BLOG 2011 Q3

China Overtakes Euro
Financial Times

The Chinese renminbi was a more popular currency for company bond sales than the euro for the first time in 2011 Q3. Deutsche Bank senior banker Hakan Wohlin: "It's an extremely positive development for global capital markets."

European Unity
The Times

The eurozone crisis is a "baptism of fire for a whole generation" that requires a central economic government for the eurozone, says European Commission head José Manuel Barroso. In his annual State of the Union address to the European Parliament, Barroso proposed the issue of eurobonds that would effectively pool the debt of Greece and other weak member states. He also called for a tax on international financial transactions. Barroso: "The pace of our joint endeavor cannot be dictated by the slowest. A member state has the right not to move. But not the right to block the moves of others."

Derek Island
Irish Guard, Helmand

In Our Own Words: Soldiers'
Thoughts From Afghanistan
Imperial War Museum North
2011-10-01 — 2012-06-24

A Palestinian State
Fareed Zakaria

The Palestinian effort at the United Nations is going to get them nowhere. It will make the Israelis feel that the Palestinians have gone in a unilateral direction when the only viable strategy is a bilateral one. Palestinians may regard it as deeply unfair, but the only way they’re going to get a Palestinian state is to engage directly with the Israelis. And they need to take control of Gaza.

The Crash
Marc Ostwald

The markets have decided we are heading for a car crash. All the Group of Seven countries have been following policies that haven't worked, and quite clearly are not going to work. The banks are every bit as bust as they were four years ago. Greece is just the front-end of the bumper on a car that is heading for a wall — the rest of the pile-up is still to come.

AR Panic mongering

2011 September 30

Ig Nobel Awards 2011
The Times

Medicine — Mirjam Tuk and Luk Warlope for work published in Psychological Science investigating the effect of a need to urinate on decision making. Students with full bladders were better at identifying colors and resisting the temptation to spend money, but not at identifying the meanings of words.

Chemistry — Makoto Imai and team at Shiga University of Medical Science for their patented invention of an alarm that wakes people up by releasing a pungent wasabi spray.

Physiology — Anna Wilkinson and team at the University of Lincoln for their Current Zoology paper "No evidence of contagious yawning in the red-footed tortoise, Geochelone carbonaria".

Biology — Darrell Gwynne and David Rentz for their discovery that male buprestid beetles sometimes mistake beer bottles for females and mate with them.

Physics — Hernman Kingma and team at Maastricht University for finding why discus throwers get dizzy but hammer throwers do not.

Psychology — Karl Halvor Teigen at the University of Oslo for research into understanding why people sigh.

Literature — John Perry at Stanford University for developing a Theory of Structured Procrastination: "To be a high achiever, always work on something important, using it as a way to avoid doing something that's even more important."

Peace — Arturas Zuokas, Mayor of Vilnius, for his crackdown on illegal parking. He drove a tank over offending luxury cars.

PHILOSOPHER V7 (print format) done.

2011 September 29

New Scientist

Neutrinos are particles with a neutral charge and nearly zero mass. They rarely interact with ordinary matter and trillions of them fly through the Earth each second.

First predicted in 1930 by Wolfgang Pauli, they are produced in nuclear reactions inside the sun, during natural radioactive decay inside the Earth, and in our bombs and reactors. Occasionally, a neutrino collides with an atom to produce a signal that we can observe. Fredrick Reines first detected them in 1956.

Detectors may use large pools of water or oil. When neutrinos interact with electrons or nuclei in the water or oil, they emit photons that light up sensors. The OPERA experiment inside the Gran Sasso mountain in Italy detects neutrinos beamed from CERN. The mountain shields the detectors from everything but neutrinos. Other detectors pick up cosmic neutrinos. ANTARES is miles under the Mediterranean Sea and IceCube is buried under Antarctic ice.

Neutrinos come in at least three flavors — tau, electron and muon — and can morph from one flavor to another. Maybe antineutrinos and neutrinos morph differently. But all observed neutrinos spin anticlockwise. Maybe there are clockwise neutrinos hidden in extra dimensions. Or in the dark matter that makes four-fifths of the mass of the universe.

AR The Standard Model is the smallest unit of understanding that really makes sense of the issues here.

2011 September 28

Where's Higgs?
Tom Chivers

The Higgs boson is believed to be the particle that gives all matter in the universe its mass. By the end of the year, we may know whether it exists or not.

The Standard Model describes all known subatomic particles and how they interact. University of Edinburgh physicist Peter Higgs argued in the 1960s that mass was the product of a universal field. The field exerts a drag on other particles, giving them mass. Theory says any field has a particle, so there should be a Higgs.

The Large Hadron Collider lets researchers smash together particles at all the energy levels where the Higgs should be found. Each result the LHC finds is examined and repeated to be sure. The LHC has now searched much of where the Higgs might have been. All that remains is the gap between 114 and 135 GeV.

CERN theorist John Ellis: "The fact that we have not yet found the Higgs is a fantastic success for the Standard Model. The region that remains to be explored is precisely the region where, according to the Standard Model, we would expect Higgs to be."

The fun will start if no Higgs is found at all. Ellis: "I wrote my first paper on the Higgs in 1975, so it's been a while. But finally, we're going to get closure."

2011 September 27

Artificial Cerebellum
New Scientist

Researchers at Tel Aviv University have created a synthetic cerebellum that can receive sensory inputs from the brainstem. Their device can interpret the inputs and output a signal that prompts motor neurons to execute the appropriate movement.

One of the functions of the cerebellum is to help coordinate and time movements. It has a relatively straightforward neuronal architecture, so it is a good part of the brain to synthesize. The team analyzed brainstem signals feeding into a real cerebellum and the output it generated in response. They then used this information to generate a synthetic version on a chip that sits outside the skull and is wired into the brain using electrodes.

The team tested the chip on a rat with a disabled cerebellum. Without the chip connected, the rat was unable to learn a motor reflex. With it connected, the rat behaved like a normal animal. The next step is to model larger areas of the cerebellum that can learn complex movements and test the chip in a conscious animal.

AR Chips for human neocortex will excite philosophers.

2011 September 26

The Lorelei
Andy Ross, 2011 / Heinrich Heine, 1822
PDF, 1 page, 303 KB

I really don't know what it means
That I'm so very sad
A fairy tale from ancient times
Won't leave my weary head
The air is cool and it's twilight
And placid flows the Rhine
The craggy peak is shining bright
Lit by the evening sun

A lovely maiden sits in light
So beautiful up there
Her gold adornments sparkle bright
She combs her golden hair
She combs it with a golden comb
And sings a wondrous song
It has a quite enchanting tone
The melody is strong

The boatman in his little craft
Is caught with instant love
He does not see the shallow draft
He just looks up above
I think the waves will be too strong
For boat and man to try
His fate is with her siren song
Sealed by the Lorelei

Translation dedicated to my mother

2011 September 25

The Stormin' Mormon
Maureen Dowd

In the Republican debate on Thursday night in Florida, as Rick Perry lapsed into long pauses, Mitt Romney showed a new sarcastic streak. Romney, a champion flip-flopper, has painted Perry as a floppier flipper.

Perry is proving to be Romney’s best asset. Asked by a moderator what he would do as president if he got a call saying Pakistan had lost control of its nuclear weapons to the Taliban, Perry offered a Palinesque meditation on "the Pakistani country."

Romney used his new sarcasm on President Obama, too, claiming the Democrat takes his inspiration from the "socialist democrats" in Europe. "Guess what?" Romney said. "Europe isn't working in Europe. It's not going to work here."

Romney is using Perry as a whipping boy on conservative issues. When Perry attacks Romney as "Obama lite," he could be doing Mitt a favor by reminding independents and Democrats that the Stormin' Mormon is not a rabid conservative.

Relax, Einstein
Frank Close

Einstein's theory of relativity is constructed on the experimental fact that the velocity of light is independent of your own motion. His theory implies that the speed of light in a vacuum is nature's speed limit.

Neutrinos can travel through the Earth as easily as a bullet through fog. A beam from CERN travels into the Earth and re-emerges 730 km away at Gran Sasso, a laboratory near Rome about two milliseconds later. If we could send a light beam through the Earth, it should arrive at the same instant as the neutrino or slightly before it, but we cannot. So we measure the distance from CERN to Rome and the time that the neutrino took to get there. The ratio of distance to time gives the speed. But this is not easy.

Measuring the time to accuracies of nanoseconds involves accounting for the time that electronic signals take to pass through circuits, counters, chips, and the myriad pathways of the nanoworld. If you measure all these, and if that's all you need to know, then you can determine the time elapsed, but you might be a few nanoseconds amiss.

Measuring the distance to an accuracy of about 10 cm in 730 km is apparently possible by geodesy. You send a radio signal from CERN up to a satellite, which then relays it to a receiver in Rome. You measure how long it took and calculate the distance. But the speed of radio waves through the atmosphere is not "the speed of light".

If neutrinos travel faster than light, I shall have to rewrite my book Neutrino.

AR Frank Close, 66, is an emeritus fellow at my Oxford college, professor of theoretical physics at Oxford, and a former SLAC and CERN researcher.

Financial Times

America and its allies have a strategy for Afghanistan. They are declaring victory and heading for the exit. NATO policymakers talk optimistically about leaving behind a "viable" state when most western forces leave in 2014.

European Rupture
The Times

The European Union will "rupture" if the debt crisis allows eurozone countries to make decisions without consulting other EU members, says British coalition partner Nick Clegg. He will fly to Warsaw with the warning for European colleagues. He will insist that introducing closer economic ties between eurozone countries must not weaken British influence in Europe. Officials fear the UK could face new waves of damaging regulations designed to help the eurozone but hinder British competitiveness. Clegg agreed his text with his Conservative coalition partners.

Global Financial
Stability Report


The latest IMF report says nearly half the €6.5 trillion of debt issued by eurozone governments shows signs of heightened credit risk: "As a result, banks that have substantial amounts of more risky and volatile sovereign debt have faced considerable strains in markets."

The Lorelei is a 132 m high slate cliff beside the Rhine about 40 km south of Koblenz.

Assange: The Life
Nigel Farndale

The story of how WikiLeaks founder Assange became the first man in history to write an unauthorized autobiography will make a great chapter in his authorized autobiography, should he ever reach an agreement with himself to write one. You can't really call yourself a celebrity these days unless you have at least a couple of autobiographies under your belt.

"All memoir is prostitution"
Julian Assange

The Guardian

Long Live Books
Jonathan Sacks

When Jews think of life, they think of a book. For us, to read is to live. Judaism took the form it did because of the invention of the alphabet. Judaism became a religion in which education was the fundamental act. Jews said, I learn therefore I am.

There are many kinds of poverty we should try to eliminate, but I wonder whether intellectual impoverishment may not be the deepest and most debilitating of all.

Scale of the Universe

Zoom from the edge of the
universe to the quantum foam
of spacetime and learn the
scale of things.

An interactive show
developed by Cary Huang
at htwins

Lord Green
The Times

Britain's top 50 companies are to be given unprecedented access to government ministers in an attempt to spark life into the economy. This new "strategic relations" initiative is led by the Trade and Investment Minister, Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint, who as Stephen Green was chairman and CEO of HSBC.

AR I recall Green from Oxford. Good man.

HP Shares Rise
Financial Times

Hewlett-Packard shares jumped nearly 7% as its board considered replacing CEO Léo Apotheker after less than a year in the job. An HP insider: "He is like an organ transplant that didn't take."

AR Apotheker was CEO
at SAP when I left. He was abrasive but he eased my
early retirement.

Mick Jagger abandoned
writing his autobiography, claiming it was too boring:
"I don't particularly want to rummage through my past ... I'd rather be living more in the present. You can't really do both at the same time."

MIT Technology Review

Researchers have made carbon nanotube electrical cables that can carry as much current as copper wires. These nanotube cables could help carry power in the electrical grid, provide lightweight wiring for cars and aircraft, and make connections for computer chips. Researchers at Rice University are planning for commercial production.

AR Invest.

Germany Imports Nuke Power
Spiegel Online

Germany's decision to phase out its nuclear power plants by 2022 has rapidly transformed it from power exporter to importer. Despite Berlin's pledge to move away from nuclear, the country is now merely buying atomic energy from neighbors like the Czech Republic and France.

AR Such are the wages of humbug.

Space Launch System
The Space Launch System is intended to carry the Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle, as well as cargo, equipment, and science experiments to Earth orbit and beyond. It will also provide a backup transportation service to the International Space Station. First tests are scheduled for 2017. Before then, the SLS will cost $10 billion to develop, plus another $6 billion for the Orion capsule and $2 billion to refurbish the Florida spaceport for it.

2011 September 24

William James
Jonathan Rée

The American philosopher William James gave the Gifford lectures on religion in Edinburgh in 1901. The lectures were a triumph, and the book — The Varieties of Religious Experience — is a classic.

James hated the belligerent secularism that treats religion as a childish superstition. The idea of superstition started life as a word for deviations from true faith, and the first self-declared enemies of superstition were not enlightened scientists but inquisitorial bigots. And not all believers are gullible fools.

James said feeling is the deeper source of religion, and "philosophic and theological formulas are secondary products, like translations of a text into another tongue." Becoming religious was like falling in love, not a process of intellectual persuasion.

James thought religion was moving away from supernaturalism and theology. A secular religion of humanity did not appeal to him, but he warmed to the idea of a religion of democracy. For him, democracy meant an unconditional love of ordinary humanity, and a willingness to entrust the things we prize to their choices.

As a medical man, James thought the soul was no more than a "hot place" in a succession of fields of consciousness or a "habitual center" of personal energy. No immortality there, then.

2011 September 23

Einstein Wrong?

Einstein's special theory of relativity says nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. This is the foundation of modern physics. But CERN researchers today report finding neutrinos that go faster than 299 792 458 m/s.

The OPERA (Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking Apparatus) experiment lies 1400 km underground in the Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Italy. It is designed to study a beam of neutrinos from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland.

OPERA detects the arrival of the neutrinos 60 ns, or about 20 parts per million too soon. The distance between the LHC and OPERA is 730 km and is known to within 20 cm. The team measured the time of the trip to within 10 ns, and they have measured the effect in more than 16 000 events over two years. They say the result has a significance of six-sigma. OPERA spokesman Antonio Ereditato: "We are shocked."

