BLOG 2011 Q1

Seth Lerer, SF Chronicle

Marjorie Garber argues that literature is a form of writing that offers unanswered questions. Literary works have no single meaning, whatever the author intended. Literature teaches not a set of univocal moral truths but rather a habit of mind: a way of questioning the world, a way of understanding just how hard it is to make decisions, fall in love, express desire, worship, rule and serve.

We read books often to learn how others do things, or how others failed to do them. We read books for pleasure, too. All literature is contemporary, because when we read it, we make it our own. This is the story of history. Each time we read a book, we see it differently. Each time we read a book, we see ourselves differently in it.

AC-130 Spooky
U.S. Air Force/AP
USAF AC-130U Spooky gunship
has a 25 mm GAU-12 Equalizer rotary cannon, a 40 mm Bofors gun, and a 105 mm M102 howitzer mounted along the fuselage. Two are deployed in Libya.

AR Brutal

Bit by Bit
Tim Wu, Slate

Claude Shannon developed a mathematical theory of information. The inventor of the "bit" realized that information is related to order and uncertainty, and so to entropy. Shannon introduced the idea that information is entropy.

Information is resistant to decay and capable of perfect self-reproduction. It outlasts the organic beings who create it, and, by replication, the inorganic mediums used to store it. In the beginning was the word.

In The Information, James Gleick considers Richard Dawkins' idea that humans can be seen as information carriers. Our bodies are containers for DNA, which is just a code and a storage format for information. And the word became flesh.

Fukushima Fallout
New Scientist

The Fukushima plant in has been emitting radioactive iodine and cesium at levels approaching those seen in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident.

The daily release of iodine 131 is 73% and that of cesium 137 around 60% of the amount released from Chernobyl. At Chernobyl a huge fire released large amounts of many radioactive materials in smoke. At Fukushima, only the volatile elements, such as iodine and cesium, are bubbling off the damaged fuel. The Fukushima plant has around 1760 tons of nuclear fuel on site, but the Chernobyl reactor had only 180 tons.

The Chernobyl accident emitted much more radioactivity and a wider diversity of radioactive elements than Fukushima Daiichi has so far, but iodine and cesium caused the main health risk because the human body readily absorbs them.

Donald Rumsfeld

I think what you’ll find,
I think what you’ll find is,
Whatever it is we do substantively,
There will be near-perfect clarity
As to what it is.

And it will be known,
And it will be known to the Congress,
And it will be known to you,
Probably before we decide it,
But it will be known.

Pragmatism Is King
Anatole Kaletsky
The Times

Shortly after the G20 meeting in London that marked the turning point of the financial crisis, President Sarkozy declared that "the G20 foreshadows the planetary governance of the 21st century."

Progress toward reinvention of the global system took a great leap forward last week. The $30 billion currency intervention to help to stabilize the Japanese yen could be as important as the no-fly zone over Libya.

Governments should not define what they want to achieve but try to avoid unacceptable outcomes. This approach seems better than following unrealistic and rigid principles.

AR Long live Globorg


100 Years of Air Strikes
Ian Patterson, LRB

The world's first aerial bombing mission took place 100 years ago, against Turks in Libya.

On 1 November 1911, an
Italian Air Fleet officer dropped four 2 kg bombs, by hand, over the side of his aeroplane.

The Moral Landscape

John Horgan

In The Grand Design, Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow proclaims string theory to be the ultimate account of reality.

In Cycles of Time, Roger Penrose offers a new and improved version of the old oscillating universe theory.

In The Hidden Reality, Brian Greene suggests that our universe may be a simulation run by an alien civilization.


European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger on Japan:
"There is talk of an apocalypse and I think the word is particularly well chosen. Practically everything is out of control. I cannot exclude the worst in the hours and days to come."

Latest Nuclear Reactors
MIT Tech Review

The latest nuclear reactor designs would avoid the overheating and explosions that have occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Newer reactor designs use passive cooling systems that would not fail after a power outage.

AR People will need more reassurance than this.

Nuclear plants in Japan
International Nuclear Safety Center

Genes 'R' Us — Not!
Philip Ball

Our bodies are not our genomes. The "yuk" response to embryos with non-maternal mitochondrial genes is a form of genetic narcissism. When scientists in 2009 announced in Nature that they had achieved mitochondrial transplants in monkeys, an editorial acknowledged that such unions are unnatural. The word "unnatural" here enlists moral disapproval. But technology is not inherently perverting. Our identity lies in how we inhabit the world.

2011 March 31

Bernard-Henri Lévy
Ben Macintyre, The Times

BHL is more famous in France than any pop star. He is hailed as the philosophical driving force behind France's involvement in Libya. He says of himself: "Criticism of Bernard-Henri Lévy is, quite honestly, of no importance."

Almost everything about BHL is, from a British point of view, deeply annoying. But France has a long tradition of intellectual heroes. The latest dictionary of French intellectuals runs to 1,300 pages. BHL encouraged France to take the lead in Libya.

BHL on Libya:

Libya was an occupied country. An army of mercenaries was at war with a civilian population that had no weapons but was full of hope. This absolute drive for freedom and democracy had taken hold of the country, in a population that was believed to be doomed to living in a dictatorship.

They are not religious fanatics. They believe that Islam is a matter of faith and not a matter for the government. They want an Islam that is only the business of the individual, but not one that dictates its laws to society.

The Arab League asked us for help, aircraft from Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are involved in the mission, and the Tunisian and Egyptian people morally support this intervention. This has nothing to do with a Western crusade.

When the Arab League requested that we intervene in Libya, it was a decisive moment in the history of the modern age. The obligation to intervene in the affairs of other countries became universal as a result.

2011 March 30

OPEC 2011: $1,000,000,000,000
Financial Times

OPEC, the oil producers' cartel, will reap a trillion dollars in export revenues this year for the first time if crude prices remain above $100 a barrel, according to the International Energy Agency.

AR At that price the cartelists had better be damned grateful to beneficent Westerners for the rest of recorded history.

You Go To War To Win
Charles S. Faddis, CNN

General Carter Ham, commander of the U.S. forces involved in operations in Libya, stated that he could see completing the military mission assigned to him and leaving Gadhafi in power. He added that he had no mission to attack Gadhafi and, in fact, had very little idea where he was.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates admitted that there was no clearly defined end to the military action in Libya and suggested it might drag on for an undetermined period. When asked what would happen if Gadhafi hunkered down and seemed determined to remain in power, Gates had no answer.

War is a nasty, brutish business. We ought to pursue every other possible means for the resolution of conflict first before we rush to send young men and women to their deaths and to spend billions of dollars of the taxpayer's money. Once we decide to go to war, we should act decisively and do all we can to conclude it swiftly.

AR In a political mess like the Mideast, defining a win is hard.

New Nuclear "No Brainer"
The Telegraph

Former British chief scientific adviser Professor Sir David King says Britain must embrace a nuclear future despite fears raised by Fukushima. Britain has the largest stockpile of plutonium in the world from spent nuclear fuel. Because Pu is dangerous and expensive to process and bury, Sir David said the UK should build a new generation of MOX plants, run on mixed U and Pu oxides.

AR Let him come and make his "no brainer" case in Germany.

2011 March 29

Free To Protest?
George Monbiot, The Guardian

The 2011 Protection of Freedoms Bill is currently in committee in the British parliament. It limits the period of detention without charge for terrorist suspects, reforms the measures that allow police to stop and search anyone they please, regulates CCTV and council snooping, and prevents the police from holding the DNA records of innocent people indefinitely. All this is welcome, but it scarcely grazes the mountain of repressive legislation that has piled up since the 1986 Public Order Act.

AR An Arab-style revolt in London might wake people up.

Western Double Standards?
Ömer Taspinar, CNN

In new Mideast, a combination of repression, unemployment, and deprivation has mobilized Arabs to stage mass protests. But the West intervenes in Libya and remains silent about the suppression of dissidents in Bahrain.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates sent troops to Bahrain. These countries are deeply worried about a spillover of unrest and fear Iran looming on the horizon. Through its proxies, Iran can support opposition forces in Yemen and Bahrain.

Millions of Arab youth are asking why the UN resolution should apply only to Libya and leave Bahrain and Yemen out in the cold. The governments of other Arab lands appear to have more legitimacy than the regime in Libya.

The West has so far been lucky to see no Islamists in mass demonstrations in the region. Soon radical Islamists and enemies of the West will have the upper hand in mass demonstrations.

AR Gaddafi is a mad dog who should have gone years ago. The rulers of other Arab lands are civilized enough to work with. Westerners have to trust Arabs to sort out their own affairs decently. We intervene only to avert catastrophe. But if Arabs go for Islamists, more fool them.

2011 March 28

Dawkins On Life
Der Spiegel

S Do you think religion is something we should move beyond as we enter adulthood?
D When I was I child, I spoke as a child. But when I became a man, I put away childish things.

S Has religion not been very successful in an evolutionary sense?
D The thought that human societies gained strength from religious memes in their competition with others is true to a certain extent. But it is more like an ecological struggle. So when a tribe has a war-like god, you see a set of powerful, mutually reinforcing memes at work. If the rival tribe has a peaceful god who believes in turning the other cheek, that might not prevail.

S But following a religion that does not promote the chances for survival seems to contradict evolutionary logic.
D Clearly there is a conflict between meme and gene survival.

S You argue that the theory of evolution is on the same level as a mathematical theorem. Are you not just as dogmatic as the religious fundamentalists?
D There was a time when people thought the world was flat. Then it became a hypothesis that the sun was the center of the universe, and then there was the hypothesis that even the sun was not the center of the universe. There's never a hard and fast line when something becomes a fact. But evolution is a fact.

S Would you like to be remembered as a scientist or as a critic of religion?
D Both really. I don't see any contradiction between the two aspects. I think they belong together.

A Visit from the Goon Squad
Pankaj Mishra

Jennifer Egan describes the lives of people in and around the rock music business from the 1970s to 2020. By forgoing narration, Egan seems to get at a deeper interiority. And by rapidly shifting scene and voice, she saves herself, and her reader, the tedious tasks of scene-setting and plot advancement.

2011 March 27

Enjoyed happy afternoon with old friends in Ladenburg

Ladenburg is on the River Neckar, 10 km east of Mannheim and 10 km northwest of Heidelberg. It has a medieval heart and its history goes back to Celtic and Roman times.

Simon Baron-Cohen

Zero degrees of empathy means you have no awareness of how you come across to others, how to interact with others, or how to anticipate their feelings or reactions. Three ways to zero: borderline, psychopathic, and borderline personality disorders.

Borderlines cannot tolerate being alone. For them, aloneness feels like abandonment. They either feel suffocated or abandoned, with no calm middle ground. Type B brains are different in much of the empathy circuit, with decreased binding of neurotransmitters to one of the serotonin receptors and low activity in the orbital frontal cortex and in the temporal cortex.

People who were abused as children are often Type B. Such people have abnormalities in the empathy circuit, such as having a smaller amygdala. Women who were sexually abused later show less grey matter in their left medial temporal cortex. Smaller hippocampal volume is also found in people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Early abuse and neglect change how the brain turns out.

A psychopath has antisocial personality disorder. The Type P brain shows abnormalities in the empathy circuitry. Early stress affects the hippocampus and the neural systems that respond to threat. The amygdala responds to stress or threat by triggering the hypothalamus to trigger the pituitary gland to release ACTH, which the blood carries to the adrenal gland where it triggers the release of cortisol. Receptors for cortisol in the hippocampus allow the animal to regulate the stress response. Too much stress can damage and shrink your hippocampus.

Empathy is a way of anticipating and resolving interpersonal problems. Empathy is good for you.


The 2011 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary adds such acronyms as LOL and OMG. It also includes the word heart used as a verb, as in "I heart New York"; dot-bomb, used to describe web concepts that fizzle out and die; and ego-surfing, or searching for your own name online.

2011 March 26

Syria Is Next
The New York Times

Troops opened fire during protests in Syria and killed peaceful demonstrators. Tens of thousands of demonstrators in the southern city of Dara'a and in other cities and towns around the nation took to the streets in protest. It was the most serious challenge to 40 years of rule by the Assad family since 1982.

Human Rights Watch Middle East and North Africa director Sarah Leah Whitson: "Syria's security forces are showing the same cruel disregard for protesters' lives as their counterparts in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain."

Syrian minister and adviser to the president, Bouthaina Shaaban, said President Assad "doesn't want the bloodshed at all, and I witnessed his directives on not using live bullets whatever the circumstances."

AR There seems to be a disconnect between the upper levels of government and the security boots on the ground.

Kinetic Action
Opinionator, NYT

U.S. State Department acting deputy spokesman Mark Toner: "I think what we are doing is enforcing a resolution that has a very clear set of goals, which is protecting the Libyan people, averting a humanitarian crisis, and setting up a no-fly zone. Obviously that involves kinetic military action, particularly on the front end."

Wired Danger Room, Spencer Ackerman: "While the president travelled through Latin America, his aides told sympathetic audiences in Washington that Operation Odyssey Dawn 'is a limited humanitarian intervention, not war,' in the words of White House Mideast troubleshooter Dennis Ross."

Former Secretary of State for Defense Donald Rumsfeld: "If you went to Congress and asked for authorization to do something, you'd have to know what it was you wanted to do and you had to have decided before the fact with some precision and some clarity, as to what the mission would be."

AR Humanitarian intervention is a kind of kinetic action and so is war, but in physics a kinetic theory is less deep and general than a dynamic theory. OMG, I'm confused!

Martin Amis on the problems of writing an autobiographical novel:
"I had to abandon it. ... I just realised that the whole project of writing autobiographically about the sexual revolution was a complete dead end. And life is dead ... even the most crude, kitchen-sinky kind of novel is, in fact, very stylised. Our lives actually have no shape at all and they are just one thing after the other. There can be lives that have a kind of shape but it's a fluke if they do. It's the difference between a lady's court shoe and your actual foot. Life is the foot."

AR An autobiography is not a novel, but it can be better.

2011 March 25

Military Doubts Over Libya
Max Hastings, Financial Times

Allied air power cannot oust Colonel Gaddafi. A stalemate would not be helpful. Western patience is short. Allied action in the Mideast should not feed Muslim paranoia.

Americans have been bullied into an adventure for which they must do the heavy lifting because the British and French cheerleaders lack the firepower. Armed intervention in Libya will be hard to see through without a ground force commitment.

Politicians responded to a surge of sentiment. Allied governments failed to meet a key test before launching any military operation: defining clear and attainable objectives.

2011 March 24

Why It's America's War
Stephen L. Carter, The Daily Beast

The Libyan war is very much an American show. Only the United States can project power over any distance for any length of time. In the opening salvo of the war, 124 cruise missiles launched against the Libyan air-defense systems. American warships fired 122, British two. The U.S. has supplied nearly half the aircraft involved in Odyssey Dawn and flown most of the combat missions.

The U.S. spends more than 40 cents of every defense dollar spent on the face of the Earth. The Libyan war is likely to cost well in excess of $1 billion a week. Nobody else can afford it. The U.S. is running the war, and will continue to do so. If other NATO countries hope ever again to be equal partners, they will have to increase their defense spending significantly.

Royal Navy Reactor Danger
The Guardian

The Royal Navy uses dangerous reactors in its nuclear submarines. The PWR2 pressurized water reactors are like those at Fukushima. A Ministry of Defence report says the reactors are "potentially vulnerable" to accidents.

Naval PWR2 reactors are used in the four Trident submarines and six Trafalgar-class boats. Like the Fukushima reactors, the PWR2 relies on back-up power supplies to provide emergency cooling in the event of an accident.

PWR2 reactors are also being fitted in the seven Astute-class submarines being built. Safer PWR3 reactors use "passive" cooling and have additional safety features. PWR3 reactors are used in modern U.S. nuclear submarines.

2011 March 23

The Times

President Obama and David Cameron agreed that NATO should play a key role in policing the no-fly zone and shielding Libyan civilians. There was uncertainty about who would be in charge of the mission. NATO cannot be fully in charge because Turkey will block military action that endangers civilians. Germany is also reluctant. France would like to take the lead. NATO allies are unhappy that President Sarkozy sent French warplanes over Libya at the weekend without informing all the allies. The most likely command headquarters is Allied Joint Force Command Naples.

Fan of Rommel
The Times

Muammar Gaddafi is a big fan of Erwin Rommel, the fabled wartime German commander of the Afrika Korps. But as both the British and German commanders discovered in 1941-42, fighting in the Libyan desert is a logistical nightmare. The no-fly zone stops Gaddafi from moving enough supplies and armour to take the rebel base. The most likely outcome is a return to a Libya divided between east and west as in ancient times.

AR Europe needs an unbroken chain of friendly secular states along North Africa from the Atlantic to the Nile.

2011 March 22

The Libya Hypocrisies
Leslie H. Gelb, The Daily Beast

No foreign states have vital interests at stake in Libya. There are far worse humanitarian horrors elsewhere. Neither President Obama nor his coalition partners in Britain and France can state a coherent goal for Libya. If the goal is to save civilians, they must hit all military targets.

President Obama erred initially by saying that Gaddafi "must go." Then he waited upon Arab League and UN resolutions, and upon agreements from his French and British allies on their assuming major responsibility. Pray that he sticks to that course.

