BLOG 2012 Q1

BOSS Verdict
New Scientist

A trillion seconds after the big bang, matter collapsed around dense seeds of dark matter and rebounded to leave ripples that distributed the galaxies.

The Baryon Oscillation Spectroscopic Survey (BOSS) team studied 265,000 galaxies between 4.5 billion and 6.3 billion light years from Earth and found an excess of galaxy pairs separated by 500 million light years. This is the expected result for our models of dark energy.

Einstein Rules OK
The Telegraph

Beth Reid, NASA:
"We already knew that the predictions of general relativity are extremely accurate for distances within the solar system, and now we can say that they are accurate for distances of 100 million light-years."

George Galloway, 57, won the Bradford West by-election for his Respect party, beating the Labour candidate by over 10,000 votes in a swing from Labour of over 36%.

Foto: Der Spiegel
SAP Turns 40
Hasso Plattner

In the software industry, you have to grow very rapidly and very strongly, or you don't stand a chance. Anyone who follows all the daily debates in Germany that are critical of capitalism and growth could come to the conclusion that we Germans don't want to be successful anymore. There are a lot of good things about Germany. We're the land of engineers. But we're also a nation of grumblers.

Today's computers basically still do the same things that they did before. Our job is to continuously adapt them to people's needs. If you're talking with someone who speaks haltingly, slowly and never looks you in the eye, you don't feel at ease. But if you're dealing with somebody who smiles at you, nods and can even complete your half sentences, you feel understood. That's how the computer of the future will be.

Our latest development is an innovative high-performance database for companies, the High-Performance Analytic Appliance, or HANA. We have to be fast enough to be able to deliver in a flash any content, at any time, in any place. That's what HANA and the cloud are all about. It's going to become another world.

AR My team developed HANA.
I wrote the first book about it.

2012 March 31

Afpak Analysis

General John Allen, Commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, described the quality of the Afghan military and police leadership as "mixed." A spike in attacks on NATO forces this year by their supposed allies in Afghan uniforms has led the U.S. military to reinforce protection measures such as a "guardian angel" program where sleeping ISAF soldiers are guarded by fellow soldiers.

CNN National Security Analyst Peter Bergen: "NATO's withdrawal strategy requires a high degree of trust between small numbers of military advisors embedded with much larger units of Afghan troops in order to succeed. This trust has now been eroded to a dangerous degree."

The Taliban engage ISAF forces less frequently and increasingly rely on roadside bombs and suicide attacks. According to ISAF figures, in the last year, insurgent attacks overall have decreased some 22%, but civilian casualties rose to their highest since 2001. There are still vast tracts of the country where neither government forces nor ISAF hold sway.

A forbidding collection of mountainous provinces along the Pakistani border represents a formidable challenge. The Haqqani network is Afghanistan's most capable and potent insurgent group, and they continue to maintain close operational and strategic ties with al-Qaida and their affiliates. Senior U.S. officials accuse elements in Pakistan's military intelligence service of aiding the Haqqanis as a way of ensuring Pakistani influence in Afghanistan.

The strategic dialogue between the U.S. and Pakistan, developed in 2009, is in tatters. Senior Pakistani officers are unyielding in their resentment of American unilateralism and the violations of Pakistani sovereignty and dignity that drone strikes represent. Pakistan continues to provide sanctuary to the Taliban's senior leadership. The Taliban says the atmosphere for negotiations had been soured by the burning of Qurans, the killings in Kandahar, and video of U.S. Marines urinating on Afghan corpses.

There is growing hostility toward the war back home. Support for the war in Afghanistan has fallen to an all-time low in the United States. The Western presence in Afghanistan may be a brief interlude before the remorseless logic of ethnicity and tribe, and the competing interests of neighboring states, reassert themselves. So it was with the British and Soviet occupations in centuries past. Lofty ambitions of reconstruction and democracy have faded.

Bradford Spring
David Aaronovitch

George Galloway has declared the "Bradford Spring" — an "uprising" of the ordinary people against the political establishment.

Bradford West has a Muslim community of about 38%. Galloway's appeal to the Bradford voters in a leaflet began like this: "God KNOWS who is a Muslim. And he KNOWS who is not. Instinctively, so do you. Let me point out to all the Muslim brothers and sisters what I stand for."

His first tweet after the election read: "Long live Iraq. Long live Palestine, free, Arab, dignified." George Galloway may be the first Arab Nationalist to be elected to the British Parliament.

George Galloway
The Independent

"Gorgeous George" says he was "born in an attic in a slum tenement in the Irish quarter of Dundee". He joined the Young Socialists at 13 and at 20 he was a member of the Scottish Labour Executive. By 30 he was general secretary of War on Want. In 1994, he visited Baghdad and was filmed telling Saddam Hussein: "Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability."

Christopher Hitchens said of Galloway: "He looks so much like what he is: a thug and a demagogue, the type of working-class-wideboy-and-proud-of-it who is too used to the expenses account, the cars and the hotels — all cigars and back-slapping. He is a very cheap character and a short-arse."

2012 March 30

Japan Versus North Korea

Japan will shoot down any part of the long-range rocket North Korea plans to launch next month that enters its territory, says Japanese defense minister Naoki Tanaka. Japan will deploy Patriot AC-3 interceptors in Tokyo and on various islands plus three destroyers carrying Aegis SM-3 interceptors in the seas around Japan.

In the United States, the share of state residents who say religion is very important to their daily lives correlates positively with the poverty rate (0.60), negatively with state income levels (-0.56), negatively with the share of state residents that are college grads (-0.55), positively with the share of working class jobs (0.61), and negatively with the share of knowledge workers and professionals (-0.38).

Going Solo
Eric Klinenberg

More people then ever before are living alone. In the UK and the United States, roughly 1 in every 7 adults lives in a solo household. In America, some 18 million women and 14 million men live alone, with over 16 million middle-aged adults between the ages of 35 and 64 and about 11 million older. Young adults between 18 and 34 add more than 5 million, a tenfold increase since 1950. Sweden and Norway lead the world ranking with 47% and 40% of single households. Germany ranks above the UK.

The rise of living alone shapes the growth of cities and economies. Modern welfare states make it possible. More people can afford to live alone and use social media to keep in touch. Young solitaires see living alone as a mark of distinction and success. They invest in personal and professional growth by undertaking solitary projects and working to build networks of friends and contacts. Living alone need not be lonely. Sometimes solos feel lonely and unhappy, but so does everyone else.

2012 March 29

Oil Prices: The Saudi View
Ali Naimi

High international oil prices are bad news. Saudi Arabia is keen to help address the problem. European economic growth is in our national interest.

Saudi Arabia would like to see a lower price. It would like to see a fair and reasonable price that will not hurt the global economic recovery, that will generate a good return for producing nations, and that will attract greater investment in the oil industry.

There is no lack of supply. Saudi Arabia's current capacity is 12.5 million barrels per day, way beyond current demand. We have proved to be a reliable supplier many times in the past. Our inventories in Saudi Arabia and around the world are full.

Oil has powered economic and social progress in Europe and the wider world. It will power the global economy for decades to come, but only if prices are reasonable.

German leaders think that one day renewable energy will be cheaper than fossil fuels

Raptor Ready

The Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor stealth fighter entered service with the U.S. Air Force in 2005. This month, the first squadron of Raptors is at last fully combat-ready with ground-mapping radars and a flexible bomb payload. The F-22 Increment 3.1 adds a mapping function to the radar plus more accurate targeting and the ability to carry eight satellite-guided bombs. A four-ship of Increment 3.1 aircraft can successfully find, fix, track, target, and engage targets in the most challenging of anti-access environments. The total cost per Raptor is almost $400 million.

When God Talks Back
Joan Acocella

Tanya M. Luhrmann is an anthropologist specializing in esoteric faiths. She spent two years at an evangelical church in Chicago and another two years in a congregation in Palo Alto. Both churches were part of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship. She says they take three steps to find God:

1 Train yourself to recognize the evidence of his operation in your life. If a new or strange thought pops into your head, that may be God speaking.

2 Learn to treat God like an intimate. Some Vineyard women had a regular "date night" with Jesus.

3 Develop your heart. Cultivate the emotions appropriate to receiving God's unconditional love.

The Vineyarders seem to have no theology. Luhrmann compares their beliefs to children's thought processes. For some evangelicals, she says, God is not unlike a stuffed Snoopy.

Luhrmann: "The playfulness and paradox of this new religiosity does for Christians what postmodernism, with its doubt-filled, self-aware, playful intellectual style, did for intellectuals. It allows them to waver between the metaphorical and the literal."

When God Talks Back by T. M. Luhrmann

Henry Marsh

It is difficult for brain surgeons not to be materialists. The identity of mind and matter is most apparent for neurosurgeons when we see patients who have suffered damage to the frontal lobes of their brain. If the lives of head-injured patients with frontal brain damage have been saved by emergency brain surgery, we see this as a triumph. But all too often it becomes apparent as time passes that their social and moral nature has been irreversibly damaged.

My work as a neurosurgeon means that I have little choice but to accept that thought is a physical phenomenon, that mind is matter. Certain conclusions follow. Animals are conscious and can suffer as much as we do. There is no human soul and an afterlife is most unlikely. Most religions fail when faced by this central tenet of neuroscience. The inner sense of being and consciousness within us is a great and wonderful mystery.

Brains: The Mind as Matter
Wellcome Collection

2012-03-29 — 2012-06-17

Titanic 3D

Titanic and Avatar director James Cameron resurfaced after plunging to the deepest known point in the world's oceans in his one-man sub Deepsea Challenger. He reached Challenger Deep, almost 11 km below the sea surface in the Mariana Trench.

Vulcan 607
By Rowland White

AR Thrilling novel about the
1982 Falklands bombing raid

Ian McEwan on
Darwin and Einstein

Age of Ignorance
Charles Simic

The ideal citizen of a politically corrupt state, such as the present United States of America, is a gullible dolt unable to tell truth from bullshit. An educated, well-informed population could not be led by the nose by the various vested interests running amok in this country. The pernicious ignorance we confront today is the product of a deliberate effort to manufacture it. People who know nothing and talk nonsense are courted and flattered by politicians and ideologues. The hucksters know that to the ignorant and the bigoted, lies always sound better than truth.

2012 March 28

Oil Shocks
Martin Wolf

Barack Obama: "We are drilling more. We are producing more. But the fact is, producing more oil at home isn't enough to bring gas prices down overnight." That last word should read "period".

Within and across countries, a rise of $10 in the price of oil shifts $320 billion a year from consumers to producers. The 15% rise since December 2011 will shift close to $500 billion.

In the United States, Goldman Sachs notes that the rise will reduce GDP by 0.3% over the first year and lower U.S. household incomes by about 0.5%. For the European Union, IEA chief economist Fatih Birol notes that oil imports will cost 2.8% of GDP at present prices, against an average of 1.7% between 2000 and 2010.

The world remains vulnerable to oil shocks. The best response would be to reduce oil use. Higher prices would help. Why not tax oil imports?

AR This is dire. The oil producers must invest massively in Europe and America to prevent a catastrophe. Can we encourage Gulf Arabs to do that?

Particle-Wave Duality
Ars Technica

Researchers have performed a quantum interference experiment with much larger and more massive molecules than ever before. Thomas Juffmann et al. fired molecules of phthalocyanine and its derivatives at a grating to build up an interference pattern. The researchers reduced the momentum of the molecules to increase their quantum wavelengths by using laser ablation to free the molecules from a thin film in a vacuum chamber.

The molecules were passed through a collimator and then a grating with parallel slits. To reduce interactions between the molecules and the edges of the slits, the grating was coated with silicon nitride. Fluorescence microscopy was used to measure the final positions of the molecules to within 10 nm as they lodged in the fluorescent screen. Over time, the spots accumulated to form the pattern predicted by quantum interference.

AR No surprise here: quantum duality is well confirmed anyway.

2012 March 27

Afpak Nightmare
Gideon Rachman

The western intervention in Afghanistan has failed. Al Qaeda led NATO into Afghanistan, and the killing of Osama bin Laden has given America the closure it needs to withdraw. NATO is now focused entirely on training and equipping the Afghan security forces. Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt: "We will have given 100,000 people training and a gun, and then made them unemployed."

Neighboring Pakistan is in the grip of hysterical anti-Americanism. The regime is cranking up the production of nuclear weapons and distributing them all over the country. The drone strikes on jihadists in the tribal areas of Pakistan have bred a new generation of terrorists.

Freeman Dyson

Science is only a small part of human capability. We gain knowledge of our place in the universe not only from science but also from history, art, and literature. Science is a creative interaction of observation with imagination. The glory of science is to imagine more than we can prove. The fringe is the unexplored territory where truth and fantasy are not yet disentangled.  >> more

Last Rights
Melanie Reid

Because of a religious minority, a few antediluvian pressure groups and the might of modern medicine, we are condemning growing numbers of elderly, terminally ill or disabled people to a terrible lingering twilight rather than a good death in the circumstances of their choosing.

2012 March 26

U.S. Economic Outlook
Larry Summers

Employment has been growing well for some time now. The stock market level is higher, consumers are spending, the housing market is stabilizing, and innovation is driving investment. High oil prices, problems in Europe, and the deficit situation are alarming, but good news in any of these areas could improve forecasts.

The most serious risk to recovery is that policy will shift too quickly from maintaining demand toward fiscal and monetary prudence. Employment remains five million jobs short and GDP close to $1 trillion below potential.

British Competitiveness
Michael Heseltine

Governments encourage enterprise, stimulate investment, and reward success. All governments influence national industrial performance and intervene to help their companies to win.

In the British government in the 1990s, I was told that 40% of our companies were world class; the German equivalent was 60%. When the Chinese Prime Minister left the UK a few months ago he placed orders for £1 billion. A few days later he placed orders for £14 billion in Germany.

We in the UK need to improve our infrastructure, invest in R&D, and think long term. We must be very frank with ourselves about our status in an ever more competitive world.

Abolishing War
Eric Cohen

Stanley Hauerwas says being a Christian means never killing others in war. He thinks American patriotism is a false form of Christian piety in which killing for the nation is killing for God:

"We are fated to kill and be killed because we know no other way to live, but through the forgiveness made possible by the cross of Jesus we are no longer condemned to kill. A people have been created who refuse to resort to the sword, that they and those they love might survive. They seek not to survive, but to live in the light of Christ's resurrection. The sacrifices of war are no longer necessary. We can now live free of the necessity of violence and killing. War and the sacrifices of war have come to an end. War has been abolished."

Hauerwas never tries to imagine what life would be like if we adopted his ethic. If his is the true political theology of Christianity, then Christianity is a form of madness.

AR One fights a war to maintain good order and make a just peace, not to perform a blood sacrifice.

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind
Shunryu Suzuki

After some years we will die. If we just think that it is the end of our life, this will be the wrong understanding. But, on the other hand, if we think that we do not die, this is also wrong. We die, and we do not die. This is the right understanding. Some people may say that our mind or soul exists forever, and it is only our physical body which dies. But this is not exactly right, because both mind and body have their end. But at the same time it is also true that they exist eternally. And even though we say mind and body, they are actually two sides of one coin. This is the right understanding.

AR Zen is good.

2012 March 25

Stay With C, Do Not Go Back To B
The Sunday Times

The Royal Navy expects to get two expensive new aircraft carriers. UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond says installing catapult and arrestor gear (cats and traps) for F-35C jets will cost nearly £2 billion. He wants to switch back to F-35B jump jets, which cost more but need no cats and traps.

The two carriers were ordered in 2007 and designed to fly jump jets. In 2010, the new Conservative government switched to the simpler, cheaper, and more powerful F-35C. Defence Secretary Liam Fox said the C was a "first-division aircraft" like those flown by the American and French navies.

Britain last had a carrier equipped with steam catapults in 1978. New U.S. EMALS (electromagnetic aircraft launch system) "cats and traps" for the British carriers will require expensive crew and pilot training. The first new carrier should sail in 2016 but will fly only helicopters. The second, with cats and traps, should enter service in 2020. Then the first will be mothballed or sold.

The Americans and French agreed with fanfare to set up joint carrier operations with the Royal Navy if it used catapults. The U.S. Navy wants Britain to have a carrier from which it can fly its own jets.

AR I hereby perform a flip-flop. I wanted to see the RN carriers fly jump jets but now I opt for cats and traps. Interoperability with the Americans and the French is paramount. Let any remaining Harrier know-how flow into a new project with fewer distractions than the F-35 saga.

In the Shadow of the Sword
Tom Holland

During the tumultuous early centuries of Islam when the Arabs conquered with an utterly consuming sense of religious certitude whole swathes of the tottering Persian and Roman empires, they composed not a single record of their victories that has survived into the present day. For the first century or more, our only original source is a shred of papyrus from about 740 CE.

The Prophet Muhammad led an army to victory at the battle of Badr in 624 CE and died in Medina in 632 CE. Much of what we think we know about him can be traced back only to a biography written by Ibn Hisham around 800 CE, who discounted many stories then circulating about the Prophet as bogus, irrelevant, or sacrilegious.

Islam was not originally a separate religion from Christianity or Judaism at all. The first Muslims called themselves believers, worshipped the Judeo-Christian God, regarded Moses and Jesus as prophets, and so on. Today's version of the Koran was established in 1924. Before that, there were seven equally valid readings. Much of the Koran derives from the Bible and has been repeatedly revised.

Forty years ago, a cache of ancient Koranic texts was discovered in Yemen. They showed that the Koran had changed markedly over the centuries, and was really, as a German scholar put it, "a cocktail of texts". The Yemeni authorities soon sent the scholars packing and hid away the crumbling manuscripts. Such prickly facts are blasphemously incompatible with devout notions of the Koran.

AR All the more reason to forget the Koran and fold Islam into a unified Goof cult.

2012 March 24

Philip Kitcher

Alex Rosenberg's evangelical scientism rests on three principal ideas:
1 Physics is the whole truth about reality.
2 Darwinian natural selection explains humans.
3 Neuroscience shows us as we really are.

AR Rosenberg has revisited my 2008 Godblogs trinity:
1 Boss (physics)
2 Goof (biology)
3 Susie (neuroscience)

2012 March 23

Simply Baroque!
Mozartsaal, Schloss Schwetzingen
La Folia Barockorchester + Maurice Steger auf Blockflöte
Mr. Corelli in London

A Trilllion And Counting

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter could need more years of work and billions of dollars in unplanned fixes. The trillion-dollar F-35 program was already the most expensive arms program ever. The Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps want to buy 2,500 F-35s and a list of other countries is waiting too.

The JSF software is complicated. The new jet needs nearly 10 million lines of on-board code, compared to 5 million for the F-22 and just 1.5 million for the F/A-18 Super Hornet. The software is taking longer to complete than expected.

So far the Pentagon has always opted to increase the program's budget rather than cut production numbers. That's no longer possible. Air Combat Command: "We cannot simply buy our way out of our problems or shortfalls as we have been able to do in the past."

Australia, Canada, and Japan are already backing off as the price rises. Alternatives include the Super Hornet, an upgraded F-15, the new F-16V, and the European Typhoon, Rafale, and Gripen fighters. Air Combat Command: "We will remain committed to the long-term success of the F-35 program."

AR What's the hurry if the F-15, F-16V, F/A-18, and so on can take up the slack? Take time to get it right, keeping out the Chinese hackers all the while, and maybe it will be worth a trillion dollars.

French Jews
Spiegel Online

More and more French Jews are buying homes in Israel amid fears of rising anti-Semitism in France. Many complain of being harrassed in public and feel the country is no longer a safe place to raise their children. In the wake of the Toulouse attacks, the wave of emigration is only likely to increase.

AR Blame the the Islamists for this. We hate them and they hate Jews.

Memorial and Museum

The grounds and most of the buildings at the Auschwitz and Birkenau sites are open to visitors.
From the spring of 1942 Auschwitz became the largest site for the murder of Jews brought in by train under the Nazi plan for their extermination. More than 1,100,000 men, women, and children lost their lives here.

Barrel Of Oil: $125
Financial Times

Monday: Saudi Arabia is taking steps to cool the overheating global energy market. The Saudi cabinet said the kingdom would work individually and with others to "return oil prices to fair levels" of around $100.

F-35 Lightning 2 B or not 2 B?
The Times

UK defense secretary Philip Hammond and armed forces chiefs are urging PM David Cameron to reverse the 2010 decision to buy the navalized F‑35C version of the Lockheed Martin Lightning 2 fighter for the new British aircraft carriers. The C version would require "cats and traps" (catapults and arrestor systems) on the carriers and push the cost up £2 billion. The chiefs prefer the original plan to buy the F‑35B jump-jet version of the fighter. In 2010, Cameron claimed the F‑35B was a "more expensive and less capable version" of the plane.

Arms Trade


Top 5 Exporters:
USA 30%
Russia 24%
Germany 9%
France 8%
UK 4%

Top 5 Importers:
India 10%
S. Korea 6%
Pakistan 5%
China 5%
Singapore 4%

Global arms trade
2010 total:
US$ 411 billion

AR Buy.

Dodgy Rockers

Rock stars including Sir Mick Jagger and Bob Geldof are among the wealthy who have put almost 100,000 properties worth an estimated £200 billion into offshore companies. The practice is denying Britain more than £1 billion a year in lost tax.

AR Clobber 'em!

