion die Einsicht ist, dass es Gott nicht gibt,
dass Gott kein Objekt oder Supergegenstand ist, der den Sinn unseres
Wer sich mit der Gottesfrage unabhängig
von der Geschichtlichkeit des Geistes befasst, verfehlt die Frage
eigentlich schon. Dies haben die deutschen Idealisten, aber auch
Gadamer zutreffend unterstrichen. Gottes Existenz ist kein Problem
der Naturwissenschaften, da Gott selstverständlich nicht im
Asteroid 2003 SD220 zooms past Earth about 11 Gm away
Christmas Day: Full moon at 11:11 GMT
"We have peace. And
is what we
as we celebrate the birth of
God's only son,
Jesus Christ, the
prince of peace. As a Christian
what his birth represents:
and, above all, hope."
Senior British spies briefed
Angela Merkel on the
posed by Daesh. In return,
she briefed the heads of
MI6, and GCHQ on Russia. Germany is not a member of
Five Eyes US-UK-C-A-NZ
"Today we are setting out
a modern legal framework
brings together current
powers in a clear and
that sets new standards for
2015 Christmas Eve
London is to get £5 million of government
money to study its need for more concert halls, after £111 million
was spent between 2005 and 2007 on the Royal Festival Hall. A garden
bridge over the Thames at £100 million or more is currently
attracting pledges of public money. Crossrail was easy to fund at
£15 billion and Crossrail 2 will cost £27 billion.
Any other part of the UK asking for such sums would be laughed
out of court. Walk around parts of north Manchester, South
Yorkshire, or Teesside and you could still be in cold war eastern
Europe. These places are economically destitute. High speed rail
benefits the richer end of a line and will help London rather than
Birmingham or Manchester.
Capital city UK must stop sucking
up cash and help the rest. All public sector jobs not essential to
London should be moved out of town. New transport investment should
be between regional centers, not into London. Higher education
should move out. Getting students out of London would energize the
provinces and relieve the London rental market.
not need more big projects. They should be shared across the UK.
AR Poole needs more.
2015 December 23
Britain and Europe
As foreign secretary, I was closely
acquainted with central bodies of the European Union but had no
enthusiasm for them. The European Commission could benefit from
spending cuts, the European Court of Justice seems detached from
reality, and the European Parliament does not remotely provide
democratic accountability. My old friends and colleagues want to
leave the EU.
Yet here I part company with them. I
distinguish between deploring the state of the organization and
deciding it is best to leave it. The importance of the negotiations
the prime minister has launched should not be underestimated. What
happens at the end of them will make a huge difference to party
sentiment, media perceptions, government unity, and British voters.
Without the UK, the EU would be weaker. Amid all the clumsy
bureaucracy and failed ideas, the EU has provided the structure and
the standards for new democracies across central Europe to establish
themselves. The UK would be weakened too. Nationalist dismemberment
of the UK or of the EU would only increase the dangers of a
turbulent Mideast and a volatile world economy. It is not in our
interests for either union to fall apart. I am unlikely in 2016 to
vote for Brexit.
Germany and Europe
Germans have worked hard to purge the crimes
of the Nazi era. Europe is now facing a new Germany. It dominates
Europe and enforces rules it believes to be right.
feel they have done the right thing by taking a million asylum
seekers this year. They are now asking other Europeans to help out
by integrating migrants in their societies too. Germany is also
promoting a paramilitary force to police external EU borders.
Germany runs the eurozone and has bailed out sinking south
Europeans. It praises progress in Ireland, Spain and Portugal, and
expects Greece to improve budget discipline and public
Germany runs European foreign policy too. It
dragged reluctant eastern and southern European governments into
supporting sanctions on Russia and is even pushing for a deal with
Modern Germany wants a strong economic and political
order in Europe. Brits see the EU as a shipload of bossy bureaucrats
holding them back, and nationalist Brits want to abandon ship in a
dangerous old lifeboat. Germans want to make the EU work.
2015 December 22
Apple vs UK 1
Apple opposes a proposed new UK
surveillance law. Other big US tech groups agree that the British
bill sets a dangerous precedent for national spy agencies.
UK home secretary Theresa May introduced the measures in a draft
investigatory powers bill. The bill gives police and security
services access to the internet usage records of every UK citizen
without prior judicial authorization.
Apple submitted written
evidence to the committee scrutinizing the bill. British demands for
access to data held in other countries would "immobilize substantial
portions of the tech sector" and "likely be the catalyst for other
countries to enact similar laws, paralyzing multinational
corporations under the weight of what could be dozens or hundreds of
contradictory country-specific laws."
Twitter, Yahoo, and Microsoft will submit joint evidence to the
Apple vs UK 2
The New York Times
Apple says UK lawmakers who talk about
gaining court-ordered access to iPhone data do not
understand the technology: "The best minds in the world cannot
rewrite the laws of mathematics."
Washington lawmakers are
calling for the kind of access to text messages and cellphone data
that they have with telecom providers.
Apple: "Law enforcement today has access to more data — data
which they can use to prevent terrorist attacks, solve crimes and
help bring perpetrators to justice — than ever before in the history
of our world."
Physics vs Psychology
Modern theories in physics reflect a dangerous
departure from the scientific method. Theory has detached itself
from experiment. No one has the faintest idea how to access the tiny
distance scale of string theory, or on a big scale to see past our
George Ellis and Joe Silk: "Physicists,
philosophers and other scientists should hammer out a new narrative
for the scientific method that can deal with the scope of modern
Bayesian confirmation theory allows for the fact that modern
scientific theories typically reach beyond what can be directly
observed. It changes the perceived probability of a theory as new
information comes in. The Bayesian framework is flexible and
connects to the psychology of reasoning.
Richard Dawid cites
three arguments that lead string theorists to trust string theory:
1 Only one version of string theory
achieves unification in a consistent way. No other theory of
everything has been found that works. String theory is the only game
2 String theory grew out
of the Standard Model, which also had no alternatives for years.
This argument supports argument 1 by showing it has worked before in
3 String theory
has unexpectedly delivered explanations for several other
theoretical problems aside from the unification problem it was
intended to address.
Including such arguments in Bayesian
theory opens the floodgates to abandoning scientific principles.
Dawid: "But acknowledging that non-empirical confirmation is part of
science ... provides a better basis for having that discussion than
pretending that it wasn't there."
Bayesian theory does not
distinguish between different kinds of certainty. Carlo Rovelli says
the confirmation of atomic theory should not be measured in the same
units as that of string theory. He warns: "Do not trust your own
AR Good advice to all
greetings to all my readers: Keep fit and feel well
Joey and Bob
The fact that a British prime
forced to take the political
capitals in order to make the
laws that he
for Britain is the best possible
demonstration of the problem.
It is time for us to recover our
birthright. That is why I'll be
campaigning to leave."
AR Fox is a loyal servant
of the UK
Russian S-400 ADS in Syria
grounds US warplanes
be the year we
achieve something really vital,
changing the UK's
relationship with the EU and
addressing the concerns
of the British people."
President Putin orders
military to be
"extremely tough" on
threats in Syria
The UK government has made English housing too expensive.
It subsidizes home ownership,
penalizes the rental sector,
It should free up greenbelts
and reward new
Person of the Year
AR Governments worldwide
must team up
to kill off these
financial vampires that suck
AR Forget the prophecies:
they will parallel the
hints attributed to Jesus in
the Roman destruction of the
Temple in Jerusalem in
70 CE and the defeat of the
at Masada in 73 CE.
The Romans survived all that
2015 December 21
COP21 has changed little. Signatories
can make their excuses and promise to do better next time.
The UK Committee on Climate Change says Britain faces steeper
emissions cuts. It advises ministers that more than half of
new cars will have to be powered by electricity by 2030 and
most electricity will have to come from low-carbon sources by 2040
to have any impact on emissions. Solar and wind energy will do
little to help as long as they form only a small part of the
generating mix. A consensus is growing on the need to develop new
technology and invest in nuclear power.
After Paris, those
expecting more concerted action will be disappointed. Pragmatism
The UK decided long ago not to join the
euro and the Schengen zone. But the argument that formal British
exit from the EU now would merely confirm that decision is invalid.
The influx of refugees into Germany and the terrorist attacks in
France have put a de facto end to Schengen. Border controls are
back. And the eurozone will not become a federal union. With no
banking or fiscal union the euro is in effect a fixed exchange rate
The substantive disagreement between Britain and its
EU partners is not technically complicated. Brussels is good at
fixing legally intractable disputes. But in the past 20 years a gulf
of mutual separation and alienation has opened between Britain and
other European countries.
Globalization and European
integration produced losers, including some in the UK. Yet overall
the country did not lose. Britain could become a leader in Europe.
Christmas is a joyous time in our house and
I never fail to revel in it. I was raised with Christian values by a
Church of England mother to the amusement of my Jewish father and my
Buddhist uncle George. I was told that I could choose my own
religious beliefs when I grew up.
Multicultural as we were,
Christmas was joyously celebrated each year. We had a small tree,
simple decorations, one gift each and a stocking for Jackie, my
cousins and me. This would contain a small puzzle, a tiny book or
comic strip and a few sweets or an orange. How things have changed!
At Christmas in Birmingham a few years ago a cab driver told me:
"We can't even call it Christmas — it's Winterfest here — otherwise
it offends them."
The Daesh magazine Dabiq recently attacked
the old idea of "irja" (postponing). Faced with strife among the
first Muslims, proponents of irja said the question of who is a true
Muslim should be postponed to the afterlife. Faith was for God to
The "murjia" (postponers) soon sank as a heretical
sect. They left a mark in Hanafi-Maturidism in the Balkans, Turkey,
and Central Asia, but today there are no murjia. The word irja is
seldom heard among Islamic theologians.
The authors of the
Dabiq article accuse other Islamist rebel groups in Syria of irja
because they do not chop off hands and heads or force women into
black bags. Many millions of Muslims around the world engage in
irja. They cite the verse saying there is no compulsion in religion,
accept modern liberalism, or recall Sufism. Daesh targets them all.
Fellow Muslims, wear the irja badge with pride. It denotes piety
with humility. Only the arrogant judge other men in the name of God.
2015 December 20
The New York Times
Saudi Arabia will organize a military
coalition of 34 Islamic nations against terrorism. A Saudi prince
said it would not be limited to fighting Daesh but that Riyadh would
"coordinate and support military operations to fight terrorism"
across the Muslim world.
The minister cited not only Turkey
and Egypt but also Pakistan and Malaysia as members of the
coalition, though the latter said they were unaware of the plans.
Muslim countries not cited include Iran, Iraq, Oman, Algeria,
Indonesia, and Afghanistan.
Saudi Arabia finances the Wahhabi
religious schools and clerics spreading extremism. The proposed
coalition may be an attempt to divert attention from the Saudi
military intervention in Yemen and defer a reckoning for its own
role in spawning jihad.
The paucity of conservative thought is
partly the effect of the dominance of the left. If you come out as a
conservative in a university context, you will find yourself very
much on the margins. Conservative thought consists in recognizing
that human life is an end in itself and not a means to replace
itself with something else.
Liberation and social justice
have been bureaucratized. Social justice has become a process of
legislating to ensure that nobody is discriminating or standing out
above anybody else. Liberty is conceived as a form of empowerment
from the state in the form of vouchers or privileges. Both those
ideals have become the property of the state.
way to reconcile a serious moral order with economic freedom was
through religion, which removed certain things from the market. Sex
is removed from the market and made into a religious ceremony. This
the great benefit that religion has conferred on people down the
Rites of passage are not personal possessions but
possessions of the whole community. They are the ways the community
defines itself and its obligation toward the next generation. My
marriage means my children as much as my wife, and those children
are the product of our union. Our whole being on Earth is vindicated
Homosexuality is not one thing. Lesbianism is
usually an attempt by a woman to find the love she can no longer get
from men. Male homosexuality is hugely promiscuous. There is also an
obsession with the sexual organs and with the young. Homosexual
desire between men is not the same as heterosexual desire. This does
not mean condemning people or discriminating against them.
Muslims have to face the fact that in the UK women do not hide their
face in public. We define our relations with each other through the
idea of the I-thou relationship. We have to stand up not only for
free speech but also for all that we have inherited from the
Enlightenment and from Christianity.
2015 December 19
The Secret State
UK ministers are increasingly slipping
through contentious laws in statutory instruments (SIs). Primary
legislation is passed by parliament as acts that often delegate
power to ministers to frame detailed orders in SIs. The SIs are the
Modern governance micromanages our lives.
This requires fiddly regulations. We hate them but we need them. The
secondary legislation can also be "not in front of the children"
lawmaking, the children being MPs. The SI is discreet. Government
departments love short acts and long SIs.
The House of Lords
can kill SIs by a "fatal resolution" but rarely do so. Lord
Strathclyde proposes to revoke its license to kill and leave a mere
power of delay. This would make the SI route even more attractive to
government business managers.
This issue should worry
lawmakers. The lords' remit is to ask whether an SI is technically
sound, no more. Imagine a new act authorizing the home secretary to
do anything she liked through secondary legislation. Faced with her
Home Office General Powers (Slaughter of Male Babies) Regulations
(2015), the peers would be powerless to stop the slaughter.
Parliament needs a way to stop dodgy secondary powers being sneaked
into draft legislation. MPs vent their rage about threats to
parliamentary sovereignty from abroad and nod through the
undermining of democracy by our executive at home.
AR Ich vertraue die SI-Verfasser nicht
mehr als die Bürokraten in Brussels.
A hostile British exit from
the European Union would be bad for the UK. A legislative
repatriation of UK sovereignty as the EU slipped into crisis would
be shattering for the EU.
Existing views of the EU make
little sense. The belief in Berlin and Brussels that political union
will follow currency and fiscal union in the eurozone is doomed to
failure. Austerity will crush the periphery and leave Germany in
control. The UK vision of a looser EU fails in face of a belligerent
Russia. The looser the bonds, the weaker the EU response to outside
threats. A weak and unstable EU is not in British interests.
A single EZ state needs to be constructed by consolidating debt,
foreign policy, and border security.
It would save the euro and
enable NATO to secure the east for generations. A united EZ in
confederation with the UK and in NATO is in British interests.
AR Ich habe dieses Stück schon im Blog zitiert (2015-07-11) —
aber es hat noch Wucht.
2015 December 18
Merkel Gives Cameron Hope
Angela Merkel threw David Cameron a lifeline
last night by promising European Union treaty change after he was
forced to start retreating from his demand to limit migrant
The German chancellor came to his rescue during
lively late-night talks at a summit in Brussels. Cameron said the
talks had cleared "a pathway to an agreement" but that it would be
Merkel macht Cameron Hoffnung
Kein großer Fortschritt in
der Flüchtlingskrise, weiteres Tauziehen mit den Briten - die
Gipfelnacht von Brüssel brachte wenig gute Neuigkeiten. Doch
Kanzlerin Merkel ist voller Optimismus.
Staats- und Regierungschefs haben vor allem über die
Flüchtlingskrise und Großbritanniens Forderung nach Reformen der
Europäischen Union diskutiert. Merkel setzt darauf, dass Reformen
zunächst zwar viel Zeit kosten, die Effekte dann aber schnell
spürbar seien werden.
Gary Marcus founded Geometric Intelligence
while on leave from NYU. He says his work on how the human mind
works can help researchers make better artificial intelligence.
Algorithms that roughly model neurons and synapses gave rise to
an approach known as deep learning. But deep learning systems need
to be fed many thousands of examples to learn something, which is
not how the human mind works. The brain can acquire deeper
abstractions from relatively little data. Machines that learn such
abstractions quickly would be an improvement.
fascinated by the mind in high school after reading
The Mind's I, an anthology edited by Douglas Hofstadter and
Daniel Dennett, as well as Hofstadter's book
Gödel, Escher, Bach. Around then, work in AI used logical
programming languages, which soon proved impossibly complicated.
Artificial neural networks eventually led to the modern deep
Marcus computerized the analysis of
cognitive research data. He says the human mind learns both from
examples and by generating rules. Hence Geometric Intelligence.
AR The Hofstadter and Dennett books
fascinated me too. Hence
2015 December 17
Britain in Europe
Sir John Major
The British government's renegotiation of
the terms of UK membership of the European Union is important but it
should not decide whether or not we remain inside the EU. Flirting
with leaving is dangerous. Splendid isolation would not be in our
interests. If we left the EU it would not be a friendly departure;
it would be very acrimonious.
Britain Stronger in Europe
Britain Stronger in Europe campaign head
Lord Rose says the UK would have to pay £11 billion in new tariffs
if it left the EU and had to trade with the EU using WTO rules.
Campaigners for Brexit propose a deal ending all budget
contributions, ending free movement, repatriating economic
regulations, and yet retaining full access to the single market.
Rose: "They do not have a credible or achievable alternative
which can replicate, let alone improve upon, the benefits the single
market brings, and if they were to pursue their terms as currently
proposed there would be a real risk of Britain leaving Europe with
no trade deal at all."
UK prime minister David Cameron wants
a political agreement that the issues concerning the UK will be
addressed in time for detailed agreement at an EU summit in
German chancellor Angela Merkel: "We will not call
into question the core principles of European integration. These
include in particular the principle of free movement and the
principle of non-discrimination between European citizens."
AR I back Merkel on this.
2015 December 16
Paris: One Small
The Paris climate agreement is more than
the world could have reasonably expected a year or two ago. But it
is also less than we need to steer our civilization on Earth from
The negotiators showed that the global
community can agree to act in response to a shared danger. A process of peer review will ensure transparent and comprehensive
reporting and monitoring. But a global carbon price is needed.
So is technological innovation. This agreement is only a small
British astronaut and former Apache pilot Major
Tim Peake is the 221st person to live aboard the International Space
Station. His working day there will be filled with studies in
physiology, biology, space science, fundamental physics, materials
science, and Earth observation.
"The first sunrise was spectacular!"
Taboos and fetishes can be weaponized.
Holding them sacred can be an engine of cooperation or a destructive
plague. Preference falsification, the tendency for people to express
a public preference differing from their private preference, is part
of the mechanism. When people falsify their preferences, they can no
longer team up to desacralize taboos and fetishes.
Ideas of what is sacred can cause people
both to lie and to change their private preferences. The ideas
can bind people and blind them. Things held sacred define an
in-group and an out-group. When values are costly enough to assure
sincerity, attacking rivals or heretics provides evidence of
commitment. A battle over what is sacred is won when dissent is
replaced by preference falsification. Most people can alter their
perception of what is sacred based on social cues.
have a dual self. The bee self is social, observant of the sacred,
and highly public. The ape self likes instant gratification and is
resistant to cultural expectations. The bee self is
usually seen from the imagined perspective of others. The ape self
is felt from inside. Holding costly ideals sacred
involves a negotiation between the ape self and the bee self. The
bee self demands husbandry of preferences to balance different preferences.
