BLOG 2012 Q2

China Daily
The return capsule of the Shenzhou IX
spacecraft landed in the Inner Mongolia
autonomous region on Friday as planned.

China Daily
Astronauts (from left to right) Liu Wang,
Jing Haipeng, and Liu Yang enjoy a breather
after leaving the Shenzhou IX capsule.

China Daily
Students of Zhengzhou No 11 Middle
School hold pictures of school
alumna astronaut Liu Yang.

China Space Triumph

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao congratulated everyone involved in the success of the Shenzhou IX space docking mission.
China started its manned space program ten years ago. Since then, China has launched nine spacecraft and a space lab module.
Four flights were manned and took eight astronauts into space. At a cost of nearly 39 billion yuan (over $6 billion), China has
mastered the three basic technologies of manned spaceflight: the technology to transport human beings to and from Earth orbit,
extravehicular activity technology, and space rendezvous and docking technology.


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will participate in an emergency UN meeting on Syria set for Saturday in Geneva, Switzerland. The meeting will bring together top diplomats of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States — and Turkey.

The Hitchhiker's
Guide To The Galaxy

I now have a Samsung Galaxy running Google Android.

Jilly Cooper

Women don't want to have sex any more. Ours is now a terribly under-sexed society. I have talked to a lot of young women about this and they just don't seem to do it any more. I suppose it's because we all have so many other demands on our time. I don't write about sex nearly as much as I used to.


Alan Turing
1912-06-23 — 1954-06-07

2012 June 30

Smart Concessions
Christian Rickens

Chancellor Angela Merkel gave up several core demands during the EU summit. The ESM can now provide direct aid to banks. This helps Spain. And states will get ESM money without having to accept strict oversight. This helps Italy. But she abandoned positions that were already untenable. And she won big trade-offs with the fiscal pact and the growth pact.

Lending Spain cheap money to save its banks makes no sense when it only increases Spanish sovereign debt. And aid will only begin to flow once an effective European banking supervision mechanism is in place. Austerity measures don't help when states lack the will and ability to implement them.

The fiscal pact gives Merkel a tool to impose strict austerity measures on highly indebted states. Italy must balance its budget in future and will only get cheap money from the ESM once it has drawn down its debt. Merkel can do no better in the euro crisis than prime ministers Mario Monti in Rome and Mariano Rajoy in Madrid. Both have pushed through deep reforms.

Merkel got new French President François Hollande to sign off on her fiscal pact in return for her support on the €130 billion EU growth pact. The growth pact is made up of little more than empty promises and dreams that can never come true. It is no win for Hollande.

2012 June 29


Summit Deal
Financial Times

Eurozone leaders agreed at the European summit to restructure Spain’s €100 billion bank recapitalization plan. EU bailout funds will now be injected directly into teetering Spanish financial institutions. The change will come as soon as the eurozone sets up banking supervision run by the ECB. The move came after Italy and Spain forced leaders to remain at the summit overnight by blocking agreement on all other agenda items until they got a rescue deal.

Italy and Spain Get Their Way
Spiegel Online

Italian PM Mario Monti and Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy have won a eurozone agreement to let the bailout funds EFSF and ESM support ailing banks and act in sovereign bond markets. The agreement will allow the ESM to recapitalize troubled banks directly instead of loaning the bailout aid to national governments in exchange for austerity commitments. Emergency aid funds will also be made available to stabilize the bond markets without requiring countries to adopt additional austerity measures.

Monti and Rajoy got the deal by blocking the vote on the €120 billion EU growth pact. German Chancellor Angela Merkel had promised to pass the pact in exchange for domestic opposition support in ratifying the ESM and the EU fiscal pact. She was not an early fan of the growth pact. French President François Hollande had promised voters that he would secure a growth pact to complement the fiscal pact. Monti and Rajoy used the growth pact to get their way.

EU leaders are meeting again to discuss the creation of a banking union and a eurozone deposit insurance scheme. Merkel would also like to see steps taken toward further political and economic integration across the eurozone. A detailed proposal for a banking union is due in October. European Council President Herman Van Rompuy says the aim is "to make the euro an irreversible project".

Financial Times

Large investment banks in the City of London and Wall Street wrap their activities in the rhetoric of free markets. But the London Interbank Offered Rate was never organized as a proper market.

LIBOR pricing was murky and capricious, since it was based on private reported quotes in a market dominated by a small clique of powerful banks. Reforming this system will not be easy.

An estimated $350 trillion of derivatives contracts have already been written using LIBOR as a reference point. LIBOR is now hard-wired into the system, with all its flaws.

Philip Stephens

European leaders might reflect on the breakup of the Soviet Union. So for the Soviet Union should we read the eurozone, and for a secessionist Russia a disgruntled Germany?

The eurozone is not built on a doomed economic system. Its disintegration is not inevitable. All agree they need to mutualize debt and decision making. They disagree on which to do first.

Germany fears that agreeing to eurobonds will relax pressure for fiscal discipline and economic integration. The Club Med countries say they need help to pull out of debt and deflation. All need trust.


The Supreme Court of the United States upholds the reform of health care coverage initiated by Barack Obama. The Affordable Care Act requires most Americans to have health care insurance.

Under the law, insurance companies will cover preventive care services. Without it, 40 million Americans would stay uninsured and those without insurance would grow to some 60 million by 2019.

Many Americans get health cover from employers. Others can buy insurance at state exchanges. Obama says the ruling upholds the principle that no American should go bankrupt because of illness.

2012 June 28


Today's EU Summit
Spiegel Online

The summit will be stormy. Chancellor Merkel stands firm in her opposition to eurobonds. Italy and Spain want relief from the high costs of servicing their debt. They want the ESM to buy their bonds, but Merkel says no. The Dutch and Finnish prime ministers are on her side. The result may be a north-south split.

Both camps say they want "more Europe". The Mediterranean countries want a collectivization of debt, in the short term through the ESM and in the long term through eurobonds. But Germany wants to give Brussels more power to intervene in national budgets first.

European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, ECB chief Mario Draghi, and Euro Group head Jean-Claude Juncker together presented a report titled "Towards a Genuine Economic and Monetary Union" (blog June 27).

The situation heading into the summit is even more complicated than usual. The only option is to kick the can down the road. The four EU officials say they can present another interim report for the next summit in October, with concrete proposals left for the summit in December.

Merkel Says No
Financial Times

German chancellor Angela Merkel called short-term measures to help lower Spanish and Italian borrowing costs ahead of the EU summit "eyewash and fake solutions".

One plan is to use the €440 billion eurozone rescue fund to purchase Italian and Spanish bonds, but Merkel says the eurozone should institute more central controls over European banks and national budgets and believes that eurobonds are the wrong way to go.

Keynesian Manifesto
Paul Krugman and Richard Layard

Advanced economies remain deeply depressed. This manifesto offers an analysis:

The causes: The crisis was created by excessive private sector borrowing and lending. The bursting of this bubble led to large falls in output and thus in tax revenue, hence to government deficits.

The nature of the crisis: When the bubble burst, people slashed spending. This was rational for individuals but collectively self-defeating. One person's spending is another person's income.

The appropriate response: Public policy should stabilize the economy and sustain spending, not make things worse with big cuts in government spending.

The big mistake: Policy took a wrong turn by attempting to reduce public debts in tandem with the private sector. Fiscal policy has reinforced the damping effects of private spending cuts.

Supporters of the existing approach say austerity will increase confidence and encourage recovery. But budget cuts do not inspire business confidence. They also say output is constrained on the supply side. But the problem is a shortage of demand, not of supply.

Western policy makers are inflicting massive suffering on their people. They cite ideas rejected by most economists after the Great Depression.

AR I read Keynes at Oxford: This is a correct analysis.

Muslim Immigration
Camilla Cavendish

The European Union accounts for less than a quarter of the 3.5 million people who the Office for National Statistics says have immigrated to the UK since 1997.

When I wrote in 2003 that some women in England were living in similar conditions to those I had witnessed as an aid worker in Bangladesh, but were further isolated by language, the Muslim Council of Britain put me on its watch list. Three years later the Blair government dropped plans to ban forced marriage because the Muslim Council warned that doing so would stigmatize communities.

We have imported feudal societies into our midst but ignored the people trapped inside them. Fewer than one in four women from these communities have jobs. Many still do not speak English. Immigrants who cannot get jobs, or work only in one sector, will not integrate. Immigrants who cannot communicate will not integrate. The more relatives arrive, the larger these ghettos will become and the harder it will be to tear down the walls.

According to polls, the majority of those surveyed say "all further immigration should be halted" and say the worst thing about the UK is "the number of immigrants".

AR Stop Muslim immigration until the present lot are integrated.

Bomb Iran
Mitt Romney

"I can assure you if I'm President, the Iranians will have no question but that I would be willing to take military action, if necessary, to prevent them from becoming a nuclear threat to the world. I don't believe at this stage, therefore, if I'm President, that we need to have war powers approval or a special authorization for military force. The President has that capacity now."

2012 June 27

Toward Economic and Monetary Union
Herman Van Rompuy

This report sets out a vision for the future of the EMU based on:

1 An integrated financial framework with two central elements: European banking supervision and a common deposit insurance and resolution framework. Integrated supervision would ensure that the supervision of banks in all EU member states is equally effective in preventing bank failures and the need for intervention. A European deposit insurance scheme could add to national deposit guarantee schemes and a European resolution scheme could help ensure orderly write-downs.

2 An integrated budgetary framework: Effective mechanisms to prevent and correct unsustainable fiscal policies in member states are essential. Issuance of common debt could be explored subject to progress on fiscal integration and a robust framework for budgetary discipline and competitiveness. A fiscal union would imply the development at the euro area level of a treasury office.

3 An integrated economic policy framework: National policies should be oriented toward strong and sustainable economic growth and employment while promoting social cohesion.

4 Democratic legitimacy and accountability: Decisions on national budgets will require strong mechanisms for legitimate and accountable joint decision making.

Further work is necessary. An interim report could be presented in October 2012.

AR This is the best our EU President can do? I'd expect more from a British senior civil servant.

Google Brain Thinks Cats
The New York Times

Google X lab scientists made a neural network with 16 000 computer processors and over a billion connections. They turned it loose on 10 million randomly chosen digital images from YouTube videos. And it learned to recognize cats.

Google scientist Jeff Dean: "We never told it during the training, this is a cat. It basically invented the concept of a cat."

The Google brain learned to recognize three quarters of the cats it saw among a collection of 20 000 objects. The scientists are cautious about drawing parallels with our brains. The human visual cortex is a million times more complex.

AR Great stuff. Now maybe we can expect better results from Google image search.

2012 June 26

Fiscal Union
Financial Times

An EU proposal for closer fiscal union is on the agenda for Thursday's summit. Powers to rewrite national budgets for eurozone countries that breach debt and deficit rules are part of an ambitious plan to move to a closer fiscal union, giving Brussels more powers to serve like a finance ministry for all 17 members of the currency union. The report will also outline plans for a banking union and political union.

Euro Crash
Spiegel Online

Investment experts at Deutsche Bank now feel that a collapse of the common currency is "very likely".
Two decades of progress in Europe would be lost. Millions of business contracts and relationships would have to be reassessed and thousands of companies would need protection from bankruptcy. Europe would plunge into a deep recession. Governments would have to borrow more billions to meet their needs and either raise taxes or accept higher inflation.

>>> more

2012 June 25

Tony Blair

I am in favor of keeping Britain positive toward the project of European integration. If they sort out the euro crisis and Europe moves forward again, then Britain is going to have a very interesting choice in the future. The rationale for Europe today is not peace any more, it is power.

You need a plan to put before people. That means treating the debts of one as the debts of all, which is very hard for Germany to do. And it means those other countries in the eurozone need to reform so that Europe can regain its competitiveness. There is going to be a huge reconstruction of Europe.

George Soros

Last Thursday, Chancellor Merkel resisted all proposals to provide relief to Spain and Italy from the excessive risk premiums prevailing in the market. This threatens to turn the June summit into a fiasco. It will put the periphery into a permanently subordinate position.

Chancellor Merkel argued that it is against the rules to use the ECB to solve the fiscal problems of member countries. A European Fiscal Authority (EFA) is needed to establish a debt reduction fund. In return for Italy and Spain undertaking structural reforms, the fund would hold part of their debt. It would finance the purchases by issuing European Treasury Bills.

That will be the prelude the establishment of a full political union and the introduction of eurobonds. Chancellor Merkel insists that a political union should precede a fiscal and banking union. That is both unrealistic and unreasonable.

2012 June 24

Nicholas D. Kristof

President George W. Bush upended the Taliban in Afghanistan, Iran's enemy to the east, and then removed the Saddam Hussein government from Iraq, Iran's even deadlier threat to the west. The United States fought the wars and Iran won.

Americans think of Iran as a police state, but Iran is a complex and contradictory country. Iran imprisons more journalists than any other country, yet it has a vigorous parliament and news media with clashing views. Some ethnic Turks seek to secede and join Azerbaijan, but the country’s supreme leader is an ethnic Turk. Iran's regime sometimes embraces anti-Semitism, yet Parliament has a Jewish member.

Iranians gripe about their government without worrying about being overheard, yet participants in protests are tortured, gays can be executed and the Bahai religious minority endures mind-boggling repression. Iranian women constitute a majority of university students and hold important positions in the country, yet women are still required to cover themselves. Let's not undercut the Iranians who are chipping away at hard-line rule by flashing their hair.

2012 June 23

Alan Turing
Daniel C. Dennett

Alan Turing showed how to make a machine that could be used to compute any computable sequence. With that demonstration the computer age was born. Before Turing, computers were people, who had to understand mathematics to do their jobs. Turing took their tasks and squeezed out understanding, leaving nothing but mechanical actions. A computing machine does not need to know what arithmetic is.

A good way of understanding Turing's revolutionary idea about computation is to compare it with Darwin's about evolution. To this day many people cannot get how a mindless process can in time generate ever more complex organisms without understanding what it is doing.

Darwin and Turing both discovered the existence of competence without comprehension. This inverted the assumption that comprehension is the source of all advanced competence. The motto of modern education — comprehend in order to be competent — motivates skepticism about both evolution and artificial intelligence.

Turing took human computers as his model. They did one simple and highly reliable step after another, checking their work, writing down the intermediate results, consulting their recipes, turning a daunting task into a routine. Turing broke down the simple steps into even simpler steps, removing comprehension.

But what about the genius of Turing, and of later programmers, whose own intelligent comprehension was the source of the designs that can knit such mindless building blocks into useful competences?

A single cascade of natural selection events would seem unlikely to create an algorithm for conscious judgments. But the process of evolution can copy itself on many scales, of mounting discernment and judgment. The recursive step of designing a computer that could mimic any other computer could itself be reiterated, permitting specific computers to enhance their own powers by redesigning themselves, leaving their original designer far behind.

Turing saw that all of human thought could in principle be constructed level by level out of these building blocks. When we analyze this stack, we need to know for each level what it is and what it does. What it is can be described in terms of the structural organization of the parts from which it is made. What it does is some (cognitive) function that it (sorta) performs well enough to use.

This is the key to answering the question of how a mind could ever be composed of material mechanisms. What we might call the sorta operator is, in cognitive science, the parallel of Darwin's gradualism in evolutionary processes. There is no principled line marking off true comprehension.

AR Turing's contribution to logic and computing dominated my graduate research.

Europameisterschaft: Deutschland siegt 4:2 gegen Griechenland

The Scale of the Universe 2
By Cary Huang

AR Achtung, Panzer!

British defense Secretary Philip Hammond: "Foxhound's arrival in Afghanistan is great news for our soldiers. This government has spent £270 million on 300 of these hi-tech, British-built vehicles."

AR Nearly a million a pop?
You gotta be kidding!

2012 June 22

The Times

Germany wants to propel Europe towards greater political union and has started to discuss with other EU states the prospect of creating a European finance minister, a beefed up European border police force, and a European army. Britain is not part of the conversation in the Future of Europe group.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle: "The discussion about the future of the EU has to begin. One of the consequences of the situation is that we have to accelerate integration in Europe. No investor in the world will invest in Europe if he doesn't have the feeling that Europe believes in itself and is working on its future."

AR Quite right too: high time to get on with the job and build a federal Europe. The absence of the UK is a historic opportunity to make faster progress and confront perfidious Albion with a fait accompli.

2012 June 21

Arab Junta Summer
Ed Husain

In Egypt, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has dissolved the elected parliament and unilaterally amended the constitution. This is a catastrophe.

Today we are due to learn whether Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, or Ahmed Shafiq, a military man and former prime minister, won the presidential election. Shafiq sees Morsi as an Islamist who wishes to impose theocracy on Egypt. Morsi views Shafiq as a Mubarak throwback who will return the country to secular dictatorship. In reality, neither would have the powers under SCAF.

SCAF has put itself on a collision course with the revolution. Muslim Brotherhood deputy leader Khairat al-Shater: "The coming revolution may be less peaceful and more violent. It may be difficult to control the streets. Some parties, not the Muslim Brotherhood, may resort to further violence and extremism. When people find that the door to peaceful change is closed, it is an invitation to violence."

Many Egyptians are weary of revolution. About half the voters backed Shafiq, the remnant of the old regime. Egypt will be a quagmire for the foreseeable future.

2012 June 20

Germany Good, Club Med Bad
Joseph Joffe

In the decade of the euro, German exports boomed. Germany encouraged competitiveness by reforming the labor market, tax, and welfare. Club Med failed to reform. Unit labor costs rose by 7% in Germany, but by 30% in Italy, 35% in Spain, and 42% in Greece. Money became cheap under the euro, and profligacy easy. This was Europe's tragedy. Now the crisis countries want Germany to cheapen credit for all and shoulder the risk alone. But that will perpetuate the maladies of the eurozone. Club Med must mend its ways, or the eurozone faces bankruptcy and decay.

Tax Cheats
David Aaronovitch

Tax avoidance is tax evasion that is legal and tax evasion is tax avoidance that is illegal. A billionaire (and heir to a billionaire) with a £10 million home in North London, a Central Park apartment and a yacht, laughed when asked how much tax he paid: "People like me don't pay taxes." A major bank has a unit staffed by brilliant young graduates who are paid well to devise ways to help very wealthy people avoid paying tax. A tycoon puts his British earnings in the name of an offshore wife who has never earned anything. If we all found a way to avoid paying our taxes, we would all be worse off.

2012 June 19

Spain and Italy
Gideon Rachman

The Greek election avoids a showdown between Greece and Germany. Greece will probably limp on with austerity. But the fate of the euro will be decided in Spain and Italy.

The EU can keep Greece in the single currency. But if Spain and Italy fail to fund themselves through the markets, the EU may be unable to save them. Spain might need a full sovereign bailout, which could cost €500 billion. Italy's total public debt is now €1.95 trillion and its borrowing costs are creeping up.

A chaotic Greek exit might show there are worse options than austerity. But the effects could still be enormous. The Greek election has made a confrontation less likely.

Hydrogen From Water
MIT Technology Review

Splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen using heat and catalysts may be a cheap and clean way to produce hydrogen. Caltech professor Mark Davis has developed a new approach that works at relatively low temperatures, produces no toxic or corrosive intermediate products, and can work without fossil fuels. Davis heats up an oxidized metal to drive off its oxygen, then adds water. He starts with magnesium oxide and facilitates the reactions by shuttling sodium ions in and out of it. Without the sodium, the temperatures would need to be over 1300 K. With it, the reactions work at about 1100 K. The heat can come from nuclear reactors or solar thermal rigs using mirrors to concentrate sunlight.

2012 June 18

New Democracy Win

Greece: The moderate New Democracy party came top in Sunday's parliamentary elections, a vote seen as a referendum on the survival of the euro. New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras vows to form a government "determined to do what it takes and do it fast." Samaras: "Today the Greek people expressed their will to stay anchored within the euro, remain an integral part of the eurozone, honor the country's commitments and foster growth. This is a victory for all Europe."

AR Well, what a relief.