Fukushima: The Good News
George Monbiot, The Guardian

A crappy old plant with inadequate safety features was hit by a monster earthquake and a vast tsunami. The electricity supply failed, knocking out the cooling system. The reactors began to explode and melt down. The disaster exposed a familiar legacy of poor design and corner-cutting. Yet, as far as we know, no one has yet received a lethal dose of radiation.

I favor a major expansion of renewables. But the impacts and costs of renewables rise with the proportion of power they supply. At high latitudes like ours, most small-scale ambient power production is a dead loss. Generating solar power in the UK involves a spectacular waste of scarce resources. Wind power in populated areas is largely worthless.

Deep green energy production is far more damaging to humanity than nuclear meltdown. On every measure (even radioactive discharges) coal is 100 times worse than nuclear power. The crisis at Fukushima has converted me to the cause of nuclear power.

2011 March 21

B-2 bomber
B-2 landing after the mission
UN Spirit
The Telegraph

Three USAF B-2 Spirit bombers flew a 25-hour, 11,500-mile round trip from an airbase in Missouri to drop 45 bombs, each weighing 2000 lbs, onto an airbase in Libya.

Barbary War III
Yoni Appelbaum, The Atlantic

The First and Second Barbary Wars were waged intermittently from 1801 until 1815. The Anglo-Dutch expedition of 1816 employed overwhelming firepower to achieve humanitarian aims. The issue was piracy by the city states of the Barbary Coast — Tunis, Algiers, and Tripoli — plundering ships, enslaving their crews and passengers, and extorting tribute in exchange for safe passage. The Third Barbary War is ongoing.

2011 March 20

Allies Hit Libya

French aircraft bombed tanks threatening Benghazi, the stronghold of Libyan rebels fighting to depose Gadhafi.

American and British ships and submarines stationed off Libya fired 112 Tomahawk cruise missiles at about 20 Libyan air and missile defense targets. An American stealth bomber dropped 40 bombs on an airbase.

British Tornado GR4 jets from RAF Marham attacked radar sites around Tripoli with Storm Shadow missiles. Eight RAF Typhoon jets are set to patrol over Libya.

Allied aircraft continue to arrive at Mediterranean bases from countries including Canada, Denmark, and Spain. Qatar and the UAE are expected to join the military effort.

U.S. Navy assets including the USS Enterprise carrier strike group and the USS Kearsarge Expeditionary Strike Group are in the region. More NATO ships including two Royal Navy frigates will converge on Libya to enforce a naval blockade.

Failures At Fukushima
The Sunday Times

Fukushima will join Chernobyl and Three Mile Island in the annals of nuclear ignominy. Japanese emergency crews were little better prepared, and no better resourced, than their Soviet counterparts 25 years ago.

Hydrogen explosions resulting from the pumping in of seawater caused unknown damage. Even if the pumps are restarted, it is too late to save the cores in three reactors from partial meltdown. Radioactive emissions have entered the local food chain.

Experts have identified four main failures:

— Diesel generators that should have provided back-up when power was cut were at sea level and were swamped by the tsunami.

— Antiquated boiling-water reactors needed huge amounts of cooling using electric pumps to avoid overheating, even after they were shut down.

— Four of the reactors at the plant were built close together, so fire or explosion at one plant affected the others and made it dangerous for workers to attend to them.

— The cooling ponds containing spent fuel were built high off the ground, where they were at risk of losing all their water in the event of leakage.

2011 March 19

Politics Online
Steve Coll, The New York Review of Books

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: "Egypt isn't inspiring people because they communicated using Twitter. It is inspiring because people came together and persisted in demanding a better future. Iran isn't awful because the authorities used Facebook to shadow and capture members of the opposition. Iran is awful because it is a government that routinely violates the rights of its people." She argues that social media have become a public space akin to the public squares of the past. To enlarge this new public space, "we need to have a serious conversation about the principles that will guide us, what rules exist and should not exist and why."

  The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom
  By Evgeny Morozov

Morozov used the Internet to promote democracy and media reform in the former Soviet bloc. He criticizes the Western reaction during the failed uprising in Iran in 2009. He maps the malevolent use of Facebook to enhance surveillance in Iran, the funding of pro-government bloggers to promote authoritarian regimes and drain off dissent in China and Russia, and the rise of Hugo Chavez as a tweeter. Morozov fears that there is no good blueprint for dealing with modern authoritarianism.

  The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires
  By Tim Wu

Wu is a law professor and coined the phrase "net neutrality." He is concerned that large corporations may be on the verge of carving the Internet into an oligopoly. He shows that if corporations take control of the American Internet, and use tolls and technical rules to build a new hierarchy of access, then authoritarian states like Russia and China will be sure to follow. He asks whether the Internet will yield to the consolidating patterns of monopoly and state control that shaped radio and television or whether the Internet will remain a radically open system.

Garry Wills, The New York Review of Books

  All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics
  to Find Meaning in a Secular Age
  By Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly

Dreyfus and Kelly propose that one can get glimpses of the sacred from "whoosh" moments. They glimpse the sacred by "reading the Western classics." They begin with David Foster Wallace and Elizabeth Gilbert. They praise Wallace for uniting the two main sources of whoosh, celebrity and sports, and Gilbert for her openness to surface whooshiness, her sacred impulsiveness.

Dreyfus and Kelly say the fall from Homer's sublime superficiality occurred when Augustine of Hippo invented interiority. He did this by merging the specific time and space of Jesus with the timeless essences of Greek philosophy. But they face the problem that whoosh moments can sweep people along in a Hitler rally. They argue for the joys of making the proper cup of coffee.

AR Whoosh that book into the trash.

2011 March 18

Libya: Too Late
Max Hastings, Financial Times

Once Muammer Gaddafi decided to fight, only direct ground intervention by the United States and its allies would have helped the rebels.

Western leaders know almost nothing either about the Libyan insurgents or about what is happening on the ground. It would be madness to commit U.S. and allied forces to destroy Colonel Gaddafi, with no notion of what would follow.

Local goodwill for western assistance in supplanting the Libyan tyranny would quickly dissipate. The Muslim world is bitter about America's continuing support for Israel. This core political reality deprives the west of moral authority throughout the region.

Grown-up governments do not commit warplanes as if sending a donation to Oxfam. We have no interest in a Libyan adventure.

AR Maybe we still have time to take out some of the toys of
      "Mad Max" Gaddafi.

2011 March 17

Japan's Leadership Flaws
The New York Times

Never has postwar Japan needed strong leadership more — and never has its weak system of governing been so clearly exposed.

Politicians are almost completely reliant on Tokyo Electric Power, known as Tepco, for information. At a Tepco briefing on Wednesday, tempers ran high among reporters. Headlines shouted that the Fukushima Daiichi plant was being abandoned. But it emerged that the plant's staff members had not abandoned it.

Postwar Japan flourished under a system in which political leaders left domestic affairs to powerful bureaucrats. But over the past decade or so, the bureaucrats' authority has been greatly reduced. Responsibility for the rolling residential blackouts in the Tokyo region has been left to Tepco.

"There's a clear lack of command authority in the current government in Tokyo," said Ronald Morse, who has worked in government departments in the United States and Japan.

AR Sad truths I see no way to deny.

2011 March 16

Japan "level 6"
The Times, 0418 GMT

A Washington think tank has backed French claims that the situation at the Fukushima nuclear plant is now close to a level 6, just one notch below the 1986 Chernobyl disaster at level 7.

2011 March 15

Japan Disaster News
The Times, 0516 GMT

Fresh explosion at nuclear plant, fourth reactor on fire
Radiation "high enough to damage health"
Residents within 30 km of nuclear plant warned to stay indoors
IAEA called in to help avert nuclear disaster
More than 10,000 feared dead in tsunami

AR As the Times editors say, the fact remains that nuclear power is one of the safest and most highly regulated forms of power generation. Reactors are designed to contain meltdowns.

Saudis in Bahrain
The Times

Bahrain was hit by fresh pro-democracy clashes as tens of thousands marched to protest deployment of troops from Saudi Arabia. King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa declared martial law.

Saudi Arabia
Bernard Haykel, Princeton University

Saudi King Abdullah is popular amongst his subjects. Saudi Arabia has the political and economic problems associated with a youth bulge. But it has the resources and strategies to stave off a serious threat in the short term. Saudi Arabia has 25 percent of the world's proven petroleum reserves and produces around 9 million barrels of oil a day. The kingdom is in a category by itself with respect to energy markets and its role in the global economy.

2011 March 13

Japanese Nuclear Crisis
The New York Times

Japanese officials struggled on Sunday to contain a widening nuclear crisis in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake and tsunami. They presume partial meltdowns have occurred at two crippled reactors and are facing cooling problems at three more.

The developments prompted the evacuation of more than 200,000 people. Officials have ordered the largest mobilization of the Self-Defense Forces since World War II to assist in the relief effort.

On Saturday, Japanese officials flooded the crippled No. 1 reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station with seawater in a last-ditch effort to avoid a nuclear meltdown.

On Sunday, cooling failed at No. 3 reactor. Meltdown is presumed at both cores, said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano. Cooling has also failed at three reactors in the Fukushima Daini plant.

The emergency appears to be the worst involving a nuclear plant since the Chernobyl disaster 25 years ago.

AR This will set back the push for green nuclear power.

2011 March 12

Arab Democracy
Thomas Carothers, Foreign Policy

The wave of political upheaval in the Arab world is very different from the wave of political change that swept Central and Eastern Europe in 1989. Middle East regimes are hunkering down. The regimes are much more diverse than were those in Central and Eastern Europe.

The diversity of the Arab world will have a big impact on democratic success. Factors include the level of economic development, the concentration of national wealth, the coherence and capability of the state, the presence of identity-based divisions, and experience with political pluralism.

Expanding the political choices of Arab citizens could open the floodgates to a cascade of Islamist electoral landslides. Islamist victories cannot be ruled out. But never in the Arab world have any Islamist election gains resulted in a theocracy.

There are lessons from history. Opposition unity is crucial. Constitutional reform should be inclusive. Elections should not be hurried. Banning large swaths of the former ruling elite from political life is a mistake. Putting the military back in the box should be gradual. Rapid delivery of tangible economic benefits is critical. But the lessons are only suggestive.

Europe can be a major player in the region's political evolution. European leaders fear refugee flows heading north, disruption in oil supplies, and radical Islamist activity. The European Union played a big role in Central and Eastern Europe after 1989.

Nuclear Scaremongers
David Aaronovitch, The Times

A recent UN report on the 1986 Chernobyl disaster estimated that perhaps 2,000 people developed thyroid cancer, having drunk contaminated milk, of whom a score or so died from it. Apart from those killed in the explosion or on site, the report found no evidence of other fatalities or adverse health effects. The report argues that the psychological effects of the disaster were very significant.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel took a sudden decision before state elections last week to close down seven reactors. She also pandered to the panic by appointing a commission to look at the ethics of nuclear energy, the membership to include the Cardinal Archbishop of Munich. I don't imagine a similar commission exists for other forms of energy.

A-10 Thunderbolt
U.S. Air Force
USAF A-10 Thunderbolt or Warthog has a GAU-8 Avenger 30 mm rotary cannon and wingfuls of bombs and rockets. The type is deployed in Libya.

AR I followed the career of
this type from its cradle in
the sixties at Fairchild.

SAP Follows The Sun
MIT Technology Review

When SAP needs to complete a project quickly, it uses its global reach. At the end of the workday in Germany, developers hand off work to colleagues in California. Eight hours later, the California teams hand over to Asia.

SAP followed the sun to help customers deal with the Japanese triple crisis of earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster. Big companies using SAP software needed SAP to help out. The SAP team got started and the work followed the sun.

SAP uses Streamwork software to manage the process. When project workers complete their workday, they connect with their colleagues via videoconferences and instant messages. Streamwork tracks their work to help the next team ramp up.

The Sunday Times

In his new book Out of the Darkness, Steve Taylor looks at people who hit rock bottom and then experience a seismic shift within to become happier, calmer and better than ever before. They gain a new sense of well-being and a new appreciation for life.

Spiritual guru Eckhart Tolle contemplated suicide following years of extreme anxiety and existential despair, until, mid-breakdown, he experienced a transformation: "All I knew was that I was peaceful. My noisy mind, which had covered up the deeper dimension within me, had subsided. I no longer had to prove anything, I was much more aware of beauty, and the world no longer seemed threatening."

Taylor says these transformations are a leap to a higher level of being and compares them to the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly.


The Arab Spring
William Hague
British Foreign Secretary

We are only in the early stages of what is happening in North Africa and the Middle East, but it is already set to overtake 9/11 as the most important development of the early 21st century.

The Robot Rule
William Saletan, Slate

Monday morning, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission met to discuss what we can learn from the nuclear crisis in Japan.

Here's the first thing to learn: Get some robots that can help us in a serious nuclear accident.

Japan Crisis Rating 5
CNN, 1849 GMT

The Japanese Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency raised its rating for the Fukushima crisis from 4 to 5, equal to that for the 1979 incident at Three Mile Island.

"Impact as Great as 9/11"
Die Welt

The earthquake of March 11 was no terrorist attack. But its political and psychological consequences will be as great as 9/11 because it has shown what a terrorist attack on nuclear plants would look like.

Japan Quake Earth Impact

The magnitude 9.0 earthquake in Japan may have shortened the length of each Earth day and shifted its axis. A preliminary calculation indicates that by changing the distribution of Earth's mass, the earthquake has shortened the length of the day by about 1.8 microseconds and shifted the position of Earth's figure axis by about 17 cm toward 133 degrees E longitude. The shift will cause Earth to wobble differently as it rotates.


English Libel Law
Libel Reform Campaign

British Members of Parliament and Peers responded to the LRC blueprint for reform in advance of the publication of the government's defamation bill to say this is a "once in a lifetime chance" to reform the law.

AR Do it now.


Libya: Air Strike Talks
Financial Times

France is talking to its allies about targeted air strikes on Libyan airfields. The French government suggested its international partners should consider more flexible and rapid military responses to the escalating violence. President Nicolas Sarkozy met leaders of the Libyan National Council as if the group represented the Libyan people. Sarkozy is ahead of his partners in Europe and Washington.

Sex And Children
Joan Smith
The Independent

Evangelical Christians at the Christian Institute are attacking books cleared for use in schools. Sex education is a compulsory component of the national curriculum. People with weird, punitive attitudes to sex shouldn't be allowed to influence sex education. Sex lessons provide the skills kids need to enjoy sex as young adults.

The King James Bible
Times Literary Supplement

King James commissioned a new Bible translation in 1604 and the first edition appeared in 1611. The modern KJB incorporates revisions from 1743 and 1769. Oxford University Press still sells over 250,000 copies a year.

Nuclear Weapons And Israel

Israel is operating five modern German-built Dolphin-class submarines. Reports indicate that these submarines are equipped with Popeye Turbo cruise missiles that can deliver nuclear warheads with extremely high accuracy. Israel is reported to possess a 200 kg nuclear warhead, containing 6 kg of plutonium, that can fit on cruise missiles. Israel purchased two additional type 212 submarines from Germany in 2006, to be delivered in 2011.

A good book is the precious lifeblood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.

John Milton, 1644

No-Fly Zone
Financial Times

Libyan rebels are urging Western allies to bomb mercenary forces supporting Muammer Gaddafi and to impose a no-fly zone over Libya.

U.S. Secretary of State
Hillary Clinton:
"I think we are a long way from making that decision."

U.S. Secretary of Defense
Robert Gates:
"A no-fly zone begins with an attack on Libya to destroy the air defenses [and] requires more airplanes than you would find on a single aircraft carrier."


2011 March 11

Reaction Engines Plc

SKYLON is an unpiloted, reusable spaceplane intended to provide inexpensive and reliable access to space. Ten years from now, Skylon may transport 12 tons of cargo per flight into orbit.

Skylon's load bearing structure is made from carbon fiber reinforced plastic, with aluminium propellant tanks suspended freely. The aeroshell is made from a fiber reinforced ceramic. The payload bay is 4.6 m in diameter and 12.3 m long.

At take-off the vehicle weighs 275 tons, including 66 tons of liquid hydrogen and 150 tons of liquid oxygen. Maximum landing weight is 55 tons. The vehicle takes off and lands using retractable undercarriage on a reinforced runway.

Skylon employs two Sabre hybrid air-breathing/rocket engines. These engines burn LH2 with atmospheric air up to Mach 5.5 and on-board LO2 beyond that to orbital velocities.

The Sabre engine synthesizes elements from rocket and gas turbine technology. In rocket mode, the engine operates as a closed cycle LO2/LH2 high specific impulse rocket engine. In air-breathing mode, the liquid oxygen flow is replaced by atmospheric air, increasing the installed specific impulse.

The Sabre engine is essentially a closed cycle rocket engine with an additional pre-cooled turbo-compressor to provide a high pressure air supply to the combustion chamber. This allows operation from a standing start up to Mach 5.5 in air-breathing mode during ascent. As the air density falls with altitude, the engine becomes a pure rocket for acceleration up to orbital velocities.