CERN theoretician John Ellis remains skeptical. Neutrinos from supernova 1987a would have shown up years earlier than its light, but they arrived within hours of each other. Ellis: "It's difficult to reconcile with what OPERA is seeing."

Measurement of the neutrino velocity with the OPERA detector in the CNGS beam

The Big Snap
New Scientist

MIT cosmologist Max Tegmark says when the expansion of the universe is combined with conservation of information you get a catastrophic end of the universe he calls the big snap.

According to quantum mechanics, every particle and force field in the universe is associated with a wave, which tells us everything there is to know about that particle or that field. The sum total of all the waves in the universe give us all the information we need to predict the future.

According to general relativity, even empty space has information associated with it. The fabric of spacetime is warped, and you need information to say how.

Think of the universe as pixelated into Planck-size cells. Black hole theory suggests that each cell corresponds to one bit of information. But when you run the universe forward a billion years, as it expands, either the cells get bigger or new information appears. Since new information would contradict quantum mechanics, we assume the expansion creates no new information. Then the cell size for each bit grows bigger. Eventually, this rips spacetime apart — the big snap.

If the big snap is our doom, we should be able to see it coming. Photons of different energies travel at the same speed if space is continuous. But as the spacetime cells grow, high-energy photons begin to move more slowly than low-energy ones. As the cells get even larger, the trajectories of waves associated with particles are skewed. Things fall apart.

If the early universe expanded fast, as in the theory of inflation, we are likely to be just a few billion years away from the end, and the granularity of spacetime should already be large enough to skew the arrival time of photons of different wavelengths in gamma-ray bursts.

How unitary cosmology generalizes thermodynamics and solves the inflationary entropy problem
Max Tegmark

We analyze cosmology assuming unitary quantum mechanics, using a tripartite partition into system, observer and environment degrees of freedom. We show that because of the long-range entanglement created by cosmological inflation, the cosmic entropy decreases exponentially rather than linearly with the number of bits of information observed. This ends in the Big Snap, where an increasingly granular expanding space modifies our physics.

2011 September 22

Spiegel Online

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has a vision for Europe: increased solidarity to save the eurozone. He is trying to convince German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Sarkozy: "I spent the night with Germany ... Angela is moving in a sensible direction in terms of saving the monetary union." French palace officials say Sarkozy and Merkel are engaged in a hesitation waltz.

Let Webb Live

NASA officials and others say the James Webb Space Telescope, successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, should still fly despite cost increases. Recent calculations peg its price tag at nearly $8.7 billion. An independent panel last year blamed delays and mismanagement by NASA officials. Space Telescope Science Institute director Matt Mountain said JWST still deserves the full support of the astronomical community.

2011 September 21

IMF World Economic Outlook: "Global activity has weakened and become more uneven, confidence has fallen sharply recently, and downside risks are growing."

Bundesbank Governor Jens Weidmann: "Politicians have to choose between two models. One model has self-reliant members who do not support the others and are disciplined by the market, the other model is deeper political integration. There is no middle path."

Former EU Commission president Jacques Delors: "We have a moral responsibility. The euro is on the brink of the abyss. A step towards federalism is to be desired."

2011 September 20

The Euro's Fatal Flaw
Gideon Rachman

In most European Union countries, the euro was introduced without securing the direct assent of voters. It was assumed that voters would learn to love their new currency as it led to a more prosperous and powerful Europe. But now the single currency is associated with austerity and debt.

Angela Merkel knows German voters will never accept underwriting the debts of southern Europe on a permanent basis. The voters of Finland and the Netherlands are more hardline than the Germans on this notion. Anger against the northern Europeans is mounting in the austerity-hit Mediterranean nations.

A lasting currency union needs a political union. Steps towards deeper European unity work best when they are technical-sounding, hard to understand, and not subject to the approval of voters. The European Central Bank program to buy Greek, Italian, and Spanish bonds meets this description perfectly.

2011 September 19

Europe Must Act
Larry Summers

Over the past two years, the European authorities have done just enough to avoid an imminent collapse of the euro, but never enough to re-establish confidence.

International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde offers three principles for approaching the problem:

1 If the common currency is to survive, Europe must increase its commitment to the financial stability of member states and reduce their financial autonomy.

2 European banks need realistic stress testing and then access to private or public capital. Otherwise managers will rein in credit just when this is most likely to damage real economic prospects.

3 Europe can handle its debts and contribute to a stronger global economy only if it grows. This will require both aggregate fiscal and monetary expansion.

The world's finance ministers and central bank governors will gather in Washington next weekend for their annual meetings. A clear way forward for Europe must emerge.

U.S. Air Force Predator pilot Colonel Matt Martin sits in a control room in Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, and watches as his Taliban targets light up cigarettes, take a dump, or shag a sheep on the other side of the world.

2011 September 18

Why I Don't Want To Be a Cyborg
Nicholas Agar

I believe that some of the technologies advocated by transhumanists threaten our humanity. My book Humanity's End exposes some of the hidden costs of radical enhancement.

I think the most interesting questions about human enhancement address human nature. These questions can be frustrating. We're a species that uses technology, not a species that's destined to become technology. Enhancement places human meaning under threat. We're a social species; we connect with other humans. We find meaning in what they do and experience. But we have a weaker connection with radically enhanced beings.

In 2004 I defended human enhancement. I argued that prospective parents should be granted a limited prerogative to enhance their children's characteristics. Human enhancement is good, but one can overdo it. We can refrain from certain uses of enhancement technologies if we decide that doing so is important enough. I hope people will select very cautiously from the menu of possible human enhancements.

2011 September 17

Jimmy Leeward, 74, lost control of his P-51 Mustang "Galloping Ghost" at an air show in Reno, Nevada. The plane crashed vertically at full power into the crowd.

2011 September 16

The Euro
George Soros

The euro crisis could endanger the political cohesion of the European Union. The weakness in the construction of the euro was the lack of a common treasury. The path to a solution has to be found in Germany. To prevent a financial meltdown:
1 Bank deposits have to be protected.
2 Some banks in defaulting countries have to be kept functioning.
3 The European banking system has to be recapitalized.
4 Other government bonds have to be protected from contagion.

The German public still thinks it can choose whether or not to support the euro. That is a mistake. A breakdown of the euro would cause a meltdown beyond the capacity of the authorities to contain. There is no alternative to a European treasury with the power to tax and to borrow.

Kenneth Goldsmith

A patchwriter is a text processor for whom the construction or conception of a text is as important as what it says or does. A patchwriter weaves together various shards of other people's words into a tonally cohesive whole. It's a trick that students use all the time. The result is a work of unoriginal genius.

Cutting and pasting are integral to the writing process. Web technology makes harvesting masses of language easy and tempting. This sets the stage for a literary revolution. Yet writing is still mostly wedded to promoting authenticity at all costs. Courses on creative writing rely on clichéd notions of what it means to be creative.

The suppression of self-expression is impossible. The act of choosing and reframing tells us as much about ourselves as any intimate story. Success lies in knowing what to include and what to leave out. All language can be transformed into poetry by merely reframing. Even if the process is reduced to machine code, the smartest minds behind the machines will be considered our greatest authors.

AR Now I have a word for my art. This short text is a patchwritten transform of a long source text.

2011 September 15

Benny Morris

On September 20 the Palestinian Authority plans to unilaterally declare statehood and go to the United Nations for recognition. Israel is threatened by uproar in Egypt, a nuclear Iran, unrest in Syria, and Muslim Arab states and societies generally.

Many moderate Israelis fear the country is heading for ruin. The country's ruling class live in opulence, and the feeling is that they are out of touch with reality. The top decile of Israel's population earns 31 percent of the country's total net income, the lowest decile 1.6 percent. Israel is a not a democracy for the 2.5 million Arabs of the West Bank or the 1.5 million Arabs of the Gaza Strip. Since the West Bank and Gaza were conquered in 1967, Israel retains a stranglehold over these people.

Resurgent Islam is spreading across the region like a brushfire. Many in the West have taken heart from the so-called Arab Spring. Israelis are less optimistic. The Palestinian statehood bid will trigger shock waves around the Islamic world. Israel will face a political tsunami.

NASA Monster Rocket
The Times

Nasa has revealed an $18 billion plan for a monster rocket. The size and power of the new Space Launch System (SLS) will trump even that of the Saturn V rockets that took men to the Moon.

NASA head and former shuttle astronaut Major-General Charlie Bolden: "President Obama challenged us to be bold and dream big and that's exactly what we are doing at NASA."

The SLS is 98 m tall and will make its first test flight in 2017. It will carry a payload of up to 70 tons, later 130 tons. Federal funding for the project is expected to total $18 billion by 2017. President Obama has spoken of landing a crew on an asteroid by 2025 and a few years later on Mars.

2011 September 14

The Eurozone
Martin Wolf

The eurozone lacks a central bank able and willing to act as lender of last resort in all important markets, a rescue fund large enough to ensure liquidity in sovereign bond markets and effective ways of managing an interconnected web of sovereign insolvencies and banking crises.

German policymakers persist in viewing the world through the lens of a relatively small, open and highly competitive economy. But the eurozone is not a small open economy; it is a large and relatively closed one. The core country of such a union must either provide a buoyant market for less creditworthy countries when the latter can no longer finance their deficits, or it has to finance them.

The least bad option would be for the ECB to ensure liquidity for solvent governments and financial institutions, without limit. If the German government decided that it could not support such a bold step, the ECB should go ahead anyway. Germany must choose between a eurozone disturbingly different from the larger Germany it expected or no eurozone at all.

China To The Rescue
Spiegel Online

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao says China wants to use the world's largest foreign exchange reserves to invest more in European countries and the United States. He requested that Europeans recognize China as a market economy. This would protect China from dumping charges and have symbolic value. He called for the United States to open its market to Chinese investment and increase exports to China by lifting restrictions on high-tech goods.

Mecca = Las Vegas
The Independent

Over the past ten years the holiest site in Islam has become the al-Saud monarchy's vision of the future: a steel and concrete metropolis built on the proceeds of enormous oil wealth. But growing numbers of citizens have looked on aghast as Mecca has become a playground for the rich.

What happens when it becomes clear that our robotic selves, and not our biological Cartesian selves, are the real inheritors of Space, the Final Frontier?

Brad Allenby

Pope in Germany
Spiegel Online

In his speech to the German parliament, Pope Benedict XVI said that European values such as human rights and equality stem from a belief in God and said "to ignore this or to see it as part of our past would be an amputation of our culture as a whole." He said that Europe's culture is the result of the meeting between "Israeli belief in God, the philosophical logic of Greece and the legal thought of Rome. This tripartate encounter forms Europe's inner identity."

Assange Leak
Financial Times

Canongate Books is going ahead with the UK publication of
Julian Assange: the Unauthorised Autobiography against his wishes following a contractual dispute. The book is ghostwritten from transcripts of interviews with him.

AR Poetic justice —
or a publicity stunt?

Susanne Lencinas Fotografie

Patent Reform

The America Invents Act allows third parties to introduce evidence of prior art to block patents from being issued and it introduces a new framework to challenge issued patents. The Patent and Trademark Office has about 1.2 million patent applications pending. The new bill does not reform litigation damage awards.

AR Not radical enough.

Radical Islam
Danger Room

The FBI is teaching its counterterrorism agents that mainstream American Muslims are likely to be terrorist sympathizers, that the Prophet Mohammed was a cult leader, and that the Islamic practice of giving charity is a funding mechanism for combat.

AR The Feds were hard on the Reds a few decades ago too.

The LuxPod
South Kensingon, London
Studio apartment, 13 sqm
= 9 sqm main floor +
4 sqm mezzanine for bed
Max guests: 2 people
Rate: £777 for 7 nights


Ten Lost Years
Jakob Augstein

The policy of the United States after 9/11 damaged the country. The War on Terror should have ended when al-Qaida was driven out of Afghanistan. Instead, the United States turned it into an ideological world war. It expended so many resources in this struggle that it shifted the global tectonics of power. The rise of China was accelerated. The United States overestimated its abilities. Democracy cannot be bombed into existence.

Many Muslims and Westerners consider each other to be fanatical and dangerous. A division of the world into Muslims and Westerners seems more irreparable than anyone could have imagined before the concept of the clash of cultures was invented. The Islamophobia spreading through large parts of Europe is inconceivable without 9/11. Osama bin Laden failed as a revolutionary. But as a terrorist he was successful beyond compare.

Britain and China
Financial Times

Britain and China have agreed to boost Chinese infrastructure investment in the UK and make London an offshore trading centre for the renminbi. Despite British criticism of China's human rights record, British officials said there had been "good atmospherics" at a summit in London between Chinese vice-premier Wang Qishan and British chancellor George Osborne.

AR What are "good atmospherics"? Did no one emit unpleasant body odors?

More Europe
Der Spiegel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel wants "more Europe" and says that to make Europe strong and lasting, "treaty amendments can no longer be taboo in order to bind the EU closer together." She said a strong Europe was in Germany's interest: "In the long term, Germany cannot be successful if Europe isn't doing well too." As to the euro crisis: "The euro is the guarantee of a united Europe. If the euro fails, then Europe fails."

The Lost Decade
Anne Applebaum

In the decade since 9/11, we created a vast new security bureaucracy, launched two wars, and reoriented our foreign policy. Ten years later, al-Qaida is in profound disarray, fanatical Islam is on the decline, and our military remains the best in the world. But we paid too high a price.

In our focus on Islamic fanaticism, we missed the transformation of China from a commercial power into an ambitious political power. We underestimated the economic rise of East Asia. We missed the transformation of Russia into a feisty opponent. We missed a chance to make a deal on immigration with Mexico. In the Arab world, we aligned ourselves too closely with authoritarian regimes.

At home, we stopped investing in our own infrastructure and ignored any number of economic, environmental, and political issues. We narrowed our horizons. Could it be that 9/11 did less damage to the nation than the cascade of bad decisions that followed?

