BLOG 2009 Q1


Freeman Dyson at home
Eugene Richards/ The New York Times
Freeman Dyson at home

Shilpa Shetty
Shilpa Shetty was born in 1975
in Karnatka, India, and made her name in Bollywood. Her parents were models and her younger sister is also a movie actress. She is 178 cm tall and has a
black belt in karate.

Brain on a Chip
Duncan Graham-Rowe
MIT Technology Review

A new silicon chip designed to function like a human brain can simulate human learning better than any other machine. It has 200,000 neurons linked up by 50 million synaptic connections. The chip was developed as part of the Fast Analog Computing with Emergent Transient States project (FACETS).

FACETS has been tapping data from the Blue Brain project, which has been using vast databases of neurological data to create a hugely complex and realistic simulation of the brain on an IBM supercomputer. bases. FACETS researchers model the neurons and synapses as circuits of transistors and capacitors.

The hardwired approach allows researchers to recreate the brain-like structure in a parallel way. The current prototype can operate about 100,000 times faster than a real human brain. The synapses use a distributed algorithm called spike-timing dependent plasticity to learn and adapt to new situations. The FACETS group now plans a superchip with a billion neurons and 10 trillion synapses.

Dawkins posing in front of the God bus

Richard Dawkins (right) posing with a young beauty in front of one of the "No God" buses

Robo-model is a fashion flop
Hadley Freeman, The Guardian

Bernard d'Espagnat
Image: John Templeton Foundation
Bernard d'Espagnat


Explaining Belief in God
Andy Coghlan, New Scientist
Religious belief relies on the same recently evolved brain regions that divine the feelings and intentions of other people. Researchers found that such beliefs activate brain areas involved in imagination, memory, and theory of mind. Functional MRI brain scans were made of   40 religious volunteers as they responded to statements about their beliefs. The statements activated parts of the neocortex that give humans more insight than other animals.

David Albert in What the Bleep!
David Albert in the movie
What the bleep do we know!?

Nathan Myhrvold
Image: All Things Digital

Nathan Myhrvold
Founder and CEO
Intellectual Ventures

Pixie Lott

Pixie Lott
The next new voice of Britpop?

2009 March 30

The Civil Heretic
Nicholas Dawidoff, The New York Times

Freeman Dyson lives near the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Dyson had proposed that whatever inflammations the climate was experiencing might be a good thing because carbon dioxide helps plants of all kinds grow. Then he added that if carbon dioxide levels soared too high, they could be soothed by the mass cultivation of specially bred trees. Despite the 21 honorary degrees Dyson has been awarded, there is the fact that he is 85.

Dyson is a scientist whose intelligence is revered by other scientists, a mathematics prodigy who came to the USA at 23 and right away contributed seminal work to physics by unifying quantum and electrodynamic theory, thinking alongside such figures as Einstein, Richard Feynman, Niels Bohr, Enrico Fermi, Hans Bethe, Edward Teller, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and Edward Witten.

As a boy, Dyson sketched plans for rocket ships that could explore the stars, and then, in midlife, he helped design a spacecraft to be powered by exploding atomic bombs. Dyson remains an armchair astronaut who speculates about the coming of cheap space travel, when families can leave the earth to homestead on asteroids and comets, swooping around via solar sail craft. Dyson is convinced that our current age of computers will soon give way to the age of domesticated biotechnology.

Dyson's dissension from the orthodoxy of global warming is significant because of his stature and his devotion to the integrity of science. When Dyson expresses concern about the "enormous gaps in our knowledge, the sparseness of our observations and the superficiality of our theories," these reservations come from a place of experience. Dyson is a good scientist.

2009 March 29

Emily Yoffe, Slate

The narcissists did it. Some commentators are fingering them as the culprits of the financial meltdown. The Narcissism Epidemic says we went on a national binge of I-deserve-it consumption that's now resulting in our economic purging.

Narcissistic personality disorder has been officially recognized by the American Psychiatric Association since 1980, but descriptions of this syndrome go back to ancient times. In the Greek myth, Narcissus was a beautiful boy who was unable to love until he saw his own reflection in the water and died pining away at his image. Elsa Ronningstam, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School who specializes in NPD, points out the myth is not really about self-love but the inability to love. Empathy, the ability to instinctively understand how another person is feeling, is a crucial human attribute, part of what makes us a social species. A chilling lack of empathy is a hallmark of NPD. People with NPD act as if they are special beings who are exceptionally intelligent, accomplished, beautiful, or sexy, to whom lesser people must bow. According to the APA, about 1 percent of the general population has NPD.

If our economic troubles result from a mass case of narcissism, from consumers who thought they should have the house of their dreams financed on bad debt to bankers who thought they deserved eight-figure bonuses for packaging that bad debt, then perhaps we are about to be cured.

AR: Amen to that. But curing the syndrome may be hard. The self is a neurocognitive construct — on which I heartily recommend the new book by Thomas Metzinger

2009 March 28

Anti-missile systems like Aegis, Patriot, and Iron Dome are maturing fast

2009 March 26

Thermonuclear Fusion with Lasers
Kevin Bullis, MIT Technology Review

The National Ignition Facility (NIF), at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), is designed to study nuclear weapons. NIF will produce tiny thermonuclear explosions that give scientists insight into what happens when a nuclear bomb goes off.

To initiate fusion, 192 lasers generate TW pulses that will all be focused at once onto a target fuel pellet 2 mm in diameter. The fuel is deuterium and tritium. The laser beams will create the megakelvin temperature and gigapascal pressure needed to ignite a fusion reaction. If all goes well, some of the nuclei should form helium, releasing a nanosecond burst of energy.

NIF could also become a proof of concept for a fusion power plant. Fusion poses no danger of nuclear proliferation, produces little waste, and uses abundant hydrogen and lithium as feedstock, so it could provide plenty of clean power for many thousands of years.

Competing fusion power plants based on the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) system in France are decades away. ITER will use magnetic confinement of hot plasma to initiate fusion in a continuous burn.
The National Ignition Facility

2009 March 25

DC Supergrids
David Strahan, New Scientist

Continent-wide high-voltage direct current (HVDC) supergrids may soon help smooth out the variable levels of power created by large numbers of scattered renewable-energy generators to make a fully dependable supply.

The supergrid concept is now gaining support in Europe and North America. A proposed €1.2 billion subsidy could help create such links across Europe. Meanwhile, the US $150 billion energy plan includes a target of 25 per cent renewable electricity by 2025, including investment in HVDC lines.

Desertec advocates remote electricity generation based largely on concentrating solar power (CSP) in North Africa and the Middle East. Heat captured during the day can be stored in molten salts and used to generate electricity overnight. Desertec says this technology could supply 17 per cent of Europe's power by 2050, imported via HVDC lines.

DC is far more efficient than AC. At the same voltage, it suffers much lower transmission losses than AC. Huge amounts of power can be transmitted along single lines. In future, superconducting HVDC cables could even act as mammoth energy stores to buffer power supplies against variations.
Egyptian sands (image PA)
Youssef Ziedan of Egypt wins the International Prize for Arabic Fiction for his novel Azazeel, English title Beelzebub. Set among early Christians in Roman Egypt, the novel echoes today with its tale of religious fanaticism and mob violence.