2012 March 22

Words Struggle To Survive

Words are competing daily in a Darwinian struggle for survival. An analysis of Google data for over 10 million words used in English, Spanish, and Hebrew over the last two centuries shows that words are competing actors in a system of finite resources. Most recent changes to the vocabulary are due to the extinction of misspelled words and nonsensical print errors, and to the decreased birth rate of new misspelled variations and genuinely new words. Many words with low relative use are dying. Sometimes words are driven to extinction by aggressive competitors. In many cases words died in a competition for a monopoly as a standard name. The marketplace for words waxes and wanes with a global pulse as historical events unfold. Standardization technologies such as dictionaries and spellcheckers shape word evolution.

AR All this is no surprise to believers in the memetic doctrine of Dawkins and Dennett.


Jonah Lehrer aims to explain how creativity works and how you, too, can unlock your own creativity. To explain why letting go is a source of creativity, he says the self-control center of the brain shuts down to clear the path for unfettered self-expression. But this reasoning fails because there is no measurable one-to-one mapping between any brain region and any particular cognitive process. Neuroscience is still far from providing all the answers.

AR The weakness of the brain story is no surprise to the author of Mindworlds.

2012 March 21

China Transition
Martin Wolf

Outgoing Chinese premier Wen Jiabao: "The reform in China has come to a critical stage. Without the success of political structural reform, it is impossible for us to fully institute economic structural reform. The gains we have made in reform and development may be lost, new problems that have cropped up in China's society cannot be fundamentally resolved and such historical tragedy as the Cultural Revolution may happen again."

China is coming to the end of growth driven by rising inputs of labour and capital. It must now move to growth driven by improving skills and technology. China's working age population will peak at one billion in 2015. Cai Fang of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences says that in 2011, "manufacturing enterprises came across unprecedented and universal difficulties in recruiting labour".

China is now a middle-income country and is determined to become a high-income country by 2030. That will take deep reforms. Reducing the investment rate of 50% of GDP to 35% without a deep recession requires an offsetting surge in consumption. China may manage the transition to a different kind of economic growth. The country still has vast potential.

New Scientist

Atheists often see gods and religion as being imposed from above, a bit like a totalitarian regime. But religious belief is more subtle and interesting than that. Religious belief is ingrained into human nature. Without it, we would still be living in the stone age. In the battle between science and religion, religion is much more likely to persist than science. But the truth or otherwise of religion can be treated as a scientific hypothesis. Society is gradually learning to live without religion by finding new ways of binding people together. Only by understanding what religion is and is not can we ever hope to move on.

2012 March 20

Gideon Rachman

China has some difficult political and economic transitions ahead. But there are good precedents. South Korea and Taiwan have both become functioning democracies and consumer societies.

Even a civil war need not prevent China from becoming a superpower. The United States fought a civil war but was the world's largest economy two decades later. Germany and Japan were both defeated and devastated in war but soon regained their prosperity. Those three countries had discovered the formula for a successful industrial economy. China has too.

China is not like the Soviet Union. Soviet inefficiency was disguised because it never competed on world markets, but China does. Nothing can stop a democratic China becoming a superpower.

Gaming Gulf War III
The New York Times

A classified war game of an Israeli attack on Iran forecasts a regional war. General James N. Mattis, whose Central Command covers the Mideast region from North Africa to India, said an Israeli first strike would likely have dire consequences across the region and for U.S. forces there.

The war game, Internal Look, found that the United States was pulled into the conflict after Iranian missiles struck a Navy warship in the Gulf. The United States then retaliated against Iranian nuclear facilities. The gamers judged that the initial Israeli attack set back the Iranian nuclear program by a year but American B-2 bombers and precision missiles would do far more damage. They confirmed that a conflict would be unpredictable and uncontrollable.

Internal Look has long been a major Central Command planning exercise. In the cold war they used it to game a move by the Soviet Union to seize Iranian oil fields. The American plan was to march six Army divisions north through Iran to meet a Soviet attack.

Falklands Update
Andy Beckett

Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, where the sea mists are thick and the winds icy, was established by British settlers in the 1840s on a sunny-side slope down to a deepwater inlet. All around is the bleached or rusting junk of centuries: skeletons of old ships, remains of Victorian farm equipment, the blackened wrecks of Argentinian helicopters.

The Falklands lost its strategic importance in 1914 when the opening of the Panama canal reduced the need for ships to take the Cape Horn route. The island economy reverted to sheep farming and the population of the islands dwindled to barely 1,800. In 1980, Whitehall officials proposed handing the Falklands archipelago to Argentina and then leasing back the islands for a number of years. Margaret Thatcher tried to sell the deal to the islanders but they stalled until 1982, when Argentina finally lost patience.

In the 1982 war, 255 British servicemen were killed, and a greater number of Falklands veterans have since taken their own lives, for a total of almost one for every three islanders. Now, at the Mount Pleasant airbase, the garrison has four Typhoon fighters, an infantry company, and an offshore frigate or destroyer. A Ministry of Defence spokesman: "It's the minimum credible deterrence posture we have down there. Defending the airhead is what it's all about."

2012 March 19

American Capitalism In Crisis
Financial Times

1 The crisis is punishment for Washington's gluttony. Stop taxing and over-regulating the wealth creators and free their animal spirits. Most elected Republican have pledged never to raise taxes.

2 Rekindle demand by fiscal and monetary means until the economy recovers. The Obama administration and mainstream economists fear fiscal austerity might cause another depression.

3 American capitalism was already failing before the 2008 crisis and needs a new foundation. The top one percent of Americans captured 93% of the growth in 2010, up from 65% in 2001. Real incomes stayed flat for the remaining 99%.

Paul Berman

Radical Islamists aim to narrow the limits of what everybody else is allowed to think. They deem apostasy and blasphemy to be capital offenses punishable by death. They want the rest of the world to acknowledge that apostasy and sacrilege against Islam are abominations. Their success is owed in large part to systematic intimidation.

Modern Islamism started with the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The notion of expanding the caliphate to the entire world emerged in the wake of the Rushdie affair. In 1990, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation proposed the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam — everyone shall have the right to express his opinion freely in such manner as would not be contrary to the principles of the Sharia — and campaigned to persuade the UN to make it international law.

The UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance felt that people in the Western countries who expressed anxieties about Islamic extremism were guilty of Islamophobia. The OIC proposed that the UN condemn Islamophobia. Western reactions led to a condemnation of defamation of religions in general.

In 2008, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the State Department instructed their employees to avoid the words "salafi," "wahhabist," "caliphate," and "jihadist" as offensive to Muslims when used by non-Muslims. On the advice of unidentified Muslim consultants, the word "liberty" was also dropped in favor of "progress." That year, the UK Home Secretary also dropped the term "Islamic terrorism" and instead instituted "anti-Islamic activity." In 2009, the U.S. Homeland Security secretary dropped "Islamic terrorism" in favor of "man-made disasters."

Ref: Silenced

2012 March 18

How Creativity Works
Jonah Lehrer

Neuroscientists say the left side of the brain is the logical side. It solves problems in a straightforward, rational way. The right side, usually dormant, flashes into life only if you are stumped. It can pull up old memories and new feelings and give you a sense of divine inspiration. Right-brain thinking seems to dominate creative thought.

Brain waves are given off by electrical currents between the brain's nerve cells. Alpha waves are produced when the brain is relaxed but awake. In a process that has yet to be fully understood, these flood the right brain about eight seconds before an idea pops into the mind. A burst of alpha waves rearranges how the brain views a problem.

Ways to spark your inner muse:
1 Take a walk or a break or lie down
2 Get frustrated
3 Smoke some dope
4 See the color blue
5 Talk to people who know nothing about your work
6 Change jobs or emigrate
7 Feel sad

St. Patrick's Day

Assad Emails
The Guardian

Earlier this year, Mayassa al Thani, the daughter of the emir of Qatar, advised Asma Assad that the family should leave Syria and suggested Doha might offer them exile: "I honestly think that this is a good opportunity to leave and re-start a normal life — it can't be easy on the children, it can't be easy on you!"

How to hide a Syrian tank
(video, 4:06)

Tyrannen-Gattin im

2012 March 16

China No Model
Lifen Zhang

The China model has gained credibility in the west recently. But China became an economic powerhouse by embracing free markets and globalization.

Western leaders view the China model as a formidable rival just as they once admired Joseph Stalin's transformation of the Soviet economy, but their Chinese counterparts know its difficulties. The China model is good at creating national champions, building infrastructure, and responding fast to disasters and downturns. But it fails in accountability, transparency, democratic representation, and the rule of law. China now confronts rampant corruption, rent-seeking, cronyism, nepotism, injustice, inequalities, and social instability.

I once asked a senior advisor to China's leaders if there was nothing Beijing could learn from western-style democracy. His reply: "Voting."

2012 March 15

Nuclear War In Mideast
Ron Rosenbaum

The Israelis do not accept the inevitability of nuclear weapons in the hands of an apocalyptically minded group of theocrats which has repeatedly threatened to annihilate them. Even an incomplete attack that drastically slowed Iranian progress might be preferable to doing nothing.

Some of the mullahs running the Islamic Republic of Iran are reportedly adherents of the apocalyptic strain of Shiite theology that believes a world conflagration is a precondition for the return of the Hidden Imam and the salvific End of Days. Ayatollah Rafsanjani suggested that in a nuclear conflict "the application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel, but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world."

A nuclear cruise missile could turn the mountain now sheltering Iranian nuclear facilities into dust. Israeli military ethicist Moshe Halbetal says the emotional memory of the Holocaust would be a factor in deciding whether to go nuclear first in the face of an existential threat. Go nuclear if the aim was to target weapons and military installations. Israel has at least three subs capable of launching nuclear cruise missiles.

The U.S. intelligence community continues to underestimate Iranian intentions and capabilities. The world lost five years before the International Atomic Energy Agency accused Iran of continuing an enrichment pace that could only have military goals. The Iranians don't need a missile with a warhead for a bomb delivered by truck or ship. All they need for destruction is bomb-grade nuclear fuel.

AR Military logic says use a nuke to counter nukes.

"How can you compare the dishonoring of the Holy Koran with the martyrdom of innocent civilians?
The whole goal of our life is religion."
Mullah Khaliq Dad, Afghanistan

Greg Smith leaves Goldman Sachs and explains how low the vampire squid has sunk

Spiegel Online

The Gulf state of Qatar is roughly the shape of Denmark but a quarter the size and mostly sand. In 1949, its population was about 16,000.
Today Qatar has an annual per-capita income of $98,000. As host of the 2022 World Cup, it will spend at least $150 billion on stadiums, expressways, and a subway system. In the city of Doha, Qatari ruler Emir Hamad Al Thani hosts Hamas and Taliban leaders, U.S. generals, and Muslim Brotherhood theologian Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who preaches via the Qatari TV network Al-Jazeera, the Arabic answer to CNN. The Qatar Investment Authority owns 17% of Volkswagen and 10% of Porsche, and wants to buy a stake in the European aerospace corporation EADS.
But Qatar has less wealth than the United Arab Emirates, which in turn has less than Saudi Arabia. Qatar is a world power in miniature.

AR Car drivers rejoice: we pay for all this.

Top Gear
The Nissan DeltaWing is set to compete at Le Mans in June. Powered by a 300 bhp 1.6 liter turbo engine, the car has half the power of a full-fat Le Mans racer but also half the weight, drag, fuel burn, and tire wear.

A new poll shows that 60%
of Americans think the war in Afghanistan has not been worth the cost. Rick Santorum says U.S. forces may need "to get out sooner" following the weekend shooting spree.

Iron Dome

Israel's portable anti-rocket system Iron Dome can take down mid-range rockets targeted at Israeli cities. First deployed in April 2011 and with a success rate of over 90%, the system counters a serious threat. The Israel Defense Forces say Iron Dome has intercepted 37 rockets fired out of Gaza since Friday.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu: "The Iron Dome system has proven itself very well and we will, of course, see to its expansion in the months and years ahead."

Great British Rot
Theodore Dalrymple

London 2011: 12,699 knife attacks known to the police
(up 13.6% from 2010); 58,160 burglaries (up 8.8%); and
68,754 muggings (up 13%).
Great Britain 2009: about 800,000 domestic burglaries;
of which the police detected
some 67,000 and for which
6,136 people went to prison (average sentence 17 months).

AR Zero tolerance:
Shoot to kill.

Teetotal On Acid
New Scientist

Taking an acid trip can help cure alcoholics. Researchers at the Norway looked at studies on the use of LSD for treating alcoholism from 1966 to 1970. The trials included 536 alcoholic participants, some 325 of whom were given a single dose of LSD. Almost 60% of the people treated with LSD had improved before their first follow-up session, compared with 38% of the controls. They were still doing better six months later.

J. Psychopharmacology
DOI: 10.1177/0269881112439253

2012 March 14

The British Prime Minister
Niall Ferguson

David Cameron is a scion of the British privileged classes. As a Conservative, he identifies strongly with Churchill: "It does still thrill me when I walk in and see the Cabinet Room and think of the days in 1940 when Britain stood alone against Hitler."

Like Churchill, Cameron favors military intervention at times. He pressed for military intervention in Libya last year. He is "immensely frustrated that we can't do more in Syria." On Iran, he is less hawkish: "I count myself a good friend of Israel, but good friends should be candid."

If Cameron is eager to deepen Britain's "special relationship" with the United States, his approach to the European Union is cooler. He sees a “remorseless logic” to the Eurozone predicament: having created a monetary union, they now need a federal fiscal system. But he wants no part of it.

The British economy is in trouble. Tax revenues are down and spending on welfare is up. Cameron's government has raised taxes and is poised to make drastic reductions in public spending. Given Britain's parlous fiscal position, fiscal stimulus was not an option. Cameron wants to boost growth through tax reform.

Cameron is not in Washington to lecture Obama on the costs and benefits of fiscal austerity. The main purpose of this trip is to ensure that they are singing from the same hymn sheet on the Mideast. Churchill would surely have approved.

2012 March 13

An Anglo-American Alliance
Barack Obama and David Cameron

Seven decades ago, as our forces began to turn the tide of World War II, Prime Minister Winston Churchill traveled to Washington to coordinate our joint efforts. The alliance between the United States and Great Britain is a partnership of the heart.

As leading world economies, we are coordinating closely with our G-8 and G-20 partners to put people back to work, sustain the global recovery, stand with our European friends, and curb reckless financial practices.

As the two largest contributors to the international mission in Afghanistan, we're proud of the progress our troops have made.

As members of the international community, we have been united in imposing tough sanctions on the Iranian regime for failing to meet its international obligations.

As two nations that support the human rights and dignity of all people, we stand with citizens across the Middle East and North Africa who are demanding their universal rights.

As two of the world's wealthiest nations, we still believe that there is hardly anything we cannot do.

AR Boilerplate for Barack, dreamworld for David.

Talk To The Taliban
David Miliband

In Afghanistan we are paying the price for the dominance of military tactics over political strategy. Without a change of course, things will get worse. The Afghan government is corrupt and Pakistan is unstable. Now come promises of revenge for the slaughter in Kandahar.

A recent NATO report based on the interrogations of 3,000 Taliban prisoners painted a picture of an insurgency bruised, not vanquished. Many think they are winning. Afghanistan has never been ruled by a strong central government. NATO needs an exit strategy framed around a political settlement.

AR Talking to the Taliban is a waste of time.

Ray Kurzweil Talks To Lev Grossman
Katherine Goldstein

At SXSW, Austin, Texas, Singularity prophet Ray Kurzweil presented a keynote conversation with Time magazine columnist Lev Grossman to discuss the future:

1 Ray says we will begin to think of improving our health and longevity along the same lines as writing computer programs. Genes are essentially software, so we’ll tweak them rather like we update a phone's operating system.

2 Ray says computers will become smarter than us. They have total recall and their understanding of nuance is getting better. We will begin to regard them as sentient beings. But he foresees no showdown. Humans will just team up with computers.

3 Ray says smartphones and computers and so on are getting cheaper and more ubiquitous. That trend will accelerate.


2012 March 12

A Crucifix Is No Burka
Boris Johnson

British Airways worker Nadia Eweida was suspended in 2006 for wearing a tiny little cross round her neck for work. Everyone took her side. BA has a livery based on the Union flag, and it seemed the height of hypocrisy to paint a socking great cross on the tailfin of every plane yet forbid a teensy little crucifix around the neck of an employee.

After about a year of dither, BA caved in and allowed members of staff to wear a discreet religious symbol. But the case is not over. The good lady is neither a religious nutter nor driven by vindictiveness. She just wants the airline to accept that it was wrong, and has taken her case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

The British government is now apparently backing BA's original decision. Another female employee might argue that her deep personal convictions drive her to wear a burka. How could BA forbid a burka but not a cross? It is time for some common sense: there is a world of difference.

The Righteous Mind
Jonathan Rée

Jonathan Haidt is a world leader in the new discipline of cultural psychology, which combines understanding of what goes on inside our heads with an interest in the social meanings that surround us. He says the the mind is not a peaceful realm where reason and consciousness reign but a battlefield of conflicting impulses largely beyond our knowledge and control. It is like a mighty elephant crashing through the forest with a rational rider perched precariously on its back.

Haidt applies his elephant simile to morality and politics: most of our interactions with each other are processed by the elephant rather than the rider, and the elephant is a product of evolution. He develops a theory of moral motivation based on the elephant's taste for care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority, and sanctity. Their various permutations give rise to our innumerable forms of moral impulse. But he ignores the most basic facts of moral philosophy: that we can be tempted to do something we know to be wrong, or that we can yield to temptation and regret it bitterly.

Shaking Hands
The Guardian

If you think shaking hands is a friendly gesture, think again. It is an infection hazard. The World Health Organization says washing hands would probably cut deaths from diarrhea by half. People don't wash their hands properly after going to the toilet, taking the bin out, preparing food, sneezing, using public transport and other mucky activities. The bugs can stay on them for hours and be transferred to surfaces and handles for other people to share.

2012 March 11

Niall Ferguson

The People's Republic of China is poised to become the largest economy in the world. Chinese exports are in every country. Chinese firms are investing all over the world. Chinese students outperform their western contemporaries at the world's best universities. By 2020, China will account for 22% of total global consumption. Should we worry?

In the space of a generation, China has gone from communist equality to American levels of inequality. Hundreds of millions of rural poor are at the mercy of corrupt officials and rapacious land speculators. A few Chinese have become billionaires, but most have to live on miserable wages earned in wretched conditions. More than one in ten of Chinese citizens live on less than $1.50 a day.

China faces severe demographic and environmental problems. As a result of the one-child policy introduced in 1980, there are about 123 male children for every 100 females up to the age of four. Between now and 2050 the number of seniors over 60 will rise to nearly a third of the population. Breakneck industrialization has also brought air laden with lethal particles, lakes and rivers poisoned, drought and soil erosion, and urban sprawl.

Chinese industry craves raw materials. By 2035, China will be using a fifth of all global energy. It accounted for nearly half of global coal consumption in 2009 and consumes large shares of aluminum, copper, nickel, and zinc production. But it faces chronic water shortages. Overseas expansion may be the only way to secure the resources needed to keep the Chinese economic miracle going.

To get a glimpse of what Chinese expansion is like, look at Zambia. The Chinese state owns the main copper mine in Luanshya. China gets the copper, the Zambians get Chinese investment. As the Chinese come to dominate the global economy, they will expect everyone to work as hard as they do, and accept their pay and conditions. Get ready to work as hard as the Chinese, for as little.

AR A horribly plausible prognosis.

Chinks in Western Defenses
The Sunday Times

Chinese spies hacked into computers belonging to BAE Systems to steal vast amounts of data on the F-35 fighter. Officials say the jet's radar capabilities may have been compromised. A BAE executive said that Chinese cyber attacks against BAE had continued for 18 months and had managed to access F‑35 plans. Aviation experts speculate that delays and spiraling costs in the F‑35 program may be due to the cyber theft of technology that has left the jet open to detection and electronic attack.

AR That explains the delay and the costs.

The Joy Of Jihad
Michael J. Totten

Hezbollah is the most formidable non-state army in the world. And it's sworn to Israel's destruction. After Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, Hezbollah transformed itself into a new kind of army. During the 2006 war, Hezbollah forced Israeli ground troops to retreat.

The Party of God's most potent innovation at first was the suicide bomber. Hezbollah now has an enormous rocket arsenal with the power not only to kill civilians in Israel but also to sink Israeli ships and to blow up Merkava tanks. Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah: "The elimination of Israel from existence is inevitable because this is a historical and divine law from which there is no escape."

Hezbollah's cult of death is stronger than ever. The eliminationist rhetoric and dreams of total destruction are taken to heart by those willing to die to kill Jews. Said one fighter: "You cannot understand the joy of jihad unless you are in Hezbollah."

AR Zero tolerance: Kill the PoGs.

2012 March 10

The Art Of Conversation
The Economist

In 44 BCE, the Roman orator Cicero wrote down some rules of conversation:
  1 Speak clearly
  2 Speak easily but not too much
  3 Give others their turn
  4 Do not interrupt
  5 Be courteous
  6 Deal seriously with serious matters, gracefully with lighter ones
  7 Never criticize people behind their backs
  8 Stick to subjects of general interest
  9 Do not talk about yourself
10 Never lose your temper

AR Excellent advice.


The Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot has been developed by the Naval Research Laboratory to help extinguish fires onboard ships and subs.

Scheduled for field tests in 2013, SAFFiR shows off the latest DARPA robotics technology:
Designed to use its robot
limbs like a human
Hands that can tote fire hoses
and throw gas grenades
Understand and respond to
human gestures
Track a person's line of sight
Batteries that last
30 minutes.

Graphic: Naval Research Laboratory

Ziggy Stardust

A plaque marking the spot where David Bowie was photographed for the cover of his 1972 album
The Rise and Fall of
Ziggy Stardust and the
Spiders from Mars

will be unveiled in Heddon Street, off Regent Street, London.

AR Great album,
meant a lot to me.

The Pain of Exclusion
Kipling D. Williams

Our fundamental psychological needs are to belong to one or more groups, to maintain self-esteem, to have a sense of control over our lives, and to believe that our existence has a meaning.

Ostracism threatens all these needs. The brain registers it as physical pain, as a flurry of activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex. Ostracism usually engenders a concerted effort to be included again, though not necessarily by the group that shunned us. We do this by agreeing with, mimicking, obeying, or cooperating with others. We want to fit in, even against our better judgment.

2012 March 9

Watson The Billionaire
Sebastian Mallaby

Citigroup just hired a brilliant consultant called Watson to build out its digital banking. Watson also advises healthcare companies and took top prize last year on the TV show Jeopardy. Watson will soon earn more than $1 billion a year. Not bad for an IBM supercomputer.

Watson is only the start. The era of Big Data is at hand. Human judgment is making way for machine-driven analysis in executive offices. Innovators and programmers are earning more than ever as they leverage the new technologies to create global brands. The big machines will not raise unemployment in the long run. But in the short run displaced workers may be in trouble.

Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen Revisited
The Physics arXiv Blog

Einstein had a problem with "spooky action at a distance" in quantum mechanics. He debated it with Niels Bohr using the EPR paradox of 1935. Imagine a pair of entangled particles described by the same wavefunction. The particles can become widely separated in space, but still a measurement on one immediately applies to the other. Einstein said special relativity made this impossible, so something was wrong in quantum mechanics.

The EPR paradox hung on until 1964, when John Bell described entanglement as a "nonlocal" phenomenon. Entanglement allows a nonlocal influence between particles that does not force classical information to travel faster than light. This resolved the paradox with special relativity.

Hrvoje Nikoli in Croatia now reveals that Einstein first found the paradox in 1930. Einstein challenged the Heisenberg uncertainty relation between energy and time by imagining a box that can be opened and closed quickly and which contains an ensemble of photons. When open, the box emits a single photon at a precise time. This limits the resolution of a measurement of the photon's energy. But the energy can be measured with arbitrary precision by measuring the change of energy of the box when the photon is emitted, which must be equal to the energy of the photon. Einstein inferred that quantum mechanics is inconsistent.

Bohr said that since the measurement of time takes place in a gravitational field, the lapse in time during which the box is open must also depend on the box's position. This is not a good answer, since it presupposes a logical link between quantum mechanics and general relativity that we still lack.

Nikoli says the total energy of the system is constant and governed by a single mathematical entity, even after the photon is emitted. So the box and the photon must be entangled. A measurement on the box immediately influences the photon and vice versa. This is already the EPR paradox.


2012 March 8

Bombs for Israel
The Times

President Obama reportedly offered Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu a deal: he will supply Israel with advanced bunker-busting bombs and long-range tanker planes if it agrees not to attack Iran in 2012.

The Military Balance 2012
International Institute for Strategic Studies

Asian defense spending is likely to exceed that of Europe in 2012. Between 2008 and 2010, defense spending has been reduced in 16 European NATO member states.

The United States, too, has begun to reduce defense spending. A reassessment of policy and strategy indicates a rebalancing towards the Asia-Pacific region. But the USA will remain by far the world's major military power and the only NATO member capable of sustaining large air-sea operations or of projecting substantial ground forces on a global scale for a sustained period.

In 2011, Asian defense spending increased by over 3% in real terms. China's share of regional expenditure is now more than 30%.

AR Russian spending is increasing too. We still need NATO.

Nick Bostrom is pretty sure we're living in a computer simulation and could be deleted

2012 March 7

Global warming on trial: William D. Nordhaus reports

2012 March 6

Lecture on Mideast policy and politics by former U.S. General John P. Abizaid
Deutsch-Amerikanisches Institut, Heidelberg

White House, Monday

President Obama: We do not want to see a nuclear arms race in one of the most volatile regions in the world. We do not want the possibility of a nuclear weapon falling into the hands of terrorists. And we do not want a regime that has been a state sponsor of terrorism being able to feel that it can act even more aggressively or with impunity as a consequence of its nuclear power.

Prime Minister Netanyahu: Israel must have the ability always to defend itself by itself against any threat ... When it comes to Israel's security, Israel has the sovereign right to make its own decisions.

The God Wars
Bryan Appleyard

Neo-atheism is a tripartite belief system:
Atheism — there is no God and religions are deluded
Secularism — exclude religion from the public sphere
Darwinism — science tells the whole truth about us

In the early 1990s, I was engaged in a debate with Dawkins at the World Economic Forum in Davos. He said, to much applause, that the existence of God was a scientific issue.

Alain de Botton on Richard Dawkins: "He stands at the head of what can really be called a cult ... It smacks of a sort of psychological collapse in him, a collapse in those resources of maturity that would keep someone on an even keel. There is what psychoanalysts would call a deep rigidity in him."

After 9/11, Neo-atheism became a full-blooded ideology, informed by four books:
The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
The End of Faith by Sam Harris
Breaking the Spell by Daniel Dennett
God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens
These authors became known as the Four Horsemen.

Religion is not going to go away. It is a natural and legitimate response to the human condition, to human consciousness, and to human ignorance. One of the most striking things revealed by the progress of science has been the revelation of how little we know and how easily what we do know can be overthrown. Neo-atheists demonstrate by their ideological rigidity and savagery that absence of religion does not guarantee that the demonic side of our natures will be eliminated.

AR I must write a manifesto on all this.


The swissRoomBox® can transform your car into a multi-functional home on board.

This compact motorhome setup can be installed in most cars.

An ingenious modular system stowed in the back of your car lets you cook, eat, take a shower, and sleep during your outdoor adventures.

Video demo 2:41

AR Believe it or not, I invented a modular system rather like this when I was about 8 years old. I drew several scale diagrams for my box too, tho I neglected to deposit them with a patent attorney. But of course the real value is in the implementation, not just the idea.

The book ends

Taylor Kitsch and Lynn Collins
in John Carter

John Carter
The Guardian

Andrew Stanton, 46, has earned Pixar more than $1.3 billion. The lead writer on the Toy Story trilogy and writer and director of Finding Nemo and Wall-E is in London to wrap his new movie
John Carter, an adaptation of
the 1912 science fantasy novel
A Princess of Mars
by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
The movie has cost Disney $250 million.

Philip K. Dick

Airbus Cracks Are British
The Times

Wing cracks that have grounded the Airbus 380 are the fault of design engineers at Filton near Bristol. The entire fleet is to be called in for overhaul after cracks of up to 2 mm were found in all 69 aircraft in service. The issue could cost Airbus €100 million in compensation.

The cracks were found as a result of fleet-wide checks after the blowout of a Rolls-Royce engine on a Qantas A380 flight last November. Investigations uncovered serious cracking in brackets in the interior of the wings. The problem is a design and process engineering failure.

British Carrier Confusion
The Guardian

British defense plans are in turmoil again. Last year the government decided to buy the navalized F-35C version of the Lockheed Martin F-35 for its new aircraft carriers. This version is not only cheaper but also has a longer range and greater payload than the vertical-lift F-35B version they originally chose. The change would let French planes land on British carriers, and vice versa, for joint missions. But now the ministry says redesigning the carriers for the F-35C will be too expensive.

The first new carrier will be launched in 2016 and mothballed immediately. The second will first sail in 2020. The pair will cost between £6 billion and £12 billion. The UK will have just six operational F-35s by 2020.


2012 March 5

Obama Versus Netanyahu
Financial Times

Barack Obama meets Benjamin Netanyahu during the annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Israel and America are at odds on Iran and the Palestinian issue. On Iran, Netanyahu wants the United States to destroy the Iranian nuclear facilities, but Obama doubts that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose an existential threat to Israel. On Palestinian statehood, Netanyahu is bound to reject it, but demographic trends will force Greater Israel to limit democracy and hence its own legitimacy.

Can Obama disagree openly with Netanyahu when AIPAC and other groups in the formidable Israel lobby have so much influence?

Colin McGinn

Let us drop the name "philosophy" for the academic discipline. A philosopher is a lover of wisdom, from the Greek. We philosophers value knowledge, but do we love it? And is it wisdom we value? Wisdom means practical wisdom, not scientific understanding. But academic philosophy is a science. The dictionary defines a science as "a systematically organized body of knowledge on any subject". Academic philosophy shares most of the marks of science as commonly understood.

I propose the name "ontics". It emphasizes that our primary concern is the general nature of being. The dictionary defines philosophy as "the study of the fundamental nature of reality, knowledge, and existence". All three cited areas are types of being. We might also say we do ontical science. We can leave the word "philosophy" to those practical sages who tell people how best to live. I hereby launch the Campaign for Renaming Academic Philosophy (CRAP).

Jonah Lehrer

The emotional system may be better suited for difficult cognitive tasks than the conscious brain. The unconscious brain can process vast amounts of information in parallel to analyze large data sets without getting overwhelmed. Every feeling is like a summary of data, a quick encapsulation of all the information processing that we don't have access to. When it comes to making predictions about complex events, this extra information makes the difference between an informed guess and random chance. But subjects only benefit from the effect when they have some knowledge of the subject.

We Are in a Book!

We Are in a Book! is a kid's tale about Gerald the Elephant and Piggie the Pig. Gerald and Piggie are best friends. Gerald is anxious and Piggie is carefree.

Gerald and Piggie are hanging out doing nothing, when Piggie notices that someone is watching them. That someone, Piggie realizes, is you, "a reader!" They couldn't be happier. "We are in a book!" They explode into spasms of joy. Then Piggie asks Gerald if he would like to say a word "before the book ends." "ENDS!?!" Gerald cries. "The book ends?!" Piggie replies that all books end. Gerald is stricken by panic, then existential dread.

We Are in a Book! is freaky in its simple, direct depiction of death. It smacks kids right in the face with that nothingness. It shows how the void awaits us all.

2012 March 4


2012 March 3

Iran, Bombs, Oil
Gal Luft

When U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu next week, gasoline prices will be on his mind. The tension with Iran has pushed crude prices to their highest level since the onset of the Arab Spring. The GOP smells blood.

Obama faces the risk of an Israeli military strike on Iran prior to the November elections. Should such an attack take place, the short-term implications for the global economy could be dire. A war in the Middle East means an oil shock and oil shocks bring recessions.

Obama wants a second term. He may decide to reinvent himself as a war president in the hope that American motorists will view their pain at the pump forgivingly as part of their patriotic duty. Such an option would also defuse Republican criticism that Obama is weak on Iran.

AR Oil spikes — bang goes Europe — I go down (hope not).

Engines Hard Astern!
Wolfgang Kaden

The euro has brought discord and disharmony to Europe. Debts accrued by individual states are being communized, which angers citizens in donor countries. The debtor countries must endure stringent austerity measures and massive cuts in social services and wages, angering their citizens.

Government leaders and central bankers have violated the EU treaties. They have exceeded the limit on annual government deficits and ignored Article 125 of the Lisbon Treaty prohibiting a member state from being liable for the debts of another member state.

The European Central Bank has been buying up sovereign bonds to finance debtor states. In the last three months, the ECB has lent a trillion euros to banks at low interest so that they could purchase sovereign debt. This easy money lets the debtors take on even more debt.

Going back now would mean honoring strict deficit rules and penalizing those who break them, ending the ECB practice of debt financing, and returning responsibility for budget and trade deficits to national governments. It would mean giving in to market forces.

AR Europe doesn't have a reverse gear. No going back. Brace for the iceberg.

Koran Burning
The New York Times

American and Afghan officials investigating the Koran-burning episode that has brought relations between the countries to a new low say that the destruction could have been headed off at several points along a chain of mishaps, poor judgments, and ignored procedures.

American officials insist that no deliberate insult was intended and that military justice and apologies should suffice, while Afghan religious leaders demand public identification and punishment of the offenders as the only way to soothe Afghan outrage over what is seen as unforgivable desecration.

AR Public punishment of Afghan religious leaders who support such a preposterous reaction to the destruction of a few useless books would be more appropriate. How about we each of us burn a Koran to show our contempt for this absurd hoohah?

Killing Babies
The Telegraph

Parents should be allowed to have their newborn babies killed because they are "morally irrelevant" and ending their lives is no different to abortion, say researchers linked to Oxford University.

Dr. Trevor Stammers, director of medical ethics at St. Mary's University College, criticized the term "after-birth abortion" used in the Journal of Medical Ethics article: "This is just verbal manipulation that is not philosophy. I might refer to abortion henceforth as antenatal infanticide."

AR Whatever they call it, it won't go down well in the Bible Belt.

The Exegesis
Los Angeles Review of Books

In the years before his death in 1982, Philip K. Dick produced an 8,000-page opus of theological speculation known as the Exegesis, which editors Pamela Jackson and Jonathan Lethem have culled to less than 1,000 pages.

In the Exegesis, Dick struggled to decipher a series of hallucinatory revelations that commenced in early 1974. Dick had endured a decade of counterculture paranoia spawned by a hermetic hippie lifestyle and punctuated by occasional flirtations with antiwar protest, and became convinced that he was the focus of a conspiracy linking the IRS, the FBI, Soviet agents, left wing American academics, and the hated Nixon administration.

Recovering from oral surgery in February 1974, pumped full of Darvon, lithium, and massive quantities of megavitamins, he began experiencing visual and auditory hallucinations that took the form of a pink laser shooting highly coded information into his opened mind during a series of hypnogogic visitations. He underwent a powerful anamnesis, stimulated by mystical contact with VALIS (Vast Active Living Intelligence System, sometimes also called Zebra or God) that unshackled his genetic memory, permitting him to see through the Black Iron Prison of our world into the macrometasomacosmos, the morphological realm of the Platonic Eidos, in the process revealing himself to be a homoplasmate, an incarnation of the Gnostic Logos subsisting in orthogonal time.

AR What fun! One could go crazy too reading such stuff.

2012 March 2

The Anglosphere
Joel Kotkin and Shashi Parulekar

The Anglosphere — the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand — no longer enjoys the overwhelming global dominance that it once had. Commentators describe it as decadent compared with China. Like Germany in the 1930s or Japan in the 1970s, China has found that centrally directed economic systems can achieve rapid economic growth. But the Anglosphere is still far and away the world's largest economic bloc. It accounts for more than a quarter of global GDP.

Anglosphere countries possess overwhelming military superiority to protect their economic interests. Their economic and military leadership reflects their technological leadership. Almost all the world's leading software, biotechnology, and aerospace firms are concentrated in English-speaking countries. English is the primary global language of business and science and the prevailing tongue in a host of key developing countries. When European businesspeople venture overseas, they speak English.

Adam Gopnik

The Book of Revelation has drama, but Elaine Pagels shows it's actually a coded account of events that were happening at the time it was written. It's a polemic written by an expatriate follower of Jesus who wanted the movement to remain Jewish. John of Patmos hated the pagan world. Yet this worst of all nightmares ends not in terror but in a glorious new world. It's a Hollywood ending.

USAF Can Help Israel Strike Iran
The Times

President Obama has a Pentagon list of military options for a strike against Iran's nuclear sites to discuss with Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu in Washington next week.

U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz mentioned plans for a joint air offensive against Iran. These include American refueling of Israeli jets in midair and American strikes against pillars of the Islamic Republic, including military bases, the Revolutionary Guard, and Ministry of Intelligence and Security installations. General Schwartz said the latest version of the Massive Ordnance Penetrator bomb was now operational.

Washington says it takes the Iranian threat to build a nuclear bomb seriously. General Schwarz did not say whether air power alone could halt Iran's nuclear weapons program.

Muslims in Germany
Spiegel Online

About 20% of Muslims living in Germany are skeptical about integration, shows a German Interior Ministry study. There are an estimated 4 million Muslims in Germany, roughly half of whom have German citizenship. The study is based on telephone interviews with 700 Muslims.

Among Muslims aged 14 to 32, the report says "there exists a subgroup that could be described as strictly religious with strong antipathy to the West, a tendency to accept violence, and no willingness to integrate." German Interior Minister Hans-Peter Friedrich: "Those who reject freedom and democracy have no future here."

Positive spin: The study found that almost 4 in 5 Muslims with German citizenship and over half those without German citizenship have a positive attitude to integration.

Anil Seth

Neuroscientists are unraveling the neural mechanisms of human consciousness. Questions:

1 What are the critical brain regions for consciousness?
The brain contains billions neurons and trillions of connections between them. We think that consciousness depends on a specific network of regions in the cortex and the thalamus.

2 What are the mechanisms of general anesthesia?
General anesthesia causes total loss of consciousness. There is evidence that this involves a disintegration of how different parts of the brain work together.

3 What is the self?
Selfhood is a complex phenomenon. Its different features depend on different brain mechanisms and can be manipulated experimentally.

4 What determines experiences of volition?
The experience of intending and causing our actions is common. A growing consensus sees volition as involving a particular brain network mediating complex decisions between different actions.

5 What is the function of consciousness?
Many cognitive functions can take place in the absence of consciousness. Perhaps consciousness integrates information. Experiences rule out alternatives and thus generate information.

6 How rich is consciousness?
Most evidence about consciousness depends on subjective reports. Other evidence may let us distinguish the brain mechanisms of consciousness from those involved in cognition.

7 Are other animals conscious?
Mammals share much of the neural machinery important for human consciousness. But animal consciousness is unlikely to involve conscious selfhood in the same sense that humans enjoy.

8 Are vegetative patients conscious?
In a "vegetative state", patients' behavior suggests that they are awake but not aware. Brain imaging has revealed that at least some of these patients are conscious.

Anil Seth is co-director of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science, University of Sussex, and chair of ASSC 16, Brighton, July 2-6.

AR This is how to make scientific progress. Colin (Feb 25) take note.

2012 March 1

Eurozone Solution
Guy Verhofstadt

Efforts to overcome the eurozone's sovereign debt crisis add up to more than €1 trillion, yet we are no nearer to a solution than in 2009. If Greece should remain part of the eurozone, then heads of government in the eurozone must accept a common economic policy, a single system of governance, and a common bond market.

A system of eurobonds for the eurozone could be based on an insurance model with a no-claims bonus for states performing well, whereby they would pay lower rates than poorly performing ones, so addressing the problem of moral hazard.

If such a system is only possible once all the elements of a common fiscal policy are in place, then an interim solution is required. A new European Collective Redemption Fund could make €2.3 trillion available to mutualize debt above 60% for countries not in a bailout program. It would be a temporary facility that married discipline with solidarity.

AR Sounds sensible to me.

Brain Drain
Andrew Hamilton

Oxford has just received the most generous gift to humanities students in its 900-year history. The £26 million gift will fund the Mica and Ahmet Ertegun graduate scholarship program for students from all over the world to study at Oxford.

The biggest financial challenge now facing higher education in the UK is how to fund postgraduate study. The United States offers graduate students a government loan scheme to cover their fees and living costs. The UK has no such scheme. A brain drain of excellent students to places where they can get funding is not in the national interest.

AR Andrew is interested in the themes of my book G.O.D. Is Great. I sent him a copy and talked with him about it but he hadn't read it and has still not offered his opinion. I find it hard to recommend that anyone do graduate work at Oxford.

Bloodless Religion
Caspar Melville

Alain de Botton wants to strip the assets of religion and build an atheist temple in the City of London. He sets himself the task of trying to make us all better, happier people and the world a nicer place. His books have sold briskly and he has launched two initiatives: the School of Life, which offers lectures and courses to the well-heeled in search of meaning; and Living Architecture, which offers posh holiday rentals in fine buildings.

De Botton calls his proposals reappropriation, reminding us how many of the apparent innovations of religion were taken over from previous cultures by the rampant colonizers of the monotheistic religions. Hence the atheist temple, art with a moral message, education with a purpose, communal meals, and regular rituals, including the odd orgy. He even wants to steal back the notions of the soul and original sin. "Soul has good common currency and is not strictly associated with the supernatural. ... What original sin is saying is: we are all nuts, we're all flawed, we're all crazy. It's got nothing to do with religion; it's just a useful metaphysical starting point."

This attempt to squat in religion's house without taking on the mortgage will outrage believers, who would deny absolutely that religion makes any sense without God. Despite the attention-grabbing tower and orgy proposals, there is nothing very new here. Trying to remake religion with the bad bits taken out is like joining the Church of England. No mention at all of Islam.

AR Impudent nonsense, doomed to triviality.

The Writer
Tim Parks

In recent decades, people started studying literature and large numbers of them began to write. But ever fewer authors sold ever more books while ever more writers sold ever fewer books. The new task of the writer was not just to deliver a book but to promote himself.

