BLOG 2011 Q2

Adieu VC10

The RAF calls her the Queen of the Skies. The Vickers VC10 was built 50 years ago for BOAC. The RAF flies 13 long-range VC10s for air-to-air refuelling and troop transportation. They will be replaced with a fleet of Airbus A330 planes, starting in October.

Mushroom God
Andrew Sullivan

In Amsterdam a few years ago,
I picked the mildest dose of psilocybin-containing mushrooms legally on sale there and ate it. The mushrooms were disgusting. Then I sat on a bench next to a canal and waited. And all I could think of was God. A sense of unity with an overwhelming force of immense love and kindness suffused me.

AR Psychopharmacologists agree: psilocybin can give you mystic spiritual experience.

Airbus Success
BBC News

Airbus is piling up the orders at the Paris air show. Its A320neo jets are in demand as their new engines make them more fuel-efficient and cheaper to run. It has taken firm orders for 586 aircraft, worth about $55.8 billion, with a further $29.5 billion in provisional orders.

Mad City Life
The Guardian

Brain regions involved in the regulation of emotion and anxiety are overactive in stressed city-dwellers, say researchers. The differences could account for the increased rates of mental health problems seen in urban areas.

In a study published in Nature, Prof. Dr. A. Meyer-Lindenberg of the University of Heidelberg scanned the brains of healthy volunteers from rural and city locations while they performed difficult tasks. Both the amygdala and the cingulate cortex of the city-dwellers were overactive in stressful situations.

Basis product director Julie Wilner uses a Basis watch to track heart rate, body temperature, movement, and sweat levels. The data is analyzed to determine activity levels and calories burned throughout the day.

2011 June 30

Costs of War
Watson Institute

The Eisenhower Research Project based at Brown University assembled a team to analyze the costs and consequences of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some findings:

Just over 6,000 U.S. soldiers have died in the wars. New disability claims for injury and illness in those who have returned from the wars continue to pour in, with 550,000 through last fall. Many deaths and injuries among U.S. contractors have not been identified. At least 137,000 civilians have died Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan as a result of the fighting. Putting together the conservative numbers of war dead, in uniform and out, brings the total to 225,000.

The full economic cost of the wars, conservatively estimated, are $3.2 trillion in constant dollars. A more reasonable estimate puts the number at nearly $4 trillion.

2011 June 29

Sex and Violence

In the case of Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, the Supreme Court voted 7-2 this week to strike down down a California ban on selling or renting violent video games to minors, citing the First Amendment.

Justice Stephen Breyer, one of the two dissenters: "What sense does it make to forbid selling to a 13-year-old boy a magazine with an image of a nude woman, while protecting a sale to that 13-year-old of an interactive video game in which he actively, but virtually, binds and gags the woman, then tortures and kills her?"

Breyer: "What kind of First Amendment would permit the government to protect children by restricting sales of that extremely violent video game only when the woman — bound, gagged, tortured, and killed — is also topless?"

Publishing Best Sellers
Ruth Franklin

At a Simon & Schuster meeting, a consultant once said: "Do you guys realize how much money the company would make if you only published best sellers?"

Two main factors brought about the homogenization of the best-seller list. Superstores made publishers less inclined to publish the quirkier fiction in which the smaller bookstores specialized. And the conglomeration of publishing houses under larger and larger umbrellas prioritized the bottom line over promoting literary culture. A novel by a new writer has a smaller chance of becoming a best seller today than at any other time in history.

2011 June 28

Tim Worstall, Forbes

Anyone can publish a book with Amazon but most authors are not salesmen. The new e-book and self-publishing environment needs specialists in marketing who can get a book out there, get it reviewed, sell extracts to the newspapers, run competitions, organize an author’s book tour. The contractual structure would probably look more like an agency contract than a publishing one.

2011 June 27

Sustainable Growth
Bank for International Settlements

The world economy is growing again. But economies and financial systems are still vulnerable. In the advanced economies, overall deleveraging and structural adjustment is still incomplete.

The fiscal trajectories of some of the world's largest advanced economies are unsustainable. Rising dependency ratios, programs for retirement and health care, and the like put future commitments well in excess of future revenues. The need for fiscal consolidation is urgent.

Policymakers must intensify their efforts to repair financial sector balance sheets. Fiscal trajectories must be put on sustainable paths, monetary conditions should be normalized, and adjustments in the real economy and balance sheets should be accelerated.

No individual economy is safe unless the global economy is safe.

2011 June 26

The Poetry App
Bryan Appleyard

Faber & Faber has launched T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land as an app. Faber produced the app with Touch Press, a digital publishing operation that made its name with apps illustrating the periodic table of the elements and the solar system.

The app is a virtuoso performance that took two years to produce. You can read the text and you can hear it read by Eliot or by others. The app offers 37 short video clips. Highlight a line and you can call up a reading of your choice or check its interpretation by commentators. You can also see the original manuscript pages, complete with the editing marks of Eliot's friend Ezra Pound.

This is a turning point for digital literature. The app does not merely illustrate the poem, it helps you read deeply into it. Spend a day with this app and the poem will be lodged forever in your mind.

This is the ebook moment. The Amazon Kindle ebook reader took off in the British market in 2010. The Apple iPad is not only a reader but an app platform. The premium asset in the new media market is brand value.

The Waste Land by Touch Press
iTunes preview

2011 June 25

Congratulations to Lily Cole for her success in winning a Cambridge double first in History of Art.

Salman Rushdie on Martin Amis and the Arab Spring

China Versus Europe
Financial Times

China has blocked an order for 10 Airbus A380 aircraft. The order from Hong Kong Airlines, worth $3.8 billion at list prices, was due to be announced at the Paris air show.

China opposes the EU move to enforce its climate change rules and make all airlines flying into Europe pay for their pollution.

AR For $380 million a pop you'd think they'd waive the rules.

2011 June 24

The illusions of psychiatry
Islam versus science

2011 Corpus Christi

Wilders Cleared
BBC News

Dutch politician Geert Wilders has been acquitted of inciting hatred against Muslims. The Amsterdam judge said his statements were "acceptable within the context of public debate".

Wilders: "The good news is that it's also legal to be critical about Islam, to speak publicly in a critical way about Islam and this is something that we need because the Islamization of our societies is a major problem and a threat to our freedom and I'm allowed to say so."

>> Geert Wilders

The Euro
The Telegraph

The present crisis validates the view Britain adopted nearly 20 years ago that it's tough to sustain a currency union with Germany. You could wipe out Greece's entire national debt and it still wouldn't make any difference to the country's underlying lack of competitiveness relative to Germany.

The key question for Britain is whether we want to be a part of a Europe bounding headlong into full political union or not. The European Union and its political institutions would become one and the same thing as the eurozone, allowing Britain to retreat to its historic position on the sidelines of Europe.

AR Britain outside Europe would be more like Taiwan outside China than Japan outside China.

Britain and the Euro
From a letter by 14 British Conservative MPs

UK taxpayers are now underwriting some €14 billion in loan guarantees to Greece, Ireland, and Portugal. We are concerned that the solutions to the crisis proposed by eurozone countries will further expose the British taxpayer to any future economic meltdown. The UK now has an exposure to the eurozone of over €700 billion.

The crisis affecting those countries that use the euro has created a political vacuum at the heart of Europe. The UK needs to develop a bold new EU strategy aimed at changing Europe into a more competitive, vibrant, and accountable trade bloc. We must start getting some value in return for the significant sums that UK taxpayers contribute to the EU's budget.

AR Since the UK is not a eurozone member, it can only have a marginal say in how the crisis is resolved. A "bold new EU strategy" can change the "political vacuum" in Europe only if UK leaders accept in word and deed that the EU is the only game in town for preserving and increasing European peace and prosperity. Complaining about the "significant sums" paid in membership fees is no way to do so.

2011 June 22

Financial Times

Greece's embattled government won a vote of confidence in parliament by 155 votes to 143. The government must now enact a €28 billion austerity plan to win a fresh €120 billion bail-out by international lenders.

The Euro
Alistair Darling, The Times

You cannot manage the ejection of one country from the euro without running the risk of chaos in the markets as they turn their attention from one country to the next. That's an experiment we can't afford to try.

A reparation-style austerity program won't work. The richer, stronger economies who have benefited from the euro should help out their weaker neighbors. If they want a single currency, they've got to make it work.

70 years ago today:
Operation Barbarossa
The storm of war
The Nazi empire

2011 June 21

The Quantified Self
Emily Singer, MIT Technology Review

Quantified Self members consider that collecting detailed data can help them make better choices about their health and behavior. Self-trackers use a combination of traditional spreadsheets, an expanding selection of smart-phone apps, and various consumer and custom-built devices to monitor patterns of food intake, sleep, fatigue, mood, and heart rate. New consumer tools have made self-tracking both simpler and more rigorous, generating reams of data that can be scrutinized for patterns and clues. More and more people are finding it useful to quantify their lives.

AR I wannabe a Quant too!

The Collapse of the Soviet Union
Leon Aron, Foreign Policy

When Mikhail Gorbachev became general secretary of the Communist Party in March 1985, virtually no one foresaw the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Gorbachev wanted to build a more moral Soviet Union: "A new moral atmosphere is taking shape in the country," he told the Central Committee at the January 1987 meeting where he declared glasnost and democratization to be the foundation of perestroika.

Gorbachev and Yeltsin dismantled an empire, but the enormous national tragedy of Stalinism has never been fully explored and atoned for, corrupting the entire moral enterprise. In February 2011, the Institute of Contemporary Development, a liberal think tank chaired by President Dmitry Medvedev, said: "The challenge of our times is an overhaul of the system of values, the forging of new consciousness."

AR Yes, high time for a new consciousness!

Airbus has a new dream, and its name is ZEHST (Zero Emission High Supersonic Transport). A hypersonic commercial jet would carry up to 100 passengers while cruising at 4,200 km/h at an altitude of 32 km.

The jet that would climb to a height of 5 km using turbofan engines powered by biofuel made from seaweed or algae. At that point, a rocket engine would propel the plane to an altitude of 32 km in a matter of minutes. There, it could maintain cruising speeds above Mach 4 using ramjet engines.

At its destination, the plane would glide down and switch back to its turbofan engines for landing. The ZEHST would create no sonic boom and use a standard-length runway.

AR This dream is a crazy waste of taxpayer subsidies.

Brits Invaded Oz
The Times

Sydney City Council is rewriting the history books. The words "European arrival" are to be wiped from official documents and replaced with the term "invasion or illegal colonization" on all policy statements and documents after the council bowed to pressure from its Aboriginal advisory panel.

Countdown to Zero

Countdown to Zero is a chilling wake-up call about the urgency
of the nuclear threat. The film exposes a variety of present day threats and features insights from a host of international experts and world leaders who advocate the total elimination of nuclear weapons.

Countdown to Zero is directed
by Lucy Walker and produced
by the producers of
An Inconvenient Truth.

"'Only about 500 million
people would die."
The Guardian

Ravi Shankar
The Times

Ravi Shankar, 90, celebrated the summer solstice with a concert at the Barbican in London.

AR My first LPs, back in 1969, were the Beatles' white album and a beloved Ravi Shankar album.

How I Sold 1 Million
eBooks in 5 Months!
Kindle Edition

"I've been in commission sales all my life, and when I learned Kindle and the other e-book platforms offered a royalty of 35% on books priced at 99 cents ... it seemed like a license to print money."
John Locke, 60,
Louisville, Kentucky

Solar Impulse
Wingspan 64 m
Solar Impulse
Around the world
in a solar airplane


Invent Enemies, Buy Bombs
Simon Jenkins

Outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates berated Europe's "failure of political will" in not maintaining defense spending. He said NATO had declined into a "two-tier alliance" between those willing to wage war and those "who specialize in soft humanitarian, development, peacekeeping, and talking tasks."

In 1961, U.S. President Eisenhower warned against the "disastrous rise of misplaced power" of a military-industrial complex with "unwarranted influence on government." A burgeoning defense establishment, backed by large corporate interests, would one day employ so many people as to corrupt the political system and "endanger our liberties and democratic processes."

There is no strategic defense justification for the United States spending 5.5% of its gross domestic product on defense or Britain 2.5%, or for the NATO target of 2%. NATO has outlived its purpose.

2011 June 20

Another Trillion Dollars
Financial Times

Lockheed Martin has come under pressure over the lifecycle cost of the F-35 Lightning II program. According to the latest estimate, maintaining the fleet of jets through their entire working lives will cost more than a trillion dollars.

This could spell trouble for an aircraft that was pitched as a cost effective way to upgrade the U.S. fleet. Lower maintenance and support costs were key to that goal. The Pentagon now expects the
F-35 to cost a third more than the F-16 fleet it aims to replace.

AR But it looks so good — see May 11 below.

Marshall McLuhan
Jeet Heer, The Walrus

Marshall McLuhan maintaned that technology changes how we think. In his first book, The Mechanical Bride (1951), he surveyed the dehumanizing impact of popular magazines, advertising, and comic strips. In The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962) he highlighted the effect of print in shaping how we think. In Understanding Media (1964) he prophesied that new electronic media would rewire human consciousness to create a global village.

American novelist and social critic Tom Wolfe: "At the turn of the nineteenth century and in the early decades of the twentieth there was Darwin in biology, Marx in political science, Einstein in physics, and Freud in psychology. Since then there has been only McLuhan in communications studies."

McLuhan was born in Edmonton in 1911 and grew up in Winnipeg. His father was a Methodist, his mother a Baptist. In a 1935 letter to his mother explaining his increasing interest in Catholicism, he said: "I simply couldn't believe that men had to live in the mean mechanical joyless rootless fashion that I saw in Winnipeg."

McLuhan converted to Catholicism in 1937. He saw the Church as a refuge from the ills of modernity. He admired the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco as a bulwark against communism and anarchism. He thought that feminism and the "homosexual cult" were undermining the natural authority of men over the family.

McLuhan's saving grace was his ceaseless curiosity. As an academic, he thought it was more important to understand the world than to condemn it. In 1967 he said: "The mere moralistic expression of approval or disapproval, preference or detestation, is currently being used in our world as a substitute for observation and a substitute for study."

McLuhan remained conservative on moral matters. As his faith deepened, he acquired an irenic confidence in God's unfolding plan for humanity. In 1971 he said: "One of the advantages of being a Catholic is that it confers a complete intellectual freedom to examine any and all phenomena with the absolute assurance of their intelligibility."

AR I read McLuhan's books decades ago. He is the Anglophone answer to Martin Heidegger.

2011 June 19

Oil Addiction
Irwin Stelzer

Saudi Arabia no longer calls the tune in OPEC. Power has passed from a country that needs the United States, and has big investments in western countries, to Iran, a nation that has no reason to want to cut prices to shore up western economies, and good reason to want to cause another recession.

In America, President Obama risks high unemployment to hinder drilling for oil and gas, and allows environmental rules to paralyze investment in coal plants. The Senate holds up the Yucca Mountain storage facility for nuclear waste, without which new nuclear plants cannot support a big switch to electric vehicles. And no politician will raise taxes to reduce oil consumption.