The New Way
To Wage War

Steven Pinker

In experiments first reported in 1998, Roy Baumeister and his collaborators discovered that the will can be fatigued. Immediately after students engage in a task that requires them to control their impulses, they show lapses in a subsequent task that also requires an exercise of willpower. Baumeister called the effect ego depletion. He then then showed that a depleted ego can be invigorated by a refreshment and that self-control can be toned up by exercising it. Willpower consists of circuitry in the brain that runs on glucose, has a limited capacity, and operates by rules we can understand.

Quantum Computing
New Scientist

A team at UCSB have performed two benchmark feats using quantum computers based on superconducting electrical circuits.

The team used a chip embedded with wires mixing aluminum and rhenium. These wires were cooled to almost 0 K to make them superconducting. The Cooper pairs of electrons in each wire were made to resonate as an ensemble to carry qubits. The team entangled these qubits using a bus that snaked all around the chip. They tuned the bus to a qubit and then entangled it with further qubits.

The first benchmark feat was to run a quantum Fourier transform. This is a step in Shor's algorithm for factorizing the big numbers used in encryption systems. The second feat was to implement a Toffoli gate, which entangles 3 qubits and is a key element for bigger circuits.

Ghengis Khan

In the vast open steppe outside Mongolia's capital Ulaanbaatar, there is a giant statue of the Mongol emperor Genghis Khan. People flock here in their thousands each day to revere his memory. One visitor: "I come here every few months to pay respect to our great emperor. He conquered the world." Genghis Khan and his descendants conquered much of China, Russia, central Asia, Europe and the Middle East from 1206 onward. It is still the greatest land empire the world has known. Geneticists say almost one in ten men in Asia carry the DNA of Genghis Khan.

The Rise of Genghis Khan

Director: Sergey Bodrov

2011 September 13

Free Will

John-Dylan Haynes and other experimental neuroscientists argue that consciousness of a decision may be a mere biochemical afterthought, with no influence on our actions. According to this logic, they say, free will is an illusion.

Haynes has refined his 2008 results in two studies. One uses more accurate scanning techniques to confirm the roles of the brain regions implicated in his previous work. In the other, yet to be published, Haynes and his team asked subjects to add or subtract two numbers from a series being presented on a screen. Deciding whether to add or subtract reflects a more complex intention than that of whether to push a button. The researchers detected activity up to four seconds before the subjects were conscious of deciding.

The results from neuroscience concern predictability but not determinism. Most philosophers are comfortable with the idea that people can make rational decisions in a deterministic universe.

Haynes et al. 2008
Hirnforschung 2008

2011 September 12

Israel and the Mideast
Financial Times

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu says his government is determined to preserve the peace treaty with Egypt but also said: "This peace is being challenged and those who challenge it are challenging not only the policy but also the state known as Israel."

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned that the Turkish navy would protect Gaza-bound ships future, following Israel’s refusal to apologize for the killing of Turkish activists on a Turkish ship sailing to Gaza last year. Ankara has expelled Israeli diplomats from Turkey and downgraded its mission in Tel Aviv.

Hebrew University professor Shlomo Avineri says Israel's ties with Cairo and Ankara have both suffered as a result of the deadlocked peace process with the Palestinians. A vote on Palestinian statehood at the UN is expected later this month. Avineri: "In Egypt we have a very weak government with a problematic legitimacy. On many issues, not just regarding Israel, it is looking over its shoulder and following what the street is demanding."

There is consensus in Israel that there is little the government can do to improve regional ties. Netanyahu said the Middle East was currently "undergoing a political earthquake of historic proportions" and compared the wave of unrest sweeping the Arab world with the "establishment of a new world order" after World War I.

2011 September 10

HP: Unstructured Search
New Scientist

Hewlett-Packard recently acquired British pattern-recognition software house Autonomy for $10.2 billion. Autonomy founder Mike Lynch says HP plans to create a new unstructured search system.

Some analysts say HP is clutching at straws. Lynch says HP will finally make messy, unstructured data searchable in mainstream applications on smart phones, computers, or online in the cloud.

By the end of 2011, Lynch hopes HP's Vertica text-search database, which supports search for structured data, will operate with Autonomy's Idol system, which finds relationships between informal, unstructured text, audio, images and video.

Idol extracts the probability that human behaviors caught on video, say, are related to the words uttered in a voicemail and/or a report, allowing search over all the data. Lynch: "It will also help scientists take very large datasets and get meaning out of them."

AR HP boss Apotheker learned from the success of my SAP team's accelerator engine that, in the immortal words of Star Trek, search is "the final frontier."

2011 September 9

Ten Years On
Tony Blair

The 9/11 attack completely changed the politics of global security. I was very keen to make sure that this was seen not simply as an attack on America but on all of us, and to make sure that we put together the broadest coalition.

Even though the number of extremists was very small, the number of people who bought a certain amount of the narrative that gave rise to that extremism was worryingly large. The narrative in which religion is mixed up with politics is far more widespread than we understood at the time. You had to look the proliferation of nuclear and chemical weapons in a completely different way because the calculus of risk had changed completely.

In Iraq one of the problems has been the continued intervention of Iran, and likewise in Afghanistan. We're still in the middle of a long struggle in which those countries that are failed states escape from corrupt politics, tribalism, and a perversion of religion.

The threat is deeper and bigger than we realized because it is an ideology with a movement and with a narrative, and you've got to undercut all that if you want to destroy the movement.

I think we're a lot better off in Afghanistan and Iraq than we would have been if we'd still got those regimes in charge. Now we've got to use the focus of the Arab Spring to try and help bring about lasting and true democratic change.

Democracy is not just about the right to vote in and out your government, it's about freedom of expression, a free media, open markets, the rule of law, an open attitude of mind. Democracy doesn't work unless it comes with those attributes.

From 9/11 onwards, we were focused on the security measures that we had to take and the military action that followed from that. But if you want to win this struggle, you're going to have to win it through hearts and minds as well as through military measures. I believe we will win, but it's going to take time.

2011 September 8

Decline Of The West
Jonathan Sacks

Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda attacked America on 9/11 because they believed the United States was past its prime.

The narratives of the West and the rest diverged in 1989. In the West, 1989 was seen as the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The West triumphed. Francis Fukuyama said it was the end of history. For Osama bin Laden, the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989 because of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. The year marked the end of a history dominated by the twin superpowers of communist Russia and capitalist America.

The philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre argued in 1981 that the moral discourse of the West had broken down: "The barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time."

If so, then 9/11 belongs alongside the disintegration of the family, the demise of authority, the build-up of personal debt, the collapse of financial institutions, and the loss of a sense of honour, loyalty, and integrity. A civilisation has grown old. Me takes precedence over We, and we are in trouble. The enemy is not radical Islam, it is us.

AR Traditional notions of honor and credit have gone down in flames, no doubt, and we in the West need to shape up to a new world where China, India, and Islam play big roles. The Me-We issue is key to our doing so. As for how we do so, in a world of global business, social networks and so on, my answer, outlined in my 2010 book G.O.D. Is Great, is that for each of us, we are all me, and my world and yours merge in our world, which grows into a Global Online Dominion where the logic of me-we melts into a planetary self. I say this is the evolutionary cash value of the Abrahamic myth. May Lord Sacks be cheered by my work.

2011 September 7

The Post-9/11 Military
Fred Kaplan

The American military has shifted from a peacetime military to a continuously wartime military, and it has done so for the first time since the United States got rid of the draft.

The new Army is fighting not tank-on-tank battles but counter-insurgency campaigns, waged in towns and villages, in which soldiers must be as attentive to community relations as to combat. The lessons have come not just from senior officers but also from online networks that exchange practical ideas about dealing with new threats and challenges.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was right in Iraq that smart bombs, new sensors, and computerized communications networks reduced the number of ground troops needed to perform certain missions. But he failed to understand Clausewitz's dictum that war is politics through other means. It took a few more years after the Iraq invasion for the military to learn the new lessons.

1 The basic Army unit is no longer a division but a brigade or even a battalion.

2 Army specialties are changing. Field artillery and tanks are less important. Light infantry, air cavalry, and troops for special operations and civil affairs are in demand.

3 The Air Force has reverted to the role of supporting the Army.

The Air Force now trains more joystick pilots than flying pilots. The new pilots sit in Nevada, steering an unmanned aerial vehicle via remote control, watching the live video from a UAV camera and firing weapons to order. The UAV pilots are the new warriors.

Some officers and analysts are alarmed that military personnel may be losing the older skills. But the Air Force still has a lot of air-to-air fighters and pilots, and the Army has adopted a strategy called "full-spectrum operations," in which soldiers are trained and equipped to pivot on a dime from head-on combat to stability operations to counterinsurgency. The force is more capable now than it was ten years ago.

2011 September 6

Steigenberger Frankfurter Hof
7.30 pm: Reception in Frankfurt with Prof. Dr. Andrew Hamilton,
Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University

Austerity Cure For Eurozone
Wolfgang Schäuble

In the eurozone, excessive state spending has led to unsustainable levels of debt and deficits. Piling on more debt now will stunt rather than stimulate growth in the long run. Governments in and beyond the eurozone need to cut expenditures, increase revenues and remove the structural hindrances in their economies.

The members of the eurozone will collectively provide conditional financial assistance to those countries that need time to put their public finances on a sustainable footing and to improve their competitiveness. There are risks to this strategy. Yet the alternative would be riskier still.

Governments need the disciplining forces of markets. But markets need strong regulation. The eurozone crisis unfolded after a decade during which economies with diverging fiscal profiles and competitiveness borrowed at close to benchmark rates.

Fiscal policy in the eurozone should only become more centralised if this process is legitimised by a strong democratic mandate. Strengthening the architecture of the eurozone will need time.

2011 September 5

War Economy
Bill Emmott

The biggest and most lasting consequence of 9/11 is the economic mess that America and Europe are now in. After the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, the Federal Reserve Board cut interest rates. Then 9/11 froze economic activity briefly. The Fed kept the monetary taps open as if there had been a downturn. The next bubble was much larger. It burst in September 2008.

Why, after 9/11, did the Fed keep pumping in credit to housing and banks? Why did fiscal policy under President George W. Bush turn expansionary? The answer: war. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq added at least $1.5 trillion to America's public debt. Americans decided to fight, and damn the consequences.

The Scent of Dried Roses
Tim Lott

It has been nearly 25 years since I suffered the catastrophic breakdown that prompted me to write my memoir. Since then I have been married, divorced, and remarried. I have four daughters. I have written five novels.

The Scent of Dried Roses tells how, at the age of 31, I found myself in the grip of a suicidal depression that lasted for months. Every day was a torment, every night a struggle. A few months later I recovered, thanks to a course of antidepressants.

At the conclusion of SDR I considered myself more or less cured. I believed that I understood clearly the thought patterns that led a mind into depression, and how to avoid them. I continued to find medication effective.

I have learnt to be easy on myself. Now, when struck down, I spend a lot of time sleeping and reading, and keep myself apart from the family as much as possible. I will never be free of depression, and I accept it. It is just bad luck.

AR I'm glad I don't have it that bad.

2011 September 4


Altkanzler Gerhard Schröder fordert mehr Tempo beim Ausbau der Europäischen Union zu einer Art Vereinigte Staaten von Europa. Als Lehre aus der Euro-Krise mahnt der Altkanzler weitreichende Reformen an. Er plädiert für einen gemeinsamen europäischen Finanzminister, der vom Europäischen Parlament kontrolliert wird. Schröder: Man sollte jetzt "nicht länger fackeln, sondern Ernst machen mit Kern-Europa."

Schröder kritisiert der Rolle der Briten in der EU: "Die größten Probleme macht Großbritannien." Das Land sei nicht im Euro, "aber die Briten wollen trotzdem immer mitreden bei der Gestaltung eines Wirtschaftsraums. Das geht nicht zusammen."

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder wants to speed up the extension of the European Union to a United States of Europe. He sees the euro crisis as showing the need for big reforms. He wants to see a shared European finance minister answerable to the European Parliament. Schröder says we should "stop dithering and get serious about a core Europe."

Schröder says the British cause the biggest problems in Europe. Britain is not in the euro "but the British still want a say in how to set up an economic zone. That won't work."

2011 September 3

Philosophical Counselors
Washington Post

Philosophical counselors help people with life problems — divorce, job stress, the economic downturn, parenting woes, chronic illness and matters of the heart. Their therapy averages about $80 an hour for one-on-one sessions. They refer any client with clinical depression or suicidal thoughts to psychiatrists.

The president of the American Philosophical Practitioners Association is Lou Marinoff, who with his rapid-fire Socratic-shrink shtick could be a cross between Woody Allen and Sigmund Freud. Marinoff, a professor and philosophy chair at the City College of New York, is determined to make philosophical counseling a popular and well-respected profession.

The advent of this therapy is well-timed, since many philosophers are out of work — or more out of work than usual. As Marinoff puts it, "What are the first words a philosophy graduate utters? 'Would you like fries with that, sir?' See, the fries joke, that's exactly what we are trying to change."

A 36-year-old Maryland client of a philosophical counselor who asked not to be named sought help after his spouse died of cancer. The client, who works at an Internet company, said philosophical counseling helped process his grief and shock — largely because he was so distracted by heavy reading assignments.

AR Excellent: my next profession — counselor. I'm open for business today.

2011 September 2

Quantum Computing
MIT Technology Review

UCSB researchers have for the first time combined a quantum processor with memory for storing instructions and data in a von Neumann architecture. This does for quantum computing what Konrad Zuse did on a larger scale for classical computing in 1941 (blog 2011 May 12).

In a classical computer, a bit can represent either 1 or 0. In a quantum computer, a qubit can represent both values at once. When qubits work together, they can operate on exponentially more data than the same number of bits. So quantum computers should be amazing.

The UCSB group used electrical circuits cooled to almost 0 K to make them superconducting. The team placed the qubits and memory elements close together on a single chip.

The processor contains two qubits linked by a quantum bus. Each qubit is also connected to a memory cell to store its value. The qubits move to memory via resonators, zigzagging circuits inside which their value can persist for a while. The group implemented a Toffoli gate (a quantum component that is universal for classical computation) to perform a step in a data encryption algorithm.

Superconducting circuits seem to be a reliable way to do quantum computing. By replicating the von Neumann architecture, the UCSB team have opened the way to scaling the approach.