An egregore is an occult concept representing a thought form or
collective group mind. Examples are gods or demons or dictator
cults. Positing beings like governments, religions, or institutions
may seem odd, but the actions of a government are built via human
agents. Obeying an egregore can look like
preference falsification. The idea that people can agree to choose
or create an egregore on the bee level that gives them the most
benefits on the ape level presupposes freedom of choice. That
freedom is vulnerable to virulent sacred egregores.
2015 December 15
FN leader Marine Le Pen says politics is
increasingly a contest between nationalists and globalists. The
defeat of FN and the climate accord were successes for the
globalists. Ultimately, the nations of the world are compelled to
work together in the common good.
I nod — GLOBORG
The state of Israel may not survive. This
is my lament.
Khameini: "Some Zionists have said that due to the outcome of the
nuclear negotiations, we have been relieved from worry about Iran
for 25 years. But we say to them, you will essentially not see the
next 25 years, and with the grace of God, something by the name of
the Zionist regime will no longer exist in the region."
nuclear exchange, even if an Israeli retaliation resulted in the
loss of millions of Iranians, millions more would survive, while
most of the Jews in Israel would be dead. With one bomb.
Knives. Daesh beheading videos flaunt a
knife cutting a throat. The fetishization of knifing began with the
knives drawn through the throats of Daesh captives, in episodes
redolent of ritual slaughter, now urged upon all Palestinians as a
No two-state solution is going to overcome the
incessant Palestinian incitement to murder Jews and to celebrate the
murderers as martyrs in the cause of destroying the Zionist entity.
No political settlement is going to end the threat of knife
Siege. Look around
Israel on a map:
North: Hezbollah in Lebanon
has up to 100,000 missiles. It is now allied with a nuclear
superpower on the ground. Hezbollah has an umbrella.
East: Daesh may already be in the West Bank and Gaza, and
is just across the border in Syria. The beheaders will soon be near
the city limits of Tel Aviv.
still has a sacred mission embedded in its covenant to murder all
West: Any properly equipped fishing
trawler has the capacity to lob a nuclear weapon onto Haifa.
AR I do —
2015 December 14
AR Our meeting
last night of a couple of dozen amateur philosophers was animated
and passionate. The consensus was that Daesh represents a serious
threat to western values and interests that has to be met at the
level of ideas before final victory can be declared. My argument
that we need to put a secular frame around the belief structures of
all three Abrahamic monotheisms met with general acceptance. The
Christian fundamentalist among us dissented.
Denmark and Britain are both members of the
European Union. We both hold dear the four freedoms: cross-border
movement of goods, people, services, and capital.
property law is exceptional. A Dane can easily buy a home in the UK,
but the Danes make it difficult for a Brit to buy one in Denmark.
They negotiated their exemption when they joined the Common Market.
Like the Danes, Britain is a special case. Like Germany, the UK
is one of the biggest magnets for immigrants. Unlike Germany, the UK
has a high rate of population growth, largely driven by recent
We need to hear soon about how Parliament can
halt the tide of EU regulation and regain some control of our
borders. If the Danes can be exceptional, so can we.
2015 December 13
Paris Climate Deal
Limit: Governments agreed to
limit warming to 1.5 K above pre-industrial levels. A rise of more
than 1.5 K risks triggering serious tipping points in global
climate. A 1 K rise is already fact.
Promises: Pledges so
far to cut or curb carbon emissions will not prevent a rise of 2 K
and may lead to a 2.7 K rise.
Goal: Countries pledge to
achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and
removals by sinks of greenhouse gases — for net zero
emissions between 2050 and 2100.
Review: A review
of pledges every five years is intended to keep warming under 2 K.
5 Losses: A mechanism for addressing the financial losses
vulnerable countries face from climate impacts excludes
6 Money: Finance to help developing countries
adapt to climate change and transition to clean energy is not
legally binding. A flow of $100 billion a year will continue beyond
AR Encouraging show of global cooperation, tho nature
may overrule our efforts.
David Cameron says he is ready to send British
police, border guards, or the army to help to guard Europe's
external border. He made the offer in return for concessions on his
demands for a new relationship between Britain and the EU. Germany
and France are tabling plans to create an EU border and coastguard
force with the power to override the national sovereignty of Greece
and Italy to secure external frontiers.
AR Bang on. Good plan.
I Am A Muslim
I think of myself first and foremost as an
American. As an immigrant, that identity came to me through deep
conviction and hard work. I also think of myself as a husband,
father, guy from India, journalist, New Yorker and (on my good days)
an intellectual. But in today's political climate, I must embrace
another identity. I am a Muslim.
I am not a
practicing Muslim. The last time I was in a mosque, except as a
tourist, was decades ago. My wife is Christian, and we have not
raised our children as Muslims. I am completely secular in my
outlook. I am appalled by Donald Trump's bigotry and demagoguery not
because I am a Muslim but because I am an American.
AR Mistrustful as I am of Islam, I
support Fareed 100%.
2015 December 12
The New York Times
Established parties across Europe and
the United States are struggling to counter right-leaning populists
like Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen in France, and Viktor Orban in
Le Pen is now a contender for the French presidency
in 2017. She campaigns against the Islamization of France and
against the French government: "They are pulling out all the stops
for the migrants, the illegals, but who is looking out for our
retirees? They are stealing from the poor to give to foreigners who
did not even ask our permission to come here."
Trump wants to
close American borders to Muslims. Le Pen: "Seriously, have you ever
heard me say something like that? I defend all the French people in
France, regardless of their origin, regardless of their religion."
Establishment parties have failed to solve the economic problems
that vex most voters. Europeans are gloomy about the state of their
economies, and most expect children to be worse off than their
parents. In the United States, most voters say government polices
since 2008 have benefited the wealthy at the expense of the rest.
Even before the migrant crisis and the recent terrorist attacks,
the populists scored big gains in a dozen countries in 2014 EU
elections and led the polling in Britain and France.
Daesh is a religious gang controlling a
small patch of mostly desert land. We should focus on destroying it.
But as fierce clashes between the Russian army and Daesh terrorists
raged across Syria, a number of injured jihadis entered Turkish
territory and were admitted into military hospitals. Turkey was
discreetly helping Daesh not only by treating its wounded fighters
but also by facilitating the oil exports from its territories and by
brutally attacking the Kurdish forces. The Turks even shot down a
Russian fighter attacking Daesh positions in Syria.
Daesh are trying to provoke an
apocalyptic confrontation with the West. The human flight from Syria
reflects a failure of US and Western policy in response. Syrians
see that peace will not return before their children are
grown up, and that even if peace does come there will be nothing to
return to. So they are flooding into Germany.
The United States
cannot afford to leave Germany to take them all. Germans are bearing
the weight of the collapse of Syria, but America bears
responsibility for its causes. The Obama administration should say
yes to the UNHCR appeal to settle 65,000 refugees on an expedited
Taking 65,000 people is a political gesture to
encourage others. The goal is to relieve the
pressure on the frontline states. The refugees present a national
security challenge as much as a humanitarian crisis. Helping Europe
deal with them is critical to the battle against jihadi nihilism.
2015 December 11
Angela Fights For Europe
Angela Merkel has long kept Germany out of
war. With her decision to send warplanes to Syria, she is acting in
the Mideast to save Europe.
The war in Syria pits the
authoritarians Assad and Putin and the liberals of Europe and
America against Daesh, which seeks to upend them all in its
caliphate. By acting in Syria, Merkel is fighting less to destroy
Daesh than to save EU solidarity.
Xenophobic views have
broken into the mainstream in Europe. If Marine Le Pen becomes the
next president of France, she will all but dismantle the European
Union. Britain and others would follow France, leaving Germany
Merkel will show that Germany can take firm action
alongside France and Britain against a common European threat.
UK prime minister David Cameron failed to
convince Polish prime minister Beata Szydlo to back his plan to
reform benefits for EU migrants.
Szydlo: "Free movement of
people is a fundamental thing ... we will be convincing our partners
to keep this in place ... There is a common direction and the future
discussions in January will only take us closer to a solution."
Cameron: "I want to keep Britain in a reformed EU."
US presidential hopeful Donald Trump
says Muslims should be banned from entering the United States until
the administration can work out just what drives Islamic violence.
His comments are not just ludicrous but morally and politically
illiterate, making no distinction between Islamic extremists and the
millions of Muslims who live decent, unthreatening lives.
Banning Trump or calling him a fascist is merely an attempt to
silence him. The British and French public may not care for Trump or
Marine Le Pen, yet they understand that they are saying what is all
too obvious but mainstream politicians deny, that the European Union
is now a threat to public safety and that Muslim society provides
the toxic sea in which Islamic terrorism swims.
wrong to call for a total ban. But it is perfectly reasonable to
object to further large-scale Muslim immigration. The public have
had it up to here with politicians and the intelligentsia refusing
to acknowledge the fanatical religious roots of Islamic terrorism.
They are enraged by the reflexive charge of Islamophobia to silence
Arabs vs Aryans
A proxy war between the Sunni Arabs in the Gulf and
the Shiite Aryans of Iran is raging in Yemen. Saudi Arabia and its
Gulf allies are disinclined to carry out strikes against Daesh
targets if doing so helps Iran's allies in Damascus and Baghdad.
They see Daesh as worse for Iran than for Arabs.
professor Fawaz Gerges: "ISIS doesn't just exist in Syria and Iraq,
it has major constituency supporters in almost all Arab countries,
including Saudi, Kuwait, Lebanon, and Jordan. ... Also, remember
that one of the largest contingencies within ISIS are the Saudis."
2015 December 10
Angela Merkel became German Chancellor
in 2005. This year she managed EU debt crises, led the
western response to Russian aggression in Ukraine, and rose to the
migrant and refugee crisis.
Merkel agreed to bail Greece out
on strict terms. She chose to welcome refugees as casualties of
radical Islamist savagery, not carriers of it. And she decided
to deploy troops abroad in the fight against Daesh. Merkel brandished
values of humanity, generosity, and tolerance. German strength would
be used wisely and well, shedding an old and haunting national
The woman who had trained as a quantum chemist made
her stand. Protesters called her a traitor, allies warned of revolt,
and opponents warned of economic collapse and cultural suicide.
Merkel: "Wir schaffen das."
Life and Daesh
Fazel Hawramy, Shalaw Mohammed, Kareem Shaheen
militants have tightening their grip on Raqqa and Mosul. Raqqa
resident Tim Ramadan describes the city now as a giant prison. Mosul
resident Raafat Alzirai: "Mosul has become like a big prison and
people appear to be sedated with the hope that one day things will
Daesh bans smoking and punishes people caught
listening to music or using the internet or mobile phones. Hundreds
are defying a ban on leaving, often paying smugglers to get them
In Raqqa, men must wear loose clothes and unshaven
beards and are stopped and searched at random. Women stay indoors.
Electricity is available sporadically, based chiefly on the whim of
the militants. Propaganda is everywhere. Minor infractions earn a
few dozen lashes in a public square. Teenagers run security in the
city. Others are sent off as suicide bombers.
school ... they bring a bomb to class to show it to the
children and tell them they have nothing to fear from it because
they are men, and the creative writing exercise is about a boy whose
father carries out a suicide bombing ... Can you imagine living like
this for another ten years?"
No. Common humanity demands a response.
2015 December 9
Jersey is a small island in the English
Channel where almost any tax could be avoided. Bankers and tax
exiles moved in, driving up prices and importing the morals of the
City of London. Their profits in 2007 were more than £1 billion.
Before the crisis, rich Brits put their money into Jersey, where
foreign businesses paid no tax and local firms paid just 20%. Jersey
helped anyone to avoid anything. It was consistently ranked among
the top jurisdictions worldwide facilitating illicit financial flows
and capital flight, ahead of the British Virgin Islands, Panama, and
In 1997, European Union officials took action.
They required all member states to tax local and nonlocal companies
the same. Jersey's business model was at risk. If it raised taxes,
its trade would go to the Isle of Man, Dublin, Singapore, or Hong
So in 2008, Jersey abolished taxes for all companies
except financial firms (which paid 10%) and utilities (20%). Between
2009 and 2010, tax receipts from companies fell by two thirds. The
government has failed to fill the gap, and now its budget deficit is
£145 million. Officials plan to cut benefits for pensioners, single
parents and young people, and to lay off public sector workers.
Jersey's financial sector is still seven times larger than the
agricultural and hospitality sectors put together. Its economy is
hollowed out. Jersey bet its future on finance and let its other
industries shrivel — like another, bigger island off the coast of
Mary Beard and Tom Holland have written
histories of Rome. Beard starts with Cicero in 63 BCE and closes
with the emperor Caracalla in 212 CE, a century before the
conversion of Constantine to Christianity. Holland starts in 40 CE
with Caligula and tells the story of Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula,
Claudius, and Nero, the megalomaniac who let Rome burn in 64 CE. It
seems the name of Christ was known in Rome when Claudius expelled
the Jews from the city in around 50 CE.
2015 December 8
Daesh want the United States and its
allies to be dragged into a ground war. The group bases its ideology
on prophetic texts stating that Islam will be victorious after an
apocalyptic battle to be set off once Western armies come to the
Daesh propaganda is rife with
references to apocalyptic prophecy about the last great battle that
sets the stage for the end times. Terrorism experts say it is a
powerful recruiting tool. Potential fighters are promised a chance
to battle Western interests and fulfill ancient Islamic prophecies.
The scripture they reference describes a battle in Dabiq and
al-Amaq in northern Syria. The countdown to the apocalypse begins
once the "Romans" set foot there. Dabiq is now the name of a Daesh
magazine that promotes the looming apocalypse. Amaq is the name
of a Daesh news agency.
Obama administration has armed and supported militias in Iraq and
Syria to give a local veneer to the tip of the sword, with mixed
results. Proponents of a ground assault say an even bigger
recruiting drive than the apocalyptic prophecy is the Daesh promise
of a caliphate.
Faith Is Not the Problem
A paper for the UK government says that
in many parts of urban Britain different tribes are living "together
apart" with an internal cohesion but at best benign indifference and
at worse malign antipathy to outsiders. Zygmunt Bauman speaks of
"mixophobia" created by insecurity.
The Commission on
Religion and Belief in Public Life called for the UK to be
de-Christianized. But downplaying religion overall is foolish. Not
faith but but extremism is the problem. The passerby at Leytonstone
station was right to tell the jihadist knife man: "You ain't no
are like the
The New York Times
The US Air Force Boeing B-52
Stratofortress was built during the Eisenhower administration. Its
vacuum tubes have been replaced
with microchips, but its engines
still connect to the cockpit by cables and pulleys. The first B-52
rolled out in 1954, the
last in 1962.
The Air Force took more than 740 of them at around $8
million each, and 76 are still in the USAF bomber fleet.
Defense officials keep planning replacements. A
nuclear-powered bomber was too radioactive, the supersonic B-58 kept
and the B-70 spewed toxic exhaust. The B-1 flew fast and
low, but design flaws and engine fires dogged it in the 1991
Gulf war and
have limited it since. The B-2 had a delicate stealth
skin and became known as the $2 billion bomber that cannot go
out in the rain.
The next contender, the LRSB, is decades away, so
the B-52 is expected to keep flying until at least 2040.
Aircrews in Vietnam called the B-52 the Buff, the big ugly fat
fucker. Buffs began bombing South Vietnam in 1965, and in 1972
of them rained bombs on Hanoi in North Vietnam. In the Gulf
war, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and the Iraq war, Buffs demoralized enemy
ground troops by first dropping tons of leaflets and then returning
the next day with the goods.
The Air Force is trying to
change the image of the B-52 to precision weapon. Laser targeting
pods under the wings let them drop
smart bombs. Afghanistan Buff
pilot Lt Col Sarah Hall: "We're as accurate as a fighter. And
sometimes just the sight of the B-52 is
enough to end the fight. The
enemy just takes off."
Regional election results:
François Hollande / Soc: 23%
Nicolas Sarkozy / Rep: 27%
Le Pen / Nat: 30%
Shores of Sputnik
Son of Robin Hood
2015 December 7
The threat from terrorism is real, but we
will overcome it. We will destroy ISIL and any other organization
that tries to harm us.
We will prevail by being strong and
smart, resilient and relentless. Congress should act to make sure no
one on a no-fly list is able to buy a gun. What could possibly be
the argument for allowing a terrorist suspect to buy a semiautomatic
weapon? This is a matter of national security.
60% of Americans disapprove of how Obama is handling terrorism
Plague and Hellfire
The V&A has a new display of European arts
and crafts from the age of Caravaggio to the time of Napoleon. Wax
tableaux from Naples show emaciated corpses rotting on plague-ridden
streets and a screaming soul suffering the fires of hell. An ivory
sculpture by Joachim Henne depicts death as a wasted, skeletal
maniac waving two drumsticks, beating the march of war and disease.
Plague still menaced Baroque Europe and holy wars ravaged it.
But Europe grew and by the age of Napoleon it dominated the world.
This is a rich series of galleries to see again and again, a walk
from darkness into light. We live in a world the Enlightenment made,
the world of science and technology, but it grew from an age when
everyone looked death in the eye every day.
2015 December 6
Hilary Benn, Wednesday: "We are here faced
Wrong. We cannot cram today's
problems into the framework of the last century. Fascism was
hierarchical, Islamism is a loose network. Fascism was
national, Islamism is international.
Dostoevsky, in Crime and Punishment, gave the nihilist murderer
Raskolnikov a feverish dream:
"Whole settlements, whole cities
and nations, were infected and went mad. Everybody was in a state of
alarm, and nobody understood anybody ... People killed each other
with senseless rage. Whole armies were mustered against each other,
but as soon as the armies were on the march they began suddenly to
tear themselves apart. ... Everything and everybody went to wrack
Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and Nigeria today: Islamic extremists
turn to massacre while western liberals refuse to see the threat.
Dostoevsky's plague is raging. Yet Hilary Benn thinks we are
AR This is
Warum es die Welt nicht gibt
Martin Heideggers Frage
nach dem Sinn von Sein ist legendär. Markus Gabriel fragt, warum es
alles gibt, nur nicht die Welt.
Ein Sinnfeld ist bei Gabriel
der Bereich, in dem bestimmte Gegenstände erscheinen. Wenn wir etwa
versuchten, einen Tisch unter dem Aspekt seiner physikalischen
Beschaffenheit zu untersuchen, dann wäre dies eben der Tisch in
einem naturwissenschaftlichen Sinnfeld. Die physikalische
Beschreibung ist aber nur eine von vielen.
einen neuen Realismus begründen, der naturwissenschaftlichen
Fundamentalismus ebenso wie einen radikalen Perspektivismus
vermeiden soll. Für ihn ist Erkenntnis die angemessene Erfassung
eines Gegenstandes innerhalb der Regeln seines Sinnfeldes. Er wendet
sich gegen den Neurokonstruktivismus, der versucht, der Philosophie
die Aufgabe der Begriffsklärung abzunehmen, indem sie alles auf
Gehirnaktivitäten als Fundament zusammenschnurren lassen.