Creative writing courses don't teach students how to write. Such learning may or may not occur. The student is there to show himself to teachers who can help him get published. Most courses now offer classes on approaching agents and publishers and promoting one's work.

The perceived need for an expensive creative writing course to learn to be a writer affords paid employment to those older writers who have trouble making ends meet. Any idea that the publishing culture we have today might produce a credible canon is nonsense.

AR Money may measure value but it cannot define it.

Antarctica reflects the mood of my February

Bloch sphere representation
of a qubit

Brits Are Broke
The Telegraph

UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne: "The British government has run out of money because all the money was spent in the good years. The money and the investment and the jobs need to come from the private sector."

Brits Out
The Times

Britain's contingent of 20,000 troops and their families from Germany is scheduled to be withdrawn by 2020. The Ministry of Defence says the relocation will save £250 million a year.

A small contribution to
cognitive science

Hisaji Hara
A Study of Katia Reading
(2009, detail)

Japanese photographer Hisaji Hara has painstakingly restaged the haunting paintings of adolescent girls by Polish-French artist Balthasar Klossowski de Rola (Balthus)

Michael Hoppen Gallery, London
2012-02-24 — 2012-03-31

"I, Putin"
Spiegel Online

Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin isn't speaking to Hubert Seipel. The interview stalls and the conversation grinds to a halt. It is a scene for Seipel's film Ich, Putin, airing Monday on German television.

Seipel is an experienced political filmmaker and has made dozens of documentaries. Putin, 59, tries to portray himself as fit, vigorous and manly. But Seipel shows a man stubbornly fending off physical decline.

The Big Fight
The Guardian

Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford
Atheist Professor Richard Dawkins versus Christian Archbishop Rowan Williams

Dawkins: The laws of physics have conspired to make the collisions of atoms produce plants, kangaroos, insects, and us. Darwin gives courage to the rest of science that we shall end up understanding literally everything, springing from almost nothing.

Williams: A soul is something that does not cease with death. What it is, I have no idea. A number of images, but no idea.

2012 February 29

Apple Worth $500 Billion
Financial Times

Apple is now the world's most valuable company, valued at $504 billion, or about $90 billion more than ExxonMobil. Apple CEO Tim Cook said the board was "thinking very deeply" about what to do with its cash reserves of some $100 billion.

The last three technology companies that came near $500 billion market capitalization were Microsoft (now worth $266 billion), Intel ($136 billion), and Cisco ($109 billion). Microsoft even surpassed $600 billion in 2000. ExxonMobil and General Electric are the only other companies to pass $500 billion.


IBM physicists at Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York, are advancing the art of computing with squid qubits. An IBM team is researching superconducting loops where current flows in both directions at once, one way for 1 and the other for 0. They implement a qubit on a silicon substrate as an aluminum oxide Josephson junction between two superconducting niobium electrodes. They have kept the system from decohering for as long as 10 to 100 microseconds. They have also built a controlled NOT gate that flips the state of one qubit depending on the state of the other and works with 95% reliability. They are now ready to build multi-qubit systems.

Emotional Style

A new theory traces emotional style to patterns of activity throughout the brain. The prefrontal cortex is the seat of judgment, planning, and other executive functions. Bundles of neurons run between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. The amygdala is involved in negative emotion and distress. The left prefrontal sends inhibitory signals to the amygdala, allowing the brain to bounce back from an upsetting experience.

Mindfulness meditation is an effective tool for changing emotional style. It cultivates greater resilience and faster recovery from setbacks by weakening the chain of associations that keep us obsessing about a setback. It strengthens connections between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. As your thoughts begin to leap from one catastrophe to the next, you can pause, reflect, and step back from the abyss.

What Are Universities For?
Chris Patten

Britain has somehow managed to hang on to its reputation for having the second-best higher education system in the world. This may be partly because of language and because much of the rest of Europe has also underfunded its universities. Germany provided a higher education model for the United States in the 19th century but today there is no German university in the top 50.

The United States spends more than twice as large a proportion of its GDP on higher education as Europe and the UK. Higher education in California is socially inclusive but intellectually hierarchical. With its separation of elite research institutions, undergraduate state universities, and vocational community colleges, it would have provided a good model for Britain.

The German Genius
Andy Ross

Peter Watson has written the best biographical introduction to the glories of post-Enlightenment German history that I have found or can imagine. This is a thick book and dense with facts, but the narrative drive is relentless and the overall conclusion is convincing. Germany has done more than any other nation to shape the modern world we live in, the world in which the United States of America has taken up the flag and continued the long march into a brighter future. If the USA is the modern Rome, Germany is its Greece, its Athens and Sparta rolled into one.

Watson rolls out a pantheon of great Germans for our edification, and an impressive roll call it is. From the early days of Kant and the idealists and Goethe and the romantics, through the middle years of Nietzsche and Wagner, science and industrialization, military prowess and colonial adventures, to the glory days of Einstein and the quantum theorists, Freud and scientific medicine, Heidegger and the existentialists, to the apocalyptic horror of Hitler and the Nazis, and onward through the economic miracle to reunification and a respected place at the heart of the European Union, Germany has been there, done that, and seen it all.

This entire astonishing story is tirelessly chronicled in Watson's magnum opus. He offers potted biographies and assessments of the hundred or more prominent Germans that all educated people should be acquainted with, and sets the tales in a master narrative that takes the reader through a story like no other in the entire history of civilization. The new relevance of the story is that Germany is a lot more than the blighted source of two world wars and a holocaust. Germany was the engine of a hundred years of progress that changed the world and gave America the tools and the opening for its own world hegemony. Now, in a Europe that otherwise looks desolate, Germany is the best hope for renewal.

AR Peter Watson's book

2012 February 28

Turkey Versus Iran
The Atlantic

Soli Ozel, a professor of international relations at Istanbul's Kadir Has University, says Turkey and Iran will continue the elaborate diplomatic games they have played for centuries: "It's all smiles between Turkey and Iran, but that's very typical of the relationship between these two countries, which is competition and cooperation wrapped up in a total lack of trust."

The Human Brain Project

The project will integrate everything we know about the brain into computer models and use them to simulate the working of the brain. Ultimately, it will attempt to simulate the complete human brain.

The project presents a huge challenge for computing. Simulating just one neuron requires the full power of a laptop computer and the human brain has billions. As researchers come closer to simulating the complete human brain they will need ever more powerful computing resources.

2012 February 27

Friedrich to Greece: Jump!
Spiegel Online

German Interior Minister and CSU member Hans-Peter Friedrich says Greece should be encouraged to abandon the euro: "Greece's chances to regenerate itself and become competitive are surely greater outside the monetary union than if it remains in the euro area." The Social Democrats issued a statement saying: "The CSU is completely out of control." Green Party leader Jürgen Trittin said the comments were "absurd" and called on Merkel to restore order in her ranks.

AR Such fun when they have these fights up in Berlin.

Beyond Blue Brain

Henry Markram's proposed Human Brain Project (HBP) is an effort to build a supercomputer simulation that integrates everything known about the human brain, from the structures of ion channels in neural cell membranes up to mechanisms behind consciousness. The HBP is a finalist to win €1 billion as a European Union Flagship initiative.

The computer power required to run such a grand unified theory of the brain would be roughly an exaflop. Given Moore's law, exascale computers could be available by the 2020s. Markram says neuroscientists should get ready for them.

The Blue Brain Project was a prototype for the HBP. The effort has proved that unifying models can serve as repositories for data on cortical structure and function. The team has created the huge ecosystem of infrastructure and software required to make Blue Brain useful to every neuroscientist, says Markram.

Nature 482, 456–458

Future Mobiles

Mobile phones will dominate our lives and invade our privacy. Futurologist Ray Hammond sees new form factors, with fashion spectacles for the visual display, earring studs the audio, and a third device for touch input. Later they will migrate under our skin as Borg implants.

Future devices will protect us from information overload. Mobile voice-based assistants will become our data guardians and learn our personal preferences to tailor and streamline the flow of data we swim in. Users will trade privacy for an enhanced online experience.

Expertmaker CEO Lars Hard: "When we have a large screen, we can browse through large amounts of text, but that's not possible on a mobile device. So we need to bring more brains onto the device, so we can provide more relevant information when needed. ... Today the young generation are almost forced to be glued to a screen to catch up with everything on Facebook because all their friends are putting this pressure on them. But by having more personalization and personal agents that act as proxies for you, you can reduce the time you need to spend on the machine."

Fiksu CEO Micah Adler forecasts that annual app downloads in excess of 100 billion by 2015 will drive a market dominated by Apple and Android. He says the apps will evolve to enhance our existence. Cloud storage and processing will let mobile hardware last longer.

AR All this I said in my 2010 book G.O.D. Is Great.

Turing's Cathedral
The Observer

Alan Turing, 1950: "In attempting to construct such machines we should not be irreverently usurping His power of creating souls, any more than we are in the procreation of children: rather we are, in either case, instruments of His will providing mansions for the souls that He creates."

George Dyson, 2005: "I visited Google's headquarters, and was utterly floored by what I saw. 'We're not scanning all those books to be read by people. We're scanning them to be read by an AI,' an engineer whispered to me. And at that moment, I started thinking, this isn't Turing's mansion, this is Turing's cathedral!"

AR At least the Googlebrain will read my unsold books.

Die Kunst des negativen Denkens
Dr. Klaus-Jürgen Grün
YouTube, 57:53

2012 February 26

Spiegel Online

Thorkil Sonne was the technical director of the Danish communications company TDC. Then a psychologist said his young son had Asperger's syndrome, a mild form of autism. People with Asperger's usually have no problems concentrating and have very good memories, but their inability to relate to others makes them outsiders.

In 2004, Sonne established a company in Copenhagen called Specialisterne. The company hires autistic people and places them in projects, primarily with IT companies, where they analyze software, manage data, and write programs. Sonne ensures that his employees are paid standard industry wages. His long-term goal is to create a million jobs worldwide for "aspies" with autistic spectrum disorders.

Sonne: "I wanted to take advantage of the characteristics that autistic people have, not just for their sake, but also to benefit the economy." He says people with Asperger's can concentrate better and are more precise. They just need a little help with other things.

2012 February 25

Matthew Parris

Arab Spring was always a vainglorious metaphor, encouraging false hopes. There never was an Arab Spring. There's a region of the world whose peoples, since the fall of Byzantium, have twisted and tangled themselves into the most appalling, grisly and intractable mess, periodically exacerbated by intervention from the outside. We in the West may be able to help at the margins. And we will need patience as we watch thousands being slaughtered. But ever since the Crusades our intervention has usually made things worse.

AR Islam is the problem. It glorifies war and encourages brutality.

The Guardian

The Islamic Republic of Iran has accelerated its production of enriched uranium in recent months and stonewalled on evidence of work toward a bomb. Iran has now produced over five tons of low enriched uranium and over 100 kg of uranium enriched to 20%. Enriched further, the stockpile is enough for at least four nuclear warheads.

AR Islam again. Time either to fix it or to consign it to history.

Colin McGinn

Try to imagine a world with no consciousness in it. Now add consciousness. I predict it will seem to you that you have performed a miracle. We can distinguish five positions on consciousness:

1 Eliminativist: The impression that we are conscious is an illusion. Those who maintain that consciousness reduces to brain states eliminate it too. They are sentient beings who claim to be mindless zombies.

2 Dualist: The physical brain and the conscious mind remain distinct entities. But this makes the mind too separate. It precludes intelligible interaction and dependence.

3 Idealist: There is nothing but mind. We merely hallucinate brains. The universe is one vast consciousness. The Big Bang was just the cosmic spirit sneezing. But where did the spirit come from?

4 Panpsychist: Mind is all around us. Even the lowliest of things has a streak of sentience running through it. But there is no evidence of such distribution of consciousness in the material world.

5 Mysterian: I acknowledge that human intelligence is a local, contingent, temporal, practical, and expendable feature of life on Earth. My philosophy has more ignorance in it than knowledge.

AR Amusing but defeatist, as I argued in Mindworlds. Colin is a nice chap but he's no scientist.

2012 February 24

Being Strong
Vladimir Putin

We in Russia will under no circumstances surrender our strategic deterrent capability. We see new wars breaking out and we see international law degraded and eroded. We cannot rely on diplomatic and economic methods alone to resolve conflicts.

We are developing our armed forces and modernizing Russia's defense industry. We will allocate around 23 trillion rubles for defense over the next decade. Russia's military and technical response to the U.S. global missile defense system and its European section will be effective and asymmetrical.

Some people argue that rebuilding our military-industrial complex will saddle the economy with the same burden that bankrupted the Soviet Union. I disagree. The USSR collapsed after it suppressed natural market forces in the economy and disregarded the interests of the people.

The huge resources invested in modernizing our military-industrial complex and re-equipping the army must fuel the engines of modernization in our economy. The objective is to secure Russia's sovereignty, the respect of our partners, and lasting peace.

Gulf War III
Eugene Robinson

The Iranian government wants Iran to dominate the region and seeks to perpetuate its own hold on power. Achieving nuclear capability would serve both these goals. A world with a nuclear-capable Iran would be a more dangerous place, for Israel, for the United States, for Saudi Arabia, and for many other nations. But an Israeli air attack would only delay the nuclear program by a few years. The United States could do a more definitive job, but it would take a massive, sustained bombing campaign of the kind that preceded the Iraq invasion. Are you ready for Gulf War III?

Santorum and Romney
George F. Will

Rick Santorum disdains Barack Obama's environmentalism as phony theology, calls involvement of government in public education anachronistic, says abortion should be illegal even in cases of rape and incest, and declares that the purpose of sex is procreation. But in doing so Santorum has made his Catholicism more central and problematic in this nomination contest than Mitt Romney's Mormonism has been.

The phenomena that trouble Santorum are serious. The use of prenatal testing for search-and-destroy missions against handicapped babies is barbaric. Obama's pursuit of a national curriculum for kindergarten through 12th grade is ill-advised. And no domestic problem is more urgent and intractable than that of family disintegration. More than half of all babies born to women under age 30 are born to unmarried mothers. The resulting social pathologies, related to a constantly renewed cohort of adolescent males without fathers at home, include disorderly neighborhoods, schools that cannot teach, mass incarceration, and the intergenerational transmission of poverty. We do not know how to address this with government policies.

The Republican contest has become a choice between two miscast candidates. Romney cannot convince voters that he understands the difference between business and politics. Santorum is repelling people who want their politics without theology.

AR Politics is about more than business but less than God.

Celebrity Carnival: BRIT Awards 2012




Buy Kindle
edition now

A New Nuclear Bomber
The Times

Pentagon 2013 budget plans include $6.3 billion to develop a new strategic nuclear bomber over the next five years. The bomber will replace the B‑52 Stratofortress and the B‑1 Lancer and B‑2 Spirit bombers. The U.S. Air Force will buy 80 to 100 of the new aircraft, which will be designed to be flown remotely or with a pilot.

AR If I'd managed my life differently, I could have been helping to develop this glorious apocalypse machine.

Adele Adkins, 23, from London won six 2012 Grammy awards. Adele is the first artist since the Beatles to have two top five hits in the singles chart and the album chart at the same time.


 21 is the all-time bestselling digital album in the US and the longest-running #1 album by a female artist in the UK.

2012 February 23

Neutrinos: No Problem?
New Scientist

It may have been a bad GPS connection. CERN neutrinos took 2.4 ms to fly from Geneva to Gran Sasso, Italy, 60 ns earlier than possible at light speed. But a GPS satellite synchronized the clocks at each end, and a loose cable to a GPS receiver might have caused a 60 ns anomaly. Official update tomorrow.

Old Europe
Financial Times

Walter Laqueur says the main question facing the European Union is whether, given its weaknesses, even a united Europe would be able to play a much greater role in world affairs than it does at present. He says the union can no longer hope for a serene future as a prosperous, postmodern, pacific entity that fights climate change, assists economic progress in developing countries, and preaches morality in international relations. A demographic crunch is looming as the surge in non-European immigration and feeble growth together threaten Europe's welfare systems.

Laqueur dismisses the notion that Muslim immigration will turn the continent into a dystopian Eurabia. But he foresees a potential clash of generations as young Europeans, increasingly outnumbered by the old, are condemned to more expensive education, more precarious jobs and less generous pensions: "No one can predict what form protests will take — probably a populist reaction that could turn left as well as towards the authoritarian right and that could see the end of the political parties and the parliamentary system as Europe has known it since the second world war."

2012 February 22

Financial Times

The covenant on fiscal controls is not yet safely ensconced in the eurozone tabernacle. The upcoming French presidential and legislative elections may endanger it. Opinion polls predict a victory for Socialist party presidential candidate François Hollande. He says that if elected he will seek to renegotiate the fiscal pact because it neglects economic growth. German chancellor Angela Merkel is supporting Nicolas Sarkozy. But he says that if re-elected he would put the fiscal accord to a referendum. Modern French history suggests the outcome would not be assured. When French voters were asked in 1992 to approve the Maastricht treaty they did so by a tiny margin, and in 2005 they rejected the draft EU constitution. French developments in the coming months will be critical for stability in Europe.

2012 February 21

Greece Gets €130 Billion
Financial Times

Eurozone finance ministers reached a €130 billion second bailout for Greece after forcing private holders of Greek bonds to take a "voluntary" haircut of 53.5%.

AR This is money down the drain unless or until we can put the Greek economy back into shape and get rid of tax dodgers and welfare bums.

Religion for Atheists
John Gray

Alain de Botton shows why atheists should be friendly to religion. The core of most religions has always been holding to a way of life rather than subscribing to a list of doctrines. Religions are human creations. The ones that survive are those that have evolved to serve enduring human needs. We can be sure the world's traditional religions will be alive and well when evangelical atheism is dead and gone.

AR Evangelical atheism is a proper response to the idiocies of Biblical fundamentalists.

2012 February 20

Iran Policy
Edward Luce

Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson is also an Israeli press magnate and a friend of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Adelson is committed to supporting the Republican presidential nominee and has clear views on Iran. Mitt Romney: "If Obama is re-elected, Iran will get a nuclear weapon. If you elect me, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon." Netanyahu visits Washington in early March. Obama has assembled the toughest sanctions ever against Iran but few can imagine him ordering a strike on its nuclear facilities.

Greek Democracy
Wolfgang Münchau

The eurozone wants to impose its choice of government on Greece. Otherwise, a new Greek government and a new parliament could unilaterally change the agreement. Greece has a poor record of implementing policies it has agreed to.

The German constitutional court ruled recently that parliament's sovereignty was absolute, that parliament must not permanently transfer sovereignty to outside institutions, and that one parliament must never constrain the freedoms of its successor. The proposal to postpone Greek elections seems to be a provocation intended to force Greece out of the eurozone.

The situation highlights the political vulnerability of the current eurozone rescue strategy. If you want to shift hundreds of billions of euros around, you need a federal system to prevent international conflicts like that between Germany and Greece.

AR Democracy needs limits: people don't always understand what they're voting for.

One-Atom Transistor
The New York Times

Physicists have built a working transistor from a single phosphorus atom embedded in a silicon crystal. The physicists, from the University of New South Wales in Australia and Purdue University in Indiana, say the work may lead to quantum computers that are much faster and more compact than today's machines.

Tiny transistor (2:52)

AR Great work: Oz is the place to be for quantum computing.

2012 February 19

Iran Update
The Times

The International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna says Iran is ready to install thousands of new-generation centrifuges in the underground Fordo uranium enrichment facility.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague warned that Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons could lead to a "new cold war" even deeper than that between the West and USSR. He said "all options must remain on the table" in dealing with the Iranian regime: "If they obtain nuclear weapons capability, then other nations across the Middle East will want to develop nuclear weapons. ... We are very clear to all concerned that we are not advocating military action."

Iran seems determined to continue its nuclear program despite sanctions. Its centrifuges are now producing more enriched uranium than its civil reactor could ever need.

2012 February 18

Ball  der Vampire
Stadthalle Heidelberg

John Simon

Philosophy is in a bad way. In The Virtues of Our Vices, Emrys Westacott defends five bad habits. His book has different kinds of print for headings and numbered examples. It is written in a civilized and accessible style. It is not the work of someone inhabiting an ivory tower. Professor Westacott adduces every conceivable example of, say, rudeness or snobbery, each with elaborate explanations, along with further subcategories. The style is breezy and the book is pleasantly readable. But the book is proof of how nugatory philosophy has become in the modern world.

2012 February 17

Attacking Iran
The Guardian

Officials in the Obama administration increasingly believe that the United States will either attack Iran or watch Israel do so. They believe sanctions are doomed to fail and good only for delaying Israeli military action and for reassuring Europe that an attack will only come as a last resort.

Obama is unlikely to order an attack on Iran before the presidential election in November. But the Israelis may not hold back that long. Defense secretary Leon Panetta says the window for an Israeli attack is between April and June. Other analysts suggest September or October.

American officials are resigned to the fact that the United States will be seen in much of the world as a partner in any Israeli assault on Iran. The administration will then have to decide whether to pile on its much greater firepower to finish what Israel starts.

The White House has pressed Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to cool it on Iran. Netanyahu might consider the height of the U.S. election campaign the ideal time to attack Iran. Republican presidential contenders want a hard line against Iran and strong support for Israel.

Khamenei's Plan for Victory
Amir Taheri

The Islamic Republic of Iran is on the warpath. Spiritual leader Ali Khamenei is being called Imam Khamenei. He is preparing to abolish the presidency and turn Iran into an imamate.