2011 March 10

Britain And Israel
Benedict Brogan, The Telegraph

Relations between Jerusalem and London are getting worse. Israelis increasingly see Britain as a gullible host for the global campaign to rebrand Israel as an oppressive colonial power. The BBC broadcasts the message that Israel is the obstacle to peace and prosperity in the Arab world. The London School of Economics offers courses on Israeli colonialism. London hosts the brains of the Muslim Brotherhood. Foreign Secretary William Hague last year backed a UN resolution critical of Israel.

In 2008, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown addressed the Knesset: "Britain is your true friend. A friend in difficult times as well as in good times; a friend who will stand beside you whenever your peace, your stability and your existence are under threat; a friend who shares an unbreakable partnership based on shared values of liberty, democracy and justice. And to those who mistakenly and outrageously call for the end of Israel, let the message be: Britain will always stand firmly by Israel's side."

AR Let Cameron and Hague learn from Brown.

2011 March 9

My Amazon review of Iain McGilchrist's psychology book
The Master and His Emissary
is done:

Iain McGilchrist has poured his life's work into the capacious frame of this book. Only a thinker who first spent some twenty years getting his case together could have produced so massively buttressed an argument for greater awareness of hemispheric differences between the two halves of our cerebral cortexes.
>> (much) more

Philosophy as Confession
John Cottingham, Standpoint

Stanley Cavell's book Little Did I Know makes a link between philosophy and autobiography. It is pervaded by psychoanalytic insights. Cavell's account of his early life has an almost agonizingly Freudian colouring — the violent rages of the father he feared and hated, his decision to change his name, and the adored mother whose outstanding musical gifts he aspired to emulate.

Part of the appeal of the psychoanalytic outlook is its alertness to multiple nuances and deeper layers of meaning beneath our surface utterances. It is this dimension that much analytic philosophy appears to miss. Cavell comments at length on how his writing has wrestled with the problems of finding the right voice. The vision that emerges in this lengthy autobiography is a sombre one.

2011 March 7

How The End Begins
Ron Rosenbaum, Tablet

A single megaton bomb detonated in Tel Aviv could destroy Israel. Israel has purchased and put into operation at least three German-made submarines capable of firing nuclear weapons. Most analysts seem to believe they are cruising within range of likely targets, armed with nuclear-tipped Harpoon cruise missiles.

Jerusalem Post, July 3, 2009: "After a long hiatus the Israeli Navy has returned to sail through the Suez Canal, recently sending one of its advanced Dolphin class submarines through the waterway to participate in naval maneuvers off the Eilat Coast in the Red Sea."

Moshe Halbertal teaches ethics and the international law of war at NYU Law School and at Hebrew University, Jerusalem. He is a Talmudic scholar and a widely respected thinker on the moral and ethical dilemmas of modern warfare. He argues that a preemptive nuclear strike might be morally justifiable under certain conditions in supreme emergencies. He acknowledges that nuclear weapons present new challenges.

AR The Egyptian revolution makes Suez passage problematic.

2011 March 6

Lynn Barber, The Sunday Times

Christopher Hitchens, 61, has inoperable esophageal cancer. He is thinking of doing a short book on it. He was wary of writing about his cancer at first: "I didn't exactly think, whoopee, I've got a whole new subject! But there seems no point in not writing about it. And so I have done, and will do, if I am spared."

Carol Blue, his wife, explains how they met: "He was only 39 years old. And then he took me to Romania — he was so clever — just as Ceausescu was being shot, and it was really wonderful, because it was like being in a scene from Potemkin or something."

Hitch barely mentions Carol in his autobiography, nor his first wife, nor his three children. He gushes away about Martin Amis, James Fenton, Ian McEwan, and Salman Rushdie instead.

>> A letter from George W. Bush

2011 March 5

Ball der Vampire, Heidelberg

2011 March 4

Memory And Creativity
Jim Holt, The London Review of Books

As book culture superseded oral culture, human reasoning became clearer and more complex. Now, in digital culture, speed trumps depth and pensive stillness gives way to a cataract of sensation.

Socrates warned that books would lead to the atrophy of human memory. But books have enriched memory. Now, thanks to Google, not only do you not have to remember a fact, you don't even have to remember where to look it up.

The psychology of creative genius is a mystery. But conscious manipulation of external information is not enough to yield deep creative breakthroughs. Human memory discovers novel patterns and analogies. Google threatens to subvert this process. The web may be an enemy of creativity.

"The bond between book reader and book writer has always been a tightly symbiotic one."
Nicholas Carr

2011 March 3

Water Kite Power Turbines
The Guardian

An underwater kite turbine developed by Swedish company Minesto will trial in Northern Ireland this summer. The kite carries a turbine below it and is tethered by a cable to the sea floor. It swoops round in an "8" shape to make the water flow faster through the turbine in slow tidal streams. It has neutral buoyancy and the turbine mouth is screened to protect fish. With a wingspan of about 10 m to work at depths of 50 to 300 m in flows of about 2 m/s, each kite will generate hundreds of kW.

David Aaronovitch, The Times

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg (a.k.a. zu Googleberg in Germany) has admitted to a few infelicities in the dissertation for his doctorate at the University of Bayreuth. He found his dissertation being re-examined not just by a law professor and a university ombudsman, but by an online wiki group. Another wiki group is hard at work on Saif al-Islam Gaddafi's doctoral thesis for the LSE.

Professor Rebecca Moore Howard: "Representations of student plagiarism seldom acknowledge the heterogenous definitions of authorship in contemporary letters."

Ralph E. Luker on Dr Martin Luther King Jr: "We expect students to learn what the authorities have to say about a subject. He worked the authorities' words into a seamless construct of his own creation and told his professors almost exactly what they themselves believed about a subject. To be candid, aren't we most likely to reward students with good grades when they say what we believe, in our heart of hearts, about a subject?"

When everything in the world is online, a play-checker will mark your unattributed borrowings with purple crinkly lines and the message: "Do you want to Saif your work?"

AR Property is theft. Information wants to be free. Can you own strings of words? Or are claims of intellectual ownership merely quixotic attempts to reap the wind? Authors should be consoled that imitation is the sincerest attribution. Only a pedant would insist on citing names. Except in a doctoral thesis, where pedantry is the name of the game.

2011 March 2

Raymond Tallis, New Statesman

In Soul Dust: the Magic of Consciousness, Nicholas Humphrey elaborates his theory of mind with the assistance of the ipsundrum. This is the seed of the self, analogous to illusory or impossible objects such as the Penrose triangle, which generates the illusion of a world out there corresponding to a me in here. It is a "complex pattern of dynamic activity in neural circuits".

In Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain, Antonio Damasio emphasizes the importance of the emotions and the body outside of the brain. He describes what the brain and body do to make consciousness, rather than how. He tells us that the cerebral cortex and the brain stem generate "feedback loops" in the brain. Consciousness is turned back on itself until it becomes self-conscious. But why should feedback loops do this?

Neither Humphrey nor Damasio deals with the hard problem of consciousness. They are confident that consciousness must be biological and arose because it conferred selective advantage. The atrophy of philosophy is something that should concern us.

2011 March 1

Britain and Libya
The Times

Britain and its NATO allies are making plans to send warplanes in to Libya and arm rebels as the West determines to force out Colonel Gaddafi and prevent a humanitarian disaster.

Prime Minister David Cameron said yesterday that he had ordered General Sir David Richards, the Chief of the Defence Staff, to work on how to impose a no-fly zone in Libyan airspace.

Oil Exporters
Financial Times

Regimes in major oil producing countries are crumbling, disrupting production. Speculation then pushes prices up. The world is increasingly reliant on oil supplies from authoritarian regimes. The United States, Europe, Japan, China, and India are reliant on oil imports. Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Russia, Venezuela, Nigeria, Angola, Canada, Brazil and a few central Asian republics export oil. Only Canada and Brazil have stable democracies.

AR The West should use its armed forces to secure oil supplies.

Libya: "regime will prevail"
Financial Times

Colonel Gaddafi's superior military forces mean his "regime will prevail" in the longer term, said U.S. director of national intelligence James Clapper. Gaddafi has two brigades that are loyal, disciplined, and equipped with Russian heavy equipment. Clapper said Gaddafi "intentionally designed the military so that those select units loyal to him are the most luxuriously equipped and the best trained."

Every great philosophy is a personal confession of its author and a kind of involuntary and unconscious memoir

Friedrich Nietzsche

Countdown To Nuclear War
Richard Rhodes
The New York Times

Ron Rosenbaum on Israel:
"The Jews have been compelled by the Holocaust and history to, in effect, round themselves up and may feel compelled by history to inflict an attack with genocidal consequences on others that could well precede a second one for them."

David D. Perlmutter, University of Iowa: "What would serve the Jew-hating world better in repayment for thousands of years of massacres but a nuclear winter?"

Neurology has all the fascination of a horror story. There is something uncanny and creepy about the way the brain intrudes on the mind.

Colin McGinn, 2011

Arab Monarchies
Financial Times

Protests in the sultanate of Oman and in the kingdoms of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, and Morocco have shown that monarchies are not immune to the winds of change.

Perhaps the divine right of kings will protect King Mohammed VI from popular outrage at economic injustice and the absence of real democracy in Morocco.

The king is said to be descended from the Prophet Mohammed and styles himself commander of the faithful.


SAS In Daring Rescue
The Times

RAF planes backed by a unit of SAS forces flew under the radar in Libyan airspace to pull out foreigners from deep in the desert. One of two Hercules transport aircraft used in the operation took off hurriedly amid gunfire. Simultaneous rescue missions to two airstrips rescued 150 Britons and others.

AR Perhaps "daring" is right.

LSE Degree For Money
The Independent

London School of Economics awarded Libyan leader Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam a doctorate in 2008 and is now investigating allegations that his LSE thesis may have been ghost-written. In 2009, Saif al-Islam made a donation of £1.5 million to the LSE from his Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation.

AR I saw Saif on CNN recently:
he didn't seem too smart.

Boeing KC-46A
Boeing Wins

Boeing has won the U.S. Air Force contract to build the next-generation aerial refueling tanker aircraft. Boeing will deliver 18 combat-ready tankers by 2017. The Boeing KC-46A is an American aircraft based on the Boeing 767. It will be built by a U.S. work force and support 50,000 jobs. The tanker is updated with technology including a digital flight deck with Boeing 787 displays.

 Saudi Arabia
Financial Times

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has announced spending worth an estimated $36 billion to avert popular unrest. The measures include a 15 percent salary rise for public employees and financial aid for students and the unemployed. The government has pledged to spend $400 billion by the end of 2014 to improve education, infrastructure, and healthcare. Saudi unemployment remains above 10 percent. Critics said the sweeteners did not address popular political aspirations. Protests, political parties, and labour unions are banned in the kingdom.

Type 212

Crew 27
Length 56 m
Diesel engine, 3120 kW
AIP system, 300 kW
Six 533 mm torpedo tubes
24 torpedoes
1524 tons (surfaced)
1830 tons (submerged)
12 kt (surfaced)
20 kt (submerged)
13,000 km (8 kt, surfaced)
780 km (8 kt, submerged)

2011 February 28

GDP, Food, Waste
John Sulston, AAAS, Washington
Scientific American

I'm pleased that some economists and sociologists are beginning to talk about, for example, alternative measures of human well-being — alternative that is to GDP, on which the world runs.

We know that our current systems of economics are incomplete. And so we have for example, when we're considering food, we have huge wastage. An awful lot of food is thrown away. This you can call a spillover. It doesn't sort of enter into our economic system because it's a consequence of running things in a highly competitive way: the free market, global pricing and so on.

Now, you can take the view that this doesn't matter, and that's what we've done in the past, just as we've been energy profligate we've been food profligate. It does matter if we're coming up to the limit.

AR GDP is as dumb a measure of well-being as weight is for a human — fatter is not better. Waste is bad.

2011 February 27

The Crossan Heresy

John Dominic Crossan, 77, has drawn a "blasphemous" portrait of Jesus. He entered a monastery at 16, was ordained by 23, and earned a doctorate at 25. He studied in Rome and Jerusalem and became an authority on the New Testament. He left the priesthood in 1969, married, and wrote a series of best-sellers on Jesus.

Crossan challenged some of Christianity's most cherished beliefs. Jesus didn't bodily rise from the dead, he says. The first Christians told Jesus' resurrection story as a parable, not as a fact. Most of the stories of Jesus' miracles were parables too. Jesus called for nonviolent resistance to Rome and just distribution of land and food. He was crucified because he threatened Roman stability.

AR Crossan seems to have got the facts about right.

The Sunday Times

Niall Ferguson cites a scholar from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences: "We were asked to look into what accounted for the West all over the world. At first we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past 20 years we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West has been so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics."

Existential Neuroscience
Markus Quirin et al.
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience

Awareness of mortality is a threat that triggers a psychological defense. We examine the neural correlates of cognitions about death. We investigated patterns of neural activation elicited in 17 males by questions about fear of death and dying. Controls had questions about fear of dental pain. Neural responses to mortality threat were greater than to pain threat in right amygdala, left rostral anterior cingulate cortex, and right caudate nucleus. These findings have implications for managing existential fear.

2011 February 25

Fly brain
Credit: P. Chung, S. Hampel, J. H. Simpson / HHMI
Fly Brain
MIT Technology Review

Brainbow is a technique developed by Harvard scientists to make mouse neurons glow. By combining genes for different fluorescent proteins, researchers can make each neuron glow one of 100 different colors. They can then trace the dendrites and axons of individual neurons through the mouse brain.

Methods called dBrainbow and Flybow are now available for making fruit fly neurons glow in different colors. Many neurons are discernible in the above cross-section of a fly brain.

Obama Versus Iran
Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett, Foreign Policy

The Mideast balance of influence and power has shifted away from the United States and toward Iran and its allies. The Islamic Republic has continued to deepen its alliances with Syria and Turkey and expand its influence in Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine.

The Obama administration stands by helplessly as new openings for Tehran to reset the regional balance in its favor emerge in Bahrain, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and perhaps elsewhere. No new government in Cairo will be willing to keep collaborating with Israel to enforce the siege of Gaza. Any new order in Bahrain will oppose the use of its territory for U.S. military action against Iran.

The Green Movement cannot succeed in bringing down the Islamic Republic. What is left of the Green Movement represents a smaller portion of Iranian society than it did in 2009. And the effort to restart protests in Iran is taking place at a moment of strategic opportunity for Tehran in the Mideast. The Iranian people are not likely to recognize as their political champions those they perceive as working against the national interest.

The Obama administration is putting U.S. interests in jeopardy. It risks losing a chance to deal constructively with an increasingly influential Islamic Republic in Iran. The United States needs to figure out how to deal with Islamist political orders.

2011 February 24

Israeli Defenses
Financial Times

The Israel Defense Force is dominant. Its most immediate foes are Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Israel fought against Hizbollah in 2006 and against Hamas in 2008-09. The IDF has deterred them both.

Israel's military edge will increase in the coming years. The air force has ordered 20 American F-35 fighter jets. The navy will receive two new German submarines. Israel is pouring money into missile defense systems. Military men are sprucing up the army.

The IDF has long been the most admired institution in the country. Israelis want their political leaders to have a thorough grounding in military and security matters. But not everyone is impressed by the military expertise among politicians. Both the 2006 Lebanon war and the 2008-09 war in the Gaza Strip lacked clear war aims.

The Israeli military is hemmed in by the country’s growing isolation. Its enemies have shifted their strategy to a war of attrition. The approach combines political and military elements and draws on international frustration with Israel. The IDF face growing threats from new weapons, conventional armies, missiles and rockets, and terrorism. Hizbollah has built up a vast arsenal of projectiles, some of which can reach deep into Israel.

Israeli leaders praise the armed forces. But what use is overwhelming firepower when the world prevents its use? And how effective are new fighter jets and submarines in a political war? Israel will attack if it faces an existential threat. But the political price of military action is high and rising.

German Type 212 and 214 Submarines
Naval Technology

The Type 212 has an integrated command and weapons control system that interfaces with sensors, weapons, and a navigation system. The propulsion system consists of a diesel generator with lead acid batteries and an air-independent propulsion (AIP) system based on fuel cells burning stored hydrogen and oxygen.

The German navy runs four Type 212 boats. Two more are under construction with improved communications, combat system, and sensors. The Italian navy runs two and has two more on order. Israel has ordered two and is discussing a third.

The Type 214 is an improved 212. The diesel generator plant is mounted on a platform with elastic mounts for noise and vibration isolation. The propeller motor is directly coupled to the propeller. The diving depth is increased and four of the torpedo tubes can fire missiles for defense against helicopters. The AIP system is enhanced to let the boat run underwater for two weeks.

The Type 214 is an export success. Greece runs three and plans a fourth. Portugal runs two. South Korea runs three and has ordered six more. Pakistan has ordered three. Turkey has ordered six.

Riskante Rettungsmission
Der Spiegel

In einer geheimen Mission haben Bundeswehr und britische Royal Air Force 132 Europäer aus Libyen gerettet, darunter 22 Deutsche. Die Transall-Maschinen landeten mitten im Krisengebiet. Trotz des hohen Risikos sah die Bundesregierung keine Alternative.

AR Jetzt bin ich verwirrt.

Bundeswehr fliegt Europäer aus
Der Spiegel

Die Bundeswehr hat 133 EU-Bürger aus Libyen ausgeflogen, unter den Passagieren sind auch rund 50 Deutsche. Zwei Transall-Maschinen hoben von einem Flughafen in der Nähe eines Ölfeldes im Südosten ab.

