BLOG 2009 Q3


Courtesy Susanne Lencinas
My friend Susanne's daughter (click for more of her pictures)

Shahab 3
Iranian Shahab 3, a.k.a.
Pakistani Ghuari, a.k.a.
N. Korean No-Dong 1

Reading Numerical Thoughts
From Brain Images

Evelyn Eger et al.
Current Biology

By analyzing brain activity, scientists can tell what number a person has just seen, or how many dots a person was seeing. Researchers in France used multivariate pattern recognition on high-resolution functional imaging data to decode the signals in parietal and intraparietal cortex evoked in volunteers watching either numerals or dots on a screen. For small numbers of dots, cortical activity patterns changed gradually with the size of the numbers. For the numerals, no such gradual change was detected. The findings suggest the brain uses more numerous but more broadly tuned neural populations for nonsymbolic than for symbolic numbers. The results illustrate the potential of functional MRI pattern recognition to understand the detailed format of semantic representations.

Memristor Circuits
Colin Barras, New Scientist

A team in the Hewlett-Packard labs in Silicon Valley has upgraded a standard silicon chip with a layer of memristors to show that memristors work well with present hardware. Memristors behave like resistors except that they can also "remember" the last current they passed. Each memristor can replace several transistors in a circuit and can hold its memory without power. The team patterned 10 000 memristors on top of an ordinary CMOS chip by printing a grid of 100 x 100 conducting wires. Each "x" sandwiches a double layer of semiconducting titanium dioxide to form a memristor.

AR  This advance amounts to
2 or 3 rounds of Moore's law

China Outdoes West
Martin Wolf, FT

China has emerged as the most significant winner from the global financial and economic crisis. Cushioned by its more than $2.1 trillion of foreign currency reserves, huge trade and current account surpluses, and a robust fiscal position, Beijing has been able to deploy all its levers over the financial system and the economy. Meanwhile, as one senior Chinese participant at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting of "the new champions", in Dalian, noted, "the teachers have made big mistakes". Indeed, any visitor to Asia will recognize the west's reputation for financial and economic competence is in tatters, while that of China has soared. The wheel of fortune is turning.

AR  A good turn, I hope

Zardari Rejects AfPak
James Lamont and Farhan Bokhari, Financial Times

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has rejected the Obama administration's strategy of linking policy on Pakistan and Afghanistan in an "AfPak" approach: "Afghanistan and Pakistan are distinctly different countries and cannot be lumped together for any reason." He distinguished Pakistan with its functioning institutions, a diversified economy and a powerful national army, from Afghanistan, a state shattered by decades of conflict and ethnic divisions. Ending the Taliban insurgency raging on both sides of the common border is only likely to be achieved by concerted military action by NATO forces fighting in Helmand and Kandahar and Pakistan's army in Waziristan and other tribal areas.
AR  AfPak makes good military sense even if Zardari dislikes it,
so I say let's do it.

Artists In Exile
Charlotte Higgins
The Guardian

Why do so many significant British artists now live and work overseas? For many of them, their initial uprooting was never meant to be permanent. The real question is why they have stayed away. The artists I spoke to tended to feel their artistic identity was bound up in Europe, that Britain could be insular.

The biggest difference is the place the arts occupy in the fabric of everyday life. One artist said: "There's a quality of seriousness about being an artist here that is so un-British. These people invest in their existence as artists rather than apologize for it. They don't doubt that what they are doing is legitimate."

AR  Am I a philosopher in exile? Hardly: I feel at home here.

Imagined Worlds
Tim Radford, The Guardian

Freeman Dyson was ever one to contemplate the very long-term potential of science. In 1972, he said that humankind would one day learn to grow trees on comets. The trees could grow to immense heights. To call Dyson unworldly is to miss the point. He has always said it is far better to be wrong than to be vague.

In his book Imagined Worlds, Freeman Dyson identified in 1997 the central problem for any intelligent society: the problem of sanity, which he defines as "the ability to live in harmony with Nature's laws". There's nothing dull about a universe with people like Dyson in it.

2009 September 29

Intel CTO on Singularity
Jon Brodkin, Network World

Intel CTO and head of Intel Labs Justin Rattner says he tries to sidestep the question of when the Singularity might occur but says machine intelligence is constantly increasing. "There will be a surprising amount of machines that do exhibit human-like capabilities," he said. "Assuming all kinds of advances and breakthroughs, it's not inconceivable we'll reach a point that machines do match human intelligence."

Already, scientists are working on placing neural sensors and chips into the brain, allowing people to control prosthetic limbs with their own thoughts. This is likely to become a "relatively routine procedure" in a few years, Rattner said. "Assuming that interface technology progresses in an accelerating way, the possibilities of augmenting human intelligence with machine intelligence become increasingly real and more diverse."

AR  This makes more sense than Ray's sensationalism.

2009 September 28

"Supercomputers will achieve one human brain capacity by 2010, and personal computers will do so by about 2020."
Ray Kurzweil gets more publicity for his ideas in the Telegraph

The New Iranian Superpower

2009 September 27

G-20 meeting, Pittsburgh, September 2009
Jim Bourg/Reuters
G20 To Reshape Global Economy
Annys Shin and Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post

In Pittsburgh last week, leaders of the world's 20 largest economies gathered to discuss reforms to guard against the imbalances that contributed to the global economic downturn. The group officially anointed themselves the steering committee of the global financial system and reached a series of agreements aimed at navigating the world out of recession and onto the path of recovery.

AR  At last — a step toward real governance for the global order.
      If an ET ship visits us, this is a basis we can build upon.

2009 September 24

University of Zurich
Human rights in an era of globalisation
Lecture by Professor Sandra Fredman, Exeter College Oxford

Baur au Lac Club, Zurich, Switzerland
Dinner with old "Exonians" from Exeter College Oxford
and College Rector Frances Cairncross
Guest of honour and speaker: Professor Sandra Fredman

Sandra Fredman grew up in Johannesburg, South Africa, She took her first degree in mathematics and philosophy at the University of the Witwatersrand. She came to Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, and read for the BA and BCL at Wadham College, obtaining first class degrees in both. After her graduation, she worked as a trainee solicitor and lectured in labour law at King's College, London. Four years later she was elected fellow in law at Exeter College, Oxford. She was awarded the title of professor in 1999. Professor Fredman specialises in discrimination law, labour law, and human rights law.

2009 September 23

Immortality by 2030
Amy Willis, The Daily Telegraph

Ray Kurzweil, 61, says our understanding of genes and computer technology is accelerating at an incredible rate. Nanotechnologies capable of replacing many of our vital organs could be available in 20 years. He said we will be able to reprogram our bodies to halt, then reverse, ageing. Nanotechnology will let us live for ever. Nanobots will replace blood cells and work thousands of times better. We will be able to sprint and swim without pausing for breath and write books in minutes. Humans will become cyborgs, with artificial limbs and organs.

AR  Ray is almost parodying half the message of my next book!

2009 September 20

Missile Defense for Europe
Robert M. Gates, New York Times

Last week, President Obama decided to deploy proven, sea-based SM-3 interceptor missiles in the areas where we see the greatest threat to Europe. All told, every phase of this plan will include scores of SM-3 missiles. The SM-3 has had eight successful tests since 2007, and we will continue to develop it to give it the capacity to intercept long-range missiles like ICBMs. It is now more than able to deal with the threat from multiple short- and medium-range missiles.

