BLOG 2012 Q1
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
Einstein Rules OK
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
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.
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
the first book
2012 March 31
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.
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.
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
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
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.
George Galloway has declared the "Bradford
Spring" — an "uprising" of the ordinary people against the political
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."
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.
"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
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).
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
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
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
When God Talks Back
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"
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
When God Talks Back by T. M. Luhrmann
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
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
Brains: The Mind as Matter
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.
By Rowland White
AR Thrilling novel
1982 Falklands bombing raid
Ian McEwan on
Age of Ignorance
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
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?
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
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
AR No surprise here:
quantum duality is well confirmed anyway.
2012 March 27
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.
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. >>
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
2012 March 26
U.S. Economic Outlook
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
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
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.
Mind, Beginner's Mind
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.
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.
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
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
Alex Rosenberg's evangelical scientism rests on
three principal ideas:
1 Physics is the whole
truth about reality.
2 Darwinian natural
selection explains humans.
shows us as we really are.
has revisited my 2008 Godblogs
1 Boss (physics)
2 Goof (biology)
2012 March 23
Mozartsaal, Schloss Schwetzingen
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
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."
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.
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.
Blame the the Islamists for this. We hate them and they hate Jews.
Memorial and Museum
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
Barrel Of Oil: $125
Monday: Saudi Arabia is taking steps to cool the
overheating global energy market. The Saudi cabinet said the kingdom would
work individually and with others to "return oil prices to fair levels" of
F-35 Lightning 2 B or not 2 B?
UK defense secretary Philip Hammond and armed forces chiefs are urging
PM David Cameron to reverse the 2010 decision to buy the navalized F‑35C
version of the Lockheed Martin Lightning 2 fighter for the new British
aircraft carriers. The C version would require "cats and traps" (catapults
and arrestor systems) on the carriers and push the cost up £2 billion. The
chiefs prefer the original plan to buy the F‑35B jump-jet version of the
fighter. In 2010, Cameron claimed the F‑35B was a "more expensive and less
capable version" of the plane.
Top 5 Exporters:
Top 5 Importers:
S. Korea 6%
Global arms trade
US$ 411 billion
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.
All this is no surprise to believers in the memetic doctrine of Dawkins and
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.
weakness of the brain story is no surprise to the author of
2012 March 21
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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."
2012 March 18
How Creativity Works
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
Take a walk or a break or lie down
3 Smoke some dope
4 See the color blue
Talk to people who know nothing about your work
Change jobs or emigrate
7 Feel sad
St. Patrick's Day
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
2012 March 16
China No Model
The China model has gained credibility in the west
recently. But China became an economic powerhouse by embracing free markets
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.
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
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
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
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
"How can you compare the dishonoring of the Holy Koran with
the martyrdom of innocent civilians?
The whole goal of our life is
Mullah Khaliq Dad, Afghanistan
Greg Smith leaves Goldman
Sachs and explains how low the vampire squid has sunk
The Gulf state of Qatar is roughly the shape of
Denmark but a quarter the size and mostly sand. In 1949, its population was
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.
Car drivers rejoice: we pay for all this.
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.
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
London 2011: 12,699 knife attacks known to the
(up 13.6% from 2010); 58,160 burglaries (up 8.8%); and
muggings (up 13%).
Great Britain 2009: about 800,000 domestic burglaries;
of which the police detected
some 67,000 and for which
went to prison (average sentence 17 months).
Shoot to kill.
Teetotal On Acid
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
2012 March 14
The British Prime Minister
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."
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."
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
To The Taliban
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
AR Talking to the Taliban is a waste of time.
Ray Kurzweil Talks To Lev Grossman
At SXSW, Austin, Texas,
Singularity prophet Ray
Kurzweil presented a keynote conversation with Time magazine columnist Lev
Grossman to discuss the future:
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
AR Zero tolerance: Kill the
2012 March 10
The Art Of Conversation
In 44 BCE, the Roman orator Cicero wrote down some
rules of conversation:
1 Speak clearly
2 Speak easily but not too much
Give others their turn
4 Do not
5 Be courteous
6 Deal seriously with serious
matters, gracefully with lighter ones
7 Never criticize people behind their
8 Stick to subjects of
9 Do not talk
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
Hands that can tote fire hoses
Understand and respond to
Track a person's line of sight
Batteries that last
Graphic: Naval Research Laboratory
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
2012 March 8
Bombs for Israel
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
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
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
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
The God Wars
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."