AR Neutral, sachlich:
guter Spiegel

Daring SAS Raid
The Sunday Times

Members of the SAS landed in eastern Libya, assembled 150 oil workers — 50 of them British — from various installations and moved them to airstrips south of Benghazi, where they were picked up by two RAF C-130 Hercules aircraft.

AR Jingoistic header:
bad Times

Sukhoi Su-35
Sukhoi Su-35
Russian Arms

Russia will renew its military by 2020. The plans cover 100 new warships, including 2 more helicopter carriers, 35 corvettes, 15 frigates, 8 nuclear submarines with new Bulava ICBMs, plus 10 divisions equipped with the new S-500 anti-missile system, plus 600 jets including Su-34 and Su-35 fighters, plus 1000 new Mi-26 transport and Mi-8 gunship helicopters. The price: $650 billion.

America Thunders

President Barack Obama says the United States strongly condemns the use of violence on protesters in Libya: "The suffering and bloodshed is outrageous and it is unacceptable ... This violence must stop."

AR Is this enough to save the world and the price of oil?

Type 214

Length 65 m
Eight 533 mm torpedo tubes
torpedoes and missiles
1690 tons (surfaced)
1860 tons (submerged)
12 kt (surfaced)
20 kt (submerged)
Range 19,000 km
Mission endurance:
12 weeks
(3 weeks submerged
without snorkelling)
Dive depth 400 m+

German Type 212 and 214 submarines

Do It Now
Thomas L. Friedman
The New York Times

The smart thing for the United States to do is to impose a $1-a-gallon gasoline tax, with all the money going to pay down the deficit. Legislating a higher energy price would trigger a shift in buying and investment. We could make ourselves more secure and free ourselves to push for democratic values in the Mideast. The West has treated the Mideast as a big gas station for too long.


The West and the Rest

By Niall Ferguson
Allen Lane, 2011

Modular Nukes

The Obama administration's
2012 budget proposal includes
a request for funds to develop small modular nuclear reactors. The reactors would be owned by a utility and would require $500 million over five years. The goal is to produce small reactors on an assembly line to reduce costs and meet new federal emissions requirements. Federal facilities such as military bases and national laboratories would be the first customers.

Moral Evolution
The New Republic

Jesse Bering contends that human beings are evolutionarily hard-wired for God. Our theory of mind allows us to trace our sense of cosmic meaning to the presence of a divine agent that watches over us. Ancestors who lived as if they were being watched and judged by a supernatural entity, combined with their imperative to reproduce, predisposed them toward moralistic religious beliefs. This is evolutionary psychology at its worst. Bering makes a compelling case for loathing humanity.

Eurofighter Typhoon

Take-off run: 700 m
Go to take-off: 8 s
Go to 10 km high: 150 s
Max speed: Mach 2
Max g: +9 / –3
Max thrust: 180 kN

Wingspan: 11 m
Length: 16 m
Wing area: 50 sqm
Mass empty: 11 Mg (tons)
Max take-off: 23.5 Mg

Mideast Protests
The Guardian

Bahrain: two killed in police
assault on Pearl roundabout
Yemen: protests broken up by
pro-government supporters
Iran: students and academics
arrested at protest
Egypt: protesters plan return
to Tahrir Square
Libya: clashes in the eastern
city of Benghazi

The Face Of The Revolution
Financial Times

Wael Ghonim has been anointed by the U.S. media as the face of the Egyptian revolution. Younger than Mohamed ElBaradei, less scary than the Muslim Brotherhood, articulate in English, married to an American and an employee of Google, Ghonim made the Facebook page that drew protesters to Tahrir Square and was imprisoned but then released in time to speak out. He is the poster boy of the revolution.

Mubarak Depressed
The Times

Egyptian ex-president Hosni Mubarak, 82, is depressed, refusing to take medication, and passing out repeatedly. There were family tensions during his last hours in office. Mubarak told his son Gamal he had ruined the Mubarak legacy in Egypt. Gamal's elder brother accused Gamal of miring Egypt in corruption and nepotism.

India Gets Unwanted Aid
The Times

Britain is to continue giving India £300 million a year in aid — even though officials in Delhi say that they do not need it. The Department for International Development will continue to focus on the poorer, northern states of India, with improving maternal and infant welfare and primary-school education as priorities.

AR This aid is a paternalist residue of colonial thinking and should be terminated. We should seek a relationship of equals with India.

Axe: £12 Billion Cost
The Times

The full cost of military equipment being scrapped as a result of the Government’s defence review will be more than £12 billion. The £12 billion figure represents the value of equipment at the time it is scrapped, a far smaller figure than the amount originally paid for it. The Government sees little chance of recouping much of the £12 billion by selling equipment.

AR Can't we give some of this kit to India instead of giving them aid they don't want?

The Egyptian Army
and Police Day

Issandr El Amrani
London Review of Books

The Egyptian army remained the only institution to preserve any legitimacy in the eyes of the protesters. Following the Camp David accords of 1978, the army profited from its role in the Arab-Israeli conflict. With more than 460,000 men, 4000 tanks, and hundreds of fighter jets, with its three-year conscription and lavish medical facilities and officers' clubs, the army never went short.

The protesters launched their movement on 25 January, the day on which in 1952 British troops massacred police officers in Ismailiya, a town by the Suez Canal. It was known as Police Day and from 2009 was a national holiday.

Lessons in Contempt
The Times

Boys at an Islamic secondary school are being taught hatred for British values and contempt for other religions. Secret filming at the Darul Uloom Islamic High School in Birmingham revealed that pupils were being instructed to despise non-Muslims. The school belongs to the Deobandi tradition, which runs up to half of Britain's 1,500 mosques and produces 80% of British-trained Muslim clerics.

AR Close the schools and expel the teachers. This is an abomination.

2011 February 23

Libya: What To Do
Fred Kaplan, Slate

Senator John Kerry proposed a few actions to help the Libyan protesters bring down the regime of Muammar Qaddafi:
1 Foreign oil companies in Libya should suspend operations
    until the violence stops
2 U.S. sanctions should be resumed
3 Libya's military officers should be prosecuted for war crimes
    if they fire on their citizens
4 The United Nations should remove Libya from its seat on
    the Human Rights Council

Chopin's Genius
Stefany Anne Golberg, Drexel University

In their article "The hallucinations of Frédéric Chopin" in the journal Medical Humanities, Manuel Vázquez Caruncho and Franciso Brañas Fernández conclude that Chopin's mysterious genius was due to temporal lobe epilepsy.

Temporal lobe epilepsy has also been diagnosed in Edgar Allan Poe, Gustave Flaubert, Philip K. Dick, Sylvia Plath, Lewis Carroll, and others. The Chopin verdict is thus in the tradition of what some call neurotheology, the attempt to explain spiritual experiences medically. Neurotheologists seek to secularize genius and to question the distinction between the illness and the work.

For romantics, genius is irrational and beyond our control. Genius is really a state of being, closer to a state of ecstasy. Chopin's hallucinations and his music are all one package. Our own bodies can generate within us a sense of the divine. But Chopin still had to practice his piano.

2011 February 22

The Sokal Hoax
Kevin Mattson, Dissent

NYU American studies professor Andrew Ross pounced on Dr. Welles in 1992 for failing to understand the politics of the toilet. Ross said his opponent failed to describe "the historical or ideological conditions under which immaculately white porcelain toilet technology was developed to demarcate squatting from non-squatting populations, and thereby create, if you will, an international division of excremental labor."

NYU physicist Alan Sokal wrote a spoof article, putatively about physics but chock-full of postmodern jargon and quotes from then-fashionable theorists. Ross took leadership in obtaining the article. In 1995, he recommended the piece for inclusion in the journal Social Text. The editors went ahead and accepted the piece as it was. Ross said he felt "snakebit" by the subsequent scandal.

2011 February 21

CNN, 1849 GMT

The Libyan government cracked down on protests, lost control of Benghazi, and faces defections from regime officials

AR Libya = Somalia + oil

2011 February 20

William Skidelsky, The Observer

Niall Ferguson looks too smart to be an academic. On Wednesday afternoon, the Philippe Roman chair in history and international affairs is sitting in his office at the London School of Economics. He is dressed like a movie executive or hedge-fund manager. He begins by asking me to wait a few moments. "I'm afraid I have to write a cheque," he says, reaching for his fountain pen.

Ferguson, 46, is the author of numerous acclaimed books and has presented numerous television series. He is a professor of history at Harvard, a professor of business administration at Harvard Business School, and a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford. He gets up at six every day and works.

Ferguson met Ayaan Hirsi Ali in May 2009. Their affair soon prompted a storm of gossip. Hirsi Ali lives under constant police protection. Talking about Hirsi Ali, Ferguson's demeanor changes and he seems almost humble.

Civilization: Killer apps for world domination

1 Competition
Europe's fragmented politics led to competition and emigration
2 Science
Breakthroughs in science led to improvements in weaponry
3 Property
English law brought distributed property rights and democracy
4 Medicine
Western medical advances increased life expectancies worldwide
5 Consumption
Britain created an irresistible model of consumerist society
6 Work ethic
Protestantism was a form of Christianity encouraging hard work

The British TV series starts in March.

2011 February 19

Libya: Helicopters Fire On Protesters
CNN, 1415 GMT

Helicopters fired at demonstrators Saturday in the Libyan city of Benghazi, a doctor said, and dozens of injured people were hospitalized with gunshot wounds. At least 84 people have been killed by government security forces in three days of protests across Libya. Colonel Moammar Gadhafi has ruled Libya for 41 years, since 1969.

Bahrain: Protesters Retake Roundabout
CNN, 1351 GMT

Thousands of Bahrainis retook Pearl Roundabout as the Bahrain royal family appealed for dialog and the crown prince ordered the removal of the military from the roundabout. Many of the protesters are Shiite Muslims, who have long harbored grievances against the Sunni ruling family. The week's ferment has left 10 dead and many injured. Bahrain is a key U.S. ally and home to the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet.

Iran: Opposition Leaders Condemned
Iran Daily

Hundreds of thousands of people across Iran participated in rallies after Friday prayers to condemn the leaders of seditions. Defeated 2009 presidential election candidates Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hussein Mousavi called on the people to pour into streets on February 14 to express solidarity with the revolution in Egypt. Two people died in the clashes and many were arrested.

Saudi Arabia: Need For Cinemas
Crossroads Arabia

Riyadh: A senior state official says it is a "necessity" to establish movie theaters in Saudi Arabia. 230,000 Saudi citizens visited the UAE in summer 2010 to see movies.

AR This is historic change, billions well spent.

2011 February 18

This Is Not Islam
Olivier Roy, New Statesman

Those involved in the popular uprisings in North Africa and the Mideast are a post-Islamist generation. They aren't interested in ideology. They make no appeal to Islam. They are rejecting corrupt dictatorships and calling for democracy. They are nationalist and individualist. These young people know that Islamist regimes have become dictatorships. They keep their faith separate from their political demands. Religious observance has been individualized.

The Islamists have changed. The most radical of them have left to wage international jihad. They have no social or political base. Al Qaeda remains stuck in the logic of the "propaganda of the deed" and has never bothered to try to build political structures inside Muslim societies. Islamization — the wearing of the hijab and niqab, an increase in the number of mosques, the proliferation of preachers and Muslim television channels — has opened up a religious space where no one enjoys a monopoly.

Islamization has trivialized Islam: everything has become Islamic, from fast food to women's fashion. But the forms and structures of piety have become individualized. This growing diversity of faith even goes beyond Islam. Traditional clerics no longer have anything to say about the main social and political questions of the day. They have nothing to offer a younger generation looking for ways of living their faith in a more open world.

AR This looks like wishful thinking but it may hold some truth. For anyone in the flow of modern life, Islam is either a lifestyle choice or a historic ideology. It cannot be a total mindworld.

126 Jet Fighters: $11 Billion
Financial Times

The U.S. government is weighing corporate partnership with an Indian state aerospace company in a bid to supply New Delhi with 126 strike fighters.

The U.S. pitch for the contracts, worth $11 billion, pits the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet and Lockheed Martin F-16IN Super Viper against the Eurofighter Typhoon, Saab Gripen, Dassault Rafale, and MiG-35.

The winning bidder would work with Bangalore-based Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. HAL has worked with Russian, British, and French companies and produced some 3,600 aircraft. HAL turnover in 2010 was $2.5 billion.

Timothy Roemer, U.S. ambassador to Delhi, wrote in a confidential cable released by WikiLeaks: "The potential for HAL to successfully partner with US firms on a truly advanced aircraft remains untested and suspect." After a visit to HAL in 2010, he said the industry in India was "two to three decades behind the United States and other western nations."

Lockheed Martin F-16IN Super Viper

The F-16IN Super Viper shares a heritage with the fifth generation F-35 Lightning II and the F-22 Raptor. Evolutionary integration of fifth generation technologies makes the F-16IN the most advanced fourth generation fighter in the world today:
Active electronically scanned array radar
— Northrop Grumman APG-80 AESA radar
Net-centric warfare capability
Modern, full-color, all-digital glass cockpit
Advanced survivability features
Enhanced high thrust engine
— General Electric F110-132A with 140 kN thrust
Safety, reliability, and maintainability
Proven combat and operational effectiveness
— Over 400,000 combat hours: kill score 72-0
— Over 100,000 combat missions
— Over 1,000,000 GWOT sorties

2011 February 17

Report: Egypt Blocked Iran Ships

Officials overseeing the strategic waterway that connects the Red Sea to the Mediterranean say they are told that plans by two Iranian naval vessels to cross through the canal had been canceled.

The United States is monitoring two Iranian ships in the Red Sea that Israel said earlier were set to cross the Suez Canal.

Warships To Cross Suez Canal
Jerusalem Post

A report by Iranian TV denies claims that the ships had withdrawn their applications to transit into the Mediterranean.

Bahrain In Crisis
The Guardian, 1728 GMT

Bahrain: five killed in police raid on Pearl roundabout
Libya: reports 14 killed across several cities
Yemen: protesters clash with security forces

Israel Braces For War
The Times

Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman: "Tonight two Iranian warships are supposed to cross the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean Sea on their way to Syria, something that has not happened in many years. To my regret, the international community is not showing readiness to deal with the recurring Iranian provocations. The international community must understand that Israel cannot forever ignore these provocations."

Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak told troops that they might soon have to wage war in Lebanon against Hezbollah. A direct confrontation between Iran and Israel could quickly escalate into a wider conflict.

2011 February 16

James Webb Space Telescope
James Webb Space Telescope

The Webb will be the premier observatory of the next decade. It will study every phase in the history of our universe, ranging from the fireball 10 Ts after the Big Bang to the evolution of solar systems with Earthlike planets that may harbor life.

Webb is an international collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center is managing the development.

Innovative technologies developed for Webb include a folding, segmented primary mirror, adjusted to shape after launch; ultra-lightweight beryllium optics; detectors able to record extremely weak signals, microshutters that enable programmable object selection for the spectrograph; and a cryocooler for cooling the mid-IR detectors to 7 K.

There will be four science instruments on Webb: the Near InfraRed Camera (NIRCam), the Near InfraRed Spectrograph (NIRSpec), the Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI), and the Fine Guidance Sensor Tunable Filter Camera (FGS-TFI). The instruments will work primarily in the infrared wavelength range 0.6 to 27 µm.

AR Sounds good to me.

2011 February 15

NASA Budget
Aviation Week and Space Technology

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden says the $18.7 billion budget request for fiscal 2012 aims to create a sustainable program of exploration and innovation that "extends the life of the International Space Station, supports the growing commercial space industry, and addresses important scientific challenges while continuing our commitment to robust human space exploration, science and aeronautics programs."

Efforts to seed private development of commercial crew and cargo transportation to the International Space Station and other low Earth orbit destinations would be boosted to $850 million. The James Webb Space Telescope faces a cost overrun of $1.5 billion. An independent review suggests that launch will slip to 2016.

AR A logical move would be to axe the JWST — but this would be much worse for science than axing support for manned LEO work, where private enterprise can take up the slack.

The Lost Art Of Editing
The Guardian

"When a book appears, the author must take the credit. But if editing disappears, as it seems to be doing, there'll be no books worth taking the credit for."
Blake Morrison

Big companies used to have whole departments for copy editing and proof reading. Now one publisher and one editor can run an entire imprint. Editors acquire books in a more or less complete state. And while most readers are enraged when they buy a book and then spot linguistic and factual errors, some feel that speed and economy take priority.

Many writers pay tribute to their editors. Commitment and passion still exist among publishing professionals. Concern about falling standards reflects regret that the world of letters has faded. Writers must adapt to new realities. Publishing has changed. Books have been commodified.

AR Books that are poorly written or edited spoil the market. But new technology and the fast pace of modern life are spoiling it faster. Answer: embrace the change — go for blogs, where speed and good editing are vital. Unsolved challenge: to generate an income stream from it.

2011 February 14

Keystone Kops Koup
Amir Taheri, The Times

Egypt, having marched for a revolution, ends up with a military coup d'état. General Muhammad Hussein Tantawi, the defense minister, chaired an emergency session of the High National Military Council, which issued "Communiqué 1", which sounded like a pronunciamiento after a coup d'état in a banana republic.