The global situation is dangerous. A de-nuked Japan will increase energy imports. So will China and other Asian nations as they drive more cars. Germany will depend not only on French nukes and on renewables but also on natural gas from Russia. If Saudi Arabia is unable to increase output, the world will look to Russia.

AR Invest in modernizing Russia.

Let Greeks Go Free
Boris Johnson

The Greek tragedy is getting worse. The unemployment rate is 16%, near 40% for those under 25. Productivity is crashing and debt exceeds 160% of GDP.

If we continue, the euro becomes an engine for the creation of an economic government of Europe. The disaster of the PIGS has been terrific for the federalist cause. The PIGs are asked to submit to economic supervision from Berlin and Brussels. The United States of Europe becomes irresistible.

We have had hamartia — the tragic flaw in the system. We have had hubris — the belief the good times would never end. We have had nemesis — disaster. We now need anagnorisis — recognition that Greece would be better off without the euro. Then there will be catharsis — relief.

Syrian Refugees Describe Horrors

As long as Assad remains in power, none of the refugees in Turkey want to return to Syria. In Yayladagi, a refugee camp in SE Turkey,
close to the border with Syria, more than 9,000 people have reportedly found shelter.

Internet Addiction
Rewires the Brain
Scientific American

According to the China Youth Internet Association, some 24 million kids in China are Internet addicts. A research team picked 18 Chinese addicts and scanned their brains. Several regions in their brain cortex had shrunk by up to 20 percent. The longer the addiction, the more pronounced the tissue reduction. Deeper in the brain, the team also found changes in white matter density in some areas.

Chinese Growth
Yukon Huang, Financial Times

China's GDP has increased faster than private consumption in a pattern that mirrors many east Asian economies, and also that of the United States in the 20th century. Savings rates will not fall soon because there is no credible social welfare system. Households are saving for old age and home ownership.

AR Response to Martin Wolf (June 15)

Saudi Arabia's bad year


Airbus unveils its transparent concept plane for 2050. Airbus concepts include morphing seats made from eco-friendly self-cleaning materials that meld to passengers' bodies for a comfortable fit, cabin walls that become transparent at the touch of a button, and holographic projections of virtual decors.

Rainbow Warrior III
Oliver Tjaden/Greenpeace
"You can't sink a Rainbow"
The Rainbow Warrior III hull at Fassmer Shipyard, Bremen

Stephen Wolfram

Stephen Wolfram
"I have come to view NKS as one of the more important single discoveries in the whole history of theoretical science."

Washington Post

The hugely expensive U.S. attempt at nation-building in Afghanistan may not survive an American withdrawal, according to the findings of a two-year congressional investigation. The report calls on the administration to rethink urgently its assistance programs. There is little evidence the positive results of aid money to stabilize areas the military has cleared of Taliban fighters are sustainable. Because oversight is scanty, the fund encourages corruption. The Afghan economy could slide into a depression as the foreign spending that now provides 97 percent of GDP declines.

Pray for a Rebound
Anatole Kaletsky
The Times

In Q1 the global economy was hit by four shocks: soaring oil prices caused by the turmoil in North Africa, a breakdown of manufacturing supply chains due to the earthquake in Japan, the renewed threat to the European financial system resulting from the Greek crisis, and the European Central Bank's premature decision to start raising interest rates.

The shocks turned out to be less powerful than feared. Civil war has not spread to Saudi Arabia and the oil price has subsided. Supply chains have been restored after the Japanese earthquake. And the financial crisis in Europe has been brought under control. The global economic recovery could regain momentum.

Apple iCloud

Cloud computing means your computing life is enabled by the devices you own, not defined by them. Apple has lots of customers who now own maybe an iPhone and and iPad and a MacBook and have no patience for making any effort to make sure they're all on the same page. With iCloud, the machine is just a portal that makes your stuff available here and now.

Now your iTunes collection lives on a server farm and is available to any of your registered devices. For $0 Apple will keep the music you bought from them safe and available to up to 10 devices. The music you didn't buy from them will cost you $25 a year.

The New York
Review of Books

2011 June 18

Bostrom On Progress
The European

"When we are headed the wrong way, the last thing we need is
Nick Bostrom

What is your risk avoidance strategy?
B Reduce existential risks. An existential risk is something that could either cause the extinction of intelligent life or the permanent destruction of the potential for future desirable development. It would be an end to the human story. I introduced the concept of existential risk in 2001.

Where might those risks arise from?
B Anthropogenic risks will arise from future technological breakthroughs, such as advanced artificial intelligence or advanced forms of nanotechnology, or from biotechnology or from new forms of surveillance technology and mind control that might enable a system of global totalitarian rule.

How do we distinguish good progress?
B  1 Figure out which concerns are based on irrational bias.
    2 Weigh our concerns against potential benefits.
    3 Consider practicalities and prioritize.

AR All this is thematized in my book on GLOBORG.

2011 June 17

The Quantified Self
Financial Times

The First Quantified Self Conference
Computer History Museum, Mountain View, CA, May 28-29, 2011

Four hundred participants gathered a the conference to show off their databases, spreadsheets, and gadgets. Self-quantifiers who work at large technology companies are promoting the commercial opportunities. Public health advocates and healthcare executives see the potential for disease management and personalized drug development.

The attendees liken themselves to the pioneers of personal computers. An attendee wears a maze of sensors and wires send data from his ear, chest, and arm to a pocket-sized computer clipped to his belt — the Sprout. The Sprout synchronizes the physical data from the body sensors and from the apps on his iPod Touch. Such devices may soon be consolidated into small products that automate data collection and let users see when they're stressed or unwell. Personal health details could be shared with doctors and insurers.

AR We shall all be tracked by medics administering drugs and neural stimuli via Sprout implants — GLOBORG.

2011 June 16

Pakistan: Cut Ties
Washington Post

The security relationship between the United States and Pakistan has sunk to its lowest level since the two countries agreed to cooperate after 9/11, according to U.S. and Pakistani officials. Both sides say further deterioration is likely as Pakistan's military leadership comes under pressure from within its ranks to reduce ties with the United States.

AR To hell with them.

Airlifters for Indian Air Force
Global Security

India's Ministry of Defence has signed an agreement with the U.S. government to acquire 10 Boeing C-17 Globemaster III airlifters.

Dinesh Keskar, Boeing India: "The C-17 will elevate India's leader-ship in the region. With its tactical and strategic capabilities, the
C-17 fulfills India's needs for military and humanitarian airlift. The important transaction reaffirms our close relationship of several decades with India and also highlights our commitment to the strategic partnership between the two countries."

AR This is sweet music after all the bad news out of Pakistan.

Cheer Up Keanu
The Guardian

Yesterday was global Cheer Up Keanu Day. Reeves has a lot to get over, being The One.

His first book is called Ode to Happiness. "I draw a hot sorrow bath," reads the first page. "In my despair room," reads the second. Each page wallows in increasingly absurd levels of self-pity, while the accompanying blotchy, black-ink drawings, by Los Angeles artist Alexandra Grant, look as if they've been blurred by tears. It culminates with an image of a bleeding black spot and the line: "It can always be worse."

Steidl Verlag, Göttingen, produced the 40-page book as a stitched brochure, beautifully printed on thick paper, in a clothbound slipcase, as a limited edition of 4,000. You can buy a used copy for ca €25 at

2011 June 15

China Versus Japan
Martin Wolf, Financial Times

Until 1990, Japan was the most successful large economy in the world. Japan's GDP per head (at purchasing power parity) jumped from 20% of U.S. levels in 1950 to 90% in 1990. But by 2010, Japan's GDP per head had fallen to 76% of U.S. levels.

China had an annual growth rate of 10% between 1979 and 2010. China's GDP per head jumped from 3% of U.S. levels in 1978 to 20% of U.S. levels today. If China matches Japan, its GDP per head will be 70% of U.S. levels by 2035 and its economy will be bigger than those of the United States and European Union combined.

China's new five year plan calls for growth of 7% a year and the economy to rebalance toward consumption. From 2000 to 2010, investment grew faster than consumption. The share of private consumption in GDP sank from 46% to 34% and the share of fixed investment rose from 34% to 46%.

For this pattern of growth to reverse, the growth of investment must fall well below that of GDP. This is what happened in Japan in the 1990s, with dire results.

Saudi Arabia: "History is happening. No one can stop it."

2011 June 14

Greek Junk
Financial Times

Standard & Poor's cut Greece's long-term sovereign credit rating to CCC, a sign the rating agency thinks it will be forced to downgrade Athens to default, D. Greece is now the lowest-rated sovereign in the world, below Ecuador, Jamaica, Pakistan, and Grenada.

AR What were we thinking, letting Greece get this deep in debt?

 "Today it is not enough to die for one's country. Rather a soldier has to achieve martyrdom for Islam."
Pakistan's mutinous military

2011 June 13

"Der Mythos vom perfekten Deutschland wankt"
Welt Online

Rund um den Erdball erntet die Regierung von "Frau Flip Flop" Kopfschütteln. Nur in Russland und der Türkei ist man zufrieden. Das sollte Sorgen bereiten.

Adam Krzeminski schreibt, Angela Merkel sei eine Frau ohne Eigenschaften: "Sie manövriert geschickt von Fall zu Fall, verzeichnet gelegentlich Erfolge, aber es ist nicht ganz klar, wofür sie eigentlich steht." Sein Fazit in Polityka: "Deutschland beschäftigt sich mit sich selbst." Das könne sich vielleicht Warschau erlauben, aber nicht Deutschland, der Motor der EU.

AR Bald wird es wieder Zeit, die deutsche Politik nach Prinzipien zu orientieren. Aber welche?

2011 June 12

The Book of Mormon
James Fenton

The Book of Mormon show at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre drew praise from the press. The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints made a decision not to take offense. Its Head of Public Affairs, Michael Otterson, listed three things we should know about Mormons: They follow Jesus Christ. They are friends of the family. They like helping people.

The musical turns on a couple of young men sent as missionaries to Uganda. Most of the inhabitants are suffering from AIDS. Poverty is endemic. Conditions are gross and previous missionaries made no converts. But one of the two young men discovers a gift of improvising on church doctrine, adding whatever nonsense springs into his brain. Mass conversion follows, in a proselytizing miracle. The Ugandans save the day by pointing out that religious discourse is metaphorical anyway.

Otterson pointed out that in the seven years that it had taken to put on the show, the Mormon Church in Africa had been responsible for bringing clean water to more than four million Africans, getting wheelchairs to 34,000 legless children, and so on.

The Mormon mission to Africa was for a long time hobbled by racism. Then in 1978, the leaders of the church experienced a convenient revelation. A willingness to jettison or modify revelation has long been characteristic of Mormonism. Acceptability matters more than doctrine. The musical at the Eugene O’Neill Theater is a sort of hazing.

2011 June 11

Gates Blasts NATO
Associated Press

In his final policy speech as Pentagon chief, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates questioned the viability of NATO.

Gates said both of NATO's main military operations now — Afghanistan and Libya — point up weaknesses and failures within the alliance: "The blunt reality is that there will be dwindling appetite and patience in the U.S. Congress — and in the American body politic writ large — to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources or make the necessary changes to be serious and capable partners in their own defense."

The war in Afghanistan, which is being conducted under NATO auspices, is a prime example of U.S. frustration at European inability to provide the required resources: "Despite more than 2 million troops in uniform, not counting the U.S. military, NATO has struggled, at times desperately, to sustain a deployment of 25,000 to 45,000 troops, not just in boots on the ground, but in crucial support assets such as helicopters, transport aircraft, maintenance, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and much more."

Gates noted the difficulty NATO has encountered in carrying out an air campaign in Libya: "The mightiest military alliance in history is only 11 weeks into an operation against a poorly armed regime in a sparsely populated country, yet many allies are beginning to run short of munitions, requiring the U.S., once more, to make up the difference. … While every alliance member voted for the Libya mission, less than half have participated, and fewer than a third have been willing to participate in the strike mission. Frankly, many of those allies sitting on the sidelines do so not because they do not want to participate, but simply because they can't. The military capabilities simply aren't there."

AR Fair comment. Europe needs to get serious.

2011 June 10

Fareed Zakaria, CNN

China seems to be moving away from a strategy of increasing openness and connection to the West and toward one of greater self-reliance and tighter internal controls. Henry Kissinger says China's rise is the central challenge of American foreign policy.

Semantic Web
MIT Technology Review

Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo want Web page operators to add semantic tags to their pages for search engines. Their initiative defines an interconnected vocabulary of terms that can be added to the HTML markup of a Web page.

The approach is a straightforward one for semantics. But the companies acted without consulting the World Wide Web consortium (W3C). semantic markup is written in microdata format, which is not a W3C standard.

AR OMG — I have to add tags to all my pages.

In Search of the True Self
Joshua Knobe

Philosophers say that what is most distinctive and essential to a human being is the capacity for rational reflection. Losing control and giving in to sexual desires would betray the true self.

People outside the world of philosophy say the true self lies in our suppressed urges and unacknowledged emotions, while our ability to reflect is just a hindrance that gets in the way.

Both of these perspectives assume that the true self can be identified with one part of our psychology. But our ordinary understanding of the true self appears to involve a value judgment about what sorts of lives are really worth living.

AR The unexamined life is not worth living — Socrates.

2011 June 9

President Blair
The Times

Tony Blair says Europe needs an elected president with a democratic mandate to drive sweeping reforms and give the European Union more clout on the world stage. A directly elected president of Europe would be chosen by an electorate of more than 386 million from 27 countries.

Blair sets out five areas for EU action:
— Tax policy and reform of the social model
— Completion of the single market
— Forging a common energy policy
— A common defense policy
— A common immigration and crime policy

AR Right on, Blair. You get my vote.

Apple Cloud Versus Google Cloud

Google: the Web is the center of the universe

Google is betting that the world will have fiber connections in offices and homes and super-fast mobile broadband in virtually every nook and cranny of the planet. It is building its cloud for that world, and it's hoping that by the time it has its application stack refined and running like clockwork that broadband will be everywhere. All of Google's apps are connection-dependent and all of the data is stored on Google's servers in the cloud. Google has started talking about making critical apps available offline, especially for Chromebooks, but offline access is an afterthought.

Apple: your device is the center of the universe

Apple uses the cloud to orchestrate data streams rather than control them. The cloud is a central repository for apps, music, media, documents, messages, photos, backups, settings, and more. Apple is allowing users to sync their personal data and media purchases from their computers and mobile devices up to a personalized central repository. Then, that central repository on the Internet syncs all of the data and media files back down to all of the user's devices, so that all of them have the same data. Geeks, technophiles, and IT pros like this approach because they still control their own data and have local copies of everything.

AR The cloud is the rapture for geeks. Your soul raptures up from the box in front of you to the cloud and you supplicate for it through your device. The Google model is more top-down. Your soul is really gone, up to Google. The Apple model is more Zen. You harmonize with heaven but you don't go there. The Ross model is more woo-woo. You are the cloud, and we are all one in Globorg.