Erscheinen der Phänomene und die Tatsache, dass sie für uns Menschen
immer in Sinnfeldern erscheinen, gehörten zu ihrer Existenz. Sinn
sei eine ontologische Kategorie, auch etwas prinzipiell
Unabgeschlossenes, weil er endlos Bedeutung produziert.
Gabriel hat das Heidegger-Vehikel aus der Garage geholt und es mit
einer neuen Politur behandelt.
AR Sinn war für Frege nicht ontologisch.
Gabriel schlägt eine Neuigkeit vor.
2015 December 5
Late Monday night in
Dresden, Germany, former English Defence League leader Tommy
Robinson gave a speech to a large group of PEGIDA supporters.
After Tommy left the EDL he spent time in jail and then worked
with The Quilliam Foundation. He still thinks Islam poses a real and
growing risk to the culture and identity of Europe. In Prague he met
representatives from PEGIDA and the Czech group Bloc Against Islam.
Czech Republic president Milos Zeman spoke at a Bloc rally: "We
have no problems with foreigners: there are half a million in the
Czech Republic. But this culture is not compatible with ours. Ours
is not a culture of murder or religious hatred. The immigrants are
young men. Why are these men not fighting for the freedom of their
country against Islamic State? Why do they come to Europe? Why don't
they stay to make their own countries better?"
with PEGIDA organizer Siegfried "Siggy" Däbritz and Bloc leader
Martin Konovka. They agreed on a big demonstration on February 6
under the banner:
SAVE OUR CULTURE — SAVE OUR COUNTRY —
SAVE OUR FUTURE
They say the influx of immigrants from Muslim
majority countries poses an existential threat to European identity.
They are not racist but talk of human rights, free expression, and
A UK branch of PEGIDA is planned. Tommy: "No
alcohol at any future demonstration. No fighting with the far left.
It's too serious now for that stuff."
The liberal order in Europe is history. The
progressive narrative of freedom has left liberal Europeans unaware
of its fragility. Overthrowing despots in the name of freedom, we
have put our own freedom at stake. The danger to freedom now is not
state power but its absence.
The migrant crisis is driven by
a flight from failed or failing states. Many of the migrants are
fleeing countries whose states were dismantled by western policies.
The West cleared zones of anarchy in which Daesh has thrived. The
process released the forces of theocracy.
institutions lack the capacity to tackle a security challenge of
this magnitude. The nation states of Europe are seizing control of
their borders to stem a mounting threat to their security. This
looks like the beginning of the end of the era of mass migration
The European Union claims many of the
prerogatives of statehood but cannot deliver the safety that states
exist to serve. The Daesh strategy of savagery serves an apocalyptic
myth of cataclysmic battles and a universal caliphate. We must
destroy Daesh by military force.
Tim Snyder said stateless zones led to the Holocaust (blog
2015 December 4
Right Call on Syria
After the Paris attacks, France made a
specific request to Britain to assist it in targeting Daesh over
Raqqa. For the UK to have refused its closest European military ally
would have been a dereliction of duty. It would have been especially
hard to justify after the passage of a UN Security Council
resolution that calls on nations to take all necessary measures to
Chatham House experts discuss UK air strikes in Syria
President Hollande said of COP 21:
"This is about the future of the planet, the future of life." In
fact, the natural world has evolved and developed through ice ages
and warm periods. The geographical spread of some species will
change and some species may be pushed into extinction, but the
natural world will adapt.
Some changes may be uncomfortable
for humans. But we can adapt to cope with them. Our main problem is
to save cities swamped by the rise in sea levels. Higher levels of
atmospheric carbon dioxide may accelerate this process by a few
decades, but it seems inevitable until the Earth enters the next
The Earth has warmed up by an average of 1 K
since pre-industrial times, according to some data sets. But the
increase is greater at the poles than at the equator, the land
masses of the northern hemisphere have warmed much more than south
of the equator, and much of the increase is due to warmer nights.
Carbon dioxide is vital for life. Its presence in the air helps
trap heat from the Sun, which stops Earth freezing over. Ocean
acidification is no problem. Seawater is slightly alkaline and
highly buffered, and even large increases in dissolved CO2 only
nudge the pH closer to neutral. Sea life evolved over periods when
CO2 levels were much higher.
New observations are consistent
with the projections of climate models. Given their wide range of
outputs, this is unsurprising. Science should be objective and
2015 December 3
RAF Tornado jets launched air strikes
against Daesh targets in Syria, a few hours after the House of Commons
voted 397 to 223 in favor of extending the strikes over Iraq to
The debate lasted over 10 hours and ended for Labour
when shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn defied his leader to plead
passionately for MPs to do their "moral duty" and stand up to the
"fascists" in Syria. He sat down to rapturous applause. Conservative
foreign secretary Philip Hammond closed the debate and hailed Benn's
powerful oration as "outstanding — one of the great speeches".
AR Benn should be the next Labour
leader. He would do well.
ESA Launches LISA
A hundred years ago Einstein published his theory of
general relativity. Yesterday the European Space Agency launched the
LISA (laser interferometer space antenna) Pathfinder mission into
space. Inside the satellite two 5 cm gold-platinum cubes will float
35 cm apart in a chamber where their position is measured by a laser
with picometer precision. Once the satellite is in near-zero gravity
at Lagrange point L1 any movements will be analyzed for evidence of gravity
waves, as predicted by Einstein's theory. The mission is a proof of
concept for a bigger LISA array.
Gravity wave astronomy could tell us a lot about black holes.
2015 December 2
First coined in 1995 by David Chalmers,
the hard problem of consciousness highlights the distinction between
registering and actually feeling a phenomenon. Such feelings are
Physicalists say science can explain consciousness.
But if physical laws are causally closed, then consciousness is
irrelevant. If a zombie world can be like ours except that its
people have no qualia, then physicalists cannot explain qualia.
Modern science left humans feeling like pigs in space. Our moral
universe was erased. Then physicists saw a way back for
consciousness in our world. In quantum mechanics the observer might
be actively involved in constructing reality.
want to forget about consciousness, while others seek its neural
correlates. Will they explain qualia? Chalmers says no. He insists
on the primacy of subjective experience.
AR On pigs in space, see
es die Welt nicht gibt by Markus Gabriel.
2015 December 1
Bombs on Raqqa Fill Daesh with Joy
Since the Paris attacks, western
politicians have been walking into a trap. After 9/11, George W
Bush's "war on terror" turned out to be a terrorist recruitment
program. Daesh is Bush's baby.
Raqqa is a favorite target of
western bombers, even though only a couple of thousand Daesh
fighters remain in the city. France is currently bombing everything
that looks like camps or barracks. And for every murdered child,
there will be new terrorists.
More bombing will fill Daesh
fighters with joy. We could only make them happier if we were to
send in ground troops as well. Daesh fanatics are desperate to live
out their imaginary apocalyptic showdown between good and evil by
fighting against western troops on the ground.
Ways to beat
1 Stop Gulf states delivering
weapons to terrorists in Syria and Iraq.
Help Turkey seal its long border with Daesh-occupied territory.
3 Bring peace to Iraq and Syria by
integrating Sunnis into political life.
AR If it's joy they want, let's give it to them.
Carbon Cuts Cost
A Paris treaty will achieve very little in
temperature reductions but could cost at least $1 trillion a year.
We owe the world more, both in terms of tackling climate change and
in spending resources wisely.
If all the promised carbon cuts
are made, emissions will fall by 56 billion tons of CO2 by 2030. The
cuts needed to stop warming of more than 2 K are over 100 times
Cutting temperatures by even a trivial amount will
cost trillions. Spending money that way — while billions lack food,
health, water and education — is nothing short of immoral.
AR Carbon taxes will only please
||IMF Top Ten
||GDP per head at PPP
of US in 2014
Houses of Parliament
from the South Bank
||% of GDP
The Perfect Theory
Pedro G. Ferreira
Tate Britain, London
2015-11-25 — 2016-04-10
2015 St Andrew's Day
Democratic India is among the world's
fastest-growing economies. We are striving to meet the aspirations
of 1.25 billion people. The instinct of our culture is to take a
sustainable path to development. When a child is born, we plant a
tree. Since ancient times, we have seen humanity as part of nature,
not superior to it.
The principle of common but
differentiated responsibilities should be the bedrock of our
collective enterprise. The lifestyles of a few must not crowd out
opportunities for the many still on the first steps of the
development ladder. Our targets must seek to drive restraint in use
of fossil fuel and moderation in our lifestyles.
European Union leaders have granted
Turkey fast-tracked visa privileges, €3 billion in aid, and a new
push for EU membership talks. In return, Turkey will choke off the
migrant flow into Europe, offer work rights to 2.2 million Syrians,
and take back some asylum seekers who moved on into Europe.
Turkish premier Ahmet Davutoglu called the summit a "new
beginning" in EU-Turkey relations but warned: "Nobody can guarantee
anything. I wish I could say the numbers will decline but I cannot
because we don't know what will happen in Syria."
2015 November 29
The New York Times
German chancellor Angela Merkel has so
far rejected requests to limit the influx of newcomers into Germany.
But she and other European leaders have tightened asylum policy,
restricted family reunions for refugees, and campaigned to keep
people from setting out for Europe. Balkan nations on the migrant
trail have been encouraged to bar all but Syrian, Iraqi, and Afghan
The new policy culminates
in a summit meeting of the European Union with Turkey today. Turkey
seeks €3 billion to help care for the 2.2 million refugees it
houses. EU leaders are likely to resume negotiations on Turkish
EU membership. Carnegie Europe director Jan Techau: "They urgently
need Turkey, and without Turkey, they cannot possibly reduce the
pressure on their borders."
2015 November 28
Politics and International Relations
University of Oxford
The one-day conference
International Security: Scholarship and Practice explored the
ways Oxford scholars are addressing some of the pressing security
concerns of the day, from cybersecurity and violent extremism to the
resurgence of authoritarianism and the changing ethics of armed
AR I found this an
excellent opportunity to enjoy stimulating and fruitful exchanges
with numerous leading thinkers on global security issues.
2015 November 27
George Osborne wants to turn the UK into the
most prosperous major economy in the world. According to the IMF,
the UK is #6 among the "top ten" major economies (excluding small
states such as Switzerland and Singapore). Since 1980, the UK has
overtaken Italy, and the IMF forecasts the UK will overtake France
by 2020. This depends on rising British productivity.
fiscal deficit is expected to turn into a surplus by 2020. With net
foreign borrowing forecast at 2.1% of GDP in 2021, the UK private
sector must go into a deficit of 3.3% of GDP. Household gross debt
would rise to 163% of income by 2021. This is almost as high as the
peak of 168% in 2008. The UK will not become the most prosperous
major economy in the world.
Partners Against Daesh
Jean-Yves Le Drian
France and the UK have celebrated the
fifth anniversary of a historic commitment. The Lancaster House
treaty affirms that there can be no threat to one of our countries
that is not a threat to the other. It is a promise that France and
the UK will continue tackling their shared security challenges
shoulder to shoulder.
Like France, the UK is working to
defeat Daesh. Over Syria, British aircraft are supporting the
coalition with intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. It is
now crucial to strike Daesh in Syria.
Daesh may have established several cells
in Europe. A million refugees have made Europeans vulnerable. Daesh
can exploit this.
Former Iraqi military intelligence agency
colonel Haji Bakr managed the strategic expansion of Daesh. Now
Daesh is dug in and air strikes alone will not root it out.
Western troops could only launch a ground offensive with Russian
agreement. If the West sided with Assad, all the rebels would side
The United States is stymied. In Syria, its
Kurdish ally is the enemy of NATO ally Turkey. In Iraq, militias
backed by Iran are enemies of both Daesh and America.
pursues realpolitik. To defeat them, we must do the same.
2015 November 26
Re: Autumn Statement
Osborne's starting points remain unchanged
and questionable. He insists, above all, that the UK should run an
overall fiscal surplus in "normal times". In other words, the
government should not borrow to invest, however much higher are the
expected returns than the cost of borrowing. It is impossible to
understand why such a rule makes sense.
AR Debt repayments are hostage to changing global fortunes.
Crisis or war can make debt burdens onerous. Also, the temptation
for government to pay off troublesome opponents or special interests
by incurring new debt is evidently irresistible. If times are good,
the opportunity cost of zero debt can be high. But the private
sector can step in.
2015 November 25
The Autumn Statement I gave today delivers
on the promise we made to the British people that we would put their
security first by:
• Taking the difficult decisions to
live within our means and bring our debts down,
• Defending our country's interests
abroad and keeping our citizens safe at home.
Review builds on that with:
• Full funding for the Five Year
Forward View the NHS put forward
• The biggest real terms increase
to the basic State Pension in 15 years
• A doubling of the housing budget
to over £2 billion a year
• The phasing out entirely of the
local government grant
• A new apprenticeship levy to
deliver 3 million apprenticeships
• Real terms protection of schools
• The largest ever investment in
• The improvement in our finances
used to help on tax credits
• An average saving of £30 from
projected energy bills
Five years ago our job was to rescue
Britain. Today our job is to rebuild Britain.
Since 2010, no economy in the G7 has grown
faster than Britain. Our economy this year is predicted to grow by
for Budget Responsibility forecast today is that the economy
will grow robustly every year, living standards will rise every
year, and more than a million extra jobs will be created over the
next five years.
The improvement in the nation's finances
allows me to:
1 Borrow £8 billion
less than we forecast
2 Spend £12
billion more on capital investment
Reach the same goal of a surplus while cutting less in the early
Our approach is to reform and rebuild. The reforms
1 Develop a modern, integrated,
health and social care system
Spread economic power and wealth
4 Reinforce our
In this Spending Review, we choose to
build. I am:
1 Doubling the housing
2 Extending the Right to Buy
to housing association tenants
Accelerating housing supply
Addressing the housing crisis in London
Raising rates of Stamp Duty on purchase of additional properties
For we are the builders.
Today we deliver the Spending Review
of a One Nation government.
Well done, George!
Einstein's theory of general relativity
stated that space bends and stretches under the influence of matter
and energy. His theory revolutionized our vision of the universe. It
explains the behavior of orbiting binary pulsars and the orbit of
Mercury. But the beginning of the universe and the region near the
center of a black hole are quantum worlds.
Einstein saw the
need to understand the quantum realm. General relativity uses
differential equations to describe a smooth and differentiable
space. In contrast, quantum mechanics describes a quantized world.
The mathematics of the two theories are fundamentally at odds. A
theory of quantum gravity remains one of the open goals of modern
Black Hole Starivores
A fast radio burst (FRB) detected in 2007
released more energy in a few milliseconds than the sun does in a
month. Since then, we have found 10 more. A
suggests that when a black hole ingests an inward spiraling neutron
star, they interact to generate an FRB.
As a black hole moves
within the magnetic field of a neutron star, their orbital and spin
motion generates an electric current that flows along the magnetic
field lines between them. The power grows as the black hole and
neutron star spiral closer. In the few milliseconds before they
merge the radiation rises steeply. From a remote galaxy the radio
waves appear as an FRB with a distinct fingerprint, with radio
emission rising to a double peak in brightness.
could help test the theory of general relativity. When two very
massive objects collide, the shock should make waves in spacetime. No
one has yet seen gravitational waves. But new instruments like
should be able to spot them from an FRB collision.
AR On starivores see a book I edited:
The Beginning and the End by Clément Vidal (Springer 2014).
2015 November 24
The Perfect Theory
Pedro G. Ferreira
The theory of general
relativity is the scientific equivalent of Michelangelo's Sistine
Chapel. Both are unique works of genius and each could only have
been done by one individual.
Albert Einstein struggled for
seven years to get it right. He worked on his ideas and equations
exhaustively and then presented his theory in a series of lectures
in November 1915, culminating in a final presentation on November
24. He published the theory on December 2.
The European Space
Lisa Pathfinder is designed to help find the
gravitational waves predicted by Einstein's theory, It is scheduled for
launch on December 2.
Daesh vs Rest
Islamic State sees
itself as a state. It believes it has achieved the Sunni ideal of a
caliphate. It believes it must ultimately confront and then defeat
the West in a big battle between truth and falsehood. But it would
rather be left to consolidate its position for now.
dispirited by the mass migration of Syrian refugees into Europe. It
has appealed to them to migrate to the caliphate rather than to the
lands of the infidel. Smuggling fighters into France who had posed
as refugees may have been designed to exploit fears about the
security risk posed by accepting Syrian refugees. For Daesh, any
Muslim not backing its project is guilty of heresy.
wants to eradicate the gray zone of coexistence. Its aim is to
divide the world into Muslim and infidel, black and white. It
believes that by polarizing the world it will hasten the return of
the messiah. This may be its undoing. The wider world is waking up
to a threat it cannot ignore.
Britain must decide whether it wants to join in the fight against
Daesh or whether it is content to sit on the sidelines. We can join
France and the United States at the head of a coalition or we can
gamble that others will do the work for us. We cannot win a reprieve
from the jihadists.
David Cameron will make a final effort to
win a parliamentary majority for bombing in Syria. He may be forced
to accept a further diminution of UK standing among allies. The
United States, France, and Australia are growing tired of our
inability to pull our weight. Russia and Iran have their own
interests in Syria that do not necessarily converge with our own.
The British position, of joining the coalition in Iraq but
stopping at the borders of Syria, is morally indefensible. The UK is
not served well by the impression of British decline and retreat. We
are still the fifth wealthiest nation in the world. It matters what
we do when our friends are under attack.
2015 November 23
We Will Win
Our Strategic Defence and Security Review
is a comprehensive plan to back our armed forces, counter-terrorism
police, and intelligence agencies with the resources they need to
defeat terrorism and to tackle the many other threats we face.
The United Kingdom will meet the NATO target of spending 2% of
our GDP on defence and the UN target of spending 0.7% of GNI on
development, while also increasing investment in our security and
intelligence agencies and in counter-terrorism.
tackle the poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism and refocus our
aid budget to support fragile and broken states and regions, to
prevent conflict and promote the rule of law, good governance, and
the growth of democracy.
Our strategy includes deepening our
resources and international cooperation on counter-terrorism to
detect and foil plots from wherever they emanate in the world. So
along with 1,900 new staff for our agencies and increased investment
in counter-terrorism police, we will invest in a new generation of
We will use our renewed economic
strength to defeat the terrorist threat and help keep us safe for
generations to come.