Ref: Implementing the Quantum von Neumann Architecture with Superconducting Circuits
Matteo Mariantoni et al.
DOI: 10.1126/science.1208517

AR This is pretty historic stuff. Supercooled circuits are the way to go until we can get photonics out of the labs.

2011 September 1

Fusion Update
New Scientist

The first hydrogen bomb exploded above a Pacific atoll in 1952. Since then, despite our best efforts, practicable fusion reactors have always been some fifty years in the future.

Commercial fusion would compress a gas of hydrogen isotopes to form a hot plasma. In this state, the nuclei can fuse to make helium nuclei, plus some neutrons, plus a lot of energy. The fuel is cheap. Deuterium can be extracted from water and tritium can be bred from lithium in the reactor.

Deuterium-tritium fusion only kicks in at temperatures above 45 MK. Reaching such temperatures uses a lot of energy, and strong magnetic fields are needed to keep the hot plasma away from the reactor walls. Soviet scientists learned decades ago to make and hold the plasma inside a toroidal vessel they called a tokamak. The Oxfordshire-based Joint European Torus (JET) tokamak, operating since 1983, has never quite reached break-even. It once achieved a 16 MW output for a 20 MW input, but for less than 10 seconds.

The bigger the tokamak, the better the chance of extracting more energy than it uses. The ITER tokamak in southern France builds on the JET results and is designed to achieve break-even. With over four times the confinement volume and with magnetic fields almost three times as strong, it should contain a plasma for several minutes, ultimately achieving 10 times more output than input. But it comes at a huge financial cost and will not break even until 2026 at the earliest.

Meanwhile, in Redmond, in the U.S. state of Washington, the Fusion Engine, made by Helion Energy, will rely on a very different method of making and confining plasmas. Discovered in 1960, this method involves colliding two small balls of plasma at very high speed to ignite fusion. The reaction is over in a fraction of a second and the neutrons are easy to collect for breeding tritium. Helion researchers have so far achieved a temperature of 25 MK. That's still too cool for fusion, but they calculate that ignition should occur in a device three times the size of their prototype.

The Fusion Engines that Helion plans would generate around 100 MW. They could convert the highly radioactive waste from today's fission reactors into low-level isotopes and nuclear fuel. Fifty engines could clean up the U.S. stockpile of nuclear waste in 20 years. Once the technology is established, the reactors could become commercial power plants.

The Enormous Theorem
New Scientist

Group theorist Michael Aschbacher at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena wins the 2011 Rolf Schock prize in mathematics from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for his key role in proving the classification theorem of finite groups, also known as the Enormous Theorem. The proof is 15,000 pages long.

There infinitely many finite simple groups but they form a finite number of families. The Enormous Theorem was proposed in about 1971, when Daniel Gorenstein devised a plan to identify all the finite simple groups, divide them into families and prove that no others could exist. Gorenstein and his hundreds of collaborators spent a decade working on the proof, but it remained incomplete until 2004, when Aschbacher and Stephen Smith published a 1200-page guide through the last piece of the puzzle.

American Jobs
Barack Obama

The purpose of the American Jobs Act is to put more people back to work and more money in the pockets of those who are working. It will create more jobs for construction workers, for teachers, for veterans, and for the long-term unemployed. It will provide a tax break for companies who hire new workers, and it will cut payroll taxes in half. It will provide a jolt to an economy that has stalled.

AR Has stalled indeed.

The Australian

Christopher Hitchens has made himself the key writer of the post-9/11 age. No novelist or poet has registered the texture of the past decade as pungently as Hitchens has in the essay form. In his 2007 book God Is Not Great, Hitchens said he would happily leave religion alone if only religion would leave him alone. But, he said, it keeps declining to do that.

The Real Decade
David Miliband

Since 2001, the combined share of Brazil, Russia, India, and China in the world economy more than doubled; casino capitalism crashed; Internet access increased sixfold to more than two billion people; and a surge for freedom hit the Mideast.

We face urgent tasks:
1 To reassert diplomacy in international politics
2 To rethink our notions of a balance of power
3 To share scarce resources

The West must rediscover multilateralism. America today is flagging. New powers such as China and India are rising. Europe is struggling. Economic security enables military expansion, not vice versa, and neither is achievable without political vision. That is the most important lesson of the post-9/11 decade.

AR David is right that the rise of new economic actors is more important in the history of the decade than the mess in the MESA region. But he is surely wrong to play down the importance of the Islamic challenge to the West. The juggernaut of Western globalism has acquired a new dark side since 9/11. Before then it was communism (not Soviet since 1989 but Chinese) and now it is fundamentalism (either Crusader-Zionist or Islamist). Any new political vision must confront this fact squarely.

Red Arrows
David Jones/PA
The Red Arrows
drew a heart in the sky with smoke Friday in Derbyshire. Two weeks earlier the eight pilots had flown with Flight Lieutenant Jon Egging, 33, before he died in a crash near Bournemouth airport. The Red Arrows will fly one plane short for the rest of 2011.

AR I saw all nine Red Arrows fly their sign-off heart in the sky in Bournemouth just minutes before Egging crashed on August 20.

SAP Versus Oracle
Financial Times

A U.S. judge has overturned a $1.3 billion jury award won last year by Oracle against SAP. Judge Phyllis Hamilton ruled in federal court that the earlier trial entitled Oracle to damages of no more than $272 million. The ruling lays the ground for a new trial in the case.

The case stemmed from the unauthorized access gained by TomorrowNow, an SAP subsidiary, to Oracle computer systems. SAP admitted wrongdoing. The jury in the case agreed with Oracle CEO Larry Ellison that SAP should pay the cost of a hypothetical license for access. But Judge Hamilton said Oracle gave self-serving testimony. SAP welcomed the new ruling.

AR What a relief. I had nothing to do with TomorrowNow but the case depressed me anyway.


Adora BatBrat is the electrogoth queen of YouTube, "a self-proclaimed Martha Stewart, an alternative model and an old school electro goth,
a make up guide, a mother of 3 kids named after synthesizers and a vampire partygirl in general!"

The Death of Books?
Lloyd Shepherd

The year 2011 to date has seen a drop in printed book sales against 2010. In May, Amazon announced that it was selling more Kindle versions of books than paperback and hardbacks combined. In the US, Amazon saw the fastest year-on-year growth rate for its books business. Hardcover sales continue to grow. Kindle versions of new books are outselling hardback versions at similar prices. People are buying books.

The Ten Commandments
of Steve Jobs

1 Go for perfect
2 Tap the experts
3 Be ruthless
4 Shun focus groups
5 Never stop studying
6 Simplify
7 Keep your secrets
8 Keep teams small
9 Use more carrot than stick
10 Prototype to the max

Charles Taylor
Mark Oppenheimer

Philosopher Charles Taylor, 80, lost four races for the Canadian House of Commons. He wrote two books on Hegel and taught at Oxford. In 2007, he won the Templeton Prize. Five propositions characterize his recent work:

1 Once enchanted, we are now disenchanted. Up until about 1500, Taylor believes, people in Christendom were enchanted and open to metaphysical notions.

2 Our response should not be nostalgia. Taylor is a Roman Catholic. The modern fore-grounding of earthly life, as opposed to eternal life, worries him, because seeing one's bodily survival and flourishing as the ultimate goal of existence tends toward selfishness.

3 If we're going to live with modernity, we should start by trying to understand the cult of authenticity. We now seek to be true to ourselves.

4 The challenge is to live a life that is personally authentic while giving that life meaning and fullness. Just as any given woman in Quebec wants to be true to herself, the Québécois want to be true to their culture. The political urge makes no sense without the personal one.

5 To the extent that we can succeed in being authentic, as people and as cultures, we will have a greater fullness than what people had in the old age of enchantment.

The fullness Taylor wants for secular selves is a concept from the Christian heritage. Taylor is too honest to be a politician.

2011 August 31

Dick Cheney's Memoirs
Robert G. Kaiser

Dick Cheney devotes the first 255 pages of his big book to his life before George W. Bush asked him to lead the effort to find him the right running mate for the 2000 campaign. The story of his rise from humble origins is a good one and is briskly told. But he slights or ignores many key events and important developments in the story from 2001 to 2009, including:

— Warnings of the al-Qaeda threat early in the Bush years
— The failure to capture or kill Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan
— How Bush turned a healthy budget surplus into big deficits
— Why the Iraq war went wrong after the fall of Saddam Hussein
— How the administration might have brought on the 2008 crash

Cheney insists that there were connections between Hussein and al-Qaeda before 9/11 that justified making the invasion of Iraq part of the War on Terror. No intelligence agency has ever endorsed that view. He never comes to grips with the fact that Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction. He recounts his own role in the war but ignores many of his personal gaffes.

AR With a big advance I could write a better history of the era.

2011 August 30

The War on Terror
The Atlantic

The War on Terror was based on the notion that Islamic terrorism represented a unified, ideologically coherent, and operationally centralized threat, demanding a predominately military response. But by the latter years of the Bush administration, the exceptional tactics that defined the War on Terror — preventative detentions, pain-based interrogation, ethnic and religious profiling, and widely expanded domestic surveillance powers — were either abandoned or dramatically scaled back based on overwhelming evidence that they were ineffective. Meanwhile, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq evolved into counterterrorism campaigns. The War on Terror lives on today only as political theater.

2011 August 14-28

Holiday in England — rained a lot
Holiday reading:
  Empire in the Clouds — When Britain's Aircraft Ruled the World
  By James Hamilton-Paterson
Holiday viewing:
  Joan Miró exhibition at the Tate Modern — yawn
  Super 8 — formulaic Spielbergesque sci-fi drama by Abrams
  One Day — I hope the book is better to justify its bestsellerdom
  Bridesmaids — spicy comedy that rises above chick flickery

2011 August 13

Japan 1945

Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, a historian at the University of California, Santa Barbara, says it was the Soviet entry into the Pacific conflict, not Hiroshima and Nagasaki, that forced Japan's surrender in 1945.

The Pacific War began in 1941 with Pearl Harbor. Japan quickly invaded most of East Asia. In 1942, the United States and its allies turned the tide. But progress was slow. By the summer of 1945, the Americans were ready for a final invasion. It would have been bigger than D-Day, certain to result in a bloody slaughter.

Japan's leaders wanted to end the conflict while holding onto territory, avoiding war crimes trials, and preserving the imperial system. They hoped to convince the Soviet Union to mediate a settlement with the Americans. It was a long shot, but it made strategic sense.

In March 1945, B-29 Superfortress bombers dropped thousands of incendiary bombs on downtown Tokyo. The resulting firestorm killed some 100,000 people. By August, more than 60 of Japan’s cities had been substantially destroyed by firebombs.

8/6: The B-29 Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Hasegawa says the Japanese leadership reacted with concern, but not panic.

8/7: Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo sent an urgent telegram to his ambassador in Moscow.

8/8: The Soviet Union declared war and launched a broad surprise attack on Japanese forces in Manchuria. Japan's strategy was ruined. Better to surrender to Washington than to Moscow.

8/9: Japan's Supreme War Council met to discuss the terms of surrender. During the meeting, a B-29 dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki.

8/15: Japan surrendered unconditionally.

Hasegawa: "Once we had accepted strategic bombing as an acceptable weapon of war, the atomic bomb was a very small step."

2011 August 12

Feral Youth and Venal Rich
Peter Oborne

David Cameron and the entire British political class came together yesterday to denounce the rioters. But there was something phony and hypocritical about their shock and outrage.

Sir Richard Branson is said to be thinking of moving his business headquarters to Switzerland. This tax dodge was reported as a blow to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In a sane and decent world it would be a blow to Sir Richard.

Rotherham MP Denis MacShane: "What the looters wanted was for a few minutes to enter the world of Sloane Street consumption." This from a man who notoriously claimed £5,900 for eight laptops through his expenses.

Feral youths seem oblivious to decency and morality. But so do the venal rich and powerful, including too many bankers and politicians. Something has gone horribly wrong in Britain.

AR Something similar ails the entire West.

My Amazon reviews of
Robopocalypse and
David Chalmers

The Poems
of Philip Larkin

Steve Jobs' biological father is Abdulfattah John Jandali. He was a Syrian immigrant and is now a casino VP in Nevada. He gave Steve up for adoption over 50 years ago.

We live in an 8D phase space
that merges spacetime and momenergy, says Lee Smolin

Scott Aaronson says computational complexity theory will transform philosophy

Peter Orszag: Four ways Congress can upgrade the US credit rating

Khan Academy

Before he started the most popular education site on the Web, Salman Khan was a young hedge-fund manager in Silicon Valley looking for a way to help his cousin with her math homework. His solution: use Yahoo Messenger's Doodle feature to illustrate his points as he talked to her on the phone. Soon he began posting videos of his doodles on YouTube to accommodate his other cousins, and their friends, and their friends' friends. In 2009, Khan quit his day job to focus on making the videos full-time. At last count, Khan Academy offered some 2,400 videos, all for free.

Peter Oborne

The financial crisis may be
bleaker than in 2008:

1 The 2008 crisis struck at the top of a cycle. Interest rates were high and central banks cut the cost of borrowing. Today rates are low.

2 The global situation was better in 2008. China responded to the crisis with a boom. Today China has high inflation and cannot help.

3 National balance sheets were good in 2008. Now sovereign debts are at crisis level in many Western countries.

Western leaders are out of their depth. The eurozone is close to collapse. An economic firestorm is heading our way.


NASA: Water on Mars

Scientists have found new evidence for possible saltwater flows on Mars. NASA announced the discovery on Thursday.

AR This is a NASA bid for
more Mars robot funding.

2011 August 10

London Dogs
Max Hastings

If you live a normal life of absolute futility, which we can assume most of this week's rioters do, excitement of any kind is welcome. The people who wrecked swathes of property, burned vehicles and terrorised communities have no moral compass. Most have no jobs to go to and no family role models. They are illiterate and innumerate, essentially wild beasts. They respond only to instinctive animal impulses.

At the bottom of our society is a layer of young people with no skills, education, values or aspirations. Nobody has ever dared suggest to them that they need feel any allegiance to anything, least of all Britain or their community. They have their being only in video games and street fights, casual drug use and crime. The notions of doing a nine-to-five job, marrying and sticking with a wife and kids are beyond their imaginations.