A fixed radar site would be far less adaptable than the airborne, space- and ground-based sensors we now plan to use. These systems provide much more accurate data, offer more early warning and tracking options, and have stronger networking capacity. The new approach provides us with greater flexibility to adapt as new threats develop and old ones recede. The bottom line is that we are strengthening missile defense in Europe.

2009 September 19

Israel Missile Defenses
Howard Schneider, Washington Post

Israel is steadily assembling one of the world's most advanced missile defense systems. The effort has been progressing for two decades but has now reached a level of maturity that could change the nature of strategic decisions in the region. Centered on the Arrow antimissile system, the project will include the David's Sling interceptor for cruise missiles and the Iron Dome system for Grads, Katyushas, Qassams, and other shorter-range projectiles.

2009 September 18

New Missile Shield Strategy
David E. Sanger and William J. Broad, The New York Times

The new plan that President Obama laid out for a missile shield against Iran turns Ronald Reagan's vision of a Star Wars system on its head. Rather than focusing first on protecting the continental United States, it shifts the immediate effort to defending Europe and the Middle East. Iran is taking longer to develop ICBMs than many feared, but its shorter-range missiles are an imminent threat. The Shahab 3 can reach Israel and parts of Europe, and Western intelligence services say Iran hopes to fit it with a nuclear warhead. Obama may face charges of leaving the U.S. East Coast defenseless if Iran makes progress with long-range missiles.

Russia Responds
Andrew Osborn, The Daily Telegraph

Russia has shelved plans to fortify its enclave of Kaliningrad with a rocket battery and nuclear bombers in response to Barack Obama's U-turn on the missile defense shield.

Dan Brown on How to Write
Tim Martin, The Daily Telegraph

Long ago, bestselling novelist Dan Brown posted on his website a list of "Seven Powerful Tips" for writing and selling commercial fiction. These tips have since gone missing but they explain everything. Readers love to learn, so choose settings that teach. Engaging characters are always extremes. Have a sole central conflict. Scenes that drag are the kiss of death. Specifics increase your novel’s credibility and appeal. Long, dry passages of description are a turn-off. Revision is absolutely crucial.

Brown's books are written for people who read for information and are less involved in narrative. He writes basic narratives larded with hardcore information to readers whose interests do not lie in imagining things. So every chapter ends with a cliffhanger. Every character operates at an emotional extreme. We are always told the impression that something created, rather than being encouraged to imagine it ourselves. If Brown needs an effect, he starts a new chapter, and if he needs a word, he makes it up. This is why his novels sell. They are boiled down to the bare bones.

Birth Control
Associated Press

Giving contraceptives to people in developing countries could help fight climate change by slowing population growth: a study cited in The Lancet says family planning is five times cheaper than other ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

AR  The ungrateful recipients will say this is another sneaky
      attempt to promote third-world genocide!

2009 September 17

Western Women in Muslim Lands
Judy Bachrach, World Affairs

Women who must submit to Sharia law find themselves in a very bad place. Last year, in a poll of 2,000 Egyptian men, 62 percent admitted harassing women. Nor is harassment confined to Islamic women in Islamic nations. Western women in the Middle East come in for their own share of daily insults, owing to their double deficit as women and foreigners.

My Egyptian experience marked the only time in my life when the acquisition of the rudiments of a foreign language, far from making life more comfortable, actually ignited rage. The more Arabic we learned, the more xenophobic and sexually explicit trash talk we understood.

That’s the way it was in Cairo — and still is. Local women are of such negligible importance that they can be viewed as prey. On the other hand, foreign women are invariably treated as prey. The foreigner without a murderous uncle by her side or a veil over her face is a communal dish.

Most of us, on finding ourselves in a hostile environment, are merely inconvenienced. We can do what I and so many others did. We leave. But there are the other Western women who cannot. Western leaders have proven uncommonly demure on the subject of women in Islamic countries.

AR  Forget feminist activism in Judeo-Christian communities —
      Muslim communities are where to target action.

2009 September 16

New Scientist Flash Fiction Competition 2009

"Send us your stories set one hundred years into the future, and a panel of judges headed by acclaimed science fiction writer Stephen Baxter will pick the best to be published in a future issue of New Scientist. We'll publish a selection of the most entertaining and thought-provoking online. Your story should be no more than 350 words in length ... The closing date is 15 October 2009."

AR  A glimmer of opportunity — to work!

2009 September 14

Adam Kirsch looks at two new critiques of Rawls's theory of justice

2009 September 13

Charles Darwin at the Natural History Museum

On a special Newsnight Review, Richard Dawkins, Margaret Atwood, Richard Coles, and Ruth Padel join Martha Kearney to discuss the legacy of the seminal work On the Origin of Species

2009 September 12

A new biography of brilliant but almost autistic physicist Paul Dirac and a new account of the revealing correspondence between the physicist Wolfgang Pauli and the psychologist Carl Jung

2009 September 11

Amazon Fast Cloud
Duncan Graham-Rowe, MIT Technology Review

The biggest bottleneck in cloud computing is uploading and downloading data to and from the cloud. The transmission control protocol (TCP) regulates the flow of data by breaking it up into small packets of information, sending each packet, and then waiting for an acknowledgment that the packet has been received before sending the next one. If a packet does not arrive, TCP either resends it or assumes that the network is being overloaded and initiates an aggressive congestion-control strategy, slowing the data rate down to avoid triggering a network collapse.

To solve this problem, Amazon Web Services has announced that it will use technology developed by Aspera, based in Emeryville, CA, called the Fast And Secure Protocol (FASP). Unlike TCP, FASP does not wait for confirmation of receipt, but simply assumes that all packets have arrived. Only packets that are confirmed to have been dropped are re-sent. And instead of sending lots of small packets, it sends fewer large packets, so the available bandwidth is used more efficiently. FASP also monitors network traffic and alters the size of packets and the rate and order in which they are sent, according to available bandwidth and other traffic issues.

AR  FASP sounds good: We could use something like it to speed up service delivery in SAP Business ByDesign.

Islam in Europe
London, June 2009: "This country is rife with social and economic problems and only Islam has the answer. Muslims are multiplying at a rate eight times faster than the kaffir. In a couple of generations this will be a Muslim country, inshallah. We will dominate this country, my brothers, and implement the beauty and perfection of Islam." — quoted by Daniel Johnson

2009 September 8

Google Books
Financial Times

The concept of Google Books is to provide electronic access to the world's books. Readers welcome the prospect of calling up texts until now only available in distant libraries. Many authors look forward to seeing their out-of-print works being reincarnated electronically. Orphaned works will be given a new home.

But turning concept into reality is controversial. The European Commission held a hearing on the matter: Germany and France defended Europe's tight copyright laws.

The Copyright Black Hole
James Boyle, Financial Times

Copyright can last for more than 100 years. The world's libraries are full of books that are still under copyright, commercially unavailable and, in many cases, orphan works with no known copyright holder. The works remain trapped in a copyright black hole.

Enter Google. Google began digitizing some of the great libraries, with their permission. Copyright holders who did not want their work indexed could opt out. Now those libraries could be searched. Google made the out-of-copyright books available in full for free. The copyrighted works are only shown in snippets, with a few pages around the snippets. If the book was what you wanted you could try to buy it or find it in a library.

Google argues that the scanning is fair use, allowed by law. A pretrial agreement with a group of publishers and with the Authors Guild allows copyright holders to opt out of the index. The indexed works will be available for digital reading online for a fee. A portion of the returns will be put into a central fund and distributed to authors and publishers that register.