Many Egyptians take pride in their armed forces. Some even describe the military as the saviors of the nation. But the coup has rendered meaningless the key organs of the State, including the vice-presidency, the Council of Ministers and the parliament.

The Egyptian state is an adjunct of the army. The armed forces number around half a million. The army owns hundreds of companies and is active in virtually every line of business. The army and its businesses represent over 10% of the population.

Professional soldiers are paid three times as much as their equivalents in the Civil Service. For the past 30 years, the military has claimed an average of 21% of the national budget. Egypt receives $1.3 billion in annual U.S. aid for the military.

Much of the corruption in Egypt can be traced back to the military. The Muslim Brotherhood has been working on influencing lower-ranked officers and NCOs for years. No one knows how successful the Brotherhood has been in its policy of infiadh (infiltration). The Egyptian uprising has been full of surprises.

China: Panama Rail
Financial Times

China is in talks to build an alternative to the Panama Canal that would link Colombia’s Atlantic and Pacific coasts by rail. The 220 km "dry canal" would run from the Pacific to a new city near Cartagena where imported Chinese goods would be assembled for re-export throughout the Americas. Colombia-sourced raw materials would make the return journey to China.

Colombia has long dreamt of building an alternative to the Panama Canal. Bogotá is frustrated by Washington's stalling over a free-trade agreement signed by both governments four years ago but yet to be ratified by Congress. Bilateral Sino-Colombian trade has meanwhile soared to more than $5 billion in 2010.

AR The rail link is a good idea. China is doing the right things.

2011 February 13

Blogging for Boys
India Knight, The Sunday Times

A school in Bolton, Lancs, hosted online lessons last December, when the kids couldn't get to school for snow. A blogging platform was set up on the school's website. The kids loved it. So the school added blogging to the curriculum. This led to a huge rise in literacy scores. The school's proportion of above-average grades in national curriculum test results went from 9% to 63%.

This is smart. Kids see older people doing exciting stuff online and want to join in. Nobody likes writing in a vacuum. By blogging, children get an audience. And they learn to touch-type. Blogging is good for them.

AR Yes, I agree. This is how to teach literacy in the web age. Let each schoolkid have a homepage with links to all his or her works and projects, like this site of mine.

Egypt Refutes Clash of Civilizations
Arun Kundnani, CNN

Conservatives argue that there is a clash between civilizations. Countries where the majority of the population is Muslim are grouped together as the Islamic world and seen as culturally prone to fanaticism and violence. Revolution there means Islamic revolution along the lines of Iran in 1979. Democracy must be imposed from outside.

Liberals had their own version of such thinking. They spoke of a dialog between civilizations. But they shared with conservatives the assumption that culture was the primary driver of conflict. President Obama's famous 2009 speech in Cairo was addressed to the Muslim world. Liberals imagined a peaceful co-existence between Muslims and the West.

In the Mideast, conflict was seen as rooted in a failure of Islam to adapt to modernity. The Egyptian revolution has demonstrated that this assumption no longer holds. Popular sovereignty has been the basis of the revolution. Muslims and Christians have marched together for rights, dignity, and social justice.

AR I hope that something like this is true. But I fear that we have a lot of pain to endure yet — think of Israel's right to exist and the Iran's appetite for the bomb.

Mark your calendar: NASA Stardust-NExT mission will fly by
comet Tempel 1 on February 14, 2011

2011 February 12

New Scientist

RoboEarth will enable robots to upload information on how they learned a new trick to a database. Any other robot that needs to use the same trick will then download the data.

Markus Waibel, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich: "The key innovation of RoboEarth is having robots generate information and knowledge and share it with other robots."

Brian Gerkey, Willow Garage, California: "It's a compelling vision, the idea of robots being able to learn from each other's experience, and mining that experience to improve their behavior."

Heico Sandee, Eindhoven University of Technology, the Netherlands: "Without a system like RoboEarth, robots will never be able to operate effectively in the unstructured and highly complex human environment."

Robots with different specifications will download task information that suits them. A software library will translate action recipes into detailed instructions for any given robot.


Das Blacktrail
Der Spiegel

Das Blacktrail ist wohl das spektakulärste Elektrofahrrad, das derzeit zu finden ist. Gebaut vom Regensburger PG-Bikes, das Rad fährt fast 100 Sachen. Der Rahmen ist aus Carbon gefertigt. Ganze zwei Kilogramm trägt er zum Gesamtgewicht von knapp 20 Kilogramm bei. Der Elektromotor entfaltet eine Kraft von 1,6 PS. Das Rad benimmt sich wie ein Motorrad. Es wird nur 667 Exemplare geben. Jedes kostet fast 60.000 Euro.

The vision of the future as an infinite playground, with an unending supply of information, is a glorious vision for scientists.
It is less attractive to other people, who may not welcome a future spent drowning in an unending flood of information.

>> Freeman Dyson

NF life and works
NF on World War 2
NF on Nazi Europe

AHA on Islam
AHA on Islamism

Front Line Nukes

DARPA proposes to fuel wartime Forward Operating Bases with nuclear power. Then troops or contractors won't need to truck fuel down roads littered with bombs. Self-sufficiency is the goal. Thorium is a likely fuel. DARPA wants $10 million for a feasibility study.

AR This seems good to me.

A Palestinian Gandhi
Adam Kirsch

The Israeli longing for a Palestinian Gandhi is a desire to be enabled to make peace by being morally compelled to make peace. Sari Nusseibeh is not a Palestinian Gandhi. But he comes close to advocating a Gandhian strategy. He believes that the individual is prior to the collective. Nusseibeh: "Respect for the preservation of human life, rather than violation of life in the name of any cause, should be what guides both Israelis and Palestinians in their pursuit of a just peace."

Eurofighter World

Oil Above $104
Financial Times

Oil prices surged on the Israeli warning. Brent crude rose above $104 a barrel, a 29-month high. Mideast clashes in Iran, Yemen, and Bahrain raised concern about disruption to oil flows.


NASA: Space No Good For Sex
The Independent

NASA scientists reviewing the feasibility of colonizing Mars says that astronauts should avoid getting pregnant along the way because of the radiation that would bombard them in space. Without effective shielding on spaceships, high-energy proton particles would probably sterilize any female fetus conceived in deep space and could have a big effect on male fertility.

Virgins In Paradise
Praveen Swami
The Telegraph

Saudi Arabian intellectuals are desperately trying to deny that Paradise is filled with doe-eyed virgins. The idea is driving adolescents to queue up to become suicide bombers. Saudi scholar Anwar bin-Majid says Allah knows that human minds cannot grasp the nature of the pleasures of Paradise, so He made it closer to their understanding by mentioning dark-eyed beauties, wine, milk, and fruit. In Paradise, he says, there are no sexual impulses and no sexual organs.

Muslim Journalists
The New York Times

The overwhelming majority of Pakistani journalists oppose U.S. military operations in their country and in Afghanistan. But most of them have a favorable view of the American people and believe that President Obama wants to withdraw troops from the region.

Over half of the journalists see themselves as Muslim first and almost half think politicians who do not believe in God should not hold office. But they say the most important issues are education and domestic terrorism, followed by the economy and domestic political change.


Al Jazeera English
Live Stream



"The people of Egypt have spoken, and Egypt will never be the same"
President Barack Obama

The Human Genome
MIT Technology Review

The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) has published a new plan, in Nature, for exploring the human genome. NHGRI director Eric Green says this plan lays out specific domains of research activity, including understanding the genome, how it works, and how we can use this knowledge to further the science and practice of medicine.

We can hope to see spectacular advances in our understanding of how the genome works, how disease works, and how genomic changes are associated with disease. We want to understand the genome elements that aren't genes. We need to catalog them and understand their choreography. We want to sequence and analyze the genomes of a million people. Some diseases result from rare genes and we need statistics to understand them.


RoboEarth is a World Wide Web for robots: a giant network and database repository where robots can share information and learn from each other about their behavior and their environment. RoboEarth will allow robotic systems to benefit from the experience of other robots, paving the way for rapid advances in machine cognition and behavior.

RoboEarth is funded by the Cognitive Systems and Robotics Initiative from the European Union Seventh Framework Programme FP7/2007-2013.

AR The EU should be funding
my Globorg initiative.

NASA: Sun in 3D
NASA Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) probes photographed the Sun from opposite sides to view solar activity in 3D.

Google in Egypt
The Times

A Google executive detained for 12 days in Egypt was behind the protests. Wael Ghonim, 30, says he is the administrator of the "We are all Khaled Said" Facebook group.

Speaking on Egyptian Dream TV, Google's head of marketing for the Middle East and North Africa said: "This is the revolution of the youth of the internet, and now the revolution of all Egyptians. This country is ours, not yours, it is ours. We have to restore dignity to all Egyptians. We have to end corruption and put an end to theft."

Google tweet: "Wael Ghonim has been released. Our love to him and his family."

Health Cure
Der Spiegel

Will Hosni Mubarak make a graceful exit to Germany? Plans for a possible hospital stay favor a luxury clinic near Baden-Baden.

Geert Wilders' lawyers say
they want to call the 2004 murderer of Theo van Gogh
as a witness.

Ronald Reagan
100 today

Are You There God?
Jesse Bering, Slate

We are natural psychologists. As a consequence of the evolution of the human social brain, we sometimes can't help but see intentions, desires, and beliefs in inanimate things. We kick our cars and cuss our computers. What if God were a psychological illusion etched onto your brain by your overactive theory of mind?

The Guardian

Inayat Bunglawala, chair of Muslims4Uk: "The PM's comments come on a day when the viciously Islamophobic English Defence League are to stage their biggest demonstration yet on our streets. Integration works both ways and we would expect Mr Cameron and his government to be openly challenging these EDL extremists. Instead, he and his senior ministers have to date remained totally mute. It is disgraceful."

AR Yes, remaining mute in face of extremism is disgraceful.

2011 February 11

Egypt: Mubarak Steps Down
CNN, 1633 GMT

Go, No Go
CNN, 0318 GMT

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak clung to the presidency but said he would "delegate powers" to Vice President Omar Suleiman according to the constitution.

"Get out!" They Chanted
The Times

Nobel Peace laureate Mohamed ElBaradei warned: "Egypt will explode. The army must save the country now."

AR Military takeover, new elections, weak civilian governments, increasing militancy from the base — Egypt will resemble Turkey at best, Pakistan at worst.

A Fourth Wave
Richard Wolin, CHE

Sixty percent of the Egyptian population is under 30. The demonstrators seem aware of the fact that they are struggling not only for Egypt's future, but also for the entire Arab world. The protesters seem united in their aversion to political Islam. They have no interest in exchanging a secular despotism for an equally oppressive Islamic regime.

A wave of democratic transitions swept Southern Europe, South America, and Eastern Europe a generation ago. Samuel Huntington dubbed it the Third Wave of democratization. The two previous waves were the democratic revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries, and the post-1919 democratic governments enfranchised by the Treaty of Versailles.

The political developments now shaking the Arab world might mark a Fourth Wave of democratization. Arab civil society is, in Kant's terms, emerging from a condition of tutelage or immaturity and striving toward political self-determination. In Hegel's terms, history is the story of progress in the consciousness of freedom.

2011 February 10

Saudi Arabia

Saudi King Threatens Obama
The Times

Saudi Arabia has threatened to prop up President Mubarak if the White House tries to force a swift change of regime in Egypt. King Abdullah told President Obama not to humiliate Mubarak.

The Egyptian crisis has opened the biggest rift between U.S. and Saudi interests since the oil price shock of 1973. With Egypt in chaos, the kingdom is Washington's main ally in the Arab world.

Riyadh is feeling threatened by Iran. The expulsion of the Mubarak regime would remove not only a key Saudi and American ally in the region but also a major bulwark against Iranian expansionism.

Neal Stephenson, Slate

The existence of rockets big enough to hurl payloads into orbit was contingent on the following series of events:

1 World's most technically advanced nation under absolute control of superweapon-obsessed madman

2 Astonishing advent of atomic bombs at exactly the same time

3 A second great power dominated by secretive, superweapon-obsessed dictator

4 Nuclear strategy militating in favor of ICBMs as delivery system

5 Geographic situation of adversaries necessitating that ICBMs must have near-orbital capability

6 Manned space exploration as propaganda competition, unmoored from realistic cost/benefit discipline

Space travel has one application — unmanned satellites — that is commercially lucrative:

Biz Dev Guy: We could make a preposterous amount of money from communications satellites.

Engineer: They'll be expensive to build, but nothing compared to the cost of building the rockets.

Biz Dev Guy: But our government has already put $4 trillion into building the rockets. There's only one catch.

Engineer: OK, I'll bite. What's the catch?

Biz Dev Guy: Your communications satellite has to be the size, shape, and weight of a hydrogen bomb.

2011 February 9

Ghonim: "not about me"
CNN, 1642 GMT

Google executive Wael Ghonim is "ready to die" to bring change to Egypt. He appealed to the Egyptian government: "If you are true Egyptians, if you are heroic Egyptians, it's time to step down."

Ghonim was cheered by thousands when he spoke recently at Tahrir Square. He says he is uncomfortable about being the face of the popular uprising in Egypt: "This is not about me."

Crowds Salute Facebook Dreamer
The Times

Wael Ghonim lacks charisma, physical presence or oratorical power. But the computer technician has turned the mouse and the keyboard into weapons powerful enough to destroy dictatorships.

An extraordinary interview Mr Ghonim had given earlier went viral, and he received a thunderous reception when he appeared before a vast multitude packed into Tahrir Square.

Mr Ghonim lives in the United Arab Emirates and created a Facebook site called "We are all Khaled Said" after the young Egyptian who was dragged from a café in Alexandria and beaten to death by the police in June.

Told by the interviewer that more than 300 had been killed, he broke down and wept. The interview was flagged up on Twitter and Facebook and was watched by millions. It has had an electrifying impact on the uprising.

AR Wake up, you Times scribblers! You say "Wael Ghonim lacks charisma" and call him a "computer technician" and then say he has "turned the mouse and the keyboard into weapons powerful enough to destroy dictatorships." You say he lacks "oratorical power" yet concede that he drew a "thunderous reception" when he appeared before a vast crowd.

Mr Ghonim is a senior marketing executive in one of the most powerful corporations on the planet. The corporation has a lot of computers, true, and Mr Ghonim used his mouse to start a Facebook group, but that hardly makes him a technician. And any guy who can start a revolution like that has shown that he has charisma, in my humble opinion.

2011 February 8

Cognitive Toolkit

All of you are here because of something Stewart Brand said to
Steve Wozniak in 1984.
John Brockman 1

We are now in the Anthropocene era. We are terraforming.
And that's the green project for this century.
Stewart Brand 2
Creator and editor, Whole Earth Catalog

The essence of life is information.
And that's the essence of technology.
Kevin Kelly 3
Senior Maverick, Wired

If you look at what's exciting people here most, it's things like
Facebook and Google.
George Dyson 4

2011 February 7

I Believe in Zeus
Rabbi Alan Lurie

Complex subjects resist short explanations. Words are often inadequate or misleading. First, not all religious people are convinced that they have it right. Second, I believe in Zeus.

Plato: "In the heaven above the heavens ... abides the essence with which true knowledge is concerned, the colorless, formless, intangible spirit, visible only to mind, the pilot of the soul."

Plato knew that Zeus is a symbolic manifestation of the essence of creative power. The pantheon of gods were human attempts to describe the spiritual experience in an anthropomorphic story.

Jewish mysticism teaches that the true nature of God is without limit, and completely beyond human comprehension.

AR I agree with the mystics — I am one.

Europe and Egypt
Financial Times

Europe can build a better relationship with Arab neighbors whose governments at long last treat their people with dignity. One model is Turkey, a thriving democracy which has emerged as a valuable regional partner. Arab countries face a long period of reconstruction. A business culture stripped of political corruption and military influence is essential. But the EU diplomatic corps was slow off the mark in responding to the Arab ferment.

2011 February 6

Egyptian Brotherhood
CNN, 0833 GMT

The Muslim Brotherhood said it will meet with Egyptian VP Omar Suleiman, days after the group said it would not negotiate until President Hosni Mubarak leaves office.

MB spokesman Essam el-Erian: "We decided to take the people's demands to the negotiation table."

Egypt Transition
The New York Times

The United States and leading European nations threw their weight behind Egyptian VP Omar Suleiman, backing his attempt to defuse a popular uprising without immediately removing President Hosni Mubarak from power. Suleiman promised an "orderly transition" that would include constitutional reform and outreach to opposition groups. "That takes some time," Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton said, speaking at the Munich Security Conference.

Warsi Versus Khan
The Guardian

Tory co-chairman Baroness Warsi called for an apology from shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan after he accused Cameron of "writing propaganda for the EDL": "For Sadiq Khan to smear the prime minister as a right-wing extremist is outrageous and irresponsible. David Cameron has made it clear that he wants to unite Britain around our common values ... extremism and Islam are not the same thing."

AR The Warsi elevation is sound Realpolitik.

2011 February 5

EDL in Luton
The Guardian

Thousands of EDL activists descended on Luton today for the biggest demonstration in EDL history. About 3,000 marchers gathered in St George's Square. Police officers escorted the EDL marchers from the train station into the square. Some fireworks and bottles were thrown. Shops and businesses were closed and petrol stations boarded up. A resident compared Luton to a war zone. EDL leader Stephen Lennon told the crowd they were part of a "tidal wave of patriotism" that was sweeping the UK.