It is hard to help such people, young or old, without imposing a measure of compulsion. From an early stage, feral children discover that they can bully fellow pupils at school, shout abuse at people in the streets, urinate outside pubs, hurl litter from car windows, play car radios at deafening volumes, and commit casual assaults with only a negligible prospect of retribution. My dogs are better behaved.

AR Hear, hear. Max autographed my copy of his recent biography of Winston Churchill.

2011 August 9

Double Dip
Spiegel Online

The fear is back. There are growing signs of a new financial crisis. The United States is struggling with an enormous budget deficit and European leaders can't find a way to fix the euro.

The governments need to reduce their debts. In the United States, Democrats and Republicans have been locked in a dispute over whether the deficit should be removed through tax hikes or cuts in social spending. In Europe, the solvent governments of the northern countries are refusing to underwrite the debt of the struggling Mediterranean countries.

The euro was launched as a fair-weather currency. Eurozone rescue mechanisms are little more than stopgaps. The rescue efforts are too little and too late. Issuing Eurobonds could cost the German government an additional €20 billion per year in the medium term. But Berlin is under pressure as Washington pushes for Eurobonds.

The United States has been living above its means for years. The wrangling over raising the debt ceiling led the country to the edge of a financial disaster. The planned spending cuts will dampen economic growth. Given the gridlock in Washington, there are growing calls for the Fed to print money. It is tempting to pay down the debts with the help of inflation.

China holds over a trillion dollars of U.S. debt. The Chinese economy has been growing fast and is at risk of overheating. Consumer prices are rising and people are angry. Most of China's exports go to Europe and the United States. The Chinese government needs to cool the economy.

The world is closer to a crash than at any time since 2008. The U.S. government must reduce its deficit and European governments cannot sit out the euro crisis. We need solid state finances.

2011 August 8

New Scientist

New Scientist

Cosmic rays create antiparticles when they collide with particles in the Earth's atmosphere. Many of these become trapped inside the Van Allen radiation belts. University of Rome researchers detected antiprotons in the inner belt using PAMELA, a cosmic-ray detector attached to a Russian Earth-observation satellite. PAMELA detected 28 antiprotons trapped in spiraling orbits around the magnetic field lines sprouting from the Earth's south pole. Billions of antiprotons are probably trapped in the belt. Future spacecraft could be powered by the reaction between matter and antimatter.

AR Cool — but no payoff for a century or two, I guess.

2011 August 7

Will Hutton

Fear blew $2.5 trillion from the value of global shares this week. Fear dumped Italian government bonds at junk prices. And fear took the yield on short-dated U.S. treasury bills below zero.

Standard & Poor's downgraded American government debt from its AAA status. They said the United States could only recover its fiscal position with tax increases.

We have a mass global flight from risk. It was the worst week in the financial markets since autumn 2008. But in 2008 governments could put their national balance sheets behind their banking systems to restore confidence. Not now. The markets have lost confidence. They know the costs will be huge.

Eurozone creditors accepted that Greece might not be able to pay its public debts in full. What about other countries in the eurozone? Will their creditors be hammered? And if individuals, companies, and governments have too much debt, what about the banks who lent the money?

The markets hoped global growth would let the world pay down its debts. But events have shaken that faith. Wherever you look, it is an economic horror story. Too many countries have debts that cannot be repaid without exceptional global growth.

Without growth there are only three ways out. The first is to increase public borrowing. Private spending is depressed, so we must raise public debt to push exports. But now there is a veto on growing public debt and export demand from Asia is slowing.

The two other ways forward are default or inflation. The world is moving towards these options. In the United States, the Tea Party has vetoed action by the federal government to stimulate growth. In Europe, the European Union proposed a European Monetary Fund but is moving at stately pace. There are no new ideas.

The financial system has become a madhouse. There is nobody at the wheel. There is no adult supervision. The idea that governments get in the way of otherwise perfectly functioning markets is wrong.

If the options are default or inflation, then we must accept inflation, but manage it. Britain should provide a lead. The Bank of England should print money and use it to buy debt.

The money market is killing the West. We must change it.

AR We need global governance of an integrated world economy, with consolidated legal and financial environments.

Global organization = GLOBORG

2011 August 6

Set theorist Hugh Woodin, University of California, Berkeley:
"What sense is there in a conception of the universe of sets in which very large sets exist, if you can't even figure out basic properties of small sets? Set theory is riddled with unsolvability. Almost any question you want to ask is unsolvable."

Woodin defined ultimate L to prove the continuum hypothesis

2011 August 5

The Guardian

NASA today launches a $1 billion Juno satellite on a mission to Jupiter to study its atmosphere and how the planet formed.

The five-year journey will inject Juno into a highly elliptical orbit around Jupiter that goes far out into space before returning low over the north and south poles. Then, in 33 orbits over a year, Juno will photograph Jupiter's aurora and map its magnetic and gravitational fields.

Jupiter has more than twice the mass of all the other planets in the solar system combined. About 90% of the mass is hydrogen and 10% helium, with trace levels of heavier elements. A vast subsurface sea of liquid metallic hydrogen is more than 25,000 km deep. The core may be solid rock.

The electronics aboard Juno are encased in a titanium vault to shield them from radiation, but even so the spacecraft will sustain serious damage after a year in orbit. At end of the mission NASA controllers will send Juno crashing into Jupiter.

NASA video: What lies inside Jupiter
NASA Science

Photonic Diodes

Optical fibers can move data at rates of around 10 Gb/s. But to make commercially viable photonic chips, engineers need a photonic diode that lets a signal pass one way only.

Caltech engineer Liang Feng and his colleagues have now made a silicon waveguide with a cross-section of 200 nm by 800 nm that does so. Feng: "It has been known for a long time that adding layers to the sides of waveguides can affect forward and backward motion, but it was tricky to calculate the particular structure that would manipulate the light just as we needed."

The work is a big step toward photonic chips. But it will be a decade or two before we see photonic chips in commercial products.

Phillip Longman

Anders Breivik is hostile to Islam. He wants to reduce world population by half. He rants against feminism, Marxism, and Western sexual mores. He thinks society should "discourage" women from full-time careers and blames "current destructive matriarchal policies" for the ills of Europe.

Societies in demographic decline can be dangerous. Low birth rates and high immigration produce a stew of racial fear and resentment that nourishes nationalism, fundamentalism, and a backlash against multicultural and progressive values.

Religious conservatives with high birthrates increase the danger. Fundamentalists often have large families, while childless and one-child families are common in secular communities. A return of patriarchy is all but inevitable if progressive citizens fail to reproduce.

European socialists call for the state to provide more child care and so on. Nordic countries that do so have higher birth rates than more culturally conservative countries. But they also have higher rates of unmarried mothers and divorce, and their generosity is hard to finance.

People worldwide are having too few children to avoid population aging and decline. Muslim countries are no exception. For better or for worse, reduced fertility is now a condition of modernity. This century is likely to be dominated by eugenic thinking. Let us all remember our common humanity.

AR Breivik cites Longman in his manifesto.


Once upon a time the world was full of books. Cheap books, costly books, fat books, thin books, books of history, books of lies. But then it became simpler to disembody the books, to upload their words and images into The Cloud. People began to believe that The Cloud was the answer. The Cloud held all information, all knowledge, all belief. But then the Great Darkness came and The Cloud was gone. All information, all knowledge, all belief vanished. But a story survived that somewhere there were books.

Erica Wagner

Book Publishing
William Skidelsky

The price of a hardback book can be ten times the cost of printing and distribution. What you're really paying for is the "text itself". The publisher pays the author for the right to sell it and then invests in marketing it. People pay top dollar for a hardback to cover the costs.
With no printing costs, ebooks should be cheaper than paper books. But publishers first priced ebooks about the same as physical books. Amazon then drove down prices. Now Amazon has accepted an agency model where publishers set the prices. All is well: ebooks are cheaper than paper books.



Cosmonaut Sergei Volkov conducted a spacewalk on Wednesday alongside the International Space Station.

AR This is a NASA bid for
a new Earth orbital taxi.

B-2 Spirit

The USAF has 20 Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit bombers in service. Total program costs were about $45 billion.

The Bush Legacy
National Memo

According to Congressional Budget Office projections, had the nation maintained the fiscal course the Clinton administration laid out, the national debt would have been retired by 2009.
George W. Bush and the GOP Congress that gave him all he wanted from 2001 to 2007 should be held responsible for the entire $10.6 trillion national debt. And the $1.3 trillion yearly deficit they handed to Obama. And the Wall Street crisis and bank bailouts.

Global Apocalypse

Fears that the U.S. economy was heading into recession and the ongoing crisis in the eurozone have erased $2 trillion of value from world stock markets in the past week.

Swiss banker Peter Bürgler:
"The market sentiment is on apocalypse level. Opinions are resurfacing that the U.S. could possibly slide into a recession."

London banker Matteo Regesta:
"Equities are weak and risk aversion is rising. There seems to be no catalyst in sight that could fade the current market sentiment."

Energy consultant Cameron Hanove: "Traders are fixated on a weakening economy and all the talk of austerity seems to be driving home a message of lower consumption."

Debt Deal
Ethan Ilzetzki, LSE

The United States faced not a debt crisis but a political one. Markets still show an insatiable appetite for U.S. Federal debt. America's "exorbitant privilege" has been on display in full force.

The debt negotiations exposed deep flaws in the U.S. government's decision-making process. Reforms are necessary for the long-run fiscal health of the world's largest economy. This episode has exposed the dysfunction of the American political system.

David Foster Wallace
Janette Beckman
David Foster Wallace

2011 August 4

The United States As Failed State
Spiegel Online

The West used to stand for common goals and values and the dignity of democracy and justice over tyranny and despotism.

The United States is no longer a Western nation. It is governed by a militarist elite, its society is divided, and the nation is losing its democracy. America has drifted away from the West.

American social disintegration is breathtaking. The richest 1% of Americans claim 25% of its total income and own 40% of total wealth. The gap between rich and poor has grown. The greater the disparity between rich and poor, the less the rich will pay for the poor. Cutting taxes and the state is the battle cry in a new American civil war.

America is on the path to banana republic status. Its political culture is broken, the states are disunited, hate has become routine, and reason has been replaced by delusion. The elite controls the masses and channels their passions. The Tea Party is bankrolled by billionaires and promoted by Fox News.

The further the United States falls, the more Europe must stand up for the West.

AR How? Europe can't even stand up to Islam.

Kingdom Tower
Kingdom Holding Company
The Kingdom Tower will be 1 kilometer high and will be located in Saudi Arabia. The world's tallest building will have a Four Seasons hotel, apartments, luxury condominiums, an observatory, 59 elevators and 12 escalators. Billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal confirmed the $1 billion deal with the Saudi bin Laden Group to build Kingdom Tower in the port city of Jeddah.

Islam and Capitalism
Guy Sorman

Income per capita was much higher in the Muslim Middle East than in medieval Europe. Sharia was not overtly hostile to economic progress, but the later Western legal framework was more efficient. Islamic partnerships proved no match for joint-stock companies. Sharia exempted money given to charity from taxation, so merchants set up charities as fronts for commerce. Tax evasion weakened Arab states and the rule of law.

Today, Islamic banks follow the same practices as other banks but describe them differently. Under sharia, a Muslim who breaks with Islam becomes an apostate. With no central theological authority, any imam can deter potential innovators.

The prime enemy of entrepreneurship and the free market is an abusive government. Despotic regimes have dominated Arabs for decades. Military regimes control puppet governments that resist laws limiting state power. Crony capitalism is now the dominant economic arrangement in the Muslim Mideast.

AR I think the hot Mideast sun hinders business more than Islam.

2011 August 3

Google dominates the information economy. The perfect search engine reads your mind and produces the answer you want. The perfect advertising engine shows you the ads you want. Google's business is advertising. Its corporate mascot is a Tyrannosaurus Rex, a terrifying predator.
James Gleick

2011 August 2

The AAA Club
Source: Moody's, Standard & Poor's
AR A shameless illustration of WASP hegemony in GLOBORG

2011 August 1

David Foster Wallace
Adam Kirsch

David Foster Wallace was a collegiate prodigy who achieved fame as the voice of an era. He committed suicide in 2008, at the age of 46. The body of work he left behind is precocious, very uneven, at times immature.

Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on Free Will demonstrates the dramatic inferiority of analytic philosophy to literature as a way of discussing the most existentially urgent problems. Wallace had perfect pitch for all kinds of jargon.

Infinite Jest concerns a movie that is so entertaining it reduces everyone who sees it to a catatonic stupor. Wallace referred to his first drafts as "freewriting," and this term perfectly captures the self-delighting excess of much of Infinite Jest. The novel is itself a literary overdose.

The Pale King is a novel about the IRS. Wallace was grappling with the idea of authority. But he did not seem to recognize that the problem he had discovered was Kant's problem, and that his solution was Kant's solution. The only valid laws are the ones we legislate for ourselves. Wallace had not yet solved the problem of how to write an interesting book about boredom.

Wallace on Wittgenstein

Lightning Gun

The Pentagon sank tens of millions of dollars into remote-controlled lightning guns that it hoped would fry insurgent bombs. Now the remains are being sold on eBay. A buyer discovered that the "Joint Improvised Explosive Device Neutralizers" (JINs) were kluged together from third-rate commercial electronics and controlled by open Wi-Fi signals. San Francisco technologist Cody Oliver: "This is what they were selling to the government? Holy shit."

The New York Times

The New York Times is one of the world's greatest newspapers. Its new online subscription service is working. Last month, the paper announced it had more than doubled the number of paid digital subscribers to about 250 000. Overall, it has over 1 million digital subscribers.

The fact that the Old Gray Lady is making progress in finding a sustainable business model is good news for all of us. Its paywall is reader-friendly. It doesn't put up a firm blockade, as the Times of London has done. Anyone can read a few articles each month for free.

Putin Response
The Times

After a decade of deficit spending as the global economic axis tilted towards China, the United States faces a fundamental shift in its relations with eastern creditor nations.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin accused Americans of living "like parasites off the global economy" and said on hearing of the deal: "Thank God that they had enough common sense and responsibility to make a balanced decision."