Khamenei: "Like the joyful springtime, our message has reached North Africa, the Arab countries and the world of Islam. In this historic movement, Islam has reached a decisive moment. The new generation will witness events that will fundamentally alter the world and wipe out arrogant materialist powers."

To win, Khamenei plans to:

1 Push ahead with the nuclear program. Accept no compromise over the project to enrich uranium far enough for nuclear warheads.

2 Ban oil exports to six European countries. Threaten to close the Strait of Hormuz and stop the flow of oil from the Gulf.

3 Win a limited war with the United States. Americans are too divided and too concerned about the global economy to launch a full-scale war against Iran.

A limited war would destroy many nuclear sites. But Tehran has transferred most of its enrichment activities to a more secure facility in the Fordo mountains. A war may also destroy some Revolutionary Guard bases. But then Khamenei could claim to have fought the Great Satan and survived.

Like the Prophet Muhammad, Khamenei aims to win great victories for Islam. He believes that rather than waiting for the worst to happen, the good Shi'ite should provoke it. He wants war.

The Quiet Germans
Quentin Peel

Germany is the economic leader of the European Union. Now political leadership is being thrust upon it. When German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble expressed concern that the political parties in Athens might fail to carry through the proposed reform and austerity program, he wanted to reassure German taxpayers they were not pouring their money into a bottomless pit.

Postwar Germany is a federal republic. The system produces coalition governments dominated by lawyers who believe in rules and in respect for the law. It makes for a confusing mixture of compromise and inflexibility. Chancellor Merkel dominates the European Council by mastering her brief better than anyone else at the table. The idea of sending a Sparkommissar to run the Greek budget may have insulted some Greeks, but it's not their money.

AR EU Task Force head Horst Reichenbach should run the Greek budget.

2012 February 16

Rainbow Coalition
The Times

Speaking at Lambeth Palace, the London home of the Archbishop of Canterbury, HRH Queen Elizabeth II spoke about the Church of England: "Its role is not to defend Anglicanism to the exclusion of other religions. Instead, the Church has a duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country."

Nine religious traditions were represented in the room: Baha'is, Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Zoroastrians, and Christians.

AR What is faith and what is reasonable practice thereof?

Suzanne Moore

Poor people are a different species. Their poverty is a personal failing. They have let themselves go. In the United States people are living in tents or underground in drains. These ugly people are the downside of the American dream. You have to be hard to cheerlead for the rich while millions live in poverty.

The idea that the poor must help themselves as social mobility grinds to a halt is illogical. Yet it is all that has trickled down from the wealthy. The answer to poverty, they say, lies with the poor themselves. We will give them bailouts and lectures on enterprise. The economy of empathy has crashed.

AR Gott 9.0 ist da!

2012 February 15

The Top Five Regrets of the Dying
Bronnie Ware

1 I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
2 I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
3 I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
4 I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
5 I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Iran Will Talk
Dennis B. Ross

Iran is more isolated than ever. The regional balance of power is shifting against Tehran. Iran cannot do business with any reputable international bank or insure its ships or find energy investors for the $100 billion needed to revitalize its aging infrastructure.

The Obama administration has created a situation in which diplomacy can work. Israel worries that it could lose its military option, but now crippling sanctions have been applied Israel is more likely to wait for them to work. Iran is now signaling that it is interested in diplomacy.

Mocking Religion
Daniel Finkelstein

For many people, religious observance is fragile, open to doubt, frequently departed from, loaded with inconsistency, but still inestimably valuable. To launch an assault on this in the name of liberalism is perfectly logical but ultimately in its impact illiberal. It is a destructive act, mowing down ancient practices and flattening institutions with a remorseless logic that has no place for sentiment, spirit or tradition.

Through thousands of years Judaism has sustained the Jewish people. In the concentration camps, when the evidence that there was no supernatural God must have overwhelmed them, and where religious ceremonies could result in execution, still the Jews prayed together. There is a reason for this. And one of the great challenges and delights of life is to try to work out what it is.

Religion Under Threat
Julian Baggini

Lady Warsi speaks of her fear that "a militant secularization is taking hold of our societies". Warsi is taking this message to the pope, who has also railed against "aggressive forms of secularism".

Christianity has always thrived on persecution, but the extremity of the language tells us that something has gone wrong with secularism in Britain. Secularism is not a comprehensive project to sweep religion out of public life altogether.

The philosopher John Rawls was clear that the religious have no obligation at all to keep their faith entirely to themselves: "Reasonable comprehensive doctrines, religious or non-religious, may be introduced in public political discussion at any time provided that in due course proper political reasons – and not reasons given solely by comprehensive doctrines – are presented that are sufficient to support whatever the comprehensive doctrines are said to support."

Secularism is a specific principle about the workings of public and political institutions. The neutrality of the state has to be fiercely defended when it comes to legislation and key institutions. But to try to use the Human Rights Act to stop prayers at a meeting is overkill.

Vatican Applauds Warsi
The Guardian

Lady Warsi was given a rapturous reception at the Vatican with her call to fight "intolerant secularism" and "give faith a seat at the table" in the UK.

Dawkins On Faith
The Telegraph

The Reverend Giles Fraser, former canon of St Paul's Cathedral, debated with militant atheist Richard Dawkins on public radio. The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science had issued new statistics purporting to show that most people who identify themselves as Christian turn out, as Dawkins said, to be "overwhelmingly secular in their attitudes" and "not really Christian at all". With mounting incredulity, he said an "astonishing number" of Christians couldn't even name the first book in the New Testament. The rest is worth quoting verbatim:

Fraser: Richard, if I said to you what is the full title of The Origin Of Species, I'm sure you could tell me that.

Dawkins: Yes I could.

Fraser: Go on then.

Dawkins: On the Origin of Species ... uh ... With, oh, God, On the Origin of Species. There is a subtitle with respect to the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.

AR Herrlich!

2012 St. Valentine's Day

Darrin M. McMahon

In his screenplay Symposium, Plato reports on a gathering hosted by Agathon and attended by Socrates. The subject of their discussion was the nature of Eros, the god of desire. Agathon says that all the gods are happy but Eros is the happiest, since he is the most beautiful and the best.

Pausanias says Eros must be divided in two as Common Eros and Heavenly Eros, the one a seedy creature drawn by sexual appetite and so depraved that he will even sleep with women, the other a more transcendent being attracted by mind as well as beauty, who finds his consummate expression in the higher love between boys and older men.

AR How times change. Educating and promoting women until they were worth having sex with was the historic answer here. Go tell the Taliban, if you can unplug them from their sheep.

Germany Faces Doomsday Machine
Gideon Rachman

An Italian newspaper links the euro crisis to Auschwitz and says that Germany has turned the single currency into a weapon. The Greek papers are filled with references to Nazis. Across southern Europe, the "ugly German" is back.

At the recent WEF in Davos, IMF head Christine Lagarde, US Treasury secretary Tim Geithner, and British PM David Cameron all said Germany has to pay up. They urge three main policies on Germany:
1 Commit more money to a firewall big enough to impress the markets.
2 Commit to eurobonds and share the national debts of the eurozone.
3 Stimulate German consumption to absorb southern European goods.

This is unfair. It ignores how much Germany has already done for southern Europe. New financial commitments would risk economic and political disaster back in Germany.

German officials shrug off the insults, but behind the scenes there is deep foreboding. One said: "We have invented a machine from hell that we cannot turn off."

NASA 2013

President Obama's 2013 budget, released today, asks for modest increases for some federal science agencies but trims NASA funding to $17.7 billion, projected stay flat through 2017, despite inflation.

Planetary science is the biggest loser, with $309 million less than last year. NASA will not be able to maintain previous commitments to the European Space Agency for dual Mars missions in 2016 and 2018. There is no funding for a new mission to study the moons of Jupiter or a Uranus orbiter. The Cassini spacecraft currently exploring Saturn and its moons may also suffer. But manned exploration gets a boost of $200 million, including $2.8 billion for a new heavy-lift booster to take astronauts into orbit.

The James Webb Space Telescope gets $627 million, a big increase over last year. This mission will require continued funding until its launch in October 2018.

AR Would be better to trim the military budget more to keep NASA busy.

Muslim Backs Christians
The Guardian

Lady Warsi will lead an official British visit to the pope and call for more Christianity in public life:

"My fear is that, today, militant secularization is taking hold of our societies. We see it in a number of things: when signs of religion cannot be displayed or worn in government buildings, and where religion is sidelined and downgraded in the public sphere. For me one of the most worrying aspects about this militant secularization is that at its core and in its instincts it is deeply intolerant. It demonstrates similar traits to totalitarian regimes — denying people the right to a religious identity because they were frightened of the concept of multiple identities."

Lady Warsi is the Tory party chairman and the first female Muslim to serve in the British government.

AR Perhaps Cameron was right to back her after all (blog 2011-01-20).

2012 February 13

Ordered Gott 9.0

2012 February 12

Iranian Iconoclast
The Times

In a speech marking the 33rd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, President Ahmadinejad said in a reference to Syria that countries that had never held free elections were trying to write "a prescription for freedom and elections for others" with the help of the United States: "That is the most bitter and ridiculous joke of history."

Ahmadinejad: "The Iranian nation has smashed a new and modern idol. The world arrogance (the United States) and colonialists (the West), in order to dominate the world, created an idol called the Zionist regime (Israel). The spirit of this idol was a story called the Holocaust. The Iranian nation with courage and wisdom smashed this idol to free the people of the West (of its hold)."

AR The Ahmadinejad regime is an abomination.

Whitney Houston: "My business is sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. I partied my tail off."

Samuel Aranda
World Press Photo
2011 prizewinner

State Capitalism
Niall Ferguson

China is a state capitalist power. The government uses companies to manage strategic resources, create jobs, and dominate certain sectors. China creates wealth for political purposes. But consider the facts. Government spending represents 23% of GDP in China, 48% in Germany, and 44% in the United States. Government purchases of goods and services are 18% of GDP in Germany, 17% in the United States, and 13% in China. We all agree that the state has a role to play in economic life. The challenge is to strike the right balance between public and private.

Top Gun
The Times

Prince Harry is now a qualified Apache helicopter gunship commander and Top Gun of his class. The Apache is armed with Hellfire missiles and a rotary cannon. Captain Wales is hoping for a second tour of duty in Afghanistan to hunt Taliban.

Conflict and Security

Royal Society Report

Neuroscience has a number of potential military and law enforcement applications. The report considers some advances in neuroscience and their policy implications.

Russian scientists have breached Lake Vostok: they say the drill entered the lake on Feb 5 and 30‑40 m of water rose into the borehole.

AFRL/Lockheed Martin
New X-Plane

The USAF needs stable sensors for future HALE reconnaissance aircraft, so the AFRL will use the X-56A to test technologies for mitigating flutter. The Lockheed Martin X-56A is a flying-wing UAV in the NASA SFW program.
Formerly called the MUTT but now in the MAD program, the X‑56A is powered by twin JetCat P240 turbojets, has a takeoff gross weight of 218 kg, and will be tested with multiple sets of wings spanning 8 m. The UAV is in final assembly at GFMI Aerospace and Defense for transport to Edwards AFB and first flights in July.

Asma Backs Bashar Assad
The Times

Syrian President Bashar Assad's British-born wife Asma, 36, issued an e-mail from her office:
"The President is the President of Syria, not a faction of Syrians, and the First Lady supports him in that role. ... She listens to and comforts the families of the victims of the violence."

Photo: John Swannell
Diamond Jubilee portrait of
Queen Elizabeth II

"In this special year, as I
dedicate myself anew to your service, I hope that we will all
be reminded of the power of togetherness and the convening strength of family, friendship
and good neighbourliness."

Image: Josh Landis, NSF
Vostok Station, 2000-2001

New Scientist

A team at the University of California, Berkeley, has reconstructed speech from the brain activity caused by hearing speech. Because this activity is similar when hearing or thinking a sentence, the work brings mindreading a step closer.

The team presented speech to people having brain surgery and recorded neural activity from electrodes inserted in auditory cortex. They found correlations between neural activity and sound frequencies, phoneme rhythm, and fluctuations of frequencies. Then they trained an algorithm to interpret the neural activity and create a spectrogram from it. A second program converted the spectrogram back into speech.

The model can be applied to anyone, but the settings need to be tuned to individual brains. The training is easy. A trained model can read minds.

Theodore Dalrymple
on the Irish, the Greeks,
and the Germans

Color Vision

Stare at the red dot on the girl's nose for 30 seconds
Turn your eyes to a plain surface (your ceiling or blank wall)
Blink repeatedly and quickly
See her ...

AR It works!

2012 February 11

American Inequality
Andrew Hacker

America's rich are getting richer. Households having annual incomes of $1 million or more have increased more than tenfold since 1972 after correcting for inflation. The real incomes of the best-paid 5 percent, which includes some four million families, have more than doubled since 1972, and now start at about $200,000 a year. Money to push up pay became available as profits generally increased, and lower-level jobs were increasingly performed by workers abroad. Multinational corporations cut domestic employment by 2.9 million during the 2000s, while adding 2.4 million workers overseas. Corporate boards approved huge pay packages for CEOs without considering value for money. Meanwhile, America's poor get poorer.

2012 February 10

The Saudi Bomb
The Times

Saudi Arabia could acquire nuclear warheads within weeks of Iran developing nuclear weapons. In the event of a successful Iranian nuclear test, Riyadh would immediately move into action to purchase warheads and a ballistic missile platform from abroad. Commanders of the Saudi Strategic Missile Force are considering the missiles on the market. Pakistan is the most likely warhead vendor. The Saudis paid for much of Pakistan's nuclear program and bailed out Islamabad after its first test. The countries are said to have agreed that Pakistan will sell Saudi Arabia warheads and nuclear technology if security in the Gulf deteriorates.

AR The United States should sell the Saudis a few nukes and destroy the Pakistani stocks.

Don't Bomb Iran
David Blair

Niall Ferguson sets out to demolish the case against a pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. But if Iran's leaders are determined to get a bomb, military action will only delay them. We would run all the risks that Ferguson mentions for the sake of buying time, not solving the problem.

The American and British assessment is that Tehran wants the option of becoming a nuclear power, but has not decided whether to take the plunge and make a weapon. If we attack them, they certainly will make one. So we could end up guaranteeing exactly what we seek to prevent.

Every Sperm Is Sacred: Santorum
The Raw Story

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum: "When you marginalize faith in America, when you remove the pillar of God-given rights then what's left is the French Revolution. ... What's left is a government that will tell you who you are, what you'll do and when you'll do it. What's left in France became the the guillotine."

Santorum cited the Obama administration's decision to require nearly all private health insurance policies to cover family planning, including female contraceptives.

Every Sperm Is Sacred: Johnson

Oklahoma State Senator Constance Johnson was unhappy with Senate Bill 1433 that sought to define human life as beginning at the moment of conception, before it's even implanted in the womb, with the words: "the unborn child at every stage of development (has) all the rights, privileges, and immunities available to other persons, citizens, and residents of this state."

Johnson submitted an amendment to add that "any action in which a man ejaculates or otherwise deposits semen anywhere but in a woman's vagina shall be interpreted and construed as an action against an unborn child." She said she did so to highlight the sexism inherent in the Personhood Law, which would force women to be pregnant against their will.

2012 February 9

Five Reasons For Israel To Attack Iran
Niall Ferguson

1 The threatened Iranian retaliation will likely face a massive U.S. response.
2 The Sunni powers of the Gulf region will be happy to see Iran humbled.
3 The oil supply is safe enough. The Saudis will pump more oil on demand.
4 The Iranian theocracy will gain no new legitimacy from defeat.
5 The Iranian clerics will not sober up once they have nuclear weapons.

Time To Get Real
Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Those who warned that Islamists would be the main beneficiary of elections in the House of Islam were dismissed as scaremongers. Western policymakers hoped that Islamism was a fringe phenomenon. But recent Arab elections dash that hope.

Arab Islamists are not like Turkish Islamists. Turkey began to westernize a century ago and now has a dynamic economy. Turkish Islamists are checked by secular institutions. Turkey is not an Arab country. Expect slow and painful progress.

Qatada's Human Rights
The Times

The European Court of Human Rights states that no one can be sent to a country where they might face inhuman or degrading treatment. So radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada, who entered Britain illegally, is wanted for terrorism in six countries, and was said in 2004 to be central to terrorist activities associated with al-Qaeda, will be freed to reside in Britain.

AR The law is an ass here. Qatada deserves instant justice.

2012 February 8

Capitalism in Crisis
Kishore Mahbubani

Capitalism itself is not in crisis, but western capitalism is. Three errors:

1 To regard capitalism as an ideological good, not as a pragmatic instrument to improve human welfare. Market traders wreaked havoc on the world. Many western governments failed to play their essential regulatory and supervisory role. The west spawned a huge new financial services industry that added no real value.

2 To forget the lessons that Europe learnt from the Marxist threat. For capitalism to survive, all classes had to benefit from it. Social democracy was the European response: capitalists became rich but the workers also gained. Rising unemployment was an even bigger challenge. Asian governments created incentive schemes to promote investment and employment. Western governments dismissed this as ideological heresy.

3 To promote the virtues of capitalism to the third world, including Asia, without educating its own populations on the critical concept of creative destruction. The masses were never told they would have to learn new trades and skills as new competitors emerged from China and India.

Capitalism requires government regulation and supervision. Asians never forgot this. The west did.

A classification scheme of amino acids in the genetic code by group theory
Sebastian Sachse, Christian Roeder

We derive the amino acid assignment to one codon representation (typical 64-dimensional irreducible representation) of the basic classical Lie superalgebra osp(5|2) from biochemical arguments. We motivate the mathematical symmetry approach to the classification of the basic units of biochemistry and use the model to calculate polarity and molecular volume of amino acids to a good approximation.

AR This paper is by members of my local SAP physicists discussion group. We discussed it in detail, though I must admit the math had me struggling.

2012 February 7

Greek Farce
Stefan Kaiser

Greece is struggling. Despite everything, the country is now much worse off than before. The economy is shrinking, the debt ratio is rising, the government and the banks are cut off from the capital market. And there is no hint of an improvement. Something is wrong. We need to end this farce.

The Greek government has negotiated for weeks with private creditors and the European troika on a second rescue package. It is already clear that this package will not save the country. It will only delay the bankruptcy and heap new misery on Greek citizens.

Greek politicians and their self-appointed saviors in Berlin, Paris, and Brussels have been deluding each other for months. Rescue packages keep coming and saving plans evaporate. Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy want to show they have the situation under control. The government in Athens just wants to survive. Both sides make promises they cannot keep while the Greek economy collapses.

Greece must go bankrupt to shrug off its huge debt before it can go back to the capital market. Not only the private creditors but also European countries and the ECB will take a big hit. That will be expensive for taxpayers all over Europe and also risk contagion. It will be worse for the Greeks.

AR Greece has no parachute for a Eurozone exit — but the tax dodgers will sit on their Swiss loot.

Act Like A Leader

Act with integrity. Tell the truth. Practice what you preach. Be genuine and sincere.
Listen like you mean it. Ask questions to clarify thoughts. Show you've heard.
Commit to what you communicate. Follow through. Show up, own up, and clear up.
Be accountable for results. Accept rewards for success and penalties for failure.
Be approachable. Good leaders combine competence and likability.
Never whine. Constant complaining characterizes losers.
Let business mix with pleasure. Leaders blend their social and work lives.
Act with intention. Communicate with confidence. Lead with clarity.

AR Surprising this is not cast as ten bullet points for a CEO screensaver.

The Global War On Christians
Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Christians are being killed in the Islamic world because of their religion. It is a rising genocide that ought to provoke global alarm. ... the scale and severity of Islamophobia pales in comparison with the bloody Christophobia currently coursing through Muslim-majority nations ... more

Atheism in America
Julian Baggini

The number of people who don't believe in God in the United States is said to have doubled over the past decade. Books by the Four Horsemen — Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens — have all been best-sellers. ... more

Michael Dummett
Daniel Isaacson

Sir Michael Dummett, Wykeham Professor of Logic at Oxford from 1979 until 1992, was one of the most important philosophers of the English speaking world in the latter half of the 20th century. He converted to Catholicism at age 18 and remained religious. ... more

No More Nukes

POGO advises DoD secretary Leon Panetta to save more than $2 billion by no longer funding the deployment and maintenance of USAF B61 nuclear bombs in Europe. POGO says that either European NATO members should fund them or the US should scrap them. About 200 B61 bombs are deployed in Turkey, Belgium, Italy, Netherlands, and Germany as a part of the NATO defense against the USSR.

AR Scrap them.

2012 Accession Day

The Morphogenetic Heresy
The Observer

Rupert Sheldrake was a Cambridge biochemistry don and one of the brightest Darwinians of his generation. But one morning in 1981, soon after the publication of his first book, A New Science of Life, he read a Nature editorial by Sir John Maddox announcing that it was a "book for burning" and declaring that Sheldrake be "condemned" for "heresy".

In 1968, Sheldrake travelled for some months through India and Sri Lanka: "I met people, highly intelligent people, who had a completely different world view from anything to which I had been exposed." Returning to Cambridge, he read Matter and Memory by Henri Bergson: "I realized that there might potentially be a memory principle in nature that would solve the problem I was wrestling with."