The EDL protesters were joined by Rabbi Nachum Shifrem from Los Angeles: "I am proud to be part of the EDL. I believe that the EDL is the leading element of change in Europe."
The Telegraph
Telegraph video

AR No big drama — that's good news.

Cameron Contra Multiculti
The Independent

David Cameron today attacks 30 years of multiculturalism in Britain. He warns it is fostering extremist ideology and contributing to home-grown Islamic terrorism. He says Britain must adopt a policy of "muscular liberalism" to enforce the values of equality, law and freedom of speech. He warns Muslim groups that if they fail to endorse women's rights or promote integration, they will lose all government funding. Immigrants must speak English and schools will teach British culture.

Cameron: Multiculti Has Failed
The Times

David Cameron will declare today that multiculturalism has failed in Britain as he vows to confront Islamists who reject Western values.

Muslim groups "showered with public money" for offering a gateway to their communities will see their funding cut unless they promote democracy, equality before the law and the rights of women and those of other faiths. They will also be banned from university campuses and prisons.

"Frankly, we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism," Cameron will say at the annual Munich Security Conference of world leaders.

The Prime Minister takes care to distinguish between the religion of Islam and the political ideology of Islamist extremism. "The ideology of extremism is the problem. Islam, emphatically, is not."

He will argue that the backgrounds of convicted terrorists in Britain show that many were initially influenced by "non-violent extremists, and then took those radical beliefs to the next level by embracing violence."

Europe needs to wake up to the threat: "Each of us in our own countries must be unambiguous and hard-nosed about this defence of our liberty."

English Defence League

The English Defence League (EDL) is opposed to the Islamization of Britain. About 4,000 members of the EDL will march to Luton town centre at lunchtime today. The protesters are expected to clash with anti-fascist groups. Nearly 2,000 officers in riot gear have been drafted in to tackle the groups. The EDL rally is understood to have agitated Luton's large Muslim community.

AR David Cameron is doing the right thing at last. But he is still running months behind Angela Merkel on multi-kulti. Let us hope the Munich Security Conference will issue a clear statement that all Europeans can rally behind.

To Boldly Sow
New Scientist

We could become the agents of panspermia. We could send micro-organisms to other worlds. We could send out colony ships filled with microbes and pulled by solar sails. A seeding mission could put a spacecraft in orbit within the habitable zone around the host star, from where it could disperse millions of seed capsules, some of which should end up on the target planet. But the project seems unlikely to attract vast funds.

AR Mad, bad and dangerous: cosmic vandalism

Saudi Arabia
Saud family returns from exile and rules in Riyadh
Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco) pumps oil
Saudis found Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)
Yom Kippur War prompts
Saudi Arabia to organize
OPEC oil boycott
Saudi Arabia seizes full
control of Aramco
Gulf War I: United States stations troops in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia contributes 15 terrorists for 9/11 attacks
United States announces military withdrawal from Saudi Arabia
United States announces
$60 billion arms deal with
Saudi Arabia



Swiss Oil Trade
Financial Times

Switzerland claims to be the world's leading trading center for physical oil. Switzerland saw an inflow of Russian oil traders since the late 1990s. Geneva claims to handle about 75 percent of Russia's oil exports. Russia is the world's top oil producer, after overtaking Saudi Arabia last year.

Huffington Post

AOL is buying the Huffington Post for $315 million. It is by far the highest price paid to date for a blog or blogging network.
HuffPost claims 25 million monthly unique visitors.

AR Hey guys, wanna buy
The Ross Blog?

"The world is a dangerous place to live in, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."
Albert Einstein


Does Egypt Prove Bush Right?
Fred Kaplan, Slate

Neocon Bush adviser Elliott Abrams claims that the protests in Tunisia and Egypt prove that Bush's "freedom agenda" was right. Bush said that liberty is not America's gift to the world but God's gift to humanity. But Bush's freedom agenda failed because nobody believed it. Bush pretended there was no tension between our interests and our ideals.

Arab world


Süddeutsche Zeitung

Mubarak has yet to say why he wants to stay in office for another six months. Troops stood in Tahrir Square and watched the bloody riots. The officers say they had warned the demonstrators to go home.

Die Welt
The transition to a new era will not be smooth. The opposition does not trust Mubarak to arrange a peaceful transition. The military can opt for repression and install a military dictatorship. Or it can safeguard the transition.

The Mideast political powder keg is facing dangerous instability. The Europeans and Americans underestimated the rage of the people. But Europeans could back the democratic forces. Turkey could serve as mediator.

Source: Der Spiegel

2011 February 4

Mideast Economics
Der Spiegel

The unrest in the Arab world is fueled by massive economic problems. Young people face a grim future and are venting their anger on the streets.

University of Minnesota economist Ragui Assaad says there are three main reasons for the economic crisis in the region:

— High birth rates: Since the 1990s, the number of young people has grown disproportionately.

— Education: The young people in the richer Arab states are well educated, but not well enough.

— Over-reliance on the state: The regimes employ millions of people in the public sector, but unprofitably.

Young people in the Mideast suffer from poor economic policies and poor education. Economics enforces celibacy: Arab men without a permanent job have next to no chance of marrying and starting a family. The Mideast needs a market economy, says Assaad.

Will Islam Befriend Democracy?
Jakob Augstein, Der Spiegel

Few places show Western double standards so harshly as in the Mideast. To the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, Western words like freedom and democracy must sound as hollow as Brezhnev's praise of freedom and socialism did to people in Poland.

No other countries have received as much foreign aid from the United States as Israel and Egypt. Most of the aid goes to the military. Egypt has increased Israel's security, kept open the Suez Canal, and heaped to contain radical Islam. The Mubarak regime has served the West well over the years.


Financial Times

Western foreign policy is grappling with the issue of democracy versus stability. The West is concerned about Islamists. Mubarak has to go. But the transition to a functioning democracy must be mediated and measured.

Frankfurter Allgemeine

Egypt is key in efforts to prevent the region from descending into chaos and war. Israel has stuck with Mubarak. Egypt was a stable despotism. No one can say what the Arab revolutions will achieve.

Die Tageszeitung
Mubarak ruined his chance of a dignified exit. The scenes in Cairo will remain associated with the president. All signs point to confrontation.

Source: Der Spiegel

SpaceX Dragon Dream Chaser Prometheus
SpaceX Dragon spacecraft delivering cargo
to the International Space Station
Sierra Nevada
Sierra Nevada Space Systems Dream Chaser
built with help from NASA
Orbital Sciences
Orbital Sciences Prometheus behind
the International Space Station

The Times

Qatar-based Arabic language news channel al-Jazeera grips millions of people across the Mideast and beyond with events on the streets of Cairo. Since al-Jazeera began broadcasting in 1996, Arab despots have been glued to their televisions. The channel is often first to broadcast messages from al-Qaeda, including the latest videos by Osama bin Laden.

Obama and Cairo
Der Spiegel

Early in his presidency, Barack Obama delivered an ambitious foreign policy address at Cairo University. The speech set forth the outlines of a "new beginning" between the United States and the Muslim world.

Obama spoke eloquently about democracy. He said the United States would support "elected, peaceful governments" and endorsed democratic values like free expression, honest government, and "freedom to live as you choose."

Obama understood that the Mideast's "democracy deficit" contributes to the problems that feed regional instability and threaten the rest of the world. His subsequent actions have failed to fulfill the promise of his Cairo vision.

Democracy Is Back
Financial Times

In the long run, the emergence of more dynamic and freer societies on the other side of the Mediterranean could be a huge boost to Europe. In the short run, the fear of social and political turmoil is uppermost.

For the Chinese leadership, the sight of pro-democracy demonstrators occupying Tahrir Square in Cairo is uncomfortably reminiscent of events in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

2011 February 3

NASA Chases Dreams
The New York Times

NASA will let the commercial sector put astronauts into space. Dream Chaser, designed to take astronauts into orbit, is among the spacecraft NASA will help to build. Boeing is designing a capsule for 7 crew called CST-100. Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, SpaceX, says it can add 7 seats to its Dragon capsule for delivering cargo to the space station. Orbital Sciences Corporation is working on a space plane called Prometheus. NASA will spend $1 billion on space taxi services in 2012 and 2013.

Geopolitical Risk
Financial Times

In the past few years, financial markets have been complacent about pricing geopolitical risk. The risk of default assigned to many emerging market sovereign bonds was lower than peripheral eurozone countries. Some metrics suggested that Egypt was a better place to invest than Portugal. The events in Egypt took most western investors by surprise.

Street Violence
The Times

Human Rights Watch has accused President Mubarak of releasing thousands of criminals from jail and sending his reviled plainclothes police to spread chaos and looting in the capital.

British PM David Cameron: "If it turns out that the regime in any way has been sponsoring or tolerating this violence, that would be completely and utterly unacceptable. These are despicable scenes that we're seeing."

AR Well said, David.

2011 February 1

The New York Times

American intelligence assesses that Pakistan:
— has steadily expanded its nuclear arsenal since 2008
— now has a nuclear arsenal of over 100 deployed weapons
— is building the capacity to produce plutonium for new weapons
— will overtake Britain as the fifth largest nuclear weapons power
— has secured its arsenal with $100 million of U.S. money
— is financing the new weapons from unknown sources

An anoymous official: "The country already has more than enough weapons for an effective deterrent against India. This is just for the generals to say they have more than India."

Pakistani officials fear that the United States has plans to secure the weapons in an emergency. They are furious that Washington is providing civilian nuclear fuel to India.

Pakistan's National Command Authority "rejects any effort to undermine its strategic deterrence."

AR I reject any effort to justify Pakistan's deterrent. Pakistanis starve and die in floods and the elite build bombs. Madness.

Merkel in Israel

Chancellor Angela Merkel told audience at Tel Aviv University the situation between Israel and the Palestinians will get worse if nothing is done. She said the freeze in negotiations is unacceptable and doesn't serve either party.

AR Israel is flirting with a nightmare worse than Iran II.

Egypt on the Brink
CNN, 0317 GMT

President Hosni Mubarak continues to throw up literal and figurative roadblocks in the way of demonstrators calling for his ouster. A leading opposition figure said the United States needs to "let go of Mubarak."

Israeli Reaction
The Times, 0001 GMT

An Israeli defence cabinet minister: "Israel was caught with its pants down. We were completely surprised by what is happening in Egypt right now. Nobody predicted this."

Hamas MP Sheikh Fadel Hamden: "Mubarak was an enforcer of Israel. He did not side with his Arab brothers."

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood
Der Spiegel

The Muslim Brotherhood, Ikhwan, is Egypt's largest opposition movement. Many observers fear that they could transform the country into a theocracy.

Raschad Al-Bayumi, deputy leader of the Ikhwan: "We support ElBaradei's demands for Mubarak's overthrow, we support the demand of all opposition."

Bayumi: "Thousands of our members are on the streets. But we also say that this is not an Islamic revolution, this is a revolution against Mubarak."

Many Egyptians reject the Ikhwan goal of a theocratic Egypt. Support for Ikhwan in the population hovers at around 30 percent.

But as the first Islamist mass movement of modern times, its charitable work at the base and its benefits to the poor and sick in the Arab world, where it has everywhere gained ground and where corrupt and decadent rulers have failed, give it credibility.

King Fuad II
The Times

Ahmed Fuad II lives in a rented house in Switzerland and watches television. Events could force Hosni Mubarek to join the club of exiled Egyptian heads of state. One night in July 1952, a yacht from Alexandria took Fuad and his family into exile. He was six months old. Fuad had become King of Egypt and Sudan earlier that day when his father, King Farouk, was forced to abdicate.

Obama and Iran II
The Times

The nightmare outcome for President Obama is called Iran II. President Mubarak flees but America is seen in Cairo as on the wrong side of history. In the ensuing chaos, the Muslim Brotherhood forms a government and leaves the Mideast peace process in tatters. Obama is seen as the president who lost Egypt.

As Washington flails, criticisms that this White House has paid court to Mubarak and only lip service to fostering Egyptian democracy are hitting home. In March 2009, Hillary Clinton suggested that Egypt's human rights record was scarcely worse than that of the United States. Obama has continued to rely on Mubarak as its first line of defense against extremism in Egypt.

Oil Over $100
Financial Times

Oil trader Mercuria CEO Marco Dunand: "We are extremely concerned about the Middle East situation. This is going to increase volatility substantially."

J.P. Morgan oil research head Lawrence Eagles sees a risk that the turmoil may act as a catalyst for unrest in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

AR Exciting times!

Cairo, 2011-01-31
Protestors in Cairo, January 31, 2011

Julian Assange
The Observer

WikiLeaks cables show that American diplomats reported many reasons for the Egyptian uprising: torture of dissidents, repression and fear, and the role of internet activism. Assange says the cables are testimony to the professionalism and straight talking of the U.S. State Department with their "relative honesty and directness."

Assange seems more scientific than journalistic. To the charge that WikiLeaks will lead to more secrecy, not less, he says organizations can either "engage in plans that the public will support if they are revealed" or "spend additional resources to keep those plans secret."

AR He's a hero.

Berlin Moment
The Guardian
1543 GMT

Fawaz Gerges, professor of Middle Eastern politics and international relations at the London School of Economics:
"This is the Arab world's Berlin moment. The authoritarian wall has fallen — and that's regardless of whether Mubarak survives or not. It goes beyond Mubarak. The barrier of fear has been removed."

Fat Tails
Financial Times

The Middle East is now showing the potency of fat tails. Before 2007, developments in the global economy appeared so calm and predictable the period was dubbed the age of great moderation. Sometimes the worst case scenario plays out.

Terminator Hand

Researchers at the German Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics have built a Terminator hand. The fingers are controlled by 38 tendons, each driven by a motor inside the forearm. Two tendons serve each joint. When their motors turn the same way, the joint moves. When they turn in opposite directions, the joint stiffens.

During tests, the researchers gave the arm a 66 g whack. The hand was unscathed. It can exert a force of 30 N with its fingers and the joints can spin at 9 rad/s. If it tenses first and then releases the energy, the joints can move 4 times faster. Team head Markus Grebenstein says they plan to build a torso with two arms.

Video: Terminator hand

Hala Gorani
Hala Gorani
Sexy Anchors Distracting

Indiana U researchers report
that emphasis on the sexual attractiveness of female news anchors distracts male viewers from remembering the news.

AR Who'da thunk it? Someone
go tell Hala Gorani at CNN.

Wave and Pay
Financial Times

Apple is expected to install "wave and pay" technology in iPhone 5. The new phone, due out this year, is likely to incorporate Near Field Communication technology to handle financial account data and tie it to specific devices. "I do believe the iPhone 5 will have NFC embedded," said Bill Gajda, Visa's head of mobile innovation.

AR Apple rides the wave of
the future and we pay.

The King's Army
New York Post

Saudi King Abdullah and his retinue needed a dozen tractor trailers to load their mountain of luggage and an army of security guards before flying out of JFK last week. The king, 87, was in town for two months and booked whole floors of the Plaza and Waldorf Astoria. He and his entourage left on at least seven private jets. The king flew out in his Boeing 747 and the two wives who had accompanied him left on their own jets.

AR Next time I refuel my car,
I shall think of the profligacy
we're helping to finance.

CEO Therapy
Financial Times

What is the point of Davos? John Studzinski, a long-time Davos devotee and investment banking leader: "Being a CEO can be a lonely existence in terms of trusting ears and advice, so they come to Davos to meet and talk one-on-one." Davos has become a self-help group. CEOs are aware that hostility towards elites is rising.

AR Indeed. I'm a strategic thinker but they haven't invited me. So why should I care about them and their vanity?

The One-Eyed Man Is King
Frank Rich, NY Times

John Wayne won the 1969 Best Actor Oscar for True Grit. The Coen brothers' new remake of True Grit stars Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn.

That True Grit still works is a testament to the beauty of the remake and to the enduring power of the 1968 novel by Charles Portis. The original film opened in 1969. True Grit has something to say to Americans in 2011.

AR Rooster rocks!

Smart Phone
Zombie Apocalypse

MIT Technology Review

Smart phone malware is getting more sophisticated. A security researcher has created software that turns a smart phone into a zombie in a botnet. In 2010, a scam in Russia tricked users into installing malware on Android phones, and a Chinese virus for Android devices was used to steal personal data.

AR My phone is mostly off, and anyway it's pretty dumb.

The Geert Wilders trial

2011 January 30

ElBaradei: 'They stole our freedom'
Jerusalem Post

Opposition figure Mohamed ElBaradei tells crowds in Cairo:
"They stole our freedom, and what we have begun cannot be reversed ... We have a key demand, for the regime to step down and to start a new era."

The Muslim Brotherhood throws its support behind ElBaradei, giving him a mandate to negotiate a unity government.

AR President Obama can support a fellow Nobel peace laureate.

Change Is Good
Anne Applebaum, Slate

The stability we have so long embraced in the Arab world was repression. The dictators we have supported have stayed in power by preventing economic development and clamping down on free speech.

Egypt has a wealthy and well-armed elite at the top and a fanatical and well-organized Islamic fundamentalist movement at the bottom. In between lies a large and unorganized body of people who have never participated in politics and whose business activities have been limited by corruption and nepotism.