Objections: Google would have a monopoly over the index and over commercially unavailable works. Google would hold the keys to your library and could monitor your reading. And the promised privacy protections do not satisfy everyone.

Google Books
Robert McCrum, The Guardian

You can see the Google Books project in one of two ways. Either it is a noble and public-spirited program to make accessible to anyone the treasures of the world's libraries, a quasi-philanthropic liberation of some priceless, and wrongly sequestered, content for the common good. Or you can describe what's happened as the greatest act of piracy in the western intellectual tradition. It is too soon to judge which of these verdicts will prevail.

2009 September 7

"We must reveal economics as the artificial construction it really is. Although it may be subjected to the scientific method and mathematical scrutiny, it is not a natural science."
Douglas Rushkoff

2009 September 6

Hijacked Ship Carried Russian Arms for Iran
Mark Franchetti and Uzi Mahnaimi, The Sunday Times

A cargo ship that vanished in the Channel was carrying arms to Iran and was being tracked by Mossad, the Israeli security service, according to sources in both Russia and Israel. The Arctic Sea, officially carrying a cargo of timber, disappeared en route from Finland to Algeria on July 24 and was recovered off west Africa on August 17. The Kremlin had denied that the vessel was carrying a secret cargo. But sources in Tel Aviv and Moscow claimed the ship had been loaded with S-300 anti-aircraft missiles bound for Iran. Military officials believe a cover story was concocted.

AR  It had to be something like this. We must persuade Russia not to sell S-300 SAMs to Iran.

The Holocaust: Irving Interviewed
Elizabeth Nash, The Independent

Eminent historians have condemned a Spanish newspaper's decision to interview historian David Irving as part of a feature on the 70th anniversary of the Second World War. In the interview, published September 5, Irving once again played down the slaughter of millions of Jews during the Second World War. He said Hitler was merely the dupe: Goebbels and Himmler were more to blame. As for Churchill: "He pushed the UK into the war and destroyed the British empire. Churchill was in the hands of the Jews." So should he have made a pact with Hitler? "Of course. We were very close to ending the war in 1940."

AR  Churchill good, Hitler bad, Irving idiot.

2009 September 4

Part 2 of Michael Massey on the newspaper crisis

2009 September 3

Dream On, Obama
Ron Rosenbaum, Slate

Barack Obama dreams of Zero. A world without nuclear weapons. But there have been recent indications of pushback against Obama by generals in the nuclear chain of command. Obama's Zero will sink into a bureaucratic swamp of inertia, inanition, and passive- aggressive neglect from entrenched interests.

The Pentagon talking points for the Nuclear Posture Review, due in December, begin with lip service to Zero but quickly move on to a long list of desiderata for maintaining, updating, modernizing, and improving the nuclear deterrence system. Obama needs to let the nuclear establishment know who's boss.

2009 September 1

President Carter and Ayatollah Khomeini
Benyamin Solomon, Socyberty

   Jimmy Carter: The Liberal Left and World Chaos
   By Mike Evans
   Time Worthy Books, 592 pages

Mike Evans reports that in 1979 Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev warned Jimmy Carter not to assist in overthrowing the Shah of Iran. He told Carter that if he did that, Brezhnev would invade Afghanistan.

During his Presidency, Jimmy Carter not only abandoned support for the Shah for his human rights violations but also gave support to Ayatollah Khomeini. A former CIA agent told Evans that the Carter administration paid Khomeini large checks via the CIA during Khomeini's stay in France.

Carter administration officials also expressed support for Khomeini. William Sullivan, Carter's ambassador to Iran, said "Khomeini is a Gandhi-like figure." Andrew Young, Carter's ambassador to the UN, said "Khomeini will eventually be hailed as a saint."

Carter and his administration were duped by Khomeini and helped put him in power. A few months later, Khomeini and his radical Islamic supporters kidnapped American embassy workers and held them until Reagan became president. Weeks after the kidnap, Brezhnev invaded Afghanistan.

AR  This is shocking — Carter bungled his big play!

Blitzkrieg gegen Polen
Director Referate

Am 1. September 1939 um 4.45 Uhr eröffnet das Schulschiff "Schleswig-Holstein" das Feuer auf die Westerplatte. Mit Hilfe die Artillerie greifen der Marine Stoßtrupp "Hennigsen" und die SS-Sturmkompanie "Danziger Heimwehr", die in Danzig gebildet worden ist, die Westerplatte an. Der polnischen Besatzung gelang es mit nur 218 schwachbewaffneten Männern den ersten Angriff abzuwehren.

Jetzt beginnt auch die deutsche Luftwaffe mit Angriffe, um die strategischwichtige Weichselbrücke bei Dirschau, die für den Nachschub nach Ostpreußen benötigt wird, vor einer geplanten Zerstörungdurch polnische Pioniere zu bewahren. Die 3. Staffel des Stuka-Geschwaders 1 bombardierten die Zündstellen, die sich in einem Schuppen des Dirschauer Bahnhofs befanden, um sie zu vernichten. Der Angriff gelang zwar, aber die Polen schafften es die zerrissen Kabel zu reparieren und danach die Brücke zu sprengen.

Der 2. Weltkrieg hat begonnen.

Philemon by C.G. Jung
Jung's Red Book out soon

Soviet Scud
Soviet Scud, later scaled up
(volume x2, range x3) as
N. Korean No-Dong 1

Monkeys See Red
Emily Singer, MIT Tech Review

Squirrel monkeys, which are naturally red-green color-blind, can get tricolor vision when injected with the gene for a human photoreceptor. The research, performed in adult animals, suggests that the visual system is more flexible than previously thought. Scientists from the University of Washington in Seattle injected the human gene for the red photopigment directly into the animals' eyes. The gene is engineered to be expressed in some green photoreceptors and is delivered inside a harmless virus. It starts working a few months after injection.

AR  This advance upends a lot
of philosophical stuff on color

European Digital Library
Jacco Hupkens, Handelsblad

Europeana, the online database for Europe's cultural heritage, is less than a year old, but already the EU commissioner for the information society and the media Viviane Reding has complained twice about its slow progress: "Member states must stop envying progress made in other continents and finally do their homework." Europeana marketing manager Jon Purday says: "Our collection has grown from two million objects to nearly five million this year. The plan is to double in size each year." Europeana's collection so far consists only of rights-free material. But 90% of the books in Europe's libraries are still under copyright. Reding suggests a collaboration with Google.

AR  Let's go with Google

Thatcher Did Not Want
Germany Reunited

Michael Binyon, The Times

Two months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Margaret Thatcher told President Gorbachev that neither Britain nor Western Europe wanted the reunification of Germany and made clear that she wanted the Soviet leader to do what he could to stop it. In a meeting with Gorbachev in Moscow in 1989, Thatcher said the destabilization of Eastern Europe and the breakdown of the Warsaw Pact were also not in the West's interests. She insisted that the West would not push for ending communism or risk the security of the Soviet Union. She admitted that what she said was quite different from the West's public pronouncements and official NATO communiqués. She knew that her remarks would cause a row if revealed.
AR  Thatcher feared a united Germany more than communism — this is intriguing.

The Accelerating
Pace of Change
Ray Kurzweil and Vishal Sikka

Join SAP CTO Vishal Sikka for an intimate live video conversation with futurist/inventor/author
Ray Kurzweil as they explore timeless software and the days
of singularity.