Best of Britain: Sandbanks, Poole

"Mohammedanism is a militant and proselytising faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it had vainly struggled, the civilisation of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilisation of ancient Rome."

Winston Churchill, 1899
Berwick, Sect. 2.7

Pakistani Friend
The Times

Faisal Rafique is a Pakistani and former best friend of Anders Behring Breivik.

Breivik says Rafique was a formative influence on his anti-Muslim thought: "Like most Norwegian Pakistanis he felt really torn between the Norwegian community and the Pakistani community ... he resented Norwegians and the Norwegian society ... because it represented the exact opposite of Islamic ways. ... Since then he and his Muslim friends have beaten and harassed several ethnic Norwegians."

Rafique: "I have not met him for the last ten years and I did not imagine he would do that."

The Times

Paul Ray, the former EDL activist and leader of a revived Knights Templar movement, concedes that his Lionheart blog inspired Breivik and his manifesto:
"I am being implicated as his mentor. I definitely could have been his inspiration. It looks like that. He has given me a platform and a profile. But what he did was pure evil."


Ben Macintyre

According to Norwegian national myth, the paperclip was invented by a Norwegian, Johan Vaaler, in 1901. When occupying Nazi banned the wearing of national or royal insignia, students at Oslo University began attaching paperclips to their lapels or button holes. The humble paperclip became a symbol of national unity. Anyone found wearing a paperclip was liable to immediate arrest.

Wild Animals
Financial Times

Police said Breivik told them he had planned and carried out the attacks alone but investigators continued to think he might be part of a broader network.

Norwegian Police University College professor Tore Bjørgo: "He might be involved with like-minded people, but it seems like he was operating completely alone. He seems to be an adherent to the 'leaderless resistance' doctrine, and that makes things like this very difficult to detect."

In his online manifesto, the authenticity of which was confirmed by his lawyer, Breivik wrote: "Muslims must be considered wild animals". He added: "Do not blame the wild animals but rather the multiculturalist ... traitors who allowed these animals to enter our lands."

A senior Norwegian Conservative politician: "He's the first anti-Islamic terrorist ... It's a pan-European, anti-Islamic, anti-elitist movement."

Oslo Atrocity
The New York Times

Breivik's lawyer: "He has said that he believed the actions were atrocious, but that in his head they were necessary. He wanted a change in society and, from his perspective, he needed to force through a revolution. He wished to attack society and the structure of society."

Euro Crisis
European Council

The eurozone leaders have improved Greek debt sustainability, taken measures to stop the risk of contagion, and committed to improve eurozone crisis management. They agreed on a further €109 billion bailout for Greece and to extend loan repayment periods and cut interest rates. They also agreed that all the euro area member states will strictly adhere to the agreed fiscal targets.

AR How agreeable.


Eurozone Break-Up
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

The eurozone can be saved if the leaders of Germany, Austria, Finland, and the Netherlands go for fiscal union and withdraw from EMU. The Greco-Latin bloc can inherit the residual euro and the institutions of monetary union.

The Latin euro would fall sharply, but its states could hope to grow out of debt traps. The alternative is to impose austerity and debt deflation without relief until capital flight forces EMU exit.

HSBC guesses the peripheral euro (EUP) would crash to $0.65 against the dollar and the core euro (EUC) surge to $1.83.

2011 July 31

Foxconn Robots
Spiegel Online

Within the next three years, the Taiwanese electronics company Foxconn plans to introduce a million new industrial robots on its production lines. Foxconn currently employs some 1.2 million people, a million of them in China.

The company manufactures products for such companies as Apple, Hewlett-Packard, and Dell. The clients outsource their production to Foxconn because of its low labor costs. But in 2010 the company hit the headlines for a series of employee suicides blamed on long hours, high pressure, harsh discipline, and low pay. Foxconn made changes. Now its workers can earn up to €240 per month. The robots are intended to reduce costs.

AR GLOBORG here we come.

2011 July 30

European Right Allies With Israel
Spiegel Online

Right-wing populist groups and parties across Europe have begun establishing relations with politicians in Israel.

The Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) political message focuses on extreme skepticism of Muslim immigration. The party is convinced that Europe's future is threatened by high Muslim birth rates and certain that the Christian West must defend itself from Islam.

FPÖ leader Heinz-Christian Strache: "We are seeing great revolutions taking place in the Middle East. But one can't be totally sure that other interests aren't behind them and that, in the end, we might see Islamist theocracies surrounding Israel and in Europe's backyard."

Strache: "We have to warn that we are experiencing the Islamification of Europe. We don't want to become an Islamic society. ... Israel is in danger of being destroyed. Were that to happen, it would also result in Europe losing its foundation."

Ayoob Kara, a parliamentarian with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party: "I am looking for ways to lessen the Islamic influence in the world. I believe that is the true Nazism in this world. I am the partner of everyone who believes in the existence of this war."

Israeli air force colonel and former member of the Knesset Eliezer Cohen: "I'm too old for bullshitting. We hope the right wing wins out in Europe."

AR This is a natural marriage. Islamists will scoff, but the alliance of Israel with Chimerica plus a righteous Europe is the unbeatable core of GLOBORG.

2011 July 29

New Scientist

What is it like to be a bat? Thomas Nagel, New York University, says there is no way of knowing what it is like for a bat to feel like a bat. That is the conundrum of consciousness.

Some neuroscientists think that consciousness is an emergent property of the brain and that once we fully understand the intricate workings of neuronal activity, consciousness will be laid bare. Various brain areas have been found to be active when we are conscious of something and quiet when we are not.

Giuilio Tononi, University of Wisconsin-Madison, says consciousness is the outcome of how complex matter, including the brain, integrates information.

Bernard Baars, Neuroscience Institute, San Diego, California, says most non-conscious experiences are processed in specialised local regions of the brain such as the visual cortex. We only become conscious of this activity when the information is broadcast to a network of neurons called the global workspace.

Anil Seth, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK: "Does global workspace theory really explain consciousness, or just the ability to report about consciousness?"

Thomas Metzinger, Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz, Germany: "it is extremely unlikely that there would be any form of self-consciousness after the physical brain decays."

Some philosophers doubt that explaining consciousness will be that simple. David Chalmers, Australian National University, points to the "hard problem" of consciousness. What is it like to be a bat?

Qassem Suleimani
The Guardian

Iraq, 2008 — U.S. General David Petraeus gets a phone text message: "General Petraeus, you should know that I, Qassem Suleimani, control the policy for Iran with respect to Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, and Afghanistan. And indeed, the ambassador in Baghdad is a Quds Force member. The individual who's going to replace him is a Quds Force member."

Suleimani's reputation has increased in the past three years. His journey to supremacy in Iraq began with the 1979 revolution in Iran. In 2002, he was appointed to command the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards. The Quds Force protects the revolution and now exports its goals to other parts of the Islamic world.

Iraq's former state security minister, Sharwan al-Waeli, was a known ally of Iran. He denied Iran's role in Iraq until he was asked when Suleimani last came to the Green Zone in the heart of Baghdad. Al-Waeli trembled. "You mean Sayed Qassem Suleimani," he said, giving Suleimani an Arabic honorific reserved for the most esteemed of men. He refused to elaborate.

A senior Iraqi MP in Prime Minister Nour al-Maliki's inner circle who regularly meets Suleimani in Iran said the general is "softly spoken and reasonable, very polite. He is simple when you talk to him. You would not know how powerful he is without knowing his background. His power is absolute and no one can challenge this."

Iraq's former national security minister, Mowaffak al-Rubaie: "He is the most powerful man in Iraq without question."

AR Iraq has become a protectorate of Iran. Thanks, Bush 43.
Iran's next target: the Gulf States. Buy shares in KMW.

2011 July 28

Bathroom Pods
Financial Times

Hopkins Architects has cut the time it took to install bathrooms in a new building by a third compared with conventional bathrooms. With their help, Rice University in Houston took only 18 months to build two new student residences containing 108 double bedrooms.

The construction of normal bathrooms involves a series of steps for tiling, plumbing, shelving, and lighting that require custom handwork and must be completed serially.

Hopkins designed a prefabricated bathroom pod with integrated shelving. Off Site Solutions in the UK molded the pod structures out of fiberglass. The floors and walls were shipped to New Jersey and fitted with standard basins, toilets, showers, and light fittings. The assemblies were trucked to Houston and lifted by crane into the residences. The final plumbing and electrical connections completed the job.

AR I recall such pods from Japan in 1981. I want a new one now.

2011 July 27

New Nukes
MIT Technology Review

Terrapower, a startup funded in part by Nathan Myhrvold and Bill Gates, is moving closer to building a new type of nuclear reactor called a traveling wave reactor that runs on unenriched uranium.

In a traveling wave reactor, a small amount of uranium 235 is used to start up the reactor. The neutrons the reactor produces then convert uranium 238 into plutonium 239, which generates the nuclear power. Terrapower says there's enough uranium 238 to power the world for a million years.

In the new design, the reactions occur near the reactor's center. As the innermost fuel rods are used up, a robot takes them out of the center and moves them to the periphery. The other rods are then shuffled toward the center to take the place of the spent fuel.

Terrapower is working on new materials that can withstand use in the reactor core for decades at a time. The steel cladding that contains the fuel in the fuel rods must survive exposure to decades of radiation. The company is using computer models to anticipate how currently available materials would change over time.

The reactor is inherently safe because it has a passive cooling system to prevent a meltdown. The system using molten sodium metal as coolant. Sodium takes much longer to boil than water, but it reacts violently when exposed to air or water.

The Guardian

NATO armed forces have failed twice now to win a war. American, British, French, and other foreign troops are preparing to withdraw from a combat role in Afghanistan, where they spent billions failing to counter an insurgency. Meanwhile, in Libya, the United States, Britain, and France appear to be ready to give up a fight in which they have conducted more than 6,000 strikes.

AR These were both politically hamstrung wars with absurd rules of engagement. If NATO forces fight, they should have both a clear and achievable strategic goal and tactical freedom to execute.

2011 July 26

Right Against Jihad
Spiegel Online

Anders Behring Breivik misunderstood core elements of the RAJ ideology. Bombs and mass murder are not among the tools to use in the effort to free the Western world from Muslims, multiculturalists, and Marxists, say RAJ bloggers. Nationalists and Christians, says one, do not murder children, "certainly not children of their own race."

Breivik is not the sole author of the manifesto "2083 - A European Declaration of Independence" calling for a crusade against Islam in Europe. He copied and pasted hundreds of pages from other right-wing bloggers. Dozens of chapters were published on blogs like Gates of Vienna (GoV) and The Brussels Journal, two of his main sources. Breivik claimed to follow the "Viennese school of thought" (GoV).

Such blogs provide a window into the RAJ scene: pro-Western, pro-American and pro-Israel, but extremely anti-Muslim, aggressively Christian, and hostile to liberals, leftists, multiculturalists, and internationalists. It detests the Nazis but is sympathetic to the U.S. Tea Party movement, to the populist Freedom Party of Austria, to the football fan group known as the Casuals, and to the anti-Muslim English Defence League (EDL).

RAJ activists have cooperated with the Jewish Defense League (JDL). The JDL has even joined EDL demonstrations. Islam is the enemy. A central RAJ tenet is that Muslims are quietly taking over Europe with a demographic Jihad. The RAJ scene is growing rapidly and wants to establish a respectable presence throughout Europe. Members are striving for attention in the media, on the streets, and in parliaments.

Breivik invested years in planning his murders. In his manifesto he wrote: "Creating this compendium has personally cost me a total of €317,000 ... All that, however, is barely noticeable compared to the sacrifices made in relation to the distribution of this book, the actual marketing operation." The murder of 76 people was a "marketing operation."

AR ABB has performed the service of recasting the appalling Jihadi worldview of hatred and conquest in a Nordic mould. Now, with the help of his documentation, members of the political classes can better understand the enemy and prepare Europe against a war of "patriots" versus immigrants before it's too late.

My edition of Book 1 of the Berwick declaration

2011 July 25

Lone Crusader
The Times

Anders Breivik vows to say in court in Oslo why he thinks he has committed no crime. His lawyer said his client felt that "what he has done does not deserve punishment" and that he wants an open hearing "to explain himself".

British police officer will liaise with Norwegian investigators after Breivik claimed membership of a secret society set up in London in 2002 to fight an anti-Muslim crusade. From his manifesto:

"We, the free indigenous peoples of Europe, hereby declare a pre-emptive war on all cultural Marxist/multiculturalist elites of Western Europe ... We are in the process of flagging every single multiculturalist traitor in Western Europe. You will be punished for your treasonous acts against Europe and Europeans."

The Guardian

ABB has been described as a fundamentalist Christian. His ideology has nothing to do with Christianity but is based on an atavistic horror of Muslims and a loathing of leftists and liberals.

He writes that Islam threatens the survival of Europe through what he calls "demographic Jihad" by which Muslims, who cannot live at peace with their neighbours, are conquering Europe.

He says the elite have sold out to "Marxists" who control the universities, the mainstream media, and most political parties.

He links these two grand conspiracies in the "Eurabia" theory, which holds that EU bureaucrats have struck a secret deal to hand over Europe to Islam in exchange for oil.

Mad, Bad, and Dangerous
Boris Johson

Anders Breivik is mad. His manifesto is a preposterous document, with its plan to revive the ancient order of the Knights Templar and liberate Europe of immigrants by 2083.

He has much in common with some recent Islamic suicide bombers. He is disturbed by female emancipation, and thinks women would be better off in the home. He seems to be pretty down on homosexuality. And he believes that his own religious leaders are deeply decadent and have deviated from orthodoxy.

People will say that we are looking at the mirror image of an Islamic terrorist. But I don't think that ideology is really at the heart of the problem. An acquaintance of his from Norway, a fellow called Ulav Andersson, said Breivik "didn't seem opinionated at all". He just became chippy and irritable when some girl he had a crush on jilted him in favour of a man of Pakistani origin.

Anders Breivik killed in the name of Christianity but we don't blame "Christendom". It was all about him, and his feeling of inadequacy in relation to the female sex. The same point can be made (and has been made) about so many of the young Muslim terrorists. Breivik was essentially a narcissist and egomaniac who could not cope with being snubbed.