2009 March 23

Wheel Motors for Buses
Kevin Bullis, MIT Technology Review

A company based in the Netherlands called e-Traction has developed a bus that uses in-wheel electric motors to improve efficiency and GPS to reduce pollution in congested areas of a city. The bus is a series hybrid: a diesel generator charges a battery, which powers two motors, one in each rear wheel. The bus can travel twice as far as a conventional bus on a liter of diesel.

The new system eliminates the need for a transmission, differential, and related mechanical parts. That reduces both the overall weight of the bus and energy losses due to friction. The motors also capture energy from braking and can improve traction by allowing precise control over each wheel.

An electronic control system coordinates the motors, which have no mechanical connection to each other, and the bus includes a GPS input to the control system. In ordinary operation, the generator cycles on and off, but when the GPS says the bus is in a city center, the generator switches off to reduce emissions. The battery can propel the bus for an hour without recharging.

The key innovation is in the design of the wheel motors. Typically, electric motors are designed to spin much faster than the wheels. But such motors require gears, which add complexity and decrease efficiency. The e-Traction motor has a large diameter and can deliver high torque at low speeds.

AR: For years I have been of the firm opinion that this is the future for cars: 4-wheel-drive hybrids with electric motors in the hubs. The electronic control is the hardest part.

2009 March 22

The New Humanism
Roger Scruton, American Spectator

A new humanism is now beginning to announce itself in Britain. This humanism has its own journal, the New Humanist, and its own sages, the most prominent of whom is Richard Dawkins, vice-president of the British Humanist Association. But the vision is not that of my parents. Instead of idealizing man, the new humanism denigrates God.

The British Humanist Association is currently running a campaign against religious faith. It has bought advertising space on our city buses, which now patrol the streets declaring: "There's probably no God, now stop worrying and enjoy your life." My parents would have been appalled at such a declaration.

The old humanism was not about deconstructing God. It was a positive movement, devoted to seeking things worthy of emulation and sacrifice, even if there is no God to promote them. It was not a pleasure-seeking philosophy. It was a serious attempt to retain the belief in nobility without the theological vision on which that belief had once depended.

AR: Roger has always liked that old noble stoic idea.

2009 March 21

The Ego Tunnel
Thomas Metzinger finally presents the philosophical and psychological view of the self that he expounded at length in his heavy work Being No One in a short and popular new book.
Reviews and videos

2009 March 17

P. W. Singer reflects on robot warriors

2009 March 16

Old Age Begins at 27
Urmee Khan, Daily Telegraph
Researchers have found that peoples' mental abilities peak at the age of 22. Performance is significantly lower than the peak at 27. Memory declines from an average age of 37 and other abilities are poorer by the age of 42. However, abilities based on accumulated knowledge, such as performance on tests of vocabulary or general information, increase until the age of 60.

AR: Maybe my brain is ripe at last for a writing career.

Templeton Prize 2009
Amanda Gefter, New Scientist
The 2009 Templeton Prize goes to French physicist and philosopher of science Bernard d'Espagnat for his "studies into the concept of reality". D'Espagnat, 87, is a professor emeritus of theoretical physics at the University of Paris-Sud, and is known for his work on quantum mechanics, in particular on experimental tests of Bell's theorem. D'Espagnat's thesis advisor was Louis de Broglie, he served as a research assistant to Enrico Fermi, and he worked in Copenhagen under the direction of Niels Bohr. D'Espagnat also taught at the University of Texas, Austin, at the invitation of John Wheeler. The prize is worth £1 million.

AR: D'Espagnat published with Springer-Verlag and I read one or two of his books some 20 years ago.

2009 March 15

China Worried About U.S. Debt
Anthony Faiola, Washington Post
As the U.S. government's largest creditor, China is worried about its $1 trillion in American bonds. Chinese Premier Wen Jinbao called on the United States to "maintain its good credit, to honor its promises and to guarantee the safety of China's assets."

AR: The beginning of the end for Anglo-Saxon world hegemony

Evolution versus religion: my cut of an Edge Reality Club debate

2009 March 12

Wolfram Alpha
Dan Farber, Cnet

Stephen Wolfram has a track record. He received his Ph.D. in theoretical physics from Caltech in 1979 when he was 20 and has focused most of his career on probing complex systems. In 1988 he launched Mathematica, powerful computational software that has become the gold standard in its field. In 2002, Wolfram produced a 1,280-page tome, A New Kind of Science.

In May, Wolfram will unveil his latest creation, Wolfram Alpha. It applies his work to Web search. "All one needs to be able to do is to take questions people ask in natural language, and represent them in a precise form that fits into the computations one can do," Wolfram said in a recent blog post. "I'm happy to say that with a mixture of many clever algorithms and heuristics, lots of linguistic discovery and linguistic curation, and what probably amount to some serious theoretical breakthroughs, we're actually managing to make it work."

Wolfram Alpha is a system for computing the answers to questions. To accomplish this it uses built-in models of fields of knowledge. You can ask it scientific questions and it can compute the answers for you. It also has a natural language interface for asking it questions. The vision seems to be to create a system which can do for formal knowledge what search engines have done for informal knowledge. We'll have to wait until May to see whether it is a breakthrough.

2009 March 11

One World, Under God
Robert Wright, The Atlantic
In all three Abrahamic religions, amity and tolerance cross national or ethnic bounds when people feel they can gain more through peaceful interaction than through conflict. Globalization is the culmination of this trend. None of this guarantees moral progress. If there is some overarching purpose to history, it is to give our species the choice of either making moral progress or paying the price.

2009 March 10

Money as Debt (video, 47 min)

2009 March 9

The Killer Formula
Felix Salmon, Wired Magazine
A year ago, David X. Li's formula, known as a Gaussian copula function, looked like a breakthrough. It was a piece of financial technology that allowed hugely complex risks to be modeled with more ease and accuracy than ever before. With his brilliant mathematics, Li enabled traders to expand financial markets to unprecedented levels.
Copula (statistics)
In statistics, a copula is a way of formulating a multivariate distribution to represent various general types of dependence. The idea is to transform each marginal variable to give it a uniform distribution. The copula then expresses the dependence structure as a multivariate distribution on the uniform distributions.
Copulas are used in the pricing of collateralized debt obligations. Dependence modeling with copula functions is widely used in applications of financial risk assessment and actuarial analysis. David X. Li developed the methodology of applying the Gaussian copula to credit derivatives.

2009 March 8

Star Trek — the trailer

A Quantum Threat to Special Relativity
David Z. Albert and Rivka Galchen, Scientific American
The combination of quantum mechanics and special relativity contradicts a primordial intuition. We believe that everything there is to say about the world can in principle be put into the form of a narrative sequence of propositions about spatial configurations of the world at specific times. But entanglement and special relativity together imply that the physical history of the world is far too rich for that.
My cut of the article

in 2006, Roderich Tumulka showed that a reasonable relativistic model of wavefunction collapse was nonlocal and violated Bell's inequality though it had no way to synchronize spacelike separated points. The model implies temporal entanglements. Einstein would have been perplexed.