David Cameron will today pump an extra
£12 billion into strengthening UK defenses. The 2015 defense review
will include a 30% increase in the counter-terrorism budget, £2
billion on special forces, and a focus on cyber defenses.
budget increase for defense kit over the next decade will take total
spending to £178 billion. The additional spending will maintain
defense spending at 2% of GDP, in line with the NATO target.
The budget will include funding for nine Boeing P-8 aircraft to take
on the Russian submarine threat. The plan also brings forward the
procurement of 24 F-35 aircraft for two new aircraft carriers.
made in the 2010 defense review in 2010, which did not do enough to
fight new threats such as cyber attacks or Islamist terrorism and
which axed UK maritime surveillance capability. The Boeing P-8
maritime patrol aircraft will fill the gap left by by scrapping
||Type 26 Global
||F-35B Lightning II
"The United Nations Security
Council has unanimously backed
action against this
cult in both Syria and Iraq."
ISIL controls an area bigger
than the British Isles
Russians bomb Daesh oil assets
Credit: Shakh Aivazov
Chris Watt Photography
School in Moray,
Scotland, was founded in 1934
Hahn. Princes Philip
and Charles both went there.
described it as
"Colditz in kilts"
2015 November 22
Europe has become unsafe as a result of
decades of mass immigration from Islamic countries. We should
respond to the crisis by voting on crucial national policies in binding
Leaving the European Union would let the
Netherlands adopt its own asylum policies. Support is growing for my Party for Freedom in
the Netherlands. We do not want to bring
in large numbers of people from a less liberal and less secular
Dutch political elites think they know better than
the people. In a direct democracy, citizens are sovereign.
The Netherlands would benefit from direct democracy.
Jihadis are engaged in a thousand-year
struggle for global supremacy against Christianity.
Muhammad embarked on his prophetic mission, most people in the
Mideast were Christian. Yet by 650 CE, soon after his death, Arab
armies had conquered most of the region and many Christians were under
their rule. The Byzantine Empire lost huge territories but still
Christendom did not collapse. In the age of the
Crusades it began to go on the offensive. Summoned by the Pope in
1096 to defend the holy sites of Jerusalem, Christian armies set for
the Holy Land. In 1099, the Crusaders broke into Jerusalem, and the
streets of the city flowed with blood.
Jerusalem remained in Christian hands for less than a century. By
1400, a chain of Muslim lands stretched from the Atlantic
to the China Sea. In 1453 the Ottomans conquered Constantinople
and made it a bastion of Islam. In 1529, and again in 1683, an
Ottoman army almost took Vienna.
Then the British Empire
arose. Muslims could no longer ignore the sheer scale of their
decline. It was they who were now the imperial subjects, and Islam
was looked down on as backward. Many in the Muslim world looked to
the golden age of the Caliphate for their inspiration.
some two-thirds of Muslims worldwide want to see the restoration of
Daesh savagery has roots in the Wahhabism
of Saudi Arabia. Members of the Saudi ruling class applaud Wahhabi
opposition to Shia and its Salafist adherence to the original
practices of Islam.
Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-91 CE)
said everyone should study the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet. He opposed Sufism and Shia as heresy. His patron
was Muhammad Ibn Saud, a local warlord. Saud enforced Wahhabi Islam
with the sword while Wahhab promoted study and debate.
Wahhab died, Saud's son began the wholesale slaughter of resistant
populations. His army sacked Karbala and slaughtered thousands of
Shias, and Mecca surrendered to him in 1803. Then the Ottomans
defeated him in 1815.
Wahhabism arose again with the help of
Lawrence of Arabia. The Saudi chieftain carved out a kingdom with his devout Bedouin army, the Ikhwan, who massacred apostates in their thousands, slaughtered women and
children, and slit the throats of all male captives. The Ikhwan
continued to raid British protectorates, and even attacked the Saudi
king until finally he quashed them in 1930.
kingdom abandoned jihad and Wahhabism became a conservative
movement. But the oil price rise in 1973 gave the kingdom all the
petrodollars it needed to export Wahhabism. Its mosques and madrasas
indoctrinated a generation of Muslims with intolerant sectarianism.
Like the Ikhwan,
Daesh represents a rebellion against the official Wahhabism of
Saudi Arabia. Its caliphate has no support internationally
and is derided throughout the Muslim world.
France has deployed carrier-borne aircraft
to bomb Syria. Britain cannot. After the 2010 strategic defense and
security review, Sea Harriers jets, the Invincible class carriers, and Nimrod maritime patrol aircraft were
all scrapped. Now
Russian submarines lurk near Britain undetected. The conflicts in
Iraq and Afghanistan used up most British reserves. Now land vehicles are
worn out and Tornados are running out of flying hours. The 2015
review is due tomorrow.
2015 November 21
President Obama believes that ground invasions
and occupations of countries in the Mideast are not the most
effective way of addressing terrorism. US Special Forces will go
into Syria to facilitate operations by Kurds and Sunni Arab forces.
There is a humanitarian challenge. Displaced families need a
safe haven. There will have to be continued investment in welcoming
Syrian refugees to different countries. President Obama admires what
Chancellor Merkel has done.
Dabiq is a magazine distributed by Daesh.
University of Arizona professor Shahira Fahmy found that Dabiq
images promoting the idea of an idealistic caliphate far outnumbered
photographs of killings and torture. Overall, only 5% of imagery
produced and distributed by Daesh is violent.
Foundation report found that the propaganda Daesh distributes in the
Mideast often shows the group "administering its civilian
population, cleaning the streets, fitting electricity pylons, fixing
sewage systems, purifying water, collecting blood donations,
providing health care and education" to reassure people that they
are living under a functional authority.
Daesh is media
literate. Fahmy points to images showing serenity and repentance
"suggesting that any individual will always be embraced by the
organization and forgiven for past affiliations upon joining the
caliphate" alongside others promoting the idea of victimization by
Black Daesh, white Daesh: Islamic State,
Saudi Arabia. Daesh feeds on Wahhabism.
Saudi Arabia exports
Wahhabism, which aims to restore a caliphate centered on the holy
book and the holy sites. Born in massacre and blood, it manifests
itself in a surreal relationship with women, a prohibition against
infidels treading on sacred territory, and ferocious religious laws.
Saudi Arabia is a Daesh that has made it.
The West salutes
the Saudi theocracy as its ally but ignores its global sponsorship
of Islamist culture. The Saudi royals are caught in a trap. Their
clergy produces Islamism, which both threatens the country and gives
legitimacy to the regime. Religious television channels have an
immense transformative influence on the society.
newspapers cast the West as a land of infidels. The Paris attacks
were the result of its onslaught against Islam. Muslims and Arabs
are the enemies of Crusaders and Jews. The Palestinian question, the
rape of Iraq, and the memory of colonial trauma are packaged into a
messianic discourse meant to seduce the masses.
Daesh has a
mother: the invasion of Iraq. But it also has a father: Saudi
French governments have long failed to
protect the population.
Opinion polls reveal that the French
population has always:
Maintained its trust in and solidarity with its police officers and
• Disliked the
sermonizing from the left on how to treat migrants and refugees
• Been suspicious of the foreign
military adventures its leaders have chosen
is discredited. The solution is direct democracy.
AR Last time the French tried that they
ended up with Napoleon.
2015 November 20
Captivity is a historical novel
about the Roman Empire. Jesus, Claudius, Caligula, Pontius Pilate,
and Philo of Alexandria all make cameo appearances. György Spiró views them through a Jewish lens.
century CE is well documented. Spiró draws on the histories of
Tacitus and Suetonius, the writings of Josephus and Philo, the New
Testament, and the Talmud. These sources tell us about the politics
of imperial Rome, the religious fervor of Jerusalem, and the ethnic
strife of commercial Alexandria, all in the decades up to about 70
The tale begins with Uri, a poor Jew living in a hovel in
Roman ghetto. He is brainy but scrawny and lives
on Roman welfare. Like Forrest Gump, he blunders through the margins
of historical events.
In Rome, we are shown
gladiatorial combat, a client's morning visit to his patron, and a
public execution. These scenes introduce us to Roman brutality,
hierarchy, and corruption. Uri's father is casually asked for a huge
loan by a princely Jewish friend of Caligula, and forced deep into
As favor in return, Uri gets permission to go to
Jerusalem. There he ends up in jail, in the same cell with Jesus and
two thieves on the eve of the crucifixion. Jesus goes unnamed, and
Uri finds out only much later who he is, when the Nazarene cult has
turned Jesus into the Christian messiah.
When Uri makes it
to Alexandria, he settles into an ancient version of New York City.
He becomes the confidant of Philo the philosopher and witnesses a
pogrom. This violent uprising of Greeks against Jews reminds us of
the Holocaust. By the end of the tale, Uri has survived the Jewish
War. Christianity appears as a last echo of Judaism.
pessimism or fatalism pervades this novel. It is a profound
meditation on what Judaism meant, and means.
2015 November 19
Daesh does not have its natural social
incubator within Syria. Jihadists feed on the support of the Turks
and the Saudis and Qatari, and of course the western policy that
supported the terrorists in different ways. Daesh started not in
Syria but in Iraq, and before that in Afghanistan.
The timetable for elections in Syria starts after defeating terrorism. You cannot achieve anything politically while
you have the terrorists taking over many areas in Syria. After that,
one year and a half to two years is enough for any transition.
Economics of Terrorism
To judge by Paris, Islamic State prefers to
outsource. From its supply chain to its event planning, it is a
multinational. Yet the economic impact of Islamist terrorists is
usually minimal apart from on tourism and travel.
For this reason alone, talk of war on Daesh is misguided. The
Islamists have formed a state within Syria and Iraq by controlling
the local oil industry. Their attacks in "the gray zone" aim to
foment a clash of civilizations.
The Paris attacks may dent
the economies of several European countries if governments respond
by reinstating border controls. Citigroup economists warned this
week of a growing backlash against a key element of globalization.
The recent pause in globalization was not due to global jihad.
Terrorism is a marketing campaign for recruits. Set against natural
events and the rhythm of industry and trade, its effects are
War of Ideas
A recent conference in London on Muslim
integration aimed to get people of different beliefs to debate with
Islamic scholars and academics. Participants attacked the idea of
deradicalization as an aspect of western prejudice against Muslims.
This is the stuff taught in
British colleges and universities. It says Muslims are radicalized
because they are victims of Islamophobia, and any attempt to deal
with radicalization that does not admit this is Islamophobic.
Many Muslims will use this view to oppose the UK strategy of
tackling extremism by banning preachers from the internet, vetting
the political views of people working with children, and
blacklisting and banning Muslim groups.
The strategy will
provoke resistance. Better to fight the ideas of apologists and
relativists with better ideas.
2015 November 18
The New York Times
There is no consensus on how to defeat
Islamic State. But a resolution of the Syrian conflict and a broader
reform of Islam must be part of a solution. If the United States
decided to remove the Assad government, it would have the support of
Saudi Arabia and Turkey but not of Russia or Iran.
Washington Institute fellow Ehud Yaari: "To beat ISIS, you need
the enlistment of the Sunni forces. That won't happen as long as
Assad remains in power in Damascus. The shortest and most effective
way to deal with ISIS is for the United States and Russia to come to
an agreement about the removal of Assad, and they will get support
from others. Then the Sunni forces, the rebels, can deal with ISIS
on the ground."
Russian experts say the wellspring of radical
religious ideology is Saudi Arabia and the Sunni states of the
Persian Gulf. Gennady V. Gudkov: "The roots are not in Syria. The
problem is far more serious. All the world leaders should think of
this: A significant part of the Islamic religion is infected with a
tumor that is metastasizing."
A military solution is likely
to meet brutality with brutality. To tame an Islamist insurgency in
Chechnya, Russians destroyed the capital, Grozny, and even held the
families of jihadists hostage.
Former Mossad chief Shabtai
Shavit: “With this enemy, we have to push aside arguments on law,
morality, and comparisons of security and the rights of the
individual. That means to do what they did in World War II to
Dresden. They wiped it off the map. That is what has to be done to
all the territorial enclaves that ISIS is holding."
eradicating all violent jihadi groups will probably require drastic
reform of governments in the Mideast: greater accountability, fair
justice, better schools, more job prospects.
Islam is in the middle of a reformation. It
needs time to adapt to the modern world. The Ottoman caliphate
abolished poll taxes on infidels, gave equal citizenship rights to
all Abrahamic monotheists, and scrapped traditional Islamic
punishments such as the death penalty for apostates.
thinkers, theologians, and activists are contributing to the
reformation. They are grappling with universal human rights, shared
values with other religions and philosophies, gender equality, the
status of minorities, the separation of mosque and state, a critique
of Islamic scripture, and the promotion of scientific and rational
thinking. All agree that Islam needs to be reconciled with the
modern world and its interpretations normalized.
Fundamentalist regimes such as those of Saudi Arabia, Iran,
Pakistan, Afghanistan, northern Nigeria, and Islamic State have
reinstated abhorrent practices from early Islam. Islamic State
barbarism has helped show that a future Islam must be based on
liberty, equality, and fraternity.
Islamic State exploits chaos. Its strategy:
1 Hit soft targets. Disperse the efforts
of the enemy and drain it.
victims when their guard is down. Sow fear, damage economies.
3 Capture the rebelliousness, energy,
idealism, and self-sacrifice of youth.
Expose the weakness of the West by pushing it to fight directly.
Islamic State spearheads radical Arab Sunni revivalism. This is
a dynamic, revolutionary, counter-cultural movement of world-historic
proportions. Treating it as terrorism reflects incomprehension of
its alluring moral mission to save the world. Its leaders seek to
create chaos in the land of the infidel. They see the fact that
Europe needs mass immigration to maintain a big workforce as a
godsend. European intolerance of immigration makes for chaos they
A thrilling cause inspires them. Jihad is
fraternal, dynamic, glorious, cool, and persuasive. In 2014 more
than 1 in 4 French youth aged 18-24 had a
favorable opinion of ISIS, yet fewer than 1 in 12 of the French are
Muslim. ISIS recruiters are expert at linking personal grievances
into a universal theme of persecution against all Muslims. The ISIS
e-zine Dabiq appeals to Muslims caught between the caliphate and the
infidel by quoting Osama Bin Laden: "The world today is divided."
AR I was impressed by Atran's 2010
Talking to the Enemy.
2015 November 17
After the Attacks
The New York Times
Islamic State terrorist attacks are
hard to anticipate or prevent. In Europe each one intensifies the
xenophobia of nationalists ever ready to demonize Muslims and shut
down EU internal borders. Adopting draconian measures of the sort
demanded by FN president Marine Le Pen can only further alienate the
5 million Muslims in France.
Prevention of further attacks
will require threatened states to find a way to end the Syrian civil
war. In Vienna, US and Russian delegates agreed on a draft plan for
a phased transition to an interim government and elections in Syria.
At the G20 meeting in Turkey, US President Obama talked privately
with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Clash of Civilizations
Samuel Huntington predicted in 1993 that
international politics would be dominated in this century by a clash
of civilizations. Hardline Islamism is on the rise worldwide as
Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states have used oil money to spread
intolerant forms of Islam around the world.
Malaysia has a
Muslim Malay majority and an ethnic Chinese minority, but Arab
influences have eroded the Malay variant of Islam and replaced it
with a more austere and exclusive interpretation.
Bangladesh, radical Islamists are behind a spate of recent murders
and attacks on Christians, Hindus, and Shia Muslims.
prime minister Narendra Modi is accused of tolerating anti-Islamic
prejudice and violence, and in recent months his Hindu nationalist
BJP has ramped up anti-secular and anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has let religion become much
more central to Turkish politics and identity.
In Europe, the
migrant crisis had helped to fuel the rise of anti-Muslim parties
and social movements.
In the United States, anti-Muslim
rhetoric is also rising.
2015 November 16
I am determined to prioritize the resources
we need to combat the terrorist threat. This is a generational
struggle that demands we provide more manpower to combat those who
would destroy us and our values.
Count me in.
The murders in Paris were an act of war
and a gift to xenophobes. Islamic State wants to provoke an
The far right will draw false
connections between migration and terror. The French National Front
makes scant distinction between violent jihadis and peaceful Islam.
For them every Muslim refugee is a potential terrorist. Marine Le
Pen is seen as a credible candidate in the contest for the French
presidency in 2017.
Destruction of Islamic State strongholds
in Iraq and Syria will not wipe it out. Ending the war requires a
AR Ending it
requires military victory first.
The security order that protects our
civilization has become fragile. It cannot cope with the influx of
migrants from failed and failing states. Nor is it managing to deal
with the presence of alienated religious and ethnic minorities
inside our borders. On current form, defeat looms.
we must want to win. We can only argue convincingly with jihadists
if we believe in our ideas as strongly as they believe in theirs.
International law, diplomacy and institutions are good ways of
settling differences with people who accept the rules of the game.
Faced with jihadists who will ruthlessly use force and take risks in
pursuit of victory, seeking compromise is a guarantee of defeat, not
To win, we must accept a few sacrifices. Business
and finance are the servants of our civilization, not its masters.
Our business people must disentangle themselves from the people who
want to destroy us. The European Union needs to start behaving like
a great power. No one country can win alone. Together we can win.
AR Without victory, there is no
2015 November 15
The mindless, random violence of Beirut,
Benghazi, or Baghdad has come to a European capital. This new
assault may well be the beginning of a long wave of assaults. We
must grasp this, fast.
Chaotic migration is one
consequence as the Mideast unravels. But a campaign of destruction
by Islamist fanatics who hate our way of life is more. This is war,
said François Hollande. This is total war, added Nicolas Sarkozy.
AR What the fanatics want is a
single global polity. The Islamist rhetoric is utter rot. The
reality will be Big Brother writ large —
Edward Gibbon described the decline and
fall of the Roman Empire in six volumes between 1776 and 1788. He
covered more than 1,400 years of history: Decline shaded into fall,
with monotheism acting as a kind of imperial dry rot.
Ward-Perkins writes in
The Fall of Rome (2005) that what happened was "violent seizure
... by barbarian invaders" with "horrors and dislocation" marking
the "end of civilization" within a single generation.
Heather writes in
The Fall of the Roman Empire (2005) of the disastrous effects of
mass migration and organized violence: "For the adventurous, the
Roman empire ... presented an unprecedented opportunity to prosper
... the Roman state became its own worst enemy."
Roman Empire before it, the European Union has allowed its defenses
to crumble. The great migration of 2015 brought millions, most
hoping only for a better life. But as Gibbon saw, convinced
monotheists pose a grave threat to a secular empire.
Ward-Perkins: "Romans before the fall were as certain as we are
today that their world would continue for ever substantially
unchanged. They were wrong."
History is not destiny. GLOBORG changes everything.