2011 June 8

Global Recovery
Martin Wolf, Financial Times

This has been a weak recovery. Of the six biggest advanced economies — the United States, Japan, Germany, France, the UK, and Italy — only the United States and Germany had higher gross domestic product in Q1 of 2011 than three years before and then only by a little. The four laggards are still in recession.

The case for combining structural measures to improve long-run potential output and fiscal positions with continued strong monetary and fiscal support for recovery seems overwhelming in countries with room for maneuver. The biggest danger remains prolonged semi-stagnation in the post-crisis era, not excessive growth and high inflation.

Financial Times

The International Monetary Fund suggests that China will be number one by 2016. Some regard this interpretation of IMF data as artificially boosting the size of the Chinese economy, but even using real exchange rates China becomes number one in 2019.

China is sitting on foreign reserves worth $3 trillion. Yet the average U.S. citizen is about ten times as wealthy as the average Chinese. The United Nations, the IMF and the World Bank are all situated in the United States, and NATO is built around America. China is nowhere near matching the U.S. military and has no equivalent to the American dream.

The Chinese economy cannot continue to grow at 8-10 percent a year indefinitely. China also faces formidable demographic and environmental problems. Chinese authoritarianism looks bad and democracy would threaten the unity of the nation.

Chinese Toast

Li Na has been the toast of China ever since she became the country's first Grand Slam tennis champion. Over 100 million Chinese watched the live TV coverage of the French Open final.

Li is a product of a state-supported sports machine, the "juguo" system. But Li could not be where she is without the new "danfei" system that allows top players to choose their own coaches and so on and retain most of the prize money.

China may have to let go of certain controls to let their athletes compete internationally. A successful athlete effectively becomes an international citizen. Li Na is not going home any time soon.

2011 June 7

Apple iCloud
MIT Technology Review

Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced iCloud, a service that means music, photos, and documents saved onto an Apple device will soon appear almost instantly on any other Apple product a person owns.

The iCloud capabilities will become a central feature of all Apple products. Apple's previous cloud service, MobileMe, "no longer exists as a product," said Jobs.

When an iCloud user takes a photo or saves a document with an Apple device, that file is instantly uploaded to iCloud over either Wi-Fi or the cellular network. That person's other Apple devices then automatically download the file as soon as possible.

Contacts and calendar items will behave in the same way. Users will get five gigabytes of free storage for documents, mail and apps. Photos will be stored in the cloud for 30 days.

After iCloud rolls out, music purchased on iTunes will also automatically appear on every Apple device associated with a person's Apple account. It will be possible to selectively download previously purchased music to any device, too.

Music ripped from CDs will also find a home in iCloud, with future versions of iTunes, for a flat rate of $24.99 per year. It will scan music files and then offer up high-quality replacements from the iTunes store. Only songs that cannot be matched on iTunes will be uploaded.

Apple SVP for iOS software Scott Forstall: "We're living in a post PC world." Many Apple customers are people without computers who want their iPad or iPhone to be their only device.

Steve Jobs: "If the hardware is the brain of our products, the software is their soul."

Apple iCloud

Apple has been in the cloud business for over a decade. In 2000, Apple introduced iTools as a free service for Mac users. In 2002, Apple renamed the service, upgraded it, and turned it into a paid subscription. In 2008, Apple turned it into MobileMe and expanded it to include more advanced features. But most Mac users prefer Gmail and Google Apps.

With iCloud, Apple is enhancing and relaunching the service. For two years, Apple has been building a huge data center in North Carolina. It came online this spring.

2011 June 6

Mormons Rock!
Walter Kirn, Newsweek

Mitt Romney has announced his 2012 presidential campaign. But he has to overcome some big challenges before capturing the Republican nomination. One is his Mormon faith.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints resembles a multinational corporation, with global ambitions and an estimated net worth of $30 billion. Mormonism is now the fourth-largest religious denomination in America, with just over 6 million members domestically and about 14 million worldwide.

But the roots of Mormonism go down to some unique theological doctrines. The Mormons believe that God was once a human being and we can follow his example to evolve into gods ourselves. This progression toward divine perfection extends beyond death.

On social issues, many Mormons toil side by side with conservative Protestants and Catholics as allies in the culture war against secular liberalism. Still, the differences among the groups are real and deep. Mormons think of their religion as a restoration of genuine Christianity after 18 centuries of apostasy.

Mormons hold that an ideal marriage — one between a man and a woman, undertaken as a sacrament in a Mormon temple — is forever binding, with marital vows, and procreation, extending into eternity. This view of marriage motivates some of the church's most controversial public stands.

As governor of liberal Massachusetts, Mitt Romney championed health-care reform. Mormons are just like everyone else.

2011 June 5

Li Na Makes History
China Daily

Li Na
Photo: Agencies
Li Na won the trophy in the women's final of the French Open.

2011 June 4

Li Na: China's tennis rebel is people's idol

Dignity and Democracy
Dirk Kurbjuweit

Politicians are slaves to the financial markets. Profligate policies gave Europeans a high standard of living but delivered them into the clutches of the financial markets.

The banks and investment firms now play the role once held by the gods. Hardly anyone dares to criticize them, and fear of their wrath guides the behavior of politicians. Under such conditions, democracy has lost its dignity.

The banks owe their survival to politicians. Politicians should impose tougher rules on the banks.

2011 June 2-4

Ethics and Neuroscience
Empirical, Conceptual and Normative Issues

14. Treffen der Nachwuchsgruppe Philosophie des Geistes
Casino Westend Campus, Raum 1.801
Grüneburgplatz 1, 60323 Frankfurt am Main

Thursday, June 2, 18:15 local time
Kathinka Evers
Entering the Minds of Others:
Neurotechnological Assessments of Consciousness

Saturday, June 4, 18:00 local time
Peter Singer
What can Neuroscience tell us about Ethics?

Veranstalter: Prof. Dr. Thomas Metzinger
Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

2011 Christi Himmelfahrt

Consider horizon complementarity and quantum vacuum decay

2011 June 1

Adherents of the Abrahamic religions are idolaters
A philosemite is an antisemite who loves Jews

Agitated Honeybees Exhibit Pessimistic Cognitive Biases
Current Biology

Animal emotional state can only be inferred using physiological, cognitive, and behavioral measures. Honeybees display a pessimistic cognitive bias when they are subjected to vigorous shaking designed to simulate a predatory attack. Shaken bees also have lower levels of hemolymph dopamine, octopamine, and serotonin. Honeybees could be regarded as exhibiting emotions.

Predicting Rapture
Gary Gutting
The New York Times

Many Christians are confident that the rapture will occur one day. An unspecified date makes their prediction immune to refutation, but this is no good reason for their confidence. Their beliefs are based not on science but on faith. Objective certainty about a future event requires good reasons. The Bible offers none.

AR Professor Gutting had a
Jesuit education.

Beluga bathing beauties

The Times

A French government agency warns of a risk of mass suicides tied to the predicted 2012-12-21 Apocalypse. Such theories fit the gloomy mood in France. A Fondapol Foundation poll finds that only 17% of French people between 16 and 29 think the outlook for France is promising.

Airbus Engineering Executive VP Charles Champion: "Our research shows that passengers of 2050 will expect a seamless travel experience while also caring for the environment. The concept cabin is designed with that in mind, and shows that the journey can be as much a voyage of discovery as the destination."

will let readers stream books. Users will not own the books they read but subscribe to the service for about ten euros a month and will have access to all the books in the catalog. Publishers will be paid a percentage based on pages read.

Isle of Wight Festival
The Times

The Isle of Wight is one of the hippest spots in the British Isles. Madonna herself has graced the island with her presence. Now the Isle of Wight Festival could steal the mantle of cool from Glastonbury. The flower power of today's festival-goers hints at the Isle of Wight festivals held from 1968 to 1970. An estimated 600,000 people arrived in 1970 to see Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell, and others. But the Government created a law to ban the event.

AR I was there in my ragged
denims in 1970 to see
Hendrix et al.

Are Americans in the midst of
an epidemic of mental illness?

The New Republic

Patrick French calls his book
India: A Portrait an intimate biography of 1.2 billion people. French is a fine stylist and an excellent reporter, with an eye for the telling detail. He subscribes to the view that the country's founding fathers ended up papering over religious differences, therefore ensuring the rise of sectarian Hindu politics. And he supports the opinion that the centralized state apparatus was subject to diminishing returns. But he seems so enraptured by India that his analysis is never quite convincing.

Spiegel Online

One of the worst Taliban attacks in a decade killed General Mohammed Daud Daud, who was the police chief for northern Afghanistan, plus two German soldiers, and wounded German General Markus Kneip, the commander of coalition troops serving as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in northern Afghanistan.

But when the crowd surged through the streets of the provincial capital Taloqan for the funeral of the Afghan general, it was calling for revenge against Americans, Germans, and any other foreigners. At the head of the march was a car equipped with loudspeakers, from which a young cleric chanted death to foreigners.

New College of the Humanities
Financial Times

Philosopher A. C. Grayling, biologist Richard Dawkins, and historian Niall Ferguson are among academics setting up a new independent London college.

The New College of the Humanities will issue University of London degrees. Undergraduates will be able to study law, economics, history, literature, and philosophy. They will be obliged to take science literacy, ethics, critical thinking, and professional skills modules.

Courses at the college will cost £18,000 a year.

AR Gimme a job!


Bloodhound SSC
BLOODHOUND SSC image by curventa

 "Is there anyone who
has any questions about
underage females?"
Silvio Berlusconi
Time, May 29, 2009

Only denuclearization
can save Pakistan


Barack Obama
Photo: Paul Hanna/Reuters
Barack Obama

Ministry of Defence

Britain and France are to deploy attack helicopters against Libya. Apaches from HMS Ocean will join French Tiger helicopters in risky operations intended to protect civilians.

Future of Humanity

The first two paragraphs of my blog entry for May 6 have been corrected to read thus:

Nick Bostrom is an Oxford University philosophy professor who heads the Future of Humanity Institute, St. Ebbe's Street, Oxford. The institute was founded in 2005 and works in a field of study that spans Oxford's Faculty of Philosophy and its Martin School, a creation of Dr. James Martin.

The institute's scope includes the work of cosmologists like Sean Carroll of the Caltech and technology mavens like Ray Kurzweil. It also includes that of Sir Martin Rees: "It's hard to think of humans as anything like the culmination of life. ... Evolution in the future won't be determined by natural selection, but by technology."

Invasion of Israel

The Arab Spring is supposed to be about the liberation of the Mideast. But Arab protesters are targeting the one and only stable democracy in the region. For many Arabs the ultimate message is death to Israel.

Arab demonstrators flooded to numerous points on Israel's borders in commemoration of Nakba, the day when Israel was established. Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh exhorted worshipers in Gaza City to pray for an end to Israel.

The demonstrations turned into confrontations with Israeli troops. Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak warns that the worst is yet to come.

Helmut Kohl On Europe
Spiegel Online

Former German chancellor Helmut Kohl, 81, took the stage at the American Academy on the shores of Wannsee, Berlin, and expressed confidence in Europe's future: "Those who want to do away with everything and start over again are mistaken."

Kohl was the guest of honor on Monday night to receive the Henry A. Kissinger Prize, an award given by the American Academy in recognition of outstanding services to the trans-Atlantic relationship. Henry Kissinger, 87, was there among the luminaries.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton, 64, said Kohl was the "best European statesman since World War II." Kohl had faced thorny questions during his 16 years at the helm, from German reunification to Russian instability to the future of NATO to the break-up of Yugoslavia. Clinton said "he answered every single one of these questions correctly."

Konrad Zuse

Konrad Zuse


2011 May 31

Ned Block bodged it, John Searle nails it: the crucial flaw in
Self Comes To Mind by Antonio Damasio

2011 May 30

Germany's ruling coalition has agreed to shut down all of the nation's nuclear power plants by 2022

2011 May 29

Arnold Schwarzenegger
The Sunday Times

Southern California was known as a flesh factory, especially Venice Beach, where women in bikinis hung out admiring the bodybuilders.

Carl Jenkins says Schwarzenegger was bold with women: "Arnold was just unbelievable. He'd see a beautiful woman on the street or wherever he was and he'd go right up to her and say, 'Do you wanna fuck me?' His English wasn't all that great but he had that phrase down pat. ... That probably happened a few times a day. We'd watch this in awe and think it was some kind of European thing."

Sex And Power
Spiegel Online

Johan van der Dennen is a sociobiologist at the University of Groningen.

Would Clinton, Berlusconi, Strauss-Kahn, and Schwarzenegger have done the same if they weren't in a position of power?
VD Power makes men arrogant, narcissistic, egocentric, oversexed, paranoid, despotic, and craving even more power, though there are exceptions to this rule. Powerful men generally have a keen eye for female beauty and attractiveness, and women generally are attracted to powerful, successful, famous, and wealthy men.

What are these men thinking when they have sex?
VD Powerful men live in a sexualized or eroticized world. Not only do they expect to have sex whenever they fancy, but they also expect that every woman is always willing to provide this service, and enjoy it. They are completely egocentric and opportunistic and just take what they want.

2011 May 27

A Journey Through the Madness Industry
By Jon Ronson

Jon Ronson, a popular British journalist, comes up with a persuasive argument that the psychopath checklist and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) are dangerous weapons.
from a review by Janet Maslin, The New York Times

The epiphanic moment comes when Ronson asks Robert Spitzer, the editor under whose aegis the DSM expanded from a slim booklet to a biblical tome, whether it's possible that he'd created a world in which some ordinary behaviors were being labeled mental disorders, and Spitzer answers: "I don't know."
from a review by Will Self, The Guardian

AR Sounds like fun.

2011 May 26

Craniopagus Twins
The New York Times

Twins joined at the head are rare. The neural anatomy of Tatiana and Krista is unique in the annals of science. Their brain images reveal what Douglas Cochrane, of British Columbia Children's Hospital, calls a thalamic bridge linking the thalamus of one girl to the thalamus of her sister. The thalamus is thought to be essential in the neural loops that create consciousness.

Images of their brains astounded neurologists. Todd Feinberg, a professor of clinical psychiatry and neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine: "Absolutely fantastic. Unbelievable. Unprecedented as far as I know."

Tatiana and Krista are not treated as freaks. The twins were born healthy at 34 weeks. Cochrane, their neurosurgeon, concluded that separation would be extremely risky.

Doctors think the twins share sensation. Cochrane proposes that visual input comes in through the retinas of one girl, reaches her thalamus, then takes two different courses, either as usual to the visual cortex or via the thalamic bridge to the visual cortex of the other sister. If one girl sees an object with her eyes and the other sees it via that thalamic link, do they have a shared experience?

Tatiana and Krista are more of a unity than the closest identical twins. Feinberg says the brain labors to create a unity of experience, knitting together our partial selves via numerous cortical mechanisms into a unified sense of self: "In these girls, they're linked, yet each acts as a whole. It's like a force of nature — the brain wants to unify."