2011 July 24

This week's Economist introduces me to the Norwegian concept of the madness of great men, a.k.a. stormannsgalskap. I presume it does not apply in this case:

Anders Behring Breivik, the fundamentalist Christian charged with attacks in Oslo that killed at least 92 people, apparently posted a manifesto to the web hours before the attacks, under the English name Andrew Berwick.

2083: A European Declaration of Independence
By Andrew Berwick, London, 2011

The compendium covers the following main topics:
1 The rise of cultural Marxism/multiculturalism in Western Europe
2 Why the Islamisation of Western Europe began
3 The current state of the Western European resistance
4 Solutions for Western Europe and how to move forward
5 Solutions and strategies for all of the political fronts

2011 July 23

New title and subtitle for my autobiography:



2011 July 22

British Libel Law

The News of the World hacking scandal has set off a firestorm. But the journalists could blame the British legal system.

Libel is defined under British law as "the publication of a statement which tends to lower a person in the estimation of right-thinking members of society generally". Anyone of any nationality can sue in British courts if they can prove they have a reputation to defend in the UK. It doesn't matter how many people actually read the statement or how briefly it is public. London has become the libel capital of the world as rich plaintiffs win fat settlements.

So you'd expect British tabloids to think twice before publishing their sleaze. But the exact opposite has happened. Defamation laws in the UK encourage reporters to engage in sneaky tactics so they can prove their claims if necessary.

By contrast, the U.S. First Amendment gives the media the right to publish whatever it sees fit. The burden of proof rests with the plaintiff, who must demonstrate that a story was factually wrong and that it sullied his or her reputation. In Britain, the burden of proof lies with the defendant. The journalist must prove the allegations are true. The plaintiffs don't even have to prove their reputations have been damaged.

Journalists are less concerned with the little guy. It costs upwards of half a million dollars to bring a libel case to court.

AR Memo to Brits: Tear down this law!

2011 July 21

Photonic Neurons
Princeton University

A research collaboration between Princeton University and Lockheed Martin aims to produce photonic neurons that work a billion times faster than neurons in human brains. The new technology could lead to networks that make ultrafast decisions in critical situations or process huge amounts of data at high speed.

Photonic computers would be much faster than electronic ones. In conventional fiber-optic systems, photons carry information over long distances but hand over the bits to electrons for logic processing. Photonic neuronets would process the photons directly. Engineers will use clues from human brains to design the networks.

AR I've been looking forward to photonic neuronets for 20 years.

Quantum Magic
Giorgio Torrieri

Many popular quantum paradoxes stem from a confusion between mathematical formalism and physics. The paradoxes go away once a different formalism is used. Modern developments make quantum mechanics less problematic than it may seem.

2011 July 20

42 years ago today, Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Moon: "A small step for a man, a giant leap for mankind."
<<  Then astronaut Buzz Aldrin left this bootprint.

NASA's Dawn spacecraft is in orbit around the asteroid Vesta.  >>
This NASA image, taken from a distance of 15,000 km, has a resolution of 1.4 km. Vesta is 530 km across and is the second most massive asteroid in the solar system, after Ceres. Dawn's next destination is Ceres, which has a diameter of about 950 km and is classified as a dwarf planet.

2011 July 19

Human Rights

Human rights are the rights humans are due simply by virtue of being human. Aristotelian virtue and natural justice or the Kantian categorical imperative offer philosophical bases for morality. Theories of human needs and human agency provide analytical foundations for the idea of human rights.

Hilary Putnam: "Every human being should experience him/herself as commanded to be available to the neediness, the suffering, the vulnerability of the other person."

In a debate on human rights, the authority that commands us on the religious side is God, while on the secular side it is the human. A turn to the human is no commandment at all. The turn to God puts our actions under his command. There is no meaning to human rights under divine commandment.

Kant: "Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me."

2011 July 18

The Tree of Life

The Tree of Life
Geoffrey O'Brien, The New York Review of Books

Terrence Malick seems determined to turn narrative movies into vehicles for posing unanswerable metaphysical questions. Into the melancholy tale of boy growing up in a family in Texas, Malick has managed to incorporate the creation of the universe, the origins of life on earth, the age of dinosaurs, and the prospect of future dissolution, with musical accompaniment by Berlioz's Requiem Mass.

The natural world competes with human actors for screen presence. The camera is constantly in motion finding out unexpected pathways, moving among swamps and foliage with desperate freedom. Hyperactive editing finds multiple ways to divide scenes into component fragments, to mix up the particles of the world into fresh combinations, to distend or collapse the sense of duration as needed. The Tree of Life was three years in the cutting room.

Malick represents the contemporary world by the corporate towers of Houston, Texas. The towers are the habitat of Sean Penn. The movie can be taken as his memory drama, hinging on the death of a younger brother at nineteen. The remembered grief is conveyed in sharp disjunctive fragments. As in all that follows, the effect is of seeing a memory staged, indelible in the realism of its details but edited and compressed over time.

The time remembered is the 1950s in Waco, Texas. The story concerns the early life of a boy with two brothers, a devoted but unavoidably scary father, and an adored mother. The father, played by Brad Pitt, is a complex memory-portrait put together out of broken slivers. He is a frustrated musician and we hear him playing Bach's Toccata and Fugue in G Minor. Jessica Chastain, as the mother, is an almost wordless presence, a sensual font of unlimited love and emotional permission.

Scenes of childhood are played in brief microscopic clips that merge into dream and distorted recollection. The boy Jack lives through the early storms of rage and guilt and desire with the foreboding of someone to whom something utterly strange and unheard of is happening. This kind of intense evocation of the terrors of childhood is more commonly found in horror movies, but here Malick proposes the existential dread of cosmology. The Tree of Life is an audacious and magnificent movie.

AR Great movie: I saw it July 11 in Heidelberg.

"Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed."

David Foster Wallace
Kenyon, 2005

Book Stats

According to the Google Book Project, throughout modern history, nearly 130 million book titles have been published. The exact number of books, excluding editions with the same text, counted by Google as of August 2010 was 128 864 880.

Over 45 000 fiction books were published in the United States in 2009. On average, about 16% of U.S. books published each year are fiction.

U.S. Accuses Iran
Radio Free Europe

The U.S. Treasury says Iran is a "critical transit point for funding to support Al-Qaeda's activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan" and says it has uncovered a network that "serves as the core pipeline through which Al-Qaeda moves money, facilitators, and operatives from across the Middle East to South Asia."

Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen: "By exposing Iran's secret deal with Al-Qaeda allowing it to funnel funds and operatives through its territory, we are illuminating yet another aspect of Iran's unmatched support for terrorism."



The Society of Americans for National Existence founder David Yerushalmi is hard on Islam:

"Islam was born in violence; it will die that way. Any wish to the contrary is sheer Pollyannaism. The same way the post World War II German youth were taught by their German teachers and political leaders to despise the fascism of their fathers, with strict laws extant still today restricting even speech that casts doubt on the Holocaust, so too must the Muslim youth be taught from the cradle to reject the religion of their forebears."

David Yerushalmi

New Far Right
Financial Times

Experts say ABB typifies a new breed of conservative extremists who have risen across Europe. A senior Norwegian Conservative politician: "He’s representative of a new type of rightwing extremism. Rather than the old neo-Nazis they are pro-Israel and driven by radical anti-Islam."

Breivik frequently lauds fringe groups in his manifesto, including Stop Islamisation of America and Stop Islamisation of Europe, websites such as JihadWatch and Gates of Vienna, and the True Finns. Breivik also talks of his links to and friendship with members of the UK's English Defence League.

From Breivik's manifesto: "The first raindrop marks the coming of a great and unstoppable cultural conservative tidal wave. This tidal wave will release western Europe of cultural Marxism and will result in the banishment of Islam for the third time. Celebrate us, the martyrs of the conservative revolution, for we will soon dine in the kingdom of heaven."

Anders Behring Breivik
Anders Behring Breivik

Euro Empire
Peter Oborne

Yesterday's shambolic and panicky eurozone summit reveals terrifying parallels with the situation that prevailed 80 years ago. The faith of leading European politicians and bankers in monetary union is irrational. The euro bears comparison to the gold standard. The only conceivable salvation for the eurozone is to impose greater fiscal integration among member states.

AR So let's do it.


Greek Debt
Der Spiegel

Eurozone finance ministers agree that Greece's economy is on the verge of collapse.

German Finance Ministry officials are analyzing ways to pare down Greece's debt burden. The European Financial Stability Facility could give Greece the money it needs to buy back its own bonds from banks and insurance companies. Since its bonds are currently trading at less than half their nominal value, this would be a good deal for Greece.

Employees of the EU and the Institute of International Finance are discussing a restructuring of Greek debt.

Japan 3 — USA 1

2011 July 17

Evgeny Morozov

The first browsers came online 20 years ago this August. The founding engineers worked for the U.S. Department of Defense. But the internet was a serious place for doing business. Venture capitalists found the internet appealing. Their disregard for traditional financial performance led to the dot-com bubble.

Most internet enterprises had to build their business around advertising, which meant being subject to the trends of that industry, the most important of which is personalization. Online ads are tailored to the interests of a given user. The logical end of this ever-increasing personalization is of each user having his or her own online experience. This is a far cry from the early vision of the internet as a communal space.

Many internet users think they enjoy free access to cool services, but in reality, they are paying for that access with their privacy. Much of our information-sharing seems trivial, but it can generate insights about individuals and groups that are deeply interesting to most marketers and intelligence agencies. Search engines and social networking sites hold as much power today as newspapers and radio stations did three decades ago.

The utopian vision of the internet as a shared space to maximize communal welfare is a good template to work from. We still have some privacy left and internet companies can still be swayed by smart regulation. But we need a fundamental reconsideration of the internet's civic and aesthetic dimensions.

2011 July 16

Writers write books for reasons that usually have a little to do with money and not as much to do with masochism as you might think. There is real satisfaction in a story deeply told, a case richly argued, a puzzle meticulously untangled. When people say they love writing, they usually mean they love having written.
Bill Keller

2011 July 15

Harald Welzer

A specter is haunting Germany. It's called eco-dictatorship. The greatest eco-sacrifice for a rich German today may be agreeing to wait a year for delivery of a 4.5-liter Porsche Cayenne SUV — but such idiocy cannot go on.

Global energy consumption rose by 5.6% in 2010 and emissions that affect the climate by slightly more. Oil consumption is projected to grow by another third over 2005 levels by 2030. The transformation of durable consumer goods into throwaway goods accelerates and the service life of electronic devices keeps shrinking. Some 40% of food in the United States and 30% in Europe is now thrown away before it's eaten.

Anyone who wants to scale back consumer culture is told that people in emerging economies cannot be denied our standard of living. This response is a transparent effort to legitimize our lifestyle. Protecting privilege has become the main purpose of political activity. A dictatorship of the present at the expense of the future is not a human right.

Der Spiegel

Above: Belarus
Right: Parade, Minsk, July 3
Far right: Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko

The end of the dictatorship is
nigh as thousands protest the Belarusian economic crisis and
are met with violence.

Minsk 2011-07-03
Alexander Lukashenko

The Origins of Political Order
By Francis Fukuyama
Review by Adam Kirsch

Darwin has replaced Hegel as Fukuyama's guide to politics. In his first book, he countered Hobbes with Hegel: the Hobbesian notion that society is grounded in man's fear of violent death was less plausible than the Hegelian view that society arises from man's need to earn recognition from his fellows by dominating them. In the new book, he dismisses Hobbes on Darwinian grounds: "Human sociability is ... hardwired into human nature."

Fukuyama: "In a very long historical perspective, ... the forms of political organization employed by different groups of human beings have varied, and those forms that were more successful ... displaced those that were less successful. ... Strict cultural relativism is at odds with the implications of evolutionary theory."

2011 July 14

Will Germans Destroy the Eurozone?
John Lanchester

The economic crisis in Greece is the biggest thing in Europe since the Balkan wars. The markets are pricing Greek government debt as if it had already defaulted. The 2008 crisis exposed Greece as having an economy based on faked data and cheap credit. The cheap credit dried up. Greece couldn't pay its debts.

The new plan is for Greece to borrow another €120 billion, the debt to be rolled over, the government to introduce further austerity measures and privatizations, and rich Greeks to start paying their taxes. The Greeks are being lent money so they can work very hard for lower wages and higher taxes in order to pay it back at great cost. French and German banks hold most of the debt.

The eurozone needs a more robust institutional structure. The governments established a €750 billion financial stability facility in 2010, but fiscal union and political structures to match the monetary ones are still distant. As for crisis planning, we'll see. If Greece said it was going to leave the euro, every Greek adult would run to the nearest bank and withdraw all their money. That would break every bank in Greece. The government would have no choice but to declare all its debts void.

German interests and PIGS interests are not in alignment. PIGS citizens will spend ten years sweating to earn the tax money to pay back the German banks whose lending fueled their bubbles. This system is sustainable only if German taxpayers are willing to pay for the busts and bailouts that ensue. But Germans are asking why Germans should work until 69 to fund the retirement of Greek public-sector workers who (supposedly) knock off at 55. It's a good question.

The new German attitude could destroy the eurozone. If European monetary policy is run according to German interests, huge structural imbalances will accumulate. Germany has to put the broader European interest on the same level as its own national interest, or the euro is toast.

2011 July 13

The Eurozone
The Economist

The sense of crisis in the euro area is building. The rescues of Greece, Ireland, and Portugal were all designed to buy time and prevent contagion spreading to Italy and Spain. That strategy has failed. Now there are three main possibilities:
1 Greece defaults.
2 The ECB buys more bonds.
3 A form of fiscal union.

AR My vote: 3

Austrian driver Niko Alm has won the right to be shown on his driving license wearing a pasta strainer on his head. After three years of struggle, a psychologist passed him fit to drive. Alm is a pastafarian, a member of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

AR on Neckar boat Neckar view Lady on Neckar boat

Left: AR on Neckar boat
Middle: Neckar view, return trip
Above: Lady on Neckar boat
Images: AR 2011-07-12

From Athens to Rome
Financial Times

Italy pays a premium to borrow over German debt of 3%, a euro-era high, and is €1.6 trillion in debt. European banks with holdings of Greek bonds demanded that the European Union commit to buy back the debt. The IIF proposed vastly expanding the scope of the Greek bailout with billions in taxpayer money to buy up Greek bonds at a discount.