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.
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
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
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
an adaptation of
the 1912 science fantasy novel
A Princess of
by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
The movie has cost Disney
Philip K. Dick
Airbus Cracks Are British
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
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
British Carrier Confusion
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
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
Barack Obama meets Benjamin Netanyahu during the
annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee
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?
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
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!
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
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
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
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.
Oil spikes — bang goes Europe — I go down (hope not).
Engines Hard Astern!
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.
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
AR Europe doesn't have a
reverse gear. No going back. Brace for the iceberg.
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
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?
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.
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
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
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.
What fun! One could go crazy too reading such stuff.
2012 March 2
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
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
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
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
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.
Neuroscientists are unraveling the neural mechanisms of
human consciousness. Questions:
1 What are the critical brain regions for
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?
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
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
5 What is the function of consciousness?
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?
about consciousness depends on subjective reports. Other evidence may let us
distinguish the brain mechanisms of consciousness from those involved in
7 Are other animals conscious?
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?
"vegetative state", patients' behavior suggests that they are awake but not
aware. Brain imaging has revealed that at least some of these patients are
Anil Seth is co-director of the Sackler Centre for
Consciousness Science, University of Sussex, and chair of
Brighton, July 2-6.
AR This is how to
make scientific progress. Colin (Feb 25) take note.
2012 March 1
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
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
AR Sounds sensible to me.
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.
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
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."
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.
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
Brits Are Broke
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."
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 Study of Katia Reading
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
Are Universities For?
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
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.
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.
2012 February 28
Turkey Versus Iran
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
2012 February 27
Friedrich to Greece: Jump!
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
Beyond Blue Brain
Henry Markram's proposed
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.
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
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.
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
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
Die Kunst des negativen Denkens
Dr. Klaus-Jürgen Grün
2012 February 26
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.
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
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.
is the problem. It glorifies war and encourages brutality.
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.
Islam again. Time either to fix it or to consign it to history.
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.
Dualist: The physical brain and the conscious mind remain distinct
entities. But this makes the mind too separate. It precludes intelligible
interaction and dependence.
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.
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
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.
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
Gulf War III
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
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
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.
Politics is about more than business but less than God.
BRIT Awards 2012
GOTT 8.0 =
A New Nuclear Bomber
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.
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?
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
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
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
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
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%.
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
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.
Evangelical atheism is a proper response to the idiocies of Biblical
2012 February 20
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.
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.
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.
needs limits: people don't always understand what they're voting for.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
"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
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.
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
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.
EU Task Force head Horst Reichenbach should run the Greek budget.
2012 February 16
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
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.
Gott 9.0 ist da!
2012 February 15
The Top Five Regrets of the Dying
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
4 I wish I had stayed in touch with
5 I wish that I had let myself be
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
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
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
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
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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:
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."
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.
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
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
AR Perhaps Cameron was right to back her
after all (blog 2011-01-20).
2012 February 13
Ordered Gott 9.0
2012 February 12
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
AR The Ahmadinejad regime is
Whitney Houston: "My business is sex, drugs and rock'n'roll.
I partied my tail off."
World Press Photo
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.
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.
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.
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
Queen Elizabeth II
"In this special year, as I
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
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
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
Irish, the Greeks,
and the Germans
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
Qatada's Human Rights
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
Atheism in America
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
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
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
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."
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
2012 February 5
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.
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
2012 February 3
Seven Pillars of Wisdom
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.
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
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
7 We need to defend Labour's
record in government.
AR Good luck with
the last two — you'll need it!
2012 February 2
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.
Angela Merkel succeeds in imposing her present one-sided treaty, her demands
are taken literally, and the euro collapses.