Ray Kurzweil predicts that technology evolution will lead to a singularity in the 2020s. At the singularity, machine intelligence will surpass that of humans. As a result, there will be no clear distinction between human and machine, real reality and virtual reality. Human aging and illness will be reversed; pollution will be stopped; world hunger and poverty will be solved.

AR  Ray's singularity is a pretty nonsense idea, thus explained.
My next book will cover similar ground, I hope better.

Save Our Books!
Tom Watson, The Guardian

The European commission is holding a hearing next week to examine the impact of an agreement between American authors, publishers, and Google to resuscitate millions of out-of-print, in-copyright books. If all goes well, American readers will be able to purchase digital copies of these titles. But Europe's hodgepodge of copyright rules are preventing an American-style breakthrough to bring the world's lost books back to life.

Authors and copyright holders need to be remunerated for their work. Instead of seeing the net as a threat, the big rights-holders should grasp a giant opportunity. Forward-thinking publishers support the American books agreement, which sets up a new non-profit registry. People will be able to search, preview, and buy online access to a great number of out-of-print books. We cannot allow Europe to be left behind.

Time Magazine, 1979
Ayatollah Khomeini
Time Man of the Year 1979

"Khomeini's importance far transcends the nightmare of the embassy seizure, transcends indeed the overthrow of the Shah of Iran. The revolution that he led to triumph threatens to upset the world balance of power more than any political event since Hitler's conquest of Europe."
Time Magazine

Maxwell Technologies
Credit: Maxwell Technologies
Ultracapacitor used to capture energy from bus brakes

Ultracaps For Hybrids
Kevin Bullis
Technology Review

Ultracapacitors could lower the cost of the battery packs in plug-in hybrid vehicles by halving their size, according to researchers at Argonne National Laboratory. Ultracapacitors could also improve the efficiency of microhybrids, according to a study from the University of California, Davis.

Battery packs degrade over time and automakers oversize them. Reducing the size of a car's battery pack by 25 percent could save $2,500. The ultracapacitors and their electronics could cost less than $1,000.

Ultracapacitors don't degrade when they are charged and discharged in intense bursts. But they store an order of magnitude less energy than batteries. Ultracapacitors paired with batteries could protect them from intense bursts of power.

Ultracapacitors would also allow more efficient batteries. There is typically a tradeoff between how fast batteries can be charged and discharged and how much total energy they can store. Paired with ultracapacitors, batteries wouldn't need to deliver bursts of power, so they could store much more energy in the same space.

Ultracapacitors could also be used in microhybrids. These vehicles use small electric motors and batteries to augment a gasoline engine, allowing the engine to switch off every time the car stops and restart on demand. The batteries can also capture some of the energy wasted during braking. Because ultracapacitors can quickly charge and discharge without being damaged, microhybrids could make much greater use of electric motors to provide short bursts of power for acceleration. They could also collect more energy from braking.

Ultracapacitors could simply replace batteries in microhybrids. In plug-in hybrids, ultracapacitors would be paired with batteries, requiring complex electronics. For ultracapacitors to be practical, their cost must be cut by half.

To Neuromorphic Architecture
Michael Cooney, Network World

DARPA aims to develop a new paradigm for data processing and understanding by reverse-engineering the human brain.

The DARPA program Systems of neuromorphic adaptive plastic scalable electronics (SyNAPSE) is intended to create electronic neuromorphic machine technology that is scalable to biological levels in order to analyze vast amounts of data from many sources instantly.

Programmable machines are limited by an architecture requiring algorithms to process input information. In contrast, biological neural systems autonomously process data in complex environments by automatically learning relevant and probabilistically stable features and associations.

Compared to biological systems, today's programmable machines are less efficient by a factor of one million to one billion in complex environments. The SyNAPSE program aims to define a new path forward.

The shrine of Bahaullah

A better faith than Islam:
The shrine of Bahái'u'lláh

The Management Myth
Matthew Stewart, The Atlantic

"I have a doctoral degree in philosophy — nineteenth-century German philosophy, to be precise. Before I took a job telling managers of large corporations things that they arguably should have known already, my work experience was limited to part-time gigs tutoring surly undergraduates in the ways of Hegel and Nietzsche and to a handful of summer jobs, mostly in the less appetizing ends of the fast-food industry."


2009 August 31

The Red Arrows
The Red Arrows
The Independent

When a newspaper reported in 2007 that the Red Arrows had been banned from displaying at the 2012 London Olympics for being "too British", an outraged petition at the Number 10 website gathered more than half a million signatures.

In response, Gordon Brown declared he'd be "delighted" to see the Red Arrows over the Olympic Stadium. As a pilot put it: "The Red Arrows are as British as the Queen and London buses. They're a source of national pride."

One of the biggest crowds to greet the Reds this summer is on the south coast at the annual Bournemouth Air Festival. Flying in a "V" formation they call "Big Battle", nine red Hawk jets swoop over the cliffs. Their Rolls-Royce engines roar as the formation rears up vertically and regroups into their trademark diamond.

2009 August 28

The plan for my next book — due out in 2010 — is taking shape.
Meanwhile, Mindworlds will be available soon — RRP £24.95

"Consciousness studies, now halfway through its second decade as a self-consciously separate field of inquiry, finds a lucid, entertaining expositor in Andrew Ross. As well as chronicling the developments — and some of the colorful personality clashes — in the field, Ross has ideas of his own to contribute, grounded in a thorough acquaintance with physics, math, psychology, and philosophy, taking Wittgenstein's 'I am my world' for a keynote. It's a wild ride."
— John Derbyshire, author of Prime Obsession

"In Mindworlds, Andrew Ross mixes, in a charming and highly intelligent way, speculations about consciousness with a very informative account of recent debates in consciousness studies plus some autobiography. Anyone interested in consciousness and the people who study it will be fascinated by it, as I have been."
— Paul Snowdon, Grote Professor of Mind and Logic,
    University College London

"Andy Ross thinks, and thinks for himself. He can teach things to mutual-citation circles in the philosophy and science of consciousness."
— Ted Honderich, Grote Professor Emeritus of Mind and Logic,
    University College London

2009 August 24

The End Was Nigh
Matthew Price, The National

   The Morbid Age: Britain Between the Wars
   By Richard Overy
   Allen Lane, 544 pages

Richard Overy explores how the paradox of progress and peril consumed British society between the First and Second World Wars. As America does today, Britain then considered itself the hub of western civilization.

Overy has gathered a rich harvest of material from a diverse assortment of English writers and thinkers. If the world was indeed ending, there was as much eloquence from these figures as there was gloom about their predicament.

Historian Arnold Toynbee, for example, said all civilizations hewed to the same pattern, which Overy describes as "creative expansion, mechanistic consolidation, internal decay prompted by cultural stagnation, social division, and a final universal Caesarism."

Overy contends that the prophets of decline were deadly sincere, looking to science, economics, medicine, and history to construct proofs of the nearing of the end. The terms used to describe the state of Britain were invariably apocalyptic and millennial.

2009 August 23

Today I read The Road by Cormac McCarthy — as mercilessly bleak
a post-apocalyptic novel as you could ever fear to find. Gripping —
I read it in one take, which few novels move me to do.

Google Book Search
Ed Pilkington, The Guardian

Google's ambition to create the largest body of human knowledge on the internet by scanning millions of library books and turning them into a massive digital publishing venture is prompting growing opposition.

The showdown on Google Book Search will reach a deadline on 4 September. A Manhattan court is considering the settlement of a class-action suit that Google reached last October that would give writers and publishers 63% of future revenues generated by sales of digital books and other income, leaving 37% for Google.