In 1974, Sheldrake returned to India and took a job near Hyderabad: "I had some exposure to psychedelics, and that opened me up to the idea that consciousness was much richer than anything my physiology lecturers had ever described. Then I came across transcendental meditation." Sheldrake began to realize that there was "a lot more in my makeup that was Christian than I cared to admit. I started praying and going to church."

Sheldrake went to live at the ashram of the exiled Christian holy man, Father Bede Griffiths. Then Sheldrake decided to write A New Science of Life, setting out the theory he called morphogenetics: "I wrote it to try to find a broader framework for biology. A more holistic one, proposing the argument that the laws of nature were also evolving in time." Maddox called it a book for burning.

AR The key idea, as far as I got it from the book, is certainly ambitious. It goes way beyond the edifice of ideas we can ground on the currently available foundation of methodically reproducible experiments. If the laws of nature are evolving in time, then deep physics and even mathematics begin to wobble and you need a generation of pioneers as radical as the quantum boys to prevent the collapse of science as we know it. Step by step, young man, is the advice I would send back to the ambitious young don. Scientists should indeed keep open minds, but they should not let their brains fall out.

2012 February 5

Antarctic Lakes

At a tiny outpost in the middle of Antarctica, Russian scientists are racing against the approach of winter to drill down to Lake Vostok, the largest of the buried lakes discovered in Antarctica. Vostok Station is over the southern tip of the lake, which is about 250 km long and 80 km wide in places. Below almost 4 km of ice, the lake's water are more than 500 m deep in places and may have been isolated for 1 million years. Scientists hope to find new organisms that have evolved in isolation down there. But temperatures have already dropped below minus 40°C at Vostok Station, and the team must leave before its aircraft are grounded.

The Russians have competition. Teams from the United States and the United Kingdom are set to begin their own drilling projects into Antarctic lakes. They will use hot-water drills that can reach their targets in days and retrieve liquid samples within hours. British Antarctic Survey engineers recently hauled about 70 tons of drilling gear to the site of Lake Ellsworth, a lake under 3 km of ice in West Antarctica, and are poised to begin drilling in fall 2012. The American Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling (WISSARD) project is aimed at a subglacial lake that flushes more quickly. Drilling may begin there in January 2013.

AR Vostok Station is in high summer, we're in a deep chill, yet it's still 20 K colder there. Brrrrr!

2012 February 4

Remiss of me not to have posted earlier: Michael Dummett († 2011-12-27) deserves remembrance.

2012 February 3

Seven Pillars of Wisdom
David Miliband

1 We should be the reformers of the state and not just its defenders. The public won't vote for the prescription that central government is the cure for all ills for the good reason that it isn't.

2 We need to be the champions of local political change rather than skeptics. There is a crisis of trust in government across the democratic world, and we need to address it by changing the system.

3 We need to be clear how equality serves our notion of the good society. The levels of inequality currently being generated in countries like Britain need to be tackled. This means embracing notions of merit, reward, and responsibility in developing policy in areas such as tax and welfare.

4 We need a politics of economic growth, not just redistribution and regulation. There is an investment crisis facing many western economies. A remedy will require deep engagement with a changing economy and with the range of interventions and incentives that can stimulate it.

5 The world is more open and connected than ever before. But unless globalization is reshaped for mass benefit, stirrings of discontent will rise to become a dangerous tide.

6 We need to continue to modernize the party.

7 We need to defend Labour's record in government.

AR Good luck with the last two — you'll need it!

2012 February 2

Confront Germany
Anatole Kaletsky

The fatal flaw in the euro project is that a single currency requires a single fiscal policy and a single fiscal policy requires a single political authority. Three ways for the eurozone to become the United States of Europe:

1 Good: the euro governments agree a federal treaty incorporating not just the political federalism demanded by Germany but also jointly guaranteed eurobonds and political control of the ECB.

2 Bad: Angela Merkel succeeds in imposing her present one-sided treaty, her demands are taken literally, and the euro collapses.

3 Ugly: The other euro governments turn the tables and agree among themselves on a properly balanced federal treaty with an ultimatum: Germany can stay in the euro on terms acceptable to the other members, or pull out.

Turning Right, Not Left
Francis Fukuyama

In the United States, a lot of technological change has substituted for labor and made people lose their jobs. We forgot that the United States was spared socialism because the modern economy produced affluent societies in which most people enjoyed a good life.

The crisis was rooted in the American model of liberalized finance that hurt ordinary people and benefited the rich. Republican politicians are completely bought by Wall Street. Working class supporters only vote Republican because they distrust any government and resent rule by elites.

Germany has done a much better job of protecting its manufacturing base and its working class compared to the United States. German Social Democrats have increased flexibility in labor markets and made the welfare state friendlier to capitalism. The old socialist agenda no longer applies in Germany.

All modern democracies are dominated by well-organized groups that do not represent the general public. The entire European project was elite-driven from the beginning. Virtually every European country now has a right-wing populist party. They see that the elites in Europe fail to address their issues.

AR We need much deeper democracy using frequent online voting on small issues. See the last chapter of my book G.O.D. Is Great.

2012 February 1

Kicking Greeks When They're Down
Financial Times

Apple: 30,000 people, annual revenue $100 billion (and going up)
Greece: 11 million people, annual revenue $300 billion (and going down)

AR Even if you multiply the Apple people by 100 to include families, communities, shopkeepers, utility workers, supply chain employees and so on, Greece still looks sick. But what do we do? Fire all the useless Greeks? A cradle-to-grave national state is not a limited-liability commercial company.

India Chooses Dassault
The Times of India

The French Dassault Rafale fighter has bagged the contract for supplying 126 combat aircraft for the Indian Air Force, edging out European competitor EADS Typhoon in a deal worth over 10 billion dollars.

AR The Rafale is a fine plane with a good pedigree. The Eurofighter Typhoon is better but costs more. The UK Royal Navy could do worse than put Rafales on its new carriers (blog 2008 March 22).

HMS Dauntless, the Royal Navy's second Type 45 air defense destroyer, is embarking on a cruise to defend the Falkland Islands.
She is 500 feet (152 m) long, displaces 8,000 tons, has a 13,000 km range, and is armed with missiles, guns, and a helicopter:
Sea Viper missile system for all-round air defense to a radius of 100 km with missiles flying faster than Mach 4;
Kryten 4.5 in (113 mm) main gun, two 30 mm Oerlikon guns amidships, and two fast-firing Phalanx 20 mm rotary guns;
Lynx Mk 8 helicopter for launching Sea Skua missiles or Sting Ray torpedoes or carrying troops or flying on patrol.

Mormonism Needs Reform
Carrie Sheffield

Mormons love families. But former Mormons know the family estrangement and bigotry that often come with questioning or leaving the church.

While studying at Brigham Young University, I struggled after realizing that Mormonism's claims about anthropology, history, and other subjects contradict reason and science. I spiritually imploded after learning these things and other facts outside official church curriculum. A Mormon leader told me to quit reading historical and scientific materials because they were "worse than pornography."

I was told to avoid books and marry. Mormons are discouraged from voicing doubts and ostracized if they do. Mormonism needs reform.

Iranian Shahab-3 missile

Tim Maudlin says
Stephen Hawking
doesn't know what
he's talking about

Shai Agassi rolls out
electric cars in Israel

Triumph Daytona 955i 2004
singing its heart out
(YouTube, 4:35)

2012 January 31

Beware the Beasts
Christopher Dickey

The states of southern European face a thundering herd of creditors. The eurozone needs to raise nearly two trillion euros in new financing in 2012. The ECB tossed out half a trillion euros to the banks as a year-end treat. But throwing carrots to the herd only delays the stampede.

The lumbering beast that is slow growth is another untamed challenge. The real solution to the crisis is growth, but that only comes when there is enough confidence in state finances to get credit flowing. The eurozone crisis may well drag global GDP down a percent in 2012.

The IMF wants a firewall to keep the wild beasts at bay. The more money they can put up against a stampede, the more likely the danger can be averted. But the biggest creditor nations are not keen to build the trillion-dollar wall we need. So it will be too small, with gaps. And the beasts know it.

AR My solution: Strap the financial beasts into tax harnesses that force them to drag the global juggernaut in the desired direction. If we deploy half the ingenuity the money pirates used to get rich, we can design tax trappings that do the job. Drawback: it has to be global. Enter GO.

2012 January 30

Asma Assad
The Times

President Bashar Assad of Syria is knee deep in blood. To keep him in power his security forces are slaughtering and torturing thousands of unarmed citizens. What does Assad's wife Asma, 36, an intelligent, educated woman raised in liberal Britain and seemingly dedicated to good works, think of the evils being perpetrated daily across Syria and in her family's home city of Homs? Is she indifferent to the suffering being inflicted on her fellow Sunnis by Assad's Alawite henchmen? Once the most visible of Middle Eastern first ladies, she has all but vanished from view since the uprising began.

Roger Scruton reviews three new books on the brain
Robert McCrum reflects on the future of the novel

2012 January 29

Israel Versus Iran
Ronen Bergman

Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak lays out three questions:

1 Does Israel have the ability to cause severe damage to Iran's nuclear sites and bring about a major delay in the Iranian nuclear project? And can the military and the Israeli people withstand the inevitable counterattack?

2 Does Israel have overt or tacit support, particularly from America, for carrying out an attack?

3 Have all other possibilities for the containment of Iran’s nuclear threat been exhausted, bringing Israel to the point of last resort? If so, is this the last opportunity for an attack?

When the response to all of these questions is yes, it will be time to act. After that, "it will not be possible to use any surgical means to bring about a significant delay. Not for us, not for Europe and not for the United States."

Vice prime minister and minister of strategic affairs Moshe Ya'alon: "Our policy is that in one way or another, Iran's nuclear program must be stopped. It is a matter of months before the Iranians will be able to attain military nuclear capability."

In 2004, prime minister Ariel Sharon assigned responsibility for putting an end to the program to Meir Dagan, then head of Mossad. Dagan detailed a strategy that involved political pressure, covert measures, counter-proliferation, sanctions, and regime change. In August 2007, he said "the United States, Israel and like-minded countries must push on all five fronts in a simultaneous joint effort."

Since 2005 the Iranian nuclear project has been hit by a series of mishaps and disasters, for which the Iranians hold Western intelligence services responsible. The most controversial covert operations have been the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists. Dagan believes that his five-fronts strategy has succeeded in delaying Iran's progress toward developing nuclear weapons.

Barak says Israel must have a military option ready and ordered preparations for an attack on Iran. According to latest intelligence, it will take the Iranians nine months to assemble their first explosive device and another six months to weaponize it for delivery to Israel. Barak:

"The moment Iran goes nuclear, other countries in the region will feel compelled to do the same. The Saudi Arabians have told the Americans as much, and one can think of both Turkey and Egypt in this context, not to mention the danger that weapons-grade materials will leak out to terror groups."

"From our point of view, a nuclear state offers an entirely different kind of protection to its proxies. Imagine if we enter another military confrontation with Hezbollah, which has over 50,000 rockets that threaten the whole area of Israel, including several thousand that can reach Tel Aviv. A nuclear Iran announces that an attack on Hezbollah is tantamount to an attack on Iran. We would not necessarily give up on it, but it would definitely restrict our range of operations."

"And if a nuclear Iran covets and occupies some gulf state, who will liberate it? The bottom line is that we must deal with the problem now."

Since Barak became minister of defense, the Israeli military has prepared intensively for a strike against Iran. The Israeli Air Force believes it can set the Iranian nuclear project back by three to five years.

I believe that Israel will strike Iran in 2012.

AR After that maybe we can resume our trajectory to the sunlit uplands.

2012 January 28

The Zero-Sum World
Gideon Rachman

Zero-sum logic ties together the crisis inside the European Union, deteriorating American-Chinese relations, and the deadlock in global governance.

The European Union is going into reverse as European nations fear they are dragging each other down. The southern countries see unity as a route to crippling debt and mass unemployment. And the northern countries are disinclined to lend billions to bail out their neighbors. Politicians interpret "more Europe" in terms of their national debates. For the southerners it means eurobonds. But for the Germans it means stricter enforcement of budgetary austerity. Expect the rise of more nationalist politics.

The global economic crisis has caused a shift in the global balance of power. Americans sense that a richer, more powerful China might mean a relatively poorer, relatively weaker America. China may be the world's largest economy by 2018. Beijing is already increasing military spending and taking a harder line in border disputes with India, Japan, and Vietnam. The United States is turning its attention from Europe to the Asia-Pacific region.

AR Whither Globorg? The three global timezones must agree to hold regular GO summits to thrash out governance issues. I volunteer to draft the agenda.

Barak on Iran
The Independent

Speaking at Davos, Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak warned that soon a conventional attack will not block the Tehran regime from getting the bomb: "We are determined to prevent Iran from turning nuclear. It seems to us to be urgent, because the Iranians are deliberately drifting into what we call an immunity zone where practically no surgical operation could block them."

A paper published by the Begin-Sadat Centre for Strategic Studies holds that the fear of Iranian missile attack against Israel has been overblown and would cause only relatively minor damage.

MOP Too Small

The United States does not have a conventional bomb powerful enough to destroy Iran's deeply hidden nuclear facilities. U.S. defense secretary Leon Panetta says Americans are "still trying" to develop a more powerful bomb. Last year the U.S. Air Force received new 15-ton Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP) bombs designed to destroy deep underground bunkers. B-2 stealth bombers would deliver the bombs in an attack on Iran's nuclear plants.

AR Reminds me of the 10-ton Grand Slam bombs the RAF used in 1945 to destroy Nazi U-boat bunkers. I think we should agree that hitting the Iranian bunkers with nuclear penetrators would make more military sense. The priority is to get the job done quickly and decisively, not pussyfoot with puny ordnance that may fail and drag out the fight.

2012 January 27

Simply Baroque!
"Le ballet des saisons" by Jean-Baptiste Lully and "Le quattro stagioni" by Antonio Vivaldi
La Folia Baroque Orchestra starring Julia Schröder on violin
Luthersaal Schwetzingen

Religion for Atheists
The Guardian

Alain de Botton's father Gilbert was born in Egypt and became a multimillionaire banker: "My dad was a slightly stricter version of Richard Dawkins. The worldview was that there are idiots out there who believe in Santa Claus and fairies and magic and elves and we're not joining that nonsense."

After heading Rothschild Bank, Gilbert established Global Asset Management in 1983 with £1 million and sold it in 1999 for £420 million. Alain says he was an extreme atheist: "I think it was a generational thing." And yet Gilbert now lies beneath a Hebrew headstone in a Jewish cemetery in London.

In 2008, Alain established the School of Life in Bloomsbury with books on the ground floor and a salon where he teaches "ideas to live by". He says society can't get to where he wants it to go without plundering religion. Politicians haven't got the buttons, but religions have, and know how to use them.

Alain De Botton was born in Zurich and schooled in England. After a double first in history at Cambridge, he did a master's in philosophy at London and began a PhD but gave up: "I had a long night of the soul."

AR Alain, 42, has earned several million from his popular philosophy books.

USS Gerald R. Ford
USS Gerald R. Ford
Pentagon Cuts
Financial Times

The Pentagon will cut $485 billion from its planned spending over the next decade but will maintain all its 11 aircraft carriers and will
continue to invest in the F-35 program. JCS chairman General Martin Dempsey: "We are retaining our full spectrum capability."

Dassault Rafale
The Royal Navy may buy French fighter jets for its new aircraft carrier. The UK government is concerned about escalating costs and delays in the American JSF/
F-35 program and may invest in an interim capability such as the
F-18 Super Hornet or the French Dassault Rafale.

The Power of Introverts
Scientific American

Introverts prefer quiet environments, while extroverts need higher levels of stimulation to feel their best. Our schools and workplaces are designed for extroverts.

Research shows that brainstorming in groups is a terrible way to produce creative ideas. Solitude is a crucial ingredient for creativity.

Quiet by Susan Cain

The Third Jihad
The New York Times

Ominous music plays. Muslim terrorists shoot Christians in the head, car bombs explode, executed children lie covered by sheets, and an Islamic flag flies over the White House. Narrator: "This is the true agenda of much of Islam in America ... This is the war you don't know about."

The Third Jihad: Radical
Islam's Vision for America

Iranium: The Movie

Both movies are financed by
The Clarion Fund

Chuck Norris
Chuck Norris

2012 January 26

Cameron @ Davos
Financial Times

British PM David Cameron called on Berlin to contribute significantly more resources and guarantees to help solve the eurozone crisis. He criticized eurozone leaders for being distracted by other issues, such as the introduction of a financial transaction tax, which he described as "quite simply madness".

British officials are frustrated with German leadership of the eurozone and criticize Germany for seeking to persuade other countries to "become more German" without accepting that Germany must "become less German" by importing more. Cameron called on Germany to allow its trade surplus to fall.

AR I pay transaction tax for my work deals and things I buy, so why shouldn't the financial predators? Cameron should stop preaching and start solving the problem.

Merkel @ Davos
Financial Times

German chancellor Angela Merkel said Europe can only recover the confidence of global markets if the weaker European economies boost their growth and competitiveness with structural reforms and ensure that their debts are sustainable. Responding to IMF calls for much bigger firewalls to protect European sovereign debt from speculative attacks, she questioned their credibility: "If Germany promises something that cannot be delivered if the markets attack it hard, then Europe would be left with a wide open flank." Merkel called for more European solidarity through closer integration. German businesses see beyond austerity and report growing confidence in their prospects.

Europe: The Rescue
Camilla Cavendish

Late last year, the yield on two-year Italian bonds hit 7% and it seemed that Spain might fail to refinance its debts. Then the ECB began offering banks unlimited three-year loans. Spain and Italy needed time to make structural reforms and the move has given them three years. Now Spain has raised a fifth of its needs for this year through bond auctions and the yield on Italian bonds stands at 3.5%. The ECB has allowed what is in effect quantitative easing. This week the ECB may join in a restructuring package for Greek debt. The technocrats may have rescued Europe.

World Economic Forum
Financial Times

Davos expert verdict:
1 Globorg is weakening and risks another crunch.
2 Globorg will grow only slightly with regional recessions.
3 Expect an economic crunch or another sub-par year.
4 Weak government responses will worsen any crisis.
5 Most big issues depend on solving the eurozone crisis.

Experts say the eurozone needs:
1 Austerity and structural reforms in peripheral countries
2 Fiscal integration with risk sharing, including eurobonds
3 Interim liquidity support for countries struggling to borrow
4 Deep restructuring of Greek sovereign debt
5 Eurozone-wide recapitalization of European banks

Fifth Generation Dominance
American Forces Press Service

Fifth-generation fighter aircraft are key to America maintaining domain dominance in the years ahead, say U.S. Air Force officials. The new defense strategy guidance unveiled by President Barack Obama affirms that the U.S. military must be able to defeat anti-access, area-denial threats. The strategy requires the ability to operate against adversaries across the spectrum of conflict. Fifth-generation aircraft are a key ability in in combating the growing anti-access, area-denial capabilities of other nations. The F-22 and F-35 fighters bring maneuverability, survivability, advanced avionics, and stealth technology to the fight. They are particularly relevant at the top of the spectrum and are key to the warfighting capability of the nation.

AR In other words, lawmakers, don't you dare cut the budget for these items!

2012 January 25

State of the Union
The Times

President Obama used his State of the Union address to:

1 Promise more equality: "We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by. Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules."

2 Outline a new Buffett rule ensuring that wealthy executives do not pay lower tax rates than their secretaries do. Billionaire investor Warren Buffett says he and his rich friends should be taxed more heavily. Like Mitt Romney, Warren Buffett pays about half the rate of regular income tax.

3 Lay out an economic blueprint highlighting corporate tax breaks to encourage insourcing and skills training. On energy, America should increase its independence by opening up more of its oil and gas reserves and by investing in clean energy.

4 Warn Iran: "America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal. But a peaceful resolution of this issue is still possible, and far better, and if Iran changes course and meets its obligations, it can rejoin the community of nations."

AR All this sounds good: Romney the raider will have to fight to do better.

Watchdog for Investors
Financial Times

Martin Wheatley, new head of UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA): "You have to assume that you don't have rational consumers. Faced with complex decisions or too much information, they ... hide behind credit rating agencies or behind the promises that are given to them by the salesperson."

The FCA will police markets and protect investors in an effort to head off new financial scandals. Research in behavioral economics shows investors often make decisions contrary to their own interests because of their aversion to losses or unwillingness to ditch a losing strategy.

Wheatley sees risk in the combination of predatory selling and poor consumer choices: "Those two things don't meet in a happy place ... The profitability to the firm appears to be a bigger concern than the suitability to the customer."

AR Wheatley has obviously read Daniel Kahneman's new book (blog, Jan 5).

2012 January 24

Gulf Storm Warning
Financial Times

Tensions are mounting between Iran and the west over Tehran's nuclear program. The US and its allies are pressing ahead with sanctions and are ready for naval action if the Islamic Republic tries to throttle the world's oil supply.

European Union sanctions will ban imports of Iranian crude oil. Iran has tested cruise missiles that can hit ships in the Strait of Hormuz and threatens to shut the strait. It has warned its Gulf neighbors not to replace Iranian oil in world markets. The regime is pushing ahead with plans to enrich uranium in an underground bunker that conventional bombs cannot destroy.