AR What a way to run an empire. Europe needs fiscal discipline, imposed if necessary.

Home of Metal

Birmingham, Home of Metal
2011-06-18 — 2011-09-25

Brummies are celebrating a summer of events titled
Home of Metal in the city and
the surrounding Black Country.
The bill includes an exhibition
of metal memorabilia at the Birmingham Museum.

Pakistani Aid Cut
The New York Times

The Obama administration is suspending or canceling about $800 million in military aid and equipment to the Pakistani military.

AR Deepen the cuts. Demand that Pakistan abandons nuclear weapons. Let the jihadis bloom. Then bomb them.

Better Place
Better Place
A swap station

Polish War Debts
Ben Macintyre
The Times

Poland’s postwar communist regime simply retained and nationalized most property taken by the Nazis. The total value of this expropriated property today is about $60 billion. The Polish government has repeatedly promised to address the issue. Poland must give back what was taken under Nazism, kept under communism, what was promised and never repaid.

AR Property is theft, said Karl Marx. What rich people in Poland appropriated in the decades and centuries before the war was theirs, then, but postwar governments in effect imposed heavy inheritance taxes. You might as well say half of Poland belongs to Germany, who lost it only because a bunch of thugs hijacked the machinery of state for a few years. Water under the bridge, Ben. Relax.


Jack Hill for The Times
Rebel on the road between Ajdabiya and Brega

Old Arms
The Times

The Libyan revolution is backed by the world's most sophisticated air powers but the conflict on the ground is still fought using ancient weapons and ammunition.

Raban Zanussi, 27, a rebel on the front line between Ajdabiya and Brega, holds up his rifle: "It's a British Lee Enfield, passed down to me by my grandfather. It's 200% better than a Kalashnikov and accurate up to 300 yards. But I've only got a tin of 50 rounds, so I don't use it for joking." He took a bullet from the magazine. It is stamped "GB 1940".

2011 July 12

Richard Feynman
Freeman Dyson

Richard Feynman visualized the world with pictures rather than with equations. Other physicists describe the laws of nature with equations. Feynman skipped the equations and wrote down the solutions directly, using his pictures as a guide. Skipping the equations was his greatest contribution to science.

Feynman had the idea that the world has two layers, a classical layer and a quantum layer. Classical means that things are ordinary. Quantum means that things are weird. We live in the classical layer. The pictures that Feynman invented to describe the world are classical pictures of objects moving in the classical layer. Each picture represents a possible history of the classical layer. But the real world of atoms and particles belongs to the quantum layer, which we cannot touch directly.

The primary difference between the classical layer and the quantum layer is that the classical layer deals with facts and the quantum layer deals with probabilities. In situations where classical laws are valid, we can predict the future by observing the past. In situations where quantum laws are valid, we can observe the past but we cannot predict the future. The Feynman pictures only allow us to calculate the probabilities that various alternative futures may happen.

The quantum layer is related to the classical layer in two ways. First, the state of the quantum layer is a combination of every possible history of the classical layer leading up to that state. Each possible classical history is given a quantum amplitude. Second, the quantum amplitude is obtained from the picture of that classical history by following a simple set of rules. The rules are pictorial. The hard part is to add up the sum over histories correctly. Feynman showed that this view of the quantum world allows an exact description of quantum processes in situations where earlier versions of quantum theory had broken down.

Feynman tried to find new laws of nature, but the result of his efforts was in the end to consolidate the existing laws in a new structure. He said nature tells us that both the quantum world and the classical world exist and are real. We do not understand precisely how they fit together.

2011 July 11

Drugs and the Meaning of Life
Sam Harris

Drugs are a means of altering consciousness. I can think of no political right more fundamental than the right to peacefully steward the contents of one's own consciousness. The war on drugs should never have been waged.

All biologically active compounds are drugs and all psychoactive drugs modulate the neurochemistry of the brain. Among psychoactive drugs, we should distinguish psychedelics like psilocybin and LSD from narcotics like tobacco and alcohol. Psychedelics are tools of insight. Most of them work through the serotonin system in the brain, leading to increased neuronal activity in prefrontal cortex. Psychedelics seem to put the material basis of mental and spiritual life beyond doubt.

Psychedelics are a uniquely potent means of altering consciousness. It is impossible to communicate the profundity of psychedelic states to those who have never had such experiences themselves. The guarantee of profound effect is what separates psychedelics from every other method of spiritual inquiry. Ingesting a powerful dose of a psychedelic drug is like strapping oneself to a rocket without a guidance system. One might go somewhere worth going or one might be hurled into states of mind that resemble psychosis.

I have visited both extremes on the psychedelic continuum. The positive experiences were more sublime than I could have ever imagined or than I can now faithfully recall. People come away from such experiences with a sense that our conventional states of consciousness obscure and truncate insights and emotions that are sacred. But my bad trips were the most harrowing hours I have ever suffered. At both ends of the continuum, time dilates in ways that cannot be described.

Drugs like LSD are risky. Meditation can open the mind to similar conscious states less haphazardly.

AR Sam has a good crusade here. This is more exciting than his moral landscape ideas and more sober than his militant atheism.

2011 July 10

A Free Press
Dominic Lawson

One by one the veils are lifted to reveal the intimate parts of the British body politic. If it were a striptease, the customers would be fleeing in disgust. First, it was the financial establishment, when the credit markets crunched in 2008. Then it was members of parliament, whose frequently grotesque personal expenses were suddenly stripped bare. This time it is journalism. Events at the News of the World have confirmed the popular view that your average reporter would sell his own grandmother for a front-page exclusive.

The Bugger
Hugh Grant

In April I bugged a conversation with Paul McMullan, one of two hacks who blew the whistle on phone-hacking at NoW under its former editor Andy Coulson:

PM Coulson knew all about it and regularly ordered it. ...
HG So they all knew?
PM Cameron must have known ...
HG But don't you think that all these prime ministers ... don't want to upset Murdoch?
PM ... it's a policeman ringing up a tabloid reporter and asking him for ten grand ... the police don't particularly want to investigate.
HG But a mobile phone ... it'd be all right to tap that?
PM I'm not sure about that. ...
HG But celebrities you would justify because they're rich?
PM If you don't like it, you've just got to get off the stage.

2011 July 9

Daniel H. Wilson

In the not-too-distant future, robots have made our lives a lot easier: they help clean our kitchens, drive our cars, and fight our wars — until they are turned into efficient murderers by a sentient artificial intelligence buried miles below the surface of Alaska. Robopocalypse is a fast-paced sci-fi thriller that makes a strong case that mindless fun can also be wildly inventive. The war is told as an oral history, assembled from interviews, security camera footage, and first- and secondhand testimonies, similar to Max Brooks' zombie epic World War Z.

"A brilliantly conceived thriller that ... will grip your imagination from the first word to the last, on a wild rip you won't soon forget. What a read ... unlike anything I've read before."
— Clive Cussler

"My goal for Robopocalypse is to depict a terrifying, hyper-realistic future in which our familiar technology has run amuck and then evolved. Toward that end, I found inspiration and guidance by drawing on real-world robotics research."
— Dan Wilson

AR Bang go LIFEBALL and GLOBORG — I go back to square one!

2011 July 8

SS Atlantis
Image credit: NASA TV
Atlantis lifts off for the final space shuttle mission. The NASA
space shuttle era began with the first launch on April 12, 1981.

2011 July 6

Better Place
MIT Technology Review

Next month, Better Place will begin selling electric cars in Israel. The company claims to have solved the biggest challenge to the widespread adoption of electric cars: the batteries are heavy and recharging them takes hours.

Better Place will sell an electric car made by Renault with a range of 100 miles on a charge. For longer trips, the company provides swap stations where a robot system swaps out a depleted battery for a full one in five minutes.

Better Place will have 40 swap stations in Israel by the end of 2011 and a total of 55 soon after. It has also set up about a thousand charging stations, enough for Israel.

Better Place offers a package including a car and three years of driving for $46,000. Other packages include monthly subscription fees. The company says its waiting list and tentative fleet orders cover nearly half the car market for Israel.

Better Place is based in California and was founded in 2007 by former SAP director Shai Agassi.
>> more

2011 July 5

America and Europe
Gideon Rachman, Financial Times

The debt problems in the United States and the European Union reveal a deeper crisis of the West.

On both sides of the Atlantic, much of the economic growth leading up to 2008 was driven by a boom in credit. In the United States it was homeowners and in Europe it was entire countries that borrowed unsustainably. The crash of 2008 triggered a huge rise in public debts. On both sides of the Atlantic, the economic crisis is polarizing politics.

For many years, elites on either side of the Atlantic were convinced that economically, politically, and strategically, the United States and Europe were Mars and Venus. Yet both sides share mounting debt, a weak economy, an increasingly expensive welfare state, fear for the future, and political gridlock.

There are still differences. The dollar has a history but the euro is new. The political division in the European system is between nations, in the United States between parties. In Europe, tax rises are seen as part of a solution. In America, opposition to tax increases is central.

Americans and Europeans have been slow to see the depth of the crisis. Chinese critics of the West see it clearly.

AR The crisis of capitalism is a chronic condition. Too much borrowing and lending makes nonsense of the bean counting. Interest levels, time discounting, risk assessment, financial models, CDOs — all this cooking of the books soon turns the beans to soup. The secret of survival is to enjoy the soup, swallow the bad debt, and start again with fresh beans.

Globalization is the answer. We enrich China and level the playing field, then grow beans in Europe and America with robots for a 24/7 follow-the-sun GO dominion (where GO = U Gn for all n) that organizes Planet Earth into a new form of life:

2011 July 4

Glorious day!
Version 3 done, V4 started

2011 July 3

Leopard tanks
Deutschland ist bereit, Leopard-Kampfpanzer an Saudi-Arabien zu liefern. Laut SPIEGEL billigte der Bundessicherheitsrat letze Woche grundsätzlich den Export. Die Saudis haben Interesse an mehr als 200 Stück auf Basis der neuesten Leopard-Variante, dem Typ 2A7+.

AR Saudis vs. Iran: Gleich in Atomkraft und Elektroautos investieren! Oder mindestens die russische Ölindustrie.

2011 July 1

Spray-on Solar Cells
MIT Technology Review

A research team at the University of Toronto has created the first two-layer solar cell made of quantum dots. The dots can be tuned to absorb different parts of the solar spectrum by varying their size and they can be sprayed onto surfaces. By combining two different types of quantum dots, the cells can be more efficient.

In the two-layer cell, one layer of quantum dots is tuned to capture visible light and the other to capture infrared light. A transition layer made up of four films of transparent metal oxides minimizes electrical resistance between the layers and allows light to pass through them to the bottom cell.

The present cell has an efficiency of 4.2%. The team's goal is to exceed 10% efficiency within five years.

Efficient Solar Cells
MIT Technology Review

The most efficient solar cells typically have several layers of semiconductor materials, each tuned to convert different colors of light into electricity. Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab have now made a single semiconductor that performs almost the same job. In theory, the material could convert nearly half of the energy in sunlight into electricity, and cheaply.

The new semiconductor material is based on gallium arsenide. The researchers modified it so that the energy from more than one photon is used to free an electron. Replacing some of the arsenic atoms in the material with nitrogen atoms creates regions that can hold electrons that have absorbed some energy from low-energy photons while they wait for more energy.

The prototype solar cell is still relatively inefficient. Many of the electrons that have absorbed some energy from low-energy photons don't hold onto it for long enough to absorb more energy.

Concentrated Solar Power
MIT Technology Review

A startup called Solar Junction says its solar cells could bring the price of solar power to below 10 cents per kWh. The cells require fewer layers than many other ultra-efficient solar cells and are better matched to the solar spectrum. They are designed for systems that use mirrors or lenses to concentrate sunlight.

Concentrated photovoltaic systems are limited to very sunny areas, where they compete with solar thermal, which uses mirrors to concentrate sunlight to power steam turbines. Concentrated solar power is held back by the need to find semiconductors that divide the spectrum optimally and have matching crystaline structures.

Solar Junction's semiconductors can convert 41% of the energy in sunlight into electricity. Photovoltaic power at 10 cents per kWh is still far more expensive than fossil fuel power.

Solar photovoltaic tables will charge devices wirelessly


Red China to Red America
Washington Post

Chief of the General Staff of the People's Liberation Army, Chen Bingde, at a joint news conference with visiting U.S. counterpart Admiral Mike Mullen, said: "I know the U.S. is still recovering from the financial crisis. Under such circumstances, it is still spending a lot of money on its military and isn't that placing too much pressure on the taxpayers?"

AR Americans must get used to more of this as they float on a sea of red ink from China.

Laser Cannons
Danger Room

The U.S. Army Robust Electric Laser Initiative aims to mount a 100 kW laser weapon on a truck by 2017.

The U.S. Air Force plans to build a 150 kW continuous wave laser, HELLADS, the High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System, to fit into the forward bomb bay of a B-1B bomber and to begin testing in 2012.

Bet that America's laser-blasting bomber won't be ready much sooner than its laser-blasting truck.

News of the World


Tech Labor Boom
Financial Times

Internet companies are scrambling to find technology specialists. Product designers are in highest demand. Because so many new companies are building software for consumers, interface design skills are at a premium.

Leopard 2A7+
Leopard 2A7+

Das Panzergeschäft
mit Saudi-Arabien

ist vor dem Hintergrund der Aufstände in der arabischen
Welt brisant.


CPC 90

The Communist Party of China
Is 90 Years Old
Financial Times

The Communist Party of China celebrates its 90th birthday on Friday. An exhibition at the site in Shanghai of the 1921 founding of the party tells visitors: "Since British invaders launched the opium war in 1840, the western capitalist powers came one after another to China and China was thus reduced to a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society."

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao was in Britain this week and watched a performance in Stratford-upon-Avon of Hamlet: "It made me wonder whether the foreign friends cherish as keen an interest in China's history and theatre as I have for Shakespeare."