2009 March 6

British art bubble before the crisis: British artist Marc Quinn's 50 kg solid gold sculpture of British supermodel Kate Moss cost more than £1.5 million to make and was unveiled at the British Museum, London, in October 2008.

Yet another review of Hitler's library

2009 March 3

Traveling-Wave Reactors
Matt Wald, MIT Technology Review

Researchers at Intellectual Ventures have designed a nuclear reactor that requires only a small amount of enriched fuel. The new reactor gradually converts depleted uranium into the fuel it needs. Nuclear reactors based on such designs could run for many decades without refueling.

Conventional reactors use enriched uranium containing an increased proportion of uranium 235. At most every 2 years, the reactor must be opened and the fuel rods replaced and reshuffled for the next run. But an enrichment plant can just as easily make highly enriched material for a bomb.

The new traveling-wave reactor needs only a very small amount of enriched uranium. Most of the core is U 238, thousands of tons of which are stockpiled as depleted leftovers from natural uranium after the U 235 has been extracted.

The reactor converts the uranium 238 into plutonium 239. Conventional reactors also produce Pu 239, but using it requires removing the spent fuel, chopping it up, and chemically extracting the plutonium, a task that is also a major step toward building an atomic bomb. The new reactor both breeds and burns plutonium at once as a burn wave less than a meter thick travels slowly through the core, breeding new plutonium in front of it.
AR: Thank you, Nathan — at last a "green" breeder reactor.

2009 March 2

The Special Relationship
Gordon Brown, The Times

Historians will look back and say this was a defining moment. Rebuilding global financial stability is a global challenge that needs global solutions. Globalisation is not an option, it is a fact.

President Obama and I will discuss this week a global new deal.
This includes six elements:

1. Universal action to prevent the crisis spreading, to stimulate
    the global economy and to help reduce the severity and length
    of the global recession.
2. Action to kick-start lending so that families and businesses
    can borrow again.
3. All countries renouncing protectionism, with a transparent
    mechanism to monitor commitments.
4. Reform of international regulation to close regulatory gaps so
    shadow banking systems have nowhere to hide.
5. Reform of our international financial institutions and the
    creation of an international early warning system.
6. Coordinated international action to put the world economy on
    a sustainable path towards future growth and recovery.

Winston Churchill described the joint inheritance of Britain and America as not just a shared history but a shared belief in the great principles of freedom and the rights of man — what Barack Obama has described as the enduring power of our ideals — democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope.

AR: Flash Gordon saving the world again — good luck!

SAP Mentors
Dennis Howlett, AccMan

SAP mentors are super bright and capable of moving needles. They could help SAP do extraordinary things. They live in the trenches and know what's what. They could genuinely amp the game and so provide an essential first step in sorting out SAP's uncontrolled ecosystem.

SAP needs to do a lot more than simply adopt the default position of freezing hires, freezing salary increments, slashing expenses. That's business as usual. Go from a transactional relationship to an emotional relationship with your customers.

AR: SAP can save companies. We could be expanding. Promise to save a company within three years for a million down now — risky for us but a great spur to mentor creativity.

Freeman Dyson at work
Eugene Richards / The New York Times
Freeman Dyson at work

The ITER tokamak principle
The tokamak concept of ITER: Hot plasma (yellow) circles in a containment torus (blue) and is compressed by superconducting magnets (red). The plasma is controlled by a neuronet with nanosecond reaction times.

Déjà Vu
Helen Phillips
New Scientist

Déjà vu may soon be explained.

Psychologist Anne Cleary says déjà vu may be based on a memory fragment that comes from something subtle, such as similarity between the configuration of two scenes.

Chris Moulin and Akira O'Connor  think erroneous activity in the brain may lead to misplaced feelings of familiarity, perhaps as a dissociation between familiarity and recall.

John Aggleton and Malcolm Brown review brain imaging studies to show that different parts of the medial temporal lobe handle different aspects of memory recall. While the hippocampus mediates recollection, the feeling of familiarity may come from the parahippocampus.

Cognitive neuroscientist Stefan Köhler emphasizes the role of emotion in generating the sense of weirdness in déjà vu. Inappropriate emotional arousal may make us believe incorrectly that something is familiar.

The "Probably No God" teeshirt

Do your humanist duty and
buy a "No God" teeshirt immediately!

The Ego Tunnel by Thomas Metzinger

Sir John Templeton
Image: John Templeton Foundation
Sir John Templeton

Atheist America
Rachel Zoll, AP
The percentage of Christians in the U.S.A. has declined and more people, 15 percent, say they have no religion at all, according to the American Religious Identification Survey. Vermont reported the highest share of those claiming no religion, at 34 percent, but the number of Americans declaring no religion rose in every state.
Selfless Genes: Groups,
Species, and Ecosystems

Michael Dummett in 2004
Sir Michael Dummett in 2004
Schock laureate 1995

Traveling-wave reactor
Image: Bryan Christie Design

The traveling-wave reactor uses natural or depleted uranium fuel (green block). In a wave that moves through the core at a centimeter per year, this fuel is transmuted into plutonium (yellow), which then undergoes fission (red) to leave relatively harmless waste (black). The reactor uses liquid sodium (tank below fuel block) as a coolant and runs at about 800 K.

SAP Mentor 2009

Slumdog Millionaire: the movie
Slumdog Millionaire:
scene from the movie

Robot Wars
Murad Ahmed,The Times

The front line in the wars of the future will be machines. A massive, unmanned air force will scour the skies over a city, while robots will patrol the streets. Only then will human beings arrive, protected by fast armored vehicles half the weight of today's tanks and ground troops with robot mules carrying equipment.

This was the vision of the future set out by the Ministry of Defence as it launched its Defence Technology Plan. Launching the plan, Quentin Davies, Minister for Defence Equipment and Support, said new technology would never replace the need for real soldiers out on the battlefield.

Kate Winslet on Oscar night
Kate Winslet, best actress

Avigdor Lieberman, Kingmaker
Anshel Pfeffer, Haaretz

Yisrael Beiteinu's declaration that loyalty should be a condition for citizenship was not the party's only flagship issue. A glance at the party's platform reveals that Yisrael Beiteinu "vehemently opposes a separation of religion and state, and not only because this is liable to cause enormous internal tensions that could completely split society. The uniqueness of the Jewish people is that there is no separation between religion and state."

Party boss Avigdor Lieberman declares that the state should be religious, but the rabbis should not be the ones who determine what this means. In his mind's eye, he sees a relationship between the government and the rabbinate very similar to the one between Vladimir Putin's Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church. Judaism according to Lieberman is a nationalist and chauvinist religion, a tool in the service of the state and the strongman who heads it.

AR: What a Bolshie!

Duffy at the Brit Awards
Photo: AP/Reuters

At the Brit Awards, Duffy was named best female solo artist and best breakthrough artist, and won the award for best album with her soulful debut release, Rockferry. Blinking back tears, the 24-year-old said: "I travelled this whole country from Wales to London and back again a thousand times, playing my songs to old ladies. Thank you to the British public, I can't tell you what this means after five years."