But several groups and individuals are continuing to protest about the deal, saying that it rides roughshod over authors' rights and awards Google a huge monopoly. Under US class-action law, authors and publishers who do not specifically opt out of the settlement are deemed to have signed up to it.

A Google spokeswoman said last night: "We're excited about the groundbreaking agreement we reached with authors and publishers last year. If approved by the court, this settlement stands to unlock access to millions of books in the US while giving authors and publishers new ways to distribute their work.

"Google was founded on the principle of making information more accessible to more people. From the beginning, we've envisioned a future where students, researchers, and book lovers could all discover and access the world's books online. We believe that this agreement represents a giant step toward realizing that vision."

AR  I back Google.

2009 August 21

Yale Surrenders
Christopher Hitchens, Slate

The Cartoons That Shook the World, by Jytte Klausen, professor of politics at Brandeis University, tells the story of the campaign of "protest" and boycott orchestrated in late 2005 after the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten ran a competition for cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. Yale University Press has announced that it will go ahead with the publication of the book but will remove from it the 12 caricatures that originated the controversy. It is also removing other historic illustrations of the Prophet.

AR  Shame be upon Yale University Press

2009 August 20

Today's temperature: +37°C — that's blood temperature
— and 52 kelvins higher than in January

A hot new book on Islam in Europe

"How do you tell a communist? Well, it's someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-Communist? It's someone who understands Marx and Lenin."
Ronald Reagan

2009 August 19

The Case for Cautious Optimism
Léo Apotheker, Business Week

A recent SAP-sponsored online poll by the Economist Intelligence Unit that surveyed more than a thousand executives worldwide concludes that global business conditions are expected to improve within a year.

Times of crisis can also be times of opportunity. We have an opportunity to change the old ways of business. Given the huge recovery packages provided by governments, there will be intersecting interests of business, government, and people. Governments and business leaders have the responsibility to get it right. This crisis has laid bare the need for more clarity in business practices, greater transparency in reporting standards, and the dire need for more sustainable business models.

Smart businesses will trigger a process of innovation as the crisis bottoms out. Innovative strategies are already being debated in many boardrooms. New technologies are emerging and early adopters are harnessing them. The smartest will seize the opportunity to reinvent themselves and come out stronger. But the recovery should be supported by clarity and sustainability. I am optimistic that we will come out of this economic crisis with stronger businesses than before.

2009 August 17

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
Michael Cooney, Layer 8, Network World

DARPA director Tony Tether recently gave congressional testimony about DARPA R&D including aviation research.

The Falcon program objectives are to develop and demonstrate hypersonic technologies that will enable prompt global reach missions. This capability is envisioned to entail a reusable hypersonic cruise vehicle (HCV) capable of delivering 12,000 pounds of payload at a distance of 9,000 nautical miles from CONUS in less than two hours.

The Rapid Eye program is working to deliver a persistent intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance asset anywhere worldwide within one hour. The program will develop a high- altitude, long-endurance aircraft that can be put on existing space launch systems, withstand atmosphere re-entry, and provide efficient propulsion in a low oxygen, low-speed environment.

The Oblique Flying Wing program will demonstrate a design concept for a new class of efficient supersonic aircraft capable of flying in a swept configuration with low supersonic wave drag and a non-swept configuration increasing subsonic efficiency. This flexibility will improve range, response time, fuel efficiency, and endurance for supersonic strike, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and transport missions.

The Heliplane program will develop a vehicle that can take off, land, and hover vertically like a helicopter and cruise with the speed and efficiency of a fixed-wing aircraft. Heliplane adapts lifting mechanisms to achieve high efficiency throughout its flight envelope: a rotor in hover and slow-speed flight and a fixed wing plus turbofan engines for high-speed flight.

The A160 unmanned helicopter is designed for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions with endurance up to 20 hours and the ability to hover at high altitudes. The A160 is being evaluated for surveillance and targeting, communications and data relay, crew recovery, resupply of forces in the field, and special operations missions.

The Vulture aircraft will be capable of remaining on location for over five years, without refueling or maintenance. A single Vulture aircraft could support traditional intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance functions over country-sized areas. Vulture aircraft will also be able to provide communications capabilities available today only from geostationary satellites. Challenges include developing solar cell, energy storage, and reliability technologies for continuous operation for over five years.

2009 August 13

Gamma-ray measurements already, and soon perhaps neutrino measurements too, suggest that spacetime is quantized

2009 August 12

Must science declare a holy war on religion?
Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum, Los Angeles Times

Richard Dawkins and the New Atheists want scientists and defenders of reason to be far more confrontational and blunt.

More moderate scientists still dominate American science. The American Association for the Advancement of Science and the National Academy of Sciences take the stance that science and religion can be perfectly compatible, and are regularly blasted for it by the New Atheists.

A smaller nonprofit organization called the National Center for Science Education promotes and defends the teaching of evolution in schools across the country. In this endeavor, it has made frequent alliances with religious believers who also support the teaching of evolution, seeking to forge a broad coalition capable of beating back the fundamentalists.

Long under fire from the religious right, the NCSE now must protect its other flank from the New Atheists. Dawkins denounces the NCSE as equivocators who defend the science but refuse to engage with what the New Atheists perceive as the real root of the problem, religious belief.

The New Atheists have chosen confrontation.

AR  I am currently reading The Case for God by Karen Armstrong.

2009 August 11

Bogus Theories, Bad for Business
Philip Delves Broughton. The Wall Street Journal

Matthew Stewart says consulting "contributes to a misunderstand- ing about the sources of our prosperity, leading us to neglect the social, moral, and political infrastructure on which our well-being depends." He argues that the profession is built on a science of management that is both narrow-minded and intellectually bogus.  In its pursuit of single goals, such as efficiency, it ignores the broader purpose of business.

The business world, according to Stewart, has become so obsessed with its own perverse value system that workers are regarded as tools for businesses to use and dispose of at will. Management science also fails to take into account the broader context in which businesses function, choosing to focus on the interests of individual businesses at the expense of the rest of society.

Stewart interweaves the story of his own inglorious consulting career with his reflections on management's history as a science. Upon graduating from Oxford with a doctoral degree in philosophy, he drifted into a job with a small consulting firm. For the next decade, he bounced around the profession, taking a couple of years off to write an unpublished history of philosophy, rising to be a partner at a new firm and then getting fired before it collapsed.

His account of his consulting work leavens what is a serious and valuable polemic. For an entire year early in his consulting career, Stewart stashed his belongings with his family and moved from hotel to hotel on assignment: "Almost all of my interactions with people were connected to work in some way ... With my overpriced advisory services and profligate spending on luxury travel, I was a grossly inefficient efficiency expert, a parody of economic virtue."

2009 August 9

European Demographics
Adrian Michaels, The Telegraph

Europe's Muslim population has more than doubled in the past 30 years and will have doubled again by 2015. Muslims already make up 25 percent of the population in Marseilles and Rotterdam, 20 percent in Malmo, 15 percent in Brussels and Birmingham and 10 percent in London, Paris and Copenhagen.

Migrants to the EU have come increasingly from outside developed economies, and they have come in accelerating numbers. The EU reports that since 2002 net migration into the EU has roughly tripled to between 1.6 million and 2 million people per year. The EU says employment rates for non-EU nationals are lower than for nationals. Integration is held back in part by language issues.