My political friends in
Park, shot by:
Ice volcano on Pluto
A Chinese collector
$170 million in New York
for this 1918 painting
"Modigliani painted Nu couché
in a world at war ... This is a
beautiful act of defiance."
"The climate problem has to
be solved in the rich countries.
China and the US and Europe
have to solve CO2 emissions,
when they do, hopefully
they'll make it cheap enough
2015 November 14
Marine Le Pen
Nous vivons l’horreur. Nous
vivons une tragédie nationale.
Hier soir la capitale de la
France a subi des attaques d’une barbarie inouïe qui montrent une
nouvelle escalade dans la violence du terrorisme islamiste. Pour la
sixième fois en 2015, il a frappé notre pays.
La France et
les Français ne sont plus en sécurité.
Le président de la
République a annoncé l'état d'urgence et le contrôle temporaire aux
frontières, c'est bien. Mais quoi qu'en dise l'Union européenne, il
est indispensable que la France retrouve la maîtrise de ses
frontières nationales définitivement.
La France doit enfin
déterminer quels sont ses alliés et quels sont ses ennemis. Ses
ennemis, ce sont ces pays qui entretiennent des relations
bienveillantes avec l'islamisme radical, ce sont aussi ces pays qui
ont une attitude ambiguë avec les entreprises terroristes.
Enfin, le fondamentalisme islamiste doit être anéanti.
Frontex de contrôle des
frontières extérieures de l'UE, laissez
OTAN mènent des attaques sur
Chancellor Angela Merkel denied on TV that
she had lost control of the refugee crisis: "The chancellor has the
situation under control, also the entire government."
finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble describing the refugee crisis as
an avalanche, she said: "I say we should show a friendly face of
On whether her claim "We can do it" still held, she
said: "I believe we must nevertheless work toward doing it, and I
have no doubt that we can do it."
AR I fear she's lost it.
Benjamin R. Teitelbaum
The Swedish government has
announced that Sweden is reintroducing border controls. Across
Europe, states like Austria and Germany too are calling for Europe
to reinforce its external borders. Swedish efforts have turned to
repatriating migrants or relocating them to neighboring states.
Danish migration minister Inger Stojberg said her country would
not accept them: "Sweden has had an irresponsible refugee policy for
years. They have put themselves in this situation."
has a population of less than 10 million, but it has been absorbing
10,000 asylum seekers a week, and expects the total number this year
to reach 190,000. Municipalities complain that they lack housing,
teachers, and doctors for them.
The Sweden Democrats have
grown fast since entering Parliament in 2010. Prime minister Stefan
Lofven called them neo-fascists. When they criticized his policy
months ago for its blindness to logistical and economic pitfalls, he
dismissed them. Now they call the tune.
AR Europe faces an existential problem. The crisis will kill
the union unless EU leaders rise to the occasion. I say:
2015 November 13
Lawrence of Arabia
Artists deconstruct the
legacy of Lawrence of Arabia this month in an
exhibition in Amman,
Jordan, organized by Tom Hunter. Lawrence fought alongside Arab
forces in the 1916-18 revolt against the Ottoman empire. Lawrence's
Seven Pillars of Wisdom created a mystique. His whole life
seems an orientalist fantasy.
The classic movie
Lawrence of Arabia
is omnipresent in the
exhibition. The film defined the story of Lawrence and the Arab
revolt. The narrative it depicts casts a white male adventurer as
the leading protagonist of an Arab struggle.
Lubna Anani: "It's such a horrible movie. It puts Lawrence as the
hero. Those people that sacrificed their lives for their freedom, in
the movie they show them like thieves, like savages."
Hunter: "You're selling an idea. You're selling a beautiful white
man with blue eyes. And he becomes the Madonna of the Desert, and
everyone else are his understudies."
Anani: "We're very aggressively
putting ourselves in the picture."
Is nothing sacred?
Lawrence is the Prophet of Anglo-Arab friendship, the movie a
supreme classic. Colonialism be damned — the historical truth is
clear. David Cameron loves the movie. I do too.
The New York Times
Researchers find that
driving systolic blood pressure to levels far below what current
guidelines recommend — less than 120 instead of 140 or 150 mm Hg (1
mm Hg = 133 Pa) — can save lives and prevent heart disease and
In a study of over 9,000 patients aged 50 and older
with high blood pressure and at least one other risk factor for
heart disease, half were assigned to a systolic pressure target
below 140 and half were assigned a target pressure of less than 120.
After an average of 3.2 years, there were 26% fewer deaths and 38%
fewer cases of heart failure among patients who hit a target of 120
rather than 140. To get down to 120, patients took an average of one
additional blood pressure pill a day.
Dr. Marc Alan Pfeffer
said that previously if a patient over 50 years old with a risk
factor for heart disease came into his office with systolic pressure
of 136 he would pat the patient on the back, but now he would wish
to prescribe more drugs.
Dr. Michael Alderman says the study results mean 6 people per
1,000 annually would avoid a heart attack, stroke, or heart failure:
"If there were no, or minimal, harms like a safe one-time
vaccination, it would be a no-brainer. But if it means decades-long
pill taking by generally healthy folks, the decision gets more
AR Moral: Keep fit
and eat and drink healthily. Don't do drugs.
2015 November 12
The world's first trillionaires could grow rich
by mining asteroids. US Congress has passed legislation granting US
companies "finders keepers" rights to natural resources claimed in
space. That might includes terabuck quantities of precious and rare
metals and water.
AR Or will a
Bill Gates of robotics get there first?
The nearby red dwarf star Gliese 1132 has
a Venus-like planet in orbit around it. GJ 1132b is slightly larger
than the Earth and and has a surface temperature of 500 K, too hot
for life as we know it but cool enough to keep an atmosphere. Gliese
1132 is 39 light years away, so this is the nearest rocky exoplanet
AR Twin Earth
must be nearby too.
2015 November 11
We in the UK need to face up to the
folly of our huge investment in nuclear weapons. We are bound by our
mutual defense agreement with the United States. Our Trident system
relies heavily on American expertise and is effectively part of the
US fleet. We should explain to the Americans and NATO that the money
we spend on our nuclear deterrent would be better spent elsewhere.
AR Investing in the US fleet is
money well spent.
Brendan Simms, Timothy Less
The problem with the European
Union is its ideology.
The ruling elites
transferred power from national capitals to the central European
institutions too quickly for most electorates. The EU is reneging on
its commitment to democracy. Unless Europeans can solve this
problem, the union will be on a glide path to collapse. States will
resort to unilateral solutions to urgent problems, member states
will start to fragment, Germany will assert its power more
forcefully over the rest, and then concessions will loosen the
If Britain chose to leave the EU, the states that
remained would face the prospect of remaining in a German empire
writ large, or leaving. The first to go would probably be states
such as Denmark, Hungary, and the Czech Republic. With each
departure, the rump union would become ever more dominated by
Germany, and others would bail out rapidly. Germany would soon be
Imagine that in 2016 or early 2017, Geert Wilders wins
the Dutch elections and forms a rejectionist coalition. Germany
unilaterally grants Britain a new deal on membership and Britain
votes to stay. Then Marine Le Pen wins the French election in 2017
and demands more concessions. Germany refuses. This triggers French
exit. The Netherlands is the next to go. Within weeks, most other
states decide to go too, including the UK, and by 2018 the EU is
A collapse would send shock waves around the world.
Timothy Snyder set the Holocaust in the
frame of brutal Nazi rule over the lands between Germany and Soviet
Russia and the horrific toll in lives taken by the two battling
powers. Now he interprets the Holocaust as arising when Hitler faced
what he took to be looming ecological crisis and national
Holocaust researchers have long debated
the motive. Some say Hitler aimed from the beginning to rid Europe
of the Jews. Others say his aim was less clear and the decision
process was driven by unfolding events.
One dispute concerns
the date of the decision to destroy European Jewry. At issue is
whether it was made because the war in the East was not going well
for Germany (December 1941) or because a German victory appeared
close at hand (July 1941) and the Nazis were riding a wave of
Snyder offers a maddening combination of right
and wrong, imagination and fantasy, good sense and absurdity. His
"discoveries" about the Holocaust do further harm to a field of
study already disfigured by misguided work.
CORAL I say Hitler was moved
by ambition to be an Antichrist.
2015 November 10
UK vs EU
UK prime minister David Cameron writes to
EC president Donald Tusk to set out four objectives of his EU reform
1 Protect the single market
for Britain and for others outside the eurozone.
2 Write competitiveness "into the DNA"
of the European Union.
the EU treaty to exclude the UK from "ever closer union" and
strengthen the role of
4 Restrict access to welfare
payments for migrant workers.
No big problem there, we presume.
Mortality among middle-aged white Americans
has been rising since 1999. Suicide is way up, and so are deaths
from drug poisoning and the chronic liver disease that excessive
drinking can cause. A number of studies have shown that life
expectancy for less-educated whites is falling across much of the
America has both a much weaker welfare state and
a much stronger role for traditional religion and values than any
other advanced country. Life expectancy is high and rising in the
Northeast and California, where social benefits are highest and
traditional values weakest. Low and stagnant or declining life
expectancy is concentrated in the Bible Belt.
middle-aged whites have lost the narrative of their lives. They were
raised to believe in the American Dream, and are coping badly with
its failure to come true. Universal health care, higher minimum
wages, aid to education, and so on would do a lot to help Americans
in trouble. But they may not be enough to cure existential despair.
2015 November 9
The UK spends far less on science than any
other leading country. Taxpayer funding is 0.49% of GDP for research
compared with 0.9% in Germany and the US.
House of Commons
science and technology committee chair Nicola Blackwood: "Spending
on science and innovation is not a state subsidy. It is a strategic
investment that creates jobs, increases productivity and attracts
Professor Brian Cox: "Anything less than
a long-term commitment to increased investment in science will be
grossly negligent and damage our country, perhaps irreparably."
The science committee report calls for a
steady increase in research funding to nearly double its present
level. Pure research is essential for the new industries that
generate future growth, and private sector R&D cannot be relied on
to fill gaps left by public cuts.
Overall spending on R&D in
the UK is 1.6% of GDP, compared with a US 2.8%, the German 2.9%, and
an OECD target of 3%. British private sector R&D spending slumped in
2008-09 and has yet to return to previous levels. UK government
spending on research has been cut under austerity.
study put the ROI on scientific research at 20% pa. Few investments
can match R&D for impact on competitiveness and productivity, and
none comes close in terms of social spillover.
Geoengineering might be a way to soften the
blow of human-created climate change with technology. At present,
over 80% of the world's energy comes from fossil fuels. The world
uses a lot of energy, and will be using even more energy soon.
France and Sweden both transitioned very well onto nuclear. If
you want to cut 30-40% of your fossil fuel budget, you can
transition to nuclear. Cutting it all the way back to zero is really
The real challenge of geoengineering is developing the
institutions that might use it in a just and responsible way. These
are notional technologies. Implementing them might be quite
2015 November 8
Islamic State Global Threat
Islamic State has always had the potential to
become a global terrorist organization. With its tens of thousands
of motivated fighters, many willing to conduct suicide missions, its
control of extensive territory in which terrorist acts can be
planned and terrorists trained, and its financial wherewithal, this
organization has far more capability than al-Qaeda ever did. Islamic
State also has thousands of adherents with European and American
After 9/11, we in the West pledged never again to
allow a global terrorist organization the freedom to fund, plan and
train for terrorism from its home base the way al-Qaeda did in
Afghanistan. If Islamic State goes global, then our governments will
have broken that pledge. It's not too late to start fighting the
fire before it goes global. But doing so means a lot more than
modest airstrikes and a small contingent of special forces.
The Rise of the Robots
Artificial intelligence and
new robots will wipe away entire swaths of work and radically
reshape society. A new report from Bank of America Merrill Lynch
looks at the likely effects: Jobs wiped out will be up to 35% of all
workers in the UK and 47% of those in the US.
this century may go the way of horses in the last. There were 21
million horses in the US in 1900. By 1960, there were just 3
Carl Benedikt Frey: "There will be people who own
the AI, and therefore own everything else ... Homo sapiens will be
split into a handful of gods, and then the rest of us. I think our
best hope going forward is figuring out how to live in an economy of
radical abundance, where machines do all the work, and we basically
play ... You have to think about a universal income."
Productivity is the key to economic growth. The latest round of
innovation in robots and AI is likely to power its continued rise.
But unless it is carefully managed, the gains may be captured by
shareholders and highly educated knowledge workers, leaving most
people out in the cold.
AR Time for a new ethic: Every human
citizen on Earth has a right to basic economic security.
What are the criteria for citizenship — submission to Allah?
Die Experimentieranlage Wendelstein 7-X im
IPP-Teilinstitut Greifswald soll die Kraftwerkstauglichkeit
von Fusionsanlagen des Typs
"Stellarator" demonstrieren. A: Konzept. B: Magnete. C: Bau.
Redefining banking to survive
and thrive in a digital world
2015 November 7
Nuclear fusion: The Wendelstein 7-X
stellarator in Greifswald, Germany, is about to fire up. The €1
billion WX-7 is a toroidal chamber 16 m in diameter containing hot
(100 MK) plasma. Extra twists and turns in its donut shape optimize the magnetic fields that contain and compress the
circulating plasma. If the fusion reactions can be stabilized, the design
will point the way to building a commercially viable fusion reactor.
If the W7-X works well, work on ITER could be abandoned.
Nuclear fission: The aging set of UK nuclear reactors was not
optimized for electricity generation but compromised so that they
could also produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. The new
generation of fission reactors is much better. The European
Pressurised Reactor is not only more efficient but also more
complicated and expensive.
Renewables: Improvements in
technology, coupled with taxes on carbon emissions, will make energy
from wind and solar comparable in price with fossil electricity within a few years.
Chunks and Precedence
Corey S. Powell
Physicists have two rulebooks for nature.
General relativity accounts for gravity and big things. Quantum
mechanics handles the other forces and small things. Think of the
two as smooth versus chunky. If you try to interpret smooth
relativistic laws in a chunky quantum style, or vice versa, things
go wrong. Perhaps string theory can do better.
asks whether there is a quantum of space. If there is, string theory
is in trouble. Chunks would be a new way to understand space and
time. Hogan recalls how depth emerges in a TV picture made of flat
pixels and suggests spacetime might emerge from the chunks.
Hogan and his collaborators have built a chunk detector, a
holometer. This consists of a laser beam, a beam splitter, and two
mirrors to bounce the split beams back along an orthogonal pair of
long tunnels. If space is chunky, the locations of the mirrors will
jitter. When the two beams are recombined, any discrepancy will
reveal the chunk size. Hogan expects first results this year.
Lee Smolin thinks the parts of the universe may be
linked not only across space but also across time. His principle of
precedence explains the emergence of laws. If you do an experiment
that has been done before, you expect the same outcome. Consistent outcomes suggest a fixed natural law.
Smolin says the laws may emerge over time, as quantum systems copy
One way to test this is to do a new
experiment with no precedent for it to copy. If the principle of
precedence is correct, the initial results of the experiment will
look random. But as the experiment is repeated, precedence builds up
and the results become predictable. Precedence would reach up to
AR Hogan and his
holometer are repurposing
LIGO kit from
the graviton hunters, Smolin is sailing very close to the deeply
unfashionable theory of morphic resonance.
2015 November 6
US vs China
USS Theodore Roosevelt sailed 400 km south of
the Spratly Islands. US defense secretary Ashton Carter visited the
aircraft carrier and said: "Many countries in the region are coming
to the United States and asking us to do more with them so that we
can keep the peace out here."
Over the past two years, the
United States has agreed to closer military co-operation with Japan,
the Philippines, and Australia. Next in line is Malaysia. China has
reacted angrily to recent US operations in the South China Sea,
accusing Washington of violating its sovereignty.
Gunships vs Jihadis
US commanders retook a big patch of ground in
northern Syria from Islamic State by using feared ground-attack
aircraft for the first time.
AC-130H Specter gunship and
A-10 Thunderbolt II Warthog tank-busters flew in support of
Kurdish and allied Arab forces, who recaptured the ground.
The Specter and Warthogs flew from an airbase in Turkey and
devastated the jihadis. The operation is a possible template for
The Warthog was feared by insurgents in Iraq
and Afghanistan and beloved by US troops. The Specter was originally
used in Vietnam.
A popular theory of consciousness is that
in unconscious perception information is processed locally
in the brain, and in conscious perception the information is
broadcast over the entire cortex.
When volunteers view
stimuli that may or may not enter conscious awareness, their brains
show identical EEG activity for the first 270 ms. If perception is
subliminal, the brain activity peters out, but when volunteers
become conscious of the stimuli, there is a sudden burst of
widespread brain activity 300 ms after the stimulus. This burst has
an EEG signal called P3b, and has been called a neural correlate of
Now a team has detected P3b during unconscious
processing of stimuli. This suggests that P3b is not a neural
correlate of consciousness, contradicting the popular theory.
Matthieu Ricard et al.
Meditation techniques for training
the mind hold great potential for supplying cognitive and emotional
When we meditate, nothing changes in the
surrounding environment, but the meditator regulates mental states
to achieve a form of inner enrichment. This experience affects brain
functioning and its physical structure. Meditation can rewire brain
circuits to produce salutary effects not just on the mind and the
brain but on the entire body.
In open presence or pure
awareness, the mind is calm and relaxed, not focused on anything in
particular yet vividly clear.
Our view of reality, our structures of meaning, and our sense of
identity are all touched and transformed by our technologies. The
digital mind uses information as a means to an end, but for Sven Birkerts
contemplation is the "alpha and omega" of thinking.
Transcendentalists found meaning in and through unmediated attention
to the natural world. A new transcendentalism would bring digital
technology to the same kind of transformative attention that they
brought to the natural world.
2015 November 5
UK prime minister David Cameron says the
Investigatory Powers Bill is one of the most important pieces of
legislation his government will implement. The new draft bill seeks
to reconcile the need for citizens to keep their data private with
the role of the security services for public safety.
UK intelligence agencies need to retain strong surveillance
powers, but the bill introduces judicial oversight over how they
operate. At present, ministers sign interception warrants allowing
the agencies to see the content of communications. The bill proposes
a double lock: warrants will be approved by not only a minister but
also a senior judge.
The extra safeguard will boost public
trust. It will reassure US companies asked to hand over data to UK
authorities. But the bill requires that internet and phone companies
keep internet connection records for up to 12 months. The police
argue that accessing these records is increasingly important for
their work, such as tracing child abusers.