HMS Vanguard
Britain: HMS Vanguard

Waseda University: Robot Twenty-One

Tzipi Livni
Tzipi Livni

Best TV Documentary 2009
Richard Dawkins presents the  genius of Charles Darwin, available now on DVD, voted
Best Documentary Series 2009

Ray Kurzweil
Ray: Live long enough to
live forever

Israeli president Shimon Peres, Monday: "If we bring down Hamas, we will find ourselves responsible for Gaza, and for its reconstruction, development and welfare."

AR: Indeed, but this must be better than turning Gaza into a Palestinian cemetery.

Israel Must Grab Corridor
David Eshel, Defense Update

Israel must seize the strategic Philadelphia Corridor along the Rafah-Egyptian border and establish a line stopping all future weapons smuggling operations through its tunnels. To be effective, a security line of about 1000 meters must be established and held by a strong military force. This area houses over 50,000 Palestinians, mostly refugees, who will have to be relocated. Hamas must not be allowed to restore its weapons arsenal, which Iran is already planning to restock with even more lethal ordnance.

AR: If it is politically feasible, this may be a good idea.

Israeli Differences on Hamas
Barak Ravid, Haaretz

Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni clashed during Sunday's cabinet meeting over Israel's response to an Egyptian-brokered deal for a year-long truce with Hamas in Gaza. Barak spoke in favor of agreeing to the deal, while Livni held that Israel should reject it. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert threatened that Israel would issue a "fierce and disproportionate" response if Gaza militants continued to launch rocket attacks against southern Israel. "We will act according to new rules that ensure we will not be dragged into an incessant shootout that prevents us from living normal lives in the south," he said. Israel holds Hamas responsible for all attacks emanating from Gaza.

AR: Forget about proportionality: Israel needs to break Hamas.

2009 February 28

A Fine Pickle
Salman Rushdie, The Guardian

Adaptation, the process by which one thing develops into another thing, by which one shape or form changes into a different form, is a commonplace artistic activity. Books are turned into plays and films all the time, plays are turned into movies and also sometimes into musicals, movies are turned into Broadway shows and even, by the ugly method known as "novelisation", into books as well. We live in a world of such transformations and metamorphoses.

Slumdog Millionaire, adapted from the novel Q&A by the Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup and directed by Danny Boyle and Loveleen Tandan, which won eight Oscars, including best picture, is a feelgood movie about the dreadful Bombay slums, an opulently photographed movie about extreme poverty, a romantic, Bollywoodised look at the harsh, unromantic underbelly of India.

Swarup's novel is a corny potboiler, with a plot that defies belief, a patently ridiculous conceit. It is faithfully preserved at the heart of the weirdly renamed Slumdog Millionaire. In an interview, Boyle, when asked why he had chosen a project so different from his usual material, answered that he had never been to India and knew nothing about it, so he thought this project was a great opportunity.

Societies in motion, at a time of rapid change such as the present day, succeed, as all good adaptations do, by knowing what is essential, what cannot be compromised, what all their citizens must accept as the price of membership. For many years now, I'm sorry to say, we have lived through an era of bad social adaptations, of appeasements and surrenders on the one hand, of arrogant excesses and coercions on the other.

We can only hope that the worst is over, and that better movies, better musicals and better times lie ahead.

AR: Rushdie is a great writer. The full essay behind this outtake is long but well worth reading.

2009 February 27

Foreign Policy, March/April 2009

Barack Obama faces an axis of upheaval. This axis has at least nine members, and quite possibly more. What unites them is not so much their wicked intentions as their instability, which the global financial crisis only makes worse every day. Economic volatility, plus ethnic disintegration, plus an empire in decline: That combination is about the most lethal in geopolitics. We now have all three.
Niall Ferguson, Foreign Policy

2009 February 26

Secular Evaluation
Andrew Koppelman, Dissent Magazine

Charles Taylor maintains that secularism and Christianity reveal a common ancestry in their shared commitment to human rights. The Reformation inaugurated the priesthood of all believers. An ethos of personal responsibility and self-discipline became available to everyone.

This became the moral basis of the new scientific method. Technological control of the world became a way of benefiting the human race. The highest goal was understood to be human flourishing in a society of mutual benefit. In this new vision, Christianity is a danger. Religion posits transcendent goals and is alien to human fulfillment.

A central element of ordinary moral reasoning is strong evaluation: the "discriminations of right or wrong, better or worse, higher or lower, which are not rendered valid by our own desires, inclinations, or choices, but rather stand independent of these and offer standards by which they can be judged."

Secularists are committed to the idea that the commitment to decent treatment for all human beings is a mandatory criterion for judging our desires and actions. Knowledge of God's existence has no more secure epistemic foundation. Taylor endorses a hope directed toward a future goodness that transcends the current ability to understand what it is.

2009 February 23

Thierry Chervel, Sign and Sight

The Koran is just a story, says Salman Rushdie in The Satanic Verses. Ayatollah Khomeini never read the novel, but he was quite clear about the challenge it contained and he acted accordingly, like the thunder god he is caricatured as in the novel.

There is a connection between the fatwa and the collapse of the Wall. In 2009, to commemorate only the collapse of the Wall is to tell only half the story. By threatening to kill Salman Rushdie, Islamism aimed its thunderbolt directly at the West.

The media reacted in panic. The cultural pages of Europe's newspapers continue to avoid the subject even now. But the confrontation with Islam and Islamism is essentially a cultural matter. The fatwa has left a deep imprint on the West. The fear is rationalized with the word "respect."

Western media failed miserably in the dispute over the Danish Mohammed cartoons. CNN and BBC pixelated the caricatures, as if they were child pornography. Yet the drawings were not even insulting to Islam.

The drawings are far more harmless than The Satanic Verses. Rushdie had to admit he had been mistaken. In the confrontation with Islamism, the Left has abandoned its principles. The Satanic Verses challenges Europe not to lose sight of its selfhood.

2009 February 22

Now I'm reading a 1981 history of Zionism and Israel:
The Chariot of Israel by Harold Wilson

Wilson was the British Prime Minister 1964—1970 and 1974—1976. He reports that in 1921 Winston Churchill ceremonially planted a tree at the site of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem at Mount Scopus and spoke these words:
"I believe that the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine will be a blessing to the whole world, a blessing to the Jewish race scattered all over the world, and a blessing to Great Britain. I firmly believe that it will be a blessing also to all inhabitants of this country without distinction of race and religion. This last blessing depends greatly upon you. ... Every step you take should therefore be also for the moral and material benefit of all Palestinians. If you do this Palestine will be happy and prosperous, and peace and concord will always reign ... You Jews of Palestine have a very great responsibility; you are the representatives of the Jewish nation all over the world, and your conduct should provide an example for, and do honour to, Jews in all countries."

Reporting to the Commons in June on his travels, Churchill said:
"I had the opportunity of visiting the colony of Rishon le Zion ... Finally, when we reached the centre, there were drawn up 300 or 400 of the most admirable children, of all sizes and sexes, and about an equal number of white-clothed damsels. We were invited to sample the excellent wines which the establishment produced, and to inspect the many beauties of the groves. I defy anybody, after seeing work of this kind, achieved by so much labour, effort and skill, to say that the British Government, having taken up the position it has, could cast it all aside and leave it to be rudely and brutally overturned by the incursion of a fanatical attack by the Arab population from outside ..."