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
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
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
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
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
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
Mormonism Needs Reform
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."
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
doesn't know what
he's talking about
Shai Agassi rolls out
electric cars in Israel
Triumph Daytona 955i 2004
singing its heart out
2012 January 31
Beware the Beasts
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
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
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
Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak lays out three
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
"Le ballet des saisons" by Jean-Baptiste
Lully and "Le quattro stagioni" by Antonio Vivaldi
La Folia Baroque
Orchestra starring Julia Schröder on violin
Religion for Atheists
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
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."
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
F-35 program and may invest in an interim
capability such as the
F-18 Super Hornet or the French
The Power of Introverts
Introverts prefer quiet
environments, while extroverts need higher levels of stimulation
to feel their best. Our schools and workplaces are designed for
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
Third Jihad: Radical
Islam's Vision for America
Iranium: The Movie
Both movies are financed by
The Clarion Fund
2012 January 26
Cameron @ Davos
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
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
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
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
World Economic Forum
Davos expert verdict:
Globorg is weakening and risks another crunch.
Globorg will grow only slightly with regional recessions.
3 Expect an economic crunch or another sub-par
4 Weak government responses will worsen
5 Most big issues depend on
solving the eurozone crisis.
Experts say the eurozone needs:
1 Austerity and structural reforms in peripheral
2 Fiscal integration with risk
sharing, including eurobonds
liquidity support for countries struggling to borrow
4 Deep restructuring of Greek sovereign debt
5 Eurozone-wide recapitalization of European
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
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
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
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
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
AR Wheatley has obviously read Daniel
Kahneman's new book (blog, Jan 5).
2012 January 24
Gulf Storm Warning
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
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
2012 January 23
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
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
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
4 Who has the best ability to influence a
volatile world away from its brink of destruction?
5 Who has clear and present moral
6 Who can best beat President Barack
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
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
A new edition of William L. Shirer's 1,250-page
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
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
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
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
Buy @ Amazon:
directs and stars in
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."
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
are just updated HUDs from aircraft: see
my 2010 book. But pilots have,
like, common sense.
The design of giant cruise ships needs urgent
rethinking after the rapid capsizing of Costa Concordia, says maritime trade
union Nautilus International.
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.
Wikipedia goes black but
her new album
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.
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.
are under attack from online
PHOTO: MICHAEL ZILKHA
Hitchens, Voltaire, 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.
by Steven Spielberg
"The best thing Spielberg has
made in at least ten years"
My review of One Day
"Tonight we made history. Americans know that our futures are brighter
and better than these troubled times."
The Ring Of Truth
In the Islamic Republic of Iran, IAEA inspectors
are monitoring the Mordor facility concealed in a mountain near the city
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
Saudi Arabia would develop
its own nuclear arms
Turkey would leave
Nuke Mount Doom.
2012 July 2-6
2012 January 17
Five Steps To Happiness
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
AR I enjoyed
Jews And Globalization
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
2012 January 12
Physicists Need Genesis
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.
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
2012 January 11
The Market Economy
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
finding the consonance we need to build a more sustainable global
Pray we avoid D.
David Owen on
for purchase via
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
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
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 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
Edge.org, 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.
Edge.org is an online
salon with Brockman as its editor and host.
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
McQueen directed Shame
2012 January 7
U.S. Defense Strategy
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Sure enough, Euro bank stocks plummeted a few days after
that ZH post.
More Matt on Goldman here.
Leader Of The Free World?
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.
Mitt's my man for 2012.
The Atheist's Guide To Reality
1 There is no
God. Reality is what physics says it is.
There is no purpose to anything, anywhere. Never was, never will be.
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.
Rational choice theories are outrageously bad psychology.
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
claims of religion are of course entirely false.
Religions still have important things to teach the secular
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
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
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
European End Times
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
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.
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
Hockney in front of his painting
Bigger Trees Near Water
Photo by Sang Tan / AP
2012 January 1
PHILOSOPHER is released —
Amazon will post it in a few days
The Optimism Bias
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
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!