In 2004 the EU forecast that its population would decline by 16 million by 2050. Now it thinks it will increase by 10 million by 2060. Britain is expected to become the most populous EU country by 2060, with 77 million inhabitants. Right now it has 20 million fewer people than Germany.

Benedict Carey, The New York Times

A small group of brain scientists is investigating misidentification syndromes for clues to one of the most confounding problems in brain science: identity. They are finding there is no single "identity spot" in the brain. Instead, the brain uses several different neural regions to sustain and update the identities of self and others. Learning what makes identity will help doctors understand how some people preserve their identities in the face of creeping dementia.

Todd E. Feinberg, a neurologist and psychiatrist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Beth Israel Medical Center, sees delusions of identification as primitive psychological defenses, as a result of injuries in the right frontal lobes that most such patients are struggling with. Such defenses include denial of a disability, the projection of the problem onto others or the fantasy that daily life is somehow unreal. "These defenses are a positive adaptation. The brain is fighting for survival."

AR  I corresponded with Todd a few years ago following my participation in the NYAS conference on the self.

Churchill as warlord: two new books

2009 August 8

Army: Afghanistan "30 or 40 years"
Michael Evans, The Times

The next British Amy head insists there is "absolutely no chance" of NATO pulling out of Afghanistan. General Sir David Richards, who become, Chief of the General Staff on August 28, said: "The Army's role will evolve, but the whole process might take as long as 30 to 40 years."

More British defence news

2009 August 5

Ray Kurzweil has been described as a "restless genius" by the Wall Street Journal and "the ultimate thinking machine" by Forbes Magazine. Ray has written five books, four of which have been national best sellers. The Age of Spiritual Machines has been translated into 9 languages and was the #1 best selling book on Amazon in science. The Singularity is Near has been the #1 book on Amazon in both science and philosophy.

"The practice of journalism, far from being leeched by the Web, is being reinvented there, with a variety of fascinating experiments in the gathering, presentation, and delivery of news"

2009 August 1-2

mv Barfleur
Brittany Ferries mv Barfleur
Took ferry Barfleur back to Cherbourg, spent another night in a Cherbourg hotel, and motored back to base in Germany.
On the ferry, completed my holiday reading:
   By Ian Kershaw
   Allen Lane, 1072 pages
This is a masterful telling of a very sobering story, replete with a level of detail, objectivity, and balance possible only now, decades later, and perhaps only from a British historian.

The Road

Credit: Nature
Light intensity around a spaser: the plasmon concentration is highest near the gold sphere (inner circle) inside the doped silica shell (outer circle)

Surface Plasmon Lasers
Katherine Bourzac
Technology Review

Researchers have demonstrated the smallest laser ever. The spaser generates surface plasmons and could form the basis of photonic computers just as transistors are the basis of electronics.

Optical devices can operate at hundreds of terahertz but they are difficult to miniaturize because photons can't be smaller than about half their wavelength. Devices that interact with light in the form of surface plasmons can confine it much more tightly. Also, spasers are active and can produce and amplify the waves.

Mikhail Noginov, professor of physics in the Center for Materials Research at Norfolk State University, Virginia, co-led the development of the new spaser with Ulrich Wiesner of Cornell University and Vladimir Shalaev and Evgenii Narimanov of Purdue University. The work is described in Nature.

Their spaser consists of a nanoparticle 44 nm across, with parts that perform functions like those in a laser. In a laser, photons bounce between two mirrors through a gain medium that amplifies the light. In a spaser, the plasmons bounce around on the surface of a gold sphere in a gain medium.

The team coated the gold with a layer of doped silica as a gain medium. Light from the spaser can remain as plasmons or it can leave the particle as visible-range photons. Like a laser, the spaser must be pumped with energy.

The size of a conventional laser is dictated by the wavelength of the light it uses, and the distance between the mirrors must be at least 200 nm for visible light. The spaser could be as small as 1 nm, and is about a thousand times faster than any transistor. Applications are probably years away.

Neutrinos Under Wisconsin
Joel Achenbach, Washington Post

Scientists are playing an exotic game of pitch and catch between Illinois and Minnesota. Their catcher's mitt is solid iron, weighs 5,500 tons, and is in northern Minnesota. With millions of dollars from the federal stimulus package, construction crews are now building a second mitt near the Canadian border.

Five hundred miles to the south is Fermilab, a U.S. government laboratory west of Chicago where physicists generate neutrinos. Neutrinos zip right through solid rock. They have no charge and only a tiny mass.

Nova is back in business thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Forty million dollars are going to the Nova detector and another $103 million to Fermilab.

Fermilab generates neutrinos by accelerating protons to nearly the speed of light and smashing them into a target. The collision creates particles that decay into neutrinos. A magnetic lens then focuses the particles into a beam.

The new detector under construction is part of Nova. There are three families of neutrinos: muon, electron, and tau. One type can oscillate into another. Nova will look for evidence of muon neutrinos turning into electron neutrinos.

"At an early stage of their history, Christians and Muslims were both called 'atheists' by their pagan contemporaries ... Classical Western atheism was developed [as] a response to and dictated by the theological perception of God that had developed in Europe and the United States ... The more recent atheism of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris ... has focused exclusively on the God developed by the fundamentalisms, and all three insist that fundamentalism constitutes the essence and core of all religion. This has weakened their critique, because fundamentalism is in fact a defiantly unorthodox form of faith that frequently misrepresents the tradition it is trying to defend."
Karen Armstrong
The Case for God, p. 7

The Management Myth

The Management Myth
By Matthew Stewart
Norton, 343 pages


Studland Beach, Poole
Studland Beach
Behind the beach to the left is a huge expanse of National Trust heathland reserved for wildlife and vacationers, and the beach
is popular with naturists

Poole Harbour
Poole Harbour
I grew up in the old town centre off to the right in the background.
The Sandbanks peninsula (right foreground) is one of the most expensive pieces of real estate in the world. Brownsea Island (centre) is where Lord Robert Baden-Powell founded the Boy Scouts a century ago. The Studland peninsula (left foreground) continues to a long beach (left panel). The Sandbanks beach seafront continues to Branksome Chine (right panel) and Bournemouth. The ship in the foreground is the Brittany Ferries vessel Barfleur
(above) on its way to Cherbourg, France

Branksome Chine, Poole
Branksome Chine
The bay is a continuous beach from Sandbanks to Bournemouth and Boscombe and Christchurch, stretching away in the background above

All Quiet on the God Front
Simon Blackburn, The Guardian

In The Case for God, Karen Armstrong takes the reader through a history of religious practice in many different cultures, arguing that in the good old days and purest forms they all come to much the same thing. They use ritual, mystery, drama, dance and meditation to enable us better to cope with the vale of tears in which we find ourselves. Religion is therefore properly a matter of a practice, and may be compared with art or music.

Intellectualizing the practice debases religion into a matter of belief in a certain number of propositions. This is a perversion of anything valuable in religious practice, Armstrong writes, and it is only this perverted view that arouses the scorn of modern militant atheists. So Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris have chosen a straw man as a target. Real religion is serenely immune to their discovery that it is silly to talk of a divine architect.

So what should the religious adept actually say by way of expressing his or her faith? Nothing. This is the apophatic tradition, in which nothing about God can be put into words. Armstrong firmly recommends silence, having written at least 15 books on the topic.