UK home secretary
Theresa May should rethink the proposal to retain the web browsing
records of British citizens. In our age, a person's browsing history
offers a detailed insight into their life. Yet the bill suggests
that police officers may access such data without ministerial or
2015 November 4
Neurotribes is the most personal thing
I've ever written. I wanted to look at autism as a human community,
instead of a condition or a disorder. One of the things I do is
frame autism not purely in a clinical or self-help context, but in a
social justice context. I came to it thinking I was going to study a
disorder. But what I ended up finding was a civil rights movement
It used to be that all discussion of autism was,
in a sense, behind the backs of autistic adults, as if they were
children, as if these adults were invisible. In fact, they're all
Der Westen hat die Wahrheit
sagt an den Universitäten niemand mehr, dass es die Wahrheit gibt
oder dass sie erkennbar ist. Jeder, der behauptet, es gebe eine
Wahrheit oder er kenne sie, gilt als Fundamentalist. Der Islam ist
nicht euer Problem: Ihr habt die Wahrheit verloren, deshalb werdet
ihr die Freiheit verlieren. Wenn die Zeit der freien Debatte vorbei
ist, werden diejenigen, die Macht haben, über andere bestimmen.
Europa und der Westen fallen auseinander, weil sie ihr
christliches Markenzeichen, die Kategorie der Wahrheit verloren
haben. Es wird heidnisch, weil es um Geschichten und Mythen geht. Es
geht um Meinungen, um eigene Überzeugungen. Reformen beginnen mit
einer Person, die etwas verstanden hat und dafür gerade steht.
AR Die Wahrheit wird durch rigoroses
Denken anhand der Fakten erkannt. Wissenschaftler und manche
Philosophen (auch ich) verstehen dies schon.
Stress at Work
A little bit of stress is part of normal
life, but feeling dread, or fretting over things out of work hours,
is a sure sign that you are overly stressed. Signs include:
• Feeling panicky
Being unable to focus
like you can't cope
difficulty staying in the moment
• Having a
• Getting butterflies
A racing heartbeat
It you have these symptoms for too long,
you could be at risk of high blood pressure, heart attack, and a low
Avoiding stress is very simple: Take more
2015 November 3
UK vs EU
German chancellor Angela Merkel has given
qualified backing to proposals by UK chancellor George Osborne for
EU reform and for a two-speed Europe.
Merkel told the BDI
conference in Berlin that Germany would support some of the British
demands for EU reform: "Where there are justified concerns, whether
competitiveness or better functioning of the EU, the British
concerns are our concerns."
BDI president Ulrich Grillo: "Not
all countries want a closer union. We must respect this ... Germany
needs the UK."
Humanism offers one of the most important
drivers of change that can improve our future.
It is possible
to imagine a future without the tyranny of religious myth and
superstition. The most important goal in educating our children
should be to encourage them to question everything. Encouraging
skeptical thinking helps create lifelong learners and citizens who
can responsibly address the demands of a democratic society.
Many of the specific claims of the sacred books of the world's major
religions are not valid. There may be places in the world where one
risks decapitation for questioning certain religious claims, but in
a rational world it is hard to argue that questioning these, or a
host of others of dubious repute, should be viewed as inappropriate.
Education is inseparable from teaching doubt. Informed doubt is
the essence of science.
2015 November 2
Bitcoin is a currency based on
cryptography, but its blockchain technology has wider applications.
The blockchain enables people who neither know nor trust each other
to pay bills correctly without trusted third parties such as banks.
It can work for other transactions too.
The blockchain is a
database that contains the payment history of every bitcoin in
circulation. This distributed ledger is openly replicated on
thousands of nodes around the world. Its security is guaranteed by
the mathematics of the consensus mechanism for updating it.
Say Alice wants to pay Bob. Their bitcoin wallets access the
blockchain rather as a browser accesses the web. The transaction
starts when wallet A proposes writing a block to decrement wallet A
and increment wallet B. The proposal propagates over the network and
nodes check the ledger to see if wallet A has the bitcoin Alice
wants to spend. If it does, nodes called miners bundle the proposal
with other transactions to create a new block for the blockchain.
To make a block, a hash function converts the data into a string
of digits of fixed length. The hashing is one-way and the hash is
unique. It goes into the header of the proposed block. Header and
hash function define a mathematical puzzle that can only be solved
by trial and error. Across the network, miners grind through
trillions of trials until a miner finds a solution. Other nodes
quickly check it (solving is hard but checking is easy), and each
node that confirms it updates the blockchain. The hash of the header
identifies the new block, which is now in the ledger. Alice pays
The puzzle adds security. Since you cannot predict which
miner will solve a puzzle, you cannot predict who will update the
blockchain, so cheating is hard. Each new header contains a hash of
the previous block header, and so on all the way back, concatenating
the blocks into a chain. From the ledger you can check the new block
header, but any change in the chain changes all the later blocks and
triggers rejection of the ledger.
Alice could cheat Bob by
erasing her payment history, solving the puzzle, and producing a new
version of the blockchain. But nodes always work on the longest
version of the blockchain, and in the time she needed, the rest of
the network would have lengthened the original blockchain. If two
miners both solve a puzzle they only cause a temporary fork in the
chain. The puzzle also adds incentive: Making a new block mines new
bitcoin, so the winning miner earns money.
The blockchain is
an open platform and it can be a registry of anything worth tracking
closely. But it may not scale. To authenticate miners, the bitcoin
architecture forces them to work on puzzles. This adds up to a lot
of wasted energy. And bitcoin blocks are far too small for bank
workflows. New code will handle large numbers of smaller
transactions outside the blockchain and support much bigger blocks.
But the improvements require community agreement.
Banks are racing to harness blockchain
technology. They think it can cut costs by $20 billion and transform
the industry by letting them overhaul banking infrastructure, speed
settlements, and streamline stock exchanges. Applications include
storing client identities, handling cross-border payments, clearing
and settling bond or equity trades, and self-executing contracts.
At first the lack of a central
authority provoked consternation among financial institutions. But
now the technology is heralded as the ultimate back office makeover
for banks. Ironically, libertarians had conceived the idea of the
blockchain to circumvent the global banking system.
Blockchain holds revolutionary promise. Banks can use its
unforgeable record of identity. Insurers can use its full records of
personal transactions. Governments are investigating its potential
for medical records and electoral voting systems.
open source technology will write smart contracts that execute
trades automatically. An effort is on to build a standardized
AR If I were
still at SAP, I would work on this platform.
2015 November 1
Jonathan Leader Maynard
Britain faces a choice: Full
replacement of the Vanguard-class submarines that launch Trident
missiles or complete nuclear disarmament, or something in between.
The UK cannot carry on using the
existing submarines much longer, and designing nuclear cruise
missiles for its attack submarines would not save money. But Britain
could end the present continuous at-sea deterrent (CASD) and build
fewer new submarines, or work with France to provide a joint CASD
rather than two separate ones.
Unilateral nuclear disarmament
is not an option:
crises and stand-offs look unlikely now. But when only one state in
a dispute has nuclear weapons, the nuclear power can always threaten
escalation until its opponent has no defense.
2 Full disarmament leaves the UK
dependent on the United States for security. We cannot assume the US
president will always be willing to risk US citizens to retaliate
against a UK aggressor.
3 If one
is willing to disarm, one may as well use the chance to elicit some
multilateral disarmament measures from other states, rather than
going it alone.
4 A world free
from the risk of nuclear conflict will only be achieved by a massive
multilateral effort to internationalize the ownership of nuclear
technology and a dense global regulatory framework.
British deterrent does close to nothing to protect national security
today. CASD is designed to protect the UK against a Cold War threat.
That scenario has vanished. Alternatives to CASD include a force
capable of CASD but not always active, or a lesser force that would
be deployed only when the risk of crisis rises.
The UK should buy the smallest and cheapest nuclear deterrent that
maintains strategic flexibility. A new plan could save billions.
AR I say go for joint CASD with
France to form a European deterrent with an EU fund to pay for it.
The presidency of the United States is
still the top job. The commander-in-chief of the world's strongest
military is the chief executive officer of the world's biggest
economy. POTUS is potent.
their next president a year from now. Among the people who currently
seem most likely to get the job are several who are not remotely
qualified to wield such power.
With Donald Trump it is not
what he says but the way that he says it. He is a throwback to a
bygone era when white Americans felt superior to everyone else, and
were happy to let them know it.
The American people give the
top job to whichever candidate best reflects their mood. Right now,
that mood is ugly. And so is the Donald.
Asteroids can contain water, oxygen, metals, and so
on that astronauts could use at a much lower cost than hauling stuff
from Earth. There are hundreds of thousands of asteroids.
Planetary Resources co-founder Eric Anderson
estimates a megaton-size asteroid could contain more than $100
billion worth of materials for use in space and on Earth.
years ago, NASA planned to grab an asteroid and tow it into lunar
orbit. The agency now plans to send a robotic spacecraft to retrieve
a boulder from the surface of an asteroid in 2020.
planetary science director Jim Green: "Asteroids are a hot topic, a
stepping stone to Mars."
2015 All Hallows Day
Hallo an Alle am Schlossplatz IX zum
Missions to the Moon
(HD, 3 min)
Henry Kissinger could stare
at the abyss with
He applied his mind to the
problem of making the
safe for limited nuclear war.
In his fantasy, after
nuclear weapons had reduced
Central Europe to a
radioactive ruin, the United
States would pause to
with the Kremlin about
what to do next.
abyss was carpet
bombing in Vietnam.
puts bacon, sausages
and hot dogs in the same
league as Pu
Queen Elizabeth II and
President Xi Jinping ride
to Buckingham Palace
New York Times
The Vienna summit on the Syrian war
includes Iran, along with the United States, Russia, Britain,
France, Germany, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the
United Arab Emirates. The war began in 2011, has killed a
quarter-million people, is causing the biggest refugee crisis since
WW2, and is a breeding ground for Islamic State.
A few weeks
ago, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said any new talks with the United
States were forbidden. He described the United States as a
persistent enemy of the Islamic revolution, and said that despite
the nuclear agreement, it needed to be kept at a distance.
But the Supreme Leader may be giving more room to President Hassan
Rouhani, who advocates more open engagement with the rest of the
world. There is already tacit cooperation between Iran and the
United States in Iraq, where both are fighting Islamic State.
Iran claims to be the most influential power in the region.
Former Iranian diplomat and nuclear negotiator Seyed Hossein
Mousavian: "Following the nuclear agreement, Iran is now ready to
cooperate on crisis management in the Middle East."
2015 October 30
UK vs EU
David Cameron and George Osborne want to
smooth coexistence of the EU single market with the EZ. Their
• An emergency
brake for non-euro countries to delay a vote threatening the single
• A ban on discrimination
against financial groups on the basis of their location
• Recognition of the EU as a
• Open up
the process of EZ policymaking
A guarantee that non-euro countries will not be saddled with EZ
• Affirmation that
non-euro countries need not follow initiatives driven by EZ
Better Li Battery
Cambridge University chemistry professor
Clare Grey and her team have made a breakthrough in the development
of lithium-air batteries. If their technology can be commercialized,
it will give electric cars batteries that cost and weigh 5 times
less than today's lithium-ion cells. Lithium-air cells have an
energy density potentially 10 times greater than that of lithium-ion
A lithium-air cell generates electricity by combining
lithium with oxygen to form lithium peroxide. It is then recharged
by applying a current to reverse the reaction. Running these
reactions reliably over many cycles is the challenge.
Cambridge scientists adjusted the chemistry to make it more
controllable. Their demonstration system is 90% efficient and can be
recharged 2,000 times. But it will need at least another decade of
2015 October 29
US trade representative Mike Froman says
a British exit from the EU would leave it facing the same tariffs
and other restrictions as emerging economies such as Brazil, China,
and India. Brexit fans say the UK could negotiate its own trade
agreements with the US and others.
The US is now focusing on
regional trade negotiations such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership
and on negotiations with the EU. Froman: "I think it is absolutely
clear that Britain has a greater voice at the trade table being part
of the EU, being part of a larger economic entity."
Norway No Way
Norway is no model for a future British
relationship with the European Union. David Cameron used the
platform of the Nordic summit to say so.
Both Norway and
Switzerland are outside the EU and both make uncomfortable
compromises. Norway opted to stay in the European Economic Area, but
must accept the free movement of people, goods, services, and
capital. It makes big payments to Brussels but has no vote there.
Britain cannot settle for that.
Work and Pay, Have No Say
Espen Barth Eide
EFTA members Finland, Sweden, Austria,
Switzerland, Iceland, and Norway negotiated with the European
Community to form the EEA in 1992. Austria, Finland, and Sweden all
joined the EU in 1995. Norway voted to stay out.
We do not
help make decisions in Brussels but we loyally abide by them. We
incorporate about three quarters of all EU legislative acts into
Norwegian legislation. We have accepted the free movement of people,
goods, services, and capital. We follow EU product standards, and
financial and employment regulations, and make substantial
contributions to the EU budget. Choosing this track would leave the
UK committed to the four freedoms, but with no say over EU policies.
Switzerland has an array of bilateral agreements with the EU.
This is an even more cumbersome way of integrating into Europe.
Every western European country has chosen to take part in the
European integration process.
2015 October 28
A Plan for Climate
The climate conference in Paris in December
is unlikely to mark a decisive turn in global efforts to curb
catastrophic climate change. But it might mark the end of the
Our overriding goals for this century should be
the elimination of mass poverty and risk of catastrophic climate
change. The case for early action is overwhelming. Any investments
in energy, transport, and urban infrastructure will lock in the
carbon intensity of our economies.
The climate risks are
large and the costs of addressing them bearable. But the path for
emissions needed to deliver a 50-50 chance of limiting the increase
in temperature to 2 K is radically new. On anything like our present
path the cuts in emissions will not occur. Fortunately, new
technology can spur a revolution in energy generation and storage,
in energy savings, in transport, and in carbon capture and storage.
This revolution needs state support. New technologies and
lifestyles can benefit national economies without taking account of
the impact on the climate. Rapid dissemination of innovation and
assistance to poorer countries is needed for new energy and
A relatively pragmatic approach combined
with accelerating technological change can avert disaster. The
effort must begin with a good agreement in Paris.
A Plan for Syria
In 2011, when protesters in Syria demanded
political reforms, President Assad saw this as an effort to
overthrow his regime and decided to stamp it out. Earlier this year
I questioned President Putin about his support for Assad. He said
the only real chance of ending the conflict was for the United
States, Russia, Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia to prepare a
comprehensive peace proposal.
The decision by Russia
to support the Assad regime with military forces has helped clarify the choice between a political process and more war. Assad
will not end the war by accepting concessions imposed by the West,
but is likely to do so if urged by his allies. An acceptable
government could then be established in Syria and a concerted effort
made to stamp out Islamic State.
2015 October 27
Timothy Garton Ash
Poland is the biggest success story of
post-communist Europe and the leading regional power between an
overstretched Germany and a rampant Russia. As Spain and Italy
struggle with the effects of the eurozone crisis, and Britain has
marginalized itself until its referendum on EU membership, the rest
of Europe needs Poland more than ever.
The Law and Justice
(PiS) party won because the Civic Platform government looked tired.
This was clear earlier this year when the incumbent president
Bronisław Komorowski was unexpectedly defeated by the younger PiS
The cosmological principle: Zoom out far
enough and the universe should exhibit a drab homogeneity. But a
giant void in the universe almost 2 billion light years wide seems
to contradict it. Another enormous structure strung out over 4
billion light years is too crowded: The Huge Large Quasar Group
contains 73 quasars. And a colossal group of gamma-ray bursts (GRBs)
appears to form a ring 5.6 billion light years across.
Dick regards the huge structures as evidence of other dimensions
intruding into our own. M theory suggests we live in an 11D
universe, and brane theory suggests that our universe is a 4D
membrane floating in a sea of similar branes in extra dimensions.
Looking into a region where another brane is overlapping with our
own might skew our redshift measurements.
In Big Bang
cosmology, the further away an object, the faster it appears to
recede and the bigger its redshift. Astronomers regard objects with
the same redshift as a structure, like the GRB ring or the huge
quasar group. A homogeneous universe could appear to contain massive
structures and enormous voids, yet still obey the cosmological
2015 October 26
Lords Turn Bolshy
UK tax credit cut legislation is delayed as the House
of Lords defies the government. At least Baroness Manzoor's "fatal
motion" was rejected.
Poland Turns Right
Law and Justice party (PiS) leader
Jaroslaw Kaczynski celebrated with new prime minister Beata Szydlo
as Poland turned right in an election that erased leftist parties
from the political map.
Mistrustful of Brussels, suspicious
of foreign capital, and espousing a social agenda rooted in
conservative Catholicism, the right won back control after 8 years
of centrist rule.
Kaczynski is expected to be the supreme
authority behind the scenes. A fierce critic of Moscow, he has said
that in power his party would oppose any proposals for Poland to
accept more refugees.
David Cameron will see PiS as a key
ally in blocking future transfers of power to Brussels. But he will
get no support from them to discriminate against the Polish
community in the UK.
Syria Turns Bad
Syrians today are enduring a brutal ordeal
that reenacts the drama of their ancestors a century ago. Thousands
of Russian military advisers are joining the fight on behalf of
President Bashar al-Assad, as Iran and Hezbollah have from the
beginning. The United States and its regional allies are increasing
the flow of arms to the rebels. Neither side has the power to defeat
Last year, the regime seemed to be gaining the
upper hand. A year later, the regime is in retreat. Palmyra is in
the hands of ISIS militants. The death toll has climbed to at least
320,000. Out of a total population of 22 million before the war,
more than 4 million Syrians have fled the country, and another 7.6
million are displaced within it. Masses of Syrians are seeking
refuge in Europe.
A consensus among the United States and its
allies held that Assad's alliance with Iran was detrimental to their
interests. These powers perceived Iran using to its advantage
indigenous Shiites in the region along with the Alawite minority in
Syria. They sought to eclipse them on the battlefields of Syria. The
war is a free-for-all in which everyone pursues his own interests.
2015 October 25
Britain has never been so rich and the amount
of money and possessions most people have cannot be compared with
what people had when I first arrived. And yet the country behaves as
if it has never been so poor. It feels like we are permanently in
this age of austerity.
Jeremy Corbyn and I were both born in 1949,
and for most of my twenties I was on the staff of the New Statesman.
There were identikit Corbyns everywhere. In those years before
Margaret Thatcher, everyone was old left.
undereducated. His schooling dried up when he was 18, at which point
he had two E-grade A-levels to his name. He seems incurious about
anything beyond his immediate sphere.
He is humorless.
Arguing for a UK where every house has a garden, Corbyn elaborated
as follows: "Anyone who wants to be a beekeeper should be a
He is without the slightest grasp of the national
character. His proposal to leave NATO causes only exasperation in
London and puzzlement in Washington. His proposal to scrap the army
would be a spear through the British soul.
Corbyn's foreign policies, heed his Churchillian call for "political
compromise" with ISIS.