Our options are now limited. We should speak directly to the Egyptian public and congratulate them for their courage. In repressive societies, change is good.

AR President Obama must either support the protesters or see the American investment in Egypt go to waste.

Regime Change
The Sunday Times

Egypt's two most senior security officials warned President Hosni Mubarak yesterday that he should relinquish power. General Omar Suleiman, 74, the intelligence chief and new vice-president, and Field Marshall Mohamed Tantawi, the defense minister, were said to have raised with Mubarak the idea that he should leave.

Many fear that the Muslim Brotherhood will make a bid for power if President Hosni Mubarak's regime topples. The Muslim Brotherhood was founded in 1928 as an anti-British movement with a strong Muslim identity and a military wing, but it has since rejected violence. Its ideology remains virulently anti-Israeli.

The Egyptian Army
CNN, 0551 GMT

The warm embrace that demonstrators gave troops this week illustrated the military's respected and central role in Egyptian society. This fact makes the armed forces potentially a kingmaker in the current crisis. The ascendance began in 1952, when the military helped overthrow Egypt's ruling monarch. Its support for a constitutional democracy and its performance in various wars and battles earned it the admiration of many Egyptians. CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen: "There's a good reason that the Egyptian military is held in pretty high esteem. The army has done relatively well."

AR Egypt could soon resemble Turkey. We are seeing a historic transformation of the Mideast region. Will secular institutions survive the resurgence of Islamism? Will other autocratic regimes fall? Will the Saudi despots survive long enough to get their new American arms and fight off the Iranian threat to their oilfields? Will Israel survive? Will we see the emergence of a Panislamic power that threatens the survival of Western civilization?

2011 January 29

CNN, 1650 GMT

After the Egyptian cabinet resigned, President Hosni Mubarak appointed his intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, as his deputy.
Suleiman's appointment was seen as an attempt to restore order. "His loyalty to Mubarak seems rock solid," said a former U.S. ambassador in a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable. Suleiman has long been seen as a possible successor to Mubarak. Tapping him as a deputy might allow Mubarak to make a graceful exit.

2011 January 28

CNN, 1549 GMT

Thousands of angry anti-government demonstrators took to the streets Friday in several Egyptian cities and clashed with police who fired tear gas to quell the crowds.

In Cairo, vans packed with riot police circled neighborhoods before weekly prayers. Protesters defied security warnings to demand an end to President Hosni Mubarak's authoritarian rule. Smoke billowed over the Nile River as chaos reigned in the metropolis. The Muslim Brotherhood urged its followers to protest after prayers.

Emile Hokayem of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in the Middle East: "They're all protesting about growing inequalities, they're all protesting against growing nepotism. The top of the pyramid was getting richer and richer."

Opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei said people have taken to the streets because they "realize the regime is not listening, not acting." The regime has placed him under house arrest.

AR The Arab world is waking up politically.

The Global Muslim Population
The Pew Forum

The world's Muslim population is expected to rise from 1.6 billion in 2010 to 2.2 billion by 2030. Muslims will make up over a quarter of the world's total projected population.

If current trends continue, 79 countries will have a million or more Muslim inhabitants in 2030, and Pakistan will surpass Indonesia as the country with the single largest Muslim population.

In the eight Muslim-majority countries where girls generally receive the fewest years of schooling, the average fertility is 5 children per woman, more than double the average in the countries where girls get most schooling.

Fewer than half of married women in Muslim-majority countries use birth control.

AR The key elements of a solution — education and birth control — are obvious enough, but successful rollout requires a change of mind among the people who can block its execution. We need to convince Muslim men that quality, not quantity, is the only hope for their kids to avoid predation in a fat tail future.

2011 January 27

Nimrod MRA4
BAE Nimrod MRA4
Nimrod Destruction Folly
The Telegraph

Britain is committed to the support of the UN, NATO, and the EU. The vulnerability of sea lanes, unpredictable overseas crises, and traditional surface and submarine opposition will continue to demand versatile, responsive aircraft. Nimrod provided long-range reconnaissance, anti-submarine surveillance, air-sea rescue coordination, and reconnaissance support to the Navy's Trident submarines. Other options fall short of replacing the strategic contribution of Nimrod.
from a letter signed by six senior former military chiefs

The Nimrod MRA4 maritime patrol aircraft has already been paid for, yet these aircraft will never take to the air. They are already being scrapped. The gap left by Nimrod will soon have to be filled by an expensive replacement from the United States, almost certainly the Boeing P-8A Poseidon. This is a shambolic approach to national defense.

AR Without Nimrod, Britain depends entirely on the United States for maritime defense. Trident, F-35, next Poseidon: Britain is practically the 51st state of the union.

2011 January 26

The Cultural Elite
The Intellectual Situation, n + 1

The cultural elite is a group of important individuals who have come by their roles through social position as much as merit, who place their own self-maintenance as an elite and the interests of the social class they represent above the interests and judgments of the population at large, and who look down on ordinary people as inferiors.

Access to political, economic, and military power is today more meritocratic and open than access to filmmaking, humanistic academia, freelance writing, and so on. Culture is a last vestige of unearned prestige in an otherwise democratically constituted society. Goldman Sachs and Google are less elitist than The Nation or the Yale English department.

Class mobility in the United States peaked around 1980, and has been going down ever since. Universities are elitist because going to one costs so much. Overall inflation since 1980 is 179%, while the price of a college education has risen by 827% and income distribution has skewed radically toward the rich. Higher education went from being the main lever for equality to being the breeding pool for the cultural elite.

AR A specter is haunting America — the specter of speciation:
The rich will inherit health care, education, and life itself.

British Cold Dip
The Times

The British Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, blamed the December snow for the surprise 0.5 percent fall in GDP in the last quarter of 2010.

The Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, warned that workers' incomes were falling sharply and that inflation could soon rise to 5 percent.

AR Forgive me for defying all this doom and gloom, but if the social order is good, income can fall yet general welfare can rise. People with too much income often waste it. So the government is right to see the present climate as an opportunity to organize more effectively, cut waste, clarify goals, and set new targets. Where do we all want to go? Just getting richer by itself is not an aim worth fighting for.

Personally, my income is much lower than it was two years ago. But I'm content. I thank providence for the chance to do all the above. I wrote a book about Globorg and recommend that more of us make time for reflecting more deeply on the meaning of life.

2011 January 25

The Philosophical Novel
James Ryerson, The New York Times

Iris Murdoch argued that philosophy and literature were contrary pursuits. Philosophy calls on the analytical mind to solve conceptual problems in an "austere, unselfish, candid" prose, she said, while literature looks to the imagination to show us something "mysterious, ambiguous, particular" about the world.

Rebecca Newberger Goldstein treats philosophical questions with unabashed directness in her fiction. She says that part of her empathizes with Murdoch's wish to keep the loose subjectivity of the novel at a safe remove from the philosopher's search for hard truth. But she is convinced that how we tackle intellectual problems depends critically on who we are as individuals. Embedding a philosophical debate in richly imagined human stories conveys a key aspect of intellectual life. You don't just understand a conceptual problem, you feel the problem.

AR I was heavily into Iris Murdoch novels in the summer of 1976. Rebecca Goldstein novels are a more recent discovery.

2011 January 24

Quantum Reality
New Scientist

Quantum theory is a masterpiece. No experiment has ever disagreed with its predictions, and we can be confident that it is a good way to describe the universe on the smallest scales.

The Copenhagen interpretation says that any attempt to describe a quantum system is meaningless without making a measurement of it. Only when we interact with it using a classical device does it become part of reality.

Entanglement appears when information about the properties of a set of quantum particles is shared between all of them. Measuring a property of one particle instantaneously affects the properties of its entangled partners, no matter how far apart they are.

Entanglement is the foundation of quantum computing and quantum cryptography. Quantum information experiments suggest that quantum information lies at the root of reality.

Anton Zeilinger sees quantum systems as carriers of information. Measurement updates the information content of a system. This suggests that the universe is a vast quantum computer.

The Copenhagen interpretation requires an artificial distinction between quantum systems and the classical systems that measure them. But if measurement is fundamental to creating the reality we observe, what created the universe?

Cosmologists are sympathetic to the many worlds interpretation created by Hugh Everett, which explains quantum strangeness by regarding things as existing in many parallel universes.

David Deutsch says he can only think of quantum computation in terms of multiple universes. He thinks that once we have quantum computers, we will think of these worlds as physically real.

AR Yawn — I've known all this for years.

2011 January 23

The Observer

Annual league tables on school performance published last week measured the proportion of pupils obtaining the English bac, which is awarded to teenagers who achieve GCSEs at grade C or above in English, maths, science, a foreign language and a humanities subject (history or geography) but not in religious education (RE).

The chairman of the Church of England's education board, the Bishop of Oxford, the Right Rev John Pritchard: "The Church of England is pretty astonished at the omission of RE. I want to fire a warning salvo that there will be huge objection from the church and many other parts of society if it is not part of the core curriculum."

Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews: "The multi-disciplinary nature of the subject, involving textual study, philosophical thinking, ethics, social understanding and the skills of analysis and reasoning, develops critical thinkers."

Dr Hojjat Ramzy, vice-chairman of the Muslim Council of Britain's education committee, said he was "extremely worried" that RE was not being afforded a higher status, especially given the challenge posed by Islamophobia.

AR When I was at school RE was a joke. I take it most kids think so now too. The only way to teach RE to kids is to reduce it to trivia. Better use the time to teach them more science. They can learn philosophy later, when they're old and wise enough, and then — only then — touch the can of worms called religion.


Minette Marrin, The Sunday Times

As a Yorkshirewoman of Pakistani ancestry, Baroness Warsi was perfect for the new Conservatism — a woman, a solicitor, an attractive personality, a good public speaker, a member of an ethnic minority and a Muslim.

By claiming that Islamophobia was now socially acceptable, she has made herself look an idiot — her party will never wear this. As a prominent citizen she reveals herself not as the voice of moderate common sense but as a menace.

The word Islamophobia has become a tool with which to bully people and silence them. Criticism of Islam is not necessarily irrational or baseless or pathological from a thinking westerner's point of view.

A study by Policy Exchange showed that 37% of British-born Muslims aged 16-24 would prefer sharia, 37% would like to send their children to Islamic state schools, and 36% think Muslims converting to another faith should be punished by death. The efforts of the race relations industry and multiculturalism seem to have been distressingly counterproductive.

AR Minette Marrin has better qualifications to sit in the House of Lords than Sayeeda Warsi, whose elevation to the peerage is as shameful an illustration of political opportunism and cronyism as any in the history of the British Parliament. We should abolish the House of Lords in its current form. It discredits the British political system.

2011 January 21

Do Birds Do Quantum Computing?
New Scientist

Migrating birds navigate by sensing Earth's magnetic field. Some may rely on a retinal photoelectric effect that depends on the bird's orientation in the field.

In a process called the radical pair (RP) mechanism, light excites two electrons on one molecule and shunts one of them onto a second molecule. The two electrons separate with entangled spins. The electrons eventually disentangle. But first Earth's magnetic field can alter the relative alignment of their spins, which alters the chemical properties of the molecules. A bird could use the effects in its eye to deduce its orientation.

A team at the University of Oxford looked at how long the electrons are entangled. They found that a tiny magnetic field (15 nT) was enough to interfere with a bird's sense of direction. The field only disrupts the birds' compass while the electrons remain entangled. The team calculated that the electrons must remain entangled for at least 100 µs. The RP mechanism has yet to be confirmed.

AR My quantum theory of consciousness in Mindworlds depends on quantum effects in biological substrates. This work supports the idea that such effects can be significant: 100 µs is a long time for an entanglement in a biosystem.

"The single most difficult thing we have to face today — and we face it still — is the risk of this new type of terrorism and extremism based on an ideological perversion of the faith of Islam combined with technology that allows them to kill people on a large scale. Although this is a time where many people think this extremism can be managed, I personally don't think that is true. I think it has to be confronted and changed."
Tony Blair

2011 January 20

North European Alliance
BBC News

At a London summit, British PM David Cameron has urged leaders of Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to form an alliance of common interests.

Cameron: "When it comes to some of the big questions that we're grappling with in Britain today ... so many of the answers have already been found in the Nordic and Baltic countries."

AR Cameron wants to play off the NEA against the EU and stay away from the profligate states south of France and Germany. Quite right too, if it pushes them to rein in spending.

The Guardian

Islamophobia has "passed the dinner-table test" and become widely socially acceptable in Britain, according to Lady Warsi, the Conservative chairman. Warsi, the first Muslim woman to attend Cabinet, has pledged to use her position to wage an "ongoing battle against bigotry."

Warsi: "Those who commit criminal acts of terrorism in our country need to be dealt with not just by the full force of the law. They also should face social rejection and alienation across society and their acts must not be used as an opportunity to tar all Muslims."

AR Let's hope she makes progress among Muslims too. As for me, my bigotry is intolerance grounded on the well founded knowledge that tolerance of Muslim ways is not always wise.

Programmed for Love
Jeffrey R. Young, The Chronicle of Higher Education

Sherry Turkle is a professor at MIT. She predicts that companies will soon sell robots designed to baby-sit children, replace workers in nursing homes, and serve as companions for people with disabilities. Turkle finds this "transgressive" and damaging to our collective sense of humanity.

Turkle began her academic career at MIT in 1976. Her 1995 book, Life on the Screen, looked at how creating alter egos in virtual worlds helped people shape their identities. Her 2011 book, Alone Together, covers her studies of robots and looks at information overload and the effects of social networks and other mainstream technologies. In Turkle's view, many of us are already cyborgs.

Turkle says her shift in attitude about the influence of digital technologies grew from hundreds of interviews with children, teenagers, adults, and the elderly encountering the latest tech gadgets. Again and again, she saw how even a relatively clumsy robot dog or electronic baby doll could spark a deep emotional response. Turkle says her earliest work on computers and networks may have been too optimistic.

AR Yes, these are troubling issues — perhaps my GIG book is too breezy about this aspect of the future.

2011 January 19

New Rules For Writers
Anis Shivani, The Huffington Post

1. Disobey the system. The system will never reward originality. The only way to conquer it is to humiliate it. Confound them. They'll come to your door and beg you for more.

2. Ignore publicity. Publicity puts you in the public eye. It's how people get to know your work. I say the book will find its readers. Let the book speak for you. Shut up on its behalf.

3. Shun crowds. You must get out of the crowd. It's the hardest thing to do. The crowd searches you out no matter how you hide. And then you'll find there's nothing to write about.

4. Seek unemployment. Our desperate impulse to occupy ourselves with practical stuff is the death of writing. You have to figure out how to turn work into a means to feed your writing.

5. Converse only with the classics. Be swayed by no contemporaries. You will learn nothing from them. Your job as a writer is to discover something no one else has yet laid claim on.

6. Refuse recognition. At first they'll shun you. They'll try to destroy you. You should thrive on absolute misery and discomfort, the haunting sense that you have failed.

7. Don't pursue a niche. Be all over the place. Critics don't know what to do with the new. You must be new to yourself each day, and the universe will be at your feet.

8. Aim for zero audience. Every audience is stupid because it takes itself seriously. No great writer ever wrote for the audience. You don't write for anything outside the story.

9. Accept failure. Never think of yourself as successful. The better you write, the more you fail, because now the gap between accomplishment and ideal is growing bigger.

10. Think small. Thinking big is wrong. If you know the greats, you abase yourself. You find a forlorn patch of ground and you squish yourself into it, and become nothing.

AR Humorous or just depressing?

Nimrod Flaws
The Sunday Times

Classified documents reveal that safety tests conducted on the first Nimrod MRA4 found several hundred design flaws, including problems opening and closing the bomb bay doors, failures of the landing gear to deploy, overheating engines and gaps in the engine walls, limitations operating in icy conditions, and concerns that a bird strike could disable the ailerons. Inspectors also found a hot air pipe running close to an uninsulated fuel line, a flaw widely blamed for a fatal crash of a Nimrod in 2006.

The revelations support defense secretary Liam Fox's claim that the aircraft was not airworthy.

AR Another bloody cock-up in
the great British tradition.

The Muslim Brotherhood
Bruce Riedel

Egypt is shaking. The oldest and strongest opposition movement in the country is the Muslim Brotherhood, a.k.a. Ikhwan.

Founded in 1928, Ikhwan was an Islamic alternative to weak secular nationalist parties. Now it has an enormous social welfare infrastructure that provides cheap education and health care. Ikhwan renounced violence years ago, but its relative moderation has made it the target of radical Islamists.

Mohamed ElBaradei has formed an alliance with Ikhwan. Many see it as the reasonable face of Islamic politics.

Nimrod scrap
The story of the Nimrod MRA4
Everything that could go wrong did go wrong.

Volkswagen XL1
The Peninsula, Qatar

The Volkswagen XL1 prototype diesel-electric hybrid features a combined fuel consumption of less than 1 l/100 km and meets the Euro 6 emission standard.

The car features lightweight construction (795 kg), low aerodynamic drag (Cd 0.186), and a plug-in hybrid system with 2-cylinder TDI diesel engine (35 kW), electric motor (20 kW), 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, and lithium-ion battery.