The Turing Test
The Guardian

Alan Turing was born 100 years ago this week. In 1950 he proposed a game, the Turing test. In 1990, American philanthropist Hugh Loebner founded the annual Loebner prize for artificial intelligence, "the first formal instantiation of the Turing test". This year the competition was held at Bletchley Park:

Loebner explains the rules to four volunteers, "Your job is to convince the judges that you are the human." They sit down at their screens and begin the first of four online chats. Their opponents are computers, each with a different chatbot designed by AI enthusiasts to talk like a human being. Across the hall, four judges sit at another bank of screens. In each round, the judges will hold two online chats, one with a volunteer and one a chatbot. They do not know which is which. If a bot fools two or more judges, it will win its creator a gold medal and $100,000.

This year's "most human-like computer" won't get any love letters. A $5,000 prize goes to American chatbot Chip Vivant. For its creator, American consultant Mohan Embar, it is success at the fifth attempt. Creating his bot wasn't about deceiving the judges so much as offering them a meaningful conversation.

AR It's a harder test than anyone thought 60 years ago.

2012 June 17

Beyond Trident
The Sunday Times

British defense secretary Philip Hammond will will announce a £1 billion contract to help start building the reactors needed to power the next generation of nuclear submarines. The new submarines will replace the Vanguard fleet, which carries the Trident nuclear missile arsenal. The total estimated cost of the replacement is £20 billion. The new submarines are scheduled to come into service in 2028.

AR Does Britain really need a nuclear deterrent big enough to blow up half the world?

Brit Hol Girls Go Bonkers
The Sun

A third of British girls admit they have enjoyed a bonk on the beach on their hols. Almost a half of women under 30 have had a one-night stand on holiday. One in ten have had five lovers or more during a week-long break. And nine in ten girls have more sex in the sun than when they're at home.

AR Seems I missed out somehow on my hols.

2012 June 16

Bloomsday today, Drachmageddon tomorrow

Three space enthusiasts, inspired by the 50-year anniversary of John Glenn's orbit of the earth, launched a weather balloon with a message to the world: Now is the time for us to go back into space. Their DIY message may be the first marriage proposal from space.


Sabatina James
When I was 18, my parents threatened to kill me. The trouble started when I was 15. At the time, we were living in the Austrian city of Linz, a world away from Pakistan, where I had grown up in a village near the Kashmir mountains. I loved the freedoms of my new life in Europe but my parents didn't. We fought about swimming lessons and acting classes, which my father said were for prostitutes. My mother thought tampons would ruin my virginity. When she learned that I had kissed a boy after school, she attacked me and called me a whore. When she was my age, she went into an arranged marriage. She thought I should do the same. I disagreed. Thus began a 3-year war.

Lisa Brown
As a state legislator, I was shocked when the leadership of the Michigan House of Representatives had decided to silence me and keep me from doing my job because I had uttered the word vagina. We were debating a new anti-choice law that would over-regulate women's health clinics to the point many could no longer offer abortions. I explained my opposition to the bill. As a Jew, I asked that they not force their religious views on me. In closing, I told them that I was flattered in their interest in my vagina, but no means no. The next day, I was told I wouldn't be allowed to speak. Shouldn't we be able to discuss body parts if we're going to pass laws about them?

Fat Food
The Guardian

Average Westerners are 20 kg heavier than 50 years ago. We're not eating more or exercising less. We became sugar addicts.

Forty years ago, heart disease was blamed on fat or sugar. The sugar industry blamed fat, and "low fat" became the new health buzz. Ten years later, people were getting fatter. When lab rats ate rat food they put on weight normally. But when they ate processed supermarket food they grew fat in days.

Sugar is addictive, like cigarettes or alcohol. The gut learns to want more sugar and sends irresistible messages to the brain. Then obesity affects the function of a hormone called leptin. The body produces leptin to say you are full, but fat people deplete their stock. With no leptin signal, your body keeps eating.


The U.S. Air Force wants a High Speed Strike Weapon for its F‑22 Raptor and F‑35 Lightning II stealth fighters. The missile will strike "time-critical targets" from "tactically relevant standoff distances" and will be an air-breathing hypersonic system that can survive in "stringent" air defense environments. The scramjet missile will need to be small enough for a fighter to carry but still carry advanced navigation controls, precision guidance tools, and sophisticated sensors, plus a warhead, and to survive the heat generated by Mach 5 and above.

Bats and Angels
M.C. Escher

IceCube Neutrino Oscillations

The IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the South Pole has measured the highest-energy neutrino oscillations yet. The measurements may help us to understand the neutrino mass hierarchy.

Roughly 5 trillion atmospheric muon neutrinos are created per second as cosmic rays collide with air molecules in the Earth's atmosphere, and some oscillate into tau neutrinos. The energy of the oscillating neutrinos fell between 10 and 100 GeV, with a peak at about 30 GeV.

2012 June 14

Donnerwetter! A Blitzschlag put my iMac offline.

2012 June 13

European Union
Martin Wolf

The eurozone is pursuing fiscal austerity and structural reform. Weak economies face a growing mountain of bad private debt, high fiscal deficits, rising public debt, high interest rates, and fragile financial systems. A balance cannot be achieved without higher spending and inflation in the core.

A transfer union is politically infeasible. It is unnecessary for poorer countries to run sustained current account deficits provided wages remain in line with productivity. It is undesirable for countries to receive large and sustained net transfers that entrench backwardness.

I suggest insurance union and adjustment union. An insurance union provides temporary and targeted support for countries hit by big shocks. An adjustment union ensures symmetrical adjustment to changes in circumstances. Both are necessary and together they should be sufficient.

2012 June 12

Saudi Oil Push
Financial Times

Saudi Arabia is on course for a showdown with fellow OPEC members after calling for a higher output target. Iran blames Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the UAE for the recent drop in oil prices. Saudi oil minister Ali Naimi says Saudi oil production has "acted as a type of stimulus to the European and world economy".

German Right
Gideon Rachman

A senior Dutch politician: "We cannot push through a banking union when the French have just cut their retirement age to 60 and we have raised ours to 67." Dutch and German citizens find it unfair to pay to underwrite the banks of countries that offer social benefits more generous than those in Germany or the Netherlands. Before you mutualize debt across Europe, you need to harmonize European social security systems. Anything less is giving southern Europe a German credit card without setting a credit limit.

Angela Merkel has prevented political extremists from gaining ground in Germany. In France, a third of the electorate recently voted for a far-right or a far-left presidential candidate. In the Netherlands, the far right and the far left are running first and second in opinion polls. In Austria, the far right is strong. Germany cannot afford a similar backlash. A rise of the far right in Germany would wreck Europe.

2012 June 11

Europe's Roach Motel
Mohamed El-Erian

As Spain gets bank aid from its European neighbors to recapitalize struggling banks, it needs to avoid becoming a ward of the European state like Greece, Ireland, and Portugal. So far, emergency European funding has been a one-way resort, like a roach motel. Rather than catalyze an inflow of private capital to restore growth and financial viability, public money has enabled the private sector to exit program countries at a much lower cost.

AR Again and again, such schemes end up helping private investors to get richer at the expense of law-abiding taxpayers — the cash cows of the new world order. Governments have taken all my surplus earnings and given them to the rich. Now I'm feeling the pinch. Calling all rich pigs: gimme a break!

The Jew Who Would Be God
Peter Schäfer

Jesus was a Jew, his followers were Jews, and the Gospels are Jewish writings. Nothing Jesus says in the New Testament goes beyond the Judaism of his day.

In the first century CE, there was no clear distinction between Judaism and Christianity. The binitarian idea of two divine powers, father and son, does not divide the faiths, but the Trinitarian idea of three divine powers does. The vicarious suffering of the messiah is no problem for Jews, but the scandal of his death on the cross is.

Some of the potential inherent in Judaism and Christianity before they became distinct religions returned to Judaism in Kabbalah.

AR And on Kabbalah, read Yehuda Berg, Madonna's coach, who alongside such scientific luminaries as Albert Einstein cites Stuart Hameroff, the quantum mindfreak from Tucson, Arizona, who gained cinematic immortality in What the Bleep Do We Know!?

2012 June 10

Die Gemeindefreizeit in Mücke war sehr gut. Morgen kommt wieder Buchrevidierung.
Mein abgeschlossenes Freizeit-Leseprogramm: A Theory Of Everything by Ken Wilber

2012 June 9

Europe: Bubble Or Bicycle?
Charles Moore

George Soros says only three months remain to save the euro. He says that the European Union is like a bubble in financial markets. In the boom phase it contained everything people thought they wanted. It grew, feeding like a bubble on its own success. But by establishing monetary union without political union, it had a hole at its heart. This was exposed by the crash of 2008. Market sentiment reversed.

The famous Europhile idea that the EU is a bicycle is correct. You have to keep peddling because it is not stable. As soon as you stop you fall off. The most likely result is a euro in a much smaller, fiscally united zone, centered on Germany and France. Beyond it will be a wider ring of non-euro countries. Soros warned that the new Europe would become "a German empire with the periphery as the hinterland".

2012 June 8

Two-Speed Europe
Financial Times

Angela Merkel says a core group of states needed to press on with European integration to fight the eurozone crisis. Hours before a visit by David Cameron to Berlin, Merkel said eurozone nations must move closer together: "We cannot just stop because one or other doesn't want to join in yet."

Her move highlights what Berlin perceives to be an irritating contradiction between British refusal to sign up to strict new EU fiscal rules and Cameron's call for more intervention in the crisis. Cameron urged Merkel to take quick steps to pull the eurozone back from the brink of disaster.

Merkel: "We need more Europe. We don't only need monetary union, we also need a so-called fiscal union. And most of all we need a political union, which means we need to gradually cede powers to Europe and give Europe control."

Attacking Iran
Financial Times

A nuclear deal with Iran is possible only as part of a grand bargain between Iran and the United States. Former U.S. State Department senior official Nicholas Burns: "The fact that we might go to war with a country that we do not know, we don't understand its leadership, we have no idea what their bottom line might be — if a deal is even possible — is very disturbing."

What the west wants: Iran eschewing all but peaceful nuclear development and willing to accept international surveillance of such activities, withdrawal of Iranian support for terrorist groups in Palestine and Lebanon, willingness to help stabilise Iraq and Afghanistan, and recognition of Israel's right to peaceful existence.

Iranian goals: the lifting of sanctions, the right to a nuclear cycle for peaceful means, removal of the threat of regime change, withdrawal of U.S. military forces from the region, a privileged position for Iran in Iraq and Afghanistan, a weakened Israel, and a new regional security architecture.

Hyperbolic String TOE
New Scientist

Projections of hyperbolic space onto a flat disc, as in Escher images of tesselated bats, seem to square string theory with observations.

Measurements show that our universe is flat and expanding at an accelerating rate. In general relativity, this means our universe has a positive cosmological constant. But string theory, which offers a neat picture of the universe and connects gravity to quantum mechanics, works best in a universe with a negative cosmological constant.

So physicists face a chasm: on one side is a universe that works but lacks a complete theory, and on the other is a complete theory that doesn't describe our universe.

Stephen Hawking and colleagues propose a bridge. They can now describe expanding, accelerating universes using a negative cosmological constant. In search of a universal quantum wave function that can generate the probability of various universes arising from the big bang, they first used a positive cosmological constant, but in string theory universes with positive cosmological constants tend to be unstable. Their new work describes universes from wave functions with negative cosmological constants, some of which are expanding and accelerating.

The universes generated by their wave function could evolve to look like one form of string theory. With their wave function, the universe of string theory could accelerate outward with a negative cosmological constant. Our universe may be flat as far as we can see but still have a hyperbolic geometry.

Accelerated Expansion From Negative Λ
J.B. Hartle, S.W. Hawking, T. Hertog

Wave functions specifying a quantum state of the universe must satisfy the constraints of general relativity, in particular the Wheeler-DeWitt equation. We show for a wide class of models that a wave function in a gravitational theory with a negative cosmological constant can predict an ensemble of asymptotically classical histories which expand with a positive effective cosmological constant. So even fundamental theories with a negative cosmological constant can be consistent with our low-energy observations of a classical, accelerating universe.

2012 June 7

Future Weapons
Foreign Policy

High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System, HELLADS, will "harness the speed and power of light to counter multiple threats." DARPA hopes to unveil a 150 kW weapon light enough for a fighter jet.

Falcon HTV-2 is an unmanned, hypersonic, rocket-launched, maneuverable aircraft that glides through the Earth's atmosphere at Mach 20. Numerous sensors collect data in an uncertain operating envelope.

Discrotor helicopters blend helicopter and airplane to take off and land vertically but also retract its rotating blades and rely on fixed wings to fly at high speed like a plane.

Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel, ACTUV, is an unmanned surface ship designed to track even the quietest submarines. It will be able to operate alone on the high seas.

Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance, EXACTO, is the world's first guided bullet. Once fired at a specific target, the bullets fly themselves into it by changing shape.

CROSSHAIRS rigs, equipped with visual and IR cameras, will "detect, locate, and engage shooters, as well as defeat a variety of threats including bullets, rocket propelled grenades, anti-tank guided missiles, and direct fired mortars, while stationary and moving."

Magneto Hydrodynamic Explosive Munitions, MAHEM bullets, use "compressed magnetic flux generator (CMFG)-driven magneto hydrodynamically formed metal jets" to penetrate a target.

ADAPTIV pixilated armor works by covering a vehicle with sheets of hexagonal pixels that can rapidly change temperature. Onboard thermal cameras capture the background and change the vehicle's heat signature to make it undetectable by infrared scopes.

Space-Based Infrared System, SBIRS, will consist of a series of satellites in both elliptical and geosynchronous orbits as well as ground-based data processing centers to detect missile launches or nuclear detonations anywhere on Earth.

6.-10. Juni: Gemeindefreizeit in Flensunger Hof, Mücke

Catholics Say No To Sex

The Vatican says Sister Margaret Farley's 2006 book, Just Love, presents a "defective under-standing" of Catholic theology. Farley taught Christian ethics at Yale Divinity School. The church cites her views on masturbation, homosexuality, and remarriage after divorce as irreconcilable with Catholic teaching.

AR Quite right too. Catholic teaching is to deny and repress sexuality except in pursuit of procreation within marriage.

The Key To Spiritual Bliss
Lucy Kellaway

After decades of doing work and writing about it, I have made my biggest discovery quite by accident at home. Losing yourself is a far better idea than finding yourself, and work is the best sort of losing yourself there is. But what I didn't know is that chair repair work offers so much.
It is:
Solitary (no boss)
Manual (no computer)
Good for the soul
Satisfying (you see a result)
Repetitive (you get better)
Varied (you never get bored)

2012 June 6

Germany Must Act
The Times

The G7 says economies worldwide will be destabilized unless Germany rescues the eurozone. But Germany will accept common eurobonds only after real fiscal union in Europe. Angela Merkel's growth plan for Europe ties structural reform to the need for fiscal discipline and austerity. Her rejection of stimulus spending on the scale envisaged by France is likely to be unacceptable to François Hollande.

Banking Union
Financial Times

Flames are threatening the eurozone's combustible core. European leaders have shied away from fixing the euro because they fear unpopularity with electorates. The European Union was constructed by elitist means that left a lack of popular legitimacy. But a eurozone collapse could be devastating.

A eurozone fix need not be too radical. The first priority is to avoid bank runs. A eurozone-wide banking union would move the supervision and support of banks to European level. It would require an agency that could restructure or close failing banks, plus a European deposit insurance scheme.

Voters would retain the choice of whether to move to the next level of integration, to mutualize eurozone government debt. This would move the eurozone a long way toward full fiscal federalism. The debt sustainability of the currency area would then be beyond doubt. First we need banking union.

2012 June 5

Europe's Lehman Moment
Michael Tory

European elites need a "Lehman moment" to move beyond the euro crisis. Greece can play the part of Lehman Brothers.

The Lehman bankruptcy came after American politicians had already bailed out Bear Stearns, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mac. The bailouts were insufficient because the problem was the system. The banking sector was undercapitalized and the solution was forced recapitalization. But political will to impose it was lacking. The Lehman moment woke up politicians and the will was mobilized.

The parallel with the Eurozone today is obvious. It needs eurobonds underpinned by centralized fiscal discipline, deposit insurance, and mandatory recapitalization. But political will is lacking. Grexit would confront Eurozone leaders with a clear choice: unite immediately or watch the euro disintegrate. The measures would be more popular because the Greeks would not be seen as free riders.

AR George Soros says Europe has 3 months to do it.

History of German arms cooperation with Israel

2012 June 4

Israel Versus Iran
Tim Montgomerie

Israel has little faith in the talks between Iran and the Six Powers due in Moscow in two weeks. Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu says Iran is using talks "as another opportunity to deceive and delay, just like North Korea did for years".

American Jews supported President Obama, but Israelis now see the Republicans as a more reliable ally. Mitt Romney: "If we re-elect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. If you elect me as the next president, they will not."

Military action carries a heavy price. No Jewish target in the world will be safe for generations. Once bombed by the great Satan and the small Satan, Iran may emerge more determined than ever to build a nuclear deterrent.

Arab Crisis
Robert Fisk

These are bad times for the Arab spring. Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad says his army was not responsible for the massacre at Houla a week ago. He talked of the most serious crisis since the end of colonialism and warned that his war could extend to other countries.

The Satanic Verses
Salman Rushdie

The mullahs weren't my target audience. The only thing worse than a bad review from the Ayatollah Khomeini would be a good review from the Ayatollah Khomeini. The reason why books endure is not that people dislike them or there's a controversy around them. The reason why books endure is because there are enough people who like them. It's the people who love books that make them last, not the people who attack them.

2012 June 3

Mitt The Mormon
Andrew Sullivan

Mitt Romney comes from Mormon stock going back generations. He was once in charge of the church in the Boston area and had religious authority and responsibility. Mormonism is central to who he is.

Romney hasn't mentioned the M-word in the campaign. When he has spoken of Mormonism in the past, it's almost always of the all-encompassing way of life it encourages and sustains. Mormons are among the nicest, kindest, most wholesome people in America.

Mormons believe that Jesus visited the Americas and will return in Jackson County, Missouri, and that God is a human being with a physical body. The founder of the religion was a convicted scam artist who claimed revelations from buried sacred plates nobody else could see or translate.

If Romney became president, it would be a big day for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Mormonism is already among the fastest-growing religions in the world. But it could sink his candidacy.

The Observer

Martin Amis, 62, and family moved from London to New York. His latest novel plays out in London. Lionel Asbo was the youngest ever recipient of an antisocial behavior order. He is serving time for criminal damage and affray when he wins the national lottery. A cheque for £140 million takes him out of remand prison and into a farcical second life of wealth and celebrity.

AR Sounds like Money redux.

2012 June 2

DAS RHEINGOLD von Richard Wagner
Nationaltheater Mannheim

AR Good production with boldly iconic staging.

Qatar World Cup
Spiegel Online

Qatar will host the 2022 World Cup and plans to build new soccer stadiums in the desert for the event. German architect Albert Speer was chosen to design them. Speer, 77, and his partners in Frankfurt designed a new city for 3 million people near Cairo, a new capital for Nigeria, an automobile city for 50,000 people near Shanghai, the big stadium in Baku, and countless projects in Germany. Speer introduced the idea of sustainability into urban planning.

The Times

Stuxnet, the worm that crippled centrifuges in Iran, was part of a joint American-Israeli cyberwarfare project. The program was conceived under President Bush but embraced by President Obama, who ordered the attacks. The National Security Agency worked with an Israeli agency dedicated to cyber work. The collaboration helped dissuade Israel from launching pre-emptive military strike against Iran.

AR Flame

2012 June 1

Irish approve fiscal pact in referendum

AR This much direct democracy is perilous!

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee, 2012

Iran and Syria
The Times

General Ismael Gha'ani of
the elite Quds Force in Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps:
"Before we were not in Syria,
the slaughter of the people by
the opposition was much higher.
But with the presence of the Islamic Republic in a physical
and non-physical manner,
many great massacres in
Syria were stopped."