Leading Clerics Defy Ayatollah
on Disputed Iran Election
Michael Slackman, Nazila Fathi
The New York Times

The Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qum, the most important group of religious leaders in Iran, have called the disputed presidential election and the new government illegitimate. The statement is a setback for the government and especially the authority of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Rafsanjani Doubts
Iranians Satisfied


Former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani favored the opposition in last month's disputed elections. As chairman of Iran's Assembly of Experts, which is responsible for appointing or removing the supreme leader, he was silent at first but has now spoken.

Rafsanjani was quoted by the Iranian Labor News Agency as saying: "People from across the country participated in the elections, with excitement, but unfortunately the events that occurred after that and the difficulties created for some, left a bitter taste, and I don't think that any wakened consciousness would be satisfied with the resulting situation."

The recent disturbances reflect a power struggle "at the highest levels of the system," he said.
"We must think about safe- guarding the long term interests and benefits of the system."

AR  This Iran story is becoming a thrilling cliff-hanger!

Holy Shiite Speaks Out
Hiedeh Farmani
Sydney Morning Herald

The head of Iran's Guardians Council, Ayatollah Jannati, said at Friday prayers that British embassy local staff arrested for allegedly stoking post-election unrest will be put on trial. Jannati, who is close to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and a strong Ahmadinejad supporter, said the country's "enemies" had been plotting a "velvet revolution" in the Islamic republic.

Israel Faces Iran Dilemma
Bronwen Maddox, The Times

Is the threat of Iran getting a nuclear weapon so great that Israel should contemplate military action? And should the United States encourage Israel? The dilemma gets worse as Iran's nuclear program advances. Strikes look like a horrible option, even for those who feel that an Iranian bomb is intolerable.

2009 July 19-20

mv Barfleur
Brittany Ferries fast catamaran Vitesse
After motoring through France to Cherbourg and overnighting in a Cherbourg hotel, took the fast ferry Vitesse to Poole. Vitesse is a 40-kt catamaran built in Australia and registered in Nassau.

2009 July 18

Toward the Nöosphere

2009 July 17

Iran back story by Martin Amis

2009 July 16

The Internet is Self-Organizing
Joël de Rosnay

The Internet of the future will favor even greater interaction between users. It has developed like a Darwinian system, sprouting offshoots like the evolutionary tree of life. There is little overall planning in the development of the web. We are witnessing the self-organization of a collective intelligence.

The term 'cybionte' describes a living organism that is a global meta-organism. With the cybionte we arrive at a new level of complexity, a global super-organism of which we are in a sense the neurons. I see the merging of Gaia, which is the planet's metabolism, with cybionte, which is the nervous system in the process of organizing itself.

Blue Brain update

2009 July 12

Labour Clash With Army
Jonathan Oliver and Michael Smith, The Sunday Times

Senior Labour figures accused the head of the army last night of playing politics as he said that there were too few troops and helicopters in the Afghan war zone. General Sir Richard Dannatt, the Chief of the General Staff, suggests an extra 2,000 troops were needed in Helmand province.

What We Want
Michael Clarke, The Sunday Times

The soldiers, UK troops in the north and US marines a few miles to the south, are on the offensive. They have pushed out from their bases to establish better control in the Sangin and Helmand valleys. This is designed to keep Taliban forces on the run and to create in the minds of the Afghan people a sense, ahead of next month's elections, that the Kabul government and NATO troops are a firm presence in Helmand.

Brown's Secret Plan
Brian Brady and Jonathan Owen, The Independent

Gordon Brown wants to bring up to 1,500 service personnel home from the war-torn country after its elections next month, seemingly on grounds of cost. Astonished former military chiefs condemned the "disastrous" move.

2009 July 11

More Brits Killed in Afghanistan Than in Iraq

The total number of British military dead in Afghanistan is now 184, compared with 179 soldiers in Iraq. The British Chief of the Defense Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup: "The mission in Afghanistan is about supporting the delivery of governance in order to reduce the opportunities for extremist terrorist groups who are a direct threat to the United Kingdom."

Battle for "the Future of Britain"
Patrick Sawer, Daily Telegraph

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband insists that troops fighting in Afghanistan are engaged in a battle for "the future of Britain."

Taliban Have Learned Modern Warfare
Jason Burke, The Guardian

For months, military planners in Afghanistan have been readying themselves for a bloody summer. Soldiers say they now show vastly improved ability to co-ordinate fire. Through the winter, the insurgents worked at stiffening internal discipline.

Terry Eagleton prefers Aquinas to "Ditchkins"

2009 July 9

Google Chrome OS Bomb
MG Siegler, TechCrunch

In the second half of 2010, Google plans to launch the Google Chrome OS, an operating system designed from the ground up to run the Chrome web browser on netbooks. This is Google dropping the mother of bombs on its chief rival, Microsoft.

Many people are buying netbooks right now, but are running Windows XP on them. Windows XP is 8 years old. It was built to run on Pentium IIIs and Pentium 4s. Google Chrome OS is built to run on both x86 architecture chips and ARM chips, like the ones increasingly found in netbooks. Google is working with multiple OEMs to get the new OS up and running next year.

Chrome OS will be lightweight and fast just like the browser itself. And it will be open-sourced. Google says the software architecture will basically be the current Chrome browser running inside a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel. App developers will develop for it just as they would on the web. Chrome OS will be all about the web apps.

2009 July 8

Best British Walks
Nicholas Roe, The Daily Telegraph
Photo: Hilary Stock
Photo: Hilary Stock
A view on the coastal walk between Mousehole and Lamorna, about 2 km south of Penzance, Cornwall

Google Chrome OS is an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks. The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel.

AR  This is the most convincing first step to date on the long road to making Microsoft Windows obsolete for personal computing. The Microsoft monster is slow, fat and complicated, and dismayingly insecure, whereas Google Chrome OS is fast, slim and simple, and apparently secure. For anyone impressed by the infinite promise of cloud computing, as I am, this is no contest. But Microsoft can fight back by developing an all-purpose home OS that runs a houseful of utilities and appliances, household budgeting and banking, and communications and entertainment as well. That is surely one of the biggest untapped markets for the next decade, beside smart green power and online electric cars.

2009 July 6

Iraq and Iran
Christopher Hitchens, Slate

Public discontent with the Iranian outrages of the last few weeks must be deep and widespread. If the Shiite scholars of Qum are willing to go public and call the Ahmadinejad regime illegitimate, they must be impressed with the feeling at the grass roots.

Among the best-known of those who think it is profane for the clergy to degrade and compromise themselves with political power is Grand Ayatollah Sistani, spiritual leader of neighboring Iraq. Many Iranians go as religious pilgrims to the holy sites of Najaf and Kerbala in southern Iraq. They have seen the way in which national and local elections have been held in Iraq. They have seen an often turbulent Iraqi Parliament holding genuine debates that are reported in the media.

Iran is a country undergoing very rapid urbanization of a formerly rural population. Marxists know that this has always been a process pregnant with revolutionary discontent. The mullahs in Iran cannot enforce their own ban on informal media and unofficial transmission. And yet they keep on trying.

2009 July 5

Doctoring the Mind
Melanie McGrath, Sunday Telegraph

In Doctoring the Mind, Richard Bentall, a professor of clinical psychology, indicts a Western psychiatric tradition that "has been profoundly unscientific and ... unsuccessful at helping some of the most distressed and vulnerable people in society."

The roots of the problem runs lie in the Western definition of major mental illness as a disease of brain chemistry. Studies on the connection between mental illness, brain chemistry, and heritability remain inconclusive. There is evidence indicating a connection between excess dopamine in the brain and the onset of psychosis, but the connection between serotonin deficiency and depression has never been proven. Some studies indicate a weak genetic component in severe mental illness, but others point to a much stronger correlation with environmental stress and connect stress with victimization and insecurity in childhood.