Tatiana and Krista will start kindergarten in the fall. A talent manager is helping the family pursue a reality TV show.

2011 May 25

President Barack Obama's speech to the British Parliament
was superb, historic in its tone and inspirational level

SAP Hauptversammlung
SAP Arena, Mannheim

2011 May 24

An Essential Relationship
Barack Obama and David Cameron

The United States and Britain stand together. Our relationship is founded on ties of people and culture. But the reason it thrives is because it advances our common interests and shared values. Ours is not just a special relationship, it is an essential relationship.

Today the foundations of our partnership are rock solid. Our servicemen and women serve alongside one another. Our diplomats and security and intelligence agencies work together. And we are unified in our support for a lasting peace between a secure Israel and a sovereign Palestine.

We need to co-operate on rebuilding our economies. Our destination must be strong and stable growth, reduced deficits and reform of our financial systems. Our nations have proud traditions of out-innovating and out-building the rest of the world. Today the United States remains the largest investor in Britain, and Britain the largest investor in the United States. We want to encourage this exchange.

Recent events in the Arab world and Middle East are momentous. We see the prospect of democracy and universal rights taking hold in the Arab world, and it fills us with confidence and a renewed commitment to an alliance based not just on interests but on values.

AR Has Cameron become a speechwriter for Obama now? This is ammo for Conservative stump speeches. True, the US-UK relationship is essential for the Western world and only China can rock it. But we could lose a lot of momentum trying to sort out the Arabs. Let's be sure we know when to back off and let them make their own mistakes.

2011 May 23

Obama Presses Israel
The New York Times

At a conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, President Obama struck back at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to say talks over a Palestinian state should focus on the pre-1967 borders, with mutually agreed negotiated land swaps.

Administration officials say that given the historic upheaval in the Arab world, the United States and Israel would both benefit from being seen as taking bold steps to end the impasse between Israelis and Palestinians. President Obama will try to talk his European counterparts out of endorsing Palestinian statehood when the United Nations votes on statehood in September.

AR Obama is smarter than Netanyahu on this issue.

Mideast Errors
The Daily Beast

Israel was no more created in 1948 than the United States was created in 1776. When Israeli leaders declared independence in 1948, it was a culmination of efforts going back to intensive Jewish immigration in the 1880s. The nation in formation also defended itself against murderous Arab riots from 1921 to 1939.

Commentators refer to the displacement of Palestinians without recognizing the dramatic increases in the area's Arab population due to the economic development and improved living standards that the Jewish immigrants brought with them.

AR Fair points: journalists can be dangerously lazy.

2011 May 22

Vive les femmes!
The Observer

Bernard-Henri Lévy raged against a legal system that had treated DSK like "any other person". "Everybody," declared the philosopher, "is not everybody!"

AR BHL is as bad as DSK: We must end the cocky ways of these
      Gallic poseurs.

2011 May 20

President Obama expressed support for Israel’s refusal to negotiate with a Palestinian government that now includes Hamas. But he also urged Israel to accept its 1967 borders with mutually agreed swaps and withdraw Israeli forces from the occupied territories. The contradiction is glaring.

You cannot reach mutual agreement on swaps without negotiation. There is an impasse until the Palestinians nominate a negotiating partner with acceptable ambitions and the ability to deliver. Until then, military logic dictates that the 1967 borders are indefensible. Israel is right to hang tough until the Arab world understands that land is a negotiable resource. Resettling Palestinian refugees in other Arab lands is far cheaper and more reasonable for all concerned than mobilizing to erase Israel from the map by force. If Arab leaders do not understand this, we must teach them, by force if need be. Revising ancient land claims is the only way forward. We must convince the Arab world that invading Israel would result in many millions of dead Arabs.

Arabs and Israelis are both semitic peoples. Let them show solidarity in face of an Iranian hegemonic threat. Let Saudi Arabia ally with Israel to fend off the threat. Then we have a hopeful future in the region. The alternative for Israel is to ally with Turkey against the Arab world, but this is harder. Either way, Israel needs local friends.

2011 May 19

Did religion precede agriculture over ten thousand years ago?

2011 May 18

High Energy Physics
Rolf-Dieter Heuer

The Standard Model of particle physics describes the microcosm as we know it. But we are still missing one cornerstone to explain how elementary particles get their mass. We think that the Higgs mechanism could be the answer. The manifestation of that mechanism is the Higgs boson. Our goal is to find it.

But the Standard Model only describes around five percent of the universe. Around a quarter of the universe is dark matter, three quarters are dark energy. So an even bigger step would be to find traces of dark matter in the laboratory.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is a very powerful microscope. It can work with very small wavelengths, which means very high energy levels. But we don't need to build bigger particle accelerators to achieve even higher energy levels. So we have not reached the end of the development of experimental physics.

Our work has very practical consequences. The idea of a worldwide network started in 1989 here at CERN, because we needed that kind of digital network for our scientific work. We gain knowledge but we also gain the potential for technological innovation.

Research charts new territory. Every time we discover something, we open the door to new knowledge but find new sets of questions. At the edge of physics, it becomes linked to philosophy. We are struggling with the limits of knowledge.

AR Orbiting systems to study cosmic rays with energies in the
      PeV range and above could be useful.

2011 May 17

Kohl and Kissinger in 2000
Helmut Kohl and Henry Kissinger in 2000

Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer
The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer is now in orbit.

2011 May 16

European Discord
Spiegel Online

The European Union is in trouble. "Me first" is the new credo. The financial crisis has split the continent. Denmark has shut its borders to prevent a sudden wave of immigrants fleeing chaos from the Arab Spring. France and the UK are stonewalling on stress tests for European nuclear plants.

In Germany there are fears that Berlin will become the paymaster for an increasingly hopeless euro zone. In Chancellor Angela Merkel's ruling coalition, 19 members of parliament apparently no longer support plans to save the euro. But the coalition has only a 20-seat majority. If more members defect, Merkel's measures to save the euro would depend on opposition votes.

Former European Commission member Günther Verheugen, in a new book on European unity, warns against the spread of right-wing populism and the dangers of renationalization in Europe. Without the European spirit of earlier leaders, he argues, such accomplishments as freedom of travel, the single currency, and more than 65 years of peace are threatened.

2011 May 15

Science Fiction
Iain M Banks

"The very fact that entirely respectable writers occasionally feel drawn to write what is perfectly obviously science fiction — regardless of either their own protestations or those of their publishers — shows that a further dialogue between genres is possible, especially if we concede that literary fiction may be legitimately regarded as one as well."

AR Authoring that sentence should doom Banks to obloquy.

2011 May 14

UN: 10,000,000,000 by 2100
Foreign Policy

The United Nations Population Division now say the number of people living on the planet will reach 10 billion or more by century's end. The projections include a lower and higher estimate. The high projection would take us to 10.6 billion in 2050. The low projection would mean 8.1 billion. Women are not having more children than in the past, but fewer of them are dying. Globally, the number of infant deaths per 1,000 births fell from 126 in 1960 to 57 in 2001.

AR Ten billion is too many people.

2011 May 13

THE PHILOSOPHER — first draft done

2011 May 12

Seventy years ago today, Konrad Zuse demonstrated his new Z3 computer to technical experts from the Deutsche Versuchsanstalt für Luftfahrt (DVL). In the words of Dr. rer. nat. h.c. mult. Friedrich L. Bauer, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics and Computer Science, TUM, Germany, Konrad Zuse was the

Creator of the first fully automated, program-controlled and freely programmable computer using binary floating-point calculation. It was operational in 1941.

This or something similar, says Prof. Bauer, is what will one day have to be written when Konrad Zuse's bust is unveiled in the Temple of Valhalla.

Source: The Computer — My Life, by Konrad Zuse. Translated by Patricia McKenna and J. Andrew Ross. Springer, 1993.

Spiegel Online

Foxconn makes products for Apple and other Western firms. After 13 workers committed suicide in 2010, the company has responded with counselors and safety nets.

Applicants jog in orderly rows through the industrial area. They look about 19 or 20 and hope to be future builders of the iPad. Each of them holds an envelope containing their job application. On command, they turn into the recruitment office.

Foxconn is hiring tens of thousands of employees. The company has built new factories in the Chinese city of Chengdu to produce millions of iPads for Apple. The supplier is known for the strict rules it imposes on its employees. "Order and obedience rule here," says Xi. Her colleagues nod.

"I work from Monday to Saturday, 12 hours a day," says Zu. Long working hours are standard at Foxconn in Chengdu. The factories in Chengdu are new and 100,000 people work there.

Foxconn is based in Taiwan but its main factory is in Shenzhen, near Hong Kong, with about 400,000 workers. Everything is clean there. The workers who assemble iPhones and MacBooks wear anti-static jackets. Visitors have to wear caps and shoe covers.

Employees repeat the same hand movements thousands of times a day. Talking is not allowed unless absolutely necessary, and workers have to ask for permission to use the restroom.

The main street from the factory gate into the campus is lined with palm trees and flower beds. There are banks, stores, libraries, swimming pools and cafés. Safety nets attached to the facades of the taller buildings prevent workers from jumping to their deaths. A care center open 24/7 helps people with problems.

Demand from Apple is so high that Foxconn lets its employees work long overtime.

AR Support battery life — buy an iPad!

"If we lose our ability to take pride in the victory over Hitler, we will be deprived of one of our surest moral compass points."
Adam Kirsch


Announced at SAPPHIRE last week, the SAP In-Memory Appliance (HANA) serves as a data mart separate from production workloads, with high granularity and low latency.

HANA offers support for IBM DB2/400 and is certified to run on Linux-based IBM System x servers. HANA is slated for general availability in July.

AR This is my former team's product — well done, guys!

David Cameron
Photo: Paul Hanna/Reuters
David Cameron


The ElliptiGO elliptical bike is a substitute for running. The San Diego-based makers have released a new 3-speed model. Currently it is only available in the United States.

AR The scope of the
institute's work:

The Great Seducer
The Times

Dominique Strauss-Kahn is awaiting trial on charges of sexual assault. The French may wish to ponder how their system has sheltered a man who now appears to be a serial sexual predator.

The French media remain in denial about their complicity. DSK was widely dubbed "the Great Seducer" but no one asked whether "seduction" was often an overgenerous interpretation of his hobbies.

The French media have a history of pride of their reluctance to pry into the private lives of politicians and consider it a sign of maturity. Today it seems obscene.

Henry Kissinger On China
Niall Ferguson

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton thinks the Chinese government is "trying to stop history, which is a fool's errand." These are words you cannot imagine being uttered by Henry Kissinger. He knows that the real fool's errand is to lean on the Chinese.

It is 40 years since Kissinger went on his secret mission to China, to pave the way for President Richard Nixon's historic visit in 1972. The American opening to China was also a Chinese opening to America. Mao Zedong feared encirclement. Soviet and Chinese forces were already skirmishing. The stakes for China were high.

China could overtake America within a decade. This is a feat the Soviet Union never came close to achieving. And China is now the biggest foreign holder of U.S. Treasury notes. The fact that until now China has been a boon to the United States rather than a bane owes much to the work of Henry Kissinger.

The Zuse Z3

The Zuse Z3


F-35 Lightning II AF-7
Lockheed Martin

USAF Accepts AF-7
The U.S. Air Force has accepted into its fleet the first of a planned 1,763 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters.
The jet, known as AF-7, flew to Edwards Air Force Base, CA, on May 6 to begin flight testing. In addition to AF-7, eight more
production-model F-35s have rolled out. The F-35 Lightning II is the most advanced multirole fighter in the world.

Hillary Clinton On China
The Atlantic

We believe that countries should empower their people. We believe that people should have certain universal rights. ...
But we don't walk away from dealing with China because we think they have a deplorable human rights record. ...
They are trying to stop history, which is a fool's errand. They cannot do it. But they're going to hold it off as long as possible.


2011 May 11

Boating On Titan
New Scientist

NASA is considering sending a probe to splash down into one of the lakes on Saturn's moon Titan. The lakes are filled with a mixture of methane and ethane, which are liquid at Titan's surface temperature of -180°C. NASA has selected a mission called the Titan Mare Explorer (TiME) as one of three finalists competing for a chance to fly in 2016.

In 2023, after a seven-year cruise from Earth, TiME would parachute onto a lake in Titan's northern hemisphere. Powered by heat from the decay of plutonium, the probe would bob around on the lake and make measurements for about three months. Titan has a cycle like the water cycle on Earth, with hydrocarbon raining onto the surface, evaporating, and raining again.

TiME would measure the temperature, humidity, and winds at the surface of the lake and take pictures. It could measure the lake's depth with sonar and taste the chemicals it contains with a mass spectrometer. Complex organic molecules form in the atmosphere and rain down onto the surface. Some scientists speculate that microscopic life forms could live in the lakes.

AR This is a project worth sponsoring.

2011 May 9

Bruce Riedel

Pakistan is the most dangerous country in the world. The Pakistani army manipulates the jihadis and the jihadis manipulate the army.
>> more

Don't Go Nuts
Sir Hilary Synnott

The United States should continue to try to disburse assistance for social development in Pakistan. It should target and account for its military-related assistance much more carefully than hitherto. And it should close off Pakistan's access to big-ticket arms that can only be used against India.

2011 May 8

The twentieth century was a period of immense popularity of genetic explanations for class and race differences in mental ability and temperament. Now genetic theories for the causation of physical disorders have become the mode.
Richard C. Lewontin on genetics

2011 May 7

Faulty Towers
William Deresiewicz, The Nation

Don't do a Ph.D. The market is a bloodbath. Only a third of the faculty work on the tenure track. Half the faculty are part-timers. Contingent academic labor is cheaper to hire and easier to fire.

Graduate programs both produce and consume academic labor. But they have no financial stake in whether their graduates get jobs. Programs keep prices low by maintaining an oversupply.

Grad students live on subsistence wages when they could be getting rich. More than half of them are abandoned. But without grad students we all suffer. Industry outsources research to universities where it is done on the cheap.

Tenured professors retain their prerogatives in return for acquiescing in exploitation and betrayal. The system of public higher education in America is in danger of falling into ruin.

Bertrand Russell
American Scholar

At the start of the First World War, the Cambridge fellow Bertrand Russell, 42, was Britain's best-known philosopher. His greatest work was Principia Mathematica, a forbiddingly unreadable trilogy on the logical foundations of classical mathematics coauthored with Alfred North Whitehead and published in three volumes between 1910 and 1913, that takes 347 pages before reaching a definition of the number 1, but he also wrote fluently for the general public. He denounced conventional marriage but attracted women like a magnet, hated organized religion but felt moments of spiritual ecstasy, and loved his country but believed that the war was an appalling mistake.

AR I read much of Principia Mathematica volume 1 plus many other Russell books. His views on the First World War are of course absolutely correct.

2011 May 6

What Next?
The Boston Globe

Nick Bostrom is an Oxford University philosophy professor who heads the Future of Humanity Institute, St. Ebbe's Street, Oxford. The institute was founded in 2005 and works in a field of study that spans Oxford's Faculty of Philosophy and its Martin School, a creation of Dr. James Martin.