Generously equipped with the encysted
dogmas of the old left, Corbyn nonetheless gawkily embodies one of
its noblest themes: the search for something a bit better than what
A slicker Corbyn with a new suit and a new
smile is close to inconceivable. It is far easier to imagine a
Labour party that in any sane view is undeserving of a single vote.
I apologize for the fact that the intelligence
we received was wrong. Even though Saddam had used chemical weapons
extensively against his own people, against others, the program in
the form that we thought it was did not exist in the way that we
2015 October 24
Forty years ago, the US opening to China was
a strategic move. Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon
transformed the Cold War from a duel into a multiplayer game.
The UK government is making another strategic move. Its
reorientation of UK foreign policy is as much about geopolitics as
about economics. The UK has been the top destination for Chinese
capital in Europe, but since 2010 Britain has fallen behind.
The real economic issue is the potentially vast amount of Chinese
money that could flow abroad in future years. The Bank of England
estimates that China's gross international investment position could
reach 30% of world GDP by 2025, compared with around 5% now.
Forty years ago, the Chinese economy accounted for about 2% of global
GDP. By 2020 the Chinese share will be nearly 19%. At PPP the US
share will be 15%.
AR This not an
alternative but a complement to EU membership.
PEGIDA Is Back
Patriotische Europäer gegen Islamisierung
des Abendlandes (PEGIDA) is demonstrating again in Germany. A
prominent PEGIDA supporter regrets that concentration camps are
unavailable as a solution to the refugee crisis.
Bundesminister des Innern Thomas de Maizière describes PEGIDA
leaders as hard-core right-wing extremists but his domestic
intelligence service is not even monitoring the movement.
Verfassungsschützer Gordian Meyer-Plath is reluctant to take on
PEGIDA, which he calls a populist far-right movement rooted in anger
but no threat to German freedom and democracy.
Bundesjustizminister Heiko Maas condemns PEGIDA as a German
AR Rather a sign of
robust civic engagement.
A group led by Ronald Hanson at Delft
University of Technology all but proved quantum nonlocality with a
"loophole-free" Bell test: "We have confirmed that there is spooky
action at distance."
MIT physicist David Kaiser: "The
experiment has closed two of the three major loopholes beautifully,
but two out of three isn't three. I believe in my bones that quantum
mechanics is the correct description of nature. But to make the
strongest statement, frankly we're not there."
The NSF has
financed Kaiser and Alan Guth to close the third loophole using
light from distant objects on different sides of the galaxy in 2016,
and then light from quasars in 2017 and 2018.
AR See blog 2015-09-03.
2015 October 23
The UK unfurled the red carpet for President
Xi Jinping. David Cameron pledges that the UK will be China's best
partner in the west.
In contrast to France and Germany,
Britain had never made a sustained attempt to court China. The
government is now hurrying to catch up, betting that the potential
gains far outweigh the risks.
Some risks arise from China's
offshore military activity, its cyber-attacks on western firms, and
its burgeoning alliance with Russia.
Life on Mars
We have now seen signs of flowing water on
Mars. We have found organic matter on Mars. We know that organic
molecules have assembled into microbes in some of the most extreme
environments on Earth. It seems possible that the same has happened
Such simple life may be scattered through the
galaxy. Life on Earth may have been seeded by microbes ejected from
the Martian surface as a result of a meteor shower. If this theory
is right, we are all Martians.
Science has moved on. The
intriguing issue is not whether there is life elsewhere but what it
takes to evolve intelligence and consciousness.
AR I agree. This is why I let Apollo go
45 years ago and went on to
2015 October 22
The Hinkley C nuclear power reactor project in Somerset is
important for the future of the South West and UK energy mix. For
our region, this news is a welcome boost to jobs and growth.
There is huge scope for our local businesses to work with the
Hinkley developers to secure new revenue streams for this and future
projects. The Southern Powerhouse has truly arrived.
AR Julie is an excellent MEP.
TerraPower is a spin-off of
Intellectual Ventures, which was founded by
Nathan Myhrvold. The
company pursued a novel technology, the traveling wave nuclear
TerraPower director of innovation Jeff Latkowski:
"The traveling wave reactor was the focus of our early work, and
it's still the baseline product of the company. But we are looking
at other projects that we believe address the three critical areas
for nuclear power: safety, the environment, and costs."
TerraPower is exploring molten salt reactors, which offer safety and
economic advantages. The reactions slow as the fuel heats up, and in
the event of an accident the fuel drains into a sealed underground
chamber and cools off. No fuel fabrication is required, power
density and efficiency are high, enriched uranium is needed only for
startup, uranium dissolves well in the chloride solution, and the
waste can be reused as fuel.
TerraPower is also exploring
AR Memo to
Nathan: Go for thorium.
The Committee on Climate Change report due
in November will propose carbon budgets more than ten years into the
Committee chair Lord Deben: "The 2020s are crucial in
setting the direction for UK power generation, and to ensure the UK
can meet its 2050 climate change commitments cost-effectively. The
key tools are already in place to deliver the investment in
low-carbon generation that is required. The government must now
urgently clarify the direction of future policy."
green energy industry is now worth £122 billion and employs 460,000
people. But some of its government subsidies are due to expire
within this parliament.
The full cost of new gas-fired
generation will reach £85 per MWh for new plants coming online in
2020, and £95 per MWh for 2025, including the likely cost of carbon.
Wind and solar projects are under contract to deliver electricity at
£83 per MWh from 2016-17, but these prices rise by about £10 per MWh
if the intermittency of renewables is taken into account.
carbon price that reflects the full cost of emissions could increase
the cost of gas-fired generation to around £100 per MWh.
AR Emissions-free and non-intermittent
nuclear power can be much cheaper.
2015 October 21
Russian Med Threat
NATO wargame Trident Juncture in the
western Mediterranean will feature 36,000 troops with 140 planes and
60 ships, and continue into November.
Russia has a disruptive
presence in the eastern Mediterranean. Russian military assets in
Latakia and Tartus open up the southern flank of NATO to provocation
and threaten freedom of navigation for NATO forces. New Russian navy
berthing rights in Cyprus bring Russian surveillance and EW assets
close to the British air base at Akrotiri.
allied commander General Philip Breedlove: "Since Crimea we have
worked on assuring our allies and now we have to look at how that
assurance lends itself to deterrence."
A senior NATO
official: "In Kaliningrad, in occupied Crimea — which they are
turning into a fortress — and now in Syria, we see similar
concentrations of forces designed to stop NATO's freedom of action
NATO supreme commander for transformation
General Denis Mercier: "We are exercising in a scenario where NATO
does not necessarily have the balance of military power."
AR NATO member Turkey is at risk.
Geert Wilders, speaking near Perth,
Australia: "You will have millions of people coming to Australia,
like we do in Europe, and you will not be able to handle it. You
should be a sovereign country that closes your borders to those
kinds of immigrants."
Those kind of immigrants are Muslims.
Wilders' Party for Freedom leads the polls in the Netherlands.
Wilders flew to Australia to launch the Australian Liberty Alliance:
"If you read their manifesto it is clear that they are the freedom
fighters of Australia."
Not racist but anti-Islamist, and rightly too.
University of Bonn professor of philosophy
and chair of epistemology Markus Gabriel, 29, is a new realist.
the World Does Not Exist, translated by Gregory Ross, is his attempt
to free philosophy from the dead ends of postmodernism and social
Gabriel: "If we think about the world, what
we grasp is something different than what we want to grasp. We can
never grasp the whole. It is in principle too big for any thought."
For Gabriel, to exist means to appear in a Seinfeld: a finite
domain of meaningful connections, in contrast to the world as a
AR This has sound
formal precedents in the set theory I studied 40 years ago. See
(PDF: 162 slides, 7 MB) slides 45-60.
2015 October 20
Saint Paul is the apostle we love to hate.
The Jew from Tarsus devoted himself to spreading the message of
Jesus. But Paul had never met Jesus.
He had difficulty in
launching his evangelical career. He was known as the persecutor who
had become an evangelist. He and the apostle Peter divided up the
missionary work of the Christians, so that Peter would preach to the
Jews and Paul to the gentiles.
Jews had to live by the Torah.
But as Paul told the Galatians, the law could be fulfilled by
following a single precept: Love your neighbor as yourself. In
saying this, he effectively collapsed into one Jesus' two greatest
commandments, to love God and to love your neighbor.
theologian Adolf von Harnack said Paul delivered the Christian
religion from Judaism. Paul said he was the apostle of the nations
(in Hebrew "goy"). Paul breaks up the category of nations into
Greeks and barbarians. The barbarians are to the Greeks what the
Greeks are to the Jews.
Rabbinical scholar Jacob Taubes
expounded the view at a Heidelberg seminar in 1987 that Paul was a
Jewish zealot. Taubes was being deliberately provocative.
AR I was in Heidelberg in 1987 but I
don't recall Taubes. I do recall encountering Shimon Peres at the Heiliggeistkirche
with Helmut Kohl.
2015 October 19
Extremists jeopardize our democracy. Our
counter-extremism strategy sets out to tackle this poison on every
1 This is a generational
battle. Defeating our enemies will take time, patience, and
2 This is a battle
of ideas. Extremists infect public debate, divide our communities,
and advance a warped world view.
Extremists attempt to justify their views and actions through a
perverted, illiberal, and hostile interpretation of Islam.
must own this problem. But our Muslim communities must own it too. I
am confident we will defeat the extremists.
Europe looks a mess. The European Union
has a monetary union at its core, but not all EU members are EZ
members. Countries share a single currency yet run separate fiscal
policies. The financial crisis led to much higher unemployment in
peripheral countries because they fell behind German labor costs.
When the going got tough, the Germans got tougher.
fiscal compact of 2012 requires EZ members to run more or less
balanced budgets. Bundesrepublik Europa will speak German on public
finances. This can work if the ECB adopts quantitative easing, but
it may not produce much growth. Without growth, Europe cannot create
new jobs, much less absorb millions of poor refugees.
a wider perspective, the great shift from the west to the rest goes
on. This is the biggest global economic change in 500 years, when
Ming China led the world, until living standards began to improve
dramatically in western Europe and in places where Europeans settled
in large numbers, notably America. European empires soon dominated
Today China and other countries have copied what
after 1500 made Europe so successful. Europe and the west now suffer
from institutional degeneration and face a new threat. Radical Islam
is the ideological epidemic of our time, just as Bolshevism was an
ideological epidemic a century ago. Islamic extremism is a global
threat to western civilization.
The last mass movement of
people into western Europe was in the aftermath of WW2. Millions of
ethnic Germans settled in what became the Federal Republic. Today
the newcomers to Germany are mostly Muslim in religion. Nothing
saved Europe from fascism and communism or from the mass migrations
that followed. Europe today is no safer from Islamic extremism.
2015 October 18
The UK has stated that it will be the western
country that is most open to China. This is a visionary and
strategic choice that fully meets Britain's own long-term interest.
AR Xi makes a much better partner
than Mideast despots.
Weight: 60 Mg
Range: 8 Mm
CEP: 100 m
up to 12 x W88
Yield: up to 475 kt
Length: 175 cm
Diameter: 55 cm
Weight: up to 360 kg
2015 October 18
A terrible shadow is falling over Turkey.
The Islamist government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made the fatal
mistake of intervening in the formerly Ottoman territory of Syria.
Millions of Syrian refugees live in Turkish camps, or beg in
Istanbul, or cluster in ports a few miles from Europe. Some of them
teach the Koran and segregate boys and girls.
crosses national borders. Kurds in and around Turkey have long been
treated as second class citizens. Now Kurdish militants want a
The Erdogan government worked well for a
decade. Turkey should have been celebrating a triumphant Republic
Day next week. Instead in Ankara they talk of Turkish civil war.
2015 October 17
President Putin vs Caliph Ibrahim
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a.k.a. Caliph Ibrahim
of Islamic State, holds no fear for Russian president Vladimir
Putin. The rise of the caliphate is an opportunity for him.
By entrenching Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in power, Putin is
compelling western countries to engage with Moscow in a different
way. US president Barack Obama was forced to meet him at the UN last
month. So far German chancellor Angela Merkel refuses to link the
situation in Syria to sanctions on Ukraine.
authoritarian governments over popular uprisings: "Instead of
settling conflicts it [the advancement of democracy] leads to their
escalation, instead of sovereign and stable states we see the
growing spread of chaos, and instead of democracy there is support
for a very dubious public ranging from open neofascists to Islamic
Putin is executing his war on revolutions both on
the practical level and as a battle of ideas. For some time, he has
been building links with authoritarian powers in the Mideast. His
plans for Syria parallel the long war he fought in Chechnya up to
2009. After 9/11, Putin sold that war to the west as a common
struggle with Islamic terrorism.
Russian foreign and defense
policy council chairman Fyodor Lukyanov says Putin is trying to
build in Syria the de facto equivalent of an Alawite Israel, a
defensive secular enclave against an uncontrolled spread of the
Putin smells American weakness. If the west goes
to war alongside Putin and Assad, it will bury the Arab spring and
expose western idealism as hypocrisy.
The American school system was designed over
100 years ago. Its focus is downloading content into student minds,
with success measured by standardized tests. It is
unsuited for modern work.
You can look up any fact
on your phone. Rote tasks can be done better by computers.
Today we need to take content off center stage and emphasize the
relational skills future workers will need.
starts with three steps: basic factual acquisition, pattern
formation, and mental reformation. At this point information becomes
knowledge. After living with knowledge for years, wisdom dawns.
The cathedrals of knowledge and wisdom
are based on the foundations of factual acquisition and cultural
literacy. New technology has not changed the stairway from
information to knowledge to wisdom. Rules come first.
2015 October 16
Labour Has Lost It
The British Labour party is 90 seats short of
a functional majority in Parliament and has permanently lost 40
seats to the SNP. After the boundary review in 2018, Conservatives
will gain a further 20 to 40 seats.
Labour has to fight the
SNP in Scotland, UKIP in the north, and Conservatives in southern
England. It was in trouble even before it elected Corbyn, but now it
is clearly not a credible party of government. It has retreated into
its comfort zone and started thinking with its heart.
Economic changes have left Labour behind. The West is aging and no
longer has the growth that previously sustained its standard of
living, so austerity is permanent. The old Labour industrial class
united in solidarity has gone, replaced by individualist consumers,
for whom global brands now mean more than governments.
ESA-Roscosmos Moon Mission
European Space Agency head Johann-Dietrich
Wörner wants international partners to build a lunar base. ESA will
partner with Russian space agency Roscosmos to send a lander to the
south pole of the Moon looking for water and raw materials to
support future astronauts. Roscosmos mission Luna 27 is set for
launch in 2020.
ESA head of lunar exploration Bérengère
Houdou: "We have an ambition to have European astronauts on the
Moon. There are currently discussions at international level going
on for broad cooperation on how to go back to the Moon."
lead scientist James Carpenter: "The south pole of the Moon is
unlike anywhere we have been before. The environment is completely
different, and due to the extreme cold there you could find large
amounts of water ice and other chemistry which is on the surface,
and which we could access and use as rocket fuel or in life support
systems to support future human missions."
ESA is developing
a lander that uses cameras and a laser guidance system to sense the
terrain and decide during the approach whether the landing site is
safe. A drill 2 m long will collect samples for an onboard lab like
that on the Philae comet lander.
Mission approval is due in
2015 October 15
The Kepler Space Telescope has found
Boyajian: "We'd never seen anything like this star. It was
really weird. We thought it might be bad data or movement on the
spacecraft, but everything checked out."
People were looking
for tiny dips in the light emitted by stars. Human cognition remains
unsurpassed in certain sorts of pattern recognition. Planet Hunters
is a program that asked citizen scientists to examine light patterns
emitted by the stars, from the comfort of their own homes. They
found an "interesting" and "bizarre" light pattern from KIC 8462852.
The pattern suggests there is a big mess of matter circling the
star. This mess is in a tight formation big enough to block a
substantial number of photons that would have otherwise made it to
SETI researchers have long suggested that we might be
able to detect distant extraterrestrial civilizations by looking for
enormous technological artifacts orbiting other stars.
Wright: "Aliens should always be the very last hypothesis you
consider, but this looked like something you would expect an alien
civilization to build."
could be a
2015 October 14
The latest round of strictures on how
individuals can present themselves comes from those who consider
themselves progressives united against the menace of cultural
From Katy Perry's adoption of geisha garb at
the 2013 American Music Awards to Lena Dunham's cornrows and their
supposed flaunting of racial identity theft, all cultural
cross-pollination now seems to be fair game for a drubbing at the
hands of the new race activists.
This rage against cultural
appropriation is understandable. Yet simply to point out instances
of appropriation in the assumption that the process is by its nature
corrosive serves no end but to essentialize race as the ultimate
component of human identity.
None of us can, or should, own
hip-hop, cornrows, or the right to wear a kimono. Appropriation
herds culture and tradition into the pen of a moral ownership like
copyright, which may suit a lawyer but jars with our human impulse
to like what we like and create new things out of it.
Appropriation tests imaginary boundaries. It questions them and
exposes the performative aspects of our racial and cultural
identity. Sometimes we have to let culture do its thing.
AR Is obsession with the Bible an
appropriation of Jewish culture?
2015 October 13
UK vs EU
UK prime minister David Cameron has been
urged to produce a formal written proposal by early November for EU
reform if he is still aiming for a deal at the December EU summit.
French finance minister Michel Sapin: "I understand that they
want a better dialogue between those in the eurozone and those that
are out. That makes sense. They want to simplify rules. We agree
too. But surely this alone can't explain the deep motivations of the
UK. We're struggling a bit there. We're not the only one in Europe."
Belgian deputy prime minister Didier Reynders: "We are ready to
discuss a lot of things. But the next step is to receive from the UK
some proposals. What are the real requests?"
2015 October 12
Lord Rose of Monewden
Those of you who know me will know
that I am not an uncritical fan of the European Union. Far from it.
That's why I signed a letter arranged by Business for Britain
calling for reform of the EU. Wanting reform, however, is not the
same as wanting to leave.
Carlo Rovelli has struck gold. This book
began life as a series of articles in an Italian newspaper. The
English edition has 83 pages. Brief but masterful expositions of
quantum mechanics, relativity, particle physics, thermodynamics, and
other fields, were translated with the help of two poets. This is
physics as romantic poetry.
Rovelli admits that he cannot
construct a clear, communicable notion of the nature of time, and
the intersection of gravity, quantum mechanics and thermodynamics
has raised a tangle of problems where we are still in the dark.
Rovelli envies the youth of neuroscience, which stands now where
physics stood before Einstein.
On the deep confluence of physics and neuroscience see my book
2015 October 11
Peter Hennessy and James Jinks
covers the UK nuclear weapons firing chain from the prime minister
to the V-class submarines armed with Trident missiles.
becoming PM in 2010, David Cameron had to write his letters of last
resort for the four Trident sub commanders. Each of them has a
sealed letter from C-in-C Fleet laying down when to open the sealed
envelope from the PM.