Rap Fatwa
Spiegel Online

Iranian rapper Shahin Najafi is in hiding in Germany. Three weeks ago, Iranian clerics issued four fatwas against him after he released a song begging the tenth imam, who died in 868 CE, to return to Earth and sort out modern Iran. The song has been downloaded over half a million times in Iran.

2012 May 31

Inequality and Austerity
Robert Reich

The United States could be forced to make big budget cuts later this year. As in Europe, it would increase the proportion of debt to GDP and put America in an austerity trap. Meanwhile, the share of national income going to profits has risen, the share to labor has plunged, and the gulf widens between the pay of TOP executives and that of other Americans.

If Europe moves toward an American-style labor market while pursuing fiscal austerity and America embraces fiscal austerity but continues to shrink payrolls, we will get the same results on both sides of the Atlantic. Real wages and economic security will fall and public services will shrink. That is not sustainable, economically or politically.

Steve Wasserman

Jeff Bezos started Amazon in 1995. He decided selling books was the best way to get big fast on the Internet. He aimed to build a brand that was ubiquitous and irresistible. Today the bookstore wars are over and Amazon is triumphant. The new war in publishing is between Apple and Amazon.

Last year Amazon earned $48 billion in revenue, more than all six major American publishing conglomerates combined, with a cash reserve of $5 billion. The company is valued at nearly $100 billion and employs more than 65,000 workers. Amazon is now an online Walmart.

Amazon bulldozes any real or perceived obstacles to its pursuit of clout. The Independent Publishers Group, a principal distributor of about 500 small publishers, recently refused to accept the company's demand for deeper discounts. Amazon promptly yanked nearly 5,000 digital titles.

Andy Ross, a literary agent in Oakland, California: "Monopolies are always problematic in a free society, and they are more so when we are dealing with the dissemination of ideas, which is what book publishing is about."

2012 May 30

Martin Wolf

Italy and Spain have governments unable to manage their public debt unassisted. Much of that debt is held by their banks. Many of these have been damaged. Governments with weak creditworthiness feel compelled to rescue fragile banking systems that are expected to finance the governments.

The German position: no eurozone bonds, no increase in funds available to the ESM, no common backing for the banking system, no deviation from fiscal austerity, no monetary financing of governments, no relaxation of eurozone monetary policy, and no powerful credit boom in Germany.

The eurozone is on a journey toward breakup that Germany shows little will to alter. This is not because alternatives are inconceivable. We need to turn some Neins into Jas. German leaders must choose between a shipwreck and a change in course. On that choice hangs the fate of Europe.

Over 60
Martin Amis

The worst thing about growing old is the fear of declining powers. Genius is all the god-given stuff, the altitude of perception and articulacy. Talent is craft. And what happens I think is your genius shrinks and your talent expands. I still feel, when I wake up and all I've got to do that day is write, I can't wait to get down there. It's a wonderful way of earning a living.

2012 May 29


Professional worm
Flame is a virus apparently directed at Iran and Mideast states. Symantec senior analyst Orla Cox: "It is a backdoor worm that goes looking for very specific information. It scrapes a mass of information from any infected machines and then sends it, without the user having any idea what is going on." The worm has lurked undetected for at least two years and caused the disruption to Iran's oil industry last month. Cox: "To the casual observer, the worm looks like any piece of software. To get that level of sophistication would take a team of ten several months. It's very professional."

Related to Stuxnet
Flame was apparently released five years ago and has infected machines across the Mideast. The 20 GB virus can gather data files, remotely change settings on computers, turn on computer mikes to record conversations, take screen shots, and copy instant messaging chats. Iran's Computer Emergency Response Team says Flame is "a close relation" of Stuxnet. It contains much more code than Stuxnet and spreads only when hidden controllers allow it. The file infects Windows computers and has five encryption algorithms, exotic data storage formats, and more.

Michael Shermer

Neuroeconomist Paul J. Zak says oxytocin is a biological proxy for trust. Countries whose citizens trust one another gain economically, and trust is built through good deals that boost levels of oxytocin. Selfish gene theory explains why we are nice to our kin and the theory of reciprocal altruism explains why unrelated people in a social group are kind to one another. Zak has identified a causal chain from oxytocin to empathy to morality to trust to economic flourishing.

Evolutionary anthropologist Christopher Boehm says kin selection and reciprocal altruism go only so far before free riders gain a reproductive advantage. But over the past 50,000 years humans learned to shame and shun free riders who violate social norms and to punish cheats or bullies. Older, selfish moral emotions are often in conflict with these newer ones, explaining why we often feel selfish but also feel bonded with our fellows.

2012 May 28

What Money Can't Buy
Michael Sandel

We live at a time when almost everything can be bought and sold. But there is something wrong with a medical system in which the rich can pay for priority treatment. A market-driven hospital is not a proper hospital. They have misidentified what a hospital is for. A debate with someone who held that view of the purpose of a hospital or a school is a moral argument about how properly to understand the purpose of those institutions.

Most modern political debate is conducted between those who favor unfettered markets and those who maintain that market choices are free only when they're made on a level playing field. But the hold of markets and market values suggests that the source of that faith runs deeper than the conviction that markets deliver the goods. Markets seem to spare us the need to engage in public arguments about the meaning of goods.

But we do need to reason about the value of goods. The markets give us no framework for having that conversation. We're tempted to avoid it because we know we will disagree about how to value bodies, or pregnancy, or sex, or education, or military service. Letting markets decide seems to avoid talking about justice. Economics has cast itself as a value-neutral science but it should probably be seen as a branch of moral and political philosophy.

Not Dead Yet
Peter James

Many years ago I was at school with Martin Amis and didn't see him again until an awards ceremony in 2010. I went up and said, "You might not remember me, but we were at school together." He said, "No, I don't remember you, and you only remember me because I'm famous."

I got my revenge by writing Amis into my novel Not Dead Yet and giving him a very small penis. The gangster he is staying with says, "You've always traded on being your dad's son, but you was never half the man he was." I was rather pleased with that.

2012 May 27

Swedish singer Loreen won the Eurovision Song Contest 2012 in Baku, Azerbaijan, with Euphoria

2012 May 26

The Times

The Bundesbank says German citizens have saved €4.7 trillion in savings accounts, pension plans, and shares. That figure, which does not include property, increased by €149 billion over the previous year. Official figures next week are expected to show another record low for German unemployment. Record export earnings generated by its highly competitive manufacturers are only part of the story. Awash with cheap money flooding from the European periphery, Germany is heading into a property boom.

Spiegel Online

Poland has become the most astonishing success story in Eastern Europe. Relations between Berlin and Warsaw have never been better. Things have been steadily improving in Poland for more than two decades, and Poland is now a role model in Europe. It has long since incorporated a debt limit into its budget, and it signed the fiscal pact without hesitation. The government is even pushing to join the eurozone. Poles want to play a leading role in the northern alliance of European countries.

The Guardian

IMF managing director Christine Lagarde says it is payback time for Greece and she will not soften the terms of the Greek austerity package. Greece has seen its economy shrink by a fifth since the recession began and has been told to cut wages, pensions, and public spending in return for financial help from the IMF, the European Union and the ECB. Lagarde thinks about Greek citizens not paying their tax and says Greece is not getting softer treatment than a poor country in the developing world.



SpaceX Dragon docks at the International Space Station

Faramerz Dabhoiwala

Sexual intercourse is a universal human practice. Yet for most of western history it seemed obvious that illicit relations angered God, prevented salvation, damaged personal relations, and undermined social order.

Sexual discipline was a central feature of Christian civilization. The emergence of modern attitudes to sex constituted a great revolution.

Ann-Marlene Henning

Erfüllender Sex hat immer sowohl eine genitale wie auch eine emotionale Komponente. Nur ungefähr ein Fünftel der Frauen können einen Orgasmus durch reinen Geschlechtsverkehr erreichen. Orgasmus kann man üben wie Klavierspielen oder Fahrradfahren. Erregung ist angeboren, gute Sexualität nicht. Jeder ist für seinen Orgasmus selbst verantwortlich.

Bubble Bath Cosmology
Brian Greene

Einstein's equations gave
birth to big bang theory. Inflationary cosmology says
there are countless big bangs.
So our universe is just a bubble
in a cosmic bubble bath —
a multiverse.

The Facebook IPO got off to a faltering start as technology glitches delayed the opening of trading. Shares opened at $38 and ended the day at $38.23.

Pro Bono
CNN Money

Bono is a partner with Elevation Partners, a private equity firm that invested around $210 million in Facebook. At $38 per share, the position is valued at $1.5 billion. Bono stands to make about $43 million from the IPO.

AR Not bad for a muppet!

Washington Post
Paralyzed woman uses volition
to drink coffee via Braingate interface and robotic arm

Financial Times

Facebook set the share price for
its initial public offering at $38,
for a $104 billion valuation.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg, 28, has
a stake valued at $19 billion.

Make Or Break
Financial Times

UK PM David Cameron:
"The eurozone is at a crossroads. It either has to make up or it is looking at a potential breakup. Either Europe has a committed, stable, successful eurozone ...
or we are in uncharted territory, which carries huge risks for everyone."

Trillion Dollar Loss
The Guardian

CEBR forecaster Doug McWilliams says a planned euro breakup would cost 2% of eurozone GDP but a disorderly collapse would cost 5% or $1 trillion: "The end of the euro in its current form is a certainty."

Every odd N > 1 is the sum
of at most five primes
Terence Tao

2012 May 25

Philip Stephens

Europe is in the grip of the nationalisms it thought it had banished. The G8 leaders are helpless in the face of the banking and sovereign debt crises. NATO is rushing for the exits in Afghanistan.

The rebalancing of global power was never going to be easy for the west. But for we who grew up in the nations bestriding the North Atlantic, the speed of the turnaround is breathtaking.

The G8 summit was polite enough. But Barack Obama makes no secret of his frustration with Angela Merkel. The crisis in Europe could rob him of the economic growth he needs for re-election. All the main players want to save the euro. But are they ready to create a political union to do so?

As for NATO, events will provide the mission: stuff happens. The west is not finished.

Richard Dawkins

Evolution results from the differential survival of genes in gene pools. Genes are replicators. They make exact copies of themselves in a pool of such copies. Genes are locked up in the bodies of organisms, and the pool is stirred by sexual reproduction. A gene's success depends on the survival and reproduction of the bodies. The organism is a survival machine for its genes.

If a gene works for the benefit of a sibling, that gene can survive in the same way as a gene that works for the benefit of offspring. Hamilton's rule states that a gene for altruism toward kin will be favored if the cost to the altruist C is outweighed by the benefit to the recipient B devalued by an index r of the probability of sharing genes. A gene for altruistic care will spread through the population if rB > C.

Genes survive by programming the embryonic development of their vehicles, then ride inside them to share their fate. Replicators are the units that survive. Vehicles are devices to help them survive. Genes are the replicators, organisms the vehicles. Group selection would imply that a group does something like surviving and reproducing or dying. Convincing examples are hard to find.

AR An organism is a group of cells. An organism has a self-image. A group can have a self-image.

2012 May 24

Tom Shippey

Metaphors can be treacherous. English is not a lady whose purity is continually being violated or polluted by vulgarisms, Americanisms, and other nasty things. For one has to admit that English looks more like a woman who came from a distant bog, has had more sex partners than Fanny Hill, and is now running a bawdy house near an international airport. So much for metaphors.

Standard English and American are used to strengthen social elitism and exclusion. English spelling is a mess and an insult to human intelligence, and by grammar most educated English speakers mean a small set of trivial shibboleths. The use of English as a global language is a result of American power and influence and says nothing about the quality of the language.

2012 May 23

25. Hauptversammlung der SAP AG
SAP Arena

AR SAP turns 40 this year. The mood is good because 2011 was the best year ever, with double-digit growth and billions in revenues. My former team makes the SAP HANA in-memory analytic engine, the most successful SAP new product ever, earning €160 million in the second half of 2011 and expected to earn over twice as much this year, for a total of half a billion. Hmm, why am I short of money?

NATO Summit
Barack Obama

NATO is the bedrock of common security, freedom, and prosperity. We are unified behind a plan to responsibly wind down the war in Afghanistan. We are making substantial progress against our core objective of defeating al-Qaida and denying it safe haven, while helping the Afghans to stand on their own. We will continue to train, advise, assist, and support Afghan forces as they grow stronger.

NATO has become a hub of global security. We have agreed on the mix of conventional, nuclear missile, and missile defense forces that we need. America's contribution to this effort will be a phased adaptive approach that we're pursuing on European missile defense. I continue to believe that missile defense can be an area of cooperation with Russia.

Europe: Stop Wasting Time
Centre for Policy Studies

Jin Liqun: "The debt crisis is actually much less devastating than the handling of the debt crisis. Too much time has been wasted on endless bargaining on terms and conditions for piecemeal bailouts. Since the debt crisis broke out, there has never been a master plan for a resolution."

Jin Liqun is chairman of a $440 billion sovereign wealth fund, China Investment Corporation, the foreign investment arm of the Chinese Government, which holds $3.2 trillion in foreign exchange reserves.

Euro Holocaust
Spiegel Online

Former German central bank board member Thilo Sarrazin caused outrage two years ago with a bestseller criticizing the impact of Muslim immigrants on German society. Now he says Europe doesn't need the euro. In his new book he argues that Germany is being pressured to bail out the eurozone because it perpetrated the Holocaust.

Green leader Jürgen Trittin: "It is pitiful that he invokes the Holocaust to secure the maximum possible attention for his theories on eurobonds."

2012 May 22

Velvet Divorce
Gideon Rachman

G8 leaders call for Greece to stay in the eurozone. But without the option of devaluation, Greeks are left with wage cuts and mass unemployment. Greek reforms are causing political and economic turmoil.

The euro lacks the key institutions needed to make monetary union work. There is no central government to enforce budgetary discipline, no federal budget to transfer funds, and no bank deposit insurance. Even if EU politicians did create a federal union, it would hollow out national democracies and invite a nationalist backlash.

The break-up plans now being drawn up envisage a Greek exit, followed by an effort to build a firewall to prevent other countries being sucked into the crisis. A Grexit would unleash contagion. Markets would attack the next vulnerable countries. Allowing the fate of the euro to be driven by market panics would be the worst way to go.

It would be better for EU leaders to decide which countries are willing and able to stay in the euro and work on a divorce for the rest. Then they can get ahead of events. A velvet divorce offers an exit.

2012 May 21

Desperate Times
Jacek Rostowski

A firewall must be in place to prevent contagion well before Greece leaves the euro. If Greek voters choose next month to honor their structural and fiscal obligations, Greece can remain in the eurozone. But this is unlikely unless the probable catastrophic costs for the rest of the eurozone of a Greek exit are credibly eliminated.

Only the ECB can provide the firewall that Europe needs before the Greek elections. It should announce that in the event of a Greek exit it will stand ready to buy unlimited amounts of the sovereign bonds of countries remaining in the euro for a limited period of time. The ECB mandate should be clarified in the fiscal pact to clear any doubt that it can intervene in this way if the integrity of the monetary union is threatened.

We need ECB readiness to intervene massively in sovereign bond markets. This intervention need not cause moral hazard. No country will leave the eurozone and bring economic catastrophe upon itself so that other countries can benefit. By securing the eurozone, the ECB would increase fiscal discipline within it.

Extremism and Xenophobia
The Telegraph

British deputy PM Nick Clegg says the European project faces a "huge" crisis of confidence as the public loses faith in the European Union: “If the eurozone does not come up with a comprehensive vision of its own future pretty soon ... we will have a whole range of nationalistic, extremist, xenophobic and populist movements increasing across Europe."

Jews and the Left
Adam Kirsch

For many Jews, Judaism is a religion of social justice and progress. Michael Walzer offers a contrary vision. He reads the Bible with an eye to politics and finds only silence. The Bible is filled entirely by God. When the prophets called for justice, they meant submission to God. Walzer explains the historical Jewish affinity for the left thus: "We have supported the people who support us."

YIVO Conference, New York, May 2012

2012 May 20

The Times

Camp David, Maryland: David Cameron and Barack Obama put pressure on Angela Merkel to print money, known as quantitative easing. But Germany resisted calls to use the joint statement released at the end of the G8 to call for more action on the eurozone, saying this was not the right occasion.

The final statement: "We all have an interest in the success of specific measures to strengthen the resilience of the Eurozone and growth in Europe. We support euro area leaders' resolve to address the strains in the eurozone in a credible and timely manner and in a manner that fosters confidence, stability and growth."

Cameron: "The G8 can't instruct the eurozone what to do. But why meetings like this matter is that eurozone countries can hear from countries outside the eurozone."

Niall Ferguson

Ten years ago I predicted that the euro would suffer a crisis over the lack of fiscal integration. The costs of the single currency disintegrating are so high and would impact so many people that the only responsible thing to do is to argue urgently for the next step to a federal Europe.

The game of chicken between Athens and Berlin could end with the two cars colliding, but I think both will swerve at the last minute. They're bluffing. The Germans have a big interest in preserving the euro.

The logic behind the euro was that monetary union will force an ever-closer fiscal union. Now we're at the moment of truth for the fiction that a monetary union can exist independently of a fiscal union.

Corporate Germany is rich and powerful and benefits massively from Europe. With socialists in France and the likelihood of the socialists in government in Germany next year, we will likely end up with tax harmonization and eurobonds, which bails everyone out.

Power is shifting inexorably to Brussels. The descent into disrepute of national political elites helps make the case for federalism. The national politics of continental Europe is collapsing. This is paving the way toward a federal solution. Europe is essentially an anti-populist, if not anti-democratic phenomenon. European integration has always been an elite project foisted on national electorates.

The German political elite moved fast in 1990 when the opportunity presented itself to reunite Germany. You might be surprised by how quickly they move when the chips are down.

Britain might vote to leave the European Union altogether. If you're not in the federal union, you have zero influence over decision making. If you're not in the currency, you're not in the room at all.

UK Independence
The Independent

Almost one in three people who voted Conservative at the last election are ready to back the UK Independence Party, according to a new poll. The UKIP is a Eurosceptic fringe party.

2012 May 19

Lady Warsi Speaks
The Guardian

British Conservative Party co-chair Sayeeda Warsi: "There is a small minority of Pakistani men who believe that white girls are fair game. We have to be prepared to say that." Lady Warsi believes Muslim leaders must condemn men's bad behavior.

AR Good, but I still don't hear the mullahs condemning too loudly.

Cold And Rich, Hot And Poor
Jared Diamond

Good institutions emerge slowly under centralized government. The various durations of government around the world are linked to the various durations and productivities of farming. Europe began to acquire highly productive agriculture 9,000 years ago and state government at least 4,000 years ago, but subequatorial Africa acquired agriculture at most 2,000 years ago and state government more recently.

Geographical latitude affects prosperity. In the Americas, the two north temperate countries and the three south temperate countries are on average five times richer than almost all of the intervening 17 countries. Similarly, mainland Africa is a sandwich of 37 mostly desperately poor tropical countries, between slices each containing five richer countries in the north and south temperate zones. Diseases and low agricultural productivity make tropical countries poorer than temperate countries.

Europe has a long history of agriculture based on productive crops and domestic animals. Agriculture in tropical Africa is more recent and less productive. Europe has glaciated fertile soils, reliable summer rainfall, and few tropical diseases. Tropical Africa has widely infertile soils, less reliable rainfall, and many diseases. Regions with natural advantages end up better off. Institutions are only half the story.

The Atlantic

Wisconsin psychiatrist Darold Treffert keeps a registry of known savants. Of the 330 savants from around the world on his list, 300 were born that way. Only 30 acquired their abilities.

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD) primarily affects front-left parts of the brain. It seems unaffected regions step in to compensate for the loss, leading to what Treffert calls "the three Rs": recruitment, rewiring, and release. Savants may unlock parts of the brain the rest of us can't access.

Ordinary people can gain savant skills for short periods of time. One researcher uses electronic kit to replicate the FTD brain state briefly in healthy humans. Treffert: "He calls it the thinking cap."