The institute's scope includes the work of cosmologists like Sean Carroll of the Caltech and technology mavens like Ray Kurzweil. It also includes that of Sir Martin Rees: "It's hard to think of humans as anything like the culmination of life. ... Evolution in the future won't be determined by natural selection, but by technology."

A central preoccupation is making sure that humans survive to see the future. Rees sets the odds of human extinction in the next century at 50 percent. Bostrom puts them at 25 percent, listing nuclear annihilation, man-made or natural viruses and bacteria, or other technological threats, such as nanobots that run amok.

Bostrom, who trained in neuroscience and cosmology as well as philosophy, says one survival scenario worries him especially: The technologies that might liberate us from the threat of extinction might also change humans into creatures who have shed their humanity altogether.

Apple Brand Value
Financial Times

Apple has overtaken Google to become the world's most valuable brand with an estimated brand value of more than $153 billion. For the last four years, Google has dominated the BrandZ Top100 ranking of the most valuable global brands. But thanks to the success of the iPad and iPhone, Apple's brand value has surged in the last year. Apple has increased its brand value by $137 billion since 2006. Apple's market capitalization is $319 billion and Google's is $172 billion.



Sessions and Speakers

1. Brain Fields and Consciousness
David McCormick
Johnjoe McFadden
Sue Pockett

2. Consciousness in the Universe
Deepak Chopra
Leonard Mlodinow
Paola Zizzi

3. Transcranial Therapy of
Mental States
Allan Snyder
W. Jamie Tyler
Eric Wassermann

4. Time, Precognition and Consciousness
Dick Bierman
Moran Cerf
Sara Gonzalez Andino

5. Anesthesia and Consciousness
Nicholas Franks
Stuart Hameroff
Anthony Hudetz

2011 May 2-8
Toward a Science of Consciousness
Stockholm University, Aula Magna Hall

Keynote Speaker: Sir Roger Penrose

Toward a Science of Consciousness is an interdisciplinary conference emphasizing broad and rigorous approaches to the study of conscious awareness. Topical areas include neuroscience, philosophy, psychology, biology, quantum physics, meditation and altered states, machine consciousness, culture and experiential phenomenology.

Sessions and Speakers

6. Quantum Biology
Anirban Bandyopadhyay
Jack Tuszynski
Gustav Bernroider

7. Neuronal Activities and Consciousness
Germund Hesslow
Rafi Malach
Dietmar Plenz

8. Consciousness, Reality and
the Universe
Menas Kafatos
Tarja-Kallio Tamminen
Paavo Pylkkanen
Harald Atmanspacher

9. End-of-Life Brain Activity
Lakhmir Chawla
Peter Fenwick
Henrik Ehrsson
Pim Van Lommel

10. The Varieties of Religious Experience
Mario Beauregard
Padrinho Paulo Roberto


Stealth Helo
Bill Sweetman
Aviation Week

A previously undisclosed, classified stealth helicopter apparently was part of the U.S. task force that killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan on May 1.

The helicopter appears to be a highly modified version of an
H-60 Blackhawk. Photos show that the helicopter's tail features stealth-configured shapes on the boom and the tail rotor hub fairings, swept stabilizers and a "dishpan" cover over a tail rotor with 5 or 6 blades. It has an infrared suppression finish as on V-22s.

Stealth helicopter technology was used in the RAH-66 Comanche, canceled in 2004.

President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan twice served as prime minister. He was in prison from 1990-1993 and 1996-2004 for corruption and was known as "Mr 10 Percent" when his wife Benazir Bhutto was prime minister. He is reputedly a billionaire and owns a 355 acre luxury estate in England.

Obama Killed Osama
Andrew Sullivan
The Daily Beast

The president who found and killed Osama bin Laden will be very hard not to re-elect. The Big Lie that Obama is somehow not a strong president is debunked. Strength doesn't mean blowing hard on Fox News, it means exercising patience and resolve to get what you want.

This incident reveals that we are really at war with Pakistan, not Afghanistan. Obama will find that the logic for withdrawal just got a lot stronger. We did what we went there to do after 9/11. And after ten years, it is time to leave. With our heads high. And justice done.

2011 May 5

American Atheists
Gregory Paul and Phil Zuckerman, Washington Post

Americans don't like atheists. Christian conservatives stridently declare that the lack of godly faith is detrimental to society. Nonbelievers are one minority still commonly denied rights.

A growing body of social science research reveals that atheists, and non-religious people in general, tend to be more ethical than their religious peers. Atheists tend to score high on verbal ability and scientific literacy. They tend to raise their children to solve problems rationally, to make up their own minds, and to obey the golden rule. Studies of people who were religious but later rejected religion report they feel happier, better, and liberated.

The number of American nontheists has tripled in the population since the 1960s. Surveys find that as many as 60 million Americans are not believers. They should be accorded the same respect as other minorities.

New Intel Chips
MIT Technology Review

Intel has shown off its next generation of chips. Their 3D structure allows twice the chip density with better performance and lower power consumption. Chips sold now use planar transistors with 32 nm features. Intel's next generation will use 22 nm features and 3D transistors. Intel will roll out the design first in Core chips for desktops and then in the Atom chip line.

3D Transistors

Intel announces the world's first 3D transistors in a production technology. The transistors run at lower voltage with lower leakage. The traditional planar channel is replaced with a thin silicon fin that rises up vertically from the substrate. Three gates on the fin surface control the current. The gates improve control of "on" and "off" states and allow faster switching.

2011 May 4

Hasnain Kazim, Spiegel Online

Pakistani government officials say they were not informed of the U.S. raid on Osama bin Laden's compound. The situation is deeply embarrassing for Pakistan. The Pakistani foreign ministry stated that "as far as the target compound is concerned, ISI had been sharing information with the CIA and other friendly intelligence agencies since 2009." But an ISI official admitted that mistakes had been made in the search for bin Laden. The ISI now plans to investigate how bin Laden could have been living undetected so close to a well-guarded military academy.

Officials in Washington do not believe Islamabad's claims that it had no knowledge of bin Laden's hiding place. President Obama's counterterrorism advisor John Brennan claims that bin Laden lived undisturbed for "five to six years" in the lavish compound on the outskirts of Abbottabad. Brennan says it is "inconceivable" that the terrorist leader did not get any support from Pakistan. Members of the U.S. Congress have also expressed doubts over the Pakistani claim not to have known where bin Laden was.

Former CIA agent Bruce Riedel calls Pakistan "the most dangerous country in the world." Pakistan, he says, is a country where "every nightmare of the 21st century — terrorism, nuclear proliferation, the danger of nuclear war, dictatorship, poverty and drugs — come together in one place."

AR We need to get tough with them.

2011 May 3

David Eagleman says the brain is like Kublai Khan. Enthroned in its skull, the brain is "encased in darkness and silence," at a lofty remove from brute reality. Messengers stream in from every corner of the sensory kingdom, bringing word of distant sights, sounds, and smells. Their reports arrive at different rates, often long out of date, yet the details are all stitched together into a seamless chronology. Like Kublai Khan, the brain needs time to get its story straight. Perception and reality are often out of register. Reality is censored before it reaches us.

AR Guess I'd better read his new book Incognito.

Pakistan Did Its Part
President Asif Ali Zardari

Pakistan joins the other targets of al-Qaeda in our satisfaction that the source of the greatest evil of the new millennium has been silenced, and his victims given justice.

A decade of cooperation and partnership between the United States and Pakistan led up to the elimination of Osama bin Laden. More Pakistani soldiers have died than all of NATO's casualties combined. The terrorists murdered our greatest leader, the mother of my children.

My government endorses the words of President Obama and appreciates the credit he gave us for the successful operation. We also applaud and endorse the words of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that we must "press forward, bolstering our partnerships, strengthening our networks, investing in a positive vision of peace and progress, and relentlessly pursuing the murderers who target innocent people."

In the words of my martyred wife Benazir Bhutto: "Truth, justice, and the forces of history are on our side."

AR Benazir's ghost may rest easier now.

Pakistan's Deadly Game
Salman Rushdie, The Daily Beast

Osama bin Laden, the world's most wanted man, was found living at the end of a dirt road 800 yards from the Abbottabad military academy, Pakistan's equivalent of West Point or Sandhurst, in a military cantonment with soldiers on every street corner, less than 50 miles from the Pakistani capital Islamabad. His million-dollar house had neither a telephone nor an Internet connection. Are we supposed to believe that Pakistani authorities didn't know he was there and did nothing to facilitate his presence there?

Pakistan's neighbor India is demanding answers. Pakistan supports anti-Indian jihadist groups, provides them with safe havens, and encourages such groups as a means of waging a proxy war in Kashmir. In recent years these groups have been reaching out to the Pakistani Taliban to form new networks of violence. The first threats of retaliation for bin Laden's death have been made by the Pakistani Taliban. Pakistan fears that an Afghanistan cleansed of the Taliban would be an Indian client state. Pakistan is paranoid about India.

America has been tolerating the Pakistani double game because it needs Pakistani support in its Afghan enterprise. But Pakistan must answer some very tough questions. If it does not, perhaps the time has come to declare it a terrorist state.

AR Believe AAZ or SR?

Phantom Ray
Aviation Week

The Boeing Phantom Ray unmanned aircraft made its first flight at Edwards AFB, California, on April 27. Phantom Ray is a "starting point" for developing a U.S. Navy unmanned, stealthy, carrier-based strike aircraft.

An embargo was placed on the news until the test data were analyzed. The Phantom Ray is a further development of the Phantom Works X-45C and has a weapons bay like that in the Lockheed Martin F-35.


On Sam Harris
The Nation

Bin Laden: The Drama
The New York Times

How It Happened
The Times

The three MH60 Black Hawks hovered above the high-walled compound surrounding a three-storey villa and members of Seal Team Six, wearing night-vision goggles, abseiled down ropes. Armed guards emerged from the building and a firefight broke out. One helicopter stalled and landed in the compound.

Bin Laden fired at the Seals, who shot him dead. Four other people were also killed. The raiders verified bin Laden's identity by his face and his height. The CIA analyzed photos of all the dead. DNA testing confirmed that one was bin Laden. The operation had lasted 40 minutes.

Virgin Galactic

2011 April 30

Situation Room, White House, Washington
Sunday afternoon
As Navy Seals in four helicopters descended on a walled compound few miles north of Islamabad,
President Barack Obama and his advisers sat monitoring the operation as it unfolded.
At 2:05 pm, CIA director Leon Panetta sketched out the operation to the group.
Within an hour, he began his narration from CIA headquarters in Langley.
The code name for Osama bin Laden was "Geronimo."
The group watched Panetta narrating:
"They've reached the target."
"We have a visual on Geronimo."
"Geronimo EKIA."
Enemy Killed In Action

A Flypast
The Telegraph

Prince William is an RAF officer so the RAF staged a flypast to conincide with the kiss(es).

The Lancaster, the Spitfire and the Hurricane of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight flew over the palace. The Merlin engines made a lot of noise.

It was soon drowned out by the two Typhoon and two Tornado fighters that roared past.

2011 April 29

Dream Wedding
Spiegel Online

The royal wedding of William and Kate was a kind of national festival. The British were celebrating their royal family and their own Britishness. Even after the wedding, people continued celebrating. The euphoria did not let up.

The wedding was an historic event. Even if not everyone was in favor of the second-in-line to the British throne marrying the daughter of a self-made millionaire, it was the story of the girl who became a princess, and who will perhaps be queen one day.

In the past eight years, Kate and William have in their relationship got right all the things that Prince Charles and his brother Andrew messed up in their days. Kate and William are considered more discreet, something which will no doubt be appreciated by the Queen. The young couple seem to be well grounded and likable.

On the balcony of Buckingham Palace, the couple shared their intently anticipated kiss, or rather two, one lasting 0.7 seconds and the second lasting 1.1 s.

AR I watched it for 3 hours on CNN and fought back tears of joy.

A Statement
The Telegraph

David and Victoria Beckham released a statement:

Today's ceremony was beautiful and heartfelt. Catherine looked wonderfully elegant and we were honoured to be part of such a special, historical day for our country.

We wish Catherine and William much love and happiness for the future.

Now A Pentalogy
By Andy Ross

Boy Wonder
Prodigal Son
Holy Trinity
Double Crossed
Redefining God

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
The 9/11 mastermind claimed under interrogation that al Qaeda had hidden a nuclear bomb in Europe. If Osama bin Laden were killed or captured, militants would unleash a "nuclear hellstorm" on the West,
according to WikiLeaks.

AR Kill them both and
call their bluff.

New Scientist

Physics blogs are alive with chatter about a possible sign of the Higgs boson in data from the Large Hadron Collider. But the claim could be wrong.

The rumors come from an abstract posted anonymously on Peter Woit's blog. The abstract appears to be part of a longer paper written by four physicists involved with the LHC ATLAS detector. The authors of the abstract say ATLAS data shows more photon pairs than expected with an energy of 115 GeV.

The Higgs boson may have a mass of around 115 GeV. It should sometimes decay into a pair of photons, but the bump claimed in the abstract is 30 times bigger than expected from the standard model. The consensus is that the paper is real but the result may turn out to be wrong.

Apparently the paper has not been reviewed or endorsed by the ATLAS collaboration.

Afghanistan: Job Done
Brigadier Paul Gibson

British forces in Afghanistan have defeated the terrorist networks that threatened the UK. David Cameron should declare Afghanistan a job well done and bring the troops home.

The desire of the diplomats who crafted UN Resolution 1973 that there would be no boots on the ground in Libya is unlikely to prove sustainable. British forces need to be ready.

AR Let Afpak go.

Philip Larkin
Image Credit: Philip Larkin Estate
Philip Larkin was a loner, says Christopher Hitchens

Foreign Policy

The British and French still see themselves as world powers, but NATO remains dependent on the United States to do the heavy lifting in Libya.

The New York Times

An alien blitzkrieg is rendered in panic-vision, with hysterical hand-held cameras, staccato editing, and ambient dust clouds occasionally illuminated by fiery explosions. No interesting political implications and no breathtaking special effects. Just some slimy creatures with heavy firepower laying waste to the smog-bound skyline and a hearty band of Marines fighting a running street battle.

The Telegraph

Christopher Hitchens on Islamic fundamentalism: "An ideology of that sort has shown itself incapable of running even as low-level a society as Afghanistan. They deny themselves the talents of half the population. They believe that things like diseases and earthquakes are punishments. They have no self-criticism, so when things go wrong they have to look for the source in a Jewish-Crusader conspiracy, which is why they export their surplus young people to take their violence elsewhere. That's why they're an immediate menace to us. Their state won't just fail on its own; they have to share their failure. Once you've established that they can't possibly win, our victory is a sure thing."

AR A victory for reason and common sense. The Hitch gets my vote for formulating this insight.