The relationship between nature and nurture in severe mental illness is highly complex. This not only shows up the chemical imbalance and genetic theories of mental illness for the simplistic formulas they are, but renders umbrella diagnoses, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, at best unhelpful. Bentall quotes the notorious 1972 experiment led by American psychologist David Rosenhan when he and seven other researchers presented themselves anonymously at a number of psychiatric hospitals in a dishevelled state, claiming to be hearing voices saying "empty", "hollow" and "thud". All eight were admitted and, despite reporting no further aural hallucinations and behaving normally, seven were diagnosed schizophrenic and one was kept in hospital for psychiatric treatment for 52 days.

Bentall advocates the sparing and episodic use of antipsychotic drugs in conjunction with cognitive and behavioral therapy. In this model, the patient partly defines his or her own recovery.

Saving God: Religion after Idolatry
Mark Johnston, Princeton University Press

In this book, Mark Johnston argues that God needs to be saved not only from the distortions of the "undergraduate atheists" (Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris) but, more importantly, from the idolatrous tendencies of religion itself. Each monotheistic religion has its characteristic ways of domesticating True Divinity, of taming God's demands so that they do not radically threaten our self-love and false righteousness. Turning the monotheistic critique of idolatry on the monotheisms themselves, Johnston shows that much in these traditions must be condemned as false and spiritually debilitating.

AR  Sounds like a lot of fun — must read!
Stephen Wolfram
Credit: Roy Ritchie / MIT Tech Rev

Fresh from inventing a new kind of science, Stephen Wolfram hopes to circumvent Web search by computing answers to users' online queries from his company's databases. He launched his knowledge engine Wolfram Alpha in May.
David Talbot, MIT Technology Review

2009 July 3

Iran Regime Naked Dictatorship
Fareed Zakaria, CNN

Three leading Iranian reformists questioned the legitimacy of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government this week.

Presidential candidate Mehdi Karrubi said he would not recognize the government. Ahmadinejad's rival Mir Hossein Moussavi criticized the government and its crackdown on the media. Iran's former reformist President Mohammad Khatami called on Iranians to keep up the struggle.

The situation is fluid. There is an extraordinary level of dissent at the highest levels of the establishment. Iran has become a naked dictatorship, losing the facade of the Islamic and democratic political ideals that are important to it.

We still have a problem with Iran, and we have to have a strategy in dealing with it. The nuclear program continues to grow, and refusing to negotiate will not do anything to stop it. But to pretend that nothing has happened in Iran disregards the reality of a divided leadership.

The five major powers on the U.N. Security Council plus Germany have offered to restart the nuclear negotiations. Iran has not responded. Until it does, the West should build support for tougher sanctions and more isolation.

Iran has few options. Its economy is doing badly, the regime is facing its greatest challenge since its founding, and its proxies in Lebanon, Iraq and elsewhere are all faring worse than it had expected. Let the supreme leader and President Ahmadinejad figure out what they should do.

It would be bizarre to bomb Iran now that we have seen the inside of that country. There are millions of moderates in Iran.

The Invisible Hand of God

Paul Baumann, Washington Monthly

In God Is Back, Micklethwait and Wooldridge assure us that Europe was wrong and America right. Irreligion in Europe is the anomaly, and the "hot religion" of the United States is the future.

In separating church and state while protecting the free exercise of religion, the United States has established the ideal setting for religion, democracy, and capitalism to flourish. And now — praise the Lord! — "the world is moving in the American direction, where religion and modernity happily coexist, rather than in the European direction, where secularization marginalizes religion."

Because religion was divorced from the state in America, religious leaders and communities had to fend for themselves. This separation of church and state may explain why religion has flourished in America, in contrast to other developed nations where the state has had a much heavier hand in the support of religion. This, in turn, demanded greater innovation and an emphasis on customer service.

Doubtless there is some truth in the observation that "competition and choice" are good for religion, as the growth of Evangelical Christianity in Latin America and Africa and Catholicism in Africa and Asia demonstrates.

Religion is about meaning. But to say that religion is about "the quest for community in an increasingly atomized world, the desire to counterbalance choice with a sense of moral certainty" doesn’t tell us what meaning.

The book's bottom line is that American-style Evangelical religion has finally solved the age-old problem of whether one can serve both God and Mammon.

AR  Bottom line? Punch line for a rich (poor) joke!

2009 July 1

German Lisbon Treaty Ruling
Hans-Jürgen Schlamp, Der Spiegel

The political elite in Brussels are breathing a sigh of relief. Germany's highest court has set very strict conditions on the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty but the treaty doesn't have to be reworked again. The guardians of the German constitution see shortcomings in the Lisbon Treaty and state that any future "Community law or Union law" deemed to violate the constitution can be "declared inapplicable in Germany."


Does God Hate Women?
Johann Hari, New Statesman

In Does God Hate Women? Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom forensically dismantle the last respectable misogyny. Every major religion's texts were written at a time when women were regarded as little better than talking cattle. Their words and commands reflect this, plainly and bluntly. Every religion has groups today thumping women down with its Holy Book.

Apologists for religion say that misogynists are simply misinterpreting the holy texts, which are in fact about love and compassion and kindness. Karen Armstrong, one of the most egregious defenders of superstition, repeatedly claims that Muhammad was an emancipator of women. Yet he married a prepubescent child, and when he was given two slave girls he gave the ugly one away and kept the beautiful one for sex.

There are people in all religions who have managed to leave behind literal readings of the text and invent a less foul God to believe in. It is not for atheists to say that one group of believers is right and the other is wrong. Anybody not addled by superstition will conclude that bigotry deserves neither respect nor deference. It deserves contempt and opposition.

Biden: US Will Not Block Israel
AP/Jerusalem Post

The United States will not stand in Israel's way if Israel believes military action is needed to eliminate Iran's nuclear threat, Vice President Joe Biden said during an interview on ABC TV. Biden said the U.S. "cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and
cannot do."

Gaza Ruins
Peter Beaumont, The Observer

Israel said the war was designed to bring a halt to the launching of home-made missiles out of the Gaza Strip. Its targets suggested wider aims, not least the dismantling of Palestinian institutions.

I scour Gaza for evidence that anything has changed for the better in the months since the war ended. But houses and other buildings destroyed during the conflict remain as hollowed-out and dusty monuments to violence. In places, some owners have experimented with repairing buildings with an adobe made of mud and straw baked in the sun.

There are changes in the six months since the war ended. The bodies of dead animals have been removed and cleared away. The ruins have been sifted for human remains. The tangled remnants of an orange grove I drove past every day, tipped over and torn by military bulldozers, has disappeared, razed for firewood.

AR  No sympathy. They brought it on themselves with their rockets

EU Nations Warn Iran
Nico Hines and David Charter
The Times

European leaders backed Britain today after Iran announced that British embassy staff would be forced to stand trial in Tehran. In a coordinated move, EU nations simultaneously summoned Iranian ambassadors across Europe to explain the arrest of British diplomats for allegedly inciting the recent violence in Iran.

EU Untrustworthy
Iran Daily

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Iranian Armed
Forces Major General Hassan Firouzabadi said western supporters of the unrest have no right to negotiate with Iran unless they apologize to the nation: "The European Union is a defeated political and economic alliance and in the recent elections for the European Parliament the people of Europe showed that they do not trust the EU."