2012 May 18

Once Upon a Time, 1977

Donna Summer
Queen of Disco

Top Ten Songs
MacArthur Park
Love to love you baby
I feel love
She works hard for the money
Last dance
Hot stuff
On the radio
Bad girls
This time I know its for real
Unconditional love

AR Love and peace, Donna

Bruce Hood

Children who sleep alone form emotional attachments to blankets and teddy bears. They are quite happy to have their toys replaced, but they resist accepting a copy of a sentimental object like a blanket or a teddy bear.

Identity and uniqueness are psychological constructs. People generate them when they invest some emotional time or effort in an object. If it has some significance for them, they imbue it with this property. Then it's irreplaceable and you can't duplicate it. It becomes sacred. This is essentialism.

The self is is a very compulsive experience. I think it's an illusion. The "I" of the experiencing self and the "me" of personal identity are stories. You can illustrate the weaknesses of the "I" by using visual illusions. Conscious experience is just a fraction of what's really going on.

Personal identity depends on autobiographical or episodic memories. You are the sum of your memories. And memory is constantly reshaping itself. We tend to remember things that fit with our idea of our self and ignore anything that is inconsistent. A multitude of unconscious processes generate the coherence of consciousness. The "I" and the "me" are generated narratives.

We have the illusion that there is an integrated individual, with a veridical notion of past. We emerge from the processes that generate us. If you observe an object going into a tunnel and a moment later a similar object coming out, then you see it as the same object. The experience of self is a succinct and economical way of interacting with each other. We deal with individuals.

Objects are part of the extended sense of self. We surround ourselves with objects. We place value on objects that we think represent us. We overvalue things we perceive to be in our ownership. We overvalue an object as soon as we possess it. As soon as you make your connection to an object, then you value it more and remember more about it.

Religions capitalize on childish inclinations. Intuitive ways of seeing the world are triggered automatically. You can educate people to think logically, but you never eradicate the intuitive ways of seeing the world. They were never taught in the first place. An example is the idea that everything has a purpose. People default back to it when they are under stress.

2012 Christi Himmelfahrt

Greece And Germany
Camilla Cavendish

Billions of euros have left Greece in the last ten days. Some have been withdrawn by Greeks who need the cash, but many have bought German bonds. Germany has saved an estimated €20 billion between 2009 and 2011 and is forecast to save €20 billion more because its interest rates are so low.

Greek banks depend on the ECB for funds. Borrowing from the ECB accounts for more than half the Greek GDP. Greek banks borrowed €120 billion through the ECB in January alone. This exposes the ECB to potentially colossal losses if the Greeks default. Germany is the biggest backer of the ECB.

A disorderly exit from the euro is now highly likely. If the Greek government fails to fund its outgoings between now and June 17, it would cause a human catastrophe. Athens can probably muddle through. But the risk may shake Germany out of its insistence that countries must live within their means.

Either way Germany ends up with a monstrous bill. Germany has lent about €90 billion to southern European banks. Spain and Italy are too big to rescue. The ECB has given them a temporary lifeline by lowering the interest they pay on their debt. But without growth it will be hard for them.

German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble now calls for wages to rise in Germany. Weak German consumption has exacerbated the crisis. The euro has made Germany competitive for a decade at the expense of southern Europe. Germany should be the engine of European growth.

Nuke Upgrades
Markus Becker

The United States is modernizing its nuclear weapons, But the expected cost for the B61 tactical nuclear bomb has risen to $6 billion. The improved bombs are planned for deployment in Europe in 2019.

The B61 modernization program includes a new tailkit to increase the bomb's precision. The B61 will have four yield options, ranging from 0.3 to 45 kilotons. The F-35 fighter can carry two of them.

Federation of American Scientists expert Hans Kristensen: "If you have increased accuracy, it opens up new possibilities for also using the lower yields for missions. It's a cleaner nuclear attack."

AR Just the thing to attack those Iranian bunkers.

2012 May 16

The Times

Greece has been served notice that the euro can survive without it. Eurozone leaders are preparing for Greece to return to the drachma if voters return a left-wing government bent on ripping up the terms of the international bailout.

IMF head Christine Lagarde says the eurozone must be "technically prepared for anything" and warns a Greek exit could be "quite messy".

Dutch Minister for Europe Ben Knapen says there is no scope to water down Greek austerity plans.

AR The Grexit is a trial run for a hypothetical Europocalypse.

Financial Times

François Hollande flew to Berlin for talks with Angela Merkel within hours of being installed as French president. Both say Greece should remain a full member of the Eurozone and promise to consider new measures to revive economic growth.

AR The Gerfraxis is the neural tube of an embryonic Europaradise.

Shelly Kagan

Death deprives me of the good things in life. But if that's true, there must be a time when it's true. So when is death bad for me? Not now, because I'm not dead. And not when I'm dead, because I won't exist. If nonexistence can be bad for somebody who doesn't exist, then it's bad for somebody who never exists. But there are zillions of possible people and we don't care about them.

Perhaps to say why death is bad we need to assume that something can be bad for you only if you exist at some time or another. Suppose that somebody has a nice long life. Now imagine halving his lifetime. That's worse for him. Now imagine halving it again and again. It gets worse and worse. But according to the assumption, when I cut off his last moment of existence, that's fine.

If nonexistence is bad, then I should be upset by the eternity of nonexistence before I was born. But nobody is upset about that. So it makes no sense to be upset about nonexistence after you die. Before my birth I haven't lost anything. What's bad about death is the loss. Let's call the state before birth "schmoss". Why do we care more about loss of life than schmoss of life?

2012 May 15

CNN Money

Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts: "The threat from Greece remains real, and Greece exiting the euro area would likely have contagion effects that cannot easily be addressed in the current setup."

Hollande Strategy
Philippe Aghion

François Hollande has a strategy with three main ideas:

1 France must deliver growth, social inclusiveness, and budgetary discipline; all three at once.

2 France must improve education and innovation. Studies show a positive correlation between educational performance and growth.

3 The European Union must pursue both budgetary discipline and a complementary growth package. It should finance reforms in labor and product markets and higher education, and must do more on industrial policy. The eurozone needs unified banking supervision and deposit insurance.

Hollande wants inflation rates to rise in the northern eurozone.

The Meaning of The

John Edwards' lawyers intend to argue that Edwards did not violate campaign finance laws by using donations to hide his affair with Rielle Hunter. The law proscribes "any gift, subscription, loan, advance, or deposit of money ... for the purpose of influencing any election for federal office." Edwards' lawyers argue that the word the implies the sole purpose. Prosecutors argue that it indicates one among several purposes.

AR The defense may cite Bertrand Russell, who said
"The x such that f(x) is such that A(x)"
should be analyzed as
"There is an x such that f(x), and for all y such that f(y), y = x and A(y)"
and hence imply uniqueness.
Ref: Russell 1905

Dalai Lama Wins Templeton Prize

The Dalai Lama received the £1.1 million Templeton Prize at St Paul's Cathedral. He said the economic crisis was made by man:
"We need self-confidence. Please do not feel helpless or hopeless."

He will donate most of the money to Save the Children in India and some to the Mind and Life Institute

Au Revoir, France
The Telegraph

The new French president François Hollande plans to impose a 75% tax rate on earnings over €1 million, plus a 45% rate for income above €150,000, plus higher wealth taxes. Meanwhile in the UK, David Cameron is cutting tax rates for the wealthy.

Finance firms and banks in Paris have begun relocating their top executives in London. London already has a French population in the hundreds of thousands. Chelsea and Kensington are full of French banker families.

Marriage Sacraments
Garry Wills

Before the eleventh century there was no such thing as a Christian wedding ceremony in the Latin church. Only in the thirteenth century was marriage added to the sacraments. The sanctity of marriage is a medieval fiction.

St Thomas Aquinas argued that spousal consent is the efficient cause of marriage and the seal of intercourse the final cause. The myth of the sacrament should not deprive gays of a right to marry.

Busted Buddhas
The Times

Afghan government:
"The Bamiyan Buddhas are part of the culture of the human
race. Whatever the world's archaeologists agree on, the ministry will agree with that."

The Buddhas were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001. Calls to restore them raise fears of a backlash from Islamists against shrines for infidels.

World Heritage status forbids a rebuild using modern materials. German art historian Bert Praxenthaler envisions restoring the small Buddha "with lots of holes and gaps" to retain its authenticity.

AR Siddharta Gautama
would say forget them.

Asian Sex Gang
The Telegraph

British historian David Starkey
on Asian child rapists: "Those men were acting within their own cultural norms. Nobody ever explained to them that the history of women in Britain was once rather similar to that in Pakistan and it had changed."

AR Off with his head.

Navy Jets U-Turn
The Times

The Royal Navy should have fast jets at sea by 2018 following a British government U-turn. The Ministry of Defence will revert to purchasing the jump-jet F-35B variant of the Lockheed Martin fighter after finding that continuing with the F-35C cats and traps option would cost too much and take too long.

Emer O'Toole, 28, went on national TV to show off her unshaven armpits.

AR Looks like a harmless
eccentricity to me.

 Greek Tragedy
Financial Times

Greece is heading for a fall. Radical leftist Syriza party leader Alexis Tsipras, 38, wants to rip up the "barbarous" austerity program and repeal measures forced by the international bailout to slash the Greek budget deficit. ECB executive board member Jörg Asmussen moots a Greek exit from the euro.

U Lodz Press
Our new book
due out soon

2012 May 14

Euro Alarm
The Times

UK Business Secretary Vince Cable says a "massive" economic impact awaits Britain if the eurozone fails to contain the turmoil on the continent. He said that there was little Britain could do apart from hope that eurozone firewalls were strong enough to hold back a blaze in Greece.

Financial Times

The Greeks have rejected austerity. Greece is sailing between the Scylla of depression imposed by creditors and the Charybdis of unilateral debt repudiation and chaotic exit from the euro. Last week more than two-thirds of voters backed parties opposed to the spending cuts, tax increases, and structural reforms imposed by the EU and IMF as the price of a second bailout. Yet the same proportion of these voters also say that they want to keep the euro. This contradiction is not sustainable.

2012 May 13

IAF 2030
Amir Mizroch

Israel Air Force officers have been brainstorming about the next steps for their role in Israeli strategic power. Major Nimrod Segev divided his officers into teams focused on advanced information technology, vast data, space, cyber, environment, intelligence, human factor, organizational behavior, and a red team to challenge the rest.

Ideas included nano drones an infantryman can keep in his pocket, helicopters piloted by robots for medevac, micro satellites on demand, large spy balloons in the upper stratosphere, virtual training with a helmet from your office, algorithms that resolve ethical dilemmas, and farming out code to a network of high school kids.

Segev says aerial combat is still a staple of IAF pilot training: "These days the air-to-air missile is the dogfight. The missile can be launched from a vast distance at an enemy plane. The point is to see the enemy way before he sees you, and for that you need datafighters, not dogfighters."

Vanity Fair

"There's something special
about the way jockey
Chantal Sutherland rides a thoroughbred racehorse.
You notice it right away:
you can always pick her out
of a tightly packed field of
15 riders and horses."
Bo Derek

AR I see what you mean, Bo.

Males As Second Sex
Elizabeth Day

Men are being oppressed. In many walks of life, they are routinely discriminated against in ways women are not. More boys drop out of school, fewer men earn degrees, more men are jailed or die younger.

Psychologist Susan Pinker says most children with developmental and learning problems are male. She adds that male risk-taking and stress-related disease kill many more men than women in their prime.

Feminist Julie Bindel: "Masculinity is just learned behavior in the same way that femininity is. Ultimately, if we dismantle the patriarchy, that would end up being better for men, too."

Perhaps if we measured success differently, taking into account wellbeing from family relationships and a flexible work-life balance, men would be losing out.

2012 May 12

War Horse
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Blu-ray, USA, 2012

AR His best for many years: the horse reframed the horrors of World War I.

What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets
By Michael J. Sandel
Reviewed by A.C. Grayling

Sandel says market economies have become market societies where bottom-line thinking prevails.
He raises two objections:

1 Fairness: Money can buy you more than your fair share of anything you want.
2 Corruption: Selling things of human value can degrade both things and seller.

Different people have different resources. What about the greater talent or harder work that helps a person accumulate more resources than a less capable or lazier person can?

Money is dangerous: consider buying a bride, bribing people to sell a body organ, paying people to do bad things, and letting people who pay do bad things.

We need to draw a line between the things that have a price and those that are priceless. We should do so before shooters can buy licenses to hunt down criminals in our woods and fields.

2012 May 11

Euroshift To Growth
Spiegel Online

After two years of austerity, growth is back in fashion in Europe, thanks to the incoming French president François Hollande. But the planned EU growth pact may be too small to help the crisis-hit countries of southern Europe.

Grexit Not Fatal
Spiegel Online

Greek radical leftist Alexis Tsipras declares previous euro bailout agreements to be "null and void".

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble says Athens can't be forced to retain the euro: "Greece must decide for itself if it wants to remain in the euro zone or not." If Greece wants to remain a member, then it "must form a stable government and it must adhere to its obligations." He says most Greeks want the euro at any cost "because they are conscious of all the advantages of the common currency despite all the burdens."

Asian Sex Gang
The Independent

Imam Alyas Karmani says over curry in Bradford that many British Pakistani men live in two worlds:

1 "A socially conservative culture where there is no toleration of sex outside of marriage, and little emphasis on sexual gratification." Many preserve family honor by marrying a cousin from their village in Kashmir. The new wives bring "an unhealthy attitude towards sex and sexuality".

2 "The over-sexualized, material and lust-driven English lifestyle, where women are scantily clad, binge-drinking is a mainstream form of entertainment and porn is a massive factor." Some Asians learn to like gangsta music and films glorifying sexual violence and gang lifestyle.

AR Blame the women, blame porn. Anything but bad men.

Permanent War
Peter Maass

A new kind of wartime emerged on September 11, 2001. The country had been attacked. But Americans who were not in the military were asked to live as though we were at peace. While Americans killed and got killed in Iraq, Americans back home shopped at Walmart and watched reality television.

In the post-9/11 era, the Obama administration has extended the Bush-era challenge to constitutional principles. John Horgan says war could end tomorrow if a few global leaders agree to end it. His proposals: cut the bloated U.S. military, end international arms sales, and scrap the nuclear arsenal. This is not an exit strategy.

2012 May 10

Total War On Islam
Danger Room

The U.S. military taught its future leaders that a total war against the world's 1.4 billion Muslims was needed to protect America from Islamic terrorists. The course at the Joint Forces Staff College has since been canceled. But the officer who delivered the lectures is still there.

From the course materials: "There is no such thing as moderate Islam. It is therefore time for the United States to make our true intentions clear. This barbaric ideology will no longer be tolerated. Islam must change or we will facilitate its self-destruction."

A war plan to transform Islam by force included reducing Islam to cult status and starving Saudi Arabia. The officer dismissed laws protecting civilians and considered applying the Hiroshima precedent to bomb Mecca and Medina. His views are not the official policy of the U.S. government.

Obama Backs Gays
Charles Kaiser

President Barack Obama's blockbuster announcement that he is in favor of full marriage equality is the most courageous thing he has done since he entered the White House three and a half years ago.

AR So now lovers can get married independently of the shape of their genitalia. That's progress.

Romney Gay No
ABC News

Mitt Romney: "I do not favor marriage between people of the same gender, and I do not favor civil unions if they are identical to marriage other than by name."

AR Wise people of gender do not favor Mitt on this.

Women Haters
Will Self

Christian fundamentalists see abortion as genocide. Increasing numbers of U.S. states are demanding that women seeking abortions be subjected to the transvaginal probe, a long, dildo-shaped instrument used to detect fetal heartbeats.

The general idea of humiliating women by forcing things up their vaginas or subjecting their genitals to abusive examination in the cause of hygiene or to prove your virginity is a key weapon in the armory of patriarchal repression of women.

Christian tolerance of systematic misogyny continues unabated, as conservatives debate the outrage of single mothers claiming welfare benefits or as liberals allow web voyeurs to enjoy the degradation of young women in pornography.

Gang Rapes
David Aaronovitch

British Muslims gang-raped underaged white girls on a bare mattress above a kebab shop.

Mohammed Shafiq, director of the Ramadhan Foundation, said that of 68 recent convictions involving street grooming, 59 were of British Pakistani men and concluded that the community had a problem.

Nazir Afzal, Chief Crown Prosecutor for northwest England, said the men think women are lesser beings: "The availability of vulnerable young white girls is what has drawn the men to them."

Criminologists said of the Pakistani offenders: "The defendants in question are at most nominally Muslim. Practicing Muslims certainly aren't supposed to have sex with children."

It is not a tenet of Islam that girls should be seduced. But Islam teaches that a modest woman keeps her eyes downcast, covers her hair or her face, keeps her voice quiet, and does not speak to unmarried men. A woman whose eyes go where they will, whose hair is free, and who speaks freely is immodest.

Only an inferior culture treats women and girls as possessions to gratify men. Only a weak one fails to care for and protect its children.

2012 May 9

Ending Austerity
Martin Wolf

Austerity fatigue has set in. Many countries have no plausible exit from depression, deflation, and despair. The last chance of reform rests with François Hollande.

According to the IMF, the ratio of gross public debt to GDP will rise, not fall, in every year from 2008 to 2013 in Ireland, Italy, Spain, and Portugal. Over a half of young people between the ages of 15 and 25 in Greece and Spain do not have a job, over a third in Portugal and Italy, and one in five in France. The IMF says the real economy will shrink this year in Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain. This is perilous.

Bundesbank president Jens Weidmann says monetary policy has reached its limits. Many Germans believe that their success is due to earlier socialist reforms, but this is nonsense. Germany has export-led growth and a superb industrial base. Weidmann: "Monetary policy in the eurozone is geared towards monetary union as a whole; a very expansionary stance for Germany therefore has to be dealt with by other, national instruments." This is not a monetary union. It is an empire.

Hollande must engage with Germans on how to end the eurozone crisis. The only sensible way out is to make symmetrical adjustments of trade imbalances and start reforming weaker countries.

Humor and Religion
Mark Oppenheimer

Jon Stewart, the comedian host of The Daily Show, seems to enjoy interviewing religious figures. He and his writers cover Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and a whole spectrum of smaller faiths, including atheism. And they pay attention to the finer points of belief, mining them for humor but at the same time informing us.

Stewart comes at religion with buckets of derision, but he and his writers have realized that good theology makes for good humor. All religions have beliefs that seem bizarre to outsiders. The Daily Show approaches American religion in the spirit of tolerance. Religions are strange: our job is to take an honest look, then tolerate them anyway.

Stewart has said very little about his own Judaism. But if he is indifferent to religion, he is clearly not bitter about it. He and his writers have the scrupulosity of objective journalists. Religious claims are frequently too bizarre for any sane person to believe. Humor is a great way to get over them.

Analytics and Religion
Alexandra Sifferlin

When people are primed to think analytically, it weakens the strength of their religious belief. In one experiment, researchers asked participants to look at images of sculpture: either Rodin’s The Thinker or another artwork of a discus thrower that had similar color and posture. Those who viewed The Thinker were significantly less likely than the control group to say they believed in God. Across the board, participants who were primed for rational thought were less likely to express religious belief.

The friction between intuitive and analytical thinking may help explain the origins of religious belief and disbelief. In human psychology there are two systems of thinking. System one is intuitive, rapid, and effortless. System two is analytical, reasoned, and thoughtful. Analytic thinking can push people away from intuitive thinking.

Analytic Thinking Promotes Religious Disbelief
DOI: 10.1126/science.1215647

Narcissism and Religion
Alexandra Sifferlin

Narcissism may have the strongest effect on the religiously devout.

Students answered questions about how religious they were and about how acceptable they found certain ethically dubious behaviors. The Christians were more likely to show better ethical judgment than skeptics. But when data on their narcissistic tendencies was factored in, the more devout participants tended to make the worst ethical judgments. The ethical judgment of both nominals and devouts were clouded by narcissistic tendencies. For both groups, as narcissism increased so did the tendency to worse ethical judgment, but the effect of narcissism was stronger among those identifying themselves as religious. Skeptics showed more similar ethical judgment however narcissistic they were.