Iran has an ill-trained military, an obsolete air force, and a navy of speedboats. But it can interrupt the oil traffic in the strait. General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff, says Iran has the ability to block the strait for a few weeks. Iran would likely start by using speedboats to force tankers to make evasive maneuvers or undergo inspections. If Iran were to mine even part of the strait, U.S. forces would need weeks to clear the danger. They would first have to locate and destroy any missile and other threats to their mine-clearing vessels and helicopters.

Few western military strategists believe Iran will block the strait, as that would also block its own oil exports. Washington is trying to cool tensions. A joint Israeli-U.S. military exercise planned for the spring was canceled last week. Any random incident or miscalculation could provoke a war.

2012 January 23

Martin Wolf

Crises are inherent in capitalism. Periods of stability and prosperity lead to the leveraging of returns. People in the financial system profit from such leverage and underestimate its perils. The financial system is abused and then collapses. We need to protect finance and the economy from each other.

The limited liability corporation is vulnerable to looting. Incentives for top employees encourage manipulation of corporate earnings. It is vital to encourage the independence of boards and ensure that pay packages are transparent. But except in banks, governments should not intervene directly.

Taxes play a decisive role in determining how the market economy operates. We need to remove the incentives for leverage embedded in taxation. We should shift the tax burden from incomes on to consumption and wealth. We must ensure richer people pay tax.

Plutocrats like closed political and economic systems. But they undermine the open access on which democratic politics and a competitive market economy depend. Protecting democracy from plutocracy is a challenge because capitalism today is global. The answer is more global governance.

2012 January 22

My Endorsement For President
Chuck Norris

We need to appoint a commander in chief who can clearly lead America to a more solvent and secure future. We are electing a president, not a pastor or pope. We need a veteran of political war who has already fought Goliath.

My questions to find our next president:
  1 Who is most committed to follow and lead by the U.S. Constitution?
  2 Who has the greatest leadership ability to rally, unify and mobilize citizens?
  3 Who has the best working comprehension of America?
  4 Who has the best ability to influence a volatile world away from its brink of destruction?
  5 Who has clear and present moral fortitude?
  6 Who can best beat President Barack Obama?
  7 Who has the best abilities to lead Washington politics and politicians?
  8 Who has the best plan and leadership ability to restore America's economy?
  9 Who is the most fiscally prudent?
10 Who has demonstrated the highest regard for human life?

My wife Gena and I believe former Speaker Newt Gingrich is the answer to most of those questions and deserves our endorsement.

AR Oh, well, if Chuck says so ...

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich
Ron Rosenbaum

A new edition of William L. Shirer's 1,250-page book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich marks the 50th anniversary of its winning the National Book Award. Many baby boomers read Shirer as their parents' Book of the Month Club selection and still recall the impact it had on them.

Shirer was 30 when he took up residence in Berlin in 1934. He witnessed the rise of the Third Reich under Adolf Hitler and he covered the Blitzkriegs against Poland and France before he was forced to leave in December 1940. In 1941 he published Berlin Diary, recording his response to the rise of the Reich. By 1960, Shirer had 15 years to distance himself and then to return from that distance. Rereading his magnum opus, one sees how subtly Shirer shifts between telescope and microscope. He gives us Tolstoyan vistas of battle, and yet his close-ups of the key players lay bare their minds and hearts.

Shirer maintained that Hitler and his furious drive were a distillation of centuries of German culture and philosophy. The term "Third Reich" was concocted in a 1922 book by Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, who believed in the divine destiny of a German history with three momentous acts. Charlemagne's First Reich was followed by the Second Reich, resurrected by Bismarck with his Prussian "blood and iron" but betrayed in November 1918. Thereafter Germany was awaiting the savior who would lead the Third Reich to its destiny.

AR I recall reading the book as a teenager in the 1960s. It had a big impact on me too.

2012 January 21

Charity Needs Capitalism
Bill Clinton

We can and must rethink the relationship between economic and social challenges, so that benefits and opportunities are available to more people. People are demanding it. The current systems are not working. The financial crisis showed that the path we were on was unstable and unsustainable.

We see a new approach in big companies that have shifted their corporate culture to increasing shared value. When our bottom line is more about strengthening the future than maintaining the present, and when our financial interests are aligned with our social ones, we will be closer to the kind of world we want all our children to live in.

Members of the Clinton Global Initiative have made thousands of commitments that are improving the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the globe. These efforts benefit both the communities they target and the corporations and philanthropists involved. All this enhances profits, increases economic inclusion, and gives more people a stake in a shared future.

AR Good old Bill — I'd still vote for him to be president.


The Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey takes off like a helicopter and flies like an airplane. The guys at Oliver VTOL have plans for Hexplane, which combines the fuselage of a Boeing 737 with three Osprey hover rigs. Company founder Richard Oliver says the redundancy of six independent engines and propellers provides more safety.

AR I like it. Reminds me of the Fairey Rotodyne.

Oliver VTOL


Buy @ Amazon:



Ralph Fiennes
directs and stars in

YouTube trailer

Derek Parfit has spent decades building an ethical theory that
is fundamentally misguided

2012 January 20

The Chinese View Of SOPA
The New Yorker

Opponents say SOPA and PIPA would impose a censorship regime like the Great Firewall of China. Rebecca MacKinnon says they would impose a "censorship mechanism that is almost identical, technically, to the mechanism the Chinese use to censor their Internet."

Chinese reaction to American protests ranges from sympathy to snickering. A joke on micro-blogging site Weibo: "The Great Firewall turns out to be a visionary product; the American government is trying to copy us." Another joke: "At last, the planet is becoming unified: We are ahead of the whole world, and the American imperialists are racing to catch up."

Weibo has a team of censors on staff to trim posts with sensitive political content. Opponents say American sites would also need censors to police content for copyright violations. Blogger Dr. Zhang: "I've come up with a perfect solution: You can come to China to download all your pirated media, and we'll go to America to discuss politically sensitive subjects."

2012 January 19

Diminishing Returns
Financial Times

The implosion of financial capitalism has become a crisis of political authority in the west. Behind this lies an unequal contest between a globalized economy and politicians with national electorates.

Capitalism no longer belongs to the west. The troubles faced by the advanced economies have crystalized a wrenching shift in the balance of global economic power. The financial crash inflicted huge losses on the innocent. But the Occupy movement falls short of a coherent prospectus. Globalized capitalism has outstripped the capacity of national governments to manage it.

The sense of collective interest visible at the post-crash meetings of the G20 has dissipated. What started out as a crisis of financial capitalism may give way to a backlash against globalization.

Online Piracy
Matthew Yglesias

Much of the debate about SOPA and PIPA centers on entertainment industry claims about the economic harm of copyright infringement. Large-scale, unimpeded, commercialized digital reproduction of other people's works could destroy America's creative industries. But the question to ask is whether there's a problem from the consumer side. If infringement got out of hand, we might face a bleak scenario in which bands stop recording albums and no new TV shows are released. But we're not living in that world.

2012 January 18

Steven Pearlstein

Niall Ferguson claims that European world hegemony came not as the result of any natural advantages but because it was able to develop just the right mix of political, legal, and social institutions that made it resilient enough to prevail. Ferguson is an economic historian known for the breadth of his knowledge, the clarity and pithiness of his prose, and the originality of his analysis. But Civilization is a mishmash of disconnected and sometimes contradictory riffs held together by faulty logic, inept metaphors, and clever turns of phrase. Ferguson comes off as an intellectual showoff who couldn't be bothered to edit his own ideas. As he says, the real threat to our dominance in the world is from ourselves.

Augmented Reality
Amara D. Angelica

Imagine a future in which icons flash on your car windshield, hologram-style, as your car approaches restaurants, stores, historic landmarks, or the homes of friends. Point your hand at them, and the icons open to show online information. Wave your hand again, and you've made a restaurant reservation. Oh yeah, now there's the perfect combo: AR, booze, and driving. Here's an app I want: one that warns me when an AR car is approaching so I can swerve out of the way.

AR These are just updated HUDs from aircraft: see my 2010 book. But pilots have, like, common sense.

Cruise Ships
New Scientist

The design of giant cruise ships needs urgent rethinking after the rapid capsizing of Costa Concordia, says maritime trade union Nautilus International.

AR Easy: Make them catamarans. That way you get lots of extra deck area too. Also, the U.S. Navy could use cats for future aircraft carriers.

Beyoncé 4
Wikipedia goes black but
Beyoncé goes white for
her new album 4

Censorship Alert

The Wikipedia community has chosen to blackout the English version of Wikipedia for 24 hours, in protest against proposed legislation in the United States: the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA). If passed, this legislation will harm the free and open Internet and bring about new tools for censorship of international websites inside the United States.

Wikipedia Statement

Rich Bullshit
Tom Whipple

The Institute of Economic Affairs, a right-wing free-market think tank, commissioned a report on economics and happiness. The report concluded that, to be happy, we should become more right wing and more free market.

A graph in the report appears to show that happiness increases in proportion to salary. But the income scale is logarithmic, doubling at each step. So the graph actually shows exponentially diminishing returns of happiness, the more you earn. It might take £8,000 to increase a nurse's happiness by 10%, but to increase the happiness of bank boss Bob Diamond by the same degree requires enough money to fund a hospital's worth of nurses.

If happiness is what we want, the report makes a compelling case for mass wealth redistribution.

Established science publishers
are under attack from online


Hitchens, Voltaire, Rushdie
April 2011

Christopher Hitchens
Salman Rushdie

God saved Christopher Hitchens from the right. Nobody who detested God as viscerally, intelligently, originally, and comically as he did could stay in the pocket of god-bothered American conservatism for long. On his 62nd birthday we were photographed standing on either side of a bust of Voltaire. That photograph is now one of my most treasured possessions.

War Horse
Directed by Steven Spielberg

"The best thing Spielberg has
made in at least ten years"
The Telegraph

Margaret Thatcher
was right, says
Daniel Finkelstein

My review of One Day
by David Nicholls

"Tonight we made history. Americans know that our futures are brighter and better than these troubled times."
Mitt Romney

 The Ring Of Truth
The Times

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, IAEA inspectors are monitoring the Mordor facility concealed in a mountain near the city of Doom.

The Israeli INSS says an Iranian nuclear test would transform the Mideast:
The United States may invite Israel to join NATO
Russia would align with the United States
Saudi Arabia would develop
its own nuclear arms
If Israel joined NATO,
Turkey would leave

AR Nuke Mount Doom.

Sussex, UK
2012 July 2-6

2012 January 17

Five Steps To Happiness
Matthew Syed

1 Whatever you do, don't try to be happy. Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl: "Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself."

2 Good experiences or great memories? Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman discovered that we recall our experiences like a story and love a happy ending. When mothers measure their happiness hour by hour, they score lower than women without children. But when they give an overall happiness rating, they forget the hourly grind and score far higher.

3 Fast cars are overrated. Economics professor Richard Easterlin discovered that rich nations are no happier, on average, than poor ones, once basic needs are met. A recent study by Princeton University shows that contentment increases in line with pay until a threshold of £58,700, then levels off. The problem is that the rat race is in our genes.

4 Don't live under a flight path. Humans adapt quickly to new situations, but there are some nasty things to which we never adjust. Pain and depression are examples, but so is loud noise. Noise pollution is a catastrophe for happiness.

5 Would you live in a fantasy? Most people say no. We prefer a real life, even one less happy, provided it is authentic. In this sense, truth is more fundamental than happiness. We should decide on what we really believe before living our lives, not the other way around.

To Hell In A Shopping Basket
Robert Reich

The crisis of capitalism marks the triumph of consumers and investors over workers and citizens. Modern technologies allow us to shop in real time for the lowest prices and best returns. Yet the goods we want or the returns we seek can often be produced more efficiently elsewhere by companies offering lower pay and fewer benefits. Great deals can have devastating environmental consequences or offend common decency. But nothing trumps the lure of a bargain.

The best means of balancing the demands of consumers and investors against those of workers and citizens has been through democratic institutions that offer some protection for jobs and wages, communities, and the environment. But the U.S. Supreme Court has decided that under the First Amendment to the Constitution money is speech and corporations are people. So consumers and investors are doing increasingly well but job insecurity is on the rise, inequality is widening, communities are becoming less stable, and climate change is worsening. None of this is sustainable.

AR Money talks: I am Globorg. I cite the Supreme Court.

2012 January 16


"Share your story," says Barack Obama's Pennsylvania website to voters. "Tell us why you want to be involved in this campaign," read the instructions. A project in Chicago codenamed Dreamcatcher is turning their input into valuable data for the next election.

Dreamcatcher is led by Rayid Ghani, who last worked as chief scientist at Accenture Technology Labs. There he mined the mountains of consumer data that collect on corporate servers to find statistical patterns for forecasting. He would help businesses find patterns in consumer behavior so they could improve their customer relations management.

In 2008, Obama's campaign saved lots of hard voter data plus an unprecedented quantity of voter interviews it regularly conducted using paid phone banks and volunteer canvassers. Analysts used the data to build sophisticated statistical models that allowed them to sort voters by their relative likelihoods of supporting Obama.

But the 2008 algorithms have trouble picking up voter positions, or the intensity around those positions, with much nuance. Before the 2008 Iowa caucuses, every Democrat's top concern seemed to be opposition to the Iraq war. When Lehman Brothers collapsed, the economy became the leading issue across demographic and ideological groups. But the surveys were unable to burrow beneath the surface.

As part of the Dreamcatcher project, Obama campaign officials are redesigning the notes field for individual records in the database of voters so that it sits at the top of the screen and is large enough to include stories submitted online. Those familiar with Dreamcatcher describe it as a bet on text analytics to make sense of a whole genre of personal information that no one has yet put to use in politics.

AR My former SAP team, now the HANA team, may be interested by this deployment scenario.

War Horse
David Gritten

Steven Spielberg, 65, is the most commercially successful director in the history of cinema and a sucker for schmaltz. His films include Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, 1941, Raiders of the Lost Ark, ET the Extraterrestrial, The Color Purple, Empire of the Sun, Jurassic Park, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, AI Artificial Intelligence, Minority Report, War of the Worlds, Munich, The Adventures of Tintin, and now War Horse. Spielberg can still make movie magic.

AR Like many of us, I can mark out the stations of my adult life with his movies. The brilliance of his creative genius is splendid to behold.

Geert Wilders' new book, Marked for Death, is scheduled for release in April

Iran Oil Warning
Financial Times

Iran is warning Saudi Arabia and other OPEC members not to boost oil production: The Iranian OPEC representative said Tehran would consider a boost "unfriendly". The Saudi oil minister said the kingdom would meet customer demand for more oil. In the last 10 days, the British prime minister, the Chinese premier, a Japanese minister, and a US lawmaker have all visited Saudi Arabia for oil talks. The kingdom is already pumping around 10 million barrels a day, at prices above $110 a barrel.

Downward Spiral
Wolfgang Münchau

The eurozone is spiraling downward into recession. Greece will default and may leave the eurozone. Next in turn will be Portugal. The EFSF faces downgrade too. By downgrading France and Austria but not Germany and the Netherlands, S&P hinted at the geography of a breakup. Germany is now the only large AAA country in the eurozone. Merkel's top priority is to conclude the fiscal treaty, but this will only reinforce pro-cyclical austerity. The system is unraveling. We need a strong central fiscal authority.

Europe: Mess And Success
Nicholas D. Kristof

Europe is in an economic mess. Rigid labor laws cause high unemployment and generous welfare states create budget problems as baby boomers retire. Yet GNP per capita in France rose from 64% of the American figure in 1960 to 73% by 2010, and in France the average working week is still almost a day shorter than in America. There are 172 European corporations among the Fortune Global 500, compared with 133 from the United States.

Europe has addressed energy issues and climate change far more seriously than America has. It now has more economic mobility than the United States, and France has a higher proportion of college graduates than America. French life expectancy is longer too: back in 1960 the lead was just a few months but by 2009 it was almost three years. Europe is no failure.

AR Europeans need a more vibrant vision of a more glorious future.

2012 January 15

Goldman's Trojan Horse
The Sunday Times

In the closing months of 2001, a Goldman Sachs trader in London exploited an EU loophole to help Greece massage down its national debt. Greece paid Goldman handsomely for the help.

Greece gambled that interest rate rises would devalue its debt. Before joining the euro, Greece had to pay interest rates of about 18% to borrow money on the open markets. After joining the euro, that would fall to about 5%. The Goldman plan agreed exchange rates for currency swaps that made it look like Greece owed Goldman €2.8 billion less than it did. This cut the Greek debt-to-GDP ratio by 1.6% and made it seem that Greek debt was falling, when in fact it had risen.

Goldman expected its €2.8 billion to be repaid and agreed to excuse Greece for two years, then stagger repayments over 18 years. The pricing assumed interest rates would rise, but they fell after September 11 and increased the Greek debt. In 2005, the National Bank of Greece bought the whole package back from Goldman. By 2009 the debt for the deals was up to €5.5 billion and will not be cleared until 2037.

Goldman did not cause the Greek crisis. The sums involved in the swap deals are not even a rounding error. Yet the lack of transparency in such trades lies at the heart of the eurozone crisis.

AR And Cameron expects Merkozy to let London trade in Europe without regulation?

2012 January 14

The End Of War
John Horgan

The United States is the problem when it comes to the persistence of war in the world today. It is engaged in wars overseas, it is the largest arms dealer in the world, and it spends roughly a trillion dollars a year on military stuff.

In the 20th century, by far the most destructive ideas were fascism and communism. These were secular ideologies that shared with fundamentalist religion the fierce conviction that theirs is the right way to view reality.

Mark Pagel

Richard Sennett worries that humans are tribal and explores how people can be encouraged to cooperate. Modern capitalist societies promote conditions leading to social withdrawal or hibernation, such as economic inequality, broken workplace relations, and the psychology of uncertainty.

To rescue cooperation, Sennett champions the repetitive shared experience of ritual, from religious ceremonies to workplace routine, but cautions that it requires empathy and commitment to community. Together is the second in a planned trilogy starting with The Craftsman.

AR I enjoyed The Craftsman.

Jews And Globalization
Ira Rifkin

Globalization is the flow of capital and commerce across international borders and the monoculture of personal fulfillment and material advancement as the highest values. A World Jewish Congress paper noted in 2001 that Jews "have always promoted globalization, and have served as its agents."

Jewish Renewal rabbi Michael Lerner says "if globalization is just the latest twist on the worship of materialism, then it has become idolatry, the antithesis of monotheism." Orthodox rabbi Asher Meir says globalization is a neutral phenomenon but Jews are not to surrender their identity to it.

Financial Times

Standard & Poor's cut the credit rating of France and Austria from AAA to AA+ and downgraded seven other eurozone nations including Italy and Spain. Portugal was cut down to junk.

AR Credit is trust is psychology. Euroleaders have made a poor job of convincing the hard and sharp money men of this fallen world that they have the smarts and the guts to lead anything.

2012 January 13

U.S. Warns Iran
The New York Times

The Obama administration has warned Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that closing the Strait of Hormuz is a red line that would provoke an American response. Iran has the military capability to close the strait. For two decades Iran has been investing in mines, fleets of heavily armed speed boats, and antiship cruise missiles hidden along its Persian Gulf coastline.

Estimates by naval analysts of how long it could take for American forces to reopen the strait range from a day to several months. The consensus is that Iran’s naval forces would be destroyed. The Iranian state navy is for the most part professional and predictable, but the Revolutionary Guards navy is not. The Revolutionary Guards navy has been deploying faster missile boats and stockpiling naval mines.

American naval forces might encounter layers of simultaneous attacks. The Iranians could launch antiship missiles and surround any American ship with armed speedboats. The United States could take out the missile launchers but this could take time. The strait is less than 35 miles wide at its narrowest point. The inbound and outbound shipping lanes are two miles wide, with two miles separating them.

1000 Dollar Genome
MIT Technology Review

Connecticut-based biotech company IonTorrent has unveiled a new tabletop gene sequencer with a
DNA-reading chip that can sequence an entire human genome in a day for $1,000.

12 Atom Memory
MIT Technology Review

IBM has unveiled a magnetic memory device made of just 12 iron atoms. The atoms can hold a bit for a few hours and at temperatures close to 0 K. The team is pushing the limits set by quantum physics.

84 Qubit Computation
MIT Technology Review

How many people do you need to invite to a party to ensure that m of them will know each other and n of them will not know each other? A natural answer is the two-color Ramsey number R(m,n).

A team at D-Wave Systems used 84 qubits to calculate R(3,3) and R(m,2) where m = 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. Their quantum computer uses superconducting circuits in which currents going in opposite directions code 1 and 0 superposed as a qubit. Their calculation for R(8,2) used 84 qubits, of which 28 were used in the computation and the rest for error correction. The computer took 270 ms to get the (known) result 8.

Religion for Atheists
Terry Eagleton

Alain de Botton assumes that religious beliefs are a lot of nonsense but that they remain indispensable to civilized existence. He claims that one can be an atheist while still finding religion sporadically useful and consoling. He advocates secular versions of sacred ceremonies and billboards carrying moral or spiritual messages. This enterprise is both impudent and unoriginal. Christopher Hitchens would have scorned any such project. He found religion disgusting.