Speaking to the Commons in March 1922, Churchill said:
"I do not for a moment pretend that the feeling of irritation, suspicion and inquietude has disappeared from the minds of the Arab population. The Jewish immigration has been closely watched and controlled from the point of view of policy. Every effort has been made to secure only good citizens who will build up the country. We cannot have a country inundated by Bolshevist riffraff who would wish to subvert institutions in Palestine as they have done with success in the land from which they came."

AR: Take that, you Bolshies in the Knesset!

2009 February 19

Reading Thoughts with Brain Imaging
Jocelyn Rice, MIT Technology Review

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) looks more and more like a window into the mind. In a study published online in Nature, researchers at Vanderbilt University report that from fMRI data alone, they could distinguish which of two images subjects were holding in their memory, even several seconds after the images were removed. The study also pinpointed where in the brain visual working memory is maintained.

"It's been elusive," says John-Dylan Haynes, a neuroscientist at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience, Berlin. "This is a truly brilliant study that now convincingly demonstrates that the information about fine-grained contents of visual experience is held online in the early visual cortex across memory periods."

How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization
Ziauddin Sarda, The Times

When Baghdad opened its gates as the new capital of the Abbasid Caliphate, the prime site in the city was occupied by the royal library. Both the city and the library, completed around 765 CE, were built by Caliph al-Mansur, who was second in a long line of Abbasid caliphs who created, shaped and developed one of the most rich and fertile periods of science in human history.

The library, called the House of Wisdom, became a magnet for seekers of knowledge from across the Muslim empire. A return to the glory days when Arab culture was suffused with a spirit of scientific inquiry requires science to reach down and take social roots in Muslim societies. And that will remain a nostalgic dream as long as Muslim lands are under the tutelage of dictators and despots.

2009 February 18

Britain and France: Coordinate Nuke Subs?
Welt Online

France and Britain may consider coordinating underwater patrols following a collision between two of their nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed submarines. French defense minister Hervé Morin denied the subs had been shadowing each other when they collided in the Atlantic. He said it was a freak accident between vessels that "make less noise than a shrimp".

AR: Merge the deterrents, put them under European command.

2009 February 16

Richard Dawkins, The Times Literary Supplement

Polls in both Britain and the United States show a majority wanting "intelligent design" to be taught in science classes. In Britain, according to MORI, only 69 percent want evolution to be taught at all. In America, more than 40 percent believe that "life on Earth has existed in its present form since the beginning of time" (Pew) and that "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so" (Gallup).

The least you can say about evolutionary theory is that it works. All but pedants would go further and assert that it is true. If evolution is an unfalsified hypothesis, then so is every fact about the real world. The molecular genetics revolution provides evidence for the fact of evolution that is orders of magnitude more solid even than the powerful evidence Darwin could muster.

Sensitive House Robots
The University of Tokyo with private sector partners and the Information and Robot Technology Research Technology Initiative are moving closer to creating robots with the fine motor skills for working as housekeepers and caregivers.

Robot Housekeeper: video
Humanoid robot: video

Military Killer Robots
Leo Lewis, The Times
Autonomous military robots that will fight future wars must be programmed to live by a strict warrior code or the world risks untold atrocities at their steely hands, warns a report prepared for the US Department of Navy, Office of Naval Research, by the Ethics and Emerging Technologies Group, California State Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo.

Autonomous Military Robotics: Risk, Ethics, and Design
PDF, 112 pages, 1.85 MB

2009 February 15

Carol Vorderman Picture: BBC
Carol Vorderman has just been appointed maths czar by Tory leader David Cameron. Until last summer, she did maths for the nation on almost 5,000 episodes of the Channel 4 TV numbers quiz show Countdown. The job gave her fame and a £900,000 salary. "I've never claimed to be the world's greatest mathematician. I am a competent mathematician to a certain level. But I love it."

2009 February 11

Picture: AFP
A BBC survey on which country has the most positive influence on world affairs put Germany at number one.

Netanyahu and Livni Contest Victory
Christoph Schult, Der Spiegel
Tzipi Livni won the most votes in Israel's general election Tuesday, but it will be easier for Benjamin Netanyahu to form a coalition. Still, his proposed alliance of Likud and ultra-right parties would be the end of the peace process.

Kadima and Labor Must Merge
Aluf Benn, Haaretz
A merger of Kadima and Labor would place a bloc of 40 Members of the Knesset at the center of the political system and restore some stability to the system. There is no ideological difference between the parties that need be an obstacle to a merger.

Wilders Banned From UK
Press Association, The Independent
Dutch politician Geert Wilders has been banned from visiting the UK over his anti-Islam views but said he would come anyway. He plans to show his controversial film Fitna at the House of Lords. The Home Office refused him entry to Britain because his opinions "threaten community security and therefore public security" in the UK. Wilders said: "I was very surprised and very saddened that the freedom of speech that I believe was a very strong point in UK society is being harassed today." Wilders has warned of a "tsunami" of Islam swamping the Netherlands.

2009 February 10

"Soon, if you were to have one of the future ultra-precise atomic-synchronised clocks in your home, the time it told would be different according to how far up the wall it was fixed."
Matthew Chalmers, New Scientist

Kindle 2 is less than 1 cm thick, weighs 300 g, turns pages faster than its predecessor, and uses e-ink displaying 16 shades of gray.

2009 February 9

"When Lehman was allowed to go bankrupt and AIG was saved at the very last minute the system just froze over."
Léo Apotheker

Matrix der Welt: SAP und der neue globale Kapitalismus

2009 February 7

Did Flash Gordon just save the world?

Gordon Brown. Photo: AP

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown at Davos
(ITN video, 2:40)

2009 February 5

Michael Brooks reviews the psychosocial origins of religion

2009 February 3

The Singularity University
Ian Grant, ComputerWeekly
Google and NASA are to back a new school led by Ray Kurzweil that will explore the predicted Singularity. The Singularity University will offer courses on biotechnology, robotics, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology (BRAIN — my acronym). It will be sited at the NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley.

AR: A school for hi-tech execs with $$ to burn — but poor timing

"No wonder the British have changed in character, their sturdy independence replaced by passivity, querulousness, or even, at the lower reaches of society, a sullen resentment ... For those at the bottom, such money as they receive is, in effect pocket money, ... reserved for the satisfaction of whims. As a result they are infantilized. If they behave irresponsibly ... it is because both the rewards for behaving responsibly and the penalties for behaving irresponsibly have vanished. ... People with unusually thick skins ascribe small insults, humiliations and setbacks consequent upon human existence to vast and malign political forces ... If all cultures are equal, and none has the right to impose its standards on any other, what is wrong with the immigrant ghettoes that have emerged, where the population (that is to say the male population) enjoys de facto extraterritorial rights?"
Theodore Dalrymple, Not With a Bang But a Whimper

2009 February 2

Israel's Key Election Issue
Griff Witte, Washington Post
Just over a week before Israel holds elections to choose a new government, the outcome of the war in the Gaza Strip has emerged as a central issue in the campaign, with the candidates sparring over whether the massive military operation went far enough. Two of the three Israeli architects of the war, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, are candidates to become the nation's next prime minister.

The leader of Israel's Likud party, Binyamin Netanyahu, has maintained a lead in advance of the country's election that is several points clear of his main rivals.
The Guardian

2009 February 1

Northrop Grumman X-47B

The Northrop Grumman X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System (UCAS) for the US Navy was unveiled in December 2008. The new aircraft will demonstrate unmanned combat aircraft operations from the deck of an aircraft carrier. The first flight is scheduled for fall 2009.

AR: There are plenty of further optimizations possible in the Navy carrier—UCAS—smart bomb process chain, both to increase mission effectiveness and to reduce the total cost of operations.

Israel Navy Eyes USS Freedom
Yaakov Katz, Jerusalem Post

Top IDF officers sailed recently on the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) USS Freedom. Last July, the IDF received permission from the Pentagon to purchase the LCS, under development by Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics. The LCS is designed for speed and maneuverability during amphibious operations in shallow coastal waters. It can carry special forces and infantry units plus midsize vehicles and two helicopters, and would likely be fitted with the Barak anti-missile defense system. The price of the LCS has reportedly soared to $500 million. Navy sources said a procurement decision would be made soon.

USS Freedom
Picture: Reuters
USS Freedom

AR: The most likely targets for littoral operations are Hamas and Hezbollah, for whom this is overkill — but still a beautiful ship.

Slumdog Millionaire: a protest
Slumdog Millionaire:
protest in Mumbai

Lunar Robots
Sharon Gaudin, Computerworld

Robots could start building a lunar outpost before humans make their next trip to the moon. NASA says that the future of space exploration will depend on humans and robots working hand-in-hand as manned and unmanned missions head to the moon, to Mars, and beyond.

NASA director of advanced capabilities Carl Walz said we're just starting to scratch the surface of these concepts and trying to figure out how best to incorporate human exploration and robots. NASA spokesman Allard Beutel said that such missions are the first steps in a robotic partnership that will help humans press further out into the solar system.

Kate Winslet on Oscar night
Kate Winslet, iconic star

Netanyahu Meets Lieberman
Jerusalem Post

Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu called on his prospective coalition partners to seek unity: "Unity can be achieved through dialog, and not through arm-twisting and dictation of terms. An honest attempt is needed to reach common ground out of mutual respect and true dialog."

Netanyahu met with visiting U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman, who said: "Our enemies, unfortunately, are as common as the values and the interests that have united us for all these years. I have no doubt that with Netanyahu's government here we will have good and positive relations with the Obama administration in Washington and with members of Congress, and I look forward to playing my part in contributing to that."

Senator Lieberman also met with Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman.

AR: When Senator Lieberman says "we" — who?

Functional MRI
Image: Stephenie Harrison, Frank Tong

Researchers used fMRI to peer into the visual cortex of a subject and accurately predict which of two images (circular grating, above) he was holding in his short-term memory. They calculated subtle patterns in brain activity (represented here in red and green) to make the call.

Le Triomphant
France: Le Triomphant

Image: Terminator 2 — Judgment Day

Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu

Amazon Kindle 2
Amazon's Kindle 2 is priced at $359 and ships February 24
Technology Review
PC Magazine

Douglas Hofstadter
Doug: "The craziest sort of
dog excrement"

Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Monday proposed the construction of a 48-km tunnel connecting the northern Gaza Strip with the southern West Bank.

AR: This would be a good idea
if we could stop the extremists from blowing it up.

John Updike
Ian McEwan, The Guardian

Cinema was above all, for the young Updike, an exploration of sexual encounters. It was there from the very beginning, in his writing, that capacity for fastidious, clinical, visually intense, painfully and hilariously honest descriptions of men and women making love. In fact, Updike's level unblinking gaze is not confined to the physical. And there was never a more fallible and exposed character in modern fiction than Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom. The Rabbit tetralogy is Updike's masterpiece and will surely be his monument.

AR: Updike was one of the best wordsmiths of our time.

Only in America — If Only!
Paul Harris, The Observer

Last week Nadya Suleman gave birth to eight babies. The 33-year-old Californian already has six children. She is single and has no visible means of support for her current family, let alone the additional eight babies. She still lives with her parents and may have serious mental-health problems. She divorced her husband a year ago. He may not be the father of her first six children — the divorce filing indicates no children from the marriage. She has been living with her parents, not her husband, for the past eight years, at a variety of addresses. Her mother filed for bankruptcy last year, claiming $1m in liabilities. The case is sending shockwaves through the medical fertility community.

AR: If this is anything to go by, we face a Malthusian disaster.

One Sector Grows
Information Age

Businesses are viewing business intelligence (BI) tools as crucial to reducing their costs, improving their productivity, managing risk, and ensuring regulatory compliance. Says Richard Neale, SAP BusinessObjects UK: "The economic crisis will have a huge impact on the BI market."
Analysts predict that spending on BI in coming years will rise. According to Gartner, demand for BI software rose 11.2% to $5.8 billion in 2008, with sales tipped to grow steadily to reach $7.7 billion in 2012. Adoption of a master data management (MDM) strategy is regarded as crucial. According to Gartner, revenues from MDM products rose 24% during 2008 to hit $1.3 billion. The analyst firm predicts demand for MDM software will grow steadily to a value of $2.8 billion in 2012. Most Information Age survey respondents agreed that business analytics and information insight would improve their ability to respond to the current financial crisis.

AR: My SAP team makes
BI and MDM engines

Der Baader Meinhof Komplex

A movie I have to see:
Der Baader Meinhof Komplex

Victory in Gaza
Trying to hide a smile and a sense of self-satisfaction Prime Minister Ehud Olmert faced the cameras at the Defense Ministry and declared to the Israeli public, "We won." The Israel Defense Forces objectives for its operation in the Gaza Strip were "obtained in full."

Israeli soldier with an Arab

Jesus the Jew
Howard Jacobson
The Guardian

Judaism is Christianity's guilty secret. Jesus' Jewishness is as essential to Christianity as it is embarrassing. It is Jewish history that Jesus fulfils. He was what the entire Old Testament had been leading to.

Messiah does not mean son of God. Nor did Jesus ever claim to be the son of God. The idea would have been a nonsense to him. Judged messianically, Jesus is a failure to the Jews. He neither liberates their land from the Romans nor brings in God's kingdom here on earth.

Jesus as a force within Judaism continued for decades after his death. Jesus the Jew would have expected nothing less. Christianity triumphed over Judaism when it abandoned the law and the people to whom it had been given.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta

CNN: Obama team taps Emory neurosurgeon Dr. Sanjay Gupta for U.S. surgeon general.

AR: Good pick

Canadian Inst. Theor. Astrophysics
Simulation of Milky Way
colliding with Andromeda
 Poster and caption

Tzipi Livni
Her secret life

Kate Winslet stars as Hanna in The Reader

2009 Merkava Mk 4 BAZ Tzahal with TADIR (SharpShooter) FCS and Aspro-A hemispheric APS

Right: Israeli Air Force F-16I
A good weapon for destruction
of rocket sites and their
manufacturing facilities but
not for hostage rescue
F-16I background info

Long Live the Euro
Oliver Kamm, The Times

Ten years ago today monetary union for the euro zone was established. Three years later the euro was born. Throughout the currency's gestation and launch, many British politicians confidently predicted failure. The success of EMU does not mean [the UK] should give up the pound and embrace the euro. But we should. The potential benefits include increased trade flows, greater price transparency, and lower transactions costs for consumers and businesses. The crisis has underscored the importance of international action to stabilize the economy. Being part of the euro zone would make it easier, by joining with other countries to get things done that will benefit the UK.

AR: Lose those pounds

2009 January 28

UK Hit Hardest
Press Association
World economists predicted today that the UK would be hit harder than any other developed nation by the worst recession in more than 60 years. An independent body warned £20 billion of tax rises or spending cuts would be needed to get the national finances back on track.

HMS Daring
Danny Lawson/PA Wire
Royal Navy's newest warship HMS Daring, built at a cost of £650 million, arrives in Portsmouth.

HMS Daring is the world's most advanced destroyer and is the first of a series of six Type 45 destroyers. The 7,350-tonne ship has a range of about 7,000 miles and features the latest propulsion, weapon, and stealth technology. The ship is armed with a new hi-tech missile system named Sea Viper with a Sampson radar system, which can track hundreds of targets as far as 250 miles away and engage up to ten simultaneously. Daring can operate various helicopters, including the Chinook.

2009 January 27

Time for Davos man to save the economy and the planet.

AR: If they need my help I'm just a four-hour drive away

2009 January 24

The New York Review of Books is a treasure beyond compare.
The latest issue features especially fine articles on:
How Pakistan is in mortal peril from growing Islamic radicalism
How President Obama should make a new start dealing with Iran
How Google will soon monopolize access to information in books

2009 January 22

How massive is the Milky Way?
Rachel Courtland, New Scientist
The Milky Way's mass is some 3 trillion times the mass of the Sun, about the same as that of Andromeda. The new measurements extend to some 10,000 light years away from the Sun. Researcher Mark Reid and colleagues examined masers, dense star-forming regions that naturally emit microwaves. Slight changes in the masers' position reveal their distance from Earth. The team found that the masers were orbiting the galactic center faster than expected. Masers can only be used to weigh the Milky Way out to the edge of its visible disc, some 60,000 light years from the galactic center. But most of the Milky Way's mass is thought to lie further away. The European satellite Gaia will measure the speed of many more remote stars and is set to launch in 2013.

AR: Now the numbers in the Jan 6 blog are about right.

2009 January 21

Assassins of the Mind
Christopher Hitchens, Vanity Fair
Salman Rushdie, raised a Muslim, concluded that the Koran was a book made by the hands of men and was thus a fit subject for literary criticism and fictional borrowing. We live now in a climate where every publisher and editor and politician has to weigh in advance the possibility of violent Muslim reprisal.

2009 January 20

This 'wordle' of President Obama's inauguration speech shows which terms he used the most.

2009 January 19

Has an Anglo-German gravity-wave detector inadvertently discovered the quantum jitters of spacetime in a holographic universe?

2009 January 18

The Natural Order of Things
Matt Ridley, Spectator
Faithful reproduction, occasional random variation and selective survival can be a surprisingly progressive and cumulative force:
it can gradually build things of immense complexity. Although engineers are under the fond illusion that they design things, nearly all of what they do consists of nudging forward descent with modification.

2009 January 17

Robots are on the warpath

Two variants of the Boeing X-45 J-UCAV

2009 January 15

Philosopher Alex Byrne reviews arguments for God

2009 January 14

Why Israel Can't Make Peace With Hamas
Jeffrey Goldberg, The New York Times

Like Hezbollah, Hamas believes that God is opposed to a Jewish state in Palestine. A spokesman for Hezbollah, Hassan Izzedine, once told me that the Jews who survive the Muslim "liberation" of Palestine "can go back to Germany, or wherever they came from." He went on to argue that the Jews are a "curse to anyone who lives near them." Nizar Rayyan, a member of the Hamas ruling elite and a recruiter of suicide bombers until Israel killed him two weeks ago, expressed much the same sentiment the night we spoke in 2006. The Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, once, at a rally in Beirut, said: "We shout in the face of the killers of prophets and the descendants of the apes and pigs: We hope we will not see you next year. The shout remains, 'Death to Israel!'" Mr. Rayyan said that, technically, Mr. Nasrallah was mistaken. "Allah changed disobedient Jews into apes and pigs, it is true, but he specifically said these apes and pigs did not have the ability to reproduce," Mr. Rayyan said. "So it is not literally true that Jews today are descended from pigs and apes, but it is true that some of the ancestors of Jews were transformed into pigs and apes, and it is true that Allah continually makes the Jews pay for their crimes in many different ways. They are a cursed people." I asked him the question I always ask of Hamas leaders: Could you agree to anything more than a tactical cease-fire with Israel? Mr. Rayyan answered that a long-term cease-fire would be unnecessary, because it will not take long for the forces of Islam to eradicate Israel.

AR: There is an urgent educational problem to solve in the region.

2009 January 12

Philosophy Resources at Harvard and Beyond
Jason Pannone, September 5, 2008
Ross' article [Hitting on Consciousness: Honderich Versus McGinn] provides some background to the feud, along with summaries of the arguments being discussed, reviews of Honderich's book, and summaries of the exchanges between Honderich and McGinn. ... It's an interesting article for those who follow such things, and who are interested in philosophical practice, consciousness, philosophy of mind, and the like.

My Genome, My Self
Steven Pinker, The New York Times

The Personal Genome Project is an initiative in basic research, yet the technological advance making it possible will soon open up the era of consumer genetics.

We are shaped by our genes in ways that none of us can directly know. Genes can't pull the levers of our behavior directly but they affect the wiring and workings of the brain. Behavioral geneticists will point to data showing that even within a single culture, individuals are shaped by their environments. Even knowing the totality of genetic predictors, there will be many things about ourselves that no genome scan will ever reveal.

The Personal Genome Project is beginning with the exome: the 1 percent of our genome that is translated into strings of amino acids that assemble themselves into proteins. Proteins make up our physical structure, catalyze the chemical reactions that keep us alive and regulate the expression of other genes. The vast majority of heritable diseases that we currently understand involve tiny differences in one of the exons that collectively make up the exome.

Assessing risks from genomic data is not easy. But if you are bitten by curiosity and can think in probabilities, by all means enjoy the fruits of personal genomics.

2009 January 10

Bede Griffiths — was he a heretic?
Ken Wilber — are mystics insane?

2009 January 8

Israel has learnt from 2006
Lawrence Freedman, Financial Times
The current operation in Gaza is a consequence of the 2006 war in southern Lebanon when the Israelis appeared to have no answer to rockets fired into Israeli territory. So Hamas believed that it too could mount a regular rocket barrage against Israel with impunity. Israel knows that if it fails again, it will have a reduced deterrent against future rocket attacks. The lessons learnt can be seen in the current campaign. Hamas will see a ceasefire as a defeat. Israel should respond positively to calls for a ceasefire.

Israel will stop when Jews are safe
Daniel Finkelstein, The Times
The poverty and the death and the despair among the Palestinians in Gaza is unnecessary. For there can be peace and prosperity at the smallest of prices. The Palestinians need only say that they will allow Israel to exist in peace. Yet they will not say it. Maybe Hamas and Hezbollah hate Israel because they want to kill Jews.

2009 January 7

Back to work this morning: temperature –15°C

Posted draft preprint of next book:
Godblogs — From Sam Harris to Bede Griffiths,
the Autophenomenology of Genocentricity
PDF: 272 pages, 1.2 MB

2009 January 6

Milky Way and Andromeda will collide soon
Chris Irvine, Daily Telegraph
Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is set to crash into its neighbor, the Andromeda galaxy, sooner than we thought. Scientists at the American Astronomical Society in Long Beach, California, have admitted to grossly underestimating the mass of the Milky Way, and hence its gravitational pull on Andromeda. Because the solar system is orbiting the galactic center at about 260 km per second, it now seems that both galaxies have a similar mass, about 3 trillion solar masses, and will collide less than 2 billion years from now. Karl Menten, at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany, and Mark Reid, at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics in Massachusetts, used the Very Large Baseline Array (VLBA) radio telescope to make the new measurements. Gerry Gilmore, at the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge University in England, said: "The galaxies will be dramatically stirred up, but they are very squidgy, so they will stick together and eventually all the stars will die out, and it will become one huge, dead galaxy."

AR: Now (Jan 22) the numbers are about right.

2009 January 5

Demolishing Hamas

Israel Changing Equation
Jerusalem Post
Speaking at a press conference with European foreign ministers in Jerusalem, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni vowed that Israel would "change the equation in the region" and said the days of "Hamas firing rockets and Israel showing restraint" were over.

Hamas Will Die Fighting
Senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar said Monday that the Gaza leadership has no intention of stopping its rocket attacks on Israel. "We salute the resistance men," he said in a televised address from an undisclosed location in Gaza.

"The Islamic Resistance Movement [Hamas] calls on Arab and Islamic nations to take up the ... struggle against Zionism. ... The Zionist plan is ... embodied in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion"
Hamas charter, article 32

2009 January 4

The Reader
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
Much praise has been given to this movie adaptation of Bernhard Schlink's 1995 novel Der Vorleser. Kate Winslet gives a typically intelligent performance as Hanna. One rainy day, she chances upon Michael. They end up having a glorious affair. She loves him to read aloud to her from the classics. Many years later, Michael is astonished to see her again in the dock. Hanna was an SS camp guard at Auschwitz. Michael realizes that Hanna is illiterate. Hanna's condition is by no means a metaphor for the moral illiteracy of Nazism. The film invites us to see Hanna's secret misery as a species of victimhood. I can't forgive this film for being so shallow and so obtuse on such a subject.

Ralph Fiennes
Kevin Maher, The Times
The Reader is an intriguing post-Second World War drama starring Ralph Fiennes as a German lawyer reflecting on a doomed love affair. The story starts with an erotic relationship between Fiennes's younger screen self (played by David Kross) and an older, mysterious and illiterate former Nazi, Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet). Fienne's performance in the film is an impeccable study of inner turmoil. With his eyes alone, palely plaintive and wildly expressive, he gives the greatest close-ups in the business.

IDF Merkava Mark 4 main battle tank
I think the mine clearing gear shows it's a Black Mamba 2

2009 January 2



2009 January 1

Working on my next book — a philosophical blogology

The Economist: New SAP CEO in 2009
Google Finance: SAP AG stock prices

AR: Today I celebrate 10 years at SAP

The Times: Britain ready to take in Guantánamo prisoners

AR: What if the prisoner ship goes via Somalia and pirates sink it?

Photo: Kamran Jebreili/AP
Dubai, United Arab Emirates: New Year celebrations cancelled due to the Israeli bombing of Gaza

AR: Hamas should cancel their fireworks — forever


The Dignity of Muslims
Manfred Gerstenfeld
Jerusalem Post

The Amsterdam Court of Appeal has ruled that a case should be brought against Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders. As leader of the right-wing Freedom Party, Wilders has made a number of extreme remarks about Islam and Muslims, such as calling the Koran the "Islamic Mein Kampf" and referring to "fascist Islam." The Amsterdam court contends that these and other such statements "affect the dignity of Muslims."
Wilders may turn the case into a show trial outlining the threat to Western society. Wilders' lawyers may bring evidence of multiple calls for genocide intended to encourage the establishment of Islamic rule over the world as well as fatwas and statements by Muslim religious authorities supporting suicide attacks, or comparing non-believers to animals. The court decision has increased Wilders' popularity. Wilders gained fame with his 2008 documentary Fitna, which highlights Islam's radical aspects.

AR: Leave the man in peace!


Another movie I have to see:
Operation Walküre

Seen the Future
On the eve of Barack Obama’s inauguration, James Delingpole says that the President-elect is horribly reminiscent of Tony Blair in 1997. He may be a fantastic guy, and look great, but he will bring a ragbag of scuzzballs, communists and eco-loons to power with him.

Hamas fighter with rocket

The Satanic Verses
Andrew Anthony
The Observer

On February 14, 1989, Salman Rushdie was informed of the fatwa issued by the Iranian leader, Ayatollah Khomeini.

A delegation of mullahs had read a part of the book to Khomeini, which featured an obvious caricature of Khomeini. It sent the Supreme Leader incandescent.

The next decade was a dangerous time. There were bombs in numerous bookshops stocking the Rushdie novel.

On Christmas Eve 1990, Rushdie issued a statement bearing witness that "there is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his last prophet". That evening he was so disgusted with himself that he was physically sick. Years later he said it was the biggest mistake of his life.

Protesters in the Belgian city of Antwerp on December 31, 2008, were arrested as they headed toward the Jewish neighborhood

Abbot Genser/Revolution Studios
Across the Universe (2007)
1960s lovers take a magical mystery tour to Beatles songs

Conflict in Gaza
NY Times graphic

The Reader: the young lovers
in a bathtub

TERM (Tank Extended Range Munitions) 120 mm Top Attack Excalibur Merkava tank ammo

"I'm guided by the beauty
of our weapons
First we take Manhattan,
then we take Berlin"
Leonard Cohen
I'm Your Man (1988)

Delusion on Both Sides
Robert Fisk, The Independent

Hamas is not Hizbollah. And Israeli soldiers cannot take revenge for their 2006 defeat in Lebanon by attacking Hamas in Gaza. And Hamas do not have either the Hizbollah armory of long-range rockets or the discipline to fight like an army. Israel has never won a war in a city since 1967 or any war since 1973. Its 1978 invasion of Lebanon was a failure. Its 1982 invasion ended in disaster. In the later actions its performance was no more than amateur. If Israel indefinitely continues its billion dollar blitz on Gaza, there will be an individual massacre. And Hamas will cynically make profit from the grief. Saner minds need to rescue both sides from this disgusting little war.

AR: Kill Hamas to save Gaza