Narcissists tend to ignore the rules that govern the behavior of others, to attain personal goals at the expense of others, and be insensitive to what society expects of them in terms of conformity to its norms. So a person might be seduced by narcissism into engaging in unethical acts.

Does Narcissism Impair Ethical Judgment Even for the Highly Religious?
DOI: 10.1007/s10551-012-1239-0

Athletes prepare for the London 2012 Olympic Games

Did Dinosaurs Fart To Death?
Fox News

Dinosaurs may have gassed themselves to extinction with their own flatulence. A new study shows that during the Mesozoic era millions of herbivorous sauropods farted a calculated 500 Tg (megatons) of methane a year, enough to warm the planet and hasten their own demise.

Could methane produced by sauropod dinosaurs have helped drive Mesozoic climate warmth?

The Observer
"It's up to you to have
an amazing life"
Olivia Newton-John, 63

AR I loved her in Grease

Denise Johnson
Perigee Moon

The Independent

Michèle Roberts says of her novel Ignorance: "I was just impelled to write it." Born in 1949, she wanted to explore "how family stories veil, or put differently, what might have happened". Roberts went to a Catholic convent school and read English at Oxford. She says St Teresa of Avila is her muse. Her 2007 memoir Paper Houses describes her life in London, her discovery of socialist feminism, and her struggles with sexual guilt and terror.

AR I recall talking about revolution with Michèle
at Oxford 42 years ago.

Tom Jones
Caitlin Moran

Tom Jones appeared at the back of the stage, and gave out a primal bellow. It was a noise that appeared to have started before the beginning of time and would go on to outlive everything there is to come. For when Jones sings, it is not, technically, singing at all, but a primal energy ray from deep within his gonads, expressing his wish to have sex with every woman on the Earth. It is a sound meant to make all other men on this planet hide in fear, while their womenfolk take off their clothes and run towards Jones shouting, "I'm ready!" As a consequence of this unstoppable, unending testicularity, the Jones reaction shots are as unvaried as they are powerful. His reaction on sighting a young lady is always a hungry grin that says, "I'd like to fuck her."

AR Put your knickers back on,
Ms Moran!

The Scream
Edvard Munch's painting
sells for $120 million.

Get Over The War
The Telegraph

British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said German reluctance to launch military action outside its own borders is limiting its international importance. German voters and politicians should accept that the war was "quite a long while ago" and play a more active role in global security operations.

2012 May 8

Greece And France
Gideon Rachman

A Franco-German split on growth versus austerity would open up a seismic fault in the foundations of the European Union and endanger the euro.

Most analysts assume Hollande will settle for a face-saving deal with Merkel to move the EU debate in favor of growth. A Hollande-Merkel deal would put a vaguely worded new growth pact alongside the fiscal pact. It would reject Eurobonds but might accept EU infrastructure project bonds. A typical Franco-German fudge would allow all parties to retreat with honor.

The new eruption of the Greek political volcano complicates things. The Greek problem cannot be fudged with a few words. Greece will either press ahead with big budget cuts soon, as demanded by its most recent bailout deal, or it will refuse, and the IMF will refuse more aid for Greece. The Greek government will then run out of money and Greece will exit the eurozone.

Faced with a choice between supporting Greece and supporting Germany, the French are almost certain to go with the Germans. The rhetoric is irrelevant.

How To Survive A Euro Collapse
Simon Wolfson

If the new President of France tries to stimulate growth through further borrowing, then the death of the euro may be close. Issuing government debt to stimulate growth is a dangerous game. The markets may lose faith and demand a risk premium.

I set up an economics prize to discover how to unwind the euro. If a Eurozone state exits the euro and devalues its new local currency, it will re-denominate contracts in the new local currency, leaving a legal and financial mess for overseas investors.

How to protect yourself from a euro collapse:
1 Transfer euro deposits from banks in a potential exit state to northern European banks.
2 Write new contracts in euros with legal provision for the possibility for a euro collapse.
3 Fund bank loans made in a potential exit state by deposits subject to local state law.

2012 May 7

Vorname Carmen
Regie: Jean-Luc Godard, Frankreich 1983
Analysiert von Prof. Dr. Gerhard Poppenberg
Deutsch-Amerikanisches Institut Heidelberg

Hollande Wins
Financial Times

François Hollande, 57, is the next French president. Speaking at his rural base before flying back to the Bastille, the Socialist leader said his election signals hope that Europe can avoid austerity. He wants to give Europe a dimension of growth and prosperity and vows not to ratify the EU fiscal discipline treaty without new measures to promote growth.

AR Had to happen: Austerity sucks.

Global Machine Breakdown
Cullen Roche

The global economic machine is stalling. Modern monetary theory offers suggestions to improve it:

1 The debt crisis is a currency issue. Eurozone countries cannot borrow from the treasury or devalue their currencies. Bond investors trust nations with high sovereign debt only if they can still print money.

2 The money multiplier does not work as expected. Quantitative easing was expected to produce hyperinflation. Giving the banks more reserves should let them create money freely. But bank lending has continued to decline. So banks are not reserve constrained.

3 Government budget deficits are not always the enemy. As banks and households have both reduced their debt level, continued government spending is essential. Austerity has failed in Europe.

AR The money multiplier did not work "as expected" because the banks had to reduce their leveraging. Their previous multiplier was based on a faulty risk model. Banks are constrained by risk, not reserves.

2012 May 6

Pascal Bruckner

Many people in Europe and America have convinced themselves that the end is nigh.

James Lovelock regards Earth as a living organism and human beings as an infection in it. Martin Rees gives humanity a 50-50 chance of surviving beyond this century. Al Gore proposes to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by using low-energy lightbulbs, driving less, checking your tire pressure, recycling, rejecting unnecessary packaging, adjusting your thermostat, planting a tree, and turning off electrical appliances. Others say we must change our diets, cut back on air travel, consume fewer material goods, and stop driving gas guzzlers.

A secular prophet has no function other than indignation. So he becomes intoxicated with his own words and claims a legitimacy with no basis. These are not great souls who alert us to troubles but tiny minds whose preaching brings only despair.

The Christian apocalypse saw hope of the coming of the Lord. Today we only hope to escape the chaos.

Paul Krugman

Recovery would be easy to achieve: all we need is to reverse recent austerity policies and temporarily boost spending. The boom, not the slump, is the time for austerity. Now is the time for the government to spend more until the private sector revives.

We have both the knowledge and the tools to get out of this depression. We could be back to high employment very fast, probably in less than two years. All it takes is intellectual clarity and political will.

We need more government spending. High tax shares correlate with low unemployment. Austerity policies are followed by economic contraction and higher unemployment. Reducing the budget deficit lowers growth but fiscal stimulus makes jobs.

Alain de Botton

Adultery is tempting and exhilarating. The real fault might be the lack of any wish to stray. This might be considered wrong, against nature. Refusal to entertain adultery would seem to represent a colossal failure of the imagination.

Seeing marriage as the perfect answer to all our hopes for love and sex is naive and misguided. What is wrong with the idea of adultery is its idealism. Adultery suggests that we might rescue our marriage through an adventure on the side.

There is no answer to the tensions of marriage. To feel only intermittent affection for a spouse, to have mediocre sex six times a year, to keep a marriage going for the sake of the children — such compromises are pitiful.

In a marriage, it is the ability to stay that is worthy of honor. A loyal marriage ought to recognize the immense forbearance and generosity of the two parties. If one partner should slip, the other might pause to admire the previous fidelity.

AR Must try this line on a sexy wife some time (just kidding — no prophet needs an adulteress).

My Amazon review of Sam Harris on morality and religion
Scott Atran on Sam Harris on morality and religion

2012 May 5

The German Model
Spiegel Online

Countries around the world envy German economic success. But a closer look reveals a much bleaker picture. Only a few workers are benefiting from the boom, while stagnant wages and precarious jobs are making it hard for the rest. Managers, specialists, and members of the core workforce are still in demand. But the people used for contract or part-time or temporary work are out in the cold.

Germany is increasingly moving in the direction of a three-class society. The first class contains executives and the like who are paid millions. The second contains the educated and reasonably paid legions of white-collar and skilled workers. Bringing up the rear are people like shop assistants, cooks, waiters, and teachers, who often earn less now than they did a decade ago.

Earlier reforms encouraging temporary work were intended to free up the labor market, but they largely failed to move more people from the third class into good jobs. To narrow the gap between rich and poor, we need more spending on education and changes to the tax and transfer systems. The reforms led by Chancellor Schröder as Agenda 2010 reorganized the welfare state. Now we need an Agenda 2020.

On Certainty
Ben Mason

The right and left hemispheres of the brain differ on certainty. The left brain rejects information that conflicts with its accepted theory, is an expert at denial, and has a penchant for delusional optimism. The right brain holds ambiguous possibilities in suspension and is good at contextualizing, empathizing, and intuiting.

The left brain not only shows exaggerated optimism about outcomes but also about its own ability. Children with right-brain deficit disorder ignore task obstacles, accept impossible challenges, make grossly inadequate efforts, and are stunned by the poor outcomes. Patients with right-brain injuries will make up convincing answers to questions rather than admit they don't know. They have an unbridled willingness to accept absurd ideas.

But nuanced understanding and a circumspect position are not signs of weakness. The right brain has an affinity for ambiguity and grasps implicit meaning, metaphor, humor, and irony. It sees everything in context. A wiser understanding of complex issues disavows claims of complete certainty as bogus. No right-minded person would be taken in by them.

On Art
Charles Murray

Belief that life has a purpose comes from belief in a personal God who wants you to be all you can be.
The rejection of traditional religion is conspicuous among intellectual and artistic elites.

The Europe Syndrome starts with a conception of humanity that is devoid of the divine. Humans are bags of chemicals that come and go. The purpose of life is to have fun. But European welfare states have plunging birth rates and fewer people find satisfaction in their work. Without family or faith, Europeans no longer celebrate greatness.

Religiosity is indispensable to great art. The falling away from religiosity must end. The West has been wandering in the wilderness. Humans are drawn to the big questions.

AR This (originally very long) jeremiad betrays deep ignorance of Art, of Europe, and of God.

The Meaning of Disgust
Nina Strohminger

Colin McGinn's new book is bullshit. Disgust is an emotion whose principal function is to help us avoid contaminants and disease. But McGinn says: "Disgust occurs in that ambiguous territory between life and death, when both conditions are present in some form."

He says disgust reflects our existential terror and ambivalence about being souls tied to mortal bodies. He argues that humans need the emotion to rein them in. Apparently, the desires of our caveman ancestors became so rapacious that "early humans started desiring sex with dead bodies and wanting to eat feces". Rather than seeing necrophilia and coprophagia as dysfunctional because they expose the sybarite to pathogens, McGinn says they are not "conducive to psychological wellbeing."

His prose is wild. On male genitalia: "Life and death coexist in complex and subtle ways in the penis and testicles, telling a story of triumph and tragedy." On feces: "I have no wish to romanticize the turd." Pubic hair is "nature's furry bounty". Semen is a "pointless sticky daub once it is spilled on the ground". The brain "resembles nothing so much as a mound of dung". The grave is "a rectum, with corpses featuring as large turds". On penis-vagina sex: "a tumor and a wound are violently combined in a vital act to produce a fresh life, itself redolent of death." On farting: "Who can deny the mood-destroying effect of an errant flatus just at the moment of erotic fervor?"

AR Oh, Colin.

2012 May 4

The Top One Percent
Joseph E. Stiglitz

In the United States, 1% of the population controls some 40% of the wealth and garner for themselves some 20% of all the income.

The TOP may believe that they earned what they received through hard work. But no one succeeds on his own. The poor often work far harder than the richest. After the crisis, the bankers walked off with outsized bonuses while those who suffered from the crisis went without a job. The government bailed out the banks but not the people.

In the United States, the political system is more akin to "one dollar one vote" than to "one person one vote." The system amplifies the voice of the wealthy. It fails to protect the ordinary citizens against the wealthy and enriches the wealthy at the expense of the rest.

The Occupy protesters say we need a democracy where people, not dollars, matter. We need a democracy that reflects the general interests, not the special interests. The best government that money can buy isn't good enough.

Of the 1%, for the 1%, and by the 1%

2012 May 3

Sarkozy Slams Hollande
The Times

Nicolas Sarkozy lost his temper last night in a TV debate with François Hollande. When Hollande accused Sarkozy of appointing cronies to high places, the president erupted and called him a "little slanderer".

Again and again Sarkozy accused his socialist contender of lying. "Monsieur Hollande, when you lie so shamelessly, do I have to accept it?"

In reply Hollande said he didn't have to listen to lectures from a failed president. "Monsieur Sarkozy, you would have a hard time passing for a victim. It’s never your fault. You always have a scapegoat."

There was no outright winner in the clash. But the incumbent failed to deliver a knockout blow against the challenger. Both sides claimed victory.

Toward the United States of Europe
Niall Ferguson and Pierpaolo Barbieri

Tom Sargent recently argued in his Nobel Prize acceptance lecture that Europe is now where the United States was under the 1781 Articles of Confederation. The next step is fiscal federalism, corresponding to adoption of the 1787 constitution.

Angela Merkel is no Alexander Hamilton. But she is the only Eurozone leader who has been boosted by her crisis management. At her last CDU Party Congress she called Europe a "community of destiny".

Germans are invested in the European ideal. It has helped them achieve prosperity, political respectability, successful reunification, and a dominant economic position. Today the biggest threat to Europe is the political fallout from austerity. The way forward is fiscal union.

Walter Ellis

Some say Britain should exit the European Union and become an offshore Switzerland. Within its island fortress, Britzerland would prosper on financial services and tourism.

But Switzerland is not what it once was. Now foreigners make up one in five of a population of almost eight million, and the percentage is growing. Over a fifth of the foreigners are Muslims. Switzerland still has high employment and expects modest growth this year, but there is strong global pressure to open up the banking system. So in future foreign clients will be taxed at foreign levels, hedge fund rules will follow EU best practice, and the tax regime will be aligned with Brussels. Switzerland is now bound more tightly than Britain to the free movement of people across its borders. Since 2002, the Swiss confederation has signed 210 bilateral treaties imposing European law.

In the old days, Bern eschewed membership of both the European Union and the United Nations. Then Switzerland joined the UN in 2002. Do Brits want all this?

The Righteous Mind
Jonathan Haidt

Moral behavior emerges from natural competition among human groups. Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, technologies, and psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate self-interest and support cooperative societies.

The ritual practices that the New Atheists dismiss as costly, inefficient, and irrational turn out to be a solution to one of the hardest problems humans face: cooperation without kinship. Irrational beliefs can sometimes help the group function more rationally.

Digital Immortality
Stephen Cave

Digital immortality is about there being a silicon you for when the physical you dies. Your brain is scanned and your essence uploaded as data. This whole brain emulation is saved and brought back to life as an avatar in a virtual world or in the body of a robot.

We need to:
1 Read all the data that makes up who you are,
2 Store that vast amount of data,
3 Reanimate the data.

Theoretically the problem seems solvable, but whether the solutions are practical is another story.

Stuart Armstrong, Future of Humanity Institute, Oxford: "Technology is now advancing faster and faster and we understand it a lot better because we built it ourselves. So the problems that digital immortality is facing are merely engineering problems."


2012 May 2

China and Europe
Li Keqiang

China firmly supports the integration of Europe and regards the European Union as a strategic partner. With its solid economic foundation and scientific and technological strength, Europe can beat the crisis and turn it into an opportunity for greater progress.

China firmly supports Europe both in words and in deeds in its efforts to overcome the current crisis. In the past two years, China's imports from EU countries have grown at an annual rate of more than 25%. Last year, China almost doubled its direct investment in Europe.

When "designed in Europe" is combined with "made in China" and when European technologies are applied to the Chinese market, there will be amazing results. We are ready to work with Europe. China and Europe can progress and develop together.

Brits Flock To Islam
Abdal Hakim Murad

Many British Muslims do not publicly announce their faith. These are the submarines. There have been, it seems, a hundred thousand British conversions to Islam in the past decade.

Women account for three quarters of new Muslims in the UK. Often the spiritual wanderer finds his way to Islam having rejected Christianity because of the complexity of its belief system. Ultimate truth should be ultimately simple.

Mayday, from a hilltop in Pfalz


2012 May 1

London: Go For Typhoon
The Times

The British government is facing calls to choose Eurofighter Typhoons for its new aircraft carriers. Industry sources say adapting the Typhoon to fly off a carrier would be cheaper than either variant of the American F-35. It would also create British jobs at BAE Systems. The government had dismissed the Eurofighter option for fear of upsetting Americans, and BAE Systems has invested heavily in the F-35 program with Lockheed Martin.

Berlin: Go For Austerity
Financial Times

The Eurozone must stick to its austerity-led recovery plan, German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble said Monday: "The first precondition in order to have sustainable growth everywhere in Europe is fiscal consolidation."

One World Trade Center Now
New York's Tallest Building


Once completed, the glass-paneled monolith formerly called the Freedom Tower will stand 1,776 feet tall from ground level to spire, boasting 104 floors. It will be 408 feet taller than its predecessors. Its construction is expected to cost $3.9 billion.

Image: CBS News

US Navy
WTC site six days after 9/11

Willy Words
Will Self

I used to remonstrate with readers who complained about my sesquipedalianism. I'd point out that my texts were as full of resolutely Anglo-Saxon slang as they were of the flowery and the Latinate. But I've stopped bothering.

Now I point out ruefully that although the subject matter of my writings — which includes sexual deviance, drug addiction, and mental illness — has become quite unexceptionable, the supposedly difficult language they are couched in seems to have become offensive.

Extraterrestrial Life
The Telegraph

Astronomers have discovered a planet capable of supporting life just 22 light years away. Planet Gliese 667Cc is rocky, with a mass of 25-30 zettatons (Earth mass is 6 zettatons), and orbits a red dwarf star in the habitable zone, where it gets enough solar energy to allow liquid water and mild surface temperatures.

Currently, planet hunters use the High Accuracy Radial Planetary Searcher (HARPS) telescope to measure the radial velocity of a star and analyze wobbles in its motion caused by a planet. They can detect planets of 3-5 times Earth mass. In future, they hope to detect planets as small as 10 zettatons.

CERN Finds New Particle
Spiegel Online

LHC physicists have discovered a new particle. It is a neutral baryon called "Xi_b ^ * 0" and made of three quarks: an up, a strange, and a bottom. Its mass-energy is between 6 and 7 GeV. The CMS detector recorded 21 decays, enough for a discovery.

AR I say call it a chibon.

Martin Amis revitalized English prose with the freewheeling energies of its American cousin.
His 13th novel is Lionel Asbo:
The State of England.

Posh Boys
Financial Times

David Cameron and George Osborne are called "posh boys" by one of their own MPs. The notion of position through privilege and connections conveys an image of being out of touch with ordinary people and is a toxic charge against a British leader. They are pretty posh too: children of millionaires, educated at top private schools, and members of elite Oxford drinking societies.

Too Old To Work,
Too Young To Die

Theodore Dalrymple

No one can fire older people just because of their age, and they must work longer to top up their pensions. But now it seems that younger people need their jobs. People have to work so long partly because for years the state has been running an unfunded pyramid pension scheme. Are older people selfish for working on or for retiring too soon?

How to meditate

2012 April 30

Growth Not Austerity
Larry Summers

European policy makers assume that countries are too deep in in debt and so face a high cost of borrowing, which inhibits growth. So they provide financing but insist on austerity.

Eurozone countries are in trouble because the financial crisis led to a collapse in growth. High deficits are a symptom. The right focus for Europe is on growth. Austerity is a step in the wrong direction.

Austerity at the national level is likely to reduce creditworthiness. Fiscal contraction reduces incomes, limiting the capacity to repay debts. It achieves only limited reductions in deficits, given reduced tax revenues and increased benefit payments. And it blights future growth by reducing capital investment and raising unemployment.

The Eurozone periphery cannot succeed unless Germany allows its trade surplus to contract. A country that drives down its economy in pursuit of austerity does its creditors no favor. Success requires growth.