Cameron: "I asked John Major in and
asked for his advice and I talked to him about it. I also talked to
the chiefs of staff, I talked to CDS. But then, in the end, it is
you in the office on your own. ... It is a very big moment."
In a crisis, if he is still alive, the PM starts Operation
Relentless. He needs the right people with him for briefing,
together with two officers and the cryptography to send the message
to a bunker deep beneath the Ministry of Defence building in
Former Ministry of Defence permanent secretary Sir
Frank Cooper said a British PM would never give up Britain's place
as a nuclear-weapons state as long as the memory of 1940, standing
alone, and the Battle of Britain remained fresh.
his Downing Street office: "I obviously feel the 1940 example
strongly in a lot of ways. You can't not think that just through
those doors there, this amazing decision, correct decision, was made
to fight on, and that is an electrifying thought when you're prime
His childhood home was close to the government
Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston and to the nearby Ban
the Bomb peace camp outside RAF Greenham Common.
don't think Britain will give up nuclear deterrence altogether. I
think that is out. I'd be very surprised if that happened in my
lifetime. What I'm saying is that, at the moment, we have a
deterrent that is the real thing, that is the genuine article, it's
as good as it could be, it is submarine based, it's continuously at
sea and all the rest of it."
Any change of policy would
affect not only Britain but also the entire NATO alliance. Since
1963 the UK independent nuclear capability has provided NATO members
with a nuclear umbrella.
Cameron affirmed last week: "Because
our independent nuclear deterrent is our ultimate insurance policy,
this government will order four new Trident submarines."
Lawrence M. Krauss
The 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics goes
jointly to Takaaki Kajita and Arthur B. McDonald for work on
Astrophysicists detect neutrinos to look
deep into stellar interiors, such as the center of the sun or of a
supernova. In the standard model, neutrinos are massless. But if
they had a tiny mass, this might account for puzzlingly low count
rates in solar neutrino detectors.
There are three neutrino
flavors (electron, muon, tau), and a quantum theory of flavor
oscillations says that if a neutrino has a small mass, it can change
from one flavor to another as it travels through space. Each one can
convert into a particle (electron, muon, or tau lepton) when it
interacts with ordinary matter. The flavor oscillates as time
passes, so a solar neutrino changes back and forth as it travels. A
detector that counted only electron neutrinos would record low count
Toward the end of the last century, Arthur McDonald
led a team in Canada that built a detector capable of counting all
three flavors. It contained tons of heavy water, in which some of
the hydrogen atoms are replaced by deuterium. All kinds of neutrinos
could scatter off the deuterium, breaking it apart into a proton and
a neutron, and the neutrons could then be counted. The detector
counted the number of neutrinos predicted by the best solar models,
suggesting that neutrinos do oscillate.
Around the same time,
a team in Japan led by Takaaki Kajita built a detector for neutrinos
coming through atmosphere. Cosmic rays collide with air to produce
showers of particles including muon neutrinos, which scatter off
hydrogen nuclei in the detector to make muons. The detector counted
neutrinos coming straight down and neutrinos coming up through the
Earth. The rates for the two directions were different, suggesting
that neutrinos oscillate for longer on the long route.
Because standard model neutrinos are massless, the discovery of
neutrino mass flags new physics, yet to be explored.
2015 October 10
Putin vs Islamic State
After Vladimir Putin met with Barack
Obama at the UN on September 28, Russian Foreign Ministry
spokesperson Maria Zakharova spoke: "We would prefer not to have
If in the Mideast, she continued, we saw a
single example of a developing democratic state with flourishing
citizens, perhaps we might trust US proposals. Instead, we see
nothing but poverty, ruin and terrorism. It was time to collaborate on a logical strategy to
defeat Islamic State.
On September 13, on Russian state TV,
Moscow State University faculty of world politics dean Andrei
Kokoshin said US policy had reached a dead end because it was guided
by "a sacred faith in democracy, and the illusion that all
democracies will naturally be US allies".
Islamic State is at
least as grave a threat to Russian national security as to the
security of Europe. A map of the world as Islamic State would like
to see it in 2020 shows swathes of Russia in black, renamed Qoqzaz
and Khurasan. If we cannot support Russia in its mission, we should
Russia Needs Syria
The Kremlin decision to intervene in Syria was
urged on Putin this summer by senior members of his team. With the
conflict in Ukraine still unresolved and Putin increasingly isolated
by the West, intervention in the Mideast was intended to reassert
Russia as a major world power.
Putin stated at the UN in
September that Russia was committed to keeping the Assad regime in
power. A total collapse of the Syrian state would threaten its
strategic position in the Mideast. Russia views Islamic insurgents
as not only a threat to Assad but also a potential threat at home.
Russia has a long history with Syria. The Soviet Union signed a
secret pact with Syria in 1946. Syria had the largest Communist
Party in the Arab world and significant oil and gas reserves. In
1971 the Soviets leased a naval base at Tartus that now hosts a
Russia has sold arms to Syria for decades.
Moscow wrote off much old debt but sales continue. Deputy Russian
prime minister Dmitry Rogozin: "Our guys in Syria are suppressing a
war against Russia on distant plains. Anyone who does not understand
is a fool or an enemy."
Russian Sukhoi Su-34 fighter-bomber, as used in Syria
Apollo 17 astronaut
Apollo 14 commander
My new apartment
25 Jahre Deutsche Einheit
2015 October 9
Edward N. Luttwak
President Vladimir Putin says he is
fighting extremism in Syria. His bombing campaign has hit few
Islamic State targets. Aircraft have flown and dropped bombs, but
the Russians have no more ground intelligence in place to identify
targets than the United States has. Putin is certainly guilty of
defending the Assad regime.
Putin believes that the
president of a country should give a high priority to the
enhancement of its own power. He has two aims in Syria: Keep the
Tartus naval base that makes Russia a Mediterranean power at low
cost, and demonstrate that it really pays to serve Russia. He has
already won the credibility competition.
Putin differs from
President Barack Obama in his understanding of diplomacy. The Obama
version is that the practicalities of a transaction are less
important than their decoration with fashionably modish principles
and procedures. Everything has to go through an indecision machine
that delays actions inordinately.
When Netanyahu heard that
Putin was sending fighter-bombers to Syria, over which Israeli
fighter-bombers also operate, he asked Putin for a meeting. Putin
invited him to Moscow, where they agreed that the Russians would
telephone Yossi Cohen before taking off to bomb, while Israel would
announce flights to Nikolai Patrushev.
Putin played no games
with Netanyahu and simply conceded Israel's right to bomb in Syria.
Israeli radar can see aircraft from the moment they take off from
the Russian base. The operating rule is that when one side does any
bombing, the other side must stay on the ground. Both Putin and
Netanyahu hit their targets hard.
A computer model of a tiny piece of rat
brain fires like the real thing. The model simulates 30 micrograms
of tissue with 31,000 neurons and their 37 million synapses.
Henry Markram: "The digital piece of tissue behaved
very similarly to what we see in the brain. We see the same patterns
of firing, with the same delay."
Anil Seth: "As one of the
first concrete outputs from the billion-euro
Human Brain Project this had to be a substantial piece of work,
and it is."
2015 October 8
Russia Gets Tough
Syrian ambassador to Russia Riad Haddad said
around 40% of Islamic State infrastructure in Syria has been
destroyed since Russia began its military operation in the country.
AR At last someone has
the balls to go in there and kill the wackos before they do any
more damage. Unfortunately it will probably lead to more chaos in
the short term, not less.
Europe Gets Stronger
Three crises threaten the European Union:
the euro, Ukraine, and refugees. But the union is tackling them
together. With the possible exception of Britain, no country wants
Berlin is the power center. German Chancellor
Angela Merkel has set up an informal system of governance with
partners President François Hollande of France, European Council
president Donald Tusk, and European Commission president Jean-Claude
The euro crisis emerged five years ago. Pessimists
said it exposed a fundamental flaw in the currency union
architecture. Now Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and Spain are
recovering, while Greece is out of critical condition. The currency
is all the stronger for it.
The Ukraine conflict has moved
from the military to the diplomatic arena. The United States has put
its weight behind the Minsk agreement. Russia has been checked,
giving Ukraine the opportunity to build a stronger state. The union
was tested and it became stronger.
The refugee crisis is a
challenge for Europe as a whole. Member states have taken a
contentious but successful vote to spread the burden of accepting
The new European Union is built around
cooperation among nation states. The German chancellor is the power
broker. Members get a framework to tackle the challenges of
Britain Gets Greater
I believe we're on the brink
something special in our country.
This year, we've seen more
people in work
Than at any time in our history;
More of our
children starting university
Than ever before;
entrepreneurs setting up shop
Than anywhere else in Europe.
Wages are rising.
Hope is returning.
We're moving into the
But we’re not there yet.
We're only halfway through.
We can make this
A defining decade for our country:
And our goal is
A Greater Britain.
With strong defence
And a strong economy.
A National Health
That's there for everybody,
stretch our children.
And over the next five years we will
That the deep problems in our society are not inevitable.
That a childhood in care
Doesn't have to mean a life of struggle.
That a stint in prison
Doesn't mean you'll get out and do the
same thing all over again.
That being black, or Asian, or female,
Doesn't mean you'll be treated differently.
Made of greater expectations.
Employees become employers,
A small island
becomes an even bigger economy,
And where extremism is defeated
once and for all.
A country raising its sights,
reaching new heights.
A Greater Britain,
Made of greater
So let's get out
And make it happen.
Together we can build
AR Dave is a great prime
2015 October 7
UK home secretary Theresa May called yesterday
for a new deportation system to eject failed asylum seekers who do
not have passports. She was accused of irresponsible rhetoric after
her hardline conference speech on cutting migrant numbers.
Failed asylum seekers will be deported from Europe
within weeks under an EU plan. More than 400,000 people who entered
the EU in the first half of this year are expected to have their
asylum claims rejected. EU border guard agency
help with deportations.
May speech headlines
Cass R. Sunstein
George Akerlof and Robert Shiller
believe that once we understand human psychology, we will be less
keen on free markets. In their view, companies exploit human
weaknesses because the market makes them do it. Those who fail to
exploit people will lose out to those who do.
Shiller say phishermen (such as banks, drug companies, real estate
agents, and cigarette companies) get phools (such as investors, sick
people, homeowners, and smokers) to behave in the interest of the
phisherman but not of the phool. In their view, phishing for phools
is the leading cause of the worst financial crises. A lot of people
run serious health risks from overeating, tobacco, and alcohol. The
resulting premature deaths are not a product of rational decisions.
Many people face debilitating financial insecurity, largely as a
result of their own mistaken decisions. Even bad government is a
product of phishing and phoolishness.
The idea that free
markets work, and that government is the problem, is itself a phish
for phools that does not capture reality. The United States has
suffered from the fact that free markets make people free not only
to choose but also free to phish, and free to be phished.
AR Even phishers are
2015 October 6
What the British people said to us in May
couldn't have been clearer. We elect you to do a job, so take
decisions, don't duck them. We’ve had our instructions from the
British people and today I announced:
revolution. We're going to allow local government to keep the rates
they collect from business. All £26 billion of business rates will
be kept by councils instead of being sent up to Whitehall. This is
the biggest transfer of power to our local government in living
Building the share owning democracy. Next Spring we
will make Lloyds shares available to every member of the public, at
a discount. Small shareholders will get priority and long-term
investors will get a bonus.
A major plan to get Britain
building. I'm not prepared to turn around to my children and say I'm
sorry we didn't build for you. So we will set up an independent
National Infrastructure Commission, sweep away planning rules on
brownfield sites, and create British Wealth Funds to invest billions
in British infrastructure.
Future favors the bold. So we've
got to be the builders, the people with the new ideas. The people
open to the new thinking. Accept when others have got it right. The
people with the plan for the future.
Some stand on the
sidelines. Some want to knock things down. But we are the builders,
building for the working people of Britain.
AR A (Stalinist?) Five Year Plan from
GO, heir apparent for the top job.
2015 October 5
Russia vs America
Russia has chosen to intervene
militarily in Syria without cooperation with the United States.
American credibility in the Mideast is at stake. US officials must
convey to Moscow the demand that it cease and desist from military
actions that affect American assets.
The Russian naval and
air assets in Syria are vulnerable, isolated from their homeland.
They could be neutralized. Or Russia might be persuaded to cooperate
in seeking a wider accommodation to a regional problem that
transcends the interests of a single state.
Britain can no longer play a decisive role in the Mideast. The
region is split on religious, political, ethnic, and territorial
lines, and slipping into more violence. This calls for outside
assistance but not for neocolonial domination. US power is needed.
AR No, NATO power is needed. We can
tame Russian power with NATO.
UK vs EU
Governments use the European Union to
bypass national democracy and pass laws that national parliaments
would reject. Home Office minister Karen Bradley said at the
Conservative party conference that representatives of other EU
member states sometimes ask British MEPs to push legislation through
the European Parliament to prevent their home legislatures from
blocking it. UKIP MEP Gerard Batten: "This is hard evidence that
this government uses the EU to undermine national democracy."
AR Surprise! Politicians misuse EU
Art vs Design
We cannot use neuroscience to explain art and
its place in our lives. Rather, art can help us frame a better
picture of our human nature.
Artists make stuff. They
sometimes make stuff that works, but its value as art never boils
down to its working. I guess artists make stuff because making stuff
is special for us. Making activities constitute us as a species.
Human beings are designers by nature. We are makers and
consumers of technologies. Tools and technologies organize us both
individually and collectively. They organize us insofar as they are
embedded in our lives.
Art begins when we are unable to take
the background of our familiar technologies and activities for
granted. Art makes things strange. Art disrupts plain looking to
disclose what plain looking conceals.
A work of art is a
strange tool. It affords us the opportunity to bring into view
everything that was hidden in the background. Art is a way of
investigating the world and ourselves.
AR I recall Alva from Tucson. He's a fine philosopher.
2015 October 4
Russians in Syria
President Vladimir Putin's government asked
America to clear air space over northern Syria. Moscow would
commence airstrikes against terrorist targets at the request of
President Bashar al-Assad.
President Barack Obama had
protested about Russian forces in Syria. Putin had said his only
intention was to neutralize Islamic State. The US military in
Baghdad agreed to hold deconfliction sessions with the Russians to
avoid mid-air collisions.
Russia is fighting to shore up
Assad. The Homs and Hama regions where Russia carried out its first
airstrikes are of vital strategic importance to the regime. They
link Damascus to the coastal area including Latakia and Tartus,
where Russia operates a naval facility.
Meanwhile hundreds of
Iranian troops arrived in apparent preparation for a ground
offensive. The Iranian soldiers include members of the elite Quds
Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and may fight alongside
Hezbollah guerrillas and Assad's forces.
Senator John McCain
blames "a total lack of American leadership" for allowing "a Russian
autocrat to join with an Iranian theocrat to prop up a Syrian
2015 October 3
An evolutionary understanding of the
emotions helps us to see other animals as individuals.
Elephants are intelligent, social, emotional, playful, and
compassionate. But their societies differ from our own. Clans of
females led by matriarchs periodically associate in larger groups.
Elephants can recognize up to a thousand individuals. Sometimes they
even bury their dead.
Dogs behave much like wolves. The best
wolves are brilliant leaders that pursue lifelong strategies in
order to lead their families to success. The similarities between
wolves and humans are arguably more extensive than those between
humans and any other animal.
Sperm whales live in clans with
distinctive dialects of sonar clicks. These are learned and act as
markers of clan identity. Clan members spend extended periods
nuzzling one another or staying in body contact. Presumably they can
memorize large social networks.
Killer whales have a
different social organization. They have a long period of lactation
and females experience menopause. Killer whales also observe food
taboos and are strongly xenophobic. Clans of salmon eaters never mix
with mammal eaters. Each clan has its own vocalizations.
Prior to the domestication of plants and the invention of writing,
the differences between human societies and those of elephants,
dogs, killer whales, and dolphins were a matter of degree, not kind.
We are not alone on Earth.
2015 October 2
Theories of Everything
Lawrence M. Krauss
When quantum mechanics is combined
with relativity, the laws that govern matter and energy depend on
the scale at which you measure them. On small scales, for short
times, there is an uncertainty in the energy and momenta of
elementary particles. Virtual particles can pop briefly in and out
of the vacuum, and to calculate the force between two particles, you
need to consider them all. There is a way to calculate the resulting
force so that it does not become infinite.
reveal connections between theories. In quantum chromodynamics the
strong force between quarks gets weaker as the quarks are brought
closer together. Since the electroweak force gets stronger at small
distances, at sufficiently small scales they may become a single
force. String theorists say even gravity merges at sufficiently
small scales with the other forces. Superstring theory may get rid
of the infinities. Some call it a theory of everything.
2015 October 1
I can recall no head of the army and no
serious academic strategist with any time for the Trident missile.
It is merely a token of support for an American nuclear response. No
modern danger, such as from terrorism, is deterred by Trident.
Trident missiles come from America and their use without
American permission is inconceivable. The decision on the related
submarine replacement program will have nothing to do with national
defense. Trident is about diplomatic clout, global posturing,
domestic grandstanding, and huge sums of public expenditure.
AR Not "merely" a token of support but
precisely that. We buy into US deterrence. This is priceless
(or rather worth a hundred billion, which comes close).
Angela Merkel held out a hand of welcome.
But Syrians fleeing barrel bombs and beheading did not need her
permission to climb into boats. The forces driving the movement of
people are heedless also of the discord between European capitals.
The challenge is immense. Populists have seized the opportunity.
No one can be surprised at their appeal to fearful Europeans.
However well the inflow is handled, stresses and dislocation are
inevitable. But you cannot build a wall around Europe.
European Union stands for cooperation. Its founding insight was that
states can best achieve their national goals by pooling sovereignty.
The logic of cooperation is as compelling as ever. But the EU
political elites have lost the trust of their citizens.
UK vs EU
I have decided to accept the position of
president of Conservatives for Britain. We will be campaigning for
the UK to leave the European Union unless there is real reform.
The EU is slow to react and resists change. Its democratic
deficit has a counterpart in a bureaucratic surplus boosted by a
belief in regulation. Creation of the United States of Europe has no
democratic mandate anywhere in Europe and is wholly unacceptable to
The integration never stops. The founding right for
people to be able to live and work freely in other EU countries now
requires integrated solutions to issues such as vetting refugees and
manning borders. Monetary union will require full fiscal and
I would set out some red lines:
1 End the automatic supremacy of EU law
over UK law.
2 Let the UK negotiate
its own free trade deals with countries worldwide.
3 Let the UK control immigration from
other EU countries.
4 Renounce the
absolute commitment to ever closer union.
AR Lawson im Klartext: Resist pan-German