Mideast Arms
Leslie H. Gelb
Foreign Policy

The Mideast is awash in arms. The Arab oil states sell Europe and America oil at exorbitant prices, and the big weapons producers sell weapons to Arabs at equally exorbitant rates.

Western leaders hope for transitions to stable democracies as Arabs come of political age. But autocrats can use the arms to crack down on protesters. Democrats may open the door to religious extremists.

Washington policymakers see arms sales as keeping the peace by maintaining the balance of power among Arab states, between Arab states and Israel, and between Israel and Arab states and Iran.

AR Lenin: capitalists will sell you the rope to hang them.

Don't let ignorant people vote
LZ Granderson, CNN

We wouldn't issue a driver's license to someone unable to pass the written test, knowing the potential damage that person could do behind the wheel. Why do we look at voting differently?

I'm not suggesting we kick people out of the political process, only that we require them to have an agreed upon understanding of what that process is. Ignorant voters who are fed up with being on the outside looking in can pick up a brochure and study free of charge.

AR I agree: see
the last chapter of
G.O.D. Is Great

Karl Marx
Terry Eagleton

Karl Marx was no more responsible for the monstrous oppression of the communist world than Jesus of Nazareth was responsible for the Inquisition.

Marx thought human beings fulfill themselves in and through each other. At the interpersonal level, this is known as love. At the political level, it is known as socialism.

The Communist Manifesto predicted that capitalism would become global and that its inequalities would sharpen.

AR Europe is socialist in many ways. The system no longer fits into a Marxist taxonomy. Global oppression is a consequence of resource scarcity.

2011 April 28

Fatah and Hamas
The New York Times

The two main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, have announced that they were putting aside years of bitter rivalry to create an interim government and hold elections within a year.

The deal, brokered in secret talks by the caretaker Egyptian government, was announced at a news conference in Cairo. It was the first impact of the Egyptian revolution on the Palestinians.

Israel denounced the deal as dooming future peace talks on the grounds that Hamas seeks its destruction. The deal also risks alienating Western support for the Palestinian Authority.

AR The European Union should cease to fund the Palestinian Authority. Let the rich Arab states take on the task.

2011 April 27

Steven Levy in the Googleplex
Sam Harris on right and wrong

2011 April 26

WikiLeaks, Spiegel Online

The latest documents released by WikiLeaks provide U.S. profiles of the 779 prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay. The documents underscore the shortcomings of the Guantanamo system. They give information about the detainees' country of origin, age, health status, and behavior in prison. They include statements from the masterminds behind the 9/11 attacks and high-ranking Qaida leaders. But they describe their alleged actions in an arbitrary way and would not stand up in a normal court of law.

AR Close Gitmo. Find a better way.

WikiLeaks, The Guardian

The "secret" files cover almost every inmate since the camp was opened in 2002. They reveal how many prisoners were flown to the Guantanamo cages and held captive for years on flimsy grounds, or on the basis of lurid confessions extracted by maltreatment.

The files depict a system often focused less on containing dangerous terrorists or combatants than on extracting intelligence. Among inmates who proved harmless were an Afghan villager who was 89 and suffering from senile dementia and a boy of 14 who was an innocent kidnap victim. Almost 100 of the inmates were listed by their captors as having depressive or psychotic illnesses. Many went on hunger strike or attempted suicide.

The documents list Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) as a "threat indicator" and refer to the ISI supporting and protecting insurgents in Afghanistan.

AR Julian Assange and Bradley Manning have done us the useful service of embarrassing Pakistan without official effort.

2011 April 25

The Swedish Solution

The Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management company (SKB) plans to bury the country's expected 12,000 tons of nuclear waste in corrosion-resistant copper canisters under 500 m of crystalline bedrock at Osthammar in central Sweden.

The latest poll showed that 88% of Osthammar residents are in favor of having the storage site in their community. Today Sweden's 10 nuclear reactors produce almost half of the country's electricity. More than 5,000 tons of spent fuel is stored in an underground water tank in the southern city of Oskarshamn.

SKB started the search for a new site by visiting locals in their homes for a chat over coffee. For the mayor of Osthammar, Jacob Spangenberg, whether or not to accept the repository has nothing to do with the new investment and the new jobs it would generate:
"This is a possibility for our nation and our society to solve a very, very difficult problem."

France and Italy
Financial Times

Silvio Berlusconi and Nicolas Sarkozy want to ask the European Union to revise the Schengen treaty on open borders. Rome and Paris are in crisis over the war in Libya and the exodus of north African migrants. More than 25,000 illegal migrants have landed on Italian shores since January.

After the EU refused to activate a burden-sharing agreement, Italy started issuing the immigrants with temporary residence papers, released them from detention centers, and ushered them toward France. In response, France reimposed border controls and returned some migrants to Italy.

In Libya, Rome has been dragged into a war it would rather avoid, fearing a Paris-Benghazi nexus will freeze out its substantial interests in Libyan oil and gas. France and Italy are the only two western countries to have granted political recognition to the Benghazi rebel council.

AR Hey guys, it would be nice to see a bit more discipline down there in the Med.

2011 April 24

Anatol Lieven, Foreign Policy

The United States must go on cooperating with the Pakistani state, military, and intelligence services against terrorism directed against the West and not allow this relationship to be destroyed by Pakistan's sheltering of the Afghan Taliban.

The Pakistani government and military know that a successful terrorist attack on the United States by a Pakistan-based group would lead to a U.S. response that would be damaging to Pakistan. But Pakistani authorities shelter the top leadership of the Afghan Taliban and have allowed free passage to volunteers fighting the war against Western forces in Afghanistan. There is overwhelming sympathy for the Afghan Taliban among ordinary Pakistanis.

The ambiguity in the Pakistani military's struggle against militants extends to Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), whose public wing, Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), runs an extensive network of schools, hospitals, and welfare organizations in Punjab and beyond. LeT is regarded by many Western counterterrorism experts as the most effective terrorist group in South Asia and beyond. Much of the Pakistani diaspora in Britain comes from Pakistani Kashmir. These people have British passports and are a potential threat to the West.

Pakistan's strategy depends on not taking harsh action against LeT/JuD. American policymakers need to stay focused on the goal. As long as Pakistan cooperates, the United States should continue to work with Pakistan. If Pakistan fails to do so, all bets are off.

AR Letting Afpak go is not so easy. Sigh.

2011 April 23

Mideast Future
Fareed Zakaria

I think we're seeing fundamental change in the Mideast. This is the region's 1989. But the Mideast is not Eastern Europe. The transitions will be much slower.

Mideast governments have used mass repression or mass bribery. The oil-rich countries use mass bribery. Countries like Syria use mass repression. Bribery works better. Change in Saudi Arabia will be evolutionary. If I'm wrong, all bets are off.

I think Egypt will look like Indonesia today. Indonesia had Islamic fundamentalism but democracy stabilized the country. For Egypt that would be amazing progress.

AR The Saudi monarchy is more rotten than Ottoman Turkey a century ago. It will crash.

The Gospel of Grayling
Brendan O’Neill, Spiked

In The Good Book, A.C. Grayling has gathered bits of philosophy and thought from the past few thousand years, rewritten them in archaic lingo, split them into chapters and verses, and grouped them under biblical names. He hopes this will become the secular alternative to the Bible and the Koran.

Grayling is behind the times. The sort of people in the West to whom Grayling is preaching don't beg God to keep tsunamis and plagues at bay. They plead with environmentalists to do that. Many people literally believe that switching their kettle on or driving their car will have a direct impact on the future of humanity, and so, like the early Jews, they have created all sorts of bizarre homely rituals that might help to save themselves and mankind. Challenging the idea of a deity is a decent aspiration. But the deity we should most worry about today is not God, but Gaia.

AR For Gaia read Globorg.

2011 April 22

Kids With Guns
Anthony Loyd, Prospect

Libya's revolution is regressing, despite the NATO air strikes. The revolution's Provisional Transitional National Council has lost its way. Daily life in Benghazi has deteriorated. The rebels are skeptical that foreign intervention can help them.

Libya's opposition is made up of many different layers. The youth are armed volunteers. Some rebels are soldiers who defected. A few are veterans of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. If these factions start fighting each other, the revolution is finished.

2011 April 21

Turkish Politics
Spiegel Online

Emine Ülker Tarhan, 48, is a Turkish politician. Earlier she was a supreme court judge in Ankara and president of a professional legal association. She says the Islamic administration of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is trying to destroy the independence of the Turkish judiciary.

Tarhan spoke of a "realm of fear" when she was invited to speak in the German state of Hesse in early April. When asked what was wrong in Turkey, she replied: "It's the deep state of the AKP." In Turkey, the term "deep state" refers to the criminal ties among politicians, the judiciary, and organized crime.

An election campaign began in Turkey last week. Tarhan is the candidate of the Republican People's Party (CHP). She says she never wanted to become a politician. She just wants a different and more modern Turkey.

AR Vote CHP.


Hikikomori means "withdrawal" in Japanese. Japan's Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare uses the following definition:

1 The person does not take part in society and is shut in
    his or her home for at least six months.
2 The person does not have any intimate relationships other
    than with family members.
3 The withdrawal is not a symptom of psychotic disorders.
4 The person withdraws from social activities, school or work.

Psychiatrists and researchers in Japan use a working definition that ranges from complete seclusion to going out every day but having no friends or jobs. Patients tend to sleep during the day, and at night they watch TV, play computer games, and read. They often eat alone and do a great deal of internet chatting, but have very little face-to-face communication with others.

AR Sounds vaguely like my present lifestyle. Hmm.

2011 April 20

Up The Khyber
Foreign Policy

Pakistan sells itself to the United States as a national security bulwark and Washington buys it. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 made Pakistan's unique combination of a nuclear arsenal and a thriving population of Islamic extremists not so much indispensable to Washington as terrifying to it. But the incompatibility of Pakistani and American interests can no longer be avoided. In Pakistan, as in Afghanistan, the time has come to lower expectations.

AR Let Afpak go to hell and get ready to bomb their nukes.

2011 April 19

Markets Tumble
The Times

S&P set America's chances of a lower credit rating by 2013 as 1 in 3 and warned that lack of a deficit reduction plan "would render the U.S. fiscal profile meaningfully weaker than that of peer AAA sovereigns."

2011 April 18

Now screening in Germany, this battle drama revealed its bathos before me last night. I'm tired of Hollywood movies that offer no better brain candy than orgies of violent death and destruction.

Battle: Los Angeles
Sony Pictures
AR Looks like the Gaza Strip two years ago

2011 April 17

Together with Professor Dr. Violetta Krawczyk-Wasilewska, Department of Folklore, University of Łódź, Poland, published:

Matchmaking Through Avatars: Social Aspects of Online Dating

Paper delivered on the panel Shaping virtual lives: identities on the Internet, during 10th Congress of the Société International d'Ethnologie et de Folklore (SIEF), Lisbon, April 17-21, 2011
PDF: 10 pages, 621 KB

Online dating and gaming with avatars have merged in the new phenomenon of avatar dating. Since online dating is a big and growing industry, gaming technology is still advancing rapidly, and avatar dating is popular with young players, the phenomenon is likely to grow in importance in future. This paper explores the advantages and disadvantages of this new form of dating and relates the findings to previous work in social psychology.

2011 April 16


AR The beauty of our weapons should not blind us to the fact that we still lack a clearly defined war aim and an exit strategy.

2011 April 15

Gaddafi Must Go
David Cameron, Barack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy

Together with our NATO allies and coalition partners, the United States, France and Britain have been united in building a broad-based coalition to respond to the crisis in Libya. Our duty and our mandate under UN Security Council Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians.

NATO and its coalition partners must maintain their operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds. Then a genuine transition from dictatorship to an inclusive constitutional process can really begin, led by a new generation of leaders. For that transition to succeed, Colonel Gaddafi must go.

AR The prose is Cameronian, the message Churchillian. The "broad-based coalition" (BBC) is an actor with Globorg ambition. The goal is hard to dispute: Gaddafi must go. The world deserves a better partner in Libya. The Libyans deserve better.

2011 April 14

Green Germany
Spiegel Online

Germany regards nuclear power as unacceptably risky. Chancellor Angela Merkel has embarked on a plan to phase it out as soon as possible. The shift will provoke a backlash.

Merkel's government plans to fill the country with massive wind turbines and high-voltage power masts to create a modern smart grid. The conservatives want to push the move into renewables. A study says there are good spots for wind turbines all over Germany.

Bavarian state Environment Minister Markus Söder wants to win the race to expand renewable energies. He plans to double the number of wind turbines in his state to quadruple its wind power.

More than 80 percent of Germans want to see the country abandon nuclear energy. But most Germans don't want big energy projects in their own backyard. As soon as plans are unveiled for mass wind turbines near residential areas, home owners and locals organize campaigns to halt construction.

Many fear the transition to renewable energy will ruin the nation's countryside. The zeal to install wind turbines reminds them of the drive to build roads in West Germany in the 1960s, which created massive eyesores. The Federal Agency for Nature Conservation says the rush to expand renewables may override other concerns.

Opposition to wind power is well organized. Brandenburg has more wind turbines per head than any other state in Germany and in January citizen's groups demonstrated in Potsdam against the "mass construction of wind turbines in Brandenburg." Baden-Württemberg has the lowest percentage of wind power of any state but people demonstrated against wind power near Stuttgart.

Opposition is also mounting against an estimated 3,600 km of big new power masts that will be needed to transport clean energy across Germany and Europe. In Thuringia, Petra Enders, a member of the state parliament for the Left Party and also a town mayor, says a projected power line should be buried. This would push up costs massively.

NIMBY outrage over Germany's planned shift to renewable energies won't just be directed at Merkel and her conservatives. The Green Party is often active in local NIMBY protests against big projects. In Baden-Württemberg, the newly elected Green governor Winfried Kretschmann will be in charge of decommissioning old nuclear plants in the state. He will need to speed up the switch to other forms of electricity generation to offset the shortfall.

Other European countries have already failed. In the Netherlands, traditional pride in their windmills doesn't seem to apply to modern wind turbines. They don't want wind power.

AR I say bite the bullet and go for nukes. With good engineering, political vision, and a hard PR push we can do it.

2011 April 13

David Eagleman
The Times

David Eagleman, 39, is the hottest thing in neuroscience. He was toiling away in his laboratory at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, when two years ago he published a pocketbook of fiction called Sum. In Britain the book took off when Stephen Fry tweeted, "You will not read a more dazzling book this year."

Eagleman majored in British and American literature at university. He discovered neuroscience during his final year at Rice University in Houston (with a year at Oxford). He talked his way into a PhD programme at Baylor College of Medicine, on the back of all the neuroscience books he had read in his spare time.

Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain contains this revelation: "The conscious mind is not at the center of the action in the brain; instead, it is far out at the distant edge, hearing but whispers of the activity." The brain is a neural battleground where rational and emotional systems compete. Our behavior is the result.

"We have this giant cosmos in our head that we don't know about. What I am really exposing is the depth of the mystery. We are really at the foot of the mountain with this one."

AR If this is neuroscience, give me a break.