Eurozone Split
The Times

François Hollande vowed to end the remorseless austerity programs advocated by Germany: "The citizens of France are going to address a message of change to Europe, and that message is one of reorientation towards growth. Our challenge is to refuse the austerity that cannot be our horizon."

AR Larry and François seem to agree.

2012 April 29

The Brain
David Eagleman and Raymond Tallis

DE Our lives depend on our brains. But the large majority of the brain's activity takes place under the hood of conscious awareness. So people are nuanced, complicated, contradictory.

RT Everything about us requires a brain in working order. It does not follow that our brains are pretty well the whole story of us. We are part of community of minds, a human world.

DE Brains and culture operate in a feedback loop. A brain reflects its culture. An understanding of the limitations of consciousness gives a richer understanding of the wellspring of our ideas.

RT Studies show choices are shaped by an implicit egoism built into the brain. But the public space of culture is at least as important. To say the brain is in charge is to personify it.

DE Illusions reveal that perceptions generated by the brain do not necessarily correlate with reality. We don't have a strong grasp of what reality out there even is, because we detect such a small slice of it. That small slice is called the umwelt. Our sensorium is enough to get by in our ecosystem, but no better.

RT We could not recognize illusions and so on for what they are unless most of our experiences were veridical. If we were confined to an umwelt, how would we know it? Knowledge transcends immediate experience and corrects our intuitions.

DE We are sealed off from most of reality but we can discover more of it by a process of careful experimentation. That is the endeavor of science.

AR We emerge like a spike from a stack that goes down through the brain and the umwelt to the world of physics and the universe. We're all spikes on the same stack.

2012 April 28

Attacking Iran
Danger Room

The U.S. Air Force is quietly preparing to assert air dominance in the Mideast again. During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, F-15C Eagles flew air patrols from Saudi Arabia. But they met no resistance, and since then the Air Force has deployed only ground-attack planes to the Mideast. The F-15Cs stayed home in the U.S. and Japan. Now stealthy F-22 Raptors are ready for combat.

The Air Force is preparing to fight Iran. In March the Air Force deployed standard F-15Cs to the theater, probably either in the United Arab Emirates or in Qatar. Upgraded F-15Cs from Japan joined them, with the latest phased-array radars that track more targets, faster, than old mechanical radars. Now Raptors have deployed to Al Dhafra in the UAE. If they're from Alaska, they're the Increment 3.1 model with boosted bombing capabilities. The Mideast mission is the first F-22 deployment on the front line.

The Air Force needs to mix F-15s and F-22s. It has so few Raptors that it keeps 250 F-15Cs in service. Pilots have developed team tactics for the two types. Large numbers of F-15s cover for small numbers of Raptors that use stealth to penetrate enemy defenses. Look out for a Mideast deployment of Air Force bizjets and Global Hawk drones fitted with Battlefield Airborne Communications Node (Bacon). The F-22 and F-15 data links need a Bacon plane nearby to work together.

AR Good hunting, chaps!

The Jet That Ate the Pentagon
Winslow Wheeler

The United States is making a gigantic investment in the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Claimed to be near invisible to radar and able to dominate any future battlefield, the F-35 will replace most of the air-combat aircraft in the inventories of the U.S. Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and at least nine foreign allies, and it will be in those inventories for the next 55 years. But the program is a calamity.

1 Cost: This year, the acquisition price has increased to about $400 billion. This does not include the operating cost. The current appraisal for operations and support is $1.1 trillion, for a total of $1.5 trillion. The total program unit cost for each individual F-35 is now $161 million. But the estimate assumes the F-35 will only be 42% more expensive to operate than an F-16. Expect at least 100% more.

2 Schedule: The design was born some 25 years ago as a supersonic STOVL aircraft. Then it was decided to make it both an air-to-air fighter and a bomber. Next came stealth, imposing a new shape, new skin coatings, and new internal weapons bays. There would be three versions, for the three services. Hundreds of planes are being built before the test results are in. The test program is only 20% complete. The target date for combat readiness is 2019.

3 Performance: The F-35 lacks the F-16's agility in the air-to-air mode and the F-15E's range and payload in the bombing mode, and it can't match the A-10 at low-altitude close air support. Its availability will be lower because its complexity prolongs maintenance. The aircraft most like the F-35, the F-22, flew on average for only 15 hours per month in 2010. The F-35 is not even very stealthy.

Bottom line: Thumbs down.

2012 April 27

Money Corrupts
New Scientist

University of California researchers Dacher Keltner and Michael Kraus tested how people from different social backgrounds interact. The poorer subjects were more likely to use warmer and more expressive body language and gestures that signal engagement, while the richer participants were more aloof.

Asked to rate the emotions expressed in photographs of human faces, subjects with better jobs were consistently worse at the task. When pairs of students were asked to act out mock interviews, the students from poorer backgrounds were better at guessing their partner's feelings than those from wealthier backgrounds. But the wealthier students suddenly improved at reading emotions when they imagined talking with someone more prestigious.

In a test of altruism, people from poorer backgrounds tended to give more than wealthier people. Experiments show that wealthier people are more likely to behave unethically than poorer people. The results suggest that tax cuts for the wealthy will not cause benefits to trickle down to poorer people.

Keltner: "Our results say you cannot rely on the wealthy to give back, to fix all the problems in society. It is improbable, psychologically."

AR I cannot be corrupted. You are welcome to try by offering me a large sum of money.

The Roman Empire
Adrian Goldsworthy

The Romans dominated the Mediterranean in the second century BCE and in the following centuries ruled an empire stretching from the Atlantic to the Euphrates, from Britain to the Sahara. The last emperor to rule from Rome was deposed in 476 CE. The last to rule from Constantinople lost to the Turks in 1453.

The empire was based on military force. Julius Caesar said his campaigns in Gaul, Germany, and Britain were for the good of the republic. According to Virgil, Jupiter said it was the Roman destiny to "spare the conquered and overcome the proud in war" (parker subiectis et debellare supremos). The Romans expected victory or death. From graffiti on a cave wall in Jordan: "The Romans always win."

In 212 CE, Emperor Caracalla extended Roman citizenship to almost every free person in the empire. Many of the barbarian warlords who carved up the western provinces had served in the Roman army, including Alaric, the Goth who sacked Rome in 410. In the aftermath of the sacking Saint Augustine wrote his City of God. Christianity is the most profound legacy of the Roman era.

AR Roman military organization and weaponry beat all their opponents. The political organization was a legacy of Greek philosophy. I'm told the barbarians won by mounting stirrups on their warhorses, to allow standing in the saddle, a Mongol innovation.

The United States is the new Rome, and U.S. military organization and weaponry beat all opponents. What will be the new stirrup?

2012 April 26

Has Physics Made Philosophy and Religion Obsolete?
Lawrence Krauss

Why is there something rather than nothing? The question has been asked since people have been around. Now we can plausibly argue that a universe full of stuff came from nothing. We know you can create space from where there was no space. There were no particles in space, but also there was no space. The laws of physics could be an environmental accident. On that theory, the laws of physics come into being when the universe comes into being.

Space didn't exist but the laws of quantum mechanics existed. Most of the laws of nature didn't exist before the universe was created. They were created along with the universe, at least in the multiverse picture. In a different universe, different forces and different particles might exist. We don't yet have the mathematics to describe a multiverse. I don't know what laws are fixed and I don't have a quantum theory of gravity, so I can't tell you for certain how space comes into existence.

You can keep asking "why" forever, but the "how" questions are the ones that matter. If the multiverse really exists, then it could be an infinite object. That may beg the question of where the multiverse came from. You might not be able to answer that final question.

"The ... standard presentations of relativistic quantum field theories ... have nothing whatsoever to say on the subject of where those fields came from, or of why the world should have consisted of the particular kinds of fields it does, or of why it should have consisted of fields at all, or of why there should have been a world in the first place. Period. Case closed."
David Albert,
from his critical review of the book
A Universe From Nothing by Lawrence Krauss
(video intro, 65 min)

Is Susy Dead?
Scientific American

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) has yet to see any new phenomena that would support supersymmetry (Susy). Theorists introduced Susy fifty years ago to connect fermions and bosons. It would give every known boson a heavy fermion superpartner and every known fermion a heavy boson superpartner.

The LHC is smashing protons with an energy of 4 TeV apiece, generating new particles with mass up to about 1 TeV. For Susy to work as intended, at least a few of the Sparticles should have a fraction of that mass. The Higgs boson provides another reason for light sparticles. Without them, Standard Model calculations imply an infinite Higgs mass. A Higgs mass of around 0.125 TeV, as the LHC seemed to suggest in 2011, would be right where Susy predicts if sparticles have a fairly low mass. As the LHC collects data but no sparticles, Susy's fans may lose heart.

AR Frank Wilczek likes Susy (blog, 2001-11-27).

All in the brain: A trick that seems to defy gravity
Neural Correlate Society "Best Illusion of the Year" 2011
By Kokichi Sugihara (video, 50 sec, after ads)

2012 April 25

Robert B. Laughlin
Nobel Prize for Physics 1998
Der Letzte macht das Licht aus: Die Zukunft der Energie
Deutsch-Amerikanisches Institut Heidelberg

AR An informal talk promoting his new book Powering the Future but fun anyway

Content Curators Are The New Superheroes Of The Web
Steven Rosenbaum

Curation is the act of individuals with a passion for a content area to find, contextualize, and organize information. Curators provide a consistent update regarding what's interesting, happening, and cool in their focus. Curators tend to have a unique and consistent point of view.

Superheroes are extraordinary humans who dedicate themselves to protecting the public. Anyone who steps up and volunteers to curate in their area of knowledge and passion is taking on a Herculean task. They're going to stand between the web and their readers, using all of the tools at their disposal to "listen" to the web, and then pull out of the data stream nuggets of wisdom, breaking news, important new voices, and other salient details. It's real work, and requires a tireless commitment. While there may be an economic benefit for being a "thought leader" and "trusted curator," it's not going to happen overnight. Being a superhero is often a thankless job.

AR So now I'm a web superhero — Spiderman! All I need is a way to make it pay.

2012 April 24

France and Europe
Gideon Rachman

The battle for France has a couple of weeks to run. After that, the battle for Europe will begin.

Both Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande promise to save the "French exception" by changing the European Union.

Sarkozy promises to protect the French way of life: to tighten border controls, limit immigration, and promote a "buy Europe" policy.

Hollande promises to lead the fight against austerity and to reorient the EU toward growth. He may want to change the ECB statutes and promised to reduce France's deficit yet promote European spending on infrastructure. Germany would pay, so expect a no from Berlin.

Anger, Not Racism
Agnès Poirier

In France on Sunday, over 6 million voters voted for Marine Le Pen. These are not 6 million French fascists hoping she will bring back black shirts and far-right politics. But many voters are worried about radical imams brainwashing young Muslims. The Toulouse killings reminded them of her rhetoric about the "enemy within". Policies like the burka ban fueled their anger.

Le Pen has managed to make the Front National more respectable. An FN vote is often a "no" or "fed up" vote rather than a racist one. From a British perspective, much of her program does not look right-wing. It may be better to look at the way politics has been waged for decades than to condemn FN voters. But it would be foolish to be too blasé.

AR Wisdom of the crowds: Oppose militant Islam.

Mona Eltahawy

When it comes to the status of women in the Mideast, it's not better than you think. It's much, much worse. Even after these "revolutions," all is more or less considered well with the world as long as women are covered up, anchored to the home, denied the simple mobility of getting into their own cars, forced to get permission from men to travel, and unable to marry or divorce without a male guardian's blessing.

Not one Arab country ranks in the top 100 in the WEF report
Global Gender Gap

Sarkozy Versus Hollande
France 24

Incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy and Socialist candidate François Hollande square off in the second round of France's presidential election on May 6.

Sunday's Top 3
Hollande 28.6%
Sarkozy 27.1%
Le Pen 18.1%

Anti-immigration National Front party leader Marine Le Pen:
"The battle for France has only just begun."

My short cut of
The Unknown Life of JC
by Nicolas Notovitch

Mitt channels Nietzsche
Hitch on that quote


Stop The Bill
The Guardian

Sir Tim Berners-Lee warns the UK government that a planned extension of the state's spy powers would be a "destruction of human rights". He says: "The amount of control you have over somebody if you can monitor internet activity is amazing."

The UK government has run into a storm of criticism over its plan to allow GCHQ to monitor all internet communication in Britain. Berners-Lee: "The most important thing to do is to stop the bill as it is at the moment."

Q Where does spacetime
come from, O guru?

A Spin symmetry breaking
in the primordial blob

The Guardian

Titanic 3D has broken box office records in China to become the biggest opening ever in the country. The movie has already taken more money in China than it did in 1998 on its original release.

Resurrecting Spits
The Telegraph

David Cundall, 62, is on a quest to recover a cache of buried Spitfires from Burma. He found them sealed and buried in crates and hopes to restore them.

In August 1945 the new Spitfire Mark XIV fighters were crated and shipped to Burma. But by then they were not needed and 12 were buried; 8 more may have been buried in December 1945.

2012 April 23

The Crisis of Big Science
Steven Weinberg

The Standard Model is our working theory of elementary particles. Quarks make up the protons and neutrons in atomic nuclei, and leptons include the electron. Force carriers include photons for electromagnetic forces, W and Z bosons for weak nuclear forces, and gluons for quarks. But the model does not explain the masses of quarks and leptons and does not include gravitation.

The theory of the weak and electromagnetic forces is based on an exact symmetry between them. The W and Z particles and the photons all appear as massless particles. But the electroweak symmetry is broken. The symmetry breaking involves a field with a particle we call the Higgs boson. We are looking for the Higgs. But finding it will not give us a deep new theory.

Without more funding, I do not think we can make much more progress in the search for the laws of nature. Fundamental physics may grind to a halt. But funding is a problem for all fields of science. Cosmology has been revolutionized by satellite observatories working in tandem with ground-based observatories. Without new space platforms, it may get stuck too.

AR The story of physics in the last hundred years has been thrilling beyond compare. It has changed everything for us Earthlings. But the civilization that sustained it needs a basic makeover. Too much of its foundation of ideas is a mess. Too many people are singing the wrong words. We need a new basic myth that can grip us all for a thousand years. Physics must wait.

Das Selbst
Thomas Metzinger

Sie haben das Gefühl eines Selbst. Das ist das Grundgefühl, das uns das Gehirn manchmal vermittelt: jemand zu sein. Aber das gehört nur zu einem vom Gehirn erzeugten Modell. Es ist eine Art vorübergehende Simulation.

Das Selbstmodell ist ein faszinierendes und hochkomplexes Gebilde. Es macht so etwas wie Ich-Gefühl, subjektives Erleben und kritische Rationalität überhaupt erst möglich. Das Selbst existiert nicht als Ding. Es ist nur der Inhalt eines Vorgangs, der sich im Laufe von Jahrmillionen der Evolution ständig weiterentwickelt hat.

In Zukunft wird deutlicher werden, wo und wie im Gehirn welche Komponenten des Selbstmodells dargestellt werden. Schichten des menschlichen Selbstmodells werden von außen erst erzeugt, von der Kultur etwa. Unsere Ich-Erfahrung wird auch beeinflusst von der Gesellschaft, in der wir leben, wir nehmen etwa Einflüsse von außen in unsere Persönlichkeit auf.

Es gibt Roboter mit Kameraaugen, die sich drahtlos mit dem Gehirn steuern lassen. Der Forscher steuert also direkt mit dem Selbstmodell in seinem Gehirn einen Roboter, ein Computer übersetzt. Mit einer Brille kann man dabei auch durch die Kameraaugen des Roboters sehen. Da fragt man sich schon mal: Wo ist es denn nun, das Selbstmodell?

Der Ego-Tunnel von Thomas Metzinger

2012 April 22

Jesus Lived in India
By Holger Kersten

Believers in the death and resurrection of Christ will have a hard time with this book. They will pick and poke at details just as some do over Darwin's theory of evolution or the new sciences of the universe and the brain. But Kersten's destruction of the orthodox position of traditional faith is clear and convincing, for me at least. His own research and his summary of the research of a vast number of other careful scholars has shown with some clarity that:

1 Jesus was a teacher in the tradition of Buddhism and Hinduism who quite possibly learned his trade in advanced and extended Indian or Buddhist training,

2 Jesus survived the crucifixion, as he would have hoped, using Yogic skills developed during his training plus the cooperation of friends who may have seen his suffering Roman cruelty as a Jewish victory, and

3 Jesus probably headed back east after his recovery and became a wandering teacher called Yuz Asaf who finally settled in Kashmir and is buried in Srinagar.

Any attempt to reconstruct the events of so long ago with any clarity is doomed to be debatable, and any attempt to do so for a historic figure like no other in (Western) history is going to raise organized resistance from vested interests, but Kersten has given us a platform for doing so that is really good, in my humble opinion. I have read several books on this and related themes, and this is the best, for me. The balance of fine detail and judicious overview, the insistence on hard facts and the sober appraisal of probabilities, the sympathy extended to people of faith, whether Indian or Mediterranean, and the overall scholarly tone of the enterprise together make this for me the fiducial source on this topic. I have no hesitation in recommending it to seekers after truth.

AR My Amazon review: five stars

Celebrating Hitch
Daily Beast

Martin Amis, Hitchens' friend since their Oxford days, recalled that his pal was a "self-mythologizer" who
often referred to himself in the third person. Whenever an injustice occurred, Hitchens would declare,
"The pen of the Hitch will flash from its scabbard."

2012 April 21

Israelis Loving Germans
Juliane von Mittelstaedt

On his first night in Germany, Tomer Heymann, an Israeli, slept with a German. He met Andreas Josef Merk, blond and Catholic, at a Berlin club. Heymann is a gay Jewish film director. Merk traveled to Tel Aviv on a one-way ticket and the two men celebrated Passover and Christmas together. Together they made a one-hour movie: I Shot My Love. Six years on, Tomer and Andreas are still together.

In a recent survey, 98% of Jewish Israelis say remembering the Holocaust is the guiding principle of their lives. But more Israelis are traveling to Germany, meeting Germans, and falling in love. Many Israelis are learning German, and Hebrew courses in Tel Aviv include many Germans. This century, there has been a rapid increase in the number of Israelis holding a German passport. For some, it's an insurance policy, for others a convenience. Some see it as a belated victory.

Who's Gay?
Matthew Parris

Men are not two tribes, homosexuals and heterosexuals. Imagine that most men are more straight than gay and some are more gay than straight. Imagine a scatter graph, with some close to one end, some to the other, and plenty in between. Social pressure to be straight would polarize the scatter to a straight majority and a minority who can only be gay.

A war between the world of macho heteros and that of gay pride puts a no man's land between them. Both straights and gays have reason to deny they had a choice: the straights because gay inclinations were disapproved of; the gays because their best hope for tolerance is to wimp out and say they can't help it. We all win when a man can say he chose.

Christopher Hitchens
The Guardian

For an hour and a half, the Great Hall of the Cooper Union in Manhattan was filled with the wit and the coruscating erudition of the man universally referred to as "Hitch". Martin Amis delivered the eulogy. He said Hitch had been so widely loved partly because of his "full and friendly" good looks, partly because of his "perfect voice without any mannerisms or poncey intonations like mine", and partly because "he was an auto-contrarian" who loved nothing so much as to argue with himself.

The memorial marked the final gathering of the Hitchens gang — Amis, Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, James Fenton — with Hitchens' place marked by a photo of him (left). Stephen Fry recalled that there were few pleasures in life as great as having a disagreement with Hitch. But the aspect that boomed loudest was his relentless secular humanism in the face of ignorant religion.

god is not great

2012 April 20

Germany Arms Greece
The Guardian

Germany fed a Greek appetite for arms that triggered the debt crisis. Just under 15% of German weapons exports and some 10% of French arms sales go to Greece. Speculation is rife that EU aid was conditional on Greece honoring its agreements to buy arms from Germany and France.

As a proportion of GDP, Greece spends twice as much as any other EU member on defense. Since the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus, Greece has perceived a security risk from Turkey and spent an estimated €216 billion on arms. Both Turkey and Greece are in NATO.