The XL1 can travel 35 km in pure electric mode and the battery can be charged from a domestic socket. Body parts are polymer reinforced with carbon fiber.

The prototype accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 11.9 s. Its top speed is governed at 160 km/h.

Wirtschaftswunder 2
Financial Times

German CESifo Group data
suggests that the German
economy will grow at 2.5%
in 2011, following its 3.6%
growth in 2010.

AR High time for me to
get rich quick.

Crushing Islamists
The Guardian

British intelligence helped draw up a secret plan for the Palestinian Authority to crush Hamas. The plan covered the internment of leaders and activists, the closure of radio stations, and the replacement of imams in mosques.

AR Sounds like a good draft
for a plan we may soon want
in Europe.

The King's Power

Saudi Arabia will be burning most of its oil production domestically in less than 20 years if current consumption patterns persist. In response, the authorities plan to cut reliance on fossil fuel and develop an alternative energy mix, including atomic and solar sources. Otherwise the world's largest oil exporter will need 8 million barrels a day by 2028, roughly equivalent to its current production, merely to meet domestic energy needs.

AR They could try saving,
for example by grounding
the king's Boeing 747.

Moscow Airport
The Times

Suicide bomber kills 35 at Domodedovo airport.

AR Memo to Putin: Order the secret agents who are licensed to kill potential terrorists on sight to get cracking and raise their game. Memo to Obama and others: Introduce passenger profiling and stop those with bad profiles. Forget about shoes and shampoo and scanners and target the bad guys.

Envisioning Real Utopias
Russell Jacoby, Dissent

Professor Erik Olin Wright, president-elect of the American Sociological Association, says we need utopian ideals grounded in reality. If his new book exemplifies contemporary American academic Marxism, conservatives can rest easy.

AR The full review is quite devastating, more so than
McGinn on Honderich.


Sayeeda Warsi is a life peer, Chairman of the Conservative Party, and a cabinet minister.

L. Ron Hubbard (1911–1986) developed a self-help system called Dianetics. He developed his ideas into Scientology. His writings are scripture for the Church of Scientology.

Michael Bywater, New Humanist

L. Ron Hubbard published Dianetics in 1950. Scientology was born. L. Ron can write. It would take a poor and paltry imagination to be gripped by his Battlefield Earth saga, but his Ole Doc Methuselah stories in the Astounding Science Fiction magazine are excellent pulp SF. In terms of literary competence, L. Ron is streets ahead of Joseph Smith, author of the lamentable Book of Mormon. Dianetics is obviously nonsense, but it hits the perfect pitch of laying out mumbo-jumbo in just clear enough terms for people who aren't that bright to think they're grasping something important. A new religion has got to be better than a mere bestseller.

AR Hubbard found a need and responded — good for him.

Battlefield Earth (2000)
is an SF movie starring John Travolta. It tells the story of a rebellion against a thousand years of rule by alien Psychlos.
It was an utter flop.

Vorsprung durch Effizienz
The Times

Britain has made its peace with Germany. Since the Industrial Revolution Britain has measured its success or decline against German performance. The British forced the Germans to mark their export goods "Made in Germany" but the Germans boosted quality and people flocked to the brand.

Now the sparring match between the British and Germans doesn't look funny or relevant any more. German comedian Henning Wehn: "We Europeans have to stick together more. The British know what they've got with the Germans."


David Shulman, NYRB

Occupation of the Territories: Israeli Soldiers' Testimonies 2000-2010 offers unprecedented first-hand accounts by over one hundred Israeli soldiers of their experiences while serving in the territories.

Examined Lives
Gary Rosen, WSJ

James Miller offers biographical sketches of a dozen philosophers to show that philosophers were not always academic bores. The first philosophers were gurus, and their deepest insights were available only to disciples who possessed the character to resist common pleasures. In Miller's selection, the modern era begins with Montaigne and culminates in Nietzsche. Most of the biographical details he offers are boring.

AR Alain de Botton did this job already in his fine little book
The Consolations of Philosophy but he managed to make it entertaining. I don't see why Miller chose to do it again.

Pakistani Terrorism
Peter Bergen, Foreign Policy

Experts credit nine years of the war on terror with making U.S. soil only marginally more secure. Overwhelmingly, the experts selected Pakistan as the country that posed the greatest threat to the West today, and a majority also picked it as the country most likely to have its nukes end up in the hands of terrorists. Only two experts named Iran as the West's greatest threat.

AR Take out the Paki nukes.

Willow Garage Texai

Willow Garage Texai

The Connoisseur
Pankaj Mishra, NY Times

The great realist novelists could not have written their most mature works without grappling with the political and moral challenges of their day. Compared with them, most contemporary fiction writers in America and Britain appear to be cultivating their own gardens.

Literary criticism has reflected the general writerly retreat from the public sphere. Most writers as well as readers of literary fiction see it as a refined form of entertainment or instruction. Deprived of a whole vocabulary of moral concern, literary criticism turned into a kind of competitive connoisseurship.

Mishra page

2011 January 18

Germany and Europe
Christoph Schwennicke, Der Spiegel

Germany's economy is in good shape because it resisted the fashion of neoliberalism. Europe should show the same defiance in the face of self-serving predictions that the euro is doomed. The financial and debt crises have highlighted the need for strong governments — and for more Europe.

AR Jawohl!

Why the West Rules
Timur Kuran, Foreign Affairs

Ian Morris finds that geography was the principal determinant of the relative historical performance of East and West. The West had more plants and animals conducive to domestication. And it was easier for Westerners to cross the Atlantic than for Easterners to cross the Pacific.

For Morris, the West started in the fertile crescent and expanded to include the Mediterranean basin, Europe, the Americas, and Australia. The East started in China and later grew to cover Japan and Indochina. For Morris, the Middle East is part of the West.

Morris compared the relative development of the two civilizations across the centuries, in terms of energy capture, urbanization, war-making capability, and information technology. He found that the West led the East from the start. The East jumped ahead in 541 CE and held the lead until about 1773.

Since then, the West has sped ahead. Europe had been building new economic institutions and had the economic infrastructure necessary for mass production, industrialization, and mass transportation. The regions that failed to keep up with Europe failed to develop such institutions. Morris predicts that the East may regain the lead by 2103.

AR Morris has missed the plot. By the end of the century we shall live in Globorg, a collective mind implemented in a global brain with Eastern and Western hemispheres.

2011 January 17

The New York Times

Has the "me generation" spawned a nation of self-absorbed young people hooked on their own self-esteem? Given the choice, college students say they’d rather get a boost to their ego — like a compliment or a good grade on a paper — than eat a favorite food or engage in sex.

A study published in The Journal of Personality shows that University of Michigan students have a compulsion to feel good about themselves that overwhelms and precedes other desires.

AR Reminds me of my self-focused GLOBORG obsessions.

Dark Energy
Brian Greene, The New York Times

Astronomers find that the expansion rate of space has speeded up over the history of the universe. They think the push is most likely the repulsive gravity produced by dark energy. A hundred billion years from now, any galaxy outside our neighborhood will have been swept away by swelling space for so long that it will be racing from us at faster than the speed of light. Light emitted by such galaxies will never reach Earth. Observations will reveal nothing but an endless stretch of inky black stillness.

AR I look forward to Brian's new book, out soon.

What's the attraction of Nietzsche for angry nerds?

Performed the final trimmings and touches to my GLOBORG presentation: update your copy now if you copied it earlier!

2011 January 15

Interviewing Andy Ross
By Ivy Cross
PDF: 38 pages, 2.3 MB

Cars replaced horses last century, robots replace humans this century. That claim was all I knew about controversial philosopher Andy Ross and his Globorg ideas before I met him. Globorg is his name for the global organization — G20 summits and all that. In G.O.D. Is Great he argues that Globorg dominion — the GOD in the title — is the biggest news for life on Earth in half a billion years.

AR Planning and writing this interview has kept me occupied for at least three months. Now, in the throes of completion, I think of it as an informal introduction to my life's work.

2011 January 11

Scientific American

Sleep improves brain performance by reducing the unimportant connections between neurons and perhaps by consolidating memories from the previous day. Researchers at Stanford University recently studied the transparent larvae of zebrafish. They tagged the larvae neurons with a dye so that active appeared green and inactive ones black. They found that the zebrafish had lower overall synapse activity during sleep, to prune unnecessary synapses. Sleep reduces the activity in the brain and allows it to recover from past experiences. Learning and memory may benefit from this.

AR There's a lot more to learn about sleep. Zzzz

2011 January 9

Iain McGilchrist believes that the mind and brain can be understood only by seeing them in the broadest possible context, that of the whole of our physical and spiritual existence.

"Novel, compelling, and profoundly consequential ... The erudition is staggering. The overall arguments are compelling and well handled. I think the basic thesis is indeed of absolutely crucial cultural and intellectual importance."
Louis Sass

2011 January 7

American Sunset
Gideon Rachman, Foreign Policy

The Chinese challenge to the United States is serious. Although America still has the world's largest economy, best universities, most powerful military, technological leadership, and alluring creative industries, the United States will not soon solve its budgetary problems.

China is developing new ways to threaten the United States supremacy in the Pacific. The United States will have to accept that the Asia-Pacific region is China's backyard. America will never again experience the global dominance it enjoyed between 1991 and 2008.

AR The Titanic is sinking and Americans rapture to Facebook.

Festung Europa
Der Spiegel

Greece plans to construct a wall along part of its border with Turkey to keep out illegal immigrants.

Der Spiegel

A former member of Chancellor Merkel's Christian Democrats has formed a party to attract voters enthralled by Thilo Sarrazin and disappointed by Germany's existing parties. Berlin politician René Stadkewitz's new Freedom Party aims to leverage fear of Islam for political ends. At an inaugural meeting in the Hotel Maritim, Berlin, the 52 participants named their party "Die Freiheit". Stadtkewitz: "If we don't get things right demographically, we'll have Algeria in Berlin before long. Islam has always been a religion of conquest."

AR The European Union needs to get its act together on all this.

2011 January 5

Sex Crimes
The Times

For at least 14 years, British police forces have been investigating gangs of sexual predators in towns and cities across northern England and the Midlands. Groups of older men groom and abuse vulnerable girls aged 11 to 16 after befriending them on the street. Most of the victims are white and most of the convicted offenders are of Pakistani heritage.

A senior West Mercia detective said: "These girls are being passed around and used as meat. To stop this type of crime you need to start talking about it, but everyone's been too scared to address the ethnicity factor."

Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation, a British Muslim youth organization, says: "These people think that white girls have fewer morals and are less valuable than our girls. This is a form of racism that is abhorrent and totally unacceptable in a society that prides itself on equality and justice."

AR I congratulate the Times on grasping the nettle here. The sexual predators are acting out values learned in a variant of Islamic culture that may have been adaptive in the Middle East a thousand years ago but is obscenely wrong in the modern world.

Coolpix of my apartment

2011 January 4

Simon Critchley, NY Times

Philosophy is more than a profession. It is critical reflection by which human beings strive to analyze the world in which they find themselves, and to question what passes for common sense or public opinion.

Philosophy must form part of the life of a culture. It must engage the public and influence how a culture converses with itself, understands itself, talks to other cultures and seeks to understand them.

Hegel says that philosophy can allow us to comprehend our time in thought. But it can also allow us to resist our time, to ask untimely and unfashionable questions. Nietzsche wrote that a philosopher overcomes his time in himself. He combats whatever marks him as a child of his time.

Philosophy is dialogue. One of the goals of dialogue is to have our opinions rationally challenged in such a way that we might change our minds.

2011 January 3

Robot Avatars
New Scientist

Firms in the United States and Japan are selling robot avatars that let office workers be in two places at once. Californian company Willow Garage is developing a telepresence robot called Texai, while Anybots, also in California, has launched the QB office bot.

The Texai is a remote presence system that is still in development. Two Willow Garage engineers, Dallas Goecker and Curt Meyers, were frustrated with conference table phones and video conferencing, so they built the first Texai prototype.

The QB looks like a small Segway vehicle with a robot head on top. It travels at walking speed and uses a laser scanner to avoid office clutter. You control it from a web browser and see through its camera eyes. A small LCD screen on the head enables your colleagues to see you too.

NY Times video: Texai robot avatar at Mozilla

AR Way to go, guys! These are early days, but this is my vision. Think of cars a hundred years ago. In a few decades these avatars will be everywhere. They'll look better, they'll do more, and they'll begin to think for themselves. We'll probably get the feeling we're being pushed gently — or not so gently — aside by the machines. To drink the real Kool-Aid on all this, buy and read my visionary book G.O.D. Is Great. Do it today!

2011 January 2

MQ-9 Reaper
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems MQ-9 Reaper
Gorgon Stare
Washington Post

The U.S. Air Force is set to deploy to Afghanistan a revolutionary airborne surveillance system called Gorgon Stare, which will be able to transmit live video images of movements over a wide area. But the military may be unable to sift through the imagery quickly enough and the data is of limited value without good humint.

Gorgon Stare
Aviation Week

Gorgon Stare is making its combat debut on board MQ-9 Reaper drones. Two pods contain the Gorgon Stare payload. The pods replaces GBU-12 laser-guided bombs on the inner underwing weapon racks. One pod carries a sensor ball containing five EO cameras for daytime and four IR cameras for nighttime, positioned at different angles for maximum ground coverage. The cameras shoot motion video at 2 frames per second. The five EO camera images are stitched together in the pod to create 80-Mpx frames. The four IR cameras together shoot 32-Mpx frames. The second pod contains a computer, datalink, antennas, and RF gear.

Gorgon Stare is operated by a two-member team on the back of a Humvee. The video can be chipped out and streamed to multiple recipients over a tactical datalink. Any ground or airborne unit within range and equipped with a receiver can view a chip-out. Gorgon Stare operates independently of the Reaper's sensor ball, which MQ-9 operators control from U.S. ground control stations.

Global Dominance
John J. Mearsheimer, National Interest

The United States is at war. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have cost well over a trillion dollars and resulted in many thousands of American casualties. Things are likely to get worse.

There are three regions of the world that are strategically important to the United States — Europe, Northeast Asia, and the Persian Gulf. The United States' principal goal should be to make sure no single state dominates any of these areas.

After 9/11, the Bush administration embarked on a quest for global dominance. It overestimated what military force could achieve and underestimated how difficult it would be to spread democracy in the Middle East. Terrorism is a law-enforcement problem, not a military one, and we cannot remake the Arab and Muslim world in America's image.

It is time for the United States to give up on global dominance.

AR Mearsheimer advocates a divide-and-conquer strategy, but this is too negative. A nobler vision is needed to keep order in the three regions. I propose collective global dominance, achieved by integrating the main actors in a global organization — Globorg.

2011 January 1

The Times

  Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life
  By Karen Armstrong
  The Bodley Head, 224 pages

Men and women are ruthlessly selfish. The key to a better life is compassion. Armstrong grapples with complex ideas in the lightest of ways. She sees religion as a practical system of human conduct. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. You cannot love others until you have learnt to love yourself. Compassion is the highest of human sentiments.


Piers and Oprah
The Times

Piers Morgan's first guest on his CNN chat show Piers Morgan Tonight is Oprah Winfrey. She knew what Morgan was all about: "I'm not going to cry," she told him at the outset. Crying is Morgan's currency: "I'm all about tears," he says.

This first edition aired on Martin Luther King Day: how would the civil rights leader feel looking down on Winfrey and Obama, "arguably the two most powerful people in America", both black.
"I could weep on that," said Winfrey, but the dam stayed intact.

Chinese J-20

Chinese Stealth Aircraft
Aviation Week
and Space Technology

The J-20 aircraft looks like the U.S. F-22 Raptor. It is larger than the F-22, implying long range, a generous internal fuel capacity and heavy weapons loads. Still unknown is whether the aircraft is a prototype or a technology demonstrator.

Christian Caryl, NYRB

The murder of Salman Taseer is a calamity. Pakistan is succumbing to the demands of an exclusionist view of the world. An imploding Pakistan promises immense pain and turmoil to itself and the world.

SAP Goes Green
MIT Tech Review

SAP has set the goal of cutting its global carbon emissions in half by 2020. In 2009, it cut emissions by 15 percent. This is just the beginning. SAP creates and sells analytical software that lets companies monitor their own carbon footprints and increase their energy efficiency. According to SAP, the market for sustainability software will reach $7 billion within five years. Within SAP, the project with the fastest ROI involved telepresence communication systems, which cut the need for air travel.

AR What they — we — need is robotic avatars.

Pakistani Killing
The New York Times

Salman Taseer became the focus of religious fury for speaking out against Pakistan's blasphemy laws. His killer was known to have extremist views but was still assigned to a security force tasked with guarding the victim. The assassin appeared before a magistrate in Islamabad and was showered by hundreds of supporters with rose petals and garlands.

AR Pakistan is a lost cause.

Anybots QB

Anybots QB

The Intellectual
Adam Kirsch, NY Times

A serious critic is one who says something true about life and the world. The critic's will is not to power, but to self-understanding, self-expression, truth. A critic also has other responsibilities, as a journalist, a consumer advocate, a social commentator. The role of the critic can shade into that of the public intellectual.

It is difficult to recapture the old sense that the study of literature gives you the best vantage point from which to understand an entire society. I try to believe that if you seek truth and beauty, all the rest will be added unto you.

Kirsch page