2011 April 12

Iron Dome
The Guardian

In the last few days, Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system has shot down nine rockets fired at Israel from Gaza, although it was unable to stop at least 11 others.

Director of the Institute for Counter-Terrorism Boaz Ganor: "It's a technical revolution that shows us what may be possible in the future. The success has been limited by the fact that we only have two batteries, but it has proven itself accurate and efficient."

Danes In Afghanistan
The Telegraph

Armadillo is a war documentary about a platoon of young Danish soldiers serving in the Helmand province of Afghanistan, where they are pitted against the Taliban. Director Janus Metz and cameraman Lars Skree were embedded with the platoon for six months at Armadillo, their front line base camp. The soldiers were caught in a firefight with the Taliban and killed some of them.

Danish novelist Carsten Jensen: "The Danish self-image was smashed in Armadillo. ... It is an earthquake in the nation's self-understanding."


Invariant Mass Distribution of Jet Pairs Produced in Association with a W boson in ppbar Collisions at sqrt(s) = 1.96 TeV

CDF Collaboration, T. Aaltonen et al.
Submitted 2011-04-04
arXiv:1104.0699v1 [hep-ex]

We report a study of the invariant mass distribution of jet pairs produced in association with a W boson using data collected with the CDF detector. The observed distribution has an excess in the 120-160 GeV/c^2 mass range, which is not described by current theoretical predictions, with a statistical significance of 3.2 standard deviations.

AR Thanks to a former SAP colleague for the link.

Ludwig Wittgenstein
1889-04-26 — 1951-04-29

"Larkin's life was a failure; his work was a triumph. That is all that matters. Because the work, unlike the life, lives on."
Martin Amis defends
Philip Larkin

Christopher Hitchens thinks
like a child, he writes like a distinguished author, and
he speaks like a genius.
Amis on Hitch

Junk Superpower
The Times

Deutsche Bank economists evaluating the "sovereign risk" of 14 advanced economies placed the United States just behind Greece, Ireland, and Portugal. Washington must reduce its deficit.

E.O. Wilson

Wilson says kin selection theory doesn't explain altruism. Critics say he is wrong to treat kin selection as something separate from natural selection.

Los Angeles Times

The movie opens with an unknown force of flying battleships strafing big cities around the world for unknown reasons. It turns out they are aliens in search of water. The alien forces are absolutely disgusting blobs of really gross stuff. For a while it can be fun to watch things get blown up and burned. But at some point you wish there had been a lot more heart in this Marine's story.

Matthew Parris, The Times

I believe that we see the decision to wear a burka as an insult, however passive, to ourselves; that we take the wearing of this veil as an expression of rejection by the wearer, or her husband, of the culture and society in which they live. We think that they are trying symbolically to shut us out, to define themselves against us. We think we see the uniform of an alien grouping: a passive-aggressive shunning of the host country.

AR All clothing is uniform in some way. We use dress in part to help ourselves focus on each other. It provides a language of conventional associations. The burka just has associations we rightly regard as appalling. If we can ban the wearing of swastikas in Germany or camouflage fatigues in night clubs or bikinis in churches, we can ban burkas in Western civil societies.

Deutsche Bank
Financial Times

U.S. Senate investigators probing the financial crisis will refer evidence about Wall Street institutions including Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank to the justice department for possible criminal investigations. The subcommittee found "a variety of troubling and sometimes abusive practices" by the banks.

Deutsche's top CDO trader Greg Lippmann apparently referred to assets underlying CDOs as "crap" and "pigs" at the same time as his bank was selling them to clients. Prior to the crisis, Lippmann built a short position in CDOs, betting that they would fall in value. Deutsche Bank took losses on the housing market.

AR Deutsche Bank should have listened to Lippmann.

The Great Wall of Vagina
The Times

On show at the Brighton Festival Fringe in May, "The Vagina Monologues in sculpture form" is a plaster cast frieze 8 m long of genital close-ups of 400 women. Jamie McCartney, the artist behind it, began the project five years ago after a few clients asked for casts of their genitals: "When you're an artist you don't turn down work." In his studio he has a casting couch where his subjects lie down. The materials in the process are like those a dentist uses. The casting takes ten minutes and leaves no residue. It's intimate but "it's just another naked person and another part of the body."

Wall Street Journal

Twin research shows that practically everything is partly genetic. It also shows that with a few exceptions, the effect of parenting on adult outcomes ranges from small to zero.

So parents should lighten up. Focus on enjoying your children. They're cheaper to run than you thought, so have more.

Vostok 1 capsule used by Yuri Gagarin on display near Moscow

50 Years Ago: Man In Space

Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space. His Vostok spacecraft completed a 108-minute orbit of the Earth on April 12, 1961.
He became a Hero of the Soviet Union but this was his only spaceflight. His flight was a major coup for Moscow in the
Cold War space race with the United States.

Yuri Gagarin

The New North
John Gray, New Statesman

Laurence C. Smith suggests that forces of global warming and resource scarcity will drive development in the northern rim countries. Canada, Greenland, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, and the northern regions of Russia and the United States will become zones of rapid economic growth and increasing strategic importance.

Natural resources are finite.
It does not much matter how efficiently markets are operating. The limits to growth are imposed by the planet. Industrial civilization made possible the levels of human population the planet supports today, but cheap oil is running out. Resource war could well become a chronic condition in future.


Jessa Crispin

In a week, about 30 books are delivered to my Berlin apartment. I will immediately discard about 75% of them. Maybe 8% of the books I receive are self-published. I feel bad for these writers and all the boundless optimism that got them to this point. But I don't feel bad enough to read their books.

Hundreds of thousands of books are published each year, one almost indistinguishable from the next. The books disappear as quickly as they are released, unable to cut through all the noise. Not even the most idealistic critics bother to argue that the system is based on merit.

The deluge of writers is not new. The widespread publication of them is. There have always been the hobbyists, the men and women who scribble out their life stories, their poems, or their screenplays.

The difference is that now whatever you can type on your computer, you might as well publish as a book. What was once fantasy now can be reality. But all the respect and laurels you expected is still fantasy. You're met with silence.


Our Final Hour
Basic Books
Our Final Hour
Rees says we have a mere
50-50 chance of surviving
the next century.

Microsoft In Toyota Cars
Financial Times

Microsoft and Toyota plan to build a new vehicle telecommunications platform that manages the energy efficiency of electric cars. Microsoft said the platform would use cloud computing for broader integration of information between the customer's car, home, and mobile device. Using the new platform, drivers will be able to turn the heat on in their car from their phone, check the battery power remotely, and charge the car during off-peak times when power is cheaper.

AR It may be boring to keep saying it, but I'll say it again:

Battlefield Extraction Assist Robot (BEAR)
Battlefield Extraction Assist Robot (BEAR)
Military Robots To Fight
Nuclear Disasters
Strategic Defence Intelligence

Robots are often used in nuclear reactors. For an emergency like Fukushima, military robots could help. Bomb disposal robots can be operated from a safe distance and have versatile dextrous manipulators. Unmanned aerial vehicles with cameras could look inside a reactor. An unmanned helicopter now in development could drop water onto hot reactor cores. Japanese robots for radiation detection and fire fighting were reportedly used at Fukushima.

AR Good, but we really need dedicated disaster robots.

Arab Arms
Financial Times

Britain has exported too many arms to regimes in north Africa and the Mideast that could be used to repress civilians, says a new report. Since January the government has withdrawn 160 export licenses that reflected poor policy judgments.

AR Selling arms to Arabs is like selling crack to addicts. What the Mideast needs is an outbreak of love and peace followed by economic development. Arabs need to open minds closed by centuries of strife.

A.C. Grayling's
humanist version of
The Ten Commandments

Love well
Seek the good in all things
Harm no others
Help the needy
Think for yourself
Take responsibility
Respect nature
Do your utmost
Be informed
Be courageous

AR Yawn.

2011 April 11

Martin Rees

On the future: "Most people discount the future. Understandably, they care about their immediate surroundings and their kin rather than people in remote parts of the world, decades in the future."

On our brains: "We can understand the quantum world, which is very spooky and counter-intuitive, and we can understand Einstein's theory of gravity. But just as a chimpanzee can't understand quantum theory, it could be that there are aspects of reality which are beyond the capacity of our brains."

On quantum gravity: "I think we may eventually have a theory that does unify the very large and the very small — quantum and cosmos — and when that happens it will show that space itself has a sort of grainy structure, but on a scale a trillion trillion times smaller than an atom. There are reasons to believe that that's where gravity and quantum theory meet."

On evolution: "We are the outcome of 4 billion years of evolution, but we're not the culmination. Future evolution could be as dramatic as what's happened up to now. Any creatures witnessing the demise of the sun 6 billion years from now could be as different from us as we are from bacteria. And there may be many more advanced forms of consciousness in the universe.”

On religion: "I grew up in Shropshire in the tribe of the English who were part of the Church of England tradition and I deeply value the aesthetic associations of that culture, the music and the architecture, and therefore have no problem participating in the ritual. If I'd grown up in Iran I'd be going to the mosque."

2011 April 10

The Wall Street Leviathan
Jeff Madrick, The New York Review of Books

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC): "September and October 2008 was the worst financial crisis in global history."

The Dodd-Frank Act proposes ways to deal with many practices that led to the crisis. A new oversight board will assess systemic risk and impose stricter rules. But the act puts responsibility for writing and implementing the new rules onto the regulators who tolerated the risky behavior in the first place.

Charles Ferguson's Oscar-winning documentary Inside Job tells the story of the crisis. Wall Street firms borrowed far too much in order to invest in mortgage debt securities that were far too risky, and no one stopped them. The result was soaring housing prices, which led to more risky mortgages. Then the banks and others sold the risky debt to investors around the world as if it had almost no risk at all. Ferguson remarks that no one has yet gone to jail.

Citigroup illustrates how Wall Street firms circumvented existing capital requirements. The FCIC report found that if all Citigroup's assets had been accounted for accurately, its ratio of assets to capital would have been 48 to one in 2007. Triple-A-rated packages based on mortgage-backed securities of CDOs never deserved their AAA ratings. Citigroup sold enough AAA securities to take big losses when housing collapsed. Citigroup losses and write-downs came to $130 billion. Citigroup received $45 billion in funds from the government's Troubled Asset Relief Program, but no one was removed from management.

AR Outrage at this level makes me want to opt out of the entire hijacked and subverted institution of money.

Sensational Butterflies
The Natural History Museum in South Kensington, London, is hosting a special exhibition in a butterfly house on its east lawn from April 12 to September 11, 2011.

2011 April 9

Is America Addicted to War?
Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy

My Top 5 Reasons for why the USA keeps getting into wars:

1 Because We Can.
The United States has a remarkably powerful military. When you've got hundreds of planes, smart bombs, and cruise missiles, the whole world looks like a target set. America has an  exceptional concentration of military power in the hands of the president and eroding political constraints on its employment.

2 We Have No Serious Enemies.
The end of the Cold War left the United States in a remarkably safe position. We face a terrorism problem, but that danger is probably exaggerated, is partly a reaction to our tendency to meddle in other countries, and is best managed in other ways. If we faced a powerful adversary, we wouldn't be wasting time and money on feel-good projects like the Libyan crusade.

3 The All-Volunteer Force.
By limiting military service only to volunteers, public opposition to wars of choice is more easily contained. Could Bush or Obama have kept the Iraq and Afghanistan wars going if most young Americans had to register for a draft? I doubt it.

4 It's The Establishment, Stupid.
Our foreign policy is shaped by a bipartisan class of foreign policy do-gooders who spend years out of power maneuvering to get in, and spend their time in office pushing their own pet projects. The people who run our foreign policy are unlikely to suffer penalties if some foreign war goes badly.

5 Congress Has Checked Out.
Congress has the authority to declare war, not the president, but that authority has been steadily usurped ever since World War II. In practice, the use of America's military power has been left to the presidents and a handful of ambitious advisors.

AR America and Arabs are addicted to war and weapons. Arabs: Arms are the adornment of a man. President #26 Teddy Roosevelt: "A just war is in the long run far better for a man's soul than the most prosperous peace."

Rees: A Tribal Christian
The Times

Lord Rees of Ludlow, the Astronomer Royal and until recently President of the Royal Society, is incredulous at how rational and intelligent people can subscribe to religious dogma. He wishes to be understood on this as he accepts the Templeton Prize, which "honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life's spiritual dimension."

Sir Martin responds to the controversy: "I'm a complete unbeliever. The only respect in which I differ from Christopher Hitchens is to be less allergic to religion." He distinguishes between religious belief and religious custom, and counts himself a tribal Christian. As Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, he is a churchgoer.

AR Wonderful. I agree completely with Sir Martin's stated positions both on religion and on cosmology and wider issues (well, aside from a few quibbles over the next hundred years and perhaps over Sir Roger's cyclic cosmology). With the Templeton prize, Sir John has created a fine institution for setting cats among pigeons. I dare say it will do more for the demise of dogmatic religion than any number of allergic manifestos.

2011 April 8

Fukushima and Chernobyl
Robert Peter Gale, Spiegel Online

About 25 years ago, I advised several ministries in Bonn after the Chernobyl accident that fewer lives would be lost from it each year than from our reliance on fossil fuels. I do not expect that there will be many deaths from the Fukushima accident.

The Chernobyl explosion and radiation exposure killed 31 people. The explosion released huge amounts of radioactive iodine 131 and cesium 134 and 137. In Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, about 6,000 excess cases of thyroid cancer were detected. But there is no well documented increase in leukemia or other cancers. Data from the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki suggest there may be ten thousand excess cancer deaths by 2036. Since we can expect 80 million other deaths from cancer in the EU and the former Soviet Union in this period, the change will be hard to detect.

The Fukushima accident has released about a tenth as much radioactive iodine and cesium as the Chernobyl accident, and the dispersion is limited. We might expect a few cases of thyroid cancer and a few hundred cases of other types of cancer. At the same time, about 18 million Japanese will die from cancers unrelated to Fukushima. The statistical impact is well below our level of detection. Reducing the price of a pack of cigarettes by a few percent would do more damage.

A Nonstandard Higgs?
The New York Times

Physicists at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory may have found evidence of a new elementary particle. The particle may be a new and unexpected version of the Higgs boson. Or it might be evidence of a new force of nature. Fermilab physicist Giovanni Punzi said that he and his colleagues were "thrilled."

The Tevatron collides beams of protons and antiprotons at energies of 1 TeV. The evidence appeared in an analysis of some 10,000 of those collisions. In about 250 more cases than expected, two jets of lightweight particles and a W boson came out of a collision where the total energy of the jets was around 144 GeV, as if they were the decay products of a hitherto unsuspected particle. This was not the signature of the Standard Model Higgs.

AR My guess: this is Higgs and the Standard Model is wrong.

2011 April 7

Martin Rees Wins Templeton
The Guardian

Sir Martin Rees, the astronomer royal and former president of the Royal Society, has been awarded the 2011 £1m annual Templeton prize in London. Set up in 1973 by the late John Templeton, a Wall Street billionaire who called himself "an enthusiastic Christian", the prize honors a living person who has made "exceptional contributions to affirming life's spiritual dimension."