Romney Needs Mate
Anne Applebaum

Mitt Romney lacks charisma. He also needs someone to help win back women voters. What he needs is a glamorous female running mate. Sarah Palin, step right up.

AR Can someone find Mitt a Hillary in the GOP, please, before Sarah reads this?

Electron Quasiparticles

According to quantum theory, electrons in a chain of atoms can be split into three quasiparticles: a holon carrying the electron charge, a spinon carrying its spin, and an orbiton carrying its orbital location. Electrons confined in an atom behave like waves, and when excited the wave splits into multiple waves.

In 1996, physicists split an electron into a holon and spinon. Now, Jeroen van den Brink and colleagues have split one into an orbiton and a spinon. The team created the quasiparticles by scattering X-ray photons off a single electron in a 1D sample of strontium cuprate and measuring photon energy loss. When a photon lost between 1.5 and 3.5 eV, it excited the electron to a higher orbital and created an orbiton and a spinon moving in opposite directions through the sample.

Orbitons may help to explain how some materials are superconductors at high temperatures. They could also be useful a quantum computer, where fragile states decay quickly, since orbital transitions occur in femtoseconds.

2012 April 19

IMF Warning
Financial Times

The International Monetary Fund warned that European banks looked set to shrink their balance sheets by €2 trillion over the next 18 months. Unless officials improved their policy response, the IMF said, European banks would dump almost 7% of their assets by the end of 2013.

Eurozone Low
Financial Times

The eurozone is looking Japanese. Short-term German interest rates have fallen below their Japanese equivalents for the first time in more than two decades. Benchmark 10-year Bund yields on Wednesday fell to 1.63%, an all-time low. Japan shows that yields can go a lot lower. The outlook for equities in a Japan scenario is gloomy.

Indian Missile Test
The New York Times

India says it has successfully launched a missile with nuclear capability and a 5000 km range, giving it the ability to strike Beijing and Shanghai. With the Agni 5 missile, India is the sixth country with long-range nuclear missile capability. Defense analyst Poornima Subramaniam: "Agni 5 will give India complete coverage of targets in China."

AR Time for India and China to talk about their border in Assam.

Islamist Human Rights
The Times

Britain's relationship with the European Court of Human Rights was tense yesterday after the court halted deportation proceedings against the radical Islamist cleric Abu Qatada. David Cameron vowed to force him out of the country "no matter how difficult" after AQ's lawyers challenged the removal process.

AR Memo to DC: Kick the bum out even if the ECHR dithers. Let the lawyers fight it out after the fact. Don't let the taxpayer foot the bill for AQ to stay anywhere but in a morgue.

Podiumsdiskussion im DAI Heidelberg
Moralmaschine Religion!? Konstruktion und Anspruch ethischer Wirklichkeiten?
Das Böckenförde-Diktum auf dem Prüfstand

Es diskutieren:
Eberhard Schockenhoff, stellvertretender Vorsitzender des Deutschen Ethikrates,
  Professor für Moraltheologie an der Katholisch-Theologischen Fakultät der Universität Freiburg
Gregor Ahn, Professor für Religionswissenschaft
  an der Philosophischen Fakultät der Universität Heidelberg
Joachim Kahl, Doktor der Theologie und Philosophie, freiberuflicher Philosoph
  mit Arbeitsschwerpunkten Religionskritik, Ethik, Ästhetik

Brigitta-Sophie von Wolff-Metternich, Akademische Oberrätin am Philosophischen Seminar,
  Universität Heidelberg

AR Prof. Schockenhoff hat die Diskussion mit seiner Katholischen Parole dominiert.

2012 April 18

Eurozone Misery
Martin Wolf

The eurozone is a monetary union, without fiscal backups. The pressure of adjustment falls on labor markets. Fear of inflation depresses nominal wages, leading to soaring unemployment, collapsing economies, and debt deflation. The eurozone is an aircraft being redesigned as it crashes.

Centrifugal forces
1 Solidarity remains largely national: The ECB is the principal international financier.
2 Power rests in member states: The eurozone is an international arrangement.
3 States disagree on what went wrong: Germans say fiscal indiscipline; others say excessive lending, divergent competitiveness, and external imbalances.

Centripetal forces
1 Fear of a break-up: Some say the single currency provides useful pressure for reform.
2 The ideal of an integrated Europe: The eurozone integrates states that used to go to war.
3 A secure place in Europe and the world: Europeans still believe in the postwar agenda.

The most likely outcome is a miserable but enduring union.

AR The union needs a shot of Teutonic dynamism.

The IQ Gene
New Scientist

A huge international brain study has found a gene that has a measurable effect on intelligence. Gene HMGA2 can vary at a single DNA site from C (cytosine) to T (thymine). With letter C, IQ rises by 1.29 and brain volume increases by 0.58%, adding around 9 ml of brain tissue, about 2 teaspoons. When people inherit C from both parents they get an IQ rise of about 2.6. The study involved 21,151 adults.

Nature Genetics, DOI: 10.1038/ng.2250

2012 April 17

Islam in Egypt
Amr Darrag

Egyptians are intent on creating a prosperous and democratic society. But the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), founded by the Muslim Brotherhood, believes that the goals of the revolution are under threat.

We in the FJP believe that Islam brings about social harmony, justice, and prosperity. Our principles:
1 Individuals must be free to choose their faith and their way of life
2 Everyone is equal before the law
3 The people are the sole holders of power

Our economic platform is based on a free economy and social justice. A strong private sector is the main driving force behind a thriving economy, while the state provides the legal and political framework.

Robots in China
Klaus Zimmermann

Apple and Foxconn plan to improve pay and conditions for over a million workers in China. Foxconn will deploy a million industrial robots in its factories over the next three years.

Chinese economic planners know the number of annual entrants to its labor market is set to peak soon. The leaders know that the population may get old before it gets rich. The government wants to see wages go up, both to strengthen domestic consumption and because it helps Chinese companies produce more advanced goods for the world market. China needs well trained and well motivated workers. Using more robots fits that strategy.

The west has not begun to appreciate the consequences of this rapid embrace of automation. Europe must attract skilled immigrants and revitalize its universities.

World Military Spending

World military expenditure in 2011 totaled $1.74 trillion, almost unchanged since 2010 in real terms, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

The 2011 figures were down for Brazil, Britain, France, Germany, India, and the United States. U.S. spending fell by 1.2% in real terms. Spending rose 6.7% for China and 9.3% for Russia.

SIPRI Yearbook 2011

2012 April 16

The F-35 Saga Continues
The Times

David Cameron may have to make a U-turn. British forces chiefs apparently want to abandon plans to buy the navalized F-35C fighter jet for the new carriers and revert to the F-35B jump-jet version.

The reassessment reveals:
— The Royal Navy will have two carriers with F-35B but only one with F-35C.
— Installing cats and traps would cause extra spending of up to £1.8 billion.
— Britain would pioneer the U.S. electromagnetic catapult, with all the risks.
— The F-35C is too heavy to land on the French Charles de Gaulle carrier.
— The carrier with the F-35C is unlikely to enter service until 2025.

Against the decision: the F-35B has lower performance and payload.

AR Cannot the government find a couple of billion more for the navy?

In memoriam

We may see gravity waves
by around 2015

Has Earth Seeded Space?
New Scientist

A team at Kyoto Sangyo University say Earth could have seeded other moons and planets with life. The asteroid that hit 65 million years ago may have not only killed off the dinosaurs but also kicked up well over a trillion tons of rocks into space. The team calculated that hundreds of millions of Earth rocks could have been thrown to Saturn's moon Enceladus and Jupiter's moon Europa. Even more could have ended up on the Moon and Mars. Hundreds of rocks could even have made it to planets around other stars, such as Gliese 581.


Günter Grass
Jeffrey Goldberg

German historian Ernst Nolte argued in a 2004 speech that the only difference between Israel and the Third Reich is Auschwitz. The late Portuguese novelist Jose Saramago once compared the Palestinian West Bank city of Ramallah to Auschwitz and accused Jews of worshipping
a spiteful god.

Günter Grass, in his writing, shows himself to be a man tired of hearing about the Holocaust, tired of thinking about the Holocaust, tired of carrying around the moral burden of the Holocaust. This is under-standable. But being a former member of the Waffen-SS
means having to say you're

AR Maybe now GG,
after a lifetime of writing,
has a right to sigh and say
SS-hit happens.

2012 April 15

The Human Brain Project
Jonathan Leake

The Human Brain Project, funded by the European Union, will offer new insights into the human brain.
EPF professor Henry Markram: "The complexity of the brain, with its billions of interconnected neurons, makes it hard for neuroscientists to truly understand how it works. Simulating it will make it much easier, allowing them to measure and manipulate any aspect of the brain."

The virtual brain will be housed in a giant new supercomputer at Jülich, near Düsseldorf, Germany. The machine will generate 3D moving images of the brain on large screens around a cockpit. Scientists will sit in the cockpit and fly through the brain, zooming in or out to explore its workings.

For 15 years Markram and his team have dissected and studied the mammalian brain's basic information processing units, the cortical column. These units are less than half a cubic mm in size but contain tens of thousands of neurons with many millions of interconnections. The team used their data to simulate a cortical column in a supercomputer. By 2014 they hope to model an entire mouse brain.

Markram: "The human brain is far larger with around a million cortical columns. A computer capable of simulating it would have to carry out a billion billion calculations a second."

AR A fine challenge for an exaflops machine.

2012 April 14

The Hajj show is a hit

2012 April 13

Top Ten Philosophers' Novels
Seán McGrady

1 Thus Spake Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche
Reading Zarathustra for the first time, despite its literary form, its poetic vision, I treated it as pure philosophy. But nothing will quite prepare you for the deceptions of Nietzsche's language.

2 The Last Puritan: A Memoir in the Form of a Novel by George Santayana
Santayana was attached to William James' idea that the emotions are the perception of bodily processes. Santayana develops this idea of the observing self philosophically.

3 Intimacy by Jean-Paul Sartre
The idea of intimacy denies everything of the transcendental ego and affirms intentionality, which a detached ego violates. Intimacy necessitates the connection to others.

4 Candide by Voltaire
Candide is perversion. Voltaire proceeds with caricature. The line of common sense philosophy leads straight from Voltaire to the modern preachers and prophets of this perversion.

5 A Severed Head by Iris Murdoch
Murdoch denied that her novels were works of philosophical fiction. Existentialism, for her, defined the whole genre of the philosophical novel: philosophy clarifies, literature mystifies.

6 Thomas the Obscure by Maurice Blanchot
Blanchot wrote fiction that it was in part philosophical investigation. He described the fiction as ontological, where the language of ontology resides outside the subject and object divide.

7 Thérèse Philosophe by Jean-Baptiste de Boyer, Marquis d'Argens
Dostoyevsky called it as a trashy little book. It is a tale involving a sexual romp with Catholic clergy confusing sexual with spiritual ecstasy that should never have seen the light of day.

8 The Stranger by Albert Camus
The stranger is conditioned in every respect. He could not be his own self in his actions. Rather than act, he is acted upon, and his world too is empty and meaningless, as there is no self.

9 The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
Eco's novel expresses the finite and infinite in themes and meanings, pinned down by a detective story. Beyond that simple form, there are unlimited mysteries to solve and connections to make.

10 Essays in Love by Alain de Botton
Many readers felt frustration that de Botton tells us nothing of what love is. The work failed as a novel because de Botton had not matured as a storyteller, but the real weaknesses are philosophical.

11 The Backslider by Seán McGrady

AR More shameless self-promotion there. I agree with his #1 anyway.

The Samaritan Temple
Matthias Schulz

The Old Testament says 10 of the 12 tribes in Samaria founded the state of Israel in the year 926 BCE. The two other clans lived in Judah with its capital Jerusalem. The Samaritans were in the majority. They were the guardians of the Ark of the Covenant and the keepers of the Mosaic tradition.

There's one big difference between the Samaritan Torah with the Jewish Torah. For Jews, the center of the world is Jerusalem, whereas for Samaritans it's Mount Gerizim. Shortly before his death, Moses told the Israelites to travel to Mount Gerizim and build a shrine there, or at least that's what the oldest Bible texts say. But then the Assyrians subjugated Israel and killed or enslaved its inhabitants. Many Israelites fled to Judah and Jerusalem.

The Jews wove an entire biblical tale around Judah. King David ruled from Jerusalem and his son Solomon allegedly built a glorious temple there. No remains have ever been found of his temple. But a temple stood for many years on Mount Gerizim, which in 180 BCE covered about 4 hectares and attracted huge crowds of worshipers. Then in 128 BCE a Jewish army burned it to the ground. The Samaritans never rebuilt it. The victors rewrote the Bible.

AR So forget about the Dome on the Rock. It's just another mosque.


Did Jesus survive the crucifixion?
If so, once he recovered he may
have escaped the Romans by
returning to India, where he lived
quietly as a teacher and died
aged 80 in Kashmir.

Beyond Belief: Jesus in India
YouTube, 55:37
The Tomb Of Jesus

Pattaya Daily News, 2010

The ancient city of Srinagar is in Indian Kashmir, a bumpy drive
east of Islamabad. It contains the alleged tomb of St. Issa, a.k.a.
Jesus Christ. Ostensibly the grave of medieval Muslim preacher,
Youza Asaph, the tomb is actually that of Jesus, say many who
believe that Jesus came to India following his crucifixion and
lived out his life in Srinagar.

The Lost Years of Jesus:
Documentary Evidence of Jesus'
17-Year Journey to the East

By Elizabeth Clare Prophet

The Bible records Jesus aged 12
in the temple, then aged 30 at
the river Jordan. That leaves a
gap of 18 years.

Richard Lambert

Publishing academic research is an expensive business. Prestigious publications have high rejection rates, require peer reviews and cataloguing, and get the best papers. But academic researchers dislike making profits for publishers.

Wellcome Trust has agreed with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in the United States and the Max Planck Society in Germany to underwrite a new web-based and open-access journal, eLife, run by scientists, for scientists.

INS Chakra
The Indian Navy has commissioned the Akula II class K‑152 Nerpa nuclear-powered attack submarine INS Chakra. The sub displaces 8140 tons, has a maximum speed of 30 knots, can operate at a maximum depth of 600 m, and has a strike range of 3000 km. It has four 533 mm and four 650 mm torpedo tubes and can fire Indian Club nuclear-capable missiles. INS Chakra was built in Russia and will serve until the Indian-built nuclear submarine INS Arihant is commissioned later this year. India is the sixth country to operate nuclear subs.

Rabindranath Tagore
Aditya Chakrabortty

Tagore Festival, Dartington Hall, Devon, England, April 6-9, 2012

Rabindranath Tagore, born in 1861, wrote on women's rights, the environment, Indian independence, and educational reform. In 1913 he won the Nobel prize for literature.

Authors today go straight from creative writing courses to careers in self-promotion. They have no time for politics.

Andrew Sullivan

Christianity is in crisis. The Catholic Church hierarchy has covered up a conspiracy to abuse and rape countless youths and children. Protestant churches have declined and evangelical Protestantism has grown. Many evangelicals embrace a gospel of prosperity. Others defend a rigid biblical literalism. Something is wrong. Great injustices require mobilization and public witness. But Christianity will rise again.

AR Will it?

Theodore Dalrymple

George Galloway of the Respect party flirts with Islamism and has been married four times, thrice to Muslims. Bradford is the second seat with a large Muslim electorate that he has won. When the results were announced, he exclaimed, "All praise to Allah!" and his supporters responded, "Allah! Allah!" He got an even bigger cheer when he shouted: "Long live Palestine!"

AR GG, U twat!

Oxford Literary Festival 2012
The Sunday Times

The festival started in the Sheldonian Theatre and moved on to tents in Christ Church meadows.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said British Muslim women can "help assert them-selves" by wearing a veil.

Biologist Steve Jones: "I prefer not to argue with creationists. It's like getting into a boxing ring with a blancmange: it will quiver but it will always come back at you."

Children's novelist Katherine Rundell said she ties herself to her chair with shoelaces to force herself to write, and makes herself meet deadlines by writing £1,000 cheques to the BNP and handing them to a friend: "If I haven't written my book by a certain date, mail it."

Baroness Warsi
The Guardian

My upbringing was strict, with a sense of purpose. At 41, I feel a real sense of confidence and stability. My first political memory is seeing Margaret Thatcher wave outside No 10.

AR Warsi will neuter
Gorgeous George.

2012 April 12

Muslims Can Reject Extremists
The Guardian

David Cameron says the Muslim world can reject a dead-end choice between extremism and dictatorship. Extremists are a dangerous foe on a par with supporters of slavery, but Indonesia has taken an extraordinary journey along the inspirational path to democracy.

Cameron cites four enemies of democracy:

1 Authoritarian leaders: "The Arab spring has shown that denying people their rights in the name of stability and security actually makes countries less stable in the end."

2 Corrupt elites: "Corruption denies the people their economic and political stake – the citizenship, the job and the voice that they want. Worse still, it breeds a cynicism and a sense of rage."

3 Extremists: Islam is "observed peacefully and devoutly by over a billion people" but "there is a problem across the globe with Islamist extremism, which is a political ideology supported by a minority" who reject debate and consensus.

4 Tribalists: Northern Ireland is a recent example.

AR The global community needs a clean separation between religion and politics.

The National Security Agency is building a big spy center in Utah

2012 April 11

MIT nuclear scientist Dennis Whyte: "We are basically making a star on the planet."

A British Museum exhibition on the pilgrimage to Mecca:
The Hajj

Ten Facts About Turkey
Foreign Policy

  1 Turkey is now 70% urban (France is 77% urban)
  2 Turkey's governing party (the AKP) has a reformist agenda
  3 Turkey's GDP grew at 8.5% in 2011 (almost as fast as China)
  4 Turkish women were given the vote in 1930 (but gender equality is very low)
  5 Turkey is slightly larger than Texas (but has much more biodiversity)
  6 Kurds are a big minority and Istanbul is the world's largest Kurdish city
  7 The Turkish press is vibrant but restricted (100 journalists are now in prison)
  8 The Turkish armed forces last staged a coup in 1997
  9 Turkey has compulsory religious education (in Sunni Islam)
10 Turkey's international trade is regulated in Brussels

What Grandpa Did
David Crossland

German historian Moritz Pfeiffer asked his grandfather what he did in World War II. His new book My Grandfather in the War 1939-1945 (in German) is based on his interviews with Hans Hermann.

Hans Hermann was born in 1921 in Wuppertal to an arch-conservative, nationalist family with a military tradition. His father served as a lieutenant in World War I. Young Hans was a member of the Jungvolk.

In 1941, Hans took part as an infantryman in Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. He said he knew nothing about such orders as the one to kill any Soviet commissars they captured.

Pfeiffer said it was "hardly believable" that his grandfather didn't know anything about mass killings. He says his grandparents suffered the same "moral insanity" that afflicted many Germans back then.

2012 April 10

Israelis Condemn Grass
Tobias Buck

In the six days since Günter Grass published his latest poem, the Nobel laureate and Waffen-SS veteran has drawn condemnation from the prime minister of Israel, the foreign ministers of Germany and Israel, and a host of pundits in both countries.

German commitment to Israel remains firm. Yet criticism of Israeli policies is no longer taboo. Lurking behind the Israeli fury is concern that broader German backing for Israel is on the wane. A rift is opening between Israel and western intellectuals and artists.

AR Muslims condemn a cartoon, Israelis a poem. Art works.

E-Book Hustle

Book publishers know they must evolve. A fifth of all Americans have read an e-book, and 114 million e‑books were sold in 2010. Some 48 million iPads, Android tablets, and e-readers were sold to U.S. consumers in 2011, twice as many as in 2010. Demand for e-books is growing fast.

The book revolution is far more complicated than that faced by the music and movie industries, which essentially needed to digitize their current products. Bookmakers must become multimedia companies. They face a dizzying array of decisions as they get their products to run on new devices and platforms.

The world of young-adult fiction provides great opportunities for multimedia storytelling. Books by television and film writers can be released as episodic apps and e-books. An episodic approach is natural for teenagers who spend tons of time reading text messages, Facebook updates, and blogs.