I am working on providing a wealth of online illustrations for my new book. When you read it, be sure to admire the images. Links here

2012 January 12

Physicists Need Genesis
New Scientist

Physicists shy away from a singular cosmic genesis, but Alexander Vilenkin says we need it.

1 Inflation says that in the primordial yoctosecond the universe inflated exponentially before settling down to its present expansion. Eternal inflation says that the universe grows fast forever, by constantly creating smaller bubble universes within the multiverse, each of which then settles down. Vilenkin and Alan Guth found that inflation cannot be eternal in the past.

2 In a cyclic universe, the big bang is a bounce back from a previous collapsed universe, and the universe cycles forever. Vilenkin looked at universal entropy and found that after an infinite number of cycles, the universe would be in a state of maximum disorder.

3 Perhaps the cosmos existed eternally as a cosmic egg, which cracked to create the big bang. Vilenkin and Audrey Mithani showed that quantum instabilities would crack or collapse the egg after a finite time.

Vilenkin's bottom line: "All the evidence we have says that the universe had a beginning."

2012 January 11

The Market Economy
Financial Times

The business leaders of today are not capitalists in the original sense. Modern titans derive their authority and influence from their position in a hierarchy, not their ownership of capital. They have won power through their political skills, in the ways bishops and generals rise in their hierarchies.

The value of raw materials is only a small part of the value of the production of a complex modern economy, and the value of physical assets is only a small part of the value of most modern businesses. The critical resources of modern companies are not their buildings and machines but their competitive advantages. These attributes are not owned by anyone at all.

The typical reader of this article works in front of a computer at a desk in an office block. It is quite likely that each is owned by someone different. People do not know who owns their work tools because the answer does not matter. By continuing to use the term capitalism, we are liable to misunderstand the strength of the market economy.

Financial Times

Before the crisis, banks morphed from social utilities into machines for making money by taking risks. Big financial institutions managed to absorb the gains from risky trading while socializing their losses. Pay practices that grew up on Wall Street and in the City of London added insult to injury.

Unless they can find a way to demonstrate their usefulness, and to curb the practices that alienate outsiders, banks face a long struggle against new regulation. Banks made high profits for a while but did nothing useful. Banks that had been bailed out paid large bonuses to employees, causing resentment.

Central bankers are imposing higher capital and liquidity requirements. The market has also disciplined institutions with highly leveraged balance sheets and fragile funding. Banks will become less profitable. Banking will again look more like a utility industry. Banks may then earn more respect.

Surfers in California yesterday

2012 January 10

Capitalism In Crisis
Financial Times

A modern economy has two tracks: a fast one for the super-rich and a stalled one for everyone else. The wealthiest citizens have collected the bulk of the income gains in the last three decades. Most of them are finance professionals and top executives. Finance is a cash cow for a global elite.

Rising income inequality has been variously attributed to globalization, changing technology, regulatory reforms in markets, changing household structures, and insufficiently redistributive taxation. The costs of inequality include the stifling of upward mobility and the rise of protectionist sentiment.

The money motive in wealth creation detracts from the legitimacy of capitalism unless there is an implicit social contract between the rich and the rest of society, whereby the wealthy temper ostentation and engage in philanthropy. In business, top executive rewards are poorly related to performance and tend to rise even when profits fall. The accountability of management is fundamentally flawed.

Finance professionals in New York and London have bought themselves protection from proper societal accountability. In the Nylon world there is a greater mistrust of big government than of business. Tackling such interest groups is a big task.

2012 January 9

Iran Is Weak
Fareed Zakaria

The Islamic Republic of Iran is weak and getting weaker. Sanctions have pushed the economy into a nose-dive. The political system is fragmenting. The Gulf monarchies have allied against Iran.

The Iranian government's reaction to the prospects of sanctions shows its desperation. An admiral threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz. But a senior commander of the Revolutionary Guards explained that Tehran has no intention of blocking the strait. Iran would suffer as its oil exports were blocked. The United States does not buy oil from Iran, but European nations, Japan and South Korea do, and new sanctions could put Iran in economic free fall.

The Obama administration seems to have given up on strategic reconciliation with the Iranian regime. Washington wants to build pressure on Iran. This strategy is risky. The price of oil is rising.

AR Act fast. End it.

Plan A is for austerity, for fiscal discipline.

Plan B means borrowing a big bazooka to punch our way to growth.

Plan C consists of contemplating, reflecting, reading, appreciating the arts,
finding the consonance we need to build a more sustainable global order.

Pray we avoid D.

Margaret Thatcher
David Owen on
Thatcher's dementia

is now available
for purchase via

Lightning Delay

The Pentagon will delay buying early-model F-35 Lightning II warplanes to slow spending and to give more time for testers to work out kinks. The military will purchase only around 30 Lightnings a year from 2013 to 2017 before the type becomes combat ready in 2018. In line with the new U.S. military strategy emphasizing air and sea deterrence in the Pacific, the Pentagon still wants nearly 2,500 of the ten-a-billion jet in three versions. Over 50 years, the program will cost $1 trillion.

In an interview to mark his 70th birthday this weekend, Stephen Hawking, the former Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge University, admitted he spent most of the day thinking about women: "They are a complete mystery."

As for his greatest mistake, Hawking said: "I used to think information was destroyed in black holes. This was my biggest blunder, or at least my biggest blunder in science."

2012 January 9

Reinvent Capitalism
Larry Summers

Capitalism has led to increased unemployment combined with increased income for the top 1 percent and reduced social mobility. The roots of the problem are in the evolution of technology.

The agricultural economy gave way to the industrial one because technology let fewer people grow food for all. The same process is now under way in manufacturing and some services. The change lets a lucky few get very rich.

In purchasing power for goods where productivity growth has been rapid, wages have risen over the last generation. But they have stagnated or fallen relative to the price of housing, healthcare, food, energy, and education.

As fewer people are needed to meet basic demand for goods like appliances and clothing, more people work in areas like healthcare and education where outcomes are manifestly unsatisfactory.

The production of healthcare and education is much more involved with the public sector than that of manufactured goods. As workers move, we need to slow the growth of the public sector.

The governments of industrial market capitalist societies seem bankrupt. As markets fail, budget pressures force cuts in the public sector. The solvency of many capitalist states is in question.

The success of capitalism has raised the relative cost of teaching or nursing or administering. The new challenge is to succeed in the areas of health, education, and social protection.

AR The public sector may be the solution. Let all the unemployed become public sector workers as of right but under market discipline: their subsidized labor for private bosses bids down wage rates and shows voters the economic truth.

2012 January 8

John Brockman
John Naughton

John Brockman is a cultural impresario or an intellectual catalyst. He is a literary agent who spotted early on that there was a massive audience for writing about science. He represents a stable of high-profile scientists and communicators and can extract massive advances from publishers, but he's also passionate about big ideas.

Brockman is best known for, a site he founded to gather the most brilliant minds in the world and have them ask one another the questions they'd been asking themselves. is an online salon with Brockman as its editor and host.

AR Many years ago Brockman took a brief interest in representing my first novel after reading the first chapter but then declined on reading the second (rightly too in my present opinion).

Seventy Earth Years For Mr. Universe
Steve McQueen directed Shame

2012 January 7

U.S. Defense Strategy
Washington Post

President Obama says the need for fiscal austerity coincides with a global moment of transition. His plan is to build capacity in Asia by cutting not Mideast forces but deployments in Europe, benefit and retirement costs, Cold War weapon systems, and the nuclear arsenal.

His plan assumes that the United States will no longer conduct nation building. Though counterinsurgency has produced results in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army and Marines will be reduced in size to prewar levels. Officials say their expertise will be preserved and restored if needed.

One may question the scale of the defense cuts. Another half a trillion in sequestration cuts will take effect in 2013 unless Congress repeals them. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and the Joint Chiefs say such a fiscal hit would be a catastrophe for U.S. defense.

Islamist Spring
John M. Owen IV

Islamism did not cause the Arab Spring. Authoritarian governments had simply failed to deliver on their promises. But the Arab Spring is bringing forth blooms of Islamists.

From 1820 to 1850, Europe experienced historic rebellions that swept from country to country as frustrated people rallied around an ideology inherited from earlier radicals. The old regimes had long been run by monarchs, aristocrats, and the church, but the revolutionaries overthrew them to create a new liberal polity extending rights and liberties to the commercial classes and small landholders. Absolutist regimes tried to suppress liberalism after 1815, but networks of liberals continued to operate underground, providing a common language for dissent that burst out in the revolutions of 1848.

Today, Arabs have a common language of dissent in Islamism. For years the Islamists have provided a coherent narrative about what ails their world. The Arab Spring is their moment.

Martin Rees congratulates Stephen Hawking on reaching 70 and recalls his achievements

2012 January 6

Ponzi Planet
Alexander Jung

A Ponzi scheme is a mechanism for paying off old debt by constantly taking on new debt. The repayment of the debt is deferred in an endless process of refinancing. It's a snowball scheme, ending in an avalanche that buries everything.

The Western world is like a giant Ponzi scheme. In the first decade of this century, governments worldwide more than doubled the level of debt, to an estimated total of $55 trillion by the end of 2011.

The United States leads the pack with its national debt of $15 trillion, followed by Japan with about $13 trillion. The United States only remains solvent because the Congress in Washington keeps raising the debt ceiling.

Banks in Europe will have to repay about €725 billion in combined debt in 2012. The European Central Bank is creating billions out of nothing to buy bonds from eurozone countries. This financial aid so far amounts to €211 billion. At €440 billion the bailout fund is still too small, so finance ministers will leverage it to make it bigger.

Even in Germany, public debt was over €2 trillion in Q3 2011. German public debt grew by about €120 million a day between July and September. This increase occurred despite high tax revenues and low unemployment. Debts rise in good times and bad.

A government borrows money from citizens in return for bonds that promise repayment with interest. The state then prints new bonds to replace the old ones. Debts are not repaid but refinanced. The bonds are regarded as safe investments. They give banks apparent security on their balance sheets.

Credit depends on belief. The system will only function as long as lenders believe in borrowers. After the belief comes the avalanche. We are living on a Ponzi planet.

Pentagon Plan
The Times

President of the United States Barack Obama unveiled a Pentagon plan to cut half a trillion dollars from projected military spending over the next ten years: "Our military will be leaner, but the United States will maintain our military superiority with armed forces that are agile, flexible and ready for the full range of contingencies and threats."

POTUS said that U.S. military might would still be "larger than roughly the next ten countries combined".
But he emphasized the need to arm up in the Pacific region in face of China's growing regional power. The plan proposes scaling back the Army and the Marine Corps, reducing the nuclear arsenal, and shrinking the U.S. military footprint in Europe.

2012 January 5

Business Analytics
Dennis K. Berman

Analytics harvesting massive databases will improve everyday business decisions. New systems can chew through gigabytes of data, analyze them via self-learning algorithms, and package the insights for immediate use. Wall Street traders can now evaluate mortgage-backed securities by analyzing the ongoing creditworthiness of many millions of individual homeowners.

Company valuations in this space are rising. These technologies will move closer to us all in 2012. The goal is to push all the heavy backend work forward to front-line workers, as dashboard apps on handheld devices. Analytics will become the norm and will accelerate market evolution and business cycles.

AR If I were still at SAP, I'd be riding this wave, making money and losing my mind in action.

Romney Versus Obama
Jacob Weisberg

Self-interest lies behind media promotion of marginal Republican challengers for the nomination. Local television stations count on election-year revenue bumps from political advertising in important primary states. Rooting for the underdog, any underdog, is a matter of wanting a more dramatic story. The strait-laced frontrunner winning Iowa and New Hampshire before securing the nomination early on does not count as a compelling narrative. Hence the media hype of absurd candidates with outlandish views.

The GOP is overwhelmingly likely to nominate Mitt Romney because it is his turn and because he is the most electable candidate available. But the party he is likely to lead into battle is dominated by its activist extreme and deaf to reason about U.S. fiscal choices. To survive a Republican debate you are required to hold the incoherent view that the budget should be balanced immediately, taxes cut dramatically, and the major categories of spending (the military, pensions, healthcare for the elderly) left largely intact. There is no way to make these numbers add up and the candidates mostly do not try.

A proof that Homo sapiens is not rational — my Amazon review of
Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman

2012 January 4

Global Unrest
Paul Mason

All the recent protest movements center on graduates with no future. The financial crisis of 2008 created a generation whose projected life-arc switched from an upward curve to a downward one. The revolts of 2010/11 have shown what this workforce looks like when it becomes collectively disillusioned.

Members of this generation of graduates with no future form an international class, with behaviors and aspirations that easily cross borders. They reside in global cities among the slum-dwellers and the working class. The sheer size of the student population means that it transmits unrest to a much wider section of the population than before.

Social media and new technology were crucial in shaping the revolutions of 2011, just as they shaped industry, finance, and mass culture in the preceding decade. The ability to deploy a whole suite of information tools has allowed protesters across the world to beam their message into the newsrooms of global media, and above all to assert a cool new identity.

Revolution implies taking power away from its holders by making it impossible for them to keep running their machinery of domination. It is a form of collective practice that bypasses and supersedes the machinery by developing an alternative network of relations. We are in the middle of a global revolution.

Poland and Europe
Jan Cienski

Poland is now a more important trade partner for Germany than Russia. Polish central bank governor Marek Belka: "We have managed to nurture a real entrepreneurial class which is pretty resilient. Almost half of our exports to Germany come not from big multinationals like Volkswagen or Siemens with plants in Poland but from small Polish companies providing consumer and investment goods."

Germany is a strong supporter of the Weimar Triangle, involving Warsaw in a regular tripartite debate with Berlin and Paris. Polish foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski has become the leading exponent of Warsaw's new policy toward Germany of becoming Berlin's indispensable eastern neighbor in the same way that France is in the west.

Poland has the seventh largest economy in the EU and the sixth largest population. Its success in undergoing deep economic reforms could serve as an example both to the eurozone periphery and to countries such as Ukraine and Belarus. The government's goal is to make Poland a part of Germanic northern Europe: punctual, hardworking, and fiscally sober.

Poland is experiencing a catch-up boom similar to that in western Europe after WW2. For 2012, the EU forecast is for Polish GDP to grow by 2.5%, compared with 0.6% for the EU as a whole. Under pressure from ratings agencies, the Polish government promises to drive the public deficit below 3% in 2012. With debt nearing 55% of GDP, there are calls for austerity.

2012 January 3

Downturn 2012
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

A global downturn on all fronts will abort the recovery:

China will devalue the yuan and export yet more spare capacity into a deflationary world, until the West retaliates and starts to turn its back on globalization.

America will look resilient as the payroll tax deal averts a fiscal shock, but M3 money growth has sputtered out and velocity is falling.

Europe will fall into deep recession. The ECB has let M3 money contract, and fiscal tightening will cause a credit crunch as banks shrink loan books by €1 trillion.

Germany must either immolate itself by accepting a debt union and internal inflation to save the euro, or opt for fiscal sovereignty and democracy by letting the euro die.

Economists: Bleak 2012
Financial Times

A large majority of economists polled by the FT think the economic outlook will deteriorate in 2012. There is near unanimity that the UK outlook would be much worse if the euro collapsed. Economists expect that inflation rate would fall if a solution were found in the eurozone.

Goldman Bulls
Matt Taibbi

Goldman's Asset Management department head Jim O'Neill says the United States stock market may go up "15 to 20 percent." Apparently he believes the Fed will print more money: "If QE2 doesn't work, then we'll get QE3."

Goldman is building an impressive record of bullish predictions that later look more like signals that investors should run away fast. When Goldman upgraded European bank stocks a few weeks ago, the folks at Zero Hedge said:

Goldman has started selling European bank stocks to its clients, whom it is telling to buy European bank stocks. ... Our advice, as always, do what Goldman's flow desk is doing as it begins to unload inventory of bank stocks. Translation: run from European bank exposure.

Sure enough, Euro bank stocks plummeted a few days after that ZH post.

AR More Matt on Goldman here.

Leader Of The Free World?
Foreign Policy

President Obama's willingness in 2009 to extend his campaign timeline for withdrawal from Iraq and his initial stewardship of the gains achieved by President Bush's 2007 surge created the opportunity for a victory in the war on terror. As recent events indicate, that outcome is no longer certain.

Similarly, in Afghanistan, the president initially appeared intent on achieving a military victory against the extremists that threaten Afghanistan's stability. His 2009 surge has produced gains, especially in the south. But the president now seems more focused on winning reelection than winning the war.

Compounding these two failures in 2011 was the president's inability to leverage the momentous developments of the Arab Spring. As people seeking their freedom took to the streets in country after country, President Obama stood by, letting others take the lead.

AR Mitt's my man for 2012.

Alex Rosenberg
Alex Rosenberg

The Atheist's Guide To Reality
Alex Rosenberg

  1 There is no God. Reality is what physics says it is.
  2 There is no purpose to anything, anywhere. Never was, never will be.
  3 There is no meaning to life. I’m here because of dumb luck.
  4 Prayer doesn't work.
  5 There is no such thing as a soul.
  6 There is no free will.
  7 When we die, everything stays the same except without us.
  8 There is no moral difference between good and bad, right and wrong.
  9 Love is a solution to a strategic coordination problem.
10 Rational choice theories are outrageously bad psychology.

Nice Nihilism

Richard Marshall

Alex Rosenberg thinks that the natural sciences are the best guide to what exists in the world and that its methods are the best ways of extending our knowledge of what exists. He argues for a reductive physicalism: everything is just bosons and fermions. The problem is how we can understand ourselves as having free will and purpose.

The hard problem is to give an account of meaning that is more than merely consistent with the laws of physics. Rosenberg argues that physics and natural selection are more than likely going to be the final word on how to understand reality. He thinks purpose is an illusion. The same illusion that makes us think there's a purpose in the universe governs our self-image as purposive and meaningful. The purpose-driven life is an illusion. In reality there are no statements of meaning. There is no propositional or sentential reality.

Nice nihilism implies that attributing meaning to our lives is an illusion. Natural selection has ensured that everyone is within two standard deviations of the mean of a fun life in the biosphere. We are naturally selected to have fun, be nice to each other, and nurse illusions of free will and purpose.

AR This is a professor's view of reality, with a surfeit of respect for the miphology of mathematics, informatics, and physics (miph), which see reality through a cognitive lens. The logical status of the posthuman miph is analogous to that of human folk illusions (God, meaning, purpose, the self). With my post-Hegelian (set-theoretic) logic, I unfold the analogy in my recent books.

Religion for Atheists
A non-believer's guide
to the uses of religion
Alain de Botton

The supernatural claims of religion are of course entirely false.

Religions still have important things to teach the secular world.

We should look to religions for insights on how to build a sense of community, make our relationships last, overcome feelings of envy and inadequacy, and more.

Europe: Tough 2012
Financial Times

European leaders warned 2012 was likely to be tough. French president Nicolas Sarkozy said the gravest crisis Europe has faced since the second world war is not over and German chancellor Angela Merkel said next year will no doubt be more difficult than 2011.

2012 January 2

Sheer Madness
The New York Times

Most European governments are sticking to austerity plans, rejecting the Keynesian approach of economic stimulus, in a bid to show investors they are serious about fiscal discipline. "Every government in Europe with the exception of Germany is bending over backwards to prove to the market that they won't hesitate to do what it takes," said Charles Wyplosz, a professor of economics at the Graduate Institute of Geneva. "We're going straight into a wall with this kind of policy. It's sheer madness."

European End Times
John Gray

Twenty-odd years ago, the end of the Soviet Union was followed by massive conflicts and upheavals. Something similar seems to be happening today. The European Union has long since acquired an unmistakably utopian quality. Current efforts to renew the project are only accelerating its demise.

The Soviet Union suddenly melted down, and something similar could happen again. Many people say they could not go on without the faith that the future can be better than the past. But when we look to the future to give meaning to our lives, we lose the meaning we can make for ourselves here and now.

AR John was always a doom and gloom merchant but this may be overdoing it.

David Hockney

Queen Elizabeth II has appointed Hockney to the Order of Merit, where he joins a band of 24 including Baroness Thatcher and Sir Tim Berners-Lee.

Hockney said that the magic of the landscape would always thrill him: "I'm painting landscapes in Yorkshire because you can't photograph them. The camera can't get the beauty — it just can't get the space, the thrilling space that I'm in. No, it can't replace painting at all."

Hockney in front of his painting
Bigger Trees Near Water
Photo by Sang Tan / AP

David Hockney

2012 January 1

PHILOSOPHER is released — Amazon will post it in a few days

The Optimism Bias
Tali Sharot

To think positively about our prospects, we must first be able to imagine ourselves in the future. But conscious foresight came with the awareness of mortality. Despair would have interfered with the activities needed for survival. Conscious mental time travel could only have arisen together with irrational optimism.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we recorded brain activity in volunteers as they imagined specific events that might occur to them in the future. The volunteers reported that their images of sought-after events were richer and more vivid than those of unwanted events. This matched enhanced activity in two critical regions of the brain: the amygdala and the rostral anterior cingulate cortex. These regions show abnormal activity in depressed individuals. People with severe depression tend to be pessimistically biased.

Our brain is wired to place high value on the events we encounter and put faith in its own decisions. Once you make a decision, you will esteem and affirm it and stave off regrets. When you process good and bad stuff about the future, your neurons faithfully encode the good stuff but flub on the bad stuff.

AR I need the bias to contemplate my book!