Lord Rees neither believes in God nor subscribes to any religious dogma, but says he attends chapel as Master of Trinity College, Cambridge: "Doing science made me realise that even the simplest things are hard to understand and that makes me suspicious of people who believe they've got anything more than an incomplete and metaphorical understanding of any deep aspect of reality. I participate in occasional religious services which are the customs of the society I grew up in. I'm not allergic to religion."

AR Good for him. I've enjoyed his books.

A Greener Leaf
MIT Technology Review

Researchers have made a solar power device that is more efficient than natural photosynthesis and uses cheap materials. The new device uses light to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. At a meeting of the American Chemical Society in California, Daniel Nocera, a professor at MIT, called the device first practical artificial leaf. It combines a commercially available solar cell with a pair of inexpensive catalysts made of cobalt and nickel that split water into oxygen and hydrogen. A solar panel of one square meter bathed in water could produce enough hydrogen to supply a house with electricity. Nocera says his group achieved 5% efficiency for the conversion of sunlight to hydrogen. Natural photosynthesis is less than 1% efficient at converting sunlight to energy.

The Clash Of Civilizations
Hasnain Kazim, Spiegel Online

Calling Islam a "violent religion," American pastor Terry Jones and pastor Wayne Sapp declared the Koran "guilty" and sentenced it "to death." Sapp doused the book with kerosene and set it alight. About 30 followers watched as the Koran burned.

The Russian head of the United Nations mission in the northern Afghanistan city of Masar-i-Sharif had fled with three colleagues into a safe room when the assailants broke in.

"Are you Muslim?" one of the insurgents yelled. The Russian said he was. "What is the profession of faith?" The Russian: "There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his prophet."

It was a lie that saved his life. He got away with a severe beating. The three UN workers he was with were all killed.

Now Jones is contending that the riots in Afghanistan prove that Islam is a violent religion. He is demanding retribution for the attacks on the UN workers and is calling for the U.S. government and the UN to take immediate action against Muslim countries.

AR Immediate action would destroy our investment in Afpak.

2011 April 6

William Deresiewicz, Slate

Marjorie Garber is a Harvard professor. She says the central actor in the literary process is the English professor. She says literature isn't "about" anything but itself and so must be disentangled from any pleasure it may give or how useful it may be. "A manifesto for literary studies will claim for it an unapologetic freestanding power to change the world."

The argument is banal. It cuts literature off from the world. Literature is useful because it wakes us up and shows us the world, ourselves, and other people, and forces us to think about them all. The pleasure of serious literature is not escape but this shiver of consciousness. Reading is thinking and feeling, both at once.

Does a piece of writing achieve literary status by virtue of its intrinsic quality, or only as a product of social consensus? Garber plumps for the second. In fairness, standards of value do change. But devising a test of literary merit is not hard: Would you read the thing again? This is not a measure of universal value but it does get us to the next best thing. For when we add up all the little affirmations we arrive at something like intrinsic quality.

Critics and professors are an ancillary part of the world of readers. Writers do not write for them. They write for the common reader, and for other writers. Professors can be professionally dishonest about their responses. The abuse of literature begins with that.

AR Adding up the little affirmations amounts to social consensus.

Thinking the Impossible
The Guardian

Gary Gutting reminds us that the likes of Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault are the cream of French post-war intellects. Back in the 1950s, when they applied to read philosophy at Paris's École Normale Supérieure, Foucault failed the entrance exam the first time around and Derrida took three goes to get in.

Foucault and Derrida said the idea of the individual consciousness was just an idea. Like all ideas, it was a product of language. You don't speak language. Language speaks you. You might think of speech or writing as ways of expressing yourself but all you really do is mouth the cliches that language permits. There is nothing outside the text.

Gutting says post-structuralist thought was an attempt to think the impossible. But impossible thinking makes for impossible writing, and he boldly admits that the best approach is to treat their stuff like poetry. Foucault and Derrida wrote obscurantist stodge.

AR French "philosophy" is not Anglo-American philosophy.

2011 April 5

Good News and Bad
Gideon Rachman, Financial Times

If the Arab spring is like 1989, we are the Soviet Union. The United States may lose its power and influence in an emerging Mideast we barely understand. The West regards a threat to oil supplies from the Gulf as justification for military intervention. A peaceful transition in Saudi Arabia or its neighbor states would be fine, but not a chaotic and violent change that opened the way to Iran.

Spring Chickens No Turkey
Norman Stone, The Times

In October 1911, the Italians invaded the Turkish possession of Libya. Their defeat of the Ottoman Turks in Libya destabilized the Balkans and let to the First World War. In 1923, Kemal Atatürk established the Republic of Turkey. Western pundits now promote the Turkish model for the Arab world.

There is a gigantic problem of youth unemployment throughout the Arab world. The Turkish model involves state control of religion, to curb the wild men, of whom Islam generally produces a great deal too many. Many Turks are dismissive of the Arabs, and many Arabs would dismiss the Turkish model. Turks are not Arabs.

AR Turks in Germany fit in better than Arabs in London.

2011 April 4

Islam and the Arab Revolutions
The Economist

The Arab revolutions are still in full swing. In Tunisia and Egypt they are going the right way. In Libya, Syria and Yemen dictators are clinging on to power. And in the Gulf monarchs are struggling to fend off demands for democracy.

Islam is a growing force in the Arab revolutions. That makes secular-minded and liberal people, both Arabs and Westerners, queasy. They fear that the Arab awakening might be hijacked by Islamists. In Libya the transitional national council is a medley of secular liberals and Islamists. The Muslim Brotherhood is big in Libya and Egypt. In Tunisia the Islamists look well placed. Hamas is an offshoot of the Brotherhood. Some say more extreme Islamist groups are riding behind the more moderate Brothers. Hundreds of Egyptian jihadists have been released from prison.

Islam plays a large political role in the Arab world. Most Muslims do not believe in the separation of religion and state. But Islamic does not mean Islamist. Many Muslims cite Turkey as a model.

AR Religion is still a source of discord on my home planet.

The Good Book
The Guardian

Professor A.C. Grayling is going to upset a lot of Christians: "My wife did give me a card that said, 'I used to be an atheist until I realised I am God'. And I know that on Monty Pythonesque grounds there's a good likelihood that in five centuries time I will be one, as a result of this."

The British Humanist Society conducted a poll that asked people if they were religious: 65% said no. But when asked, "What is your religion?" 61% of them answered Christian. Grayling: "We have to try to persuade society as a whole to recognise that religious groups are self-constituted interest groups. They exist to promote their point of view. Now, in a liberal democracy they have every right to do so. But they have no greater right than anybody else."

The atheist movement has been accused of adopting a tone so militant as to alienate potential supporters. Grayling: "I think the charges of militancy and fundamentalism of course come from our opponents, the theists. My rejoinder is to say when the boot was on their foot they burned us at the stake. All we're doing is speaking very frankly and bluntly and they don't like it."

The author of 30 books, Grayling is a professor of philosophy at Birkbeck College in London, and a supernumerary of St Anne's College, Oxford, as well as a UN human rights activist. He first had the idea for The Good Book as an undergraduate, and it reads like the opus of a workaholic.

AR I once lectured on philosophy at Birkbeck, I taught logic classes at St Anne's, and I was an undergraduate UN activist. So I feel I understand Grayling. But I think his book concept is flawed. His wife seems to understand. How can he be serious after Will Self wrote The Book of Dave?

Sam Harris holds that "questions about values — about meaning, morality, and life's larger purpose — are really questions about the well-being of conscious creatures. Values, therefore, translate into facts that can be scientifically understood."

Harris joins the ranks of those whose claim to have transcended philosophy is just an instance of their doing it badly.

Simon Blackburn on
The Moral Landscape

The Tyrant of Damascus
Michael J. Totten, City Journal

Syria's ruler, Bashar al-Assad, is a sponsor of terrorism. Many hoped that he would turn out to be a reformer when he took over from his father in 2000. He is an ophthalmologist by training, he's a bit of a technology geek, and he spent several years in the United Kingdom, where his wife was born. Even when reforms failed to materialize and repression was ramped up again, some blamed the regime's old guard. Bashar and his family believe that their battle for power is a fight for survival. They will not go quietly.

Timothy Garton Ash
The Guardian

Being in Warsaw these days is like being in Madrid or Rome. Poland joined NATO in 1999 and the European Union in 2004. Poland plans to join the eurozone. Its economy had a growth rate of 3.8% in 2010, one of the best in Europe. It is beginning to look like a western consumer society.

Yet everyday life in Poland is light years away from the images conveyed in Polish TV commercials. This is still a poor country by European standards. Income per head is only just above half the EU average. Unemployment is high and youth unemployment is higher.

The Polish government wants to apply its experience for the benefit of others. It support freedom for Belarus and EU membership for Ukraine. It wants to use the Polish presidency of the EU, starting in July, to help the Arab lands find their freedom. There is hope for Egypt.


Sir Martin Rees
Photo: David Sillitoe/Guardian
Martin Rees
"All have gazed up at the vault
of heaven, and interpreted it
in their own way."

Libyan Rebels Criticize NATO
Al Jazeera

Abdul Fatah Younis, the head of the Libyan opposition's armed forces, has accused NATO of acting too "slowly", or not acting at all, to protect civilians in their fight against Colonel Gaddafi. Younis, who was formerly the country's interior minister, said that NATO had "disappointed" the rebels. He said that rebel forces were providing NATO with the coordinates where pro-Gaddafi forces were present, but NATO was waiting too long before taking action.

AR NATO has no right to bomb human shields. But who are the rebels to complain? Where's their organization, their game plan?

14 entangled qubits
University of Innsbruck
14 Qubits
Scientific American

Thomas Monz of the Institute for Experimental Physics at the University of Innsbruck in Austria and his colleagues have created entangled states with a record 14 qubits.

AR This is good news. Thanks
to Prof. Dr. Anton Zeilinger, Austria has a strong place
in the emerging world of
quantum computation.

Brian Greene must have enjoyed Max Tegmark's May 2003 Scientific American article on parallel universes, since he recycled the concept for the third book in his physics trilogy ...
>> my review

Schwetzingen, April

Comet Tempel 1
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell
During its 2011-02-14 flyby of comet Tempel 1, the NASA Stardust-NExT mission took
this image of the comet at 16:39 UTC.

Google and Facebook
The Times

Google and Facebook are rivals. Google had revenue of $29 billion in 2010, representing 24% annual growth. It has 20,000 employees worldwide and plans to add 6,000 this year. Its Android software for mobile devices is a winner. Its browser Chrome is good. But it has failed in social networking.

Facebook could be worth $50 billion or more and is planning to go public. It would be big enough to compete with Google. Google hatched many ideas in social networking. Many ex-Googlers now work at Facebook.

AR Microsoft — Google — Facebook: I see a trend.
My book gives details.

2011 April 3

The Sunday Times

Google does one thing really well. Its algorithms index the internet and the advertising dollars flow in. Set up in a garage in Menlo Park in 1998, the company is now worth $188 billion. Sales in 2010 were $29 billion and revenue rose 26% in the last quarter. Google has a cash pile of $35 billion and a workforce of 25,000.

Google still has big ambitions. Android, Google's operating system for mobile phones, was launched three years ago and now powers 170 different devices. The system supports apps but Google expects to make money from ads that reflect a user's location. A mobile music service is coming.

The Google browser Chrome has more than 120 million users, roughly 15% of the market. It will become an operating system for laptops to compete with Microsoft Windows. Chrome will run cloud apps hosted on Google servers.

But the internet is changing. Google is old news, like Microsoft. Millions of Facebook users navigate the web according to friends' recommendations, not through a search box. Four of Facebook's top 13 executives used to work for Google.

Amis: "Dying Art"
The Observer

Martin Amis, 61, has a knack for outraging people: "I say what I happen to think about things, often only rehashing a paragraph I've written. And it gets taken up."

Amis fears the long read is a dying art: "There are so many claims on our attention. Very literate people admit they can't read books any more. And just as the literate brain is physically different to the illiterate brain, the digitally savvy brain is different again."

AR I saw this at SAP, where my young colleagues were bright but were challenged by big books. Reading books is for oldsters.

2011 April 2

Farhad Manjoo, Slate

Facebook is more than a fad. The site is more entrenched than just about any other technology we use. Not only does it have a huge number of users but its audience is spread across every demographic and they're addicted to the site.

Facebook could be the only social site five years from now. The future of social networking is unpredictable. Google has a good picture of your social connections. It constantly crawls the Web to build its search indexes and picks up what you do on any new network that comes along. But Google can't access the stuff you post on Facebook.

Facebook may have wrapped up social networking. Every time you press the Like button or post a comment, you're telling Facebook something about yourself and your friends. Many people connect their activity on other sites with their Facebook accounts. Social signals are becoming the primary organizing structure of the Web.

In the beginning, Brin and Page created the PageRank algorithm. The more inbound links a site had, the higher its rank. A link is a social signal. Google saw that social signals can organize the Web. It was the start of a $100 billion company.

AR Again, my book sees a possible future for social networking.

2011 April 1

Gates Silent On CIA Role
The Guardian

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates ruled out American ground troops in Libya: "Not as long as I am in this job."

AR Europe needs free and secure access to Libyan real estate for decades to come in order to build solar farms to make hydrogen.

Hydrogen Car Fuel

Hydrogen can be stored in a cheap and practical way for use as fuel in cars, say developers at Britain's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

A new technology encapsulates the hydrogen in tiny beads so small that they behave like a liquid. The beads contain hydride fibers that soak up hydrogen like a sponge. RAL spin-off Cella Energy have developed a process for releasing hydrogen from the beads that is much faster and cooler than before. The beads form a fine powder that flows freely and does not catch fire easily.

Cella Energy Chief Scientific Officer Stephen Bennington says you pump the powder into your car like regular gasoline. It flows into the engine, gets hot, releases hydrogen, and powers the car. The spent beads are filtered from the exhaust and stored. When you refuel the car you have two nozzles, one for new fuel and one for spent beads that go back for recycling.

The beads are spun from nanofibers 30 times smaller than a human hair. The fibers can capture and release hydrogen. Encapsulation protects them from oxygen and water for safe handling. Because the beads behave like a liquid, current pumps and engines will need only minor modification. Hydrogen burns cleanly in engines to form water vapor.

AR Excellent: we can go green and stiff OPEC.


Elizabeth Taylor
Studio photo
Elizabeth Taylor (1932-2011)

Andrew Roberts
The Daily Beast

Colonel Gaddafi bought huge amounts of arms from the USSR. He invaded Chad and sent death squads into Nigeria. For decades he supported a list of ugly "national liberation" movements. He was behind the bombing of Pan-Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie in 1988, killing 270 people. The real reason why NATO should now take steps to topple Gaddafi is for vengeance.

AR Vengeance is a poor
motive for military action.
But Libya would be a good
shake-down mission for
USS Independence