Future e-books could be more social experiences, with voting for characters or plots or optional extra content. For titles that become television shows or movies, publishers and studios could work together on combined print and screen versions. It will take a few years for the air to clear.

AR Maybe I should refactor my books and blog as an app.

Conservatives are neat freaks, liberals are slobs

2012 April 9

Jesus Was A Buddhist Monk
BBC 4 video, 49:12

This documentary examines a range of views on the life and death of Jesus. It seems the three wise men were Buddhist monks who found Jesus and came back for him around puberty. After being trained in a Buddhist monastery, he returned to preach Buddhist ideas to Jews, survived the crucifixion, and escaped to Afghan Kashmir, where he died as a well remembered teacher, aged 80.

AR This has the ring of truth for me. I vote for this story.

Saudi Princess Speaks Out

Princess Basma Bint Saud Bin Abdulaziz, 47, is the daughter of King Saud, a mother, a businesswoman, and a working journalist. These are the changes she would like to see in Saudi Arabia:

1 Rewrite the constitution
I would like to see a proper constitution that treats all men and women on an equal footing before the law. Our constitution should be inspired by the philosophy of the Koran.

2 Change the divorce laws
The current divorce laws are abusive. A woman can ask for a divorce only if she either pays a big sum of money or gets someone to witness why she is filing for a divorce. This contradicts the Koran.

3 Overhaul the education system
The focus in most of our educational system is on religious subjects. We need to encourage our youth to think freely, innovate, and use their initiative for the betterment of our society.

4 Reform social services
The ministry of social affairs is tolerating cruelty toward women rather than protecting them. The ministry is also one of the reasons poverty is rife in the kingdom.

5 Repeal the chaperone law
Women in Saudi cannot get around or travel without a male chaperone. The law curtails women's freedom and infantilizes women.

BBC podcast (28 min)

Deutsche Fassung im Spiegel

AR I taught physics to a teenage Saudi princess in London in 1981. Was it her?

John Derbyshire has shot himself in the foot

2012 April 8, Easter Sunday

Allaluyah, the concept for my next book on Globorg is risen!

Mitt and Bibi
The New York Times

Mitt Romney and Benjamin Netanyahu met in 1976 in the offices of the Boston Consulting Group, where both had been recruited as corporate advisers. That shared experience led to a warm friendship.

The men reconnected shortly after 2003 when Romney became the governor of Massachusetts. Netanyahu paid him a visit and told him how he had challenged unionized workers, reduced taxes, and privatized formerly government-run industries. He encouraged Romney to look for ways to do the same.

A few years later, Romney dined with Netanyahu in Jerusalem. When Netanyahu informed him of a campaign to persuade pension funds to divest from businesses tied to Iran, Romney offered his help.

Why is there something rather than nothing?
Lawrence M. Krauss

As a cosmologist, I am aware of the human need to assume that the existence of life, the universe, and everything reflect something profound. But science has taught us to think the unthinkable.

Most of the energy in the observable universe can be found outside galaxies in otherwise empty space. But the energy of empty space pushes distant galaxies away from us at an ever-faster rate. Eventually they will recede faster than light and will be unobservable.

The Large Hadron Collider has given tantalizing hints that the origin of mass is a kind of cosmic accident. Experiments suggest the existence of a universal field that gives the masses to all elementary particles that we observe today.

Combining the ideas of general relativity and quantum mechanics, perhaps the entire universe and even space itself could arise spontaneously out of nothing. The uncertainty principle expands what can possibly occur undetected in otherwise empty space. With gravity too, new universes can spontaneously appear and disappear.

Physics revolutionizes not only the concepts of "something" (elementary particles and the forces that bind them) and "nothing" (the dynamics of empty space or even the absence of space) but also the answer to the question of why there is something rather than nothing.

A universe like ours could have come from nothing. This does not prove that it did, but we can imagine it did. Perhaps, alone and together, we make the meaning in our lives.

AR This was the drift of my 2004 essay Purpose in Life and Science.

Philosophical Novels
Jennie Erdal

My novel The Missing Shade of Blue (2012) flirts with big ideas: the illusory nature of happiness, the dangers of too much thinking, the illusion of free will.

Iris Murdoch is the author most people associate with the philosophical novel. The Philosopher's Pupil (1983) is concerned with good and evil, though the pupil of the title is said to be beyond both and close to "awful aspects of the world". Some of Murdoch's metaphysics seems to get lost in melodrama.

Milan Kundera is wary of the novelistic illustration of ideas. With philosophy and the novel, it seems difficult to get the balance right. His solution in The Art of the Novel (1988) is "not to transform the novel into philosophy" but rather to bring to the novel "a sovereign and radiant intelligence".

Julian Barnes ranges over a variety of philosophical concepts in his novel The Sense of an Ending (2011). It is a psychological mystery tale and a meditation on the passage of time and memory. It is laden with ideas: the subjectivity of memory, the illusory nature of truth, the philosophical rationale for suicide.

The novel and philosophy have a great deal to give one another. But the novel is something felt and lived, not something theoretical.

AR Endearingly shameless promotion of her own novel.



In northern Saudi Arabia, near the border with Jordan, engineers have pumped up water from deep underground
to create huge agricultural settlements, as these Landsat images show.

Jonah Lehrer

Twenty years ago, Mark Beeman was studying patients who had suffered damage to the right hemisphere of the brain. Many of them had serious cognitive problems even though the left hemisphere had been spared. Beeman wanted to compare right and left brain activity for a standardized task. He came up with a set of word puzzles that subjects solved equally often by insight or by conscious analysis.

Beeman found that the brain quickly gets tired as the left hemisphere searches for logical answers. That triggers a switch of brain activity to the right hemisphere. A burst of gamma-wave brain activity appears 30 ms before an insight. Gamma rhythm correlates with the binding of neurons. In the seconds leading up to it, there is intense activity in the anterior superior temporal gyrus, located on the surface of the right hemisphere just above the ear. This is the neural correlate of insight.

AR Above the right ear,
good to know.

The People's Republic of China may become the world's largest military spender in just 20 years. It is investing in ballistic and cruise missiles, modern jets, submarines, radars and spy satellites, and cyber and space weapons. China aims to threaten American bases in the western Pacific and to push U.S. carrier groups beyond the first island chain. But China devotes just over 2% of GDP to defense; America spends 4.7%.

Chinese Military Power

Project Glass
The New York Times

Google showed off a pair of glasses with a clear display that can stream information to the wearer and send and receive messages through voice commands. It even has a camera to record video and snapshots.

The augmented-reality display sits over the eye and runs on the Android mobile platform. Google has lots of other shapes and variations of the glasses in the works. Wearers say the glasses don't interfere with daily life. They actually free people up from technology.

One Day
YouTube, 2:30

AR GIG 0001

George Galloway's third wife, Rima Husseini gave birth to their second son four months ago: "We are still married under Islamic law."

AR GG, U dog!

Divine Women
Anita Singh

Historian Bettany Hughes says Christianity was originally a faith where women held sway. In the first 200 years of Christianity, over half of all churches in Rome were built by women. "Our own monotheistic institutions might do well to take a leaf out of the book of human experience." Hughes will present the BBC 2 series Divine Women.

After his Bradford West victory, George Galloway flew to Amsterdam and married his fourth wife, Putri Gayatri Pertiwi.

AR Good 4U George!

Sadie Jones
Elizabeth Day

Success came as a shock to Jones, who had spent 15 years as a screenwriter failing to get her work produced. "Life is not a meritocracy," she says now. When The Outcast was published, she says the reception was ridiculous: "Like being bombarded with sweeties."

Salma Yaqoob

Respect supporters predicted a shock. People are disillusioned with austerity and war and with being taken for granted. Bradford is mired in unemployment and stagnation. Respect argued that we need investment in order to re-energize our economy and create the growth to deliver jobs. When the voters of Bradford West heard that argument put confidently and coherently, with an eloquence that only George Galloway can summon, they responded warmly.

2012 April 7

Mideast Nuclear Proliferation
Foreign Policy

Multiple nuclear powers on a hair trigger in the Mideast is a nightmare scenario for security planners. But dire warnings about uncontrolled proliferation are far from reality.

Pakistan embarked on a nuclear program in 1972 to match India's nuclear development program. Pakistan's perception of the threat posed by India is far more acute than how either Egypt or Turkey perceive the Iranian challenge. And the security situation in the Persian Gulf is not as severe as the one along the Indo-Pakistani border.

Turkey is already under a NATO nuclear umbrella. Ankara safeguards roughly 90 American B61 nuclear bombs at Incirlik airbase. But Turkey cannot even deliver its allotted B61 bombs. Turkey has no fissile material, cannot mine or enrich uranium, and has no way to reprocess spent fuel. The Turkish government has plans for civilian nuclear power to provide a quarter of Turkey's electricity needs by 2040, but this is optimistic.

Egypt is way ahead of the Turks in developing nuclear infrastructure. The Egyptian Atomic Energy Commission was established in 1955 to develop peaceful atomic energy. The Soviet Union gave Egypt a 2 MW light water reactor. Yet Egypt has made no effort to develop nuclear weapons technology. Pundits who warn of an Egyptian bomb should visit Egypt. They would see its ramshackle infrastructure and the dire state of its economy and relax.

Saudi Arabia has the cash to buy a nuclear program. But they do not have the capacity to manage one. They would have to import Pakistanis to do the work or buy nuclear devices directly from Islamabad, both risky options. The Saudi kingdom says it would be forced to act if both Iran and Israel possessed a nuclear arsenal. Said an unnamed Saudi official in June 2011: "We cannot live in a situation where Iran has nuclear weapons and we don't. It's as simple as that."

AR Saudi Arabia can easily do a deal with Pakistan. The Saudis allegedly financed the development of Pakinukes — "the Islam Bomb" — and now Pakistan needs more money.

The Villa In The Jungle
Spiegel Online

Israel sees itself as a "villa in the jungle," a vulnerable island of civilization surrounded by Islamists. Israelis call the Arab Spring the "Islamic Winter."

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu said last November that the Arab rebellion is developing into an "Islamic, anti-western, anti-liberal, anti-Israeli, undemocratic wave," and the Arab world is "moving not forward, but backward."

Former Mossad head Efraim Halevi: "Obviously Israel is in the eye of the storm, but it behaves as if it were not involved in the events."

2012 April 6, Good Friday

Israel, Iran, Grass
Spiegel Online

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: "Günter Grass' shameful moral equivalence between Israel and Iran, a regime that denies the Holocaust and threatens to annihilate Israel, says little about Israel and much about Mr. Grass. For six decades, Mr. Grass hid the fact that he had been a member of the Waffen-SS. So for him to cast the one and only Jewish state as the greatest threat to world peace and to oppose giving Israel the means to defend itself is perhaps not surprising."

Iranian state broadcaster Press TV: "Never in the history of postwar Germany has a prominent intellectual attacked Israel in such a brave way as Günter Grass with his controversial new poem. Metaphorically, the Nobelist has delivered a lethally lyrical strike against Israel."

AR Grass is politically naive but hardly dangerous. The poem is an artless expression of an incorrect but superficially reasonable set of ideas for peace.

Egyptian Brotherhood
The Times

The Muslim Brotherhood has sent a delegation to Washington. The delegates from the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) want to secure funding and investment for Egypt.

FJP delegate Sondos Asem: "We acknowledge the very important role of the United States in the world and we would like our relations with the United States to be better than before."

A recent poll showed that 54% of Egyptians rated job creation and economic development as their top priority. Less than 1% wanted Islamic law.

AR We must give them the benefit of the doubt. Democracy may tame them.

2012 April 5

French Hard Line
Financial Times

France will take a harder line within the European Union on immigration and trade if President Nicolas Sarkozy wins re-election. French foreign minister Alain Juppé:

1 "There is an intellectual revolution to make ... which is this idea of a Europe which protects ... a Europe with borders ... We want the external borders of Schengen to be controlled which is not the case at the moment. The Greek-Turkish frontier is a sieve."

2 "We have a divergence with our British friends who see Europe as a big free trade area. That is not our vision. We must introduce into free trade the notion of reciprocity."

3 A "Europe which protects" involves building an autonomous EU defense capability.

Grass Versus Israel
Spiegel Online

Nobel laureate Günter Grass has outraged Germans with a poem, Was gesagt werden muss, criticizing Israel for its policy on Iran.

The Israeli Embassy in Berlin issued a statement: "What must be said is that it is a European tradition to accuse the Jews before the Passover festival of ritual murder ... Israel is the only state in the world whose right to exist is openly doubted. That was true on the day of its founding and it remains true today. We want to live in peace with our neighbors in the region."

German Jewish writer Henryk Broder: "Grass has always had a tendency toward megalomania, but this time he is completely nuts."

Grass revealed in 2006 that he served in the Waffen-SS in World War 2.

My translation: What must be said

No Consciousness In V1
Christof Koch

A new experiment shows that attention and consciousness are different. Scientists projected a low-contrast grating that was drifting horizontally into one eye. It was surrounded by a scintillating ring in the same or in the opposite eye. In the latter case, the central stimulus became perceptually invisible. The scientists manipulated the visibility of the moving grating (2 conditions) and whether or not subjects attended to the grating (2 conditions) by asking them either to monitor a series of single letters that appeared on the ring or to ignore the letters. At issue was whether the subjects consciously saw the grating and whether or not they attended to it (4 cases).

The scientists measured the subjects' functional MRI response in the primary visual cortex, V1, which receives visual input from the eye. Paying attention to the target consistently and strongly increased the fMRI activity, regardless of whether the subject saw the target or not. Many previous studies had shown that attending to a signal reinforces its representation in the cortex. Whether or not the stimulus was consciously perceived made no difference. Attention is not consciousness.

AR No surprise there. Consciousness is a much harder problem than attention.

2012 April 4

Obama Versus Social Darwinism
Financial Times

President Barack Obama aims to portray Republicans as good for millionaires but heartless toward ordinary Americans, whereas Democrats look out for the middle class.

He calls the budget proposal put forward by Republicans in the House of Representatives a Trojan horse: "Disguised as a deficit-reduction plan, it's really an attempt to impose a radical vision on our country. It's nothing but thinly veiled social Darwinism." By "gutting" education and research and development, Republicans are proposing a "prescription for decline."

Obama: "In this country, broad-based prosperity has never trickled down from the success of a wealthy few. It has always come from the success of a strong and growing middle class."

Romney Hat Trick
The Times

Mitt Romney: "Out-of-touch liberals like Barack Obama say they want a strong economy, but they really don't like businesses very much. The economy is simply the product of all the nation's businesses added together. So it's like saying you love omelettes but don't like eggs."

Ethics Made Easy
George Walden

Neuroscientists aim to explain every aspect of creation and perception by activity in different areas of the brain. Neuroscience reveals the raw facts about humanity and its works. In literary criticism, forget the jargon of semiotics and discover how axons and neurons help in the reading of a text. Mirror neurons are currently fashionable. Because mirror neurons are activated by seeing someone doing something and doing it ourselves, human empathy is built into the brain. It is ethics made easy.

2012 April 3

Rich Recovery
Robert Reich

The U.S. economy grew at an 3% annual rate in Q1. Americans raked in over $13 trillion. Yet all the gains went to the top 10% and the lion's share to the top 1%. More than a third of the gains went to 15,600 super-rich households (going by previous trends).

In 2010, the last year for which we have final figures, most of the bottom 90% lost ground. Their average adjusted gross income was below $30,000. That’s down about 16% from 2000 (all adjusted for inflation). The share of people with health insurance from their employers dropped from almost 60% in 2007 to 55% in 2010. And the share of private-sector workers with retirement plans dropped from 42% in 2007 to below 40% in 2010.

Meanwhile, the "talent" in executive suites is getting gold-plated healthcare coverage for themselves and their families, along with deferred compensation and fat pensions subject to few, if any, taxes. The stock market has shown nice gains over the past two years. The value of financial assets held by American households increased by $1.46 trillion in Q4, 2011. The richest 10% became $1.3 trillion richer and the top 1% gained over $550 billion.

Fed chairman Ben Bernanke says the U.S. economy needs to grow faster to produce enough jobs to bring down unemployment. But we can't grow faster if the vast majority of Americans don't have the money to buy things. There's no way the richest 10% can do it.

AR The United States needs more socialism.

Bankers Decide Who Pays
Aditya Chakrabortty

My conspiracy theory involves powerful people meeting in private offices, hundreds of billions of euros, and clandestine deals ruining entire countries.

Last year, when the future of Greece was being decided, you probably didn't catch many references to Charles Dallara and Josef Ackermann. They're two of the most senior bankers in the world, among the top 1% of the 1%. In the euro negotiations they represented the International Institute for Finance. The IIF is a lobby group for 450 of the biggest banks in the world. After a deal was struck last July, the IIF put out a note bragging about its "catalytic" role. The agreement was terrible for the Greeks and brilliant for the bankers.

The tale of the IIF is a chapter in a bigger story of how governments across the western world got swallowed up by their finance industries.

AR The democratic deficit in Europe is unacceptable.

2012 April 2

Elaine Pagels

1 Revelation is about how the world of the Revelator ended. He was a devout Jew who wrote his book as war propaganda after the Romans had destroyed Jerusalem.

2 The numerals 666 denote the Roman emperor Nero, who was despised by early followers of Jesus. The Revelator used the Jewish numerology system to spell out Nero's imperial name.

3 The Revelator was crusading for traditional values. He saw Jesus as the messiah but he didn't like what the apostle Paul was preaching. He was not a Christian in the modern sense.

4 There is more than one Book of Revelation. Plenty of books of revelation didn't make the final cut for the Bible. Early church leaders suppressed them all.

A Tale of Three Cities
David Goodhart

Muslim Asian youths rioted in Oldham, Burnley, and Bradford in 2001. Since then, segregation in housing and schools has got worse. There is gloom among ordinary people, white and Asian.

Together, the three towns house about 600,000 people, with a rising proportion of south Asian Muslims. In Bradford a third of the citizens are ethnic Asians, mainly Pakistanis, and in Oldham almost a quarter. Burnley is smaller.

The 1948 British Nationality Act allowed in all citizens of the Empire and Commonwealth. In the 1950s and 1960s, south Asian immigrants, mainly Pakistanis, came to work night shifts in textile factories. By the 1980s the textile industry had gone and multiculturalism encouraged segregation.

All three towns are studded with the relics of past glories.Today's inhabitants are like people camping in the ruins of a once-great civilization. A confrontation in Bradford in 1988 led to the burning of Salman Rushdie's novel The Satanic Verses. Now Naveeda Ikram is the first female Muslim Lord Mayor of Bradford. But the white schools in Bradford have some of the worst results in the country.

Arranged marriages with a partner from Pakistan are still common. Many young Pakistanis juggle three languages and study the Koran for hours every day after school. This has created some confused and delinquent young men.

The three towns have failed to reinvent themselves. Comparing what happened in Germany's Ruhr industrial region in the 1980s with the story in the northern mill towns, Britain looks negligent.

2012 April Fool's Day

Gorgeous Pink Islamo-Stalinist
Ron Liddle

You can imagine my delight when the news came in from Karachi West that "gorgeous" George Galloway had been elected with a thumping majority. Sir, I thought, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability.

We need more Islamo-Stalinist self-publicists in the House of Commons. The weekly spectacle would be improved by a backbencher on his hands and knees in a pink leotard, lapping milk from a bowl held by a female member [as GG did on TV in Celebrity Big Brother — AR].

Galloway insisted to his electorate that he was teetotal, and always had been, condemned all western intervention in Muslim lands, and claimed his victory was down to "the grace of God". His supporters took every opportunity to bandy about the word "Zionist", a word that fundamentalist Muslims use interchangeably with the word "Jew".

I don't know what Allah thinks about men wearing pink leotards and miaowing like a pussycat on chav TV. But it was enough that Galloway's simplistic opposition to everything that constitutes western society struck a chord with the Muslim voters.

This is the bloke who, on the Iranian-owned Press TV, told Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Islamo-Stalinist president of Iran, that he supported his campaign for re-election.