BLOG 2009 Q2


Neda Agha Soltan
Neda Agha Soltan

The Iranian authorities have ordered the family of Neda Agha Soltan out of their Tehran home, the police did not hand the body back to her family, her funeral was cancelled, she was buried without letting her family know, and the government banned mourning ceremonies at mosques, said neighbors.
The government is accusing a BBC correspondent of hiring thugs to shoot her so he could make a documentary film.
The Guardian


Schiebel Camcopter S-100 UAV
Schiebel Camcopter S-100 UAV

This year the Paris Air Show is grim: gray skies with persistent rain, pessimistic forecasts for aircraft production and passenger numbers, and the shadow of the tragic crash of Air France flight 447 on June 1


Electron microscope view of a flu virus

Rensselaer Polytechnical Institute researchers are developing antiviral compounds to disrupt not only the neuraminidase proteins (the "N" in H1N1), which allow the virus to escape an infected cell and infect healthy new cells, but also the hemagglutinin proteins (the "H" in H1N1), which bind to sialic acid on the healthy cell's surface, helping the virus penetrate the cell.

Dictionary of Twentieth-Century British Philosophers

Wright is probably best known as a Wittgensteinian philosopher. Aside from his Wittgensteinian work, Wright's most significant contribution has been his development of a neo-Fregean philosophy of mathematics. Wright's first book, Wittgenstein on the Foundations of Mathematics, was dense and disorganized, and drove many reviewers to despair.

AR  I read the book after attending Wright's class and studying Wittgenstein's notes, and still felt despair.

A Decade of Consciousness

Imprint Academic

2009 June 29

Paul Bloom on Robert Wright on the evolution of God

2009 June 28

Iran Power Struggle
Peter Beaumont, The Observer

The power struggle inside Iran is deepening amid reports that Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani is plotting to undermine the power of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Mass demonstrations on the streets against the election results have been effectively crushed by a massive police and militia presence. The speaker of the parliament, Ali Larijani, has announced he intends to set up a parliamentary committee to examine the post-election violence in an "even-handed way". In response, Ahmadinejad supporters have discussed impeaching Larijani. Rafsanjani has been lobbying the Assembly of Experts, which he chairs, to replace Khamenei as the supreme leader with a small committee of senior ayatollahs. The change would shift the balance of power.

James Buchan on Iran since 1905

2009 June 25

Persian Paranoia
Christopher Hitchens, Slate

The history of British imperial intervention in Persia does provide some support for the primitive belief that it is the Anglo-Saxons — more than the CIA, more even than the Jews — who are the puppet masters of everything that happens in Iran.

To the Obama administration: Want to take a noninterventionist position? This would would mean not referring to Khamenei as the supreme leader and not calling Iran "the Islamic republic." But that will not stop the theocrats from slandering you for interfering anyway. Also try to bear in mind that one day you will have to face the young Iranian democrats who risked their all in the battle and explain to them what you were doing.

2009 June 23

The Capitalist Manifesto
Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek

A specter is haunting the world — the return of capitalism. With all its flaws, capitalism remains the most productive economic engine we have yet invented.

What we are experiencing is not a crisis of capitalism. It is a crisis of finance, of democracy, of globalization, and ultimately of ethics. Since Ronald Reagan's presidency, Americans have consumed more than they produced and have made up the difference by borrowing. A modern democracy cannot impose short-term pain for long-term gain. The problem goes beyond bad bankers, lax regulators, and pandering politicians.

Over the past quarter century, the global economy has doubled every 10 years. More than 400 million people across Asia have been lifted out of poverty. China sits on a war chest of more than $2 trillion. They looked to the safest investment they could imagine — U.S. government debt. Washington and Beijing will have to work hard to slowly stabilize their mutual dependence so that the system is not being set up for another crash.

The crisis we face is of globalization itself. We have globalized the economies of nations. We are suffering from a moral crisis, too.

2009 June 22

Iran Versus Britain
Robin Oakley, CNN

Why have the voices of the United States and the UK been so muted in their support of the Iranian protesters? And why is Britain even so being singled out as a target by the Iranian authorities?

President Barack Obama does not want to be seen meddling in Iran's affairs. Prime Minister Gordon Brown too has kept his foot off the gas. But Ayatollah Ali Khamenei singled out the "little Satan" Britain as the "most treacherous" of the Western powers.

Western leaders like Obama and Brown have a continuing interest in efforts to restrain Iran's uranium enrichment program. Using tougher language about the repression of street protests would not help crack the nuclear problem.

The leaders in Tehran are divided on how to respond to President Obama's offer of a new relationship. Attacking the "little Satan" rather than the "Great Satan" avoids a propaganda war with the new man in the White House.

What has Khamenei got against Britain?
Boris Johnson, The Daily Telegraph

For the last few months, we British have had the terrible feeling that no one could conceivably take us seriously. Now up pops a hairy cleric and says the most amazing thing.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in the course of a two-hour rant last Friday at Tehran university, lashed out at the foreign agencies he believed had a role in fomenting the pro-democracy protests. "They are showing their true enmity towards the Islamic state, and the most evil of them all is the British government!"

Fancy that, eh. President Khamenei thinks that we are the most ruthless and manipulative of all foreign powers. That's right: little old us! Doesn't it make you almost burst with pride?

2009 June 21

Explain Everything
Robert McCrum, The Observer

In a decade in which the consumer feels lost in a blizzard of conflicting information, there's a huge market for simplified intelligence. If there's one genre that sells and sells, it is the little book that purports to Explain Everything.

Typically, such a book does three things. First, it tells stories. Second, through analytical parables, it explicates a new and troubling situation. Third, it says that the perverse and often baffling world in which we find ourselves can be managed. It's no coincidence that this genre flourishes at a time of astonishing technological, economic and social innovation.

2009 June 20

A spray ship to seed clouds
Stephen Salter et al.
We can save the planet from overheating by launching a fleet of spray ships to make lots of fluffy white clouds. Or we can pump sulfur dioxide from pipes held aloft by massed zeppelins until the sky turns red.

AR  I know which option I prefer!

2009 June 19

Brown: Internet Revolution
Catharine Viner, The Guardian

Gordon Brown said new technology and free access to information mean "foreign policy can no longer be the province of just a few elites." He described the internet era as "more tumultuous than any previous economic or social revolution." He said people are now able "to speak to each other across continents, to join with each other in communities that are not based simply on territory, streets, but networks," with "the possibility of people building alliances right across the world."

Today I delivered my annual guest lecture at the University of Trier

2009 June 17

Don't Call It an Election
Christopher Hitchens, Slate

Iran and its citizens are considered by the Shiite theocracy to be the private property of the anointed mullahs. This totalitarian idea was originally based on a piece of religious quackery promulgated by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Under the terms of this edict, the entire population is now declared to be a childlike ward of the black-robed state. Thus any voting exercise is, by definition, over before it has begun, because the all-powerful Islamic Guardian Council determines well in advance who may or may not "run."

At a recent Hezbollah rally in south Beirut, Lebanon, in a large hall that featured the official attendance of a delegation from the Iranian Embassy, I saw that the most luridly displayed poster of the pro-Iranian party was a nuclear mushroom cloud! Underneath this telling symbol was a caption warning the "Zionists" of what lay in store. We sometimes forget that Iran still officially denies any intention of acquiring nuclear weapons.

2009 June 16

Did Ahmadinejad Come Third?
Colin Freeman, Daily Telegraph

Iran's reformist presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi won 19.1 million votes while incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won only 5.7 million, according to leaked interior ministry statistics. The authenticity of the statistics, which were circulated on Iranian blogs and websites, could not be confirmed.

Richard Wolin on reason versus faith

2009 June 15

Tom Darling, The Independent

It's March 2009 in England. Each of us must agree to stay for 10 days. In a short while the course will begin, and with it the Noble Silence that will last until the penultimate day.

In the meditation hall, dusk has fallen. Together we sit in silence. We are to think of ourselves as being here alone. This is Vipassana, meaning "to see things as they really are." It's the technique the Buddha practised.

Set in rolling countryside, Dhamma Dipa is the only dedicated Vipassana centre in Britain. More than 30 courses are run each year here. All the courses are free.

At nine o'clock, we file out of the hall. There are new sleeping quarters, but many share rooms in the old farmhouse or converted stables.

A gong wakes us at 4 am for two hours of meditation before breakfast. Goenka teaches the course via recordings made 15 years ago in Massachusetts. Aside from the chanting and the various terminologies, he teaches in English.

Day One is spent focusing the mind by concentrating on our breath. This is called Anapana. We're instructed to observe our breath as it comes and goes. This is the beginning of our training.

Each evening Goenka holds a television discourse. Under a neat bonnet of white hair his eyes twinkle with intelligence and humour. Vipassana is a technique designed to deal with the reality of every moment as it happens.

Weeks later, I turn on the radio. I hear the Archbishop of Canterbury talking about the need to "examine ourselves with clarity" as we face the recession. I think what a perfect description that is of meditation.

AR  Ten days well spent?

Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior
Jeremy Lott, The Washington Times

  By Geoffrey Miller
  Viking, 374 pages

Geoffrey Miller's crisis came in 1999 during a conference in London. The psychologists thought the economists might enjoy learning about their "preference experiments," but it became obvious the assembled dismal scientists believed that consumer preferences were mere "psychological abstractions."

Miller now believes marketing is "not just one of the most important ideas in business" but has become "the most dominant force in human culture" as well. In 2004, the United States had about 37,000 philosophy professors to 212,000 market and survey researchers.

Miller writes that "marketing zealots might even take the view that the marketing revolution renders most of Marx irrelevant: What meaning could 'alienation' and 'exploitation' have when businesses work so hard to fulfill our desires as consumers?"

AR  So many philosophers?

2009 June 14

Ahmadinejad Defends Poll Result
Farnaz Fassihi, The Wall Street Journal

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said his re-election was "real and free" and cannot be questioned. He accused foreign media of launching a "psychological war" against Iran.

When asked about the allegations of voting irregularities, he brushed the claims off. "Some believed they would win, and then they got angry. It has no legal credibility. It is like the passions after a football match."

Reverberations in Tehran

Bill Keller, The New York Times

It is impossible to know how much the ostensible re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad represents the preference of an essentially conservative Iranian public and how much, as opposition voters passionately believe, it is the imposed verdict of a fundamentally authoritarian regime.

Iranians who hoped for a bit more freedom, a better managed economy, and a less reviled image in the world wavered between protest and despair on Saturday. "Another four years of dictatorship," a voter muttered. "This is a coup d’état," several others agreed. Some women wept openly. Some talked of mutiny, others were more cynical.

Back story on Iran — my cut from The New York Review

"Iran's rulers should not be caricatured as messianic politicians seeking to implement obscure scriptural dictates for ushering in the end of the world through conflict and disorder. As with most leaders, they are interested in staying in power and will recoil from conduct that jeopardizes their domain."
— Ray Takeyh

2009 June 11

God and Tragic Humanism
Mark Vernon, The Guardian

  Reason, Faith and Revolution
  By Terry Eagleton
  Yale, 200 pages

Eagleton argues that the greatest human traditions are those that contain their own best critique too. Christians in history have undoubtedly perpetrated many crimes. But their most fearsome judge is the man they claim to follow.

Eagleton also thinks the new atheists woefully underestimate the horrors of which humans are capable. Liberalism champions noble ideals but has little to draw on when it comes to their "unsavory incarnation" beyond asserting bland platitudes.

Eagleton advocates a tragic humanism. Christianity is a form of tragic humanism: to address the extravagant defects of human nature, it has an equally extravagant remedy. Roughly, be prepared to love until you die.

  Atheist Delusions
  By David Bentley Hart
  Yale, 272 pages

Bentley Hart believes Christianity's best times are past. He says Christianity has compromised itself because it has failed to forge a distinctive response to modernity. He says the only hope is in a revival of Christianity's prophetic tradition.
Francis Fukuyama on blue and white collars
Roger Scruton on taste and judgment
Robert Wright on God

2009 June 10


Founded by Crispin Wright, the Northern Institute of Philosophy in Aberdeen is scheduled to open on September 1, 2009. The remit of the center will include epistemology, metaphysics, formal logic, and the philosophy of logic, language, mathematics, and mind.
Carrie Jenkins

Crispin Wright, now Global Distinguished Professor at New York University, will leave his part-time post at the University of St. Andrews and the Arché Centre there this summer, and take up leadership (again on a part-time basis) of the new Northern Institute of Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen.
Leiter Reports

2009 June 5-8

ASSC XIII, Berlin >> my souvenir page

2009 June 3

Warum wir am Glück verzweifeln
Thomas Metzinger, Der Spiegel

>> Thomas Metzinger

2009 June 1

Eliminating the Mind
Jane O'Grady, Open Democracy

"Can we really move with ease from the world of atoms to the world of meanings? Or is there a conceptual confusion involved in applying neuro-scientific discoveries here, so that in the transition we inevitably lose essentially human parts of existence? ... So we were wrong all the time about our memories and our passions? What sort of a world, I wonder, do these eliminative materialists envisage with their revised vocabulary about mental (or rather neural) states?"

SAP mission statement
The new SAP mission statement

Introduced by new SAP CEO Léo Apotheker, this unobjectionable statement is designed to resonate in the post-crisis business reality

S.N. Goenka
S. N. Goenka


The hemagglutinin (blue spikes) binds to the sialic acid (green chains) residues on the cell's surface, to gain entry. Once the cell is infected, the viral neuraminidases (pink pinwheels) cleave the sialic acids to escape. The sialic acid derivatives (green balls, zoomed) are designed to block the virus.
Scientific American

Dictionary of Twentieth-Century British Philosophers

Born in 1942, Wright did graduate work at both Cambridge and Oxford before election to All Souls College, Oxford, in 1969. He was appointed the Chair of Logic and Metaphysics at St. Andrews in 1978. He is a Fellow of the British Academy (1992) and of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1996). In 1998, he founded the Arché Philosophical Research Centre at St. Andrews.

AR  While he was at All Souls, Wright supervised my research for a distinguished B.Phil, then let me exit philosophy.

The Final Reckoning
A True Story

Blockbuster Biography

F-86 Sabre

U.S. Air Force F-86 Sabre
The North American Aviation
F-86 Sabre jet fighter is best known for its Korean War role against the MiG-15. The Sabre was the first American aircraft to take advantage of captured German jet flight research data. The swept wing was based on the Messerschmitt Me 262 wing.
The prototype for the F-86 Sabre first flew in October 1947.

In the Korean War, the MiG-15 outperformed all the aircraft
types assigned to the United Nations in November 1950.
The US Air Force rushed three squadrons of Sabres to the front in December and they soon achieved air superiority for the United Nations.

IBM Unveils System S
Ashlee Vance
The New York Times

New stream processing software from IBM can suck up huge volumes of data from many sources and quickly identify correlations within it. System S harnesses advances in computing and networking in a way that analysts and customers describe as unprecedented.

Instead of creating separate databases to track complex financial and economic data, the software can put it all together, then add news of current events or weather forecasts, to create an integrated global model.

IBM System S software complements the company’s "Smarter Planet" campaign. IBM has flooded the planet with commercials about using technology to run things like power grids and hospitals more efficiently.
 AR: Awesome — at least
as much so as the analytic
that my SAP team
makes. Our engine scales
so far to maybe a thousand
cores and 4 TB of memory.
System S will surely scale
 a few times more.

AFP/Getty Images
This week Iran successfully tested a Sajil ballistic missile, which burns solid fuel and has a range of 2000 km

Thank You Henning

Nouriel Roubini
New York Times

China is a creditor country with large current account surpluses, a small budget deficit, much lower public debt as a share of GDP than the United States, and solid growth. And it is already taking steps toward challenging the supremacy of the dollar.

If China and other countries were to diversify their reserve holdings away from the dollar, the United States would suffer. We have reaped significant financial benefits from having the dollar as the reserve currency. We have been able to finance larger deficits for longer and at lower interest rates.

Now, imagine a world in which China could borrow and lend internationally in its own currency. The renminbi could become a means of payment in trade and a unit of account in pricing imports and exports, as well as a store of value for wealth by international investors.

The United States must rein in spending and borrowing, and pursue growth that is not based on asset and credit bubbles. This will entail investing in our crumbling infrastructure, alternative and renewable resources and productive human capital. This is the only way to slow the decline of the dollar.

Brits Make Bits of RNA
Daily Telegraph

Scientists in Britain have shown how life may have first evolved on Earth four billion years ago.
A team led by John Sutherland
at Manchester University have synthesized two of the four building blocks of RNA, the
self-replicating molecule that
may be the original molecule of life. The work shows how all the building blocks of RNA can be made from the simple chemicals that were on Earth at the time.

Jane Shilling, Daily Telegraph

In Nocturnes, Kazuo Ishiguro sets himself the challenge of capturing in language the evanescent qualities of music and dusk. The volume has the quality of a song cycle, with recurring themes developed in different guises. The perishability of love and the fragility of talent haunt the narratives. Ishiguro's reticence and intense, inward, self- containment are conspicuous in them. Yet the stories resonate long after the book is set aside.

2009 May 31

Kinopolis movie treat: Slumdog Millionaire
AR  Despite what Salman Rushdie said (blog Feb 28), I liked it.

Valve Show
Peter Conrad, The Observer
Tracey Emin, the queen of Britart, now offers us her vulva. For her first London show in four years, White Cube (Mason's Yard, London SW1) has transformed its interior into the likeness of a sex shop. In it, Emin shows that she is a dab hand at self-abuse.

AR  The world of fine art seems to be in some sort of existential  crisis, perhaps reflecting the difficulty of establishing visceral contact with the art patron in an era of electronic media.

2009 May 27

North Korea Could Work With Iran
Siegfried S. Hecker, Foreign Policy

North Korea has walked away from all previous nuclear agreements and threatened to conduct more nuclear tests and launch inter- continental ballistic missiles. But North Korea did not threaten expanded nuclear and missile cooperation with Iran. Pyongyang lacks uranium centrifuge materials and technology. Tehran has both. Pyongyang has practical uranium metallurgy capabilities. Tehran has little. Pyongyang has its own nuclear test data. Tehran does not. Pyongyang knows all facets of plutonium technology. Tehran has a breeder reactor under construction. The threat is underscored by North Korea's extensive ongoing cooperation in missile technology with Iran.

2009 May 26

Martin Rees, The Guardian

The world population is projected to reach 9 billion by 2050. The excess will almost all be in the developing world where the young hugely outnumber the old. And the challenge of feeding such a rapidly growing population will be aggravated by climate change. The world will be warmer than today.

The Apollo program now seems a remote historical episode. The race to the moon was driven by superpower rivalry. But robotic exploration has burgeoned. By 2050 the entire solar system may have been explored and mapped by flotillas of tiny robotic craft.

Each mobile phone today has far more computing power than was available to the whole of NASA in the 1960s. And advances proceed apace. Some claim that computers will achieve human capabilities by 2050. Of course, in some respects they already have.

But will we continue to push out the frontiers? Some aspects of reality — a unified theory of physics or a theory of consciousness — might elude our understanding simply because they're beyond the powers of human brains.

By 2050 or soon after, there could be changes to human nature and human character as mind-enhancing drugs, genetics, and cyborg techniques start to alter human beings themselves.

American futurologists remind us that a super-intelligent machine may be the last instrument that humans ever design — the machine will take over. Another speculation is that the human lifespan could be greatly extended. There will surely be a widening gulf between what science enables us to do, and what applications it's prudent or ethical to pursue.

Ever since Darwin, we've been familiar with the stupendous time- spans of the evolutionary past. But this century is special. It's the first in our planet's history where one species has Earth's future in its hands, and could jeopardize not only itself, but life's immense potential.

Suppose some aliens had been watching our planet for its entire history. Over nearly all that immense time, Earth's appearance would have altered very gradually. But in the last few thousand years the pace of change accelerated. What might these aliens witness in the next few decades?

2009 May 25

Faith in the Future
John Gray, New Statesman

  God Is Back: How the Global Rise of Faith Is Changing the World
  By John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge
  Allen Lane, 405 pages

Secular rationalists maintain that religion belongs to the infancy of the species. Say the evangelical atheists: if you want to be modern, say goodbye to God. But it is a confession of faith that religion is destined to die out.

The notion that modernity and religion are at odds is a generalization from the experience of Europe, which is now largely post-Christian. European thinkers tend to see the United States as lagging in a universal trend towards secularization.

Micklethwait and Wooldridge show that modernization and an increase in religiosity go together in much of the world. If there is any trend, it is that secular belief systems are in decline and old faiths are being reborn.

The authors say: "The world is generally moving in the American direction, where religion and modernity happily coexist." They claim that religions have done well by adopting modern corporate practices and that the American model is better adapted than any other to the modern world.

Japan has many new religions, some organized as businesses, yet remains largely untouched by individualism. Hinduism is now practiced worldwide, but in India it is linked with nationalism rather than pluralism. The same is true of Orthodoxy in Russia, and the resurgence of Confucianism in China.

Religion is advancing in many parts of the world, but it is unlikely that a single dominant model of religious practice will emerge from this process. Modernity can coexist with religion in many ways.

AR: Religion is a very human thing, as I shall argue in the revamp of my manuscript Godblogs.

2009 May 24

325 MPs To Go
Jonathan Oliver and Isabel Oakeshott, The Sunday Times

At least half of the 646 MPs in the House of Commons will be swept away at the general election, as voters take revenge on the political classes for the expenses scandal. The departure of 325 members of parliament as a result of forced resignations, retirement, and defeat at the polls would represent the biggest clear-out of parliament since 1945.

More New York Review pay dirt:
Israel and the Palestinians
Pakistan and the Taliban

2009 May 22

Mindworlds is finally delivered to the publishers
Review copies will soon be available on request

More MPs Quit
Sam Coates and Philip Webster, The Times

MPs caught up in the expenses scandal blamed the public backlash for their decision to quit Parliament. Ben Chapman and Anthony Steen said that they would stand down at the next election while maintaining that they had done nothing wrong. Steen told the BBC: "Do you know what it’s about? Jealousy. I’ve got a very, very large house." Ian Gibson also offered to stand down.

Douglas Hogg is to stand down over claims he submitted for cleaning his moat. Sir Peter Viggers was ordered to retire over his claims for the cost of a duck pond. Elliot Morley and David Chaytor have been suspended over mortgage claims. Shahid Malik stood down from his role as a Justice minister over the location of his main home. Up to 100 MPs may be considering standing down.

AR: What a wonderful crisis! This will shake out the selfish pigs.

2009 May 21

U.S. to fund Arrow 3 for Israel
Yaakov Katz, Jerusalem Post

The United States says it will fully fund the development and production of the Arrow 3 ballistic missile defense system. Arrow development costs for the next year will likely reach some $100 million.

The Arrow 3 will be a longer-range version of the Arrow defense system currently in IDF operation. It will be capable of intercepting incoming enemy missiles at higher altitudes and farther away from Israel.

Missile Shield in Europe Ineffective
Joby Warrick and R. Jeffrey Smith, Washington Post

A planned U.S. missile shield to protect Europe from a possible Iranian attack would be ineffective against the kinds of missiles Iran is likely to deploy, according to a joint analysis by top U.S. and Russian scientists.

Update: Chinese Communist Party today
Update: ZAMM for a new generation

2009 May 19

Farewell party for retiring SAP co-CEO Henning Kagermann
With a non-stop line-up of sketches, video clips, comedians and performers, the show was moderated by TV presenter and best-selling author Eckhart von Hirschhausen.

The first speaker was the Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister of Germany, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who captured the twin poles of Henning's character in his remark: "You have been ambitious for your company, modest for yourself."

SAP co-founder Hasso Plattner said that from 1982 when he hired Henning to join his company of 100 employees in Walldorf, the self- described "overqualified" physics professor made his mark at SAP. Hasso tried to capture what was different about SAP: "We did something better, we had more harmony than other companies. And we were successful."

SAP co-CEO Léo Apotheker referred to Henning as a "man of trust." The 1700 guests honored Henning with a resounding standing ovation when he finally took the stage to express his thanks.

AR: I enjoyed the party — it reflected well on SAP.

2009 May 18

Pakistan Is Rapidly Adding Nuclear Arms, U.S. Says
Thom Shanker and David E. Sanger, The New York Times

Members of Congress have been told in confidential briefings that Pakistan is rapidly adding to its nuclear arsenal even while racked by insurgency. Bruce Riedel, the Brookings Institution scholar who co-authored President Obama's review of Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy, said Pakistan "has more terrorists per square mile than anyplace else on earth, and it has a nuclear weapons program that is growing faster than anyplace else on earth."

Billions in proposed American aid, officials admit, could free other money for Pakistan's nuclear infrastructure. Pakistani officials have expressed concern that their nuclear program, which employs tens of thousands of Pakistanis, is facing a budget crunch. ISIS, the Institute for Science and International Security, is monitoring Pakistan's continued efforts to buy materials on the black market, and analyzing photos of two new plutonium reactors less than 100 miles from where Pakistani forces are fighting the Taliban.

Israel's Secret War With Iran
Ronen Bergman, The Wall Street Journal

The Israeli intelligence community has penetrated enemies like Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Hezbollah and Hamas. From 2002, General Meir Dagan focused the Mossad on Iran's nuclear project and its ties to jihadist organizations. Israel's internal intelligence service, the Shin-Bet, in cooperation with the military, has made huge strides in its understanding of Palestinian guerilla organizations. Yet the overall security picture remains grim.

The destruction of the Syrian nuclear reactor has not swayed President Assad from supporting Hamas and Hezbollah and hosting terrorist organizations. Even worse, attempts to delay the Iranian nuclear project have failed. The Iranians may possess a nuclear bomb as early as 2010. Hezbollah is now the leading political force in Lebanon and Hamas's standing among Palestinians has strengthened. Excellent intelligence is important, but it's tough decisions by Israeli leaders that ensure the security of the state.

2009 May 17

Eurovision Songs
AFP, Moscow

Norway's Alexander Rybak swept this year's Eurovision Song Contest in Moscow with a ballad that he wrote himself.
Norway's winner Alexander Rybak
Norway's winner Alexander Rybak / AP

The 23-year-old, a classically trained musician born in Belarus, won a record number of points at Eurovision for his song "Fairy Tale".
Iceland's entry Yohanna
Iceland's entry Yohanna / AFP

Runners up Iceland and Azerbaijan trailed far behind.

2009 May 16

"Pakistan's push against the militants in the Swat valley will produce massive chaos and instability."
Fareed Zakaria

2009 May 14

B-2 Spirit over California
Photo: EPA
B-2 Spirit bomber penetrating the Prandtl-Glauert singularity

Wonderful graphics: The New York Times interactive guide to the Hubble Space Telescope

2009 May 11

Abdullah: Netanyahu-Obama Meeting Decisive
Michael Binyon and Richard Beeston, The Times

President Obama's meeting with Binyamin Netanyahu next week is the acid test for the Administration's commitment to peace in the Middle East, King Abdullah of Jordan said yesterday.

If Israel procrastinated on a two-state solution, or if there was no clear American vision on what to do this year, the credibility that Obama had built up in the Arab world would evaporate overnight. And if peace negotiations were delayed, there would be another conflict between Muslims and Israel in the next 12-18 months.

In a direct appeal to the Israeli public, he said they could either do a deal that would lead to peace or they could maintain "Fortress Israel" for another ten years. This was a final opportunity.

2009 May 10

Pakistan's military squares up to the Taliban in Swat valley at last
Recent experiments confirm nonlocality in quantum entanglement
Robert McCrum interviews novelist Sarah Waters
Robert McCrum on how George Orwell wrote 1984

2009 May 8

Rushdie On Pakistan
The Times of India

  Midnight's Diaspora: Critical Encounters with Salman Rushdie
  Edited by Ashutosh Varshney and Daniel Herwitz
  University of Michigan Press

This collection of essays and interviews brings together a group of critics and commentators, including Rushdie himself, to explore the political and cultural contexts of Rushdie's novels. The essays offer distinct and original takes on Rushdie and his work, and two long interviews with Rushdie illuminate his thoughts on a series of literary and political subjects. According to co-editor Varshney, Rushdie argued that Pakistan was insufficiently imagined and fundamentally flawed.

Amis On Amis
Rob Garratt, Norwich Evening News

In a one-off appearance in the Norwich Playhouse, Martin Amis answered questions about his life and work from fellow writer Robert McCrum. Then Amis read from his forthcoming novel, The Pregnant Widow, which he said was about the sexual revolution. The first few pages were packed with his typical comic cynicism as an aging narrator looked back on his life. Despite his grouchy reputation, Amis was all smiles for the autograph session.

2009 May 7

"The Israel I know is mostly secular, raucously democratic, and has a vibrant left wing. It is intellectually disputatious, multi-ethnic, there is a great stress on human solidarity, there is due process."
Greg Sheridan

2009 May 5

Bryan Appleyard, The Sunday Times

Kazuo Ishiguro lives in Golders Green in northwest London. Naomi, his daughter, is thinking about Oxbridge. In manner, Ish is exact, almost fussy, and in conversation analytically precise, almost pedantic. In his work, he is a writer of cool brilliance. His last two novels both sold a million worldwide.

His prose works without the fireworks of contemporaries such as Martin Amis and Salman Rushdie.

Nocturnes is a collection of long short stories that emerged from plans for a novel about the milieu of Broadway music. The unity of Nocturnes is a unity of tone, tied together by a mood of life lived in the time between the fall of the Berlin Wall and 9/11. Nocturnes is published on May 7 by Faber.

My book SAP NetWeaver BI Accelerator on the hit lists: Sales Rank: #207,111 in Books Verkaufsrang: Nr. 54.863 in Englische Bücher

2009 May 4

Padma Lakshmi Jewelry
Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, Wall Street Journal

Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi says: "Jewelry should not upstage you." To avoid that, Ms Lakshmi has a simple strategy: "I pick one hot point on my body that I'm going to highlight."

Because her days often stretch from morning meetings to evening events, she builds ensembles that will take her from day to night, relying on adding layers of jewelry to make the transition. She'll sometimes wear a dress with a blazer. Before her evening event, she'll take off the blazer and throw on one or two more strands of thin gold necklaces: "It creates this beautiful, drippy, layered, feminine look."

Ms Lakshmi has launched a jewelry line that started selling at Bergdorf Goodman, 754 5th Avenue (58th Street), New York, on May 3. She will make a personal appearance there on May 8.

Padma Parvati Lakshmi (born September 1, 1970) is an Indian American cookbook author, actress, and former model. She has been the host of the US television program Top Chef since 2006.

Ms Lakshmi's first cookbook, Easy Exotic, was awarded Best First Book at the 1999 World Cookbook Awards at Versailles. Her second cookbook, Tangy Tart Hot and Sweet, was released in 2007.

In April 2004, in New York, Ms Lakshmi married Salman Rushdie.
In July 2007, soon after Rushdie was knighted, the couple filed for divorce.

Ms Lakshmi posed nude for the May 2009 issue of Allure magazine.

Allure: What did you do to prepare for the shoot?
PL: I exercised a little bit extra, but I actually think I look better when I have a little bit of weight on — my breasts are fuller, and I'm curvier than when I'm at my thinnest.

Allure: Are you confident about your body?
PL: Yes; I like the way I look. I think I look better now than I did in my 20s, because I'm more confident about my body — and I don't want to look like anyone but myself.

Allure: Do you sleep naked?
PL: I tend to sleep in the nude. I'm an innately tactile person and a very sensual-leaning woman. You have to use the word 'leaning' or it sounds like I'm boasting! When I'm in my own private space, I do spend time with very little on.
AR: Impressive lady — lucky old Salman.


North Korean MiG-15bis
Some say the radical design of Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-15 was based on the Focke-Wulf
Ta 183 Huckebein jet fighter. The Soviets captured plans and prototypes for the Ta 183 in 1945. The MiG-15 engine was the Klimov RD-45 derived from the Rolls-Royce Nene of 1944 after the UK gave 25 engines to the USSR as a gesture of goodwill.
The MiG-15bis entered service in early 1950 with a Klimov VK-1 engine, an improved version of the RD-45.

The F-86 Sabre could out-turn and out-dive the MiG-15, but the MiG-15 was superior to the F-86 in ceiling, acceleration, rate of climb, and zoom.

The Coming Superbrain
John Markoff
The New York Times

Terminator Salvation comes complete with a malevolent artificial intelligence dubbed Skynet that gains self-awareness and decides to exterminate humans. The basic idea goes back to a 1961 story by Arthur C. Clarke, who described a giant telephone network that starts acting like an infant and causes global chaos.

The concept of machines with greater than human intelligence was dubbed The Singularity in 1993 by Vernor Vinge, who said the acceleration of technological progress had led to "the edge of change comparable to the rise of human life on Earth."

Raymond Kurzweil, in his 2005 book The Singularity Is Near, predicted that it would occur in 2045, when machine intelligence would drive technological evolution. Kurzweil is the co-founder with NASA and Google of Singularity University, due to open in June.
 AR: See my 1996 novel
Lifeball, where I envisaged
a Singularity brought forward
 by an invading ET to 2013.

In April the IAF held its 17th test of the Arrow 2, shooting down a missile mimicking an Iranian Shihab ballistic missile

Office World

Léo Apotheker, SAP

We need clarity to properly manage the enormous influx of money that is now being pumped into the global economic system. This is taxpayer money. Talk of accountability must be backed by hard data and clear facts.

Clarity is necessary not only for banks but for all businesses involved. Government agencies are struggling. Recipients of the stimulus money are asking how they can manage the reporting workload, minimize risks, ensure compliance, and demonstrate clear value.

To manage the recovery effort, government, regulators, and corporations need to institute smart and comprehensive systems for transparency, accountability, and control. They must be fully aware of everything that is coming in and going out. There can be no uncertainty. We need to reestablish trust in the free market system.

Every organization needs to have a dashboard or cockpit. One of the conditions for banks to exit government programs should be dashboards that provide complete visibility into their risks and capitalization in real time. This would provide the kind of clarity financial institutions need to restore trust and confidence.

Better Place Battery Demo

Yokohama, Japan, May 12:
Better Place has achieved a milestone in accelerating the mass-market adoption of electric vehicles by demonstrating the world's first battery switch technology along with electric car charging spots. This simple range extension technology delivers a cleaner, more convenient experience for drivers.
Former SAP board member
Shai Agassi is the founder and CEO of Better Place.

Allan Massie, The Scotsman

Kazuo Ishiguro is still best known for The Remains of the Day, which won the Booker Prize and was made into a successful film. Nocturnes will probably delight those who admired and enjoyed that novel. His manner is so easy and relaxed that the uncritical reader may be happily lulled by it. However, the stories here are trivial. They make for easy and pleasant reading, but from a novelist of Ishiguro's reputation are disappointingly feeble.

A.C. Grayling
Image: Edge

A.C. Grayling

Image: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltec
Image: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltec

A week after jettisoning its protective dust cover, the NASA Kepler telescope has released the first image from its CCD camera (right). For the next few years, Kepler will focus on this star-rich patch of sky in the constellations Cygnus and Lyra. 

2009 April 27

Blue Brain Beyond Fiction
Jason Palmer, BBC News

The Blue Brain has been put in a virtual body, and observing it gives the first indications of the molecular and neural basis of thought and memory. Scaling the simulation to the human brain is only a matter of money, says Henry Markram, Blue Brain project lead and founder of the Brain Mind Institute in Switzerland.

The work was presented at the European Future Technologies meeting in Prague. The Blue Brain project reverse-engineered neocortical columns from laboratory data and built up a computer model down to the level of the molecules that make them up.

The first phase of the project is now complete. Professor Markram told the Science Beyond Fiction conference that the simulated neocortical column is being integrated into a simulated animal in a simulated environment, so that the researchers will be able to observe the activities in the column as the animal moves around.

The next phase of the project will make use of the latest version of the IBM Blue Gene supercomputer. "The next phase is beginning with a molecularization process: we add in all the molecules and biochemical pathways to move toward gene expression and gene networks. We couldn't do that on our first supercomputer."

Professor Markram believes that by building up from one neocortical column to the entire neocortex, the characteristic properties of human thought will emerge. Such emergent properties lead to the essence of what it is to be human.

AR: I would like to have been there in Prague last week.

2009 April 26

Sir Ken Adam
Neil Tweedie, Daily Telegraph

Sir Ken Adam, 88, is arguably cinema's greatest production designer. With a knighthood, two Oscars and a string of Baftas, he is one of the best-known names in the film industry. Yet he cannot quite remember when he acquired his name. Before he was Ken Adam, he was Klaus Adam. He is the only German to have served as a pilot in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War, when he flew Typhoon fighter-bombers.
J.G. Ballard
Martin Amis, The Guardian

Ballard was an unusually lovable man, despite the extraordinary weirdness of his imagination. His imagination was formed by his wartime experience in Shanghai, where he was interned by the Japanese. His two most famous novels were both filmed: Empire of the Sun by Steven Spielberg and Crash by David Cronenberg. Ballard will be remembered as the most original English writer of the last century.

2009 April 25

Rita Levi-Montalcini
Peter Popham, The Independent

Italian scientist Rita Levi-Montalcini this week became the first Nobel Prize winner to reach the age of 100. Dr Levi-Montalcini was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize for Medicine jointly with Stanley Cohen for research into nerve growth factor (NGF) — the proteins and amino acids that enable the cells of the nervous system to grow and become specialized. Professor Levi-Montalcini still works every day at the European Brain Research Institute (EBRI).

Sir John Maddox
The Economist

Sir John Maddox was a pioneer of modern science journalism. He transformed Nature into a globally influential scientific journal. He also popularized science as a broadcaster on the BBC and trained a generation of science writers. Arriving at Nature in 1966, he introduced peer review, added submission dates to manuscripts, and edited manuscripts for style, comprehensibility, and accuracy.

New York Review: US universities are in deep financial trouble

2009 April 24

Robert Solow explains the origin of the financial crisis in engagingly simple terms.

My latest SDN blog — on telepresence

2009 April 23

Emily Singer reviews research on consolidation and reconsolidation in memory with reference to the use of propranolol to alleviate the anxiety produced by traumatic memories.

2009 April 21

Star Trek
Debra Craine, The Times

J.J. Abrams' stunning prequel is perfectly pitched to satisfy Trekker nerds. Without sacrificing the majesty of Gene Roddenberry's ideals or humor, Abrams' film is a rollicking space adventure that makes you fall in love with the original series all over again.

2009 April 20

A.C. Grayling, Edge

1 Science is the greatest achievement of human history so far.
    How are we going to make more people party to that?
2 How are we going to defend civil liberties and human rights?
3 Trying to understand the nature of mind is a big issue.
    How do we further that process and what will come of it?
4 How do we keep the best of the past while staying receptive
    to the new world that our technologies are opening to us?
5 Globalization has put traditional views under pressure.
    After 9/11, a polarization occurred. How do we manage this?

We have to try to encourage younger people to think for themselves, not to accept things on authority, but to work to understand things scientifically.

A.C. Grayling is Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College,
University of London, and a Supernumerary Fellow of St Anne's
College, Oxford.

2009 April 19

Culture and Barbarism
Terry Eagleton, Commonweal

Islamic fundamentalism confronts Western civilization with a foe for whom absolute truths and foundations pose no problem at all.
If Westerners were to accept the critique of materialism and individualism made by many devout Muslims, Western civilization would be altered for the good. This is not multiculturalism.

God has shifted over from the side of civilization to the side of barbarism. A clash between civilization and barbarism is a conflict between civilization and culture. For the most part, the Western nations are civilizations, while the West's former colonies are cultures. Civilizations kill to protect their material interests, whereas cultures kill to defend their identity. Civilization can neither dispense with culture nor easily coexist with it.

Culture tends to substitute for rational debate. Culturalists appeal to their culture to justify what they do. For many men and women today, culture forms the heart of a heartless world. Yet culture is too much a matter of affirming what you are or have been, rather than what you might become. Theology might provide answers.

AR: Eagleton was ousted from his Manchester professorship by Martin Amis. His formerly trendy leftism is at risk of turning into an impotent theistic despair as Islamists trash his shibboleths.

2009 April 18

Israel Ready to Bomb Iran
Sheera Frenkel, The Times

The Israeli military is preparing itself to launch a massive aerial assault on Iran's nuclear facilities within days of an okay by its new government. Two nationwide civil defense drills will help prepare the public for the retaliation that Israel could face. Israel may need to hit more than 12 targets at a distance of more than 870 miles. The Israeli air force practiced for such a raid last year. It seems unlikely that Israel would carry out the attack without receiving at least tacit approval from America and unlikely that the Americans would approve an attack.

"Israel is directly threatened by the Iranian nuclear program. An attack on Iran lines up quite well with Israel's rational interests."
David Samuels, Slate

2009 April 16

"Just as the Final Solution itself is now understood to inform many aspects of Nazi Germany, so too the Germans' knowledge of the murder of the Jews influenced and altered the history of the Third Reich and the war it started."
Benjamin Schwarz, The Atlantic

2009 April 15

The War Against Women
Hilary Mantel, The New York Review of Books

  From Eve to Dawn: A History of Women, Volumes I-IV
  By Marilyn French, with a foreword by Margaret Atwood
  Feminist Press, 1822 pages

There was an Eve, Marilyn French tells us, a universal mother born in Africa. French's attempt to trace her story took fifteen years and originally ran to ten thousand pages. It is a sorry tale: "These 3000 years were hard for everyone."

Once the link between coitus and childbirth was understood, French says, men began to regard children as their property: "Naming children for fathers is intrinsically an act of force." Sometime before the development of writing, the shift took place from matrilineal to patrilineal societies, then to patriarchy. The war against women began.

French shows how "England, Germany, and France accomplished in a few hundred years what Mesopotamia, China, and India took thousands of years to achieve: turning women into property." Looking back on the political upheavals of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, French tells us socialism failed women "because it could not break with the idea of male superiority."

French's commitment is never in doubt. Her furious haste, her attack, her very lack of style seem to guarantee her integrity. To live within these books is to walk through a vast graveyard where the dead are not buried yet.

AR: History is an unquiet graveyard for most men too.

A former IMF economist offers crisis advice to the US government

A.C. Grayling
Image: New Scientist

Mindfields by A.C. Grayling
New Scientist — Opinion

Image: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltec
Image: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltec

Kepler's camera contains 42 charge coupled devices (CCDs) paired in 21 square modules.
For the image (left), the team oriented the telescope so that the frames blocked out the brightest stars, to prevent saturation of the camera pixels. 

USS Freedom
Image credit: Lockheed Martin
USS Freedom commissioning

AR: Order ten immediately and send them to Somalia!

GM-Segway contraption

General Motors shows off its
new prototype in London

The Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility (PUMA) is designed to replace cars in cities. GM is working with Segway to develop the contraption.

AR: Sorry, GM, but this is way not cool enough to impress

Dow Jones Newswires
The G20 countries agreed to reform the organization of the international financial system in depth, by regulating hedge funds and registering credit agencies, overhauling accounting rules and setting guidelines to cap bankers' pay. They also asked the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to publish a list of tax havens, and promised to enforce sanctions on noncompliant countries.

2009 April 12

Born to Run
Maywa Montenegro, Seed Magazine

Marathon runners may be using their bodies just as our hominid forbears once did. The endurance running hypothesis (ER) is that being able to run for extended lengths of time is an adaptation evolved by Homo erectus.

A study in the Journal of Experimental Biology, by Daniel Lieberman and Campbell Rolian, provides evidence that short toes suit human feet to lots of running. In tests, they found that toe length had no effect on walking. But when running, an increase in toe length of just 20 percent doubled the energy needed. In 2004, Lieberman and others listed 26 such markers on the human body, including short toes, a hefty gluteus maximus and Achilles tendon, springy tendon-loaded legs, and a ligament that stabilizes the head for running.

Lieberman believes that Homo erectus were persistence hunters who ran their prey to death. He compared humans and various conceivable prey. A deer and a fit man trot at a similar pace, but to accelerate, a deer goes anaerobic, while the man remains in an oxygenated jogging zone. The same is true for horses, antelopes, and many other quadrupeds. Since the prey can run anaerobically only in short bursts, a human in pursuit has the final advantage. And because quadrupeds can't pant while they run, they also quickly overheat.

ER theory has much on its side. Persistence hunting can be found in cultures all over the globe, including the Kalahari Bushmen of Botswana, the Aborigines of Australia, the Masai of Kenya, and the Mexican Tarahumara Indians.

2009 April 10

Martin Amis says men are terrible but they just can't help it

2009 April 8

The Postmodern Financial Crisis
André Glucksmann, City Journal

Great economic crises are crises of the ethos of capitalism. With the collapse of Communism, the new ethic left all fears behind and embraced a postmodern credo. Our age is the first to proclaim the power to reduce risk to zero simply by spreading it around.

The speculative bubble was performative, in the terminology of the linguistic philosopher John Austin. The performative ideology — "It is true because we say it is" — has governed the Westernization of the planet since the end of the Cold War. The financial bubble was contained in its self-relation, which made it a bubble.

Postmodernism, which places itself beyond good and evil, beyond true and false, inhabits a cosmic bubble. Let these lines from Plato be inscribed at the entryway to future G20 meetings: "Is there not one true coin for which all things ought to be exchanged? — and that is wisdom."

The Way of All Debt
John Gray, New York Review of Books

Atwood claims that economic activities involving borrowing and lending are metaphorical extensions of an underlying human sense of indebtedness. Beliefs about debt are presupposed throughout much of human activity. We may now be returning to older and simpler practices of thrift and saving. Yet it looks unlikely that these virtues will be rewarded in the foreseeable future.

Whether Keynes would approve of the policies that are being applied today cannot be known. What is clear is that their goal is to encourage people to borrow more and spend more. These policies risk sparking inflation at some point in the future. This will involve a transfer of wealth from savers to borrowers. As Atwood argues, there must eventually be a reckoning.

Roger Scruton on forgiveness, irony, and Islamic terrorism: my cut

AR: Scruton is not just the right-wing ideologue I took him to be
35 years ago but a world-class popular philosopher.

2009 April 5

Adam Kirsch sees three recent European novels as indicating the impending doom of civilization as we have known it

2009 April 2

G20 Leaders. Image: PA
The Guardian
Scientists have created a "Eureka machine" that can work out the laws of nature by observing the world around it. The development could dramatically speed up the discovery of new scientific truths. The machine took two hours to come up with the basic laws of motion, a task that occupied Sir Isaac Newton for years. Scientists at Cornell University in New York are using the machine to solve problems in biology and plan to to tackle questions in cosmology and social behavior.

2009 April 1

Tim Palmer presents what may be a brilliant idea for dispelling the puzzles of quantum theory: he argues that the phase space of the universe has an invariant set with a filigree fractal structure.


The aquatic ape hypothesis
promoted by Elaine Morgan
and others is that human
history included an extended
period on the shoreline.

The littoral diaspora hypothesis
is that we then spread from
Africa by running along the
shorelines of the world.

Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher as an aspiring young Conservative

Thatcher became Prime Minister 30 years ago in May. She was
the most zealously right-wing European leader since Hitler.
But she saved the economy.

AR: As we said at the time, only a woman could get away with it

The Economist
The G20 believe that the International Monetary Fund can add an extra $1 trillion in funding to the world economy. The IMF is the pump-primer of last resort. Japan and the European Union agreed to put $100 billion each into the IMF. Rich countries such as America will provide a $500 billion credit line. The IMF will print $250 billion of its own currency, allocating